But, as fascinating as the history is, I still have not explained why--why does the church of Christ not praise God with musical instruments? There are several reasons, but let me begin by giving you the primary reason in one sentence: We refuse to worship God with musical instruments because our primary goal as His children, slaves, and worshipers is to please Him , and, since He has not indicated that He would be pleased with a praise offering from a musical instrument today, we simply will not make such an offering to Him.
"But Stephen, what about..." Hold on; hold on. Some of you may have questions about the answer I just offered. Allow me to elaborate upon it first, and next week I'll deal with common objections that are offered to this position. If you still have questions at that time, we encourage you to contact us for clarification or further discussion.
As I stated a moment ago, my primary goal as a child, slave, and worshiper of God is to please Him in every aspect and circumstance of my life--at least that should be my primary goal (and yours too). No matter what I'm doing or whom I'm with, my fundamental goal should be to please God; I should be obsessed with trying to attain that goal. Let's read seven Bible passages that teach this truth. I encourage you to carefully reflect upon the wording of each of these passages:
II Corinthians 5:9 - "Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him."
Ephesians 5:8-10 - "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord."
Colossians 1:9,10 - "For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."
I Thessalonians 4:1,2 - "Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus."
I John 3:21,22 - "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
Hebrews 13:15,16 - "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
I Timothy 2:1-3 - "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior."
I tried to emphasize certain phrases in those verses--phrases that clearly teach that man's fundamental goal in life should be to please God (by fearing and obeying Him, Eccl. 12:13). We should want to please God in all aspects of our lives--in both the secular and religious. We should strive to please God at work, at home, at school, at church, etc.
However, are we really achieving that goal? Are we pleasing God in all aspects of our lives, or are we pleasing ourselves and merely hoping that God is pleased too? Consider public worship. Many people seem to be asking (whether they realize it or not): "What can be done in worship to please me?" If you doubt this is the case, just look around and consider how most folks worship today. It seems that every aspect of worship is increasingly being measured by how it makes people feel emotionally and how pleasing or entertaining it is to them. For many, what God wants in worship seems to be secondary to what they want.
How can one know if a certain action or activity pleases God? How can I know if the things I do to worship Him are really pleasing in His sight? There is only one way I can know--He must tell me! I cannot read God's mind (or anyone's mind for that matter). I know from experience that what I find pleasing is often very different from what others find pleasing, and vice versa.
I once read about a preacher who bought a purse for his wife while he was in Jerusalem. As soon as he saw the purse, he knew his search was over for the perfect gift for his wife. He loved the purse and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his wife would love it too. When he got back home, he whipped out the purse at the right time. But, much to his surprise, instead of the look of joy that he had envisioned, there was a look of shock on his wife's face. He had brought the purse out so quickly that it caught her off guard. She was not emotionally ready for what she saw, and her true feelings were manifested through the initial look of horror on her face. She thought the purse was hideous. He thought it was the most beautiful purse he'd ever seen. Even though he had felt in his heart that she would love the purse, he was wrong!
Friends, it's the same way with God and us. Although something might please you, and you think that God would be pleased too, you cannot be certain unless He tells you. No one can read God's mind! Today, God communicates His likes and dislikes through the New Testament (cf. II Tim. 3:16,17).
Do you see the connection here with instrumental music in worship? Some are inclined to say: "No, I cannot prove the validity of instrumental music in Christian worship, but I know in my heart of hearts that it is not an improper act of worship." Do you see how subjective and dangerous this is? How can one know if any certain thing pleases God unless He has communicated such through His word?
Take a second look at a passage we read a few moments earlier. I Thessalonians 4:1,2 - "Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus." How does one learn what pleases God? Through the apostles and other writers of Scripture! The teachings we have received from them instruct us how we can live to please God.
Let's sum up what we've covered thus far. When we assemble with other Christians to worship, we know that our primary goal should be to please God. We also know that we cannot read God's mind, and, therefore, we cannot know what kinds of offerings of praise please Him unless He tells us.
So, when it comes to praising God, has He, through Scripture, told us or shown us what He wants and what pleases Him? He most certainly has! Hebrews 13:15,16 - "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
God wants us to offer Him heartfelt words of praise and thanks. An instrument cannot truly praise God or thank Him, but we can through singing! Did you know that the New Testament never gives us a command or example of early Christians worshipping with mechanical instruments of music? Yet we do find repeated exhortations to sing! Let me read some of the verses at this time.
Colossians 3:16 - "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
Ephesians 5:18-20 - "And do not be drunk with wine in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
I Corinthians 14:15 - "What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding."
So, does God, through His word, give us any indication of what He wants and what pleases Him when it comes to worship? Of course He does! God has told us in specific terms how He wants us to praise Him today. He has told us to worship Him with words of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving that flow from grateful hearts--He has told us to sing! Nowhere has He authorized the use of mechanical instruments in worship today. You simply cannot find it anywhere in the New Testament! And, as we pointed out last week, the early church did not use them. They were incorporated into Christian worship many centuries later because men wanted them, not because God asked for them or authorized them.
Do you see the danger here? If God has not called for mechanical instruments in worship today, how can anyone know that He is pleased with their use in worship? No one can know this, even if they feel that it must be acceptable. To use instruments in worship today is to be presumptuous; it is to assume that God desires them even though He has not declared such in His New Testament. No matter how many good people confidently assure me that God accepts the use of instruments in worship to Him, I have no desire to engage in any activity that I cannot find authority for in the New Testament. I have no desire to do something that might not be pleasing to God!
Friends, I want to close by considering a "Peanuts" comic strip from several years ago. In the first frame, Charlie Brown is holding a red ball, and Snoopy is sitting in front of him looking at the ball. Charlie Brown says to him, "It's a red ball, see? Can you remember that?" In the next frame, Charlie Brown says to Snoopy, "I'm going to throw this ball to the edge of the world so be careful when you chase it." Third frame: Charlie Brown warns Snoopy, "Make sure you don't fall over the edge of the world." Fourth frame: Charlie Brown heaves the ball, and Snoopy watches it sail through the air. Fifth frame: The ball has obviously landed, and although Snoopy is looking toward the ball, he has not budged. Sixth frame: Charlie Brown, obviously perplexed as to why Snoopy has not enthusiastically taken off after the ball, asks, "Well?" And Snoopy, still not budging, is thinking, "I'm making sure."
I think Snoopy was really on to something. As fun as chasing that red ball would be, it sure was not worth the risk of falling off the edge of the world. The potential of falling off the edge of the world was enough to keep Snoopy right where he was. As long as he stayed where he was at, he knew he was safe. Bravo, Snoopy!
Our choice as New Testament believers is this: do we offer God some sacrifices of praise that He has not prescribed in the New Testament (i.e., via mechanical instruments), or do we offer Him only those sacrifices of praise He has prescribed (i.e., singing). I think you'll have to agree that the first choice, mechanical instruments, carries with it the potential that God will not be pleased and therefore will not accept our offering. But, the second choice, singing, guarantees (assuming our sincerity) that God will be pleased and will accept our offering.
As I have said before, because my ultimate desire in worship is to please God, I'll keep opting for choice number two--singing and only singing in worship to God. The potential of displeasing God in worship is enough to keep me right where I am. As long as I continue to offer God only those sacrifices of praise that He has specifically revealed as pleasing and acceptable to Him, I know that He will be pleased and that I will be safe.
We will conclude this series of lessons next week. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.