A Cappella Obedience—What Happened?

For the first 1000 years after Jesus came and established His church, all those who claimed the name of Jesus worshipped the Lord in song with voice only. This was not simply a tradition, but rather was it was practiced as obedience to the Lord’s com- mand on the basis of the meaning of the Greek word used in Scripture—we’d spell the word in English “ado”.

The apostolic church (from the church’s beginning to about 100AD) understood the word as meaning vocal singing only. The patristic church (about 100AD to 451AD) understood “ado” the same way, never used instruments, and rebuked the few in this era who attempted to introduce them. It wasn’t until about 1000AD that the Roman church began to use instruments. The eastern church (still largely speaking Greek) continues to understand “ado” (to the present day) to mean to sing vocally only. And when the Protestant Reformers (about 1500AD forward) led men out of Roman Catholicism they, studying and understanding the Greek, uniformly rejected instrumental music until about 1800AD. No small wonder, then, that vocal only singing became known as a cappella (Latin for “in the manner of the church”).

So what happened? How did we get to the point where churches of Christ, the Greek Orthodox Church, and a few others are the only ones who don’t use instruments these days? The attempts at justification have been many.

“It sounds good”—There’s really only one word needed to refute this reason, “irrelevant”. Be- cause what’s pleasing to man is not always pleasing to God. When God declares His command and preference (a cappella), the loving disciple gladly just obeys.

“Instruments were used in the Old Testament”—Of course; and so were animal sacrifices, food restrictions, Sabbath observance, and other shadows of Mosaic Law. But we are under a new covenant. A famous theologian put it simply, “Musical instruments, in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, or the restoration of the other shadows of the Law.”

“It’s just a tradition”—Merely calling a cappella song in worship a tradition, doesn’t make it so; and mis-labeling it as a tradition betrays either a dangerous weakness of Bible knowledge or a straightforward attempt to dismiss a Biblical teaching. Traditions are man-made rules, and therefore dismissible. Commands (and this is a direct command: Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16) are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16,17), and therefore not dismissible. Singing a cappella is the Lord’s command, not a tradition.

“God didn’t say we couldn’t”—Specific commands automatically eliminate all other possibilities, and “ado” is a specific kind of singing, eliminating other kinds. Can you imagine how big the Bible would be, if God had to list all the specific things He doesn’t want us to do?

“There are harps in Revelation”—Yes, but in three of the four places they are mentioned, the references are 1) scenes full of imagery, symbols, and apocalyptic language, and 2) always in Heaven (not earth). The other is in reference to the secular world. Using Revelation to justify instruments in worship in the church is a mishandling of Scripture.

And it is no small matter. It is a fellowship issue. Practically speaking, those who obey the command to sing a cappella in worship will have difficulty worshipping in the same assembly with those who are using the instrument. But even beyond this, the Scripture teaches, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds,” 2 John 1:10, 11.

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” John 14:15. Let’s love Jesus with our obedience.

About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the Rock Hill church of Christ in Frisco TX (rhcoc.org) where I've worked since 2020. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, and the Lord's church.
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12 Responses to A Cappella Obedience—What Happened?

  1. Kevin says:

    Hi Park, I hope all is well with you. If you don’t mind I would like to ask you about your latest message about Accapella singing. But before I do I want to set somethings straight so there is no misunderstanding. 1. I am in the camp of Accapella singing in worship. 2. I find a concert like “worship” is distracting, emotional, and a performance focusing on the people on the stage- NOT GOD.

    With that said I hope you take this as a theological questioning, seeking truth.

    Here goes: The reference in 2John 1:10-11 appears to me to be referring to a person who denies & even preaches Jesus as NOT coming in the flesh (vs 7) these folks are to be dealt with much differently than someone who is caught up in an issue of worship style (for lack of a better description). Ok let me use another example of someone caught up in sin like shacking up. A woman caught in adultery as in John 8 or a follower like big-mouth Peter who actually denied Jesus 3 times. Jesus forgave.

    Jesus was pretty rough on such an attitude in Mathew 23

    May I dare say that there may be something in error in that last large paragraph?

    I hope did not offend or come on too strong. I’m just a dummy trying to figure things out. I greatly respect your opinion.

    In Christ Kevin Scarlett

    I have more questions but can only I can only handle one thing at a time. Thanks for your time.

    Sent from my iPad


    • parklinscomb says:

      Hi Kevin

      Let me see if I understand your question. You are asking why there would be a break of fellowship with those who teach that it is OK to use instruments in worship. If that’s your question, here’s my answer…

      There is a difference between the categories of “commands and doctrines” and “traditions, opinions, tastes, and scruples”. Commands and doctrines are absolute and don’t change (e.g., Gal. 1:8,9). “Traditions, opinion, tastes, and scruples” can shift and change and should be tolerated (1 Cor. 8-10 and others). A cappella worship is more than a tradition, opinion, or taste; it is actually a command to be obeyed. In proof of this, please see my comments in the first two paragraphs of the posting referring to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 and the word “ado”. And while differences in tradition, opinions, tastes, and scruples should be tolerated, those who actively teach false doctrine should not.

      Consider the passages in Scripture that call for a withdrawal of fellowship: an unrepented of wrong done to a brother (Matthew 18:16,17); unrepented of immorality (1 Cor. 5); refusal to obey apostolic instruction (2 Thess. 3:14); and teaching false doctrines (Gal. 1:6-10, in this case, Judaizing teachers).

      This is illustrated in 2 John 1:7-11. The false teachings referred to in 2 John 1:10,11 are more than just denial of the incarnation of Christ (Christ in the flesh). The larger heresy to which John refers is something called gnosticism, which (to make a long story short) started with Christ not coming in actual flesh (He didn’t leave footprints in the sand), but went on to teach that immoral behavior didn’t matter. That’s why John goes on to say, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9). The principle then (from v. 10) is that false teachings need to be isolated, withdrawn from, and not associated with. Associations with false teachers often results in adoption of their false teachings.

  2. Taylor Plott says:

    Hey Park. Hope all is well. I have some concerns with your post. So, full disclosure, I was raised in the Church of Christ, prefer Acappella singing and have considered this question for years. However, I am presently a minister at an Instrumental church.

    So there were a few things that stood out to me, but I want to hit a couple quickly. First, I want to address the “Instruments were used in the OT” line of thinking. To equate the use of instruments as part of the old covenant, and therefore something to be done away with, is a misrepresentation of the covenant and it’s place in the OT. The covenant was a specific set of laws for a specific group of people (the Israelites) concerning how to approach God in order to receive receive forgiveness of sin. It had nothing to do with whether or not to use instruments in the worship of God. Now, today, post Christ’s sacrifice, we are a new people, under a new covenant concerning how we deal with the forgiveness of sin. But this doesn’t change what is MORALLY right or wrong in the eyes of God. It simply changed the manner in which we approach him in order to be reconciled to him.

    Both James 1:17, and Malachi 3:6 (OT and NT) refer to the fact that our God is an unchanging God. Now this clearly doesn’t refer to the covenant since they change dramatically from the OT to the NT. Rather, this refers to what God views as MORALLY right or wrong. Instrumental music was certainly morally right to God in the OT and instrumental music seems to be being used in God’s presence in Heaven. It seems very out of God’s character to have something be appropriate to God, then inappropriate, than appropriate again in Heaven.

    Secondly, to say that Ephesians 5:19 (speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord), and Colossians 3:16 (Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.) are commands to not use instruments in worship seems to be a significant overstatement. It is simply impossible to call it a direct command when the specific topic is not even mentioned. At best, through a restrictive interpretation of those verses you could say that instrumental music is simply not mentioned.

    But I could just as easily point out that the ‘psalms and hymns’ being referred to in the Colossians and Ephesians passages were many of the same Psalms and hymns we have today written by David in the book of Psalms – and originally put to instrumentation (harp, etc.).

    Just some thoughts I was considering. Thanks for reading my ridiculously long comment.

    • parklinscomb says:

      Hi Taylor.

      The Mosaic covenant, which was done away with at the advent of the Christian covenant, was about much more than sacrifice for sin. It included the whole of the Levitical law and Tabernacle patterns and regulations: certainly sacrifice for sin, but also regulations about peace offerings, ceremonial cleanness, vows, circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and how God was to be worshipped—including songs to be sung and instruments to be used (just one example being Exo. 15:20,21).

      Morality, on the other hand, is a different category and based on a different root. Morality has remained the same in the Mosaic covenant and the Christian covenant, not because there was part of the covenant that didn’t pass away, but because morality isn’t based on covenant, but the nature of God: “You shall be holy because I am holy” (e.g., Lev. 11:44 / 1 Peter 1:16). For example, it has never been right to steal, because God is not a thief, etc. Since God is eternal, moral principles, which are based on His nature, are also eternal.

      Thus, instrumental music and the rest of the Mosaic covenant could be considered obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), while the moral code could remain the same. Singing with or without instruments is not part of the unchanging moral code; it is a part of the worship offered to God (the cultus, to use the academic term).

      Of course, some of the avenues of worship from the Mosaic covenant were authorized in the new covenant with Christian modification. Prayer, for example, is now offered in the name of Jesus (John 14:13,14); preaching is now (among other things) the revelation of “the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19); and singing is offered with voices alone (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).

      Secondly, in response to your thoughts about Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, let me make a few observations. (1) A gathering of Christians in which singing would occur is in Paul’s mind as he writes these words in both passages; notice the words “one another” in both. (2) The word “ado” in both texts has a very clear and long history of meaning, “to sing without instrumental accompaniment”. (3) In the Ephesian passage the context includes a prohibitive “do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit” in connection with “speaking to one another…” This would be a direct command. (4) The Colossian passage is hortatory in nature, “Let the word of Christ…”, which is an encouragement to do what should be done, another form of command (see 1 Cor. 5:8 / Gal. 5:25 / 1 Thess. 5:8 / Heb. 4:14). These things being true, I don’t think it is overstatement at all to say that both of these passages command and encourage us, when we assemble to sing, to do so without instrumental accompaniment.

      • Taylor Plott says:

        You are correct to say that the Mosaic Law was about much more than just forgiveness of sin (although reconciliation to God – as with the New Testament – was at it’s core). However, musical instruments are simply not a part of that law. Just because a thing existed and was used during that time doesn’t mean it was part of the law. The Israelites all lived in two room homes made out of stone, and wore funny looking robe clothes – but their housing choice and clothing were not a part of the Mosaic law to be done away with today. It simply was the way they did things. Music instruments, as far as I can find, are simply not discussed anywhere in the Old Covenant Law prescribed by God. And, as you know, the OT law was nothing if not detailed, and clear in what it desired.

        Your reference verse in Exodus 20:20 (“Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.”) is simply a statement of their use…not any sort of statement from God concerning their specific use in worship. Instruments were simply – the way they did things – in worship, and in every day life predating the OT covenant with God – and God had no issue with it. Therefore this is not a covenant issue. It’s just not part of the covenant at all. So at this point, it does come down to “right or wrong” – i.e. morality. And again if it was morally right in the past on Earth with God, and morally right in Heaven with God – Our God doesn’t change.

        Concerning the passages in Ephesians and Colossians – It directly commands you not to get drunk, that is not in questions. It also directly commands you to “sing and make music from your hearts to the Lord”. That’s the command…that’s it. There is simply nothing to exclude instrumental worship here. Anyone (unless they are prevented by their conscience) can “sing and make music in their heart” with or without the aid of a guitar.

        Also, it should be noted that the 1st century church was under constant oppression and threat of death. If in fact they did not use instruments in their worship, it seems very likely that this very practical point could have been the reason why. Being chased by oppressors and having to haul instruments house to house would be reason enough for me to leave my harp at home.

        Instruments are never prohibited anywhere in scripture, they are used throughout OT scripture without any connection to the OT Covenant Law (while God was actually living in their presence in the Tabernacle/Temple), and instruments are being used presently in Heaven in the presence of God. So to believe that the topic of instrumental music should be seen as an important deal-breaker, “major issue” – but “the change” in it’s “rightness” it wasn’t spelled out clearly by God – is hard to swallow.

        To me, this comes down to a hermeneutic issue. Although use of instruments are nowhere prohibited – either directly or indirectly – in scripture, they are also not “Prescribed” directly in the NT (although, as I’ve stated, they are prescribed other places and our God doesn’t change what’s morally right or wrong). This is the crux of the issue for most of the Church of Christ. The problem is that this hermeneutic cannot be followed with any great consistency. If you only “speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent” then you end up with a church family with no building, no pews, no communion table up front with silver or gold trays, no baptistry, not pulpit. It’s simply not a sustainable hermenutic…for none of those items are directly “prescribed” in Scripture.

        Christ came to bring us freedom (Galatians 5:1). It’s fine to worship without instruments, but biblically, it’s also fine to worship with instruments. To take such a hard line stance seems to be drawing lines of delineation where God never intended…which could bring division into the body that is unnecessary and detrimental (Hebrews 12:14, Ephesians 4:1-6) to the overall mission of the church to be faithfully spreading the Gospel.

      • parklinscomb says:

        I certainly agree that it is a hermeneutic problem, one that decides how specific commands limit. However, common, everyday rules of understanding between people in conversation are on my side in this matter. When we send someone to “buy food”, we have given only a general command and cannot complain, if the person should come back with soda, popsicles and candy. They are all food. However, when we tell someone to buy bread, milk, and coffee, we naturally expect them to buy exactly that, and would be surprised at anything more. So also with general and specific commands. When God’s commands are general, we are at liberty to obey them in whatever way our good judgment leads us. On the other hand, when God’s command is specific, we naturally understand that all other ways in which a command could be obeyed are eliminated except for this one specific way.

        To illustrate this in a single verse (Matt. 28:18-20) the Lord commanded that we go into all the world and preach the Gospel. To obey, we may go by walking, on horseback, on ship, on plane, in a car, or a skateboard as long as we preach the Gospel and nothing else (e.g., my own musings, theologians’ traditions, or current trends). Likewise in the case of singing, when the command is “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing [“ado”] and making melody [“psallo”] with your heart to the Lord;” Ephesians 5:19 (so also with the Colossian cognate), the command in “ado”, which literally means to sing without instrumental accompaniment, limits the kind of music to be offered in worship to the Lord.

        Of course we’d have buildings and all the rest that you mentioned. The general command is to meet on the first day of the week. The time we do it, the place or building that we do it in, where we sit, etc. are all allowable ways to comply with the general command. It is really quite logical as well as natural in ordinary language—and therefore quite sustainable.

        Think for just a moment of the many things that are allowable using the hermeneutic that says, “If it is not specifically forbidden, it is allowable.” To try to make my point simply and quickly, imagine what a tome—no, library—the Bible would have to be if all the things that God forbids had to be listed one by one. It is that hermeneutic that seems unsustainable.

        The issue of instrumental music is a divisive one and has been for centuries. But is not the a cappella group that has moved and caused division, it is the instrumental group who have moved and thus divided. From my perspective it is disobedience to the Lord’s command and the Scripture bids me to stand apart from those who would counsel disobedience to Him.

  3. Taylor Plott says:

    Good thoughts. But I’m not sure ‘common understanding’ is necessarily a firm place to stand. I’m also not convinced that common understanding would come to the same conclusion. Concerning the “general command vs. specific command”, I totally agree with your premise, but not your conclusion. This absolutely seems like an example of a general command. We are to praise God by “singing and making melody” – and using a guitar could assist with this. Just as when when God tells us to “Go” – we use ships, airplanes and skateboards because they could assist us with the general command.

    You introduced an idea in your last comment that I do not support at all – “If it is not specifically forbidden, it is allowable.” I do not think I mentioned this in any way. Rather, my general hermenutic is that Scripture must interpret scripture. If there is an inconsistency in my understanding of scripture, the fault lies with my understanding, not with scripture. Therefore I need to adjust my understanding. Scripture must interpret scripture. The whole Scripture must be looked at within context in order to make a proper assessment on a topic. I have tried to point out multiple ways in which the “all worship music MUST be Acappella in order to be in submission to God” mindset is rooted in bad hermeneutic.

    Additionally, ado, as you have said does mean “to sing”…but that’s all it means. It does not mean “to sing with the exclusion of anything else.” That is a different and more limited meaning. Within that same verse you have the word psallo (translated above as making melody) and psalmos (translated above as psalm). Both of these words (variations of the same word) have roots that are specifically tied to instrumentation. Specifically, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (first published in 1890, my edition being from 1977) defines this word as: “to rub, touch, twitch, twang. To play a stringed instrument. To make melody.” This verse absolutes commands ado (singing), but it also commands psallo. ado kai psallo

    And as we come to idea of “making music in your heart”…what does that mean? Clearly you cannot literally do this. The heart does not produce music. The author is speaking figuratively. Why within the same verse would Paul expect us to understand this command so rigidly, while at the same time expressing an idea that is clearly making an emotional, figurative point? So then, what’s the point of these verses? Praise God with honesty, integrity, and humility. Pour your heart out before him…using your voice, instruments, etc.

    • parklinscomb says:

      When it comes to hermeneutics, the ordinary rules of understanding of language is logically the only firm place. Our God, the maker of man’s mind, certainly knows how to communicate clearly with us, that is, the way that we commonly communicate with and understand each other. An “uncommon” hermeneutic is antithetical to the God who “so loved the world…” An “uncommon hermeneutic” would make the Bible a puzzle for the elite (almost sounds gnostic). These ordinary rules of understanding include a long list of “techniques” would include context, type of literature, generic and specific commands, etc.

      Your disagreement with my conclusion here is, I believe, connected to your misunderstanding of the word “ado”. Part of the reason that I led the blog posting with the history of NT worship in song is to prove the meaning of “ado” as a cappella (voice only, no instruments) without having to present tons of academic lexical citations. I hoped that the weight of Christian practice stretching from earliest times through the first 1000 years would make the true definition of the word clear. The native speakers of the language understood the word to exclude instruments and obeyed.
      Thus, “‘singing and making melody’ – and using a guitar could assist with this” is a logical contradiction by virtue of the actual definition of the word translated “singing”, the Greek word “ado”, meaning voice only.

      In an earlier response you speculated that persecution may have been the reason for the absence of instruments. Not so; early Christian writers specifically argued against use of the instrument on the basis of theology. The renowned church historian, Dr. Everett Ferguson, has a number of books on the early church’s practices and specifically on a cappella worship, which contain many such quotes from ancient Christian leaders.

      In a nutshell the word “ado” in koine Greek actually did refer to vocal music only, it is never used in conjunction with an instrument. “Psallo”, however, in the koine era (your definition of “pluck” is from the classical era, see TDNT and other more authoritative lexicons) is a close analog to our word in English for sing. When one uses the word “sing” in English, vocalization is assumed, but we can also say, “I sing with a guitar.” “Ado” means a cappella; “psallo” can allow an instrument.

      What does this mean for Ephesians 5:19? If I may be allowed an educated paraphrase: “You all should talk to each other in your songs of worship; to do this, sing a cappella and accompany it only with the instrument of your heart.”

  4. Zachary M. says:

    Hello Brother Park,

    A friend of mine, who grew up in the Church of Christ, sent me a link to this post, saying it would help me understand their perspective on using instruments in worship. He was right; I found it very enlightening, and I want to thank you for a clear explanation. I also want to say how much I appreciate the fact that you seem to take the commands of God’s Word seriously, and argue for responding to them with humble obedience, which should be the lifestyle of every follower of Jesus.

    Now, first of all, I’d like to explain that I have no particular attachment to instrumental worship. The small, non-denominational fellowship I grew up in, and in which I now serve as an elder, has mostly practiced a type of spontaneous worship which is ill-suited to instrumental accompaniment, so we’ve done a lot of a capella singing. (Fascinating tidbit about the origin of that term, by the way!) That said, I don’t believe that Scripture commands this as the only correct way to worship God with music.

    Now, as a rule, I don’t get involved in online theological debates; it’s my opinion that they almost never solve anything, and tend rather to deepen divisions and harm our Christian witness. I really don’t believe I could ever convince you to adopt my perspective, any more than I can imagine anything you could say that would convince me that instrumental worship is sinful. My purpose in writing this (admittedly rather long) comment is to beseech you, as a brother in Christ, to consider the possibility that this is not an issue over which you ought to divide from other believers.

    Before getting to my argument, however, I would first like to make it clear that I agree that there are legitimate issues over which we must divide, in light of such Scriptures as 1 Cor. 11:19 and 2 Thess. 3:14. Every believer, and every assembly, must determine what they believe those issues to be. My plea to the Body of Christ is to let this determination be guided by the Holy Spirit, and by the fundamental principles of love and humility, which are enjoined to us unequivocally by the totality of Scripture.

    I would assume that you would agree that there are issues on which faithful Christians may have different understandings of the Scripture, and different practices, and yet continue in fellowship. In your blog post on “The Reason For The Season,” (https://parklinscomb.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/the-reason-for-the-season/) you seem to imply that you regard the celebration of Christmas as such an issue. I assume that you would try to stay in fellowship with a brother or sister who believed that Christians should not celebrate Christmas, so long as they didn’t reject you for not sharing their view. As one who desires fellowship with all of Christ’s body, here on earth while it’s still optional, I hope and pray you will consider whether this issue of instruments is actually such a “second order” matter, which need not cause division between us.

    In my view, we can identify a “second order” issue by asking if there is more than one way that a faithful Christian might understand the teaching of Scripture on the matter. Your position seems to rest on two Scriptures, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. You contend that “ado” must mean “sing without accompaniment”; I haven’t researched this issue, but I’m willing to accept that premise. Nevertheless, I believe that a reasonable, obedient Christian might still understand both of these Scriptures, in context, as being a exhortations to praise God in simplicity and sincerity, and not a restriction on the type of worship that is pleasing to God. In support of this position, I would offer 3 points:

    1) Context of the Scriptures. Both of these Scriptures are found in the middle of broad exhortations regarding Christian living, not in a discussion of prescribed practices for worship, as we might find in 1 Cor. 11. Granted, the use of “one another” in both verses is applicable to meetings of believers. However, especially considering that “to the Lord” also appears in both, they might be understood as applying to more than Church meetings. Given your interpretation, one could argue that since the assembly is not expressly mentioned, a Christian should never sing a praise song with an instrument, at least while there is even one other Christian present.

    2) Old Testament practices. I realize this has already been discussed, but I do believe that faithful Christians can understand the instrumental worship of the Old Testament to be unconnected to the Mosaic law. The place where we find the vast majority of instrumental references is in the Book of Psalms, a source that Col. 3:16 specifically directs us to use in worship. It is a simple matter for a person well-versed in Scripture to explain why most of the Mosaic law no longer applies to Christians in the same way it did to the Jewish nation; Paul does it for us, in Romans, Galatians, and elsewhere. Explaining why Scriptures such as Psalm 150 are no longer applicable to the Church (at least not in their plain meaning) is much more difficult, because we have no such explanation in the New Testament.

    3) Logic and grammar. You state that “Specific commands automatically eliminate all other possibilities, and ‘ado’ is a specific kind of singing, eliminating other kinds.” I would argue that this is by no means a universally accepted hermeneutic, and that it could lead to some very problematic exegesis. For instance, Christians are admonished by both Paul and Peter to greet one another with a kiss, in no less than five separate Scriptures (Rom. 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:26, 1 Pet. 5:14). Using the “specific commands are restrictive” hermeneutic, how would you answer someone who might argue that, based on these Scriptures, shaking hands, or embracing, are not acceptable forms of greeting in the Church?

    If you have read this far, I thank you for your patience. I want to reiterate that my intention is not to prove that you are wrong on the issue, only that other interpretations have enough potential validity to allow us to exercise love and humility, and continue seeking God in fellowship together. My earnest prayer is that The Church might be clearly divided from the world, but clearly united in faith and purpose, for the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    All the best in Him,


    • parklinscomb says:

      First of all, sorry for the delay in answering. Things got kind of busy around the church and my personal life, and I wanted my comments to make some sense. 🙂

      I would agree with you that there are matters over which it is not only silly to divide, but positively wrong. We are commanded to be diligent to stay unified. And in that spirit, I would point out that a cappella worship is the most ecumenical position to hold, since no group that I know of would say that a cappella is wrong. From the perspective of those who have continued to hold to the way sacred music was practiced for over a thousand years, it is the instrument that has divided, not the practice of a cappella. And since “a cappella only people” would believe that worship with instruments is wrong, we find it impossible to worship among those who do—effectively breaking the fellowship.

      I think you have a point that many English reading and non-Greek reading people would likely see no hint of a cappella in modern translations. The question we must ask, however, is whether or not God will overlook this.

      To help us think through this question, let me note that churches of Christ baptize by immersion. Many don’t know why, but I think you might; the Greek word actually means to immerse (in contrast to other Greek words that mean pour and sprinkle). I’m only aware of one translation that actually translates baptidzo as immerse, and it was translated by a member of the churches of Christ. I’m convinced that it makes a difference in baptism and it makes a difference in singing (ado).

      My response to your first point (is this command for the assembly or everywhere?) would be that when one sings a song in worship that it should be a cappella, whether in assembly or not. Now, sometimes when I am learning a song, I might use an instrument to help me discover the tune. And there are times when I listen to Handel’s Messiah as entertainment. But since I know that the command is specific, I worship only a cappella.

      To address your second question,the reason why Scripture such as Psalm 150 (as it speaks of instruments in worship) no longer applies to the church is the same reason that Psalm 118:27 (“The LORD is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.”) doesn’t. 2 Chronicles 29:25 tells us that instruments were commanded by God Himself as part of the Levitical duties, and thus part of the larger Mosaic system: “He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the LORD through His prophets.” As the Mosaic covenant became obsolete and was replaced with the new covenant, the command and allowance of instrumental worship music also became obsolete and was replaced with a cappella worship with only the heart in accompaniment (Eph. 5:19).

      I would respond to your third point that approved examples are also part of how we could modify, clarify, or verify the meaning of what may appear to be a specific command. If we found other means of greeting others in the church, then I think we could conclude that the holy kiss is one of several ways a brother might greet another brother. I would need to study the greeting issue more deeply, in all candor.

      Thanks for the discussion.

  5. Zachary M. says:

    Hey Brother Park,

    Thanks for your response. I totally understand the delay; my only concern was that perhaps my comment got stuck in a spam filter because of the link I included to another of your posts.
    I would actually agree with you that there’s nothing wrong with promoting a cappella worship in the interests of unity. If, in the context of an inter-church meeting, believers were expected to be present who would find instruments offensive, I would personally be happy to exclude them, in the spirit of 1 Cor. 8:13 and 10:32.

    I understand that, if a particular congregation regularly uses instruments in worship, Christians of your persuasion would be unable to join in their regular services. I would certainly consider this a problem, about which we should all continue to seek the Lord, but I wouldn’t see it as equivalent to breaking fellowship. In your post, you referenced 2 John 1:10-11, which is the command not to receive false teachers. My argument is that this is just not a clear enough issue to put those with whom we disagree in that category.

    I would agree, also, that some important doctrinal issues can only be resolved by looking at original languages. However, before we make our conclusions about such matters into fellowship issues, it seems to me that we should ask ourselves this question: if the issue in question really is of critical importance, wouldn’t we expect to find greater clarity on it in the Scripture, beyond any rational dispute?

    After posting my original comment, it occurred to me what your response was likely to be in regard to my first point, and I applaud your consistency on that.

    I think you may have misunderstood my second point, perhaps because I didn’t phrase it as a question. I understand your reasoning that instrumental worship is connected to the Mosaic covenant, and has thus become obsolete. (And your point regarding sacrificial references in the Psalms is well-taken, also.) My argument is that this attachment is not by any means clear-cut in Scripture.

    We know, for instance, that David (who was obviously not a Levite) personally worshipped God using an instrument (Psa. 144:9). This fact alone does not completely detach it from the Mosaic covenant, of course, as individuals also offered sacrifices. However, there is clear teaching in the New Testament that explains why it would be wrong for a Christian to offer an animal sacrifice today. Other elements of Mosaic worship, such as the offering of incense, were the exclusive domain of the priesthood, which (as we learn in Hebrews) has been subsumed in Christ.

    My question then, is this: can you point to any teaching in the New Testament that would explain why the worship of God with instruments, which was commanded under the Old Covenant, is now forbidden under the New Covenant? This, it seems to me, is a major jump, for which we would expect to find a clear explanation. The mere fact that instruments were associated with tabernacle/temple worship, which has itself now ceased, seems quite insufficient, since singing (among other practices) continues from one system of worship to the other.

    I must confess I didn’t quite understand your response to my third point, except that you would require more time to respond in full, which is an answer I completely respect. I would be happy to continue dialogue on that topic, if and when you have time – my email address is javadecaf (at) gmail.com.

    Allow me to reiterate: I’m not trying to win an argument (and I hope it doesn’t seem like I am). I am simply beseeching you, as a brother in Christ, to carefully consider this alternate view, which is held by many in the Church who are just as passionate as you are about obedience to the commands of Christ. If you can understand just a bit better why we believe the way we do, as I’ve come to understand your position better by reading your post and comments, I will feel we have made worthwhile progress on the road to unity in Christ.



    • parklinscomb says:

      Thanks for your graciousness toward my delay. 🙂

      You posed what seems like a reasonable question: “if the issue in question really is of critical importance, wouldn’t we expect to find greater clarity on it in the Scripture, beyond any rational dispute?” But the problem in my 42 years of ministry has been that “clarity” and being “beyond rational dispute” is often in the eye of the beholder. I suppose much depends on how you would define “beyond any rational dispute”. I find the linguistic and historical evidence of a cappella worship as “beyond any rational dispute” as the issue of immersion for baptism. The arguments for “ado” as a cappella and “baptidzo” as immerse are both linguistic and historical arguments for words that are obscured in almost every English translation. If baptism is a clear requirement, then I would argue that a cappella is, too.

      One might counter that baptism is more frequently talked about in the NT. But I would respond by asking, “How many times does a cappella need to be talked about for us to take it seriously?”

      With regard to your question about a teaching in the NT that would explain why OT worship with instruments is now forbidden in the NT: An OT command doesn’t need to have been a Levitical duty to have passed away. It is the whole old covenant that has become obsolete and become replaced by the new. Consider the three major controversies of the first century: circumcision, dietary restriction, and Sabbath keeping. None are Levitical duties, all were observed by every Israelite. And all of them passed away as part of the Mosaic covenant (e.g., Col. 2:16; Gal. 5:2; Heb. 9:9,19; and Acts 15). Out of all the OT Law, it is really only the moral laws that have continued to stand from covenant to covenant, because they are a reflection of the nature of God (“You shall be holy for I am holy”). Therefore, instruments in worship, being a part of the old covenant worship, passed away and were not reauthorized (like prayer, for example) in the new covenant of Christ.

      With regard to your question about the command to “greet one another with a holy kiss”: Greeting family members and close friends in the day of the writing of the NT always included a kiss; it was a cultural institution and expectation. Consequently, we may reasonably question whether the apostles intended to restrict Christian greetings to only a holy kiss; and reasonably entertain the possibility that it is primarily a warm family greeting that is the intention of the command here.

      Singing a cappella, on the other hand, was a command that ran counter to the expectation for worship in the first century. As you have previously alluded to, the Temple worship included instruments; and pagan worship, likewise, used a variety of trumpets, percussion, stringed instruments. In a cultural context in which instruments were the expectation, the commands to sing that use the specific Greek word for “singing alone” become very significant—I would say “beyond any rational dispute”.

      For those who have been baptized into Christ but who worship with instruments ignorantly, I hope (confident expectation) the Lord’s grace will cover their error (just as I also hope that the Lord will forgive whatever error I may be practicing ignorantly). But I am not as optimistic about those who worship in error not ignorantly; this would be deliberate disobedience. “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” Hebrews 10:26, NAS95.

      I would strongly encourage you to put aside the instruments for worship, not only for the purpose of unity in the body of Christ, but also because it is pleasing to the Lord. Chrysostom, a 4th century preacher, made a winsome case for a cappella in Exposition On Psalm 145, “David at that time was singing in the Psalms, and we today with David. He had a kithara of lifeless strings; the church has a kithara arranged of living strings. Our tongues are the strings of our kithara, putting forth a different sound yet a godly harmony. For indeed women and men , old and young, have different voices but they do not differ in the word of hymnody for the Spirit blends the voice of each and effects one melody in all…The soul is an excellent musician, an artist; the body is an instrument, holding the place of the kithara and autos and lyre…Since it is necessary to pray unceasingly, the instrument is always with the artist unceasingly.”

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