What I Can Say About A Cappella Music

  • It can be beautiful. It can also be cacaphonic (in terms of sound, the equivalent of “catastrophic”), which is also true of accompanied vocal music and solely-instrumental music. (Think sixth-grade band.) We don’t forbid tone-deaf people from singing, since God hears the heart as well as the voice.
  • It has a quality of purity and emotion. Vocal music comes from the heart. I don’t play an instrument, but I have heard instrumental music performed by virtuosos from Van Cliburn to Louis Armstrong to Yo Yo Ma that convinces me the same thing can be said of it.
  • It can put praise into words. This is the advantage a cappella music has had for generations. However, it is no longer a unique advantage. With the development of electronic synthesizers – both instrumental and vocal – it is possible for an artificial instrument to “sing” as a proxy for those who have no voice. Wouldn’t it be a crime to deny that blessing to those folks, just because their voice is not generated by vocal cords, tongues and lips?
  • It has always been at the heart of the word “sing.” At the same time, it has not been exclusively the concept behind singing since Adam’s eighth-generation descendant Jubal, “the father of all who play the harp and flute” (Genesis 4:21). Some music is written to be sung a cappella. Some music is written to be sung accompanied. Some music is written to be performed on instruments. Sometimes, these kinds of music can be arranged for a different kind of presentation. Sometimes that works well; sometimes it doesn’t.
  • It is not forbidden in scripture. It is also not authorized or commanded in scripture. Many Old Testament passages encourage singing praise with instruments. And God chose to share a Revelation with John of a panorama of heaven where praise takes place with harps in hand (15:2-3) and cosmic events are heralded by trumpets (8:1ff).
  • It is probably exemplified in scripture. (By implication. It’s pretty hard to sneak instruments into a jail and play them when your hands are in shackles. This account – Acts 16:25 – also exemplifies worship outside of the normal gathered worship, and says nothing about what day of the week Paul and Silas were imprisoned.)
  • It is natural. Children sing when they are happy. They don’t have to be told to do so. They also make rhythm instruments out of whatever is available. (Teenaged males are especially fond of imitating drums.) And God creates praise through His own creativity. He hears song in the mountains and hills; the clapping of hands in the trees (Isaiah 55:12) and the rivers (Psalm 98:8). He accepts praise from all creation: sun, moon, stars, heavens, clouds, sea creatures, wild and domestic animals, birds, kings, princes, young people and old (Psalm 148). He speaks in thunder (Job 37:4; Psalm 18:13; John 12:29; Revelation 10:4). All of these sources of praise are natural – but not all of them come from vocal cords, tongues and lips.
  • Some church fathers preferred it. Several of them – one or two of them, fairly early on in church history. They had their expressed reasons: to many of them, instrumental worship smacked too much of pagan worship. The Jewish-ness of the early church was giving way to the Gentile-ness of its growing base. While Jewish Christians might have associated instrumental praise with King David, psalms and temple worship, Gentile Christians were more likely to have connected it with raucous and raunchy pagan ceremonies. I understand their preference. I respect it. It still doesn’t carry the weight of inspired scripture to me. Their teachings are teachings of men, whatever their motivation or reasoning. To be valid preferences today, the same conditions would have to exist, producing the same reasons. Contemporary Christian Music gives ample evidence that praise can still be performed instrumentally as well as vocally in the culture I’m in, and probably many others as well.
  • I like it. I really do. I worship and work at a church which performs a cappella worship before the Lord, exclusively. I can queue up almost a whole day’s worth of ZOE Group on the iTunes of the G5 Mac in my office and be blessed with no need of any other kind of music. (There are days when I do!) It’s not the only kind of music I like. And it’s not the only kind of worship music that I like, and believe to have always been acceptable before God.

    A cappella-only worship or instrumentally-accompanied worship are matters of opinion, often based on personal preference and certainly based on interpretation of scripture rather than scripture itself. And where matters of opinion regarding worship and Christian living come into play, the guiding principles are found in Romans 14. These are disputable matters; matters of conscience. It would be just as wrong for an a cappella-only advocate to worship with instrumental accompaniment as it would be for me to condemn that person for calling unclean what I believe God has never called unclean. Both of us would be violating our consciences. We can disagree on this matter. We can still serve and worship God within our consciences intact and please Him. But we cannot please Him by going beyond what His word says, turning our preferences into doctrines attributed to Him, or judging and condemning others for violating our own doctrines-of-conscience.

These are all the things I can say about a cappella music and worship. There are a lot of things I can’t say, because they aren’t in scripture, rooted in scripture, or rooted in the unchanging nature of God. So it’s just best not to say them, isn’t it?

I write this while listening to my iPhone app “Ambiance,” specifically the “Large Wind Chime” (possibly recorded at the world’s largest tuned windchime in Eureka Springs, AR?). It is beautiful and haunting and awe-inspiring music, and if you think about it, powered by the wind at God’s whim. It’s the sound of God playing a musical instrument made by man.

8 thoughts on “What I Can Say About A Cappella Music

  1. It's the sound of God playing a musical instrument made by man. Reminds me of what an old rancher in west Texas said. There was a squeaky old windmill squeaking close to his house, someone ask "how do you sleep with that noise"? "Noise" he answered "that is music to my ears, the sound of God pumping water" I didn't believe him then, nor you now, I believe that is man harnessing wind power. I guess it is just the way one sees it 🙂

  2. Well, bro, when I was in advertising we used to say, "Perception is reality." Now I work at my church, and we say, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

  3. Having worshipped in both, I can say there are Sundays when the praise band is just incredible and there are Sundays I so long to be back where the singing was just incredible. I have sung on the praise team in an acapella church and I have played various instruments with praise bands. In both situations I have enjoyed worship as good as it gets. Good thought, Keith.

  4. I have collected most of the church fathers on instruments: they understood that the church in the wilderness held a holy convocation: the Hebrew Qahal or Stephen's word Ekklesia was defined INCLUSIVE of Rest (from the Levites), Reading and Rehearsing the Word of God: that's what a disciple does rather than 'ceremonial legalism.'That was EXCLUSIVE of vocal or instrumental rejoicing. That would be a rule for those who did not understand the meaning of 'A school of the Word of God — only.'The Qahal continued parallel to the sacrificial which was NOT COMMANDED (says Christ in Isa 1; Jer 7; etal) where the loud noise profaned the REST as it had at Mount Sinai.Jesus identifies the Scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites and in the Ezekiel 33 version names entertaining speakers, singers and instrument players. The laded burden Jesus died to remove is in Hebrew and Greek rhetoric (primary meaning of hypocrite)ans musicians based on clear use of words.He did not say "don't" be wise or a SOPHIST (speaking, music, all crafts) nor say "thou shalt not use instruments"He just said that God does not and will not speak to or through them (Matthew 11)So the "pattern" is there in something like a color blind test. Why would people who use all of the other pieces of the puzzle (where Jesus died for one) be so purpose driven against those who do what it has always done from the wilderness onward.

  5. Ken, you consistently continue to purport a system of worship to God that is devoid of music based on (as nearly as I can tell) interpretations of scripture which are wholly unique to you.I'm not sure I can respond to them because I don't even begin to understand them.Isaiah 1 and Jeremiah 7 are not prohibitions of worship or sacrifice or musical praise, but of all those things when done without penitence.Ezekiel 33 quotes God telling the prophet that he is only entertainment because they only listen to his words but do not put them into practice.Matthew 11:16-17 (I assume you refer to these verses specifically) does not say that God will not speak through instruments and singing. Jesus is comparing the witnesses of that generation to children who taunt other children (Himself and John the Baptist) who won't play along with their desires.You have such an agenda against music of any kind in worship, brother, that you have contorted the meaning of these scriptures completely out of context and out of their truth and value.

  6. The worship of Zeus and Dionysus (from Egypt onward and especially at Mount Sinai) was the prophecy of women and boys (effeminate) ruling over them. This was a nasty activity which happened in or around the marketplace whereas the EKKLESIA was far removed from any kind of performers.Matt: 11:16 But whereunto shall I liken this generation?It is like unto children sitting in the markets,and calling unto their fellows,Matt. 11:17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.[17] dicunt cecinimus vobis et non saltastis lamentavimus et non planxistisThis would be identical to David's naked dance as he made himself vile with the other singers and instrument players.This, at this time, was "bowing to Baal" and Christ promises a tiny remnant of survivors in Jerusalem who were elected or called out and then CHOSEN as if by fire. The Christians rejected the practices because they were perverted paganism: BUT, they could not do those thingies if they had "a good mental attitude" as the "doctors of the law claim."They HOPED that John wore SOFT clothing of the Catamite because the roving, raging prophets were amidextrous. The same word speaks of "soft" music. Jesus continued to speak of the SECTS identified by music, dancing and drinking wine and says:THEREFORE,Matt. 11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earthbecause thou hast hid these things from the WISE and prudent,and hast revealed them unto babes.ALL of the words in the Bible are pregnant words. The word WISE is SOPHOS. By reading whole chapters, we know tht Jesus is saying that God HIDES truth from the above-mentioned classes of people.Sophos A. skilled in any handicraft or art, clever Mantis (the Mad Women of Corinth) Interpreter of signs. Poets and musicians. Kithara or guitar players, practicing an art (craftsmen) subtleties in dealing with the gods,Sophia , Ion. -iē, h(, prop. A. cleverness or skill in handicraft and art, as in carpentry in music and singing, poetry.Sophistes (Latin) A. master of one's craft, adept, expert, of diviners. In Heredotus 2.49. Heiron Melon speaks of music played around (never in) the pagan shrines. Melos the real word for musical melody is the opposite to rhymic speaking which defines Cantillation and the word SPEAK where Paul defines how we TEACH and melody detracts.Jesus didn't say: "Thou shalt not perform like the sophists" He just said God is HIDING the truth.That is why we are to go OUTSIDE the camp or Agora or marketplace if we want to learn from Jesus.Why go to all of the trouble to EXPLAIN AWAY all recorded history (ALL) just to repudiate people whose only "sin" is to resist having their church house confiscated and family discorded because a preacher hears A SPIRIT commanding him to do what God ABANDONED the Israelites to BECAUSE OF musical idolatry.

  7. Ken, if I could even begin to make sense of your second comment, I would attempt a cogent reply.Should I assume God must be hiding your wisdom from me, because I cannot find it in your words …?

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