In order to answer this question, it should first be established as to whether or not we should sing at all in the meeting of the New Testament church and if so, what is the purpose of such singing. We should never take anything for granted or assume that we have the right to do anything in the gathering of the saints, simply because we enjoy it or think it to be proper, or to follow a particular pattern for tradition’s sake. Our direction in all that we do must come from the word of GOD as we examine its teaching and example.

Congregational singing in the New Testament Church is first demonstrated at the conclusion of the last supper which the LORD took with HIS disciples before the resurrection. We read, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” (Mat 26:30, Mark 14:26) This was a solemn occasion and according to the custom of the Jews in observing the Passover they probably sang one of the Psalms before retiring to pray. But keep in mind that this was no ordinary group of Jews gathered to observe the Passover as their ancestors had done countless times before. Rather this was the first occasion when the true PASSOVER LAMB gathered with HIS disciples to “shew HIS death until he comes”. Thus, HIS true bride was gathered together even as their spiritual descendants would be in the years to follow. This was clearly a meeting of the church of CHRIST.

Paul instructs the Ephesians to sing. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 5:19-20) Then he gives similar instruction to the Colossians,“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col 3:16)

We also notice that he mentions the bringing forth of Psalms in the meeting of the Corinthians, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” (1Cor 14:26) The word Psalm literally means a hymn and the book of Psalms can rightly be termed a book of hymns.

So, I think we can conclude that it is proper to “sing” with grace in our hearts when the church is gathered together. I think we can also conclude that such singing is to be done for the purpose of admonishing and encouraging one another while giving thanks to the LORD for all things. Therefore, it behooves us to give serious consideration to what it is we are “singing”. It is no more proper to sing songs which are not scripturally and doctrinally accurate than it is to preach things which are not in accordance with the same. Nor should we regard the admonitions and exhortations set forth in the songs we sing as in any way inferior to the same given by preaching however eloquently expressed such preaching may be or the supposed “credentials” of the one preaching.

The singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is one way in which the body is edified by that which every joint supplieth and affords each of the participants the privilege of ministering one to another as well as participating in harmony and one accord. By its very nature, singing promotes unity as it is impossible to “sing” together without one mind and purpose.

The very act of singing is somewhat tied to the emotions and is intended to be a full expression of the whole man; body, soul, and spirit. While singing itself is designed to touch the emotions, great care should be given that we do not allow the act of singing to be primarily an emotional exercise. Therefore, we are to examine closely what it is that we sing and use those songs which are not simply appealing to our feelings but are expressive of truth and befitting the praises of our GOD. This very thought process should have great bearing on how we sing, not to mention what we sing.

If we consider Paul’s exhortation to “sing” on its most basic level, I think that we can conclude that “music”, insofar as one would consider tempo, meter, and melody as music, and “singing” are not necessarily always attached. Consider for instance Mary’s exultation at the consideration of her blessed state as the mother of our LORD in Luke 1:46-55. This can rightly be termed a “song” though it was simply spoken and not set to a particular tune. The same concept can be seen in Solomon’s “Song” which is a declaration of the glorious dealings of the BRIDEGROOM with HIS bride. So, it is possible that one can “sing” without “tempo, meter, and melody” (i.e.; three elements of song) and is the first consideration of the act of “song”. It is more a condition of the mind than a performance of the voice.

Having said that; it is then also common and proper to consider that “singing” is also, normally set apart from simple speaking by those three elements which add a dimension to the communication of song whose effect upon men is not easily explainable. We would generally always attach a certain element of “joy” to singing even when the subject of the song is most sober or even conveying mourning or sadness in its words. Song is that which lifts the spirits of men as they “lift” their voices.

Some have considered that since “song” is tied to the “emotions and feelings”; that it is to be considered a somewhat inferior means of communication, to the simple spoken word, I personally find no evidence in the scripture that such is the case. Singing as well as speaking (i.e.; preaching, praying, prophesying, teaching, etc) when indicted by the SPIRIT of GOD with power are both very effective means of communication and are used by HIM in the exhortation and instruction of the saints of GOD, and one must not be promoted at the expense of the other.

David and Saul

So, we can surely say that singing does not have to be thought of as solely concerned with “tempo, meter, and melody”, but that it is usually identified by their inclusion. The introduction of tempo and melody transforms poetry (which uses meter and often rhyming) into a musical activity. Music is a description of these three elements and is produced by the very act of singing in a normal fashion. Therefore, when one recites poetry with the inclusion of tempo and melody then a song is formed and musical sounds are produced.

Now this may seem somewhat basic and at the same time redundant, but it is necessary to establish exactly what musically enhanced singing (i.e.; the addition of tempo, meter, and melody) actually is and the observed effect that music in general has upon men. When we examine the life of King Saul in the old Testament, we can quickly see the calming effect that music can have upon a man. (see I Sam.16:14-23) In Saul’s case the music that calmed him was not that produced by the voice in singing but rather that produced by David as he skillfully played upon the harp or stringed instrument. The scripture alludes to the use of a trumpet in arousing men to war. ( see I Cor.14:7,8) So clearly music has an effect upon men which is, as we have formerly said, not easily explained.

Nowhere in the scripture do we find any mention of an evil aspect of music though we often get the impression from some that certain types of music are evil. Now there is no doubt that men often use music for evil purposes but even as Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” (1Cor. 10:23) May we be given grace to always use music in whatever form it may take, expediently and unto the glory of GOD. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Col 3:17)

Men’s tastes in music are as varied as their tastes in food. Some foods which are enjoyed immensely by some are despised by others who think they are awful. Such is the case when the question of “style” is brought up in connection with singing in the local gathering of GOD’s people. Some folks prefer a certain type of tune, or a specific tempo (some fast, some sloooow, and some in between). There is seldom a tempo that is satisfactory to all that are present and I might add that we will search in vain to find the proper tempo described in the scriptures or discover a suitable tune.

Therefore, in order for there to be peace in an assembly it is necessary for them to join together in singing in some consensus and not to be found at odds with one another over such matters which are truly insignificant in the overall analysis. This is what Paul means when he speaks about “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.” (Rom 12:10) “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psa 133:1) This is the goal of all assemblies and must transcend personal preference and hackneyed tradition, however dear.

One cannot discuss singing in the church in the present day without dealing with the question of whether or not musical instruments (other than the voice) should be used in the music (i.e.; singing) of the church. Some churches are convinced that they cannot do without instrumental musical accompaniment to aid their singing. Others view the introduction of such instruments as being a sure sign of apostasy and the closest thing to devil worship that can be found.

I personally do not think that the extreme of either position is healthy nor conducive to “admonishing one another in song” from a biblical position. Paul said that all things are lawful to the children of GOD but not all are expedient. He went on to say that though he was the LORD’s free man he would not allow himself to be brought under the power of anything which is the same as being in bondage. There are many who are in bondage to musical instrumentation and would not even consider singing without it, some even forgo singing at all if no instruments or musicians are available. They are blind to the fact that there is no more beautiful instrument in all the earth than the human voice and the sweetest music ever produced on earth is when brethren lift up their voices in one accord, to exalt and honor the KING of kings.

The other side of the coin is those who adopt a legalistic view which results in the active and complete banning of all musical instrumentation in the church. Some of them are in a legal bondage equal to that of those who depend on instrumentation. In my own opinion a strong case can indeed be built for not using musical instruments in the assembly of the saints. There is no ancient historic precedent for it, in churches which did not arise out of Rome. The use of instrumentation is a rather modern concept which had no widespread acceptation until the late nineteenth century. Practically all churches eschewed the use of musical instrumentation until that time. Neither is there any example given in the New Testament which supports the use of instruments in the public assembly.

Yet to imply that those (who would feel the liberty to use instruments,) are inferior Christians or somehow disobedient and walking in rebellion is to forget that where the SPIRIT of the LORD is there is liberty, most especially when no restrictions are found against a practice in the scriptures. And it must be admitted by the most stringent of anti-instrumentalists that there is much evidence of their use in the OT and even the instruction in the Psalms for their use. Not to mention the fact that there is the mention of harps in the book of Revelation. It should be noted that it cannot be proved that the word for “harps” does not have reference to the voice, but it can’t be proved otherwise either.

While I personally believe that we should look for positive reinforcement in the scriptures for practices we adopt in the gathering of the New Testament assembly, I also understand that consistency with the principles under which the people of GOD serve their MASTER in this and other matters requires that we recognize that the people of GOD as priests and kings serve the LORD not simply according to letter. “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Rom 14:22-23) Some believe they can use musical instruments (other than the voice) in the assembly of the saints to the glory of GOD and can do so with a pure heart towards GOD. If this practice is not offensive to their brethren who gather with them then I can find no “law” that they are under which would prevent such or rightly bring them under condemnation of any sort, most especially that of onlookers.

These are really matters that are more closely tied to personal preferences than they are to any “thus saith the LORD”. I personally prefer acapella singing in the assembly of the saints and rejoice in the blending of voices without added external instrumentation and believe that the voices of men and women are “harps” which are played to the glory of GOD. It would seem clear to me that such singing is the “sacrifice of praise” since it is the “fruit of our lips”. (see Heb.13:15) giving thanks to GOD. Nothing needs to be added to it, in my opinion.

In many cases added instrumentation seems to only to reinforce the idea of dependence on man made devices as we have noted earlier. But I also understand that there are many believers (especially those with musical talent) who have great delight in making music upon stringed instruments (and other types) who sincerely desire to glorify the LORD with their playing. It is not for me to say that a man who is given a certain skill to play an instrument by the LORD should not feel at liberty to manifest that which he has been given. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1Cor 10:31) But if it is done in the assembly let it be done for the benefit of the brethren and with their approval.

Whether an assembly uses man made instruments, strictly acapella singing, or a combination of both, let all things be done decently and in order. May CHRIST alone be always the object of our desire. Our praise is unto GOD and not to men nor are we to seek to turn “worship and praise” into a performance for which men are applauded or singled out for recognition. Neither is it some sort of entertainment as one would discover in the world or primarily for the enjoyment of our flesh. The gathering of the saints is for the glory of GOD as they build one another up in the most holy faith, any other purpose is not discovered in the New Testament. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ.” (Eph 4:15-20)

“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” (Psa 100:1-5)

“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” (Psa 122:1)