Do churches of Christ “believe in music”? Do churches of Christ “have music in their churches”? The answers of course depend on who you ask. If you ask members of these churches they will say “Yes”; but if you were to ask those outside of these churches they’d likely say “No”. Why the discrepancy? Why the difference? Can we ever really find a true answer? Yes.
We can find a true answer if we are 1) willing to examine 2) true evidence 3) with a true (sincere/honest) heart. If anyone of those three elements is missing, then the differences can never be resolved, and we can never really find the true answer to accept, believe, and follow.
First, consider a definition. Music - “vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.” The reason for the discrepancies in regard to what churches of Christ believe and practice as it relates to music - is because those inside the church and those outside the church are using two different definitions for what “music” is. Those outside the church seem to view “music” as music ONLY when the music is instrumental or instrumental and vocal. Those inside the church recognize that if music is JUST vocal, that it is STILL MUSIC. And it is. Factually. By any reasonable definition to any reasonable person.
When people make claims that churches of Christ “don’t believe in music” or “don’t have music in their churches”, I wonder if they ever think of the historical significance of those statements. What they mean when they say “no music” is that there are no mechanical instruments used in corporate (church) worship to God. But if that’s what “music” means, if “music” = mechanical instruments, then they are saying that there was no “music” in the church for 600+ years! Does any reasonable person really believe that? If they do, then they prove that they are not a reasonable person.
Second, consider that there is actual historical evidence along these lines. That from the days of the Apostles in 33 AD and following, it is noted by “church historians” AND secular history that disciples of Jesus were distinct in their worship from both Jews and Pagan worshipers in that Christians did NOT use mechanical instruments in worship to their God. The earliest evidence of a mechanical instrument introduced in a “church” isn’t until about 650 AD. That’s over 600 years “without music” IF… you define music as using mechanical instruments!
Third, consider that even then, that it was within a Catholic church that had changed many of the doctrines of Jesus. This is one of those doctrines that Protestant churches in their infancy railed against when confronting Catholicism with apostate changes it had made to the Lord’s doctrine. Though you can find quotes from many different protestant denominational texts, one of the most well known quotes comes from one of the most influential protestant reformers, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, when he famously said, “I have no objection to instruments of music in our worship, provided they are neither seen nor heard.”
(Space is limited in this article, but if you’d like to further consider the claim I made in the previous three paragraphs then perhaps look at this link http://www.bible.ca/H-music.htm where you will find numerous documented quotes detailing how the early church did not use mechanical instruments in worshiping God. I emphasize “mechanical”, because churches of Christ do use “instruments”. We do not use an organ with ivory keys, but rather the organ of the heart. We do not use the stringed cords of a guitar, but rather the vocal cords that God gave us to proclaim His glory in both word and song! We use the instruments God gave us, and commanded us to use.)
The plain and simple truth is - There has ALWAYS been music in the Lord’s church. Just not the kind that is prevalent in churches today. What has changed? Did the teachings of Jesus change? Did God change? Did brethren in the first century get it wrong? Did disciples get it wrong for hundreds and hundreds of years? It’s hard to believe they got it wrong when they were “sitting at the Apostle’s feet”. If they were getting it wrong then the Apostles were getting it wrong because they were worshiping together! We know that God’s word did NOT change. (Rev. 22:18-19) So what changed? We did. People changed. Society changed. We decided to worship God in our image, not His. We wanted our ears tickled, and found the instruments to do the tickling. (II Timothy 4:3-4)
Really; however, we shouldn’t ask members of churches of Christ, or those outside the churches of Christ, what Christ’s church should believe and do... we should simply be asking Jesus - the head of the church (Ephesians 1:28-29) - the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). His answer is the only answer that matters. And then, if we are Christians (Acts 11:26), Disciples (Matthew 28:19), Followers of Jesus, then we will follow HIS answer.
Jesus, having all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), instructed His Apostles to teach disciples all that Jesus instructed (Matthew 28:20). Jesus gave the Apostles the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide them into all truth and give them remembrance of Jesus’ instruction (John 14:25-26). Therefore, whatever the Apostles instructed, it was of Jesus - His authority. In that respect, we need to evaluate 2 perspectives.
What did the Apostles command? The Apostles commanded Christians to sing - Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Not sing just anything, but to sing “psalms”, “hymns”, “spiritual songs”. We are to sing with our hearts, and encourage one another in the Lord with thankfulness and joy in our hearts. It’s simple. It’s pure. It’s true. And the instruction is clear. And has been for almost 2,000 years.
What did the Apostles NOT command? The Apostles did not command us to play. There is no command in the New Testament to play an instrument. In fact, the only reference to musical instruments in the New Testament is to their lifeless vanity as described at the beginning of chapters 13 and 14 of First Corinthians. And all of the historical evidence leaves the unmistakable conclusion to the reasonable person, that a LACK of mechanical instruments in worship was one of the DEFINING differences of doctrine of true worshipers of the true God of heaven and earth (John 4:23-24)
Jesus’ teaching is clear. Historical evidence is clear. The definition of music is clear. By all sound logic and reason a true worshiper of God should “believe in music” and “worship with music” practicing the teaching from the Holy Spirit God-breathed word, AND reject mechanical instruments in all manifestations of “musical worship” to God. Are you a true worshiper? You prove it not just by why you worship, but how.