Instrumental Music In The Public Worship

David R. Kenney

There are history books that mistakenly state the use of the organ began in worship – which is an unauthorized addition to Christian worship – as early as 600-700 AD. Further studies in church history have found that this date is too early by as much as 200 to 300 years since these incidents referred to court proceedings and not actual worship services. Dr. Everett Ferguson, noted church historian, wrote in A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church, “It was perhaps as late as the tenth century when the organ was played as part of the service. This makes instrumental music one of the late innovations of the medieval Catholic Church.” (p. 74).

When people who are unfamiliar with New Testament worship first visit worship services of churches of Christ, they often comment on the lack of mechanical instruments or how much they enjoy congregational singing. Some think this is rather odd. However, what they fail to realize is the use of mechanical instruments is truly the oddity. Some may be astonished to learn that the mainline denominations also once opposed the use of instrumental music in worship. They, perhaps, fail to realize that a cappella does not just mean, “without instrumental accompaniment” but is an Italian word meaning, “in the style of the chapel.” The very word, itself, speaks to the fact that the early worship of the church was without mechanical instruments!

“The International Gospel Hour” has reprinted a classic work by John L. Girardeau entitled Instrumental Music in the Public Worship. A Presbyterian professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, Dr. Girardeau was repeatedly asked by his students why he opposed the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship. This book was his response. 

The book was originally published in 1888 and remains a classic reference work on this subject. Brother Winford Claiborne, speaker on the International Gospel Hour, wrote a valuable introduction in the reprinted edition which includes some vital points relating to some errors made by Girardeau regarding denominationalism and such. The book is divided into several sections: The General Argument from Scripture, Argument from the Old Testament, Argument from the New Testament, Argument from the Presbyterian Standards, Historical Argument, and Arguments in Favor of Instrumental Music. Included are valuable references showing that the early church did not utilize instrumental music, and the early denominations recognized this and excluded it likewise, at first.

Consider these words by Dr. Girardeau which he wrote in warning the Presbyterian Church about the adoption of instrumental music in its worship. A similar warning could be made for us today:

“Those of us who protest against this revolution in Presbyterian worship are by some pitied, by others ridiculed, and by others still denounced as fanatics. If we are, we share the company of an innumerable host of fanatics extending from the day of Pentecost to the middle of the nineteenth century. We refuse not to be classed, although consciously unworthy of the honor, with apostles, martyrs and reformers. But neither were they mad, nor are we. We ‘speak the words of truth and soberness.’ Mindful of the apostolic injunction, ‘Prove all things,’ we submit arguments derived from Scripture, from the formularies of our church and from the consensus of Christ’s people, and respectfully invoke for them the attention of our brethren. We call upon them to examine these arguments, and either disprove or adopt them. But should they be dismissed without notice, and our faithful remonstrances be unheeded, we humbly, but earnestly, warn the church of the evil and bitter consequences which will, we verily believe, be entailed by that corruption of public worship which has been pointed out; and against it, in the name of the framers of our venerable standards, in the name of the reformers, divines and martyrs of the Presbyterian Church, in the name of Christ’s true witnesses in the centuries past, in the name of our glorious King and Head, we erect this solemn PROTEST. (p. 200).

Here is an excellent resource to give to someone who mistakenly believes this is a “Church of Christ” view. We should give this work lovingly and state that this is the New Testament view!

Churches of Christ aim to follow the New Testament in her worship to God. We have no manmade creeds, confessions of faith, or church manuals. The church belongs to Christ, and it is imperative that we worship according to the Will (Testament) of Christ. –29 Flora Dr., Bedford, OH 44146-2011. For additional book reviews, visit 

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