Let’s Burn Lambs While We Sing to the Beat of Drums


As I was preparing last Lord’s Day sermon, I came across 2Chronicles 29:25-30. From this account of the restoration of Temple worship during the reign of King Hezekiah about 700 years before the coming of Christ, the church today may be able to learn a few things as to how its worship can be acceptable to God. We see here how God regulated Old Testament Temple worship:

Burnt Offering

1. The Levitical singers and instrumentalists were instituted by God through David and the prophets (2Chron 29:25). David in turn appointed the chiefs of the Levites to pick the musicians (1Chron 15:16). These were music “pros” and theologians mighty in Scriptures, as exemplified by Asaph, composer of 12 inspired Psalms. In fact, these “pros” were led by “Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music,” who was tasked to “direct the music, for he understood it” (1Chron 15:22). They were appointed by David “to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord” (1Chron 16:4-6). Levitical musicians became part of Israel’s worship throughout its history, as we read about them again during the dedication of the rebuilt wall of Jerusalem after the return of exiles from Babylon (Neh 12, particularly Neh 12:27, 35).

One other sidelight for our example. David first instituted the musicians when the Ark of the Covenant was carried back from captivity to Jerusalem. At this event, all those who led the procession were in their “Sunday best,” from David to all the Levites: “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” (1Chron 15:27).

2. Only four instruments—cymbals, harps, lyres, trumpets—not any instrument to the liking of people were assigned for use in worship (2Chron 29:25-26). The tambourine (timbrel or tabret), pipe (organ), and all other instruments used in Israel were not approved. The New Testament as well as the early church did not use instruments until the organ was first introduced in the 8th century. But instruments were not used widely in the church until the 13th century, only to be rejected again by the 16th century Reformers. From the Reformation until the latter half of the 19th century, Protestant churches sang without the aid of musical instruments. ((William Woodson, “History of Instrumental Music,” ChristianCourier.com, http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1271-history-of-instrumental-music, 11/02/2010.))

3. Only Psalms—God’s inspired songbook—were sung (2Chron 29:30). Obviously, during the Old Testament period, the only inspired songbook was the Psalter. But we find Jesus, himself the composer of the Psalter, singing psalms about himself (Luke 24:44) when he ate the Passover meal with his disciples (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26). How do we know he sang psalms? When Jews eat the Passover meal, they have a liturgy that includes hymns from Psalms 113-118, called “Hallel” (“Praise”) psalms. Surely, Paul and Silas also sang psalms (“hymns to God”) in the Philippian dungeon (Acts 16:25). As well, Paul and James encouraged believers to sing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and songs of praise; these were most probably psalms used in the early church (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Jas 5:13).

We have scant information from the early church writings about what they sung. ((I’m indebted to Hughes Oliphant Old’s Worship According to Scripture (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 33-57, for this brief historical sketch of psalm singing.)) However, Athanasius, Chrysostom and Augustine wrote that the early church sang exclusively (or almost exclusively) Psalms in unison. Hymns were introduced to the early church mostly by heretics such as the Arians, Gnostics and Donatists to promote their false teachings. Beginning in the early 6th century, psalm-singing in unison was replaced by priests chanting Psalms and other uninspired texts. However, it was also during the the medieval period from the 8th century to the 16th century Reformation that much of the great classical hymnology we sing today were written. But the Reformers led by John Calvin restored the complete Psalter to its rightful place in worship, saying:

That which St. Augustine has said is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him… [W]e shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him. And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if he himself were singing in us to exalt his glory.

After the Reformation, Protestant churches sang exclusively from the Psalter. But during the Second Great Awakening in the mid-1700s when revivalism surged, coupled with the decline of Reformed doctrine and worship, Psalm-singing started to be replaced by uninspired hymns with their easy lyrics and repetitious refrains and tag lines. Today, uninspired, repetitious, romantic, sentimental, trite “love songs to Jesus” and even pop rock are favored over Psalm-singing, which has become practically non-existent in evangelicalism.

4. The Levitical singers sang only when burnt sacrifices were offered, not during the whole worship service (2Chron 29:27-29). When the music and burnt offerings ended, everyone bowed down in silent worship.

If we then ground contemporary worship practices in our worship service on their use in Old Testament Temple worship, we must ask these questions:

1. Can any Billy Bob or Betty Bop be part of the “worship team”? Should the “worship team” and the congregation “come as they are,” wearing T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops to God’s holy convocation?

2. Should we go against overwhelming evidence that for most of the first 1,800 years of church history, instruments were not used in worship? Can we use a cacophony of any and all instruments in the worship service, to the preference and style of the “worship team” and the congregation?

3. Concerning the songs we sing, is God pleased when we sing songs written by anyone, including biblically-illiterate, musically-bankrupt people, which are outright lacking aesthetically, full of errors and not fit for the worship of God?

4. Since the old covenant congregation sang only when burnt sacrifices were offered, should our worship service include singing during the whole service? And if only during a particular part of the service—equivalent to the burnt offerings—which part would that be?

To answer this question, we must first answer another question: “What is the burnt offering and what is its purpose?” The burnt offering ceremony is described in Leviticus 1:3-9. The offerer brings a male animal, without blemish, to the entrance of the Temple, lays his hand on its head, and slaughters it. The priests then throw the blood against the sides of the altar. Then the offerer cuts the animal into pieces and washes the entrails and legs of impurities before the entire animal is burned on the altar by the priests. The Hebrew word translated “burnt offering” is olah (“ascent”, cf Psa 24:3), so the smoke rising up from the altar is “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Lev 1:9).

The whole burnt offering symbolizes two things: (1) atonement for sin, turning away God’s wrath (Lev 1:4); and (2) total consecration of the worshiper to be pleasing to God (Lev 8:28). Christ himself was our burnt offering, sinless (Heb 4:15) and totally consecrated to God, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2). By faith, a believer is also enabled to become a burnt offering to God, “a living sacrifice” wholly consecrated to him (Rom 12:1), doing good and sharing things with others, “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb 13:16). If this is so, the part of our worship service where we offer “burnt offerings” is our Song of Response or Song of Consecration after we listen to the preaching of God’s word, wherein God’s people renew their covenant vows before God.

These two sacrifices—Christ’s and ours—fulfill the old covenant burnt offerings which have become obsolete (Heb 8:13). This is why Calvin taught that instruments belong only to the Temple worship in the old covenant:

To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law, and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures; but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving. We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul, in 1Corinthians 14:13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue.

Lamb KabobSo, our early church and Protestant heritage should prevent us from using musical instruments in the public worship of God.

But, according to Calvin, if we insist on using them, we are of necessity going back to the “shadows and figures” of the Old Testament. And if we ground the use of instruments on the worship in the Temple, and if the Israelites only sang, accompanied by instruments, during the burnt offering ceremony, then we must of necessity again, burn bulls, lambs or goats in our worship services.

Of course, Calvin would probably prefer lamb kabob, not extremely well-done, blackened lamb chops.


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26 thoughts on “Let’s Burn Lambs While We Sing to the Beat of Drums”

  1. Most of the responses evidence little understanding of the subjects under discussion. Exclusive psalmody and the rejection of musical instruments in worship have a long and respectable history in Reformed and Presbyterian churches, having been defended (in book-length form) by men whose shoes we are unworthy to untie.

    I would highly recommend this website (http://exclusivepsalmody.com/) as an excellent resource on these subjects. I also wrote a brief article defending exclusive psalmody several years ago, which some have found helpful (http://kaalvenist.xanga.com/609916527/item/).

  2. Most of you “bible experts” think and analyze too much about theological doctrines, trajectories, church history etc.” but you can’t see that you are also making an idol of your biblical knowledge too much and does not see the grace of God from our Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters …I grew up as an evangelical but I hold to the Reformed theology and most of the reformers view about the Scripture, I believe there are many Born evangelicals who love Jesus and worship Him using their kind of musical mediums.  As long as Jesus and the Cross is proclaimed in the music I think its ok for me…
    I have questions:
    1. if we can only use the mentioned instruments , why did God permitted the creation of other “electrical” music instruments? and the Scripture does not say anything about the Internet then why are we using it?
    2. What is your say about regulative principle?
    I admire your knowledge Pastor Nollie, I hope to visit Mars Hill Study Center soon. 🙂

    1. Tim, thanks for your input. No, all of the things we say are not to judge other evangelicals as unbelievers. Only God knows the heart. But we also as Christians can see evidence in the lives of others. This is why there’s church discipline as the third mark of a true church. The elders make a determination based on a comparison between what the Bible says are the fruits of salvation and the life of the professing believer.

      Not everything that man invents can be used in worship. Idols are man’s inventions, so is the printing press. If you say God did not say anything about using the printing press, then let’s all destroy our Bibles and go to the museums to read the ancient papyri.

      I have written much about the Regulative Principle of Worship. If you click on Worship on the top menu, you can read the articles especially my series on Reformed Worship.

      Thanks again.

  3. Hi Nollie.  I detect in your tone a move away from warmth and friendliness, which is sad and perhaps it means we should end our conversation.   It is stunning to me that you can accuse me of idolatry with regards to music and musical instruments.  I do not worship them and neither have they replaced God in my heart in any way.  And neither have they replaced my love for Scripture.   Your accusation is ungodly and has absolutely no foundation.
    Let’s have a look at Calvin’s quote.  He says, and I quote “We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue.”   For Calvin to get out of 1Cor.14:13, a plain command from the Holy Spirit banishing musical instruments in the church is quite incredible.  The passage is about the use of the gift of tongues.  Musical instruments are not mentioned at all except as an illustration.  It’s what I meant by eisegesis; he (Calvin) reads into the text what he wants it to say.   It is the grossest misuse of Scripture ever.  And wherever did the reformers get the idea that instruments were part of the types and shadows.  Christ fulfills all the types and shadows – how does he fulfill musical instruments.  Where, oh where, is their (the reformers) authority to make such sweeping and unbiblical statements. It’s just absurd; musical instruments under the Old as well as under the New Testament have been and always will be a valid means of assisting God’s people as they sing praises to God. 

    My dear brother, sometimes the reformers were wrong, as were the early church fathers.  It doesn’t help to accuse people of idolatry – that is just petty sniping.  It’s trying to maintain an untenable position by moving the discussion from the authority of scripture to an emotional response.  If you want a valid theology of worship for both Old and New Testament read Psalm 150.  It really summarizes all the Psalms and it really celebrates the use of instruments in worship, it also shows that there is nothing idolatrous in worshiping God with all kinds of musical instruments.

    1. Your comments are typical evangelical, which is, we can worship God in any way we want to as long as it’s not prohibited in Scripture. This is the “grossest” misuse of Scripture, not the adherence to the second commandment. And this is the reason why God gave us the 2nd commandment, because our totally depraved minds will not stop in our idolatrous inventions. Just look all around you how the true worship of God has been perverted because the churches have allowed all kinds of songs, instruments, and gimmicks, for the purpose of pleasing ourselves and our need to satisfy our sinful minds.

      When we look at Scriptures, we should see that most of the time we can extract principles from its stories, prayers, poems, or whatever genre they are. So when Calvin quotes 1 Cor 14:13, he’s using it to point out the principle that we are not in the age of types and shadows, and we are to worship in truth, which we can’t if we are speaking in unknown tongues which no one can understand. In the same way, he’s saying that using instruments is going back to the foreshadows in which stat the OT people were. The whole of God’s revelation was not yet revealed. So when you read the Scriptures or Calvin or the other Reformers, be sure you understand where they’re coming from before you conclude that they were doing eisegesis. As I said, we’re theological dwarves compared with them, and this generation of evangelicals is the worst in Christian history as far as twisting Scripture is concerned, excepting of course, the medieval Catholics. To be sure, there were some aberrant teachings even during the early church and the Reformation, so I’m not saying that they are inspired or infallible, as you think I’m saying.

      As I said also, my post is an analysis of 2 Chronicles 29:25-30. And from these and other related Scriptures, we could extract principles about worship that we can apply to our church today.

      Your example of Psalm 150 is another one that is most commonly misused and taken out of context. Why would God contradict himself when he authorizes the use of any and all kinds of instruments here, when in other portions of Scriptures, he only prescribes four different instruments? Another example of the grossest eisegesis that lovers of CCM and instruments use is that of dancing with tambourine and lyres, which they take, just like your eisegesis, from Psalm 68:25, 149:3, and 2 Sam 6:14.

  4. Hi Nollie.  I agreed with the one article because to my mind the idea of unbelievers leading praise and worship is abhorrent.  I disagreed with the second article because in it you seem to argue against the use of musical instruments and modern Christian songs.  It’s this I find untenable.  In fact both Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 both argue for a variety of music and songs.  I am aware of the arguments reformed people use, but to my mind we cannot quote Calvin or even appeal to church history, unless it complies with what the Bible teaches. I personally believe church history is profitable, but not infallible, and to assign authority to it is to fall into the heresy of Roman Catholicism.  We, and I assume you, believe in sola scriptura.  It’s to the word and to the testimony.  And so while I love John Calvin, and I love the great reformed confessions, they are not my court of appeal, the scriptures are.  The quote from John Calvin in support of your position and his comment on 1Cor14 is so out of context that it goes to show how even the great John Calvin was prone at times to eisogeting instead of exegeting.

    1. In your case, as in most evangelicals, Scott Clark is right: contemporary music and instruments have become idols. No matter what the Scripture says about how God abhors man’s creative worship, the love for pleasing oneself overwhelms our love for Scripture.

      We never say that church history is infallible and it has authority over Scripture. But history attests to the singing of Psalms a capella as the practice since the early church, and they have Biblical reasons for this. Calvin and the Reformers were only echoing the early church theologians when they say that instruments have become obsolete together with the types and shadows of OT worship. That is another practice that you say is “eisegesis”?

      Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 don’t teach us a variety of music and songs. If they did, then Paul is contradicting his own teaching about the sufficiency of Scripture in all of doctrine, worship and life. And how is Calvin out of context when he refers to 1 Cor 14:13 in his discussion of instruments?

  5. Hey Nollie,
    I usually enjoy your site and your articles.  I even agree with your latest article concerning pagans leading praise and worship. And so thanks for them.  But on this one I think you have completely and totally missed the mark.   You just have no biblical warrant.  It doesn’t help to quote John Calvin or even to appeal to history.  It’s “to the word and to the testimony”.   What you need to do is give a solid argument based on sound New Testament exegesis, and that sadly and unfortunately, is lacking.
    Yours as ever

    1. This article is based on the NT’s fulfillment of the OT, and so the present warrant that churches use for all kinds of worship music and instruments is invalid. If you agree with the article on pagans leading worship, then you have to agree with this one, because it is practically based on the same premises.

    2. An addendum to my last comment: The article is primarily an analysis of 2 Chronicles 29:25-30 using other Scriptures as support for the analysis. How much is the Calvin quotation? It’s one little paragraph.

      We also use a lot of church history, because the Scriptures is redemptive history. Part of this redemptive history consists of 2,000 years of church history. A lot of evangelicals today think that the church started only 20 years ago, not realizing that all of doctrine, worship and practice are part of Christian history. There’s also a lot of knowledge accumulated from all these centuries, particularly in the early church and the Reformation period. None of our contemporary theologians can compare with Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, etc. Because of this, there’s no question that’s asked today that hasn’t been discussed vigorously since the early church. If there’s some controversy today, chances are, you’ll find the answers sometime in church history.

  6. Thanks Nollie! This is something I have felt for some time.

    I definitely think we have allowed our liberty to excuse our liberalism. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If He demanded a particular way of being worshiped in the past, then He must still be worshiped the same way today. He has only, by grace, allowed us to continue in a manner that in past times would have brought punishment. So just because we don’t get punished for doing it the wrong way, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be striving to do it the right way.

    Also, as I see it, David was sinning in his manner of worship. Amos 6:5 sure sounds like it was David, and not God, who brought in particular instruments for worship. Amos 5:21-23 seems to indicate how God feels about that.

    And finally, it is always a matter of preference for us as to what we think we should be singing/hearing in church. Preferences are controlled by our fleshly desires. John 4:24 and Galatians 5:16-17 explain the issue there.

    1. Thanks, Matt, for these texts in Amos, which I didn’t look at with regards to this subject.

      Amos 6:5 indicts the rich people of Israel “who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music.” At first glance, I thought that God was also indicting David for his instruments. But when David instituted the Levitical musicians with their instruments, we never read that God was not pleased. In fact, it can be deduced that the command to install the musicians for Temple worship came from God. How can he now condemn David for doing so?

      To harmonize these two passages, we would have to say that God is not indicting David, but the rich who imitated David by inventing their own musical instruments to use in their leisure and maybe even for worship. If they were using them in worship, they were violating God’s commandment to David.

      In addition to their unlawful “inventions”–just as most evangelical churches do today–their feasts, solemn assemblies (Amos 5:21), sacrificial offerings (Amos 5:22), instruments and songs (Amos 5:23) are hated and despised by God (Amos 5:21). This is because their worship and their lives are disconnected–they worship and live in hypocrisy.

      Moreover, even their worship is perverted. In addition to their inventions of their own musical instruments, they worshiped idols, particularly the golden calves (1 Kings 12:28). They held feasts in unlawful places other than the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:29-31). They had unauthorized priests–those who were not Levites ordained by God (1 Kings 12:32). All of these violations of God’s prescribed worship regulations are so common in today’s churches.

      Worshiping God in ways not prescribed in his Word to please human “felt needs” and living without obedience to his Word is hypocrisy condemned by God (Isa 29:13-14; Matt 15:8-9).

  7. The younger generation is growing sick and tired of baby-boomer churchianity. They want the real deal. That’s where the Reformed Steakhouse comes in. 😉

  8. The problem with the modern “P & W” is that it has made musical instrumentation an ELEMENT of worship whereas it has its rightful place only in the realm of CIRCUMSTANCE.

    How else can modern Finney-an churches attract “seekers” when they do …not make music elemental?

    1. which then caused some of my friends to leave the megachurches becuase of the concert type of worship they have..

    2. Like Dr. Scott Clark said, delete the prayers, remove Scriptures, no more sermons–all of these would be fine. But get the guitars and drums out? No way! Instruments have become idols.

    1. It shouldn’t be about culture, since the use of instruments is part of OT temple worship. If the instruments are to aid in singing Psalms, then they are helpful. But the location of the church must not figure in what songs to sing: Christians are to sing God’s word. It’s the music that will vary from culture to culture.

  9. I would argue that a musical instrument(piano or organ) is wonderful in a worship service, so long as it does not become the focal point of worship. Having a band(guitars, drums etc) would be more in line with entertainment, and not worship. Yet, we must be aware that in different cultures, these are the primary instruments. Just a thought!

    1. I would agree too. It’s hard to separate their use: between aid and entertainment. If it’s used for helping the congregation sing new tunes, that is a helpful use.

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