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.