by Phillip Vanwinkle

Erasing Arguments for Using Instrumental Music in Worship: The Heaven Argument

As we consider the final argument used to try to justify the usage of instrumental music in the Lord's worship assembly, we notice the "Heaven argument," which goes like this: “There are musical instruments described as being in Heaven, and since the church is a heavenly institution, we may use them now.”

Much of the following may be found in Foy E. Wallace's book, The Instrumental Music Question. I strongly suggest that every Christian study this helpful book on this important topic.

Before we look at the argument, first we must ask an important question, and then look at the reasoning and apply it across the board.

The Question

Since all the elements will be burned up (cf. 2 Peter 3:10), where did the instruments in heaven come from? Did God place an order at the local Heavenly Guitar Center? Did he choose from Sears or Walmart to save a buck? How are these physical instruments in a spiritual realm?

The Reasoning

“The church is a heavenly institution. There are musical instruments described as being in Heaven. Therefore, we may use musical instruments in the church today.”

Let us apply this across the board:

Marriage is a heavenly institution. There is no marriage in Heaven, and since the church is a heavenly institution, we must not marry today.

This is where their argument leads. That which proves too much, in the end, proves nothing.

The Argument

The argument is based on two verses in Revelation:

And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps. (Rev. 14:2)

The argument stated:

  1. Instrumental music is mentioned in the first dispensation—the lower order.
  2. Instrumental music is mentioned and approved in heaven—the last dispensation.
  3. Why exclude the instruments from the present dispensation-(the church)—the intermediate order?

Consider a parallel question:

Since the assumed premises are that the instruments of music were mentioned and approved in the first and last dispensations, a rebuttal might be: Why are the instruments not mentioned and approved in the present dispensation? And if the mention of them in the first and last dispensations approved their use then and there, what approves their use now and here where they are not mentioned?

The answer:

  1. The burning of incense in the worship was mentioned and approved in the first dispensation—the lower order.
  2. The burning of incense is mentioned and approved in heaven—the last dispensation (cf. Rev. 5:8, "vials full of odours”).
  3. Why exclude the burning of incense from the worship of the church in the present dispensation?

If it is replied that “the golden vials full of odours” mentioned in Revelation 5:8 were “the prayers of the saints,” read Revelation 8:3: And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. Thus, the incense was offered with and added to the prayers of the saints.

It is folly to attempt to make the harps literal and the incense figurative. Are there literal instruments in heaven? What use could spiritual beings make of physical instruments?

Compare the golden bowls of incense in Revelation 5:8 with the many waters and the great thunder of harps in 14:2: waters, thunder, harpsas the voice of many waters, as the voice of a great thunder, and as the voice of harpers (Westcott-Hort. Greek text: "as of harpers").

The entire description is the symbolic comparison of John’s vision: they sing a new song (verse 3)—144,000 voices—in the perfect rhythm it was as the surging of “many waters,” in the mighty volume it was as a great thunder; in the sweetness of melody it was as the harping of harpers.

The whole of this apocalyptic portrayal is symbolic, and a symbol cannot symbolize itself. There are no literal waters, thunder or harps—all are figurative. There never were, are not now, and never will be a literal musical instrument in heaven.

Heaven will be the home of the soul, where “the spirits of just men are made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). How could a spiritual being employ a literal instrument of music?

The attempted argument violates the fundamental rules of hermeneutics, the basic principles of biblical interpretation. In the frantic effort to get instruments into worship, there is more recent theorizing that the word “heaven” in the book of Revelation means the church. If that is true, it cancels their argument on instruments in heaven—they cannot have it both ways. Their jargon is that the church is a “heavenly place;” therefore, the church is heaven!

Here are some more questions: Shall we say that the command for us to be godly means to become God? Or that the seekers of “the heavenly country” in Heb. 11:16 were seeking the church?

Does “the whole family in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 3 :15) mean that God has a part of his family in the church and a part of it out of the church? Did it take God from A.D. 33 when the church was established, to the time that Revelation was written, to get instrumental music into it?

Where was it when the apostles wrote the epistles? If Heaven in Revelation is the church, why does it say “heaven and earth” in Revelation 5:13?

What and who were the beasts in heaven? They were around the throne (Rev. 4)—what throne? The throne of Christ is not on earth (Zech. 6:13; Rom. 8:4). God's throne is in heaven, and the earth is his footstool (Acts 7:49). What heaven is that? What becomes of their argument that instrumental music is in heaven, if they make heaven the church? One argument kills the other.

None but the 144,000 could learn the song of Revelation 14:2-3. So how did the music debaters learn that the harp means instrumental music in the church?

The word "heaven" is used in Hebrews 10:34: knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance; and 1 Peter 1:4: to an inheritance...reserved in heaven for you. Both of these scriptures were written to Christians who were in the church already.

In Revelation 4:1 we read that a door was opened “in heaven,” and a voice said to John, “Come up hither.” Where was John? He was not in heaven, for he was outside “the door that was opened in heaven” and was told to “come up” to the heaven of that door—was John outside the church?

The symbols of the book of Revelation are not the pattern for the worship of the church—that pattern is not dependent on apocalyptic disclosure. The things related by John in Revelation were future things that were not in the church then. Did the Lord wait until the time John wrote Revelation on the island of Patmos to reveal what was in the worship?

The entire effort of the digressive debaters to find scriptural sanction for instrumental music in the worship is a patent failure. It would be better for them to go back to their original stand for no authority—but we will use it because we want it.

What proves too much proves nothing.

We know that in Heaven there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage. Will the instrumental brethren, claiming this argument, freely deny themselves the pleasures and postive things that pertain to marriage? Will they argue that since there is no marriage in Heaven, and since the church is "heavenly," that we must not marry today? I think not!

So, in the end analyisis, they are not only foolish in trying to use this argument, but they are inconsistent in their conclusions as well. God still says:

Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.

God still says:

And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

The usage of musical instruments in worship has not yet been proven. As sad as it might make my brethren, I simply will not base my salvation upon human assertion instead of than God’s Word.

Finally, we ask this simple question. If it is the case that physical things are not found in spiritual realms, where did they get their instruments? Does Heaven have a harp store? It is clear that these passages are not discussing physical instruments of music. 

Thus we conclude our study on instrumental music in the worship of the Lord. The physical instrument played by men's hands are not found anywhere in the New Testament. Since the New Testament does not authorize their usage, we must conclude that we have no authority to use them today.