Many first time visitors to the services of the Churches of Christ are mostly surprised to see one striking difference in our worship from what they are used to—they see the whole congregation singing a cappella (i.e singing without instruments). They are mostly used to instruments of music in worship at their churches and find it difficult to understand why Churches of Christ do not use what has become the order of the day.

They wonder whether we cannot afford to buy instruments or do not like their sound or we just choose to be archaic.

I have attended to several visitors of that nature in the church and have had occasion to give some explanations for how and why the Churches of Christ sing the way we do.

I will sum up these explanations in this piece and will do so in a very simple way for you to understand what the Bible teaches.

First, there is mostly a misunderstanding about the two testaments/covenants and how God related or relates to people under them.

So it is common to hear that those under the Old Testament used instruments and therefore we should also use them. It must be understood, however, that the same Old Testament people offered animal sacrifices, observed the Seventh-Day Sabbath and other Holy Days, had a Levitical priesthood, used incense, did circumcision for religious purposes among others but these are not commanded in the New Testament.

It is so with musical instruments. They were used in the Old Testament but the New Covenant does not command their use in worship.

The Old Testament was for the nation of Israel and was to lead the people to Christ (Gal: 23,24). Its purpose was fulfilled in Christ and therefore has been done away with (Col 2:14,17; Heb 7:12,18).

Christians are not under the Old Law but the New Law of Christ (Rom 7:1ff). We are therefore not bound by the practices of the Old Law but by the commands of the New Law.

Second, the Churches of Christ do not choose to sing the way they feel like singing; they are guided by the Word of God on the matter.

Whatever God’s will is on the subject of singing for Christians is what we obey. Churches of Christ therefore do just what the Scriptures instruct on the subject of music.

Paul says to the Ephesians: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19, 20).

He also tells 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 3:16,17). To the Hebrews he says: “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Heb 13: 15).

In all other references to music in the New Testament, all the instructions are on the idea of offering vocal music, without the accompaniment of instruments to God. In the Old Testament, instruments were specifically used as a means of praising God (2 Sam 6:5,21; 1 Chron 23:5; Psa 43:4 etc) just as how dance was a means of praise (Exo 15:20,21; 2 Sam 6:14; Psa 149:3).

No New Testament command instructs us to use instruments or praise God with dance. Churches of Christ obey what they have been instructed by the New Covenant which we are under and by which we will be judged.

Also, the New Covenant is one with a spiritual emphasis, not on outer, physical, fleshly emphasis. So there is a spiritual law (John 6:63), a spiritual(holy) nation (1 Pet 2:9); a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36) a spiritual new birth (John 2:3,5), a spiritual circumcision(Rom 2:28), a spiritual temple/house(church) -1 Pet 2:5, spiritual worship (John 2:23,24), and involves spiritual sacrifices (fruit of the lips and spiritual songs-Heb 13:15; Eph 5:19).

The emphasis is not on physical, fleshly entertainment with mechanical instruments, but rather with the heart which makes melody to the Lord.

And that also is why we don’t have some selected individuals with good voices or group of people or “choir” to perform to entertain us in worship; we do congregational singing in which all participate, blending their voices with others to give praise to God.

Apart from that, Paul urges Christians to sing with understanding (1 Cor 14:15). Whatever is sung and whatever music is made must not be a mere play on instruments, just sounds that make no meaning or just for the creation of mood and emotionalism; it must be words that we understand and use to praise God and also admonish one another. Vocal music is what God prescribed for that purpose in the New Testament.

The last but certainly not the least reason Churches of Christ sing the way we do is that it was the way early Christians sang in their worship and this continued till about 666 AD when the first musical instrument was brought into worship by Pope Vitalian, according to some church historians. So the word “a cappella” has its roots in the non-instrumental music of the church, prior to that.

It means “in the manner of the church”. It is surprising to note that all the major denominations that use instruments today at first did not welcome them into their worship. But today, what is in vogue is what they have grown to accept, ostensibly to keep up with the times so they don’t lose members. Churches of Christ don’t watch what is in vogue to practice in worship.

We look at what God wants in our time and we do just that, not to please men or our own selves but to please God, who is our Creator and focus of our worship.

When you visit any of our congregations, therefore, you will see a replication of what was done by the early Christians –“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19, 20). That is what God has commanded Christians to do!

Written by: Mr.Conrad Kakraba ( Executive Assistant to the President of Heritage Christian University College)    +233206730382