Singing in the Assembly
John Telgren


There are those today who do not use musical instruments in their assemblies when they sing. For those not acquainted with the reasons, it may seem like a strange thing. Why would Christians make the decision to exclude instrumentation in the singing for their assemblies?

In light of history, the question should be reversed. For nearly 1900 years, Christians resolutely refrained from using instruments in their assemblies. Even though there were a couple of attempts to introduce instruments in the assembly, Christians rejected them as being inappropriate for Christian assemblies. Of course, this raises the question about the use of instruments in Old Testament worship and their non-use in New Testament worship.

God gave very explicit instructions concerning how his people were to approach him in formal worship. Whether it was the building of altars, the size and building materials of the sanctuary, the days and activities of the various festivals, the priesthood, and the activities of the priesthood, God made it very clear how he wanted the people to approach him.

It wasn't until the time of David that instruments were used for worship in the Old Testament (1 Chr 23-25). But David did not introduce the instruments due to his own taste. The text says that the command concerning the instruments, among other things, was "from the Lord" (2 Chr 29:25). In other words, even the instruments of the Old Testament were not added as matter of taste, but by the instruction of the Lord for use by priestly musicians. The musicians were to be Levites and no one else, which means that the Levitical orchestra was part of the temple system of worship in the Old Testament. The music was not congregational and the focus was strictly on magnifying the name of God.

When the temple was destroyed and the people exiled to Babylon in 586 A.D., the Israelites worked to maintain their religious heritage and identity by creating the synagogue. It was a house of teaching, meeting, edification, and worship. There, Jews gathered on the Sabbath, taught their children during the week, and had leadership meetings as needed. It is interesting to note that in synagogue worship there were no instruments. The reason? The synagogue was not a replacement for the temple and did not employ "professional" Levitical musicians. Instead the music was strictly congregational singing. This was appropriate, because the focus at the synagogue was not merely worship, but mutual edification. The music of mutual edification is congregational a cappella singing.

After the return from captivity, temple music was restored. However, the music of the synagogue continued. As a result, there were two systems of music among the Jews. One was temple music with instruments and professional priests focused on magnification. The other was synagogue music, which was congregational a cappella singing focused on mutual edification.

Jesus could not have participated in worship at the temple because he was not a Levite. However, Jesus did participate in synagogue worship, which involved a cappella singing.

Under the new covenant, the temple with its Levitical priesthood that included the sacrificial and musical system has been done away with (Eph 2:15; Heb 8:6; 9:15). By God's design, the Christian assembly is a place of edification like the synagogue, not like the temple (1 Cor 14:26). The primary purpose of the Christian assembly is to edify and encourage one another (Heb 10:24-25). This is why we are instructed to be filled with the Spirit by "speaking to another" in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19). The entire congregation participates to edify one another. The focus is not just vertical, but horizontal as well. By God's design, congregational a cappella singing is meets this purpose and is what is appropriate. This is why musical instruments were not given in the New Testament and why the church refrained from using them in their assemblies for over 1800 years.