Why We Sing A Cappella
Imagine Baptist churches or Catholic churches without musical instruments. They once were. The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon never used a piano, organ, guitar, or drums in worship. Biographer Arnold Dalimore notes that in Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, “There was no organ and no choir. A precentor set the pitch of each hymn with a tuning fork and led the singing with his own voice.”
Psalm 33:2 commands: “Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.” Spurgeon comments: “Men need all the help they can get to stir them up to praise. This is the lesson gathered from the use of musical instruments under the old dispensation. Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her to learn; but in these days, when Jesus gives us spiritual manhood, we can make melody without strings and pipes. We do not believe these things expedient in worship, lest they should mar its simplicity … ” Israel used musical instruments in worship because, in their times, looking forward to and anticipating the Savior, they depended upon musical instruments to stir them up to praise. Today’s church members should depend upon the Holy Spirit to empower their praise.
Spurgeon spoke much about Israel’s use of musical instruments in the worship. “There was a typical signification in them; and upon this account they are not only rejected and condemned by the whole army of Protestant divines … so that we might as well recall the incense, tapers, sacrifices, new moons, circumcision, and all the other shadows of the law into use again.” The old church fathers held instrumental music was “part of the abrogated legal pedagogy.” It was part of the Ceremonial Law set aside by the sacrifice of Christ. In our day, Christ and His Spirit should be sufficient to energize us for worship. “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” (Hebrews 13:15).
Long before the Reformation, Thomas Aquinas declared, “Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaise” Aquinas rejected musical instruments in New Testament worship because they reintroduced part of the Old Testament ceremonial law. Aquinas argued, “Musical instruments usually move the soul more to pleasure than create inner moral goodness. But in the Old Testament, they used instruments of this kind, both because the people were more coarse and carnal, so they needed to be aroused by such instruments and with worldly promises, and also because bodily instruments were symbolic of something” (Summa theologica part 2.2, Q 91 art. 2).
Spurgeon and Aquinas present two lines of reasoning. First, the use musical instruments in worship was discarded with the setting aside of the ceremonial law of Israel. Second, the Old Testament musical instruments used in the worship were types. Second Chronicles 29:23-28 shows the connection of musical instruments to the Old Testament sacrifices.
Then they brought the male goats of the sin offering before the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them. The priests slaughtered them and purged the altar with their blood to atone for all Israel, for the king ordered the burnt offering and the sin offering for all Israel. 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. The Levites stood with the musical instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. Then Hezekiah gave the order to offer the burnt offering on the altar. When the burnt offering began, the song to the LORD also began with the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David, king of Israel. While the whole assembly worshiped, the singers also sang and the trumpets sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.
God ordered the use of musical instruments in the Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices through David, Nathan, and Gad. The use of instruments was part of the worship offered in conjunction with the sacrifices. When the offering began, singing with accompaniment also began. The offering and singing with instruments went together. When the offering was finished, the music ceased. The two were inextricably linked. The use of instrumental music in the worship of ancient Israel was part of her ceremonial worship.
We affirm with Charles Spurgeon, that all the ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament. Hebrews 10:5-9 argues the case for us.
Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God.’” After saying above, “Sacrifice and offering and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have not desired nor have you taken no pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.
Christ takes away the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament Law. He establishes His own sacrifice as preeminent. The Old Testament Sacrifices foreshadowed Christ. “He takes away the first in order to establish the second.” The Old Testament sacrificial system is done away; this includes the use of musical instruments in worship. This argument is the classic, historic, and basic defense for a cappella singing in worship. Some of us may hold to a cappella singing because it is the long-standing tradition of our church. This is not enough. A cappella singing is the Biblical position.