The early church

In the New Testament little is mentioned about music, although singing was widely practised and took the form of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Two passages state:

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Ephesians 5:18-20)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

(Colossians 3:16)

Apart from the mention of harps and trumpets in heaven in the book of Revelation we do not read much about music at all. Does this mean that the church should avoid music and only use our voices as some Christians have said? We must remember that the early church was Jewish and the musical instruments were played in the temple rather than in the local synagogues. When the temple was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans the use of musical instruments was prohibited by the Jewish leaders as an act of mourning. Perhaps for the two reasons outlined above music, apart from singing, did not play a large part in early church worship.

Some of the Church Fathers thought that when the temple was destroyed this also signified the end of instrumental music. For example, Nicetas of Remesiana (AD 337 – 414) wrote:

The corporal institutions have been rejected, like circumcision, the Sabbath, sacrifices, discrimination in foods. So, too, the trumpets, harps, cymbals and timbrels. For the sound of these we now have a better substitute in the music from the mouths of men.

(On the Benefit of Psalmody)

There are some references, wrongly attributed to Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), and likely to be from either Theodoret (AD 400) or Diodorus of Tarsus (died in AD 392), which say:

Musical organs pertain to the Jewish ceremonies and agree no more to us than circumcision.

The use of singing with instrumental music was not received in the Christian churches as it was among Jews in their infant state, but only the use of plain song.