It has been boldly proclaimed by ministers of the church of Christ denomination that the worship of the early church was “vocal only” and that there is not one reference to instrumental music in the worship of the early church. If you were to do an internet search (Yahoo, Google, etc.) for “instrumental music in church history,” you would find hundreds of websites from the church of Christ denomination presenting the idea that the early church did not use musical instruments. Most of these websites are simply a “cut and paste” of information from other websites. This portrayal of church history seems to have been passed down from generation to generation starting with so-called church of Christ ministers such as M.C. Kurfees & N.B. Hardeman and continues on through the 21st Century. David Fanning, Instrumental Music and the First Century Church, claims:
“Not only does the New Testament make it clear (by implication) that instrumental music was not used in church worship, but even the so-called ‘Church Fathers’ who lived during and shortly after the apostles confirm that early Christian music was vocal only. Church historians agree with Lyman Coleman (Presbyterian scholar and church historian) who said, ‘It is generally admitted that the primitive Christians employed no instrumental music in their religious worship’.”
In 2007, Don McClain preached a series of lessons entitled, The Odd Folks Who Don’t Have Pianos, in which he presented the case that the early church did not use musical instruments. McClain’s presentation of church history was typical of that of the church of Christ denomination. Don McClain, Odd Folks, chart 11, states:
“According to James William McKinnon, there is not one reference to instrumental music in the worship of the church in the ‘Fathers’ from the second century through the beginning of the fifth (about 150 references in all).”
McClain’s portrayal of church history is more hysterical than it is historical. It is apparent that McClain DID NOT research the source material he sites. All McClain did was copy and paste “church history” quotes from any one of the hundreds of websites available. One such website is www.bible.ca. Don McClain’s quotes match those from this site verbatim, even to the point of reflecting the errors of the source material cited! This is sloppy scholarship at best. The major problems with McClain’s presentation of church history are:
(1) No source material being cited.
(2) The wrong source material being cited.
(3) The source material not matching the claims of the writer.
For example, Don McClain, Odd Folks, chart 18, references a quote from Thomas Aquinas:
“Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.”
McClain states that this quote is found in “Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 3, p. 137.” McClain did not research this himself! He simply copy and pasted this from the afore mentioned website, because in fact this quote CANNOT be found in Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 3, p. 137! This statement from Thomas Aquinas is actually found in Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 2, p. 492. Now, some may not see the significance in the error of these “second hand sources,” but their portrayal of church history and their supposed “scholarly quotes” go well beyond having the wrong volume and page number. For example, www.bible.ca as well as many other church of Christ denomination websites reference the following quote:
“SCHAFF ‘It is questionable whether, as used in the New Testament, ‘psallo’ means more than to sing . . . The absence of instrumental music from the church for some centuries after the apostles and the sentiment regarding it which pervades the writing, the fathers are unaccountable, if in the apostolic church such music was used’ (Schaff-Herzog, Vol. 3, p. 961)” (some websites state “p. 1961”)
If one would take the time to check the supposed source material of this quote, they would find that there is NO page 961 (let alone 1961) in volume 3 of Schaff-Herzog’s Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge! Not only that, but there is NOT ONE VOLUME of the 13 volumes that has more than 700 pages! All 13 volumes of Schaff-Herzog’s Encyclopedia are available as PDF (Portable Document Format) files, which allow the user to perform detailed word searches through each volume. I have performed word searches through all 13 volumes for this quote, and IT IS NOT THERE!! Yet the sloppy scholarship of these so-called “church of Christ” ministers will continue to copy and paste these false statements as some great statement of truth against musical instruments in church.
Problems with relying upon “church historians” such as Bingham’s Antiquities also include the bias of the author and lack of reference material. Joseph Bingham (author of Bingham’s Antiquities) was an Anglican (Church of England). The Anglican Church at that time (c. 1843) was divided on the issue of musical instruments, and apparently Joseph Bingham sided with the view of “vocal music only.” Also, it is questionable as to how much source material was available at that time. Bingham’s Antiquities was published around 1843, but Schaff’s Select Library of Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers wasn’t published until around 1887 and Roberts & Donaldson’s Ante-Nicene Fathers wasn’t first published until 1913. So, again, it is questionable as to whether or not the writings of the early church “fathers” were readily available. Even if they were, these writings comprise volumes of works, each volume containing 600 to 700 pages each. It is unconscionable to think that these so-called “church historians” read every word of every page of every volume of the writings of Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene “fathers” for references to musical instruments in the early church. The same can be said for James McKinnon, who was a Catholic and studied Gregorian chant. Today we have these works available in PDF (Portable Date Format), which allows for specific word searches, and makes research one hundred times easier.
Even if we were to rely on Bingham’s Antiquities as an authority of church history, then why doesn’t the so-called church of Christ denomination follow the pattern of church history and baptized outside of their church buildings? According to Bingham’s Antiquities, vol. 2, p. 472,
“So that the first ages all agreed in this, that whether they had baptisteries or not, the place of baptism was always without the church. And, after this manner, baptisteries continued to the sixth age …”
Would the fact that the early church from the First Century through the Sixth Century would not baptize in the church building, or the fact that the converts were often baptized nude have any relation to the church of modern times? I am sure that our opponents would agree that it would not.
Don McClain began his rendition of “church history” by claiming that there is no record of musical instruments being used in church worship prior to A.D. 666 (Odd Folks, chart 11). Of course Don offers no proof of this statement, and the reference to the date of “A.D. 666” is only used because of the negative association to digits “666.” As we will show you this statement is completely false. Anyone who says that there are no references to believers worshipping God with musical instruments in early church history is either (1) ignorant of church history (2) extremely biased in their studies or (3) extremely lazy in their studies.
In order to prove his claim that the early church did not use musical instruments, Don McClain appealed to supposed statements from: Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Eusebius, Augustine, Chrysostom, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Clarke, and Spurgeon. McClain (Odd Folks, chart 13) offers the following quote as coming from Justin Martyr:
"The use of [instrumental] music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jew, in their infant state, but only the use of plain song. . . . Simply singing is not agreeable to children [the aforementioned Jews], but singing with lifeless instruments and with dancing and clapping is. On this account the use of this kind of instruments and of others agreeable to children is removed from the songs of the churches, and there is left remaining simply singing."
It is interesting the McClain did not cite any source material for this quote. You can search through all the writings of Justin (First Apology, Second Apology, Dialogue, etc.), and you WILL NOT find this quote ANYWHERE within his writings. Scholars have recognized for over 100 years that this work is spurious
In 1840, George Faber demonstrated from internal evidence from the text would not allow an early date, like the writings of Justin Martyr. Some scholars attribute this work to Theodoret, while others say Diodorus of Tarsus, which puts the date of the writing somewhere from 400 to 466 A.D. which means that this would have been the practice of the Catholic Church, NOT true believers! James McKinnon, Music in Early Christian Literature, p. 107 refers to the text as “pseudo-Justinian” and said that the work “is now generally accepted as Theodoret.” Even Everett Ferguson, The Instrumental Music Issue, p. 95 ascribed the quote to Theodoret.
The major problem here is that men (such as Don McClain) are sloppy in their scholarship, and don’t do any real research into their sources. So they parade these quotes off as being that of Justin Martyr, which it is not, and act like that this was the practice of the early church – which it was not. So what did Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 139) really say about music in the church?
Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, 74 “As the Spirit urges those from all the earth who recognize this salutary mystery – i.e., the sufferings of Christ, through which he saved them – to sing (adontes) and play the harp (psallontes) continually.” (translated – Dr. Walter L. Straub: Wilbur Fields, The Glorious Church A Study of Ephesians, College Press: 1960, p.211)
The phrase “David sung (εψαλλεν) them” in Dialogue is the identical Greek phrase from the Septuagint of 1 Samuel 16:23 and 19:9 where David PLAYED before the Lord. Is there anyone in their right mind who would look at the phrase “David epsallen,” and say that psallo meant that David practiced a ccappella singing?! NO! This definitely refers to musical instruments! And by the same token when Justin said Christ saved us to adontes and psallontes – psallo has reference to playing a musical instrument.
McClain, Odd Folks chart 15, references a quote from Eusebius that musical instruments in the Old Testament were “symbols and types,” which we no longer use in the New Testament. However, I do not know of one minister from the church of Christ denomination that would agree that musical instruments were types and shadows” in the Old Testament. Also, even though Eusebius (a Catholic priest) did not use musical instruments, this does not mean that believers outside of the Catholic Church did not use musical instruments.
“As Eusebius informs us, the charismata were not extinct in the churches when the Phrygian imitations began to puzzle the faithful. Bunsen considers its first propagators specimens of the clairvoyant art, and pointedly cites the manipulations they were said to practice (like persons playing on the harp), in proof of this.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, p. 4)
Understand, when it says “Phrygian imitations” this is a Catholic commentary talking about a second century group of believers outside of the Catholic Church called the Phrygians, which was another name for the Montanist (c. A.D. 157). Who were the Montanist? They were a group of Spirit-filled, One God believers! In A.D. 381, the Council of Constantinople rejected the baptism of the Montanist because they did not use the Trinitarian baptismal formula! Groups of Montanist survived all the way into the 8th Century! The Catholic Church condemned the Montanist as a heresy and destroyed virtually all of their writing, so what we know of the Montanist is based mostly on the biased writings of the Catholics. And according to Catholic historians, the Montanist worshipped God with MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS!!
One “church father” McClain seemed to skip right over was Clement of Alexandria. It is well known that Clement specifically references musical instruments in his writings.
“For the apostle adds again, ‘Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to God.’ And again, ‘Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and His Father.’ This is our thankful revelry. And even if you wish to sing and PLAY TO THE HARP or lyre, there is no blame.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, p. 249)
Again, this quote is well known even among ministers of the church of Christ denomination. It is claimed, however, that Clement wasn’t describing a worship service, but was discussing an agape feast. This is pure speculation! The statement, “And even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame,” is clearly in relationship to words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:16-17, which so-called “church of Christ” ministers understand to be the worship service!
McClain, Odd Folks chart 14, quotes a statement from Tertullian (c. A.D. 200):
"Musical concerts with viol and lute belong to Apollo, to the Muses, to Minerva and Mercury who invented them; ye who are Christians, hate and abhor these things whose very authors themselves must be the object of loathing and aversion."
Again, McClain failed to cite any source material for this quote. If you will search the writings of Tertullian, you will see that what McClain has quoted isn’t exactly what Tertullian wrote. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, p. 84, Tertullian is talking about the Show or De Spectaculis:
“That immodesty of gesture and attire which so specially and peculiarly characterizes the stage are consecrated to them—the one deity wanton by her sex, the other by his drapery ; while its services of voice, and song, and lute, and pipe, belong to Apollos, and Muses, and Minervas, and Mercuries. You will hate, O Christian, the things whose authors must be the objects of your utter detestation.”
Notice it’s not just the lute and pipe that Tertullian mentioned, but also the VOICE and SONG! So, if we use this haphazard way of handling history like McClain does, then we would have to preach SINGING right out of the church, because Tertullian mentioned the VOICE right along with the lute and the pipe. But the truth of the matter is he wasn’t preaching against their use in the church, but what was going on in the theatre!
Tertullian associated “psalms and hymns” with musical instruments! Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, p. 468, Tertullian said:
“‘Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess,’ - a precept which is suggested by the passage (of the prophet), where the seducers of the consecrated (Nazarites) to drunkenness are rebuked: ‘Ye gave wine to my holy ones to drink.’ This prohibition from drink was given also to the high priest Aaron and his sons, ‘when they went into the holy place.’ The command, to ‘sing to the Lord with psalms and hymns,’ comes suitably from him who knew that those who ‘drank wine with drums and psalteries’ were blamed by God.”
Notice that Tertullian DID NOT condemn the use of instrumental music, only those “who drank wine with drums and psalteries” and it is obvious from the context here that Tertullian associated singing to the Lord with psalms and hymns with the playing of musical instruments!
Both Ephraim Syrus (c. A.D. 306 – 373) and Jerome (c. A.D. 347 – 420) reference musical instruments in worship to God. Ephraim stated (Post Nicene Fathers, vol. 13, p. 227):
“Let us praise that Voice whose glory is hymned with our lute, and His virtue with our harp. The Gentiles have assembled and have come to hear His strains.”
Jerome speaks of a “sister” who praises with the timbrel and teaches women to be “luteplayers for the Saviour” (Schaff & Wace, Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers, 1893, vol. 6, p. 107):
“Oh! that you could see your sister and that it might be yours to hear the eloquence of her holy lips and to behold the mighty spirit which animates her diminutive frame. You might hear the whole contents of the old and new testaments come bubbling up out of her heart. Fasting is her sport, and prayer she makes her pastime. Like Miriam after the drowning Pharaoh she takes up her timbrel and sings to the virgin choir, ‘Let us sing to the Lord for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.’ She teaches her companions to be music girls but music girls for Christ, to be luteplayers but luteplayers for the Saviour.”
McClain goes on to reference a supposed statement from Augustine (c. A.D. 354) (Odd Folks chart 16):
"musical instruments were not used. The pipe, tabret, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and circus, it is easy to understand the prejudices against their use in the worship."
Once again, McClain does not offer any source material so that we can examine the validity of this quote. However, he did mention that this quote was “Describing the singing at Alexandria under Athanasius.” Now, this seems strange that Augustine would be describing the conditions of Alexandria, Egypt as not using musical instruments given the fact that we’ve already seen that Clement of Alexandria authorized the use of the harp and lyre. Remember, McClain offered no source material to reflect the validity of his quote. However, according to James Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 9, p. 31, Augustine encouraged the use of musical instruments in praise to God:
“St. Augustine (354-430) likewise encourages ‘the singing of Psalms to the lyre or psaltery’.”
The use of musical instruments was not limited to just two or three local congregations.
“Organs seem to have been in common use in the Spanish churches in A.D. 450, according to Julianus, a Spanish bishop (Hopkins and Rimbault, The Organ, London, 1877),” (James Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 9, p. 32)
Notice that organs were in COMMON USE in Spanish churches in A.D. 450! That’s more than 200 years earlier than McClain’s assumption of A.D. 666! In Odd Folks, chart 17, Don McClain references John Chrysostom’s comments on Psalm 150 that just as the Jews were commanded to praise God with musical instruments; Christians are to praise God with their hands, eyes, etc. However, this does not negate the fact that men of that time (c. A.D. 360 – 425) such as Chrysostom, Gregory, Basil, Augustine, and Cyril all defined a psalm as a “melody produced on the MUSICAL INSTRUMENT.” The fact that Chrysostom did not use musical instruments because he thought they were a type or shadow in the Old Testament would only reflect his view! It is evident that Chrysostom’s contemporaries such as Augustine and others did in fact use musical instruments in worship to God.
As mentioned earlier, Odd Folks chart 18; Don McClain quotes Thomas Aquinas who stated:
“Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize" (bold emphasis mine – JLW)
What McClain fails to understand from this quote is the fact that Aquinas said “OUR CHURCH does no use musical instruments” that this indicates that there were in fact other churches that DID use musical instruments. Aquinas was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church. Does Don McClain honestly think that Aquinas was a historical representation of the church of Christ denomination that he represents? If not, then this appeal to Aquinas is superfluous!
Odd Folks chart 19, McClain offers a quote from John Calvin that musical instruments were no more suitable than burning incense. Again I ask, does Don McClain honestly believe that John Calvin was a historical representation of the church of Christ denomination? John Calvin taught all sorts of false doctrine such total depravity and unconditional eternal security! John Calvin was instrumental in sentencing Michael Servetus to burn at the stake for writing the book On the Error of the Trinity, and for re-baptizing converts “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Not only this, but even though Calvin opposed musical instruments, in his comments on Colossians 3:16, Calvin defined a psalm as “singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of.”
On chart 20 of Odd Folks, Don McClain appeals to a reference from McClintock & Strong's Encyclopedia Volume VI, page 762, where Martin Luther is quoted as saying:
“The organ in the worship Is the insignia of Baal… The Roman Catholic borrowed it from the Jews.”
Here is another example of McClain’s lazy research. It is obvious that McClain DID NOT look this reference up himself, and simply cut and pasted it from some internet source because the quote from McClintock & Strong DOES NOT use the word “insignia,” it uses the word “ensign!” Various other church of Christ denomination websites also misquote this statement. One big problem with this quote is that students of the writings of Luther CANNOT find this quote ANYWHERE in the writings of Martin Luther! It is well known that Martin Luther DID NOT oppose musical instruments in church. Luther was at odds with John Calvin on this subject. Luther taught Gospel Liberty, that anything not specifically condemned in the New Testament was authorized. In 1541, Martin Luther presented a Bible to organist Wolf Heinz in which he wrote:
“The stringed instruments of the following psalms are to help in the singing of this new song; and Wolf Heinz and all pious, Christian musicians should let their singing and playing to the praise of the Father and all grace sound forth with joy from their organs and whatever other beloved musical instruments there are …”
McClain, Odd Folks chart 21, presents the following statement supposedly from John Wesley (founder of Methodist church):
“I have no objection to instruments of music in our worship, provided they are neither seen nor heard.”
This is another quote that is not without its problems. This statement is not actually taken from any of the writings of John Wesley themselves. Rather, this statement is actually a second hand quote taken from Adam Clarke, a Methodist commentator who violently opposed musical instruments. Steve Wolfgang, a church of Christ denomination minister, in Truth Magazine, 6-12-80, pp. 389-390 wrote:
“Though having some exposure to the Wesleyan tradition, I have been UNABLE to document this often-quoted statement anywhere else … We are not attempting here to be hypercritical of the excellent work of brethren in compiling useful quotations, but simply wish to counsel all of us (self included) to be extremely careful to check the reliability of what we quote, if we must quote.”
This is exactly what folks like Don McClain, Ben Bailey, and David Fanning HAVE NOT done in their portrayal of instrumental music in church history! They HAVE NOT checked the reliability of what they quote. McClain didn’t even research one of the quotes he cited! McClain’s presentation is simply a copy and paste from any number of church of Christ denomination websites offering this false information! John Wesley by no means condemned musical instruments in worship to God. There are many references to organ music in Wesley’s Journals. For example, Wesley’s Journal, vol. 4, p. 339 states:
“Sun 2. We had a large and serious congregation at the New Church, both morning and afternoon. The organ is one of the finest toned I ever heard, and the congregation singing with it make a sweet harmony.”
In Odd Folks charts 22 – 25, Don McClain appeals to the teachings of Adam Clarke against musical instruments in worship to God. Clarke is actually McClain’s strongest historical authority against musical instruments, but remember what proves too much doesn’t prove anything. Clarke wasn’t satisfied with simply condemning musical instruments in the New Testament, but Clarke taught that musical instruments were NEVER authorized in the Old Testament (comments on Amos 6:5). Many so-called church of Christ denomination preachers have followed Clarke in this teaching. This borderlines on blasphemy because it implies that Scriptures such as Psalm 150 were not inspired (God breathed)! Adam Clarke also taught such ridiculous ideas that the Sun was habitable with rivers and seas, with a phosphoric atmosphere (comments on Gen. 1:16). Clarke also taught that baptizo means dip or sprinkle and it was impossible for John the Baptist to have dipped all his converts (comments on Matt. 3:6). Now, if McClain want to join hands with Adam Clarke and sing “Kumbaya my Lord,” then that is his business, but we’ll have no part in Clarke’s false doctrine.
McClain’s final appeal to church history is a quote from Charles Spurgeon (famous Baptist preacher). McClain claims to quote Spurgeon’s comments on Psalm 42 (Odd Folks chart 27) as saying:
“. . . 'Praise the Lord with harp.' Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her to learn; but in these days when Jesus gives us spiritual food, one can make melody without strings and pipes... We do not need them. That would hinder rather than help our praise. Sing unto him. This is the sweetest and best music. No instrument is like the human voice.”
Again, Don McClain DID NOT research this material for himself! This is not Spurgeon’s comments on Psalm 42! These are Spurgeon’s comments on Psalm 33! And had McClain researched this quote for himself he would have found that Spurgeon went on to say:
“We who do not believe these things to be expedient in worship, lest they should mar its simplicity, do not affirm them to be unlawful, and if any George Herbert or Martin Luther can worship God better by the aid of well-tuned instruments, who shall gainsay their right? We do not need them, they would hinder than help our praise, but if others are otherwise minded, are they not living in gospel liberty?”
Clearly, the issue of musical instruments in church to Charles Spurgeon was matter of personal preference and not an issue of Bible authority!
It is apparent that Don McClain, as well as most other so-called church of Christ denomination preachers, picks and chooses certain quotes without even regarding the context of those statements. They have failed to even attempt at a detailed study of musical instruments in church history. The New Testament church, from its birth, used musical instruments in worship to God.
Luke 24:53 - And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.
Act 2:46-47 - And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Musical instruments were a part of the praise and worship of the temple, and the apostles “continued” in the temple praising God. This means that from the birth of the church in Acts 2, the apostles praised God to the accompaniment of musical instruments (in the temple). As we have shown in this study, sects of believers from the time of the apostles onward have worshipped God with musical instruments. It is an absolute perversion of history to claim that musical instruments were never used in worship to God in church for the first six or seven centuries. This study has shown that the “voice of history” is all but silent concerning the history of musical instruments in worship of God in the church.