Respecting God's Silence

In handling accurately the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), it is imperative that one grasp this fundamental, foundational fact about Scripture: the New Testament, not the Old Testament, is our blueprint, our authority for an acceptable approach to God. The distinction is made in many New Testament texts (e.g. Luke 16:16; John 1:17; 2 Corinthians 3:1 ff; Hebrews 8:1 ff). While I am not suggesting that the Old Testament has no relevance or value (cf. Romans 15:4), guidelines for worship, morality, and our whole function religiously whether it is individual or congregational, are determined by New Testament instruction.

Without a single apology, I affirm that mechanical instruments were employed in worship to God in Old Testament times with God’s full approval. The Psalms contain hundreds of references to the various instruments used. In one psalm alone, the trumpet, harp, lyre, timbrel, pipe, cymbals are all mentioned (Psalm 150).

One of the most potent arguments against the use of such instruments today is the silence of the New Testament regarding their use in worship. In contrast to the Old Testament where one finds hundreds of references, the New Testament does not mention a single instrument accompanying the worship of the early church in song! Profound and thunderous is the silence of the New Testament on the use of such instruments. Discover this important truth for yourself. On one side of a sheet of paper, compile a list of all Old Testament references to an instrument being used in Israel’s worship to God. Then, on the other side, list all New Testament references to the early church’s use of them. One half of your paper will overflow while the other half will be blank!

The silence of Scripture authorizes nothing. To act where God has not authorized is perilous, no matter how minor the issue may seem to us. Many are prone to argue about the instrument and other unauthorized practices by saying, The Bible doesn t say not to! The silence of God is not permissive but prohibitive. Those who would deny this principle find themselves in conflict with numerous texts. In the book of Revelation, the Lord disapproves of both adding to and taking away from the words of John’s prophecy. One cannot presume to go further than what God has revealed. The consequence of doing so? God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18). The Old Testament example of Nadab and Abihu warns of acting presumptuously in worship. God did not have to specify every particular kind of fire which could not be kindled by the priests. He specified what He wanted. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them (Leviticus 10:1-3). The Lord consumed them with fire because they had failed to treat Him as holy and honor Him. Are we looking to justify what we want to do or are we trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:9,10)?

To speculate where there is silence provides only one limit man’s imagination! For example, the open-ended outcome of a tv drama’s season finale is often followed by a flood of speculation. Opinions about what will happen are diverse given the uncertain nature of silence. So it is when we add words or sentences to God’s instruction. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Silence does not authorize action, only revelation does. Instead of speaking in the wake of silence, Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God (1 Peter 4:11). Because of God’s silence, only those of the tribe of Levi could be priests under the Law of Moses. Jesus priesthood must of necessity be of a different order, the Hebrew writer argues, because He descended from the tribe of Judah, For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests (Hebrews 7:14). God’s silence is intentional, not accidental (Deuteronomy 29:29). Christians are admonished to employ their lips in offering up praise to God (Hebrews 13:15). They are to teach and admonish with their songs (Colossians 3:16). The expression of what God wants excludes all else. For additional study of this important principle, consider Exodus 14:10-14; Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Acts 15:24; 1 Corinthians 4:6; and 2 John 9.

What many who advocate the use of the instrument in today’s worship do not realize is that just 200 years ago most American churches rejected their use. Practically everyone opposed their use. Paul Westermeyer in the Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience observes that by 1800, there were fewer than 20 organs in New England churches, and most of them were in Episcopal buildings (Vol. III, pp. 1285-1306). In a time when the Bible was more greatly revered as the authoritative basis for making religious decisions, most vehemently rejected the use of instruments as a violation of the will of God.

Submission to God is the major issue for every believer. This submission must pervade everything I do. This being so, my submission in worship to Him is likewise critical. We dare not presume that God will accept in worship what He has not specified. Who are we to sit in judgment upon His wisdom? The Scripture furnishes us with all of the instruction we need to approach God acceptably. It equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16,17). By singing with our lips, we can accomplish everything God intended our worship in song to be. Why not be content to do just that? Improvising is dangerous!