A Capella only. Mandate or Myth?

The first time I heard a congregation sing a capella I loved it. Now, having been a member of a church of Christ for over eight years I still love the absolute beauty, the primitive feel, to good a capella singing. Wednesday nights at our church we meet in what was years ago the main auditorium and the acoustics compliment singing. It is wonderful to hear!

I will never forget when I was first given a “proof text” for a capella only singing in church. When the man read Colossians 3:16 my reply was “That’s it?”. I am amazed that this issue is still a hot issue in coC circles. Only the role of baptism is mentioned perhaps as much.

In only a few days after Peter’s first gospel sermon there were in Jerusalem several thousand new Christians. And, we know that they met together and worshiped. Interestingly, it would be at least twenty to twenty five years before the Apostle Paul would write what is now purported to be “authorization” for a capella only singing in worship gatherings. I am not suggesting that these earliest believers did not sing a capella, what I am saying is that they had no scriptural mandate to do so. And, the few who likely had some part of the Old Testament, or heard it read, did not find any such “authorization” in it. In fact they would have learned the opposite from the OT. When Ephesians and Colossians were finally written the context of neither “proof text” even hints that Paul’s intention was to prohibit the use of musical instruments in worship.

I was recently reminded that many coC people consider this issue to be a “salvation issue“! This could be used in the seminary class room as a case study on poor Bible scholorship and interupitation of Scripture.

A capella singing by Christians is a beautiful experience. It is a rich tradition and is worth continuing and passing to generations to come. However, it is foolish to tell anyone the Bible demands it. And I thnk even sinful to consider someone lost who does not agree.

Your opinion?

His peace,

8 comments on “A Capella only. Mandate or Myth?

  1. It’s amazing how “obvious” the Bible’s teachings against instruments are to someone who grew up hearing them. It’s easy for such people to see it as a salvation issue. In the same way, it’s next to impossible for someone who comes from outside to begin to comprehend what all the fuss is about.

    If only 2 Opinions had been accepted as a canonical work…

    Grace and peace,


    Thanks Tim,

  2. Being raise in the coC, I know that there are many who feel it is sinful to have instruments in the church. It took me several months of personal Bible study as a 19 year old attending a Baptist church with my Baptist boyfriend. The loving pastor at Fredonia Hill in Nacogdoches, gave me many passages to read and study and pray about to let the Spirit lead me. I concluded with his guidance and much prayer that God would not send me to Hell for having attended and sang praises to Him while being accompanied by a piano, organ, etc. He would only send me to Hell for rejecting the saving grace of His precious Son who died for my sins.

    I still to this day love the acapella singing and the harmony of the voices lifted up to our glorious King!
    Blessings and honor and praises to Him,

  3. There is certain irony that people look to the early church practice of a capella singing as proof of its prohibition when it seems certain that the church simply continued to pattern their worship on that of the Jewish synagogue, an unauthorized practice.

    It is the biggest reason that I am where I am.

    You make an excellent point Darin and one I had not thought of. The fact is there is little said about how the infant church worshipped in the Bible. I am not big on patterning after the church was say 100 or 300 years old anyway. We know that in a relatively short time there was drunkeness, gluttony, and rude selfeshness at the Lord’s table at Corinth, divisions into factions who followed Paul, Peter, Apollos, or others, and some had already started to mix law with grace.

    When we speak of Restoration of the early church, the question arises, which one? This is the precise problem with patternism. It is far better in my view to work for a “principaled” church than one following some imagined early template. One governed by unselfesh love, centered on Christ and the gospel of grace, modeling the highest morality and ethics, and loving sinners as God does. If those things are done the details of the week to week life of the local body will work themselves out in my view.


  4. I get the impression that, when the question first came up in the Restoration Movement, instrumental music was rejected partly because (a) it was just different and (b) it seemed a little too “citified” for the rural sensibilities of a lot of our people. I don’t doubt for a minute the sincerity of those people, nor do I doubt that they believed they had “Bible” for their stance. They had a lot of conviction.

    Once the instrument question became a cause of division in churches, the next question was “Which side gets the members and the building?” The non-instrumentalists often got the bad end of that. From there, because it had been such a loss for those people, it would naturally continue to be a big deal.

    I love a cappella singing. I hate the divisions of our past. I’m glad that I don’t have anyone to blame for the divorce of my great-great-grandparents.

  5. My wife and I sit and discuss this issue. It is so divisive when it shouldn’t be. Wasn’t the big point in Pauls writings to the church that you shouldn’t behave this way and get your hearts centered on Jesus??? When that happens, singing songs and hymns (with musical instruments) and spiritual songs all come from the heart, not the mind. We so miss the cake for messing around in the frosting.

    Of course you are right, it shouldn’t be an issue. But, when folks allow tradition to rise to the same level of authority as scripture this is what you get. Some well known preachers and elders declare those who don’t agree with them..lost! It is sad that largely because of this sort of nonsense much of the outside world considers coC folks to be nuts.

    Thanks for your visit and comment,


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