5 Favorite, 5 Least Favorite Instruments Used in Worship

"1. Piano — Piano is not only a favorite; it is one of the few instruments that did not also get mentioned as a least favorite. 2. Acoustic Guitar — This instrument was a clear second preference. 3. Organ — This instrument was also the number one least favorite. There seemed to be a clear generational divide here." CPost

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Rob Fall's picture

When it comes to drums ans tambourines, the only time I hear them properly used is when I listen to my Band of the Sheffield Citadel (Salvation Army) cd.  As for accordians, our Russian brethren use them to good effect in their services.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Darrell Post's picture

If we check to see what was the favorite instrument for church worship as described in the New Testament, there is but one. The human voice. In Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19, Paul outlines the programmatic purpose for music in the life of the assembled church...it is the singing of human voices, as a tool to teach and admonish one another. No role for other instruments is defined. In fact if you look through the entire New Testament, you may be surprised just how small music is in the life of the assembled church. Outside of these two key verses, there is very little. Even in the very descriptive book of Acts there is only Paul and Silas singing in jail.

Then considering the three texts where Paul outlines all the various gifts that were in operation in the early church, and the lists of leadership roles. One would think that had music been large in the life of the early church there would have been some mention here of a gift of music or a music leadership role. But again, nothing. After the church age, in the book of Revelation when John sees into heaven, again there is singing, and a mention of those holding harps. But that's it. The early church met together it was all about teaching the apostles doctrine, prayer, fellowship and communion. If music was large, it certainly wasn't large enough for the Scripture writers to include much about it. All we have is Paul saying that it is but one corporate tool for human singing to teach and admonish.

So perhaps the old days when the plaque on the wall listed the three hymns that would be sung by the congregation is closer to New Testament practice than the many churches today that put on a 25 minute concert dominated by loud instruments where the performers showcase their talents while the congregation watches, but rarely participates. Maybe we should return to the NT idea that music should be small in the life of the assembled church and the preaching of doctrine, prayer and fellowship should be large.

Larry's picture


In fact if you look through the entire New Testament, you may be surprised just how small music is in the life of the assembled church. Outside of these two key verses, there is very little.

Might it be so common and uncontroversial and so rooted in OT worship that little to nothing had to be said about it?

Darrell Post's picture

You can presume that if you wish to. However, Luke tells us what was large in the life of the early church and it was teaching the Apostles doctrine, prayer, fellowship and communion. All the lists of gifts mentioned by Paul could have easily included a gift of music but it didn't. Acts of mercy made the list, but music did not. Then in the list of leadership roles within the church, music was absent again, and Paul was quite clear that maturity can be reached with what made his list. After the Lord's Supper, Matthew and Mark mention as an aside that they sang a hymn and went out (to the mount of olives). So it would be appropriate for churches to sing a hymn after communion so as to mirror what happened in the original event. Otherwise the NT usage of music, musical instruments, and so forth was very sparingly, and only as an illustration or an incidental portion of a story (like the prodigal's older brother who heard music as he approached his father's house).

My point is we may want music to be large in the life of the assembled church today because we have made it large and we enjoy it. But having done this, how many times have we heard the preacher say, "well, in the short time we have left..." Why would that be? Because a large chunk of the assembled time was spent on something outside the four things mentioned in Acts 2:42. But perhaps we should trust the apostles who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave us in the New Testament what we need to know for how the church should function and what the church should do when assembled together. One tool Paul authorized in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 was the use of congregational singing to teach and admonish one another. No role was ever defined for instruments other than the human voice. So it would seem to me that any instrument that squelches singing, or styles that make the words hard to understand, or instrument sounds that make it difficult to hear other voices singing would be instruments that frustrate the programmatic purpose for church music that Paul authorized.

But back to the original speculation in your question...it is just as likely a good guess that it was uncontroversial because it was relatively small in the life of the assembled church. The only hint of corrective instruction on church music in the epistles is 1 Corinthians 14:26 where Paul says "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." (ESV)  The word for hymn is psalm. So the standard Paul required is all must be done for edification--building up. The very same point he made in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19.

Greg Long's picture

Actually I think there is a spiritual gift of music or a spiritual gift related to music. See 1 Corinthians 14:26. If Paul was correcting the abuse of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12-14, and all the other things mentioned in 14:26 are related to spiritual gifts, then both the immediate and larger context tell us that "bringing a hymn" is related to a spiritual gift that was being abused/used improperly by the Corinthians.

And the word translated "hymn" is psalmon, which when used in the LXX referred to a song accompanied by a stringed instrument. The Greek word, according to TDNT, referred to plucking the string of a bow or playing a stringed instrument.

Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Bert Perry's picture

I have to wonder how the like/dislike of each instrument correlates to the quality of the instrument that person is used to hearing, and how well it is played.  If all you've heard is an electric organ played by someone who doesn't even complete the chords in the hymns, you're going to likely develop a distaste for that instrument.

But on the light side, I started calling a friend "Garfunkel" after his part at Deo Cantamus was finger cymbals and the tambourine.  

Seriously, I think we could do little better than to re-acquaint ourselves with the Psalms, including in the original Hebrew.  You can actually hear klezmer singing of the Psalms--just google "Effi Netzer Singers".   I would actually suggest that since Hebrew is often accented on the final syllable, the structure of the language might be well suited to an offbeat tune and danceable in some cases.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture


My point is that I think the method by which you conclude singing is relatively unimportant is questionable, particularly given the amount of singing in the OT which the NT surely used. So you may be right, but I am not sure we can determine that by the method you used. I also am not sure we should judge the importance of something by the number of times it is mentioned, a sort of democratic approach to the regulative principle. I am sure you would agree that once is enough, which makes me again wonder if your method is altogether sound here.

I don't think most churches--at least the ones I have been in--have had too much music at the expense of preaching, at least in terms of time allotted. Content may be a different story.

Darrell Post's picture


I have said that music does have a role in the life of the assembled church. Paul defined that role in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19. My point is that many churches go well beyond that limited role. Paul's emphasis was clearly on human voices singing to one another to teach and admonish. He never defined a role for other instruments. Of course he didn't prohibit them either, but singing should be paramount, and corporate involvement should be key. My contention here is that an actual study of the New Testament, building a theology of church music, we have to conclude that music in the assembled church was relatively small when compared to what the church was recorded as actually doing, and what Paul authorized, and in the context of all the leadership and gift lists Paul provided. It is an issue of balance. I am speaking out against the practice of the suburban big-box church scene in America where people roam church to church to find the one that has the most impressive music concert...the one with the most and loudest instruments, the one whose music goes on the longest...the one that sounds the closest to what they would get if they went to see a secular show/concert somewhere. So many of these churches define themselves by their music shows rather than the Word of God, prayer, and the other core distinctives that make up a NT church.

Larry's picture


Thanks Darrell. I know you have said there is a role for music. I agree that voices are paramount and all else should serve that purpose. I agree that many churches create a concert feel and many people go in search of that. I agree that many churches define themselves by their music instead of the other things. So most of what you say I agree with.

My only point, and I will leave it here, is that I think your methodology is questionable. I am not sure we can conclude conclusively that music plays a small or limited role (whatever that actually means in practice) in the church because there are only two verses (perhaps three) that address it.

I do wonder concerning "small or limited role," what does that actually mean? I might agree with you on that as well. Are we talking length of time in the service? Prominence of music in the church's public persona? Number or mix of instrumentation? Music is a commanded part of worship and therefore is non-negotiable. Perhaps music, like preaching, has some flexibility as to exactly how it is carried out.