Drums and percussion instruments have become increasingly common in many modern church worship services. While they can enhance praise and create an energetic atmosphere, some question if drums align with what Scripture teaches about worship. What guidance does the Bible offer on this issue?
Drums stir up strong opinions among Christians. Some view drums as incompatible with reverent worship, while others see them as a way to joyfully praise God. This article will examine the biblical evidence to understand what the Bible communicates about using drums and percussion during corporate worship.
- The Bible directly references multiple percussion instruments that were used by God’s people in worship. This suggests drums are not inherently inappropriate for church services.
- While Scripture permits drums, their use should align with biblical principles for worship such as maintaining reverence and focus on God.
- Rhythmic percussion instruments are consistently associated with rejoicing and praise in the Bible. Their energetic sound can motivate and engage worship when used thoughtfully.
- The extensive use of drums and cymbals in temple worship demonstrates some percussion instruments were an important part of formal worship in the Old Testament.
- While the New Testament contains fewer direct references to instruments, it upholds the Old Testament worship practices unless they are superseded by apostolic teaching.
- The biblical concept of Christian freedom implies drum use should be dictated by conscience, cultural context, and wise consideration of fellow believers.
Drums and Percussion Are Referenced in Worship Throughout Scripture
A survey of the Bible reveals regular mention of drums and percussion instruments among God’s people. The Old Testament, in particular, references multiple types of drums and cymbals used in formal worship ceremonies, religious processionals, civic celebrations, and the coronation of kings.
Praise Him with tambourine and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! (NKJV)
The psalmist associates drums and cymbals with energetic praise as part of calling everything that has breath to worship God. The specific instruments mentioned include the tambourine, a hand drum often played by women, and loud clashing cymbals.
Other passages reference cymbals and drums during religious ceremonies and times of rejoicing before the Lord:
- “And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, even with songs, lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets.” (1 Chronicles 13:8 NKJV)
- “Then Hezekiah gave the order to offer the burnt offering on the altar. When the burnt offering began, the song to the Lord also began with the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David, king of Israel. The whole assembly worshiped, the singers also sang, and the trumpets sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.” (2 Chronicles 29:27-28 NKJV)
These examples demonstrate drums and cymbals were an established part of worship ceremonies along with other instruments like lyres, harps, and trumpets. Their use was tied to praise and thanksgiving in God’s temple.
Percussion Instruments Were Part of Temple Worship
In addition to appearing in texts about general worship and celebration, various drums and cymbals were permanent fixtures in Israel’s temple and tabernacle for formal worship ceremonies.
The Old Testament contains detailed instructions for constructing the tabernacle and temple, specifying the types of instruments appointed for sanctuary worship. For example, Exodus 25:6 and 38:4-7 mention hammered cymbals of bronze to be part of the tabernacle’s furnishings (NKJV). The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 15:16, 19 describes cymbals and harps positioned at the temple for worship led by Asaph and other Levitical singers.
When Solomon’s temple was built to replace the portable tabernacle, 2 Chronicles 5:12-13 tells us:
…the trumpeters and singers joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; His loving devotion endures forever.” (NKJV)
Stationed percussionists and singersraising loud sounds of praise were integral parts of temple liturgy. Verse 13 interestingly associates their use with God’s loving devotion and grace.
Drums and Cymbals Marked Religious Processions
Beyond their temple role, we find percussion instruments employed in religious processions and festivals. As the Ark of the Covenant was transported to Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 15, celebration included harps, lyres, trumpets, cymbals, and loud music (15:28). Likewise, when Solomon moved the ark into the inner sanctuary of the temple in 2 Chronicles 5, trumpeters, singers, and cymbal players accompanied its entry.
In public religious ceremonies beyond the temple, percussion maintained their prominence. After Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, Exodus 15:20 says, “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” (NKJV) As the women followed and praised God to the beat of timbrels (or tambourines), it was an act of worship, not merely a cultural performance.
Likewise, Psalms 68, 81, and 150 connect percussive praise to God’s holy festivals and processions. The image emerges of drums and cymbals heightening the joy andenergy of celebratory worship on special occasions.
Drums Were Part of Victory Celebrations & Coronations
Congregational worship was not the only biblical setting for percussion. We frequently see drums integrated into civil events for Israel when praises to God were also offered.
1 Samuel 18 notes women celebrated David’s victory over Goliath with singing, tambourines, and musical instruments (NKJV). After David brought the ark to Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 15, “…David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet.” (15:29-28 NKJV)
Another key civil use was at the coronations of kings like Solomon where musicians included trumpeters and cymbal players (1 Kings 1:40, 2 Kings 11:14). Though not strictly worship, these examples reveal how percussion instruments were intertwined with praising God on formal civic occasions.
The Prominence of Percussion in Worship Is Consistent withJoyful Praise
A distinctive sound of drums and cymbals is their lively, driving rhythm. In a worship context, thisSound can energize and engage the congregation, enhancing joyful expression. Singing, dancing, and shouting characterize praise in Scripture, so rhythmic percussion instruments resonate with this mood.
We see this vibrant praise across the Psalms, such as when Psalm 150 summons loud cymbals and concludes: “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Hallelujah!” (v.6) This fittingly aligns with how cymbals were employed in temple liturgy and festivals. The sound of drums and cymbals blend well with celebration and thanksgiving.
At the same time, the lively sound can become distracting or inappropriate for quieter, reflective parts of aworship service. Biblically, however, there is a time for both energetic praise and quiet reverence, so percussion may align better with some elements than others. Thoughtful worship leaders have discretion to make fittingchoices.
New Testament Worship Upholds Old Testament Patterns
With limited direct references to musical worship in the New Testament, some argue it supercedes Old Testament practices. But this position is problematic:
- Jesus and the apostles continued to participate in temple worship which prominently featured singers,instrumentalists, and percussion. There is no record of them objecting to temple liturgy.
- Colossians 3:16-17 describes how New Testament believers sang “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” toGod with thankfulness (NKJV). The psalms were the Old Testament songbook repeatedly referencing percussion use.
- While early Christians met in homes, they appear to have continued using familiar methods of worship fromthe Jewish temple. For example, James 5:13 says to sing praise during times of happiness – likely similar to temple practice.
- The primary reason for less teaching on corporate worship in the New Testament is that Jewish Christians were already familiar with how to worship from their upbringing. Jesus did not need to instruct what was assumed knowledge.
- Romans 15:9 references King David in relation to worship, suggesting his innovations like tabernacle musicians and singers continued to influence early Christian practice.
So while the New Testament gives less direct instruction on corporate worship forms, it generally upholds using familiar Old Testament patterns while also adding elements like preaching, communion, and offering. Percussion use was common under the old covenants, so its steady presence through centuries of worship provides biblical precedent.
Christian Freedom Allows for Thoughtful Discernment
In the end, the New Testament conception of Christian freedom implies that individual consciences and localcontexts should determine church practices like percussion use. Romans 14 teaches that disputable matters are to be governed by believers’ conscience, not dogmatically mandated. There are good arguments on both sides that should lead to thoughtful application rather than dogmatic assertions.
Wise use of percussion can enhance praise, but it also risks distracting from reverence if not used carefully. Individual churches must carefully reflect on their worship goals and context. Romans 15 teaches that Christians should accommodate others’ scruples and seek to build up one another. So while drums may have an appropriate role, churches should also consider the convictions and spiritual maturity of their fellow worshippers. Biblical principles like love, intelligibility, order, and excellence are vital (1 Cor 13:1, 14:7; Col 3:16; Heb 12:28).
In summary, the prominence of percussion instruments throughout Scripture provides a biblical basis for incorporating drums in corporate worship. Their energetic rhythms suitably align with joyful praise and thanksgiving. At the same time, principles of spiritual discernment, wisdom, accommodation to others’ sensitivities, and the ultimate goal of worship should guide practical implementation. The role drums can enhance worship when used thoughtfully by mature congregations. While believers may disagree on this issue, focusing on biblical principles and priorities while granting liberty can allow diverse practices in good conscience.