Believers in the last two centuries have debated about the worship God wants. Some believe Christians should sing with no musical accompaniment, while most believers worship with instruments. Believers have written countless books on what type of worship the New Testament authorizes. When reading the New Testament, one cannot find a single passage in which a congregation of believers comes together to pray, hear a sermon, take communion, give, and sing with instruments.
Of course, there is not a single passage in which a congregation of believers comes together to pray, hear a sermon, take communion, give, and sing without instruments. The worship service, as practiced by twenty-first century Christians, isn’t in the New Testament. We know the saints gathered for a meal, took communion, prayed, sung hymns, and contributed when needed, but the New Testament doesn’t prescribe a worship service with five ritualistic acts. These assemblies, like meetings in the synagogue, weren’t commanded or authorized because they didn’t need to be; they are what believers naturally do!
Our worship services today are like a nozzle that the church turns on and off on Sunday morning in which everyone faces forward, takes a pinch of cracker and a sip of grape juice, sings four part harmony, and goes home for the week. These services lack the community and intimacy that the first century believers enjoyed.
Worship in the New Testament, including communion, was not limited to one day of the week. It was often spontaneous, emotional, and holy. Like David dancing in the streets to musical instruments, worship comes from the heart.
But what does the worship God wants looks like?
Does the New Testament authorize instruments?
What is the pattern?
The second and third questions assume there needs to be a pattern or authorization. The Law didn’t “authorize” instruments, but David used them all the same. Since there is no worship service in the New Testament (in the way we typically define it), then there is no pattern for us to follow. God, however, offers us a useful pattern for New Testament worship. That’s what we’ll spend the rest of the article covering.
First, worship can be organized, intentional, and scheduled, but worship, in general, is not something that is turned on or off like a faucet. Paul explained,
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.Romans 12:1
Our very life is a sacrifice to God. All that we do as Christians is a response to God’s goodness and mercy. We direct every action to Him as thanksgiving.
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.Colossians 3:17
We worship (bow down) before God in following Him and doing good to others.
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.Hebrews 13:15–16
Offering thanksgiving to God should come naturally to every believer. Whether one does this by themselves, silently, from the rooftops, or with an instrument, they are living for God. When I sit down to eat, I am worshipping God. When I practice guitar, I am worshipping God. When I study the Bible, I am worshipping God. When I am helping the homeless, I am worshipping God. When I give to others as God has given to me, I am worshipping God.
Because as Christians, we are always in the Holy Place offering spiritual sacrifices.
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.1 Peter 2:4–5
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.Hebrews 10:19–22
Questions of authorization in this context are more about whether you are living like you should, not some so-called pattern of worship. Those discussions only produce more needless divisions.
The apostles and writers of the New Testament continued to worship in synagogues and the temple. Though they clarified that all aspects of the Law were passing away by name, such as animal sacrifice, Levitical priesthood, and the temple, they never indicated that instruments were also forbidden. The reason for this is quite simple: instruments were not part of the Law. John, for example, mentions the use of the harp in Heaven several times in Revelation with no disclaimer attached. They were an assumed, natural part of praising God.
We should be more concerned with the content of one’s character than the manner in which they prefer to worship because that’s what it is: a preference. I prefer to sing in a congregational setting, but I also enjoy playing piano and guitar in the comfort of my home, and I am worshipping from the heart in both locations and through both mediums.
For more information on instrumental music in the Christan assembly, please see my friend Dallas’s website: