It would be far better to sing without instruments than to have the church stay silent with them. It would be far better to turn off all instrumentation than to tune out all the voices. Serve the people as they sing, I say—serve the people as they sing of the gospel, sing for one another, and sing to the Lord—just as He commands.
With due respect to my Reformed Presbyterian friends, I think it’s difficult to make the argument that singing in the local church must not be accompanied by instrumentation. But with due respect to everyone else, I think it’s equally difficult to make the argument that singing in the local church must be accompanied by instrumentation. It seems to me that we have a lot of freedom here—freedom to sing in a way that matches our convictions and freedom to sing in a way we judge appropriate to our setting.
I tend to think the most difficult position to justify from the Bible is the one that seems to be in effect in a great many evangelical churches today—that music is at its best when there is a full band of skilled singers and musicians who play so loudly as to drown out the voices of the congregation. Where instrumentation was traditionally used to enhance the beauty of the music and help direct the singing of the congregation, today it often seems to dominate so that instead of using a band to complement and accompany the congregation, the congregation now merely does their best to sing along to a band.
A friend recently distinguished between two helpful categories: worship services that are performative and worship services that are participatory. A performative worship service is one that could merrily go on even if there was no one there but the people at the front of the room—the pastor(s) and the band. A participatory worship service is one that would have no meaning unless the congregation was present and doing their part. And while the congregation can and should participate in more than the singing (e.g. prayers, ordinances, responsive readings), they should certainly not participate in less than the singing. Yet this is the reality in so many churches today—singing is performative far more than participatory. In fact, the less we can hear the voices of the unskilled singers in the pews, the better the music is judged to be. Singing has gone from being the domain of the many amateurs to the domain of the few professionals.