The use of drums and percussion instruments in worship is a controversial topic in many Christian circles. While some believe drums have no place in church worship, others view them as a legitimate musical instrument to glorify God. In this comprehensive blog post, we will examine the main biblical references about drums and percussion to understand what the Scriptures teach on this subject.
Drums and percussion instruments, such as tambourines, cymbals, and other types of drums have been used for thousands of years in religious and cultural celebrations. In the Bible, drums were prominent in Old Testament worship and praise. However, in many modern churches, especially in Western nations, drums are either absent or utilized minimally in worship services.
Those who object to drums often argue that their rhythmic drive is sensual and promotes a physical response rather than spiritual worship. Some also believe drums have an association with voodoo rituals, jungle tribes, and secular rock music. With these concerns in mind, it is important to look at what the Bible actually says about the use of drums and percussion in worship of God.
- Drums like timbrels and tambourines were used in worship in the Old Testament.
- Drums are not mentioned in the New Testament regarding worship.
- Rhythmic instruments can be used to glorify God.
- Drum use needs to be Spirit-led and sensitive to congregation.
- Any instrument can be misused to distract from true worship.
With this foundation, let’s examine the biblical evidence about drums and percussion to gain a comprehensive perspective on this topic.
Drums in the Old Testament
The most frequently mentioned drum in the Old Testament is the תֹּף (toph) which is translated as timbrel, tambourine, or hand-drum. The toph was a small circular drum or tambourine, usually played by women. Here are some examples of how drums were utilized in worship according to the Old Testament:
Celebrating God’s Victory over Egypt
After crossing the Red Sea and witnessing God defeat the Egyptians, Moses’ sister Miriam led the women in celebratory dancing and drum playing:
“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.” (Exodus 15:20 NKJV)
Drumming and dancing with timbrels was part of rejoicing over the powerful victory God won for the Israelites over their oppressors.
Led by Prophetesses and Queens
In Judges 11, after the judge Jephthah defeated the Ammonites, his daughter greeted him coming home with timbrel playing:
“And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and dancing…” (Judges 11:34 NKJV)
In 1 Samuel 10, musical prophesying by Saul and prophets he met involved not just lyres and flutes but drums:
“After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying.” (1 Samuel 10:5 NKJV)
Along with Miriam, drum playing is associated with prophetesses and queens like Jephthah’s daughter and the women welcoming King Saul.
Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem
“Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets.” (1 Chronicles 13:8 NKJV)
“So David and the elders of Israel and the captains over thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Obed-Edom with joy. And so it was, that because God helped the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, they offered seven bulls and seven rams.” (1 Chronicles 15:25-26 NKJV)
The atmosphere of rejoicing over this event included the prominent use of rhythmic percussion instruments.
In Temple Worship
When Solomon’s temple was dedicated, 120 priests played trumpets and other Levites played cymbals, harps, lyres, and according to 2 Chronicles 5:12:
“…with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets – indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord…” (NKJV)
The “one sound” of unified musical praise involved drums along with other instruments. Drumming continued as part of temple worship under Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:25-28) and Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:15).
Drums in the New Testament
In contrast to the Old Testament, drums and percussion are not specifically mentioned being used in any worship context in the New Testament. Psalms were sung (Matt. 26:30) and instruments like the horn were blown (Rev. 1:10), but rhythmic percussion instruments appear absent.
Does this mean the early church did not use instruments like drums? Not necessarily. We know they did use some instruments in worship:
“What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” (1 Cor. 14:15 ESV)
The word translated “sing praise” here refers to singing with instrumental accompaniment. Early church father Clement of Alexandria mentioned the use of instruments including the kithara (guitar) and lyre in worship. Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. also described musical instruments being used alongside singing psalms in weekly worship.
While not specifically mentioned in the New Testament regarding worship, the use of musical instruments including drums was likely occurring. As Christian author Michael Card notes:
“Their common usage in the world of that day makes this [use of instruments] a certainty.”
Other possible reasons for no mention of instruments include the focus on correcting doctrinal problems in the church rather than detailing musical methods, or simply a lack of controversy over their use at the time, unlike issues like circumcision which Paul addressed extensively.
Purposes and Cautions
Throughout Scripture we see drums used for celebration, joyful processions, victories in battle, accompaniment to singing, and temple worship. This demonstrates rhythmic percussion instruments can rightly be used to glorify God. However, a distinction should be made between instruments being permitted and instruments being commanded as necessary elements of worship.
For example, psalm 150 exhorts to “Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet…lute and harp…timbrel and dancing…strings and pipe…resounding cymbals.” Yet none of these are required in order to worship God. The New Testament gives much freedom in musical expression. As 1 Corinthians 14:26 says:
“How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” (NKJV)
While drums can edify, so can other methods of praise. Within this freedom, caution is also advised. As 1 Corinthians quotes above continue, musical worship should strengthen the church rather than cause distraction or confusion.
1 Corinthians 14:7 warns, “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?” (NKJV) Musical instruments, including percussion, should have a clear purpose that people can understand, so as not to disrupt worship.
1 Corinthians 14:40 summarizes: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (NKJV) The appropriateness of drums or any instruments should be evaluated based on the focus, dignity and unity of the worship service.
Along these lines, drum use needs to be Spirit-led, sensitive to the congregation, and avoid mimicking secular music styles that could distract from exalting God and edifying the church. With the correct posture of heart and guidance of Scripture, drums can be used skillfully as one of many musical forms to glorify the Lord.
We’ve examined clear biblical support for the use of drums in Old Testament worship, their possible place in early church worship, and wise principles for current practice. Considering all sides, here are responses to the most frequent concerns raised against using drums in church:
Concern: “Drums have pagan or sinful associations in rituals, nightclubs, rock music, etc.”
- Biblical Response: Associations with sin should be avoided, but drums in themselves are amoral – it depends how they are used (1 Cor. 10:23-24, 6:12). Other instruments like flutes and harps also had pagan uses yet were used in temple worship.
Concern: “Drums incite wild, physical reactions not suitable for church.”
- Biblical Response: Volume and rhythm should suit the setting (1 Cor. 14:40), but drums were prominently used in dignified worship at the temple. Joyful celebration can include physical expression (Ps. 149:3, 150:4).
Concern: “Drums are not commanded in New Testament worship.”
- Biblical Response: Singing psalms is commanded, not playing instruments. Yet Scripture permits and records using instruments skillfully to the Lord (Ps. 33:2-3, 1 Cor. 14:26).
Concern: “Drums are disruptive loud noise, not sacred music.”
- Biblical Response: Without distinguishing sounds, any instrument can become noise. Drums and cymbals produced a unified “sound” in temple worship (2 Chron. 5:12-13).
Concern: “Drums beat out repetitive rhythms rather than melodic tunes for singing.”
- Biblical response: Both rhythm and melody come from God. Jesus spoke in rhythmic poetic patterns. Instruments provide accompaniment and energy for singing, as harps and lyres did for temple psalms.
Concern: “Drums are not needed because the early church didn’t use them.”
- Biblical Response: Early church fathers mention using instruments in worship. Lack of controversy over instruments possibly means they were unquestioned in the first century. Singing was a capella to differentiate from pagan ritual music, not due to anything unholy about instruments themselves.
Concern: “Any music that attracts attention to itself is wrong, drums make a show.”
- Biblical Response: The attention test is valid, but drums were prominently heard in worship processions to the ark and temple. They should direct attention to spiritual things and emphasize lyrics, not entertain to draw attention to musicians.
By honestly evaluating these common objections in light of Scripture, we can avoid either legalistic rejection or careless acceptance of drums in worship. Depending on circumstances and guidance of spiritual leadership, drums may or may not be incorporated in services – along with careful implementation in a way that brings glory to God.
In conclusion, here are several key summary points to remember regarding what the Bible teaches about drums:
- God is to be worshiped with music as well as prayer. Old Testament worship frequently included drums and other rhythm instruments along with singing.
- The New Testament gives freedom in how to musically praise God and edify the church. Drums do not appear to be either commanded or forbidden based on biblical evidence.
- Through prayerful wisdom and sensitivity to the congregation, percussion can skillfully accompany and energize sacred worship and praise, as it did in temples of old.
- Ultimate focus must remain on exalting the beauty and grace of Jesus Christ – no matter the musical style. Right heart motives and gospel-centered lyrics are essential for worship that genuinely honors God.
Rather than law or tradition, our compass should be seeking biblical truth under the guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This applies not only to drums but to broader questions of music, worship, and church practice.
With spirit-filled discernment and application of Scripture, drums can resonate deeply along with other instruments and voices in lifting up our Creator and Redeemer. Just as in ancient days, skillful rhythmic music remains one way to praise the Lord “with all kinds of instruments” (Psalm 68:25) for the glory of God alone.