Recently there has been a great deal of public discussion concerning the biblical application of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs as set forth by God in the Christian Age. From this discussion it is evident that many are confused concerning the New Testament teachings on the subject. To help us understand this important teaching we will consider how people throughout the Christian Age have understood and applied the teachings of the New Testament.

The confusion, as one compares it to religious history, is of relatively recent origin. From the establishment of the Lord's church, on the first Pentecost after Christ's resurrection, in A.D. 33 until the 13th century the majority of people understood an applied the New Testament teaching of "vocal singing" in their use of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Around A.D. 112 Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote about the congregation in Ephesus, "The theme of your song is Jesus Christ...God will give the scale. Thus one harmonious strain will rise up from all and reach the ears of the Father." (J.B. Lightfoot,  The Apostolic Fathers, Part Two, Ignatious and Polycarp, Vol.2, p.40). Eusebius (ca. 260-339) offered a comparable summary of Christian usage of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, "Throughout the world - in cities, in villages, and in the country - in all the church of God the people of Christ, who have been chosen out of all the nations, send up, not to the native gods nor to demons but to the one God spoken of by the prophets, hymns and psalmody with a loud voice so that the sound of those singing can be heard by those standing outside." (Eusebius, Commentary on Psalms, Pg. 23:657D-660A).

The gradual departure from the vocal singing of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual songs to the addition of instruments came to general acceptance in the late 1200s or early 1300s within the Roman Catholic church. The first account of adding instruments was by Pope Vitalianus in 670 in Rome but was quickly rejected. In the churches of England, the instrument (organ) made its first appearance in the 9th century because of the influence of St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury. However, its usage was isolated for hundreds of years and faced strong opposition. John Girardeau wrote, "There is no evidence, but the contrary, to show that instrumental music was commonly introduced into the church until the thirteenth century." (Girardeau, John L, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church. Richmond: Whitter & Shepperson, Printers, 1888). It was during the Dark Ages of the 14th and 15th centuries that the use of the instrument gained acceptance in the Roman Catholic Church. This usage of the instrument by the Roman Catholic Church is one of the contentions that caused the separation of the Greek Orthodox in A.D. 1024, who still rejects the use of the instrument even today. Even though the Roman Catholic Church added the use of instruments, most people throughout the world continued to praise God with Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs simply and purely with vocal music only. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation by nailing his ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenberg church. History notes that as the early reformers left the Roman Catholic Church they removed the instrument from use when singing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. The reformers call them, "monuments of idolatry." Luther called the organ an ensign of Baal; John Calvin said that instrumental music was not fitter to be adopted into the Christian Church than the incense and the candlestick; John Knox called the organ a kist (chest) of whistles. The Church of England revived them, against very strong protest, and the English dissenters would not touch them." (McClintock & Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature. Vol. VI, p. 763). John Wesley (founder of Methodism) stated concerning the addition of instruments, ". . .when asked his opinion of instruments of music being introduced into the chapels of the Methodists said, in his terse and powerful manner, "I have no objections to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither HEARD nor SEEN." (Clark, Adam, Clark Commentary. Amos 6:5). John Calvin (founder of Presbyterianism), "Musical instruments in celebrating to praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law." (Calvin, John, Commentary on Psalm 33). Charles H. Spurgeon (Baptist Minister), "What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettinesses of a quartet, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of the wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it." (Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 1, Par 2, 272). David Benedict (Baptist Historian) wrote, "Staunch old Baptists in former times would as soon have tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ in their galleries, and yet the instrument has gradually found its way among them, and their successors in church management, with nothing like the jars and difficulties which arose of old concerning the bass violin and smaller instruments of music." (Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptist. 1859). Even though these protestant leaders stood adamantly opposed to the addition of instruments, by 1714 the first organ was introduced at King's Chapel of Boston. With much controversy and division, the addition made its way into the majority of protestant churches. Of late, Protestants like John Price (Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Rochester, New York) have raised the questions concerning whether or not the use of musical instruments is scriptural when singing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. In his book Old Light on New Worship, Price brings to light the need for Protestants especially Baptist to reconsider this important topic.

As for the Lord's church, vocal singing (only) has always been practiced when singing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. From A.D. 33 until today, we have striven to hold firmly to the teachings of the New Testament in all we do in glory to God without addition or subtraction. And it is my hope and prayer that there will always be a remnant of those who faithfully stand on the foundation given us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

With this article, I hope you will be encouraged to look deeper into the history of Christianity and come to an understanding of how our predecessors understood the New Testament teachings. This is not, of course, to replace our study and understanding of God's inspired word but an opportunity to see how honest people, through the ages, have resisted the human desire to ADD to the New Testament that which is not authorized. These people apparently understood that the Scripture repeatedly warns against adding or subtracting or changing what the Lord instructs. May God bless your study of His word and may you find His Truth. (John 8:31-32)

John E. Werhan, Sentinel, OK


"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;" "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."