God’s Word or Man’s Opinion?
To the minds of many Christians, there is nothing more encouraging than to hear and join in worship in song with others. Yet, such singing has the greater purpose of praising Almighty God. This combination of purposes is seen in Ephesians 5:18-19, which says, “...be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.”
Adherence to this instruction is not universal. We see and hear religious music being performed by both symphony orchestras and rock and roll bands, with or without singing. Churches compete for members through such staged performances, striving to adhere to the musical tastes of society.
The Apostle Paul does not mention instruments of music in the verses quoted above, but many assume that they can be used in support of musical worship. One of the most famous literary interpreters of the New Testament is Albert Barnes. His comments on those verses are “The prevailing character of music in the worship of God should be vocal. If instruments are employed, they should be so subordinate that the service may be characterized as singing.” Many readers of such words would likely agree, but this opinion also shows a lack of respect for God’s Word.
Paul makes no mention of musical instruments, but Albert Barnes knew that they were used widely, so his opinion was tolerant, and he suggested only that the instruments should not be prominent. The vocal nature should prevail. In fact, it should be so prevalent that the worship with instruments could be called, simply, “singing.”
This opinion could spread to other matters in religion. The Word of God speaks of baptism as a “burial” (Romans 6:4), but, using Barnes’ way of thinking, a person should be lightly sprinkled with water in such a solemn way that it would make him think that he was being “buried.”
“But that is absurd,” someone might respond. Of course it is, and it is just as absurd to describe the strumming of a guitar as “singing.” When human beings nurse the opinion that something can be added to the Word of God, so long as it does not prevail over the intent of what God says, they are treading on the edge of God’s wrath.
David’s use of a “new cart” to transport the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem ended in disaster for one of the cart drivers, Uzza (1 Chronicles 13:7-10). After David apparently studied the matter from God’s Word, and learned that the Ark was to be carried on the shoulders of the Levites of the family of Kohath (Numbers 4:15), they had no more problems (1 Chronicles 15:11-15). If David had used the reasoning of Albert Barnes, he could have said, “We can haul the Ark on the cart, if we do it in such a way that it seems that the Levites are carrying it on their shoulders.”
We will find it much more simple – and pleasing to God –if we confine our actions in service to Him to His explicit instruction, without addition or subtraction or opinion (see Colossians 3:16-17).