Growing up, when I told someone our church sang “a capella” (i.e., without any mechanical music, or more literally, “in the manner of the church”), it begged the question, “Why don’t you have a piano (or organ?)” And I gave the stock defense that had been drilled into me: that the New Testament doesn’t give authority for doing anything but making music with our hearts, which we take to mean to sing without any accompaniment. Which generally elicited a staunch defense of musical accompaniment, or a quizzical and skeptical look.
Nowadays, the question is usually, “Why don’t you have a band?” And my typical response has become to ask in return, “Can you tell me why you do?”
I understand the joy and pleasure that comes from singing along with strong and clear musicians and orchestrated instruments. I do it in my car all the time, and occasionally at a concert. But those are for my entertainment.
When I am singing my heart out to God, it’s not about me; it’s about me worshiping Him. And I don’t need guitars or a keyboard or drums to do that; in fact, I would probably find myself distracted by the beautiful noise, and thinking about how we sound instead of meditating on the words I’m vocalizing.
Personally, I refuse to engage in the old debate over whether the scripture’s silence in this matter gives us tacit authority to use instruments, or if it’s a prohibition against them. I agree the Old Testament is rich with a tradition of singing and using instruments to worship God, and it was pleasing to Him. I think we’ve wasted too many words trying to prove the unprovable. We should do what we say we do, and be silent where the Bible is silent.
However, for those who don’t routinely sing a capella, I would point out an even more practical reason to try it: simplicity. God gave us a simple and portable way to praise him anytime, anywhere. There’s nothing to set up, plug in, or tune up. We can praise God anywhere in an instant.
Practicalities aside, there’s also the deeper issue of our attitude and motivation for singing. Pure, unadulterated singing makes it clear that God is the audience and I am the performer striving to please him. Can that happen when my voice is drowned out by a band and I get carried away listening to how awesome it sounds? It’s a fair question and one that everyone who professes to be a Christian should ask themselves.