One of the most distinctive differences between the worship of the churches of Christ and the worship of other churches derives from the lack of instrumental additions to worship. The fact that the church teaches, and has for years, that instruments should not be used in the worship has caused many Christians in the church to be questioned on the matter. Some exchanges can become quite heated; this topic has been long debated through the years!
I received a call not too long ago from a lady who wanted to know more about the teachings of the Church of Christ on music and instruments. She had several excellent questions. A few especially can be expounded and explained for the purposes of this study. The main questions were (paraphrasing), “What does the church teach in the division between secular and sacred music as it applies to instruments? Does the church teach that no instruments should be used in such ceremonies as weddings or anniversaries if the ceremonies are within the church building of the Church of Christ?”
First, consider the division between the secular and sacred music and what makes a “spiritual song” a “spiritual song.” Paul writes in Ephesians 5:19: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” He states in a parallel passage, “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” (Col. 3:16). In this, one can read that “spiritual songs,” “psalms,” and “hymns” are used synonymously. In Ephesians 5:19, “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” are the subjects while the next phrase, which is set off by commas, is the appositive, a noun or noun phrase that renames the subject. Thus, it provides the reader with a divine definition of a spiritual song. A spiritual song teaches and admonishes on spiritual matters. A spiritual songs praises God. A spiritual song relays emotions and thoughts for the Lord. Based on the writings in Scripture, if a song fits within these parameters, it can be defined as a “spiritual song.”
The passages mentioned above likewise mention how these songs are to be used. A spiritual song must be sang from the heart, the music/melody must come from the heart, and the song must be sung “to the Lord.” The Colossians reference shows that spiritual songs are a teaching and admonishing tool for each other, the songs are to be sang, those singing are to sing with grace in their hearts, and the song should be sung to the Lord. If one uses a spiritual song, psalm, or hymn outside of these boundaries then the singing is not scriptural. God gave Christians one set of instructs for using these types of songs, and believers must follow them to be pleasing to God.
Essentially, the churches of Christ do not use instruments because instruments are not mentioned in the boundaries of spiritual songs in Scriptures. In other words, there is no Scriptural authority to use them. If God wants instruments used, He would have commanded the use of them in the New Testament Law (Col. 3:17). Plus, to use instruments would be to put the melody and music in a place other than the heart. When God specifies where to put something or how something is to be used, all other avenues of use are excluded. This is called the law of exclusion in Hermeneutics (the study of biblical interpretation). God should not have to tell people everything not to do. He should just have to tell people what to do and people follow it, without putting their own spin on it.
Second, consider that secular music does not have to teach or talk about Christ, it is not sung to the Lord; it is sung for recreational entertainment, and there are no biblical mentions or requirements of secular music except that the tongue should not violate the law of God by speaking or singing blasphemy and heresy (James 3:6-10; Eph. 4:29,31). Beyond foul language, God does not dictate how people sing secular music; as such, instruments can be used on any occasion. God dictates the singing in Scripture specifically to “spiritual” singing (Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19), not secular singing.
As for the event in which the singing takes place on any occasion or any building, the parameters of spiritual songs, psalms, and hymns stay the same. In the context of Colossians 3:16, Colossians 3:17 reads, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” Wherever believers are or whatever they do, they must use the spiritual songs as God dictates, not however they please. If Christians are singing spiritual songs in a wedding, then Scripture must be followed, if they are singing spiritual songs in worship, then the Scriptures must be followed, if they are singing spiritual songs in an anniversary party or any party, then the Scriptures must be followed, if they are singing spiritual songs at a concert or singing competition, then the Scriptures must be followed.
However, if Christians play secular songs at parties, weddings, and such, then instruments can be used. Technically, the church building is just a building, so one could play secular songs with instruments in the building, but such is not a right; the elders and members have the right to say, “No, you cannot use instruments in the building even with secular music.” The elders especially would need to determine the best course of action given the situation at hand.