The Acappella Church
One of the more recent phenomenas in church development that you may have noticed is the rise of the Life Church movement, Life Churches. You see these churches are usually in shopping centres where their group has taken over a theater or a department store and transformed it into a church location. And one feature of this group is that they have a main campus, like a main spot, main campus where the main preacher (or pastor in their case) is located, and they feed a live video of his preaching and the worship service to smaller satellite groups that are set up throughout the city. Nothing wrong with that if you want to do that but they've kind of pioneered that approach.
Another feature according to their website is the presentation of what they call "high-energy worship music," and of course what this means is that their service has a well polished and professional group of musicians, singers and performers who will present a very enjoyable selection of songs for the people who are viewing that.
As a matter of fact on their website, it says they guarantee you worship will be an hour, it's not longer than an hour, it won't go over and we will provide high-impact good preaching. And every week a different show with a variety of Christian contemporary bands and performers and this will and does appeal to the many who attend and listen to this type of music regularly and they do so on Christian radio. Christian "contemporary music" is very popular today.
Of course the use of contemporary music played by professional musicians in ever more elaborate stage presentations has actually become the norm for churches competing with one another to draw the coveted young adult generation to attend worship. And in the face of this cultural and religious phenomenon it appears almost quaint (even insignificant) that the only ones it seems that have not enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon and completely embraced this new musical reality is us in the Churches of Christ. Some Churches of Christ, have embraced this form of music during their worship but the majority of mainline Churches of Christ have not.
One feature about the Church of Christ that most people recognize immediately is the fact that we actually don't use instruments of music in our worship. They all say "what church you go to? oh you people don't use instruments right?" We go yeah that's us.
Now it's not that we're against music and it's not that we think instruments or playing them are bad, we have many gifted singers and musicians in our congregation. It's just that when we gather as a church to worship God, we don't use any instruments of music at that time. We only sing and we only use the human voice as our instrument to praise and to honor the Lord in worship.
We are unique in the religious world in this and it may be why many people identify the Churches of Christ with the idea of no instruments used in worship, we're probably the only large group that does not. And so I'd like to review the reasons why we are an a cappella (non instrumental) church. If that's what people know about us, we should know why we do this and what happens when we lift our voices to God in praise and one other thing. One of the objectives with this particular lesson is to hopefully remove that feeling of resignation when somebody says to you, "oh you Church of Christ, yeah you're the ones that don't use any instrument" and the response is, "yeah that's us." No, I'd like to eliminate that "yeah that's us" reaction. I'd like a little more positive "yes have you ever been to one of our services?" or "have you ever experienced a capella music in worship?" I'd like it to be that reaction instead of "yeah, sorry." We don't have to make an apology for this brothers and sisters.
Now there are reasons why we do everything that we do in our service to God this includes worship and how we offer that worship to God when we gather for that purpose. So then why do we only sing and not use instruments in our worship service as well. Several good reasons for this, here are the main ones.
1. We sing because the New Testament tells us to sing.
The Scriptures provide instructions concerning every aspect of our spiritual lives and that includes our worship to God when we gather publicly. In the New Testament we have specific teaching that guides us in what we should be doing when it comes to worshiping God. I'd like to just list a few passages here. People say "where does it say in the Bible that you should only sing?" And your answer should be "well hang on a second let me get my Bible out and I'll show you where it says that."
14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.
- I Corinthians 14:15-15
Now all of chapter 14 (of this particular epistle) is about proper conduct in the assembly especially when the church gathers to worship, this is the context of what he's saying here. So when they gather to worship Paul encourages the church to sing.
This isn't the only passage that refers to worship but it is one that refers to worship and music and when teaching on this worship and music, Paul says to sing.
15Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
- Ephesians 5:15-17
So important, right here, "but understand what the will of the Lord is" and then he goes on
18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;
- Ephesians 5:18-209
That's the will of the Lord. Again describing acceptable spirit-filled worship, Paul says that we should sing among other things. The point of the passage is that acceptable activities should accompany Christian worship and one of these acceptable activities is to be singing songs and psalms and so on and so forth.
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
- Colossians 3:16
Amazing isn't it? The same instruction given at Corinth and Ephesus was not a coincidence but rather a pattern for activity as Paul repeats the very same instructions for the Christians at Colossi. I mean there were different problems and different context for all of these churches for Paul to write to all of these.
For example, he wrote to Corinth for one of the major problems was immorality going on among other things, they had a unity issue in Ephesus, in Colossians false doctrine or false teaching was creeping into the church. Different topics, different churches but when it came to talk about public worship what does he say, the exact same thing for every single church regardless of the issues they were having at the time. The point being that singing spiritual songs during public worship was acceptable before God.
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.
- James 5:13
Another New Testament writer in a different circumstance gives exactly the same teaching when referring to the offering of praise, he says to sing. Throughout the New Testament when it comes to this particular subject the same pattern of instruction emerges: when Christians gather to worship and praise they only sing.
Right there that should be enough those few scriptures, there's more, but those few scriptures should be enough.
Why do we sing? Well we sing because the word used in the New Testament means actually to sing. In every case where instruction is given to the church about praise and worship the word that the Apostles use to describe what they should be doing means to sing without the accompaniment of an instrument.
The Greek word psallo, very interesting in English we use the term a cappella. If I were to say to you we're going to an a cappella concert tonight you would immediately know well we're going to see people who are going to sing without instruments. We use the term a capella. In their day they use the term psallo.
There is an interesting history to this word. Originally it meant to pluck, you had a stringed instrument and you would pluck the instrument like you play a guitar, that's what it originally meant. Eventually the word began to change in its meaning and it began to refer to the actual song or the psalm that was being played and not to the playing of it, so it went from the playing of the instrument to the song that was being played by the instrument. By New Testament times the word meant to sing the song itself without the accompaniment of an instrument.
We see the evolution of words all the time. If I were to say to you anybody have a Kleenex, anybody out there have the Kleenex, well you know what I'd be talking about right, a tissue, but Kleenex is that thing is that a Kleenex? No. Kleenex is a brand, Kimberly-Clark the company has a brand of tissue called Kleenex, but eventually the word Kleenex went from being the brand of tissue to the tissue itself.
And that's not unique to the English or the Greek language we have the same thing in the French language. When we were in Montreal and when we were filming our program there, the director would be calling to the cameraman we had three cameras and he would say to cameraman number one he'd say in French he'd say bring your Kodak and put it over there, well Kodak that's the name of the company if you're you know certain age you remember that Kodak cameras were like the old style cameras, huge company they made film and so on and so forth, in French the slang word for a camera those big cameras and studios there that the guys man, they're called Kodaks, they have another name but they refer to them as Kodaks, the evolution of language.
So the Old Testament period during David and Solomon's reign a thousand years before Christ, temple worship was accompanied by musicians and parades and mixed choirs. For this reason many Psalms speak of an accompaniment by instruments. And a lot of times people today they defend their use of instruments in worship and they point immediately to David and some of the linear notes before Psalms to be played by the accompaniment of certain instrument. And they say, look at this David the writer of the Psalms they played instruments. But saying that and arguing that is forgetting the idea of the evolution of words. By the time of the Babylonian captivity which was about 600 BC when synagogues were established musical instruments and Jewish worship began to be eliminated altogether the reason was the Jews considered them too paganistic to be used the pagans used instruments of worship and so there were no instruments of worship in the synagogue.
By New Testament time the Jews no longer used instruments in the temple and as the church was founded the Apostles taught the early disciples to use only the voice in their worship services. Now you may be wondering why explain all this history? Well here's why, this is the reason that the Apostles used a word that meant specifically to sing without instruments, they were doing it on purpose, it's not a fluke that we got here is not a tradition that we got here, the Apostles selected a word that meant specifically to sing without the use of instruments. That's why appeals to what David did in the Old Testament to justify what we do now are not valid it's not good Bible study. I mean if we did this we could also offer animal sacrifice, we could impose circumcision I mean if they did it in the Old Testament we can bring it forward why not animal sacrifice right? Well we don't do that because we know that it's the New Testament that guides us, not the Old Testament.
When determining what we should do or what we should not do as Christians here's a good kind of basic rule to follow: when the New Testament specifically tells us by a command or by giving us some sort of example or by providing a set of guidelines then we should just do the thing that it tells us, if on the other hand the New Testament tells us to specifically what we should do then we should do just that and not add or subtract or change what we should do.
For example the New Testament tells us to be baptized right to be immersed in water, well we shouldn't add to that a sign of the cross or walking a mile or lighting a candle or anything else are getting on our knees, we should simply do what it says, be baptized, no more no less no different. The New Testament tells us then that when we gather to worship and praise we should sing without accompaniment of instruments, when we add a band or a piano or when we go beyond what God has told us to do in His word, this is dangerous. Now if the New Testament had given us no teaching, if the New Testament had given us no commands, no examples about this matter well then we would be free to choose how we are to offer worship to God. I mean hey let's get a worship committee, let's get some new ideas, why not next Sunday nothing but dance, let's just get the elders up here to dance, why not we don't have any instructions. Let's have a parade and before we all come in let's just get outside in the parking lot on a nice day and let's just have a parade and come on in here with a parade with the big symbals and the band, we could get the high school band to come in you know what I'm saying, let's do that. I mean so long as it doesn't violate some other part of Scripture let's just do it, hey why not, let's have a worship service nothing but hand clapping and feet stomping, I mean we're doing it unto the Lord, we're not trying to be disrespectful we're going to clap unto the Lord, we're going to stomp our feet unto the Lord.
Well, believe it or not, that would be okay if we had no instructions, if we haven't been taught what to do. But we have been taught what to do and when we've been taught what to do we just should do that, nothing more nothing less nothing different because God and His wisdom has given us instruction about what we ought to do, He has shown us how we should worship and when it comes to music He wants His people to sing and only to sing without instruments, so that's why we do what we do when we gather to worship. Okay so why do we sing? Well first of all the Bible says this is what we should do, secondly the word used when discussing music during worship actually means to sing without accompaniment of instruments.
2. History confirms this practice.
Now this is not the strongest of reasons for singing, I believe what the Bible says is the strongest reason for that but it does support the other two reasons. We know that this is what the Apostles taught not only by the words they used but also by the activity of the early church recorded by historians. Every single historical record describing the worship of the early church states that it was forbidden to use instruments, it was not a matter of choice. I repeat every single record that describes this issue, every one. Historians record that all the churches throughout the Roman Empire were a capella churches.
As a matter of fact they were referred to by this term, in other words the church, the Christian church for a time was known as the a capella church. What religion are you? I'm a Christian, oh the a capella people, yeah that's us. Nothing new, we think old Churches of Christ we're the ground breakers, we're the ones that have been called that, but no no no way way back in the first century they were calling the church the the a cappella church because of this feature. For seven centuries [excuse me] there were no instruments of music in Christian worship. The first instrument was introduced by Pope Vitalian in 666 AD when he received an organ as a gift from a European king. And so in order to put that organ and that gift to good use he offered it to a church and thus began the use of music instruments. There were others scattered attempts and so on and so forth but this was historically the beginning of the the tide turning as far as instrument and worship is concerned. But until that time the church only sang in worship because that's what they had been taught by the Apostles through command and example in God's Word.
During the Protestant Reformation, the Reformation churches, the early Protestant churches threw out organs, threw out instruments. Why? Because they knew what the Bible said, that's why, they actually knew what it said and they remove not only the statues and the pictures and the holy water and the confessionals and they got rid of all that stuff they also got rid of the instruments. Calvinists, there were 10,000 Calvinistic churches in Europe, several hundred years ago not one of them had an instrument in their building. So as Christians we don't just do things because other people do them or because it's fun or convenient or popular or progressive, we do what we do because we follow the teachings of Christ and His Apostles in God's Word. I'm not saying that like as a holier than thou we're better than you, no. We're saying to others you know what you have eyes, you can read, just read the book, ask yourself the question, what does the book say to do in this case? You'll see, you'll come to that conclusion, we're not holier than thou but we do know how to read and we're committed to obeying what we read. This type of obedience, this is not legalism, it's a demonstration that we love God and we want to obey Him. Jesus said if you love Me, you will obey Me, John 14:15.
Avoid the extremes
Now we need to avoid two extremes when it comes to this issue of music and worship. One extreme is to make this into some major doctrine and focus way too much attention on it. I once knew a preacher, bless his soul and a good man doing a good job but every second sermon he could start in Isaiah somewhere he could start in Genesis somewhere you know and sooner or later the conclusion of his sermon that started in Genesis was that we ought not to use instruments in worship. That gets old after a while. This is not a major Christian doctrine, a major Christian doctrine is Jesus is the Divine Son of God that's a major Christian doctrine. We are saved through a process of faith and not works, that's a major doctrine. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, that's a major doctrine. That we should use instruments we should not use instruments during worship that's a doctrine, it's an important doctrine but it doesn't have the weight of the doctrine that said Jesus is the Son of God.
Some people make this thing way bigger than it needs to be. Of course the opposite thing is to ignore it because it's a minor issue, that's unimportant we're all going to heaven anyways who cares. Well I care, I care because I want to do what God wants me to do in every area important areas like I confess that I do believe that Jesus is the Son of God important areas like that, and in other areas where perhaps there's less information less focus in the New Testament but the information is there, I also want to worship Jesus in the way that pleases Him. I want to do that too.
We need to try to be obedient in all matter and small because all of these things are important since they demonstrate our willingness to obey our Lord Jesus Christ. If we are faithful in little things like how we ought to offer public praise then maybe He'll trust us with the big things like reigning with Him in heaven, like seeking the lost, those are the big things.
It's not enough just to understand how we should properly worship God we should also know what happens when we offer our songs in worship. What happens exactly, we sang some terrific songs there before I got up to preach what's going on there when we're doing that? Well a couple of things, first of all we succeed in praising God effectively, effectively.
In Psalms 47 David says,
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises;
for God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a skillful psalm.
Singing psalms and spiritual songs is a way of expressing our reaction to the blessings and the power of God, it's our natural spiritual reaction. Let me explain, what's the natural reaction you get if you look straight up get on a hot 90-degree day in Oklahoma no clouds in the sky big old sun what's the natural reaction if you look straight up into the sun? You'll go whoa you'll cover your eyes you'll shade you it's the natural reaction you can't look straight into the sun and not cover your eyes. What's the natural reaction when you see the Grand Canyon for the first time? Wow what's the natural reaction when you see Niagara Falls for the first time? Oh my goodness look at this. Natural reaction. Well praise and song is our natural reaction, our natural response when we are made aware of God's majesty and power and wisdom and mercy. It's the reaction that is the most biblically acceptable as a way of expressing praise to God. I see how great God is, I recognize His mercy and His love, the awesome power that He has and I've just got to do something, I can't sit still, what do I do? Well I offer song in praise, spiritual song, that's the reaction, that's the natural God-given reaction.
The word for worship in the Greek means to send a kiss or to kiss forward, singing spiritual hymns and songs is our way of sending a kiss to God and making sure that it's accepted. So when we sing in worship we demonstrate the natural response to our understanding of God. Also when we sing in worship we offer spiritual thanksgiving. In Ephesians chapter 5 Paul writes,
18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
- Ephesians 5:18-21
How many times does he have to mention singing in the same verse till we kind of get that he wants us to sing? Singing hymns is a spiritual way of saying thank you for forgiveness and resurrection and eternal life, thank you for maintaining our faith in our life here on earth, the source of these blessings is spiritual in nature because God is a spirit, and so our thanksgiving or our appreciation must also be spiritual in nature. You've got to give the right thing to the right person in the right way, I go to the restaurant and the server does a great job in serving me right a great job in serving me and the menu and the food is great everything's on time my drink is filled, a good server, would it be proper for me to express my thanks to him by saying, you know what I'll say a prayer for you on my way home. No. What's the proper way to offer thanks to the server for his good service or her good service? I leave a tip I leave a good tip. What's the proper way to say thank you to God for life, eternal life, for blessings and family? Do I give Him a tip? No, I give Him a song, I give Him praise, I sing with my heart full of joy, that's the proper way to give thanks to God because you can't give God money or flowers.
Things done because we believe in Jesus and are carried out according to the Word take on a spiritual quality. Our worship is spiritual not just because we sing, our worship is spiritual because we are singing in obedience to God's Word, that's what makes it spiritual, it doesn't make it spiritual because the guys in the band are playing nice you know seventh or minor chords and the there's nice for five-part harmony by the background singers and the pianist they've got a nice melody all work. That's not what makes it spiritual, that's what makes it entertaining. What makes it spiritual is that we're responding to God in the way God wants us to respond to Him, that's what makes it spiritual.
To pollute this expression with instruments makes the entire experience less spiritual. I'm not saying less sincere, I don't question anybody sincerity and their desire to worship God but I do think it's less spiritual because it's not following God's will. And then when we sing we also encourage each other don't we?
19But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, 20and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans." 22The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.
- Acts 16:19-26
So Paul and Silas are in prison, they have no rights, they have no money, they have no lawyer, they have no way out, but in the midst of all of this they lift up their voices in song to God praising, thanking Him and, making my point here, encouraging each other encouraging each other. And we know the rest of this story, the earthquake the prison doors open he converts the jailer and so on and so forth. But as far as my point is concerned about encouragement nothing lifts up a sad heart better than to sing praises to the Lord.
I can remember my wife Lise and I many times, we had four little kids in the mission field, sometimes we were just tired and a bit discouraged and a bit lonely and so on and so forth and when that would happen, we pulled out our song books and we'd start singing. "Well let's try this one." Half the time we were laughing because our singing was so bad because we were trying to harmonize and we couldn't do it, got the giggles, but that was okay we were we were exhorting each other we were encouraging each other how with song. I wasn't saying to her, "pick it up, everything's going to be fine, don't worry about" We just opened the songbook and started singing.
Are we not all prisoners of this world and its many frustrations and temptations and discouragements? When we sing together like Paul and Silas the walls of our tension, the walls of our fear, the prison of our anger and hurt, all of these come tumbling down. When our hearts and our mouths are filled with songs of praise and thanksgiving there's no reason for arguing or hatred. It's very hard for me to hate my sister if I'm singing with her praises to God, very very difficult.
When I hear my voice and your voice mingle in song I not only know that we are united intellectually but I can feel our unity, I can feel the sense of purpose that we have together I am encouraged because you like me we're singing the same song, to the same God, for the same purpose. Families who are experiencing problems should spend more time singing praises to God together, it would do them some good, it would do them a lot of good.
I hope I've answered the question: why are we an a cappella church? Well we sing without instruments because this is what the Bible instructs us to do in public worship to God. The Apostles taught this, the early church did this and we simply follow their teaching and example. In addition to this we sing in order to praise God effectively, to thank Him in a spiritual way because He is a spiritual being and also to encourage one another in the faith.
This lesson will make a difference in your spiritual life only if you realize and accept that what we do here is not just the Church of Christ thing. A capella music in worship is not a Church of Christ thing, it's a Bible thing, it's a God's Word thing. Therefore when we sing and when we lead others we should do so with as much effort and care and expertise as we can. If that is so then song leaders need to choose carefully and prayerfully the songs that will be offered to God.
Sermons they're not prepared at the last minute. I don't think song leaders should be up here two minutes before worship either figuring out what they're going to sing. I get it sometimes you've been asked at the last minute I understand that, but if you know that you're going to be leading God's people in worship that's not something that should be relegated for the last three minutes before you actually get up and lead the song. Very important.
And not only the song leader but the assembly needs to be focused on their singing, everybody should be singing, everybody, "well I don't have a good voice," so what this isn't American Idol. You think by not singing you're going to hide from God the fact that you can't sing. As a matter of fact for those who cannot sing I think it's an even more blessed thing that you open your mouth and sing anyways because the people with the good voices man they want to harmonize, I hear that okay I'll sing the next line as base okay next line I'm going to sing it as the alto, now I'm going to sing base and alto at the same time.
Worshiping God is not based on having a good voice it's based on faith, it's based on the fact that we recognize that we've been blessed. When we refuse to sing or ignore the song service part of the worship then we are refusing to praise God, we're refusing to thank Him and we're not participating in the building of the body. Boy how edifying am I if I'm singing my heart out, you know Christians of souls Christians arise and so on as soldiers of Christ that's it, soldiers of Christ arise, and the two people next to me nothing. Well I'm edified, I really feel we're in this thing together. I want to turn around and say okay what team are you on, who you rooting for?
Fads and interest in various types of music they come and go, forty years ago the Beatles introduced eastern Indian music remember Ravi Shankar oh boy was all the thrill to the United States and it was a rage for a while and then it disappeared. This may be the decade for popular Christian music and that's good it's a form of salt and light in a very dark world but it's time will one day pass and it will recede to the marginal place that has occupied for so long just like other forms of contemporary music and something newer will come along to take its place. If we however carefully follow God's Word our worship may not always be in style but it will always be acceptable.
And if this be so then our prayers will be heard and we will come away from worship services spiritually satisfied and lifted up no matter what generation we live in, no matter what's going on in the world. So we've got another song to sing tonight so we have two more songs to sing tonight, let's sing these songs with reverence shall we and conviction, offering God the worship that He deserves, and that He blesses us with. And while this song of encouragement is being sung if you recognize that you need to be baptized, to repent for your sins, or if you recognize that you need to be restored to faithfulness through prayer and restoration or perhaps to publicly announce your desire to be considered a member of this congregation and accept the oversight of our elders then please do not hesitate to do so as we stand and sing the song of invitation.