Music in the
Assembly of Mashiach
Shalom dear brethren and friends in Yahwshua, and greetings to all in His powerful name!
What is or is not appropriate music for todays' Assembly of Yahweh's called-out sheep? Which instruments are appropriate and which are certainly not?
For example, someone asked me about the use of stringed instruments in shabbat services and I want to give some of my thoughts on music in the churches of the world today, so that you compare. I am very much a believer in using musical instruments as aids to certain moments of worship. Even in the perfect worship of heaven the kodeshim use harps to aid their praise to Yahweh (Revelation 14:2-3). And, "the anointed cherub that covereth" (Ezekiel 28:13-14) was created with the music-making aids of tabrets and pipes within him (v.13) to be used for the praise of Yahweh.
Unfortunately, my dear friends and brethren, when Satan (the anointed cherub) fell, he brought to perdition his musical ability with him. Since that time, music has been a powerful force in man whether used by Yahweh or by the demon. This forces us to use all of our spiritual discernment and Yahweh-given judgment to determine what is and what is not proper and acceptable worship music from His People.
Is Old Covenant Practice the Standard?
We could just go back to the Old Covenant standards for music for the Israelite people. Certainly some of these standards seem rather liberal. For example, in Psalm 150 it's encouraged the use of the trumpet, the psaltery, the harp, the timbrel, stringed instruments, organs and various kinds of cymbals--something that sounds to me a bit like Alexander's Ragtime Band.
Many declare this as the standard for worship in the Assembly today. However, if you carefully read this passage, you will see that it also encourages us to praise Yahweh with the dance. (Many assemblies and churches of the world are also beginning to do this.)
Music in the New Covenant times. Instead of listing instruments (be aware that the NC passages on the Body of Mashiach never mention any musical instruments), Yahweh gives His assemblies a statement of purpose for music in this era. It is found in Ephesians 5:19 and again in Colossians 3:16. Do note the emphasis on the words spiritual, and in your hearts:
- Ephesians 5:19:
"Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to Yahweh"
- Colossians 3:16:
"Let the word of Yahwshua 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 Yahweh."
Three Kinds of proper Assembly Music. In these following Scripture verses, Our Father Yahweh establishes three kinds of music proper for New Covenant worship. It is importantt to note that:
- Psalms are Yahweh's words (usually from the Psalms but not always) put to music.
- Hymns are formal expressions of praise or declarations of Yahweh's truth.
- Spiritual songs are songs that deal with our present and fuure spiritual life and are the most relevant and personal of the songs.
Modern english hymnody has emphasized these forms one at a time instead of balancing the three as Yahweh planned. The English "church reformers" of the 16th and 17th centuries followed the lead of John Calvin and allowed only Psalms to be sung in the christian churches. Then the 18th century saw the introduction of hymns into the churches through the powerful poetry of Isaac Watts, John Newton and John and Charles Wesley. Then, in the the last half of the 19th century, so-called spiritual songs were made popular by people such as Ira Sankey, Philip Bliss and Fanny Crosby.
However, by this time, the singing of psalms had been eclipsed and become a thing of the past. The 20th century witnessed the ascendancy and adulteration of the spiritual song and the almost total decline of the hymn with sound doctrine as lyrics. Today, such kodesh hymns are quickly becoming a relic of history. My beloved, there needs to be a movement forward to bring kodesh, scriptural balance back to our music.
The Purposes of Assembly Music. These two verses (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16) also give the purposes of Believer's music.
First, my beloved brethren and friends, our songs should teach us since we are to be “teaching…one another” with them. In order to do this, they should be doctrinally sound and should teach the basics of scriptural doctrine. We use songs to teach the alphabet to our children and Yahweh used the song of Moses to teach Israel of their relationship with Yahweh (Deuteronomy 31:19-21).
We should use music to teach as well. As such, they should be speakable; that is, of sufficient quality that they can be spoken (Ephesians 5:19).
They should be good poetry with good doctrine content so that the words without the music still have a great message.
Secondly, our songs should "admonish" us. This means they should warn of sin or danger and urge to proper action in our believer's lives. I see very little of this in our music today. As a rule, modern church music neither teaches nor admonishes--a direct affront to the command of Yahweh in Colossians 3:16.
Thirdly, my beloved, our songs should praise and exalt Yahweh. We sing them to Him and they are an integral part of our worship of Him. With them, we make melody to Our Father Yahweh and sing to Him.
Fourthly, dear ones, our songs should speak to our hearts. We sing them with grace. That is, they help us. We make melody with them. They stick with us because they are a pleasure to sing. We sing them as we go about our business of the day. Modern music has emphasized (and likewise perverted) praise and popularity, while ignoring the teaching and admonishing ministries of proper worship music.
Instruments in Assembly Music. With this as a backdrop, I want to make some comments about instruments in worship music in the assemblies.
- Musical instruments are superfluous to proper New Covenant church music. By that, I mean that church music can be just as pleasing to Yahweh without any musical instruments (other than the human voice) as it can be with a hundred-instrument orchestra. There is no inherent spiritual value in any musical instrument---including the piano.
- Neither are musical instruments expressly prohibited ...although we have to be cautious about instruments not mentioned by Yahweh for His people. And, since they were used in the Old Covenant, there is obviously nothing inherently evil in those.
- However, the New Covenant commands us to sing, to sing from our hearts, and not play-sing. By the way, it also commands us to sing, not just listen to others sing. The only required part is the singing (well, for some people Yahweh does allow "speaking" – Ephesians 5:19). Yahweh designed New Covenant singing for all believers. It is not to be relegated to a few professionals like we see in some assemblies.
- Therefore, musical instruments should be used only inasmuch as they enhance the scriptural purposes of music in the Assembly.
Musical Instruments Not Spiritually Neutral. However, this is not to say that musical instruments are spiritually neutral in a total sense. Those who are deeply involved in music know the powers of specific instruments more than I. For example, the drums can easily create a wrong dance mood and also over-enhace the music. This is much more difficult to do with a flute (though not impossible). On the other hand, the banjo has little capacity for sadness or meditative moods, isn't it so? And the saxophone tends too much towards the sensual or melancholic. I hope that you can see what I mean.
Yet, my beloved, we can't entirely overlook the fact that much of the power of the instruments is found in how they are played by the musicians themselves. I have seen all three of the above instruments used in praise music---though not often and not with an entirely suitable result. The banjo may be limited to happy, upbeat songs, but there is a place for that in the "spiritual songs" of the assembly. Some instruments have a wider range of moods than others. For example, the piano can match any mood. Perhaps the banjo cannot. But that does not necessarily keep it totally out of the assembly. Caution should be exherted.
Some of the Dangers of Instrumental Music. Let me mention some of the dangers concerning instrumental music in the assembly as I see it through Torah:
- Music has the ability to speak to every part of man: his spirit, his mind, his emotions, his will, his body and his flesh. I distinguish the body from the flesh in the biblical sense. My physical body is not evil in and of itself but my fleshly nature is. Music is fleshly when it makes me more open to sinful temptations and when it actually encourages me to partake of my lusts. To a certain degree, it is possible for my body to react favorably to music without my flesh being incited to sin.
- However, I said "to a certain degree" because the distance from the one to the other is dangerously small. Many "churches" in christianity defend the physical appeal of their music by making this distinction. Others do not. The body likes it, but that is not the same as the flesh so it is all right.
- But where in the New Covenant does the Assembly of Yahwshua have a call to entertain the body?
- Perhaps the tapping of the foot is not sin... but do we know how to keep the music from going on to the flesh? With spiritual insight, my beloved, perhaps we can. But there are no scriptural grounds for reaching out specifically to the physical in our music. In fact, in Torah we see it's just the opposite! It should never be targeted in the music of the Assembly. If music glorifies Yahweh and teaches good doctrine and incidentally, is a joy to listen to, perhaps this is fine. But we should always be wary of the danger of fun music becoming fleshly music. The dividing line is dangerously small.
- A second danger comes in the exaltation of talent. How many secular musicians got their start in the christian churches? The assembly (or the churches, for that matter) is not and should not be a "catapult" to stardom!
- Modern church music tends to exalt the talented and not the divine. I fear that the average christian church and pastor is not strong enough to take a stand against a talented but unfaithful musician.
- Another danger I see is a longtime pet peeve of mine. So called "Church music" is more and more becoming a division between the spectators and the performers. As I smentioned earlier, the New Covenant emphasizes the singing of the believer, not the performance of an artist. We must get back to an emphasis on congregational music if we are to be scriptural, dear ones. Special music may have a place as a change in pace, but Yahweh wants to hear all His children sing acceptable praises to Him. Use appropriate instruments and loudness, but make sure that the message of the song and the singing of it by the congregation is king above all.
The Torah should be the final authority in all matters of faith and practice, not excluding the types of songs that should be sung. In fact, the Scriptures contain an entire book of songs, The Book of Psalms. According to Colossians 3:16, Psalms is only one of three categories of songs to be sung by the New Covenant believers. Basically put, Psalms are scripture set to music, hymns of praise are doctrinal songs speaking specifically of Yahweh, and spiritual songs deal with the believer's life and practice. A careful reading of the Scriptures will yield several evidences that Yahweh’s people have been singing songs from each of these categories throughout their history.
The use of music in the Assembly of Yahwshua is very dear to my heart, and everyone's. This is one area in which I wish I had enough influence to start a movement---a movement back to the Biblical pattern of Kodesh music. Perhaps we all can start it!
With Yahwshua's brotherly love,