If you have ever attended a worship service you probably have an opinion about the music. You may prefer “contemporary” styles over the more “traditional” ones, or vice versa. Certain instruments, like drums or pipe organs, have their proponents and critics. Paradoxically, younger people, with good hearing, favor loud music more than older people who don’t hear as well. And certainly, music has changed over the years. What our children consider “regular” church music was not what we had as kids, and our grandparents would tell us things were very different in their day.
A divide exists between the Old Testament and the New Testament regarding music. The Old Testament describes the use of harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets to accompany worship songs (1 Chronicles 13:8; 16:42, Psalm 150). This practice continued after the return from Babylonian exile (Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:35). Apparently, dancing was also acceptable (Psalm 149:3; 150:4).
The New Testament has only a few references to musical instruments and dancing (Luke 7:32; 15:25; Revelation 8:2), but not in the context of worship. Singing, on the other hand, was encouraged whenever God was praised, not just in formal worship (Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; Hebrews 2:12).
The early church did not worship with musical instruments simply because services were held in homes. Subsequently, as church buildings began to replace homes as the site of worship, considerable debate arose about the role of musical instruments. Thomas Aquinas (circa 1260 AD) objected to the use of instruments because it was a backward movement into Jewish worship, and he also felt instruments moved the soul more towards pleasure than to an inner moral goodness1. Erasmus (circa 1520) complained instruments made it impossible for the congregation to hear what was sung. John Calvin (circa 1562) often blamed the Pope for using musical instruments to mimic Jewish services; Calvin also believed such use profaned worship because people were more attracted to the music than to the understanding of God’s word.
Several Christian denominations initially banned all musical instruments from their churches. The Churches of Christ interpreted Colossians 2:21-23 as placing musical instruments in the category of man-made devices to be avoided, along with hand-clapping. Amish and Mennonite churches were initially devoid of instruments, preferring to sing a cappella; some groups felt playing instruments was so sinful that the ban extended in members’ homes. Today, some of these churches have relaxed their ban on instruments.
I have been in many different churches. At one end of the spectrum is a small church of 15 elderly people trying to sing Amazing Grace while the pianist played When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. Though I wished they had been Mennonites, I found myself intently focusing on the words of Amazing Grace, not the piano notes. At the other end of the spectrum is a high decibel band overriding the singing of a young congregation. I managed to pray until the song ended, using biblical words on the screen. If I had shut myself completely out of either worship experience, I might have come away with an empty feeling. Instead, I made a genuine effort to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). I received a blessing afterwards when I met church members who were committed Christians. The blessing was not in the encounters; rather it was in the realization of being brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of the type of worship music.
You probably have an ear for music. Take my advice, do not allow the ear to become dominant over the heart for worship.
1 https://www.saralandchristians.com/sermons/2021/8/2 and https://reformedbooksonline.com