Calvin On Instruments: "Stupid Imitation"

The musical instruments he mentions pertained to the time of instruction.1 Nor should we stupidly imitate a practice which was proper only for God’s old [covenant] people…. They were for use under the legal cult.2

John Calvin, From his commentary on Ps 149:2 and Ps 150:3


1. Calvin regarded the Mosaic covenant as a sort of “pedagogical tool” to lead the Israelites to Christ.
2. i.e. during the Mosaic-Davidic-prophetic epochs of redemption. For Calvin, the instruments were fulfilled by the incarnation, obedience, and death of Jesus as the high priest, temple, sacrificial lamb, and true Israel of God.


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  1. So one isn’t allowed to worship God with a guitar, organ, or piano during a worship service because Calvin interpreted Scripture to say it is cult-like?

  2. Scott,

    I have resisted from commenting on posts like this one, but I do finally want to ask you a question:

    Ephesians 5:19 and Col. 3:16 both say we are to use psalmois and hymns and spiritual songs. There are three participles in these texts: speaking, singing and “psalming.” It seems that all of these participles are modified by the three datives for the songs we are to speak and sing and “psalm.”

    So here is my question: If the OT gives such a descriptive view of the instruments used in worship and these are called psalms in the NT, how is it that you and others try to understand the greek word psalmos in the NT apart from its OT home, which clearly includes instruments?

    And a follow up question would be: Why do the Reformed claim the OT psalter for the NT church, but then begin to play covenantal games over whether instruments should be used or not? You use the OT words (in English), but cannot accept the fact that the Psalms themselves admit of instruments, indeed psalmos is a word that takes on the meaning, “a song sung to the harp.” For the reformed argument to work, I would expect Paul to say, singing songs only, not psalms because these require harps and other instruments.

  3. Jim,

    No, Calvin (and all the Reformed after him for two hundred years) did away with musical instruments because they belong to the Mosaic (old) covenant. They were part of the period of types and shadows. They’re just as much a part of the types (illustrations) and shadows (vague pictures of the future reality) as the blood of bulls and goats. Calvin and the Reformed churches rejected instruments for the same reason they they didn’t kill calves in front of the Lord’s table: Jesus has come. Jesus kept the Mosaic law. He fulfilled all the types and shadows.

    Today we seem insistent upon gradually bringing back the types and shadows. Were Calvin here he would say: “You’re doing exactly what the medieval church did by gradually bringing back the old covenant system. How long will it be before you bring back the medieval doctrine of justification.”

    “Dear John,

    It’s too late. It’s already happened.”



    • Esteemed Dr. Clark,
      What “future realities” were the musical instruments “vague pictures of”? I understand the blood of bulls and calves, clearly they pointed to Christ’s vicarious substitutionary death on our behalf and the spilling of his blood once for all for his bride the church. Likewise, I understand the that the priests and the temple clearly pointed to Christ our High priest and the heavenly temple of which the earthly was a copy. These things are explicitly abrogated in the New Testament without denial in Hebrews for example. But, as we argue that the administration of the covenant sign to children of believers ought to persist due to no explicit abrogation of it, why then do you reject that logic with regards to instruments. That is, since there is no clear abrogation of them we should assume that they persist today as we say of infant baptism in connection with circumcision. Furthermore, since other Mosaic types and shadows have clear connections to New Covenant realities, what is the supposed specific future reality to which instruments pointed. Also, since humans are prone to over react, especially when departing from an extreme position like the Medieval Papacy for the Reformers and pagan worship for the Early Church, is it not plausible and probable that they occasionally threw the baby out with the bath water? now for context to this question, know that I am a licensed intern in the URC and one of your students at WSCAL. This question is brewing for me since I hope to request the replacement of the piano with a guitar at the Ontario URC Spanish congregation in the future with the consent of the Consistory. Why? The piano and nearly all uninspired melodies sung either a capela or with instruments in Reformed Churches are extremely Anglo-Saxon and therefore less natural and meaningful for Hispanics. So, that’s why I am asking. Again, know that I respect you and honor you as my esteemed professor, a doctor of Historical Theology, and a Reverend in the URC. Thanks!

      • Taylor,

        To what did the instruments point? To what did holy war point? Heaven (the eschatological state). That state was inaugurated by Christ and will be consummated when he returns. From a redemptive-historical perspective, that’s part of the reason they were abolished in the NT. It was NOT the eschaton.

        Baby, bathwater? So the church for 7 centuries threw out both? The medieval church didn’t use them either until the 14th century without controversy. When even Thomas Aquinas says it’s Judaizing to use instruments, shouldn’t that give us pause?

        Is it possible that we, in our time, have not taken the time to consider fairly the arguments of the Fathers, the medievals, all the Reformed churches? Have you read Ames? Have you read Gilespie?

        Re: Moses & Abraham. We don’t live in a renewal of the Mosaic covenant but of the Abrahamic covenant. In Scripture, the New Covenant never contrasted with Abraham but with Moses. The cultic use of instruments is part of the bloody types and shadows. Proof:

        Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah the daughter of Zechariah. 2 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done.

        In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them. 4 He brought in the priests and the Levites and assembled them in the square on the east 5 and said to them, “Hear me, Levites! Now consecrate yourselves, and consecrate the house of the LORD, the God of your fathers, and carry out the filth from the Holy Place. 6 For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the LORD our God. They have forsaken him and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the LORD and turned their backs. 7 They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the Holy Place to the God of Israel. 8 Therefore the wrath of the LORD came on Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes. 9 For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. 10 Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us. 11 My sons, do not now be negligent, for the LORD has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him and to be his ministers and make offerings to him.”

        Then the Levites arose, Mahath the son of Amasai, and Joel the son of Azariah, of the sons of the Kohathites; and of the sons of Merari, Kish the son of Abdi, and Azariah the son of Jehallelel; and of the Gershonites, Joah the son of Zimmah, and Eden the son of Joah; 13 and of the sons of Elizaphan, Shimri and Jeuel; and of the sons of Asaph, Zechariah and Mattaniah; 14 and of the sons of Heman, Jehuel and Shimei; and of the sons of Jeduthun, Shemaiah and Uzziel. 15 They gathered their brothers and consecrated themselves and went in as the king had commanded, by the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD. 16 The priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and they brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the LORD into the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it and carried it out to the brook Kidron. 17 They began to consecrate on the first day of the first month, and on the eighth day of the month they came to the vestibule of the LORD. Then for eight days they consecrated the house of the LORD, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished. 18 Then they went in to Hezekiah the king and said, “We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the table for the showbread and all its utensils. 19 All the utensils that King Ahaz discarded in his reign when he was faithless, we have made ready and consecrated, and behold, they are before the altar of the LORD.”

        Then Hezekiah the king rose early and gathered the officials of the city and went up to the house of the LORD. 21 And they brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom and for the sanctuary and for Judah. And he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD. 22 So they slaughtered the bulls, and the priests received the blood and threw it against the altar. And they slaughtered the rams, and their blood was thrown against the altar. And they slaughtered the lambs, and their blood was thrown against the altar. 23 Then the goats for the sin offering were brought to the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them, 24 and the priests slaughtered them and made a sin offering with their blood on the altar, to make atonement for all Israel. For the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel.

        And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the LORD through his prophets. 26 The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. 27 Then Hezekiah commanded that the burnt offering be offered on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song to the LORD began also, and the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David king of Israel. 28 The whole assembly worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded. All this continued until the burnt offering was finished. 29 When the offering was finished, the king and all who were present with him bowed themselves and worshiped. 30 And Hezekiah the king and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped.

        Then Hezekiah said, “You have now consecrated yourselves to the LORD. Come near; bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the LORD.” And the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. 32 The number of the burnt offerings that the assembly brought was 70 bulls, 100 rams, and 200 lambs; all these were for a burnt offering to the LORD. 33 And the consecrated offerings were 600 bulls and 3,000 sheep. 34 But the priests were too few and could not flay all the burnt offerings, so until other priests had consecrated themselves, their brothers the Levites helped them, until the work was finished—for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in consecrating themselves. 35 Besides the great number of burnt offerings, there was the fat of the peace offerings, and there were the drink offerings for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the LORD was restored. 36 And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because God had prepared for the people, for the thing came about suddenly. (2 Chron 29)

        Who was making the offerings?

        Who was playing the instruments?

        In what context were the instruments played?

        Who commanded that the instruments be played?

        What was the function of instruments in this setting?

        Is that command still in force? Where?

        Where did the apostles play instruments in public worship?

    • If I may interject a response, it seems to me that one way to answer your question “Who was playing the instruments?” is, “The same category of people who were singing during the worship service,” that is, the Levites. So if singing is now for the entire congregation to do…

  4. I’m sold. The question is… how kindly might a URCNA classis look upon such views in an ordination exam?

  5. I hope that Calvin would be welcome to the ministry of the URCNA!

    I don’t think it is a huge problem. It would be controversial or new or unusual in some circles but the church order does not require instruments or even non-canonical hymns. It permits them but doesn’t require them. It wasn’t that long ago, in N. America, that Dutch Reformed Christians sang psalms without instrumentation.

  6. Interesting comments by Calvin. Proves that he wasn’t *always* right! I think Calvin was over-reacting to many of the liturgical elements of Roman Catholic worship, as far as his opinion on musical instruments was concerned. I think he would have a hard time proving his point from Scripture.

  7. “You’re doing exactly what the medieval church did by gradually bringing back the old covenant system.”

    Wow, that sounds just like what the Reformed and Presbys do when they import parts of OC types and shadows in paedobaptism and sabbatarianism. 😉

    • If we were still spilling blood and if Moses was Abraham, you might have a point but Moses isn’t Abraham (and he isn’t in the “old covenant”) and we’re not spilling blood nor are we keeping the old covenant sabbath. We keep the new covenant, re-creational sabbath. God rested a long time before Moses.

  8. What is more likely?

    A) Calvin and all the Reformed for 200 years after him were wrong to associate the Instruments with slaughtering Bulls


    B) The “discovery” that people liked Musical Instruments in the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings and that brought “young people” into the churches so we have to have instruments for the “young people” arguments that laid the foundations for the bringing of musical instruments into the worship of God for pragmatic purposes not exegetical ones. QIRE indeed.

  9. Benjamin,

    I haven’t made up my mind on this issue yet (mostly because I’m still waiting to hear an extended Biblical argument, from either side). But it seems to me that you’re presenting a false dilemma, and one that’s more rhetoric than substance. Those are hardly the only two options available, it neither really does justice to the actual history. Plus this “200 years” and “all the Reformed” language sounds a bit idealistic (not unlike the way Rome talks about herself prior to the Reformation). According to Dr. Robert Godfrey, at least the dutch Reformed churches were already introducing organs in worship less than 100 years after Calvin (and as far as I know they weren’t doing it because the “yougins” would like it).

  10. David,

    This is a blog. Not a book. I wrote a book called Recovering the Reformed Confession. In that book I provide a survey of the arguments for the historic view and I provide a brief history.

    This is no golden age history. Of course things are more complicated than I present here in a few lines but I’m not claiming to present a comprehensive, detailed history of Reformed worship here.

    Nevertheless, it is true that from the early 1520s through the mid 1700s the Reformed did not use instruments and they did not sing anything but God’s Word, with a minor exception here or there (e.g. the Apostles’ Creed in some cases). There was a real shift in the colonies/new world in the 18th century. Instruments began to be a problem in the NL in the 18th century after Napoleon. The 200 year claim is not an exaggeration.

    Read the book and then read the books I cite in the footnotes. The work has been done. Read William Ames, Fresh Suit. See George Gillespie’s critique of English Popish Ceremonies. I give bibliographic info of many titles that will lead you back to the historic Reformed theology and practice of worship if you care to do the work.

  11. As far as I know, instruments, be it organs, pianos, glory bells, &tc, are around mostly because women are allowed to participate and/or spearhead church worship committees and decide to implement use of instruments because it caters to their emotional natures. The men in charge, on the other hand, in order to avoid strife and contention allow them to do so for the sake of peace.


  12. ps. As I document in the book, there was a struggle in the Dutch churches from the very beginning of the Reformation. The Dutch love their musical instruments! The RPW and intended practice of the Dutch Churches was acapella and psalmody. This is clear from the Dort Church Order. Synod permitted one hymn mainly because they intended to eradicate it and because they expected to hold another synod when they could finish the job. They did not know that they would not be able to meet again for such a long time.

  13. David,

    If you were referring to Bob’s comments during the Q&A session at the conference, that was a mild misunderstanding. I didn’t express myself very clearly. I’m not sure what I said but what I meant to say was that there was a shift in the CRC in the early 20th century away from exclusive, acapella, pslamody. That shift was hotly controversial, as I document in the book.

  14. Scott,

    I keep meaning to ask this… Hughes Old in “Worship” mentions that Calvin tried for years to hire instrumentalists to play in church but the city council wouldn’t allow it. He doesn’t offer a footnote – do you know to what he is referring, or is he just making this up/using faulty secondary sources?

  15. Scott: Just to be brief – I read Calvin’s entire comment at Psalm 150:3. He makes his assertion, and comments briefly on it, but he makes no biblical case, in my opinion. He just assumes that musical instruments were an Old Testament phenomenon. For myself, I would say that the mere fact that musical instruments are rarely mentioned in the New Testament does not mean that they did not exist or that they were not used in worship. It’s a question the New Testament is silent about. There’s no reason not to believe that New Testament worshippers used instruments *because* they were used in the Old Testament. This would make perfect sense, especially for Jewish believers – a perfect carryover from what they already knew about worship patterns.

  16. No he doesn’t make a case there.

    There are two questions, 1) the historical 2) the exegetical/dogmatic.

    See RRC for both.

    Why is the burden of proof on those who want to follow the apostolic and early Christian pattern?

  17. Dr. Clark,

    my comment was directed more at Benjamen than you. Obviously I don’t expect you re-type your book on the blog. Although a short summary of some of Calvin’s (and others’) arguments would be nice. 🙂

    Which chapter(s) in RRC deals with the question of instruments in worship and the objections that Meade raised above?


  18. David,

    The TOC is here. Don’t be so cheap. Buy the book!

    Honestly, the book is doing reasonably well (for which I’m thankful) but I do need people to support the book.

  19. Dr. Clark,

    I just spent all my extra (read: non-textbook) money on “Cov, Just, & Past Min” last week. But I promise to buy RRC by the end of Spring semester and read it over the summer.

  20. Dr Clark,

    Old’s comments are found on pp. 45, he writes “As the years went by, Calvin was able to secure the service of some very fine poets and musicians. Louis Bourgeois and Claude Goudimel provided excellent music, and THeodore Beza provided some fine texts.” Personally I doubt that this is refering to musical instruments, more likely it is refering to writing tunes to sing the psalms to, especially in light of Calvin’s views on musical instruments (cf. this).

    On Ps. 33:2 Calvin comments:

    I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching the harp and the viol, and all that kind of music, which is so frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was a part of the education; that is to say, the puerile instruction of the law: I speak of the stated service of the temple. For even now, if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should, I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law…Does any one object, that music is very useful for awakening the minds of men and moving their hearts? I own it; but we should always take care that no corruption creep in, which might both defile the pure worship of God and involve men in superstition.

    Personally I am not convinced by Calvin’s exegesis, but as I personally prefer acapella singing… 😉

    In terms of EP, the Temple service included the singing of the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15) as Old argues; the musical notation in Hab. 3 indicates it was used cultically; and, it is doubtful that the canonical Psalter was compiled for cultic worship.

    God bless!

  21. Can instruments ever fall under the category of circumstance and thus be admissible for their use? Say, when the congregation is not accustomed to a cappella singing?

  22. Scott,

    Thank you for signing my copy of your book — the one David brought me from the Conference in Colorado Springs, when he came to Grand Rapids to officiate at my wedding.

    I once made a small tract that was on our church’s free literature table for a while. It was entitled “The Views of John Calvin concerning Musical Instruments in Worship,” and simply featured quotes from his Commentary on Psalms 33:2, 71:22, 81:2, 92:3, 98:5, 144:9, 149:3, and 150:3. I especially appreciate what he said on Psalm 92:3:

    “In the fourth verse, he more immediately addresses the Levites, who were appointed to the office of singers, and calls upon them to employ their instruments of music — not as if this were in itself necessary, only it was useful as an elementary aid to the people of God in these ancient times. We are not to conceive that God enjoined the harp as feeling a delight like ourselves in mere melody of sounds; but the Jews, who were yet under age, were astricted to the use of such childish elements. The intention of them was to stimulate the worshippers, and stir them up more actively to the celebration of the praise of God with the heart. We are to remember that the worship of God was never understood to consist in such outward services, which were only necessary to help forward a people, as yet weak and rude in knowledge, in the spiritual worship of God. A difference is to be observed in this respect between his people under the Old and under the New Testament; for now that Christ has appeared, and the Church has reached full age, it were only to bury the light of the Gospel, should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation. From this, it appears that the Papists, as I shall have occasion to show elsewhere, in employing instrumental music, cannot be said so much to imitate the practice of God’s ancient people, as to ape it in a senseless and absurd manner, exhibiting a silly delight in that worship of the Old Testament which was figurative, and terminated with the Gospel.”

    How often do you have opportunity to sing God’s praises unaccompanied in the congregation?

  23. The argument is that the ceremonial types of the OT temple worship represent either Christ or the Holy Spirit, with musical instruments representing the joy of the Holy Spirit. After Calvary AND Pentecost, those types have been fulfilled and are to be discarded.
    Girardeau, the Southern Presbyterian theologian and pastor of the 19th century, wrote the American classic on the question in his Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church (1888)
    Dabney’s review of Girardeau can be found
    The Puritan Reprint reprint of Girardeau, including Dabney can be found here .
    Yeah, I know, when I first heard of the position, I thought it was stupid nonsense. Then I actually looked at Girardeau, after stumbling on Dabney. Do yourself a favor and get informed on the real P&R position, if you aren’t already aware of it.

  24. but for people skilled in writing music.

    And what were they to use in writing that music? Were they particularly skilled in pitch pipe? Choral humming? I’ve always had a hard time with outright denial of instrumentation in worship since instrumentation is necessarily implied in any piece of music and is an outright necessity when writing any. Besidesl, the voice can itself be a wonderful instrument, admittedly not so much in my case. And, speaking of those pitch pipes, why isn’t it more than a bit of hypocrisy to allow those in NT/Reformed worship? After all, a pitch pipe is an instrument of sorts, just a very limited one. I guess not being Brazilian jazz fan ya’ll have never heard Antonio Carlos Jobim’s One Note Samba 😉

  25. Sean,

    Not all precenters use the pitch pipe. Personally, I don’t think they’re necessary. i think we’re too often guilty of putting aesthetics before principle.

    I agree that the pitch pipe is a problem for the RPW but I’m open to being corrected by my RPCNA brethren.

    As to acapella music, I don’t see why instruments are inherent. They were in the early post apostolic church and they weren’t until the high middle ages.

    It may be helpful to have an instrument to help write a tune, but they certainly aren’t necessary to singing.

  26. God instituted worship for His Glory. He prescribed the use of instruments to declare His glory. Leviticus 25:9 NKJ Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land.
    1 Chronicles 15:16 NKJ Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy.
    1 Chronicles 16:42 NKJ and with them Heman and Jeduthun, to sound aloud with trumpets and cymbals and the musical instruments of God. Now the sons of Jeduthun were gatekeepers.
    1 Chronicles 23:5 NKJ four thousand were gatekeepers, and four thousand praised the Lord with musical instruments, “which I made,” said David, “for giving praise.”
    Psalms 47:5 NKJ God has gone up with a shout, The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
    Psalms 81:3 NKJ Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, At the full moon, on our solemn feast day.
    Psalms 68:24. They have seen Your procession, O God, The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary. 25. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; Among them were the maidens playing timbrels.
    Psalms 150:3 NKJ Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp!
    Zechariah 9:14 NKJ Then the Lord will be seen over them, And His arrow will go forth like lightning. The Lord God will blow the trumpet, And go with whirlwinds from the south.
    1 Corinthians 15:52 NKJ in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

    Isaiah 38:20 NKJ “The Lord was ready to save me; Therefore we will sing my songs with stringed instruments all the days of our life, in the house of the Lord.”

    Calvin’s ban of all instruments was a knee jerk reaction to a clergy led mystical musical spectacle. His break with these practices was resolute and total. In those circumstances this was a good and necessary response, and created a sharp line of demarcation between reformation and romanism. It gave the reformation the opportunity to come to a sober, joyful and participatory style of worship.

    In later centuries the reformed church did admit instruments. I believe that in stating that the reformed church did not use instruments for centuries, a too narrow focus on English speaking churches is applied by some of the above commentators. We need to also look at the greater segment of the reformed church in continental practices. Shorty after 1618 (synod of Dordrecht) the churches resumed use of the existing organs in the churches. Why? The large congregations (4000 and larger) could not sing in an edifying manner without leadership and tonal direction. Melody, tempo, beauty and order were restored with an organ leading the singing.

    God approved and rejoices in the worship that includes instruments in the OT. God rejoices in praise and worship that includes instrumental music in heaven. Revelation 5:8 NKJ Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

    What rationalle can we use to argue that we may no longer praise Him as below in our present “dispensation”?

    2 Chronicles 5:13 NKJ indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud,

    We have to consider that in apostolic times the churches were small house churches, and that the church was being persecuted. Not an ideal environment to start blowing the trumpet. Many christians were converted jews, and would have worshipped previously in synagogues that also did not have instrumental music. The blble does not contain an explicit liturgy in the apostolic era. Has God stopped delighting in praise that includes instrumental music between the OT and
    his second coming?
    1 Thessalonians 4:16 NKJ For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

  27. Chris,

    the biblical passages you cite are either metaphorical (there is no literal trumpet at the last day anymore than Jesus is sitting on a literal throne now) or belong to the typological period. You are right that God did use instruments under the Mosaic covenant but that covenant is fulfilled.

    The rejection of instruments, if you will take a moment to read RRC, was an ancient Christian position that held for nearly 1000 years. It was the position of all the Reformed Churches and not just Calvin. It was the position of all the European and British Churches in the 16th and 17th centuries.

    Instruments were removed in Heidelberg and, according to J I Good, stayed removed for a century! (even during the Lutheran inter-regnum).

    The Dutch Churches were stubborn but the Synods and Classes worked to get rid of of remnants of typological worship. They did not always succeed. AFAIK, instruments did not return until Napoleon. During the dark years of the 18th century, many Dutchmen migrated to the new world and during the Afscheiding I believe that instruments were once more removed.

    The CRCNA did not use instruments in the 19th century and they did not sing hymns. They began to creep in to use in the late 19th and early 20th century.

    Acapella psalmody was the dominant reformed practice in Europe and Britain for a very long time.

    The return to instruments was a pragmatic response to revivalism and cultural pressure created by revivalism.

    Theologically it is impossible to separate instruments in worship from the blood of bulls and goats as your quotations demonstrate.

  28. Is the use of instruments in Worship heritical according to the Heidelberg Catachism?

    Is Worship not true “Worship” if instruments are used?

  29. Jim,

    I wouldn’t use the word “heretical.” The fellows who wrote the HC didn’t use them. They sang psalms without instruments.

    I would use the word “corrupt” or “defective.”

  30. Did Calvin and the other Reformers really abolish the use of organs or were they simply resisting an innovation? I wonder whether musical instruments were used as widely in the pre-Reformation Church as Dr Clark seems to believe. They were never used in the Eastern Orthodox Churches and still are not (the EO’s employing similar arguments against them). Organs were expensive to build and beyond the reach of most churches, other than cathedrals. Is there any evidence of an organ in Geneva before the Reformation? My suspicion is that the Reformers were not returning to Biblical usage as much as they were perpetuating mediaeval conditions. Similarly, Calvin expressed a dislike of part-singing and polyphonic music, both of which were innovations of the Renaissance era.

    A little knowledge of musical history might be useful in this discussion. Girardeau, for example, fulminated against the organ as something that would lead to “the whole orchestra of Rome.” He did not seem to know that the use of instruments other than the organ (such as brass and strings) was hardly typical of RC usage, but originated in Anglican and Lutheran Churches which could not afford organs.

  31. It seems very difficult to get people to accept that instruments shouldn’t be used in worship. It’s funny how many arguments we have today because the apostles weren’t super explicit on the point. They never said, “Thou shalt baptize the infant children of church members.” They never said, “Thou shalt not use instruments in worship.” Perhaps it is because they didn’t think they needed to, because these things were obvious to everyone and they had bigger fish to fry anyway.

    What is, perhaps, even funnier, is the modern evangelical who thinks that because God was worshiped in Israel by using trumpets or cymbals or whatever, that therefore we CAN use instruments today.

    This argument is riddled with holes. First of all, those instruments were COMMANDED. The Israelites could not play cymbals or blow trumpets whenever the Spirit led them. They played them for particular reasons according to the commandments of God.

    In the New Covenant, where are those commandments to use instruments? Where is the command, “Thou shalt play the trumpet when the sermon doth be concluded”? Where is the command to sound the bell 15 minutes before the worship service begins?

    In the Old Testament, instruments were used because God said to use them. In the New Testament, there is no such command.

    In the Old Testament, those instruments were commanded to be used in the Temple. In the New Testament, there IS no temple. Paul says our bodies are temples, and while I don’t know about anyone else, I don’t have any little altar in my heart where I offer incense, so I cannot sound a trumpet there or bang a clanging cymbal. The New Testament church building is not the Temple. I am the temple. You are the temple.

    All of these arguments aside, there still is NO JUSTIFICATION for anything at ALL like the rock concert atmosphere so pervasive in the church today. Do we suppose that this was the kind of atmosphere in the temple or in any other form of Old Testament worship?

    Yes, in the Old Testament, there were some singers, usually women, who became very popular and signed autographs after particularly moving sacrificial ceremonies. They stood up on raised platforms and got all dressed up in miniskirts and lots of makeup and…yep, back then, it was JUST like today. Eat your heart out, Brittney Spears. Doesn’t it sound ridiculous?

    Actually, if you want to make a reasonable argument for the use of instruments, then make it like this:

    First of all, we are commanded to sing. No one disagrees with this. Second, for many of us, singing is quite challenging (myself included). If I am to sing and pay at least a little attention to what I’m singing, then I actually need a little musical help. I need a piano or something to play the tune to help me follow along. That way, the difficulty of singing the tune won’t distract me from worshiping God.

    Under this form of argumentation, instruments would be considered a circumstance, while singing would be the element of worship.

    Under this form of argumentation, however, music has a very different purpose than that to which it is most often put today. In this argument, music SERVES the singing. It is SUBORDINATE to the singing. That means it should not drown out the singing. That means the primary thing you should hear is the singing, not the instruments.

    But in many of today’s churches, all you get is music that drowns out the singing, which serves more to entertain than anything else. You get a rock concert atmosphere with laymen in the church who are treated as uber-pious because they sing up front. One would think they were ordained to some special ministerial role. Many churches even have music ministers who actually ARE ordained to that task! This is precisely the opposite use music ought to be put to.

    Ask yourself: WHY do we sing in church? Most people these days, if they think about instruments in worship at all, spend all their energy having an emotional reaction to what is being said so as to defend what it is they do every Sunday morning. Well, sit back, relax, rest on the shed blood of Christ for your sins, and contemplate honestly whether or not your practices are biblical. If they are not biblical, repent, be forgiven, and go and sin no more. It’s nothing to get all worked up about.

    So why do we sing in church? Isn’t it a form of confession? Isn’t it to encourage one another in the faith? Aren’t you encouraged when you hear the people around you singing the same song you’re singing, infused, I hope, with the truth of the gospel? Then aren’t we meaningfully persuaded that there indeed is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one united people of God who all believe the same things concerning God?

    Why DO we sing in church? How should instruments aid that? How might instruments actually undermine that?

    You see, when you think through these issues honestly and rationally, not emotionally, you might find that a rock concert atmosphere is exactly the opposite of what Scripture intends when it commands us to sing to our God.


  32. Laurence,

    1. Have you read RRC? I offer a good bit of history there. This is a blog and I don’t offer all the stuff here that I offer in the book.

    2. Calvin wasn’t reforming the E. (Greek-speaking) Church but the W. (Latin-speaking) Church in Geneva and Strasbourg. The EO practice, in this discussion, is a bit of a red herring isn’t it? (except perhaps that it instructs us about the relative novelty of instruments in public worship).

    3. Since the 12th century the use of the organ had increased in frequency. I don’t know how common they were. They’re use was a matter of finances. I do know that they were abolished from Heidelberg and I believe that organs were removed from the three churches in Geneva.

  33. Dr. Clark,

    I don’t recall you alluding to this but: What impact did Bach have on the church and use of instruments? From what I understand he was paid by the church to create canticles and what not for use in worship.

  34. I don’t think that Bach was Reformed.

    He actually left one place because the only church there was Reformed and they used no musical instruments! (Acc. to A. Schweitzer, J. S. Bach, Engl. trans. 1966, p. 106).

    According to the same (p, 168) Bach’s religious views were “strictly Lutheran” an he even forbade the children to attend the Reformed school.

  35. Lol! I didn’t know that about Bach.

    Also, besides calling the use of instruments “corrupt” and “deceptive” one can also second Ursinus when he calls any form of “will-worship” a “more subtle and refined species of idolatry” and “superstitious”:

    “The other species of idolatry is more subtle and refined, as when the true God is supposed to be worshiped, whilst the kind of worship is paid unto him is false, which is the case when any one imagine that he is worshiping or honoring God by the performance of any work not prescribed by the divine law. This species of idolatry is more properly condemned in the second commandment, and is termed superstition, because it adds to the commandments of God the inventions of men. Those are called superstitious who corrupt the worship of God by their own inventions. This will-worship or superstition is condemned in every part of the word of God.”

  36. Using instruments was not commanded in the Mosaic Law. So we should not understand it as confined to the Mosaic Covenant.

  37. If by “it” you mean the use of musical instruments, then yes, Calvin’s understanding and the original Reformed understanding was that musical instruments were so associated with the Mosaic theocracy and worship system that they were fulfilled with all the types and shadows.

  38. Hun,

    Exo 28:33 On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them,
    34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe.
    35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.

    Lev 23:24 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.

    Lev 25:9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.

    Num 10:2 “Make two silver trumpets. Of hammered work you shall make them, and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for breaking camp.

    Num 10:8 And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets. The trumpets shall be to you for a perpetual statute throughout your generations.

    Num 10:9 And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies.

    Jos 6:4 Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.

    1Chron 15:16 David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.
    17 So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brothers Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of the sons of Merari, their brothers, Ethan the son of Kushaiah;
    18 and with them their brothers of the second order, Zechariah, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, and Mikneiah, and the gatekeepers Obed-edom and Jeiel.
    19 The singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound bronze cymbals;
    20 Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah were to play harps according to Alamoth;
    21 but Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-edom, Jeiel, and Azaziah were to lead with lyres according to the Sheminith.
    22 Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it.
    23 Berechiah and Elkanah were to be gatekeepers for the ark.
    24 Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasai, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezer, the priests, should blow the trumpets before the ark of God. Obed-edom and Jehiah were to be gatekeepers for the ark.
    25 So David and the elders of Israel and the commanders of thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD from the house of Obed-edom with rejoicing.
    26 And because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams.
    27 David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers. And David wore a linen ephod.
    28 So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.

  39. Sean,
    The pitch pipe is a circumstance like a tune book or psalter. It does not accompany the singing per se. Girardeau of course had no objection to using the organ for setting the pitch (Chapt.6), but that of course is not what organs do.

  40. Dear Echo_ohcE,

    Thank you for your reply. I was precisely thinking of those verses when I was writing my previous comments. Notice that the instruments mentioned in the Pentateuch were not used for praise and singing. And it is David who starts to implement this in a systematic way. That is why I think using instruments for praise during worship is not confined or commanded in the Mosaic Law.

  41. Hun,

    David was the King of Israel and perhaps the clearest type of Christ in the OT, to whom God made a special covenant concerning the office of King, and who authored a great deal of the psalms.

    Can he or can he not speak for God and carry out God’s commands to him? Does he not, as the King, have the authority to institute practices for worship? Remember, this is the guy who ate the showbread.

  42. David indeed delivered God’s revelation. Many of them, especially the Psalms were not only intended for use in the Old Economy but also in the New Testament. So, what do you think about his implementation of instruments? Do you think it was intended only for the Old Economy? Was it tied to the Sacrificial System? If that was God’s design, isn’t the Law (the Pentateuch) the proper place to stated it, along with various ceremonial laws written there? Why would He tell them “later” to use them?

    I would like to bring the following passage to attention: “When the offering was finished, the king and all who were present with him bowed themselves and worshiped. And Hezekiah the king and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped.” (2 Chronicles 29:28–30; emphasis mine) Notice how Offering, Praise, Worship is distinguished. It is very likely they used instruments here in view of verse 25 “And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres”.

  43. I have to clarify a little about Bach. He counted his time with Prince Leopold the happiest in his career (and his final period was marred by infidel headteachers, etc), and it was only the prince’s straightened financial circumstances, so that he could not afford to pay Bach enough to keep his growing family, and also the absence of a university in the area for the education of Bach’s older children, that drove Bach away. Bach was, of course, a Lutheran, and remained so all his life. While at Coethen, he worshipped in the Lutheran church that the Reformed prince had had built for his Lutheran subjects.

    I must also comment on Hun’s last contribution. There are three Hebrew verbs for “to sing” and three Greek verbs also. Unusually, the same Hebrew verb is always translated in the Septuagint and in the New Testament by the same Greek verb. The verb used in 2 Chronicles 29:30 is different to that used earlier in the passage and is, in fact, the only verb used for the situations in which instruments were clearly excluded. It is THIS verb (hymneo in Greek) that is NOT used in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 (It IS used in Mark 14:26 and parallel passages). I admit that Psallo is used in James 5:13, but we do not know that some of the believers did not have a musical instrument with them (All information about synagogue worship not having musical instruments is post-exilic. In fact, we do not know that prior to the exile there were any rules at all relating to sung synagogue worship – It is the Temple that is recorded as having been regulated).

  44. Dr. Clark,

    In a Heidelcast some time ago, you addressed why the RPW applies to public worship and not to family worship. Your answer was that in family worship all those present are consenting to the activity. I presume you imply that instruments are allowable in family worship given the family’s consent. It seems too that Calvin allowed for the use of instruments in private worship, contrasting with public worship “sacred assemblies”:

    “For even now, if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should, I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent their sacred assemblies…”

    So this means will-worship (use of instruments etc) is allowed when all worshipers present are consenting? It seems that’s where your reasoning leads. Or maybe family worship is wrongly called “worship”?


    (I own and have read RRC.)

    • Jordan,

      My chief goal right now is to get folks to understand and apply the regulative principle to public worship. No, it’s not a matter of consent creating a right or freedom to use instruments. Private and worship have different characters. Attendance to public, Sabbath-day worship is obligatory on pain of church discipline. The same is not true of private, family worship. Since public worship is obligatory in a way that private worship is not, since public worship is official (e.g., the proclamation of the Word, administration of the sacraments and discipline occur there) and i and private is not, then the church must be very careful how it binds the consciences of believers. The RPW still drives the decision-making. Consent doesn’t change the RPW. The question is: has God commanded it? The historic Reformed answer is that instruments, because they belong to the typology, because they are covered in the blood of bulls and goats, don’t pass that test.

      Perhaps it is inconsistent to say that they may be used at home. If saying “no instruments at home is the price I have to pay to remove them from the churches, then I suppose I pay it.”

      I think your last question is where I am: they are two different uses of the word “worship.”

  45. Dr. Clark,

    I bought your book on Kindle a couple of days ago and am greatly looking forward to reading it. It took a while for me to see the theology and doctrine behind the a capella position. It takes searching it out through the means of biblical theology—tracing out the thread through the Old Testament, following the story closely and seeing how musical instruments fit in with what God did. They were used by prophets or under the direction of prophets. Nathan, Gad and David established the temple instruments and their use by the Levites, as well as the Levitical singers. Now under the new covenant the people of the congregation are the Levitical singers, you might say, as well as the Levitical musicians. How that is, I think, is that Paul’s command that we are to “psallo” “with our hearts” is the new covenant fulfillment of the “joyful sounds” (1 Chronicles 15:16) of those old covenant instruments. God wants to hear his people sing his word together! Christ desires to sing the praises of God with his brothers in the congregation. Thank you for your work, Dr. Clark, and for persisting in speaking about this.

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