The Instrumental Imperative

Recent Posts: The Path of Life Daily Devotions

Ministry: Vision

The Instrumental Imperative

When Culture and Scripture Clash

Psalm 150 NKJV
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!

Imperative [im-per-uh-tiv]
1. absolutely necessary or required; unavoidable: It is imperative that we leave.
2. of the nature of or expressing a command; commanding.
4. a command.
5. something that demands attention or action; anunavoidable obligation or
requirement;  necessity: It is an imperative that we help defend friendly nations.
7. an obligatory statement, principle, or the like.

Truth—Strong Truth
An imperative is perhaps the strongest kind of truth. Action is demanded. The whole is diminished in irreparable ways when an imperative is ignored; whether through ignorance or neglect, the result is the same, a diminution, a lessening, a weakening of the announced goal. Imperatives press us; they demand action.

  • If there is no tradition that facilitates an imperative, one must be created.
  • If skills are lacking, they must be acquired.
  • If resources are allocated elsewhere, they must be prioritized to the imperative.
  • If the culture runs counter the imperative, that culture must accommodate it.
  • If preferences lead in other directions, the course must be corrected.

From Imperatives Come Opportunities
When we search out biblical truth to guide us in worship leadership, imperatives must stand in bold relief from the surrounding culture in our thinking. We are given so many wonderful options in New Covenant worship! Jesus described it as “worship in spirit and truth.” Under the Old Covenant, worship could be described as “in time and place.”

  • Just as the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the center of the traveling Israelites, the Temple was the center of worship for the nation of Israel in the Promised Land.
  • The tabernacles and temples of the centuries before Messiah came, located worship for the worshipers.
  • The details in word and artifact that aided the Old Covenant worshiper were, at the same time, present realities and prophetic representations of what was to come in the New Covenant.

The Psaltery
As history progressed, the hymnal for the worship of Jehovah emerged as the content of private prayer and public worship. While the methods of worship changed from the Old to the New Covenants in the area of Law and Grace, the heart of worship, as expressed in principles and imperatives, remained the same.

  • The Sacrificial Nature of Worship: ministry to the Lord at a personal cost.
  • The Protocol of Public Worship: The Gates of Thanksgiving, Courts of Praise, Inner Courts of Word, Adoration, and Prayer empowered by the Spirit.
  • The Two-fold Nature of Worship: Individual Prayer and Public Worship
  • The Assurance of the Presence of the Lord in Worship: The Covenantal promises of God of His Nearness.
  • The Artistic Expression of Worship: Created in the image of The Creator, worshipers have deep desires to express their passion through the skills God has given them.

These things, among many others, provide a covenantal continuance—God has not changed and the man has not changed. These things are expressed in the psalms.

Fulfilled in Jesus
Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant. He made it clear that He had come to complete the Old Covenant and replace it with the New.

Hebrews 8:6 NKJV
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

Now instead of worship in time and place we have worship in spirit and truth!

  • We are the Temple of God, the habitation of God by His Spirit!
  • Jesus is the Beautiful Gateway to God’s Presence!
  • He is the Bread of Life and truth!
  • His effectual fervent prayers are our intercession!
  • His physical body was the torn veil, allowing us access to the heart of God!
  • Jesus is the Final Lamb. Now we minister to the Lord with the Sacrifice of Praise!
  • His Spirit is the Spirit of Truth!
  • So we read the name of Jesus into the name of “the Lord” in the Psalms!

The Psalms and the New Testament
Three times the New Testament issues a delightful imperative—sing the psalms!

Ephesians 5:17-21 NKJV
Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 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, submitting to one another in the fear of God.

Colossians 3:16-17 NKJV
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. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

James 5:13-14 NKJV
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

This imperative places the Psalms into the New Testament in authority. The only instructions in Psalms that are no longer binding and blessing are those involving animal sacrifices; Jesus fulfilled those. It is inconceivable that the Apostles intended for New Covenant worshipers to edit the Psalms as they read them. New Covenant worship is worship described in the Book of Psalms, as interpreted through the reality of Christ.

The Instrumental Imperative

The Psalms command the use of instruments in worship. This simple imperative gets complicated in a hurry.

  • Individuals have musical preferences—sounds they like, harmonies that please them, rhythms that literally move them, and melodies and harmonies they want to experience again and again. When a generation or a leader is in power, these preferences tend to be seen as godly.
  • The effect of our preferences is so strong, we cannot help transfering them to others, even to God Himself.
  • The sheer number and variety of musical instruments complicates things. Certain instrumental sounds can cause instant, strong physical reactions ranging from unreasoning rage to quiet reflection.
  • In memory, all the elements of music create a highly individualized context for the individual. All music is made in some sort of context that gives it a particular meaning beyond its own musicality.

There are common elements of musical instruments that can help us simplify our search for understanding.

  • There are only three types of musical instruments: strings, winds, and percussion. This is because there are only three ways of controlling a random sound (noise) and creating a measured sound (music): a vibrating string, a vibrating column of air, and a controllable sound without pitch.
  • God created one musical instrument—the human body. Instruments are extensions of the one musical instrument God Himself made.
  • Strings and winds extend the human voice.
  • Percussion instruments extend the hand clap.
  • Strings, winds, and percussion are instruments man has created in almost endless variations. They present an amazing variety of sounds depending on how the string or column of air is vibrated or how and what is struck by the percussionist

These simplifying aspects of musical instruments are universal and are found in every culture and in every age of man. These are the three types of instruments called for in the Bible. They are found in the symphony orchestra.

The Orchestra and the Psalms
The resilience of the Psaltery, spanning the Old and New Covenants, and inextricably linked to the New Testament through the ages of the Church, is nearly matched by another tale of amazing resilience—the Symphony Orchestra.

For centuries wind musicians—brass and woodwinds of all descriptions—performed as unequal partners with the strings—violins, violas, cellos, basses. They could not play with the same intonation and facility of the string section. In the early 19th Century the Industrial Revolution freed the woodwinds and brasses from their supporting role with the invention of instruments with excellent pitch and facility. This was all accomplished by 1850. The symphony orchestra remains essentially this ensemble of strings, winds, and percussion to this day.

To my knowledge the orchestra is the only major force in Western Civilization that has emerged into the 21st Century unchanged for more 100 years. The music the orchestra plays has changed. It can now be recorded and instruments can be synthesized, but the ensemble itself is the same now as it was in 1850.


I can only give my answer. It is because the orchestra can express every emotion of mankind well. That is why it is used in so many ways from Broadway to film to Nashville—it works, and it works really well.

Back to the Psalms
The Psalms share this characteristic with the orchestra—every human emotion is expressed in the Psalms. Because New Covenant worship opens the book of Psalms, the church needs to express the full spectrum of human emotion as it flows from the heart of man to the heart of God in worship.

  • From sorrow that leads to repentance,
  • to despair that calls upon God,
  • to joy that moves the feet to dance before the Lord,
  • to peace that awakens the dawn and welcomes the fading light of day,
  • to the fanfares and drum cadences of spiritual warfare, the orchestra can express it all.

If the Lord we worship is as big to us as He really is, we need more than guitars, keys, and drums to tell His Story.

On the Practical Side
The worship orchestra is not the same as the symphony orchestra or the concert band. Worship Leader, You don’t need so many players. Your orchestra consists of the players you have in our church—the brass, woodwind, and percussion players—not just the guitars, drums, and keys. The music educators in your community turn out players every year, many of them with amazing skills.

But, you protest—“It isn’t relevant! It isn’t a part of the culture today!” This simply isn’t true. Open your eyes to the whole culture, not just the pop culture. Band and Orchestra instruments are prevalent today!

If there were no band / orchestra programs in the schools there would be an excuse not to raise up the next generation of instrumentalists playing the Lord’s music under His heavy anointing. But most likely they are there, even in your church, never making a connection between their music and God’s music.

The Chief Musician
Since my earliest memory of the Psalms, I have been intrigued by one to whom  so many of the Psalms are addressed, “To the Chief Musician.” I decided I wanted to be one of those. So I set out to learn everything I could about music. I am still learning today. This desire evolved into the call of God on my life to make the Lord’s music. Now in my early 70’s and retired from church leadership, I still play clarinet and sax for the Lord and in the community. I am doing everything I can to reverse the cultural forces shutting out worship instrumentalists. Why? Not because I like this music, but because I believe God likes it. He likes it so much He commanded it! He gave us an Instrumental Imperative.

The Instrumental Imperatives press us; it demands action.

  • If there is no tradition that facilitates the use of band and orchestra instruments in worship, one must be created.
  • If musical leadership skills are lacking, they must be acquired.
  • If resources are allocated elsewhere, they must be prioritized to the imperative.
  • If the culture runs counter the imperative, that culture must accommodate the imperative. If musical preferences lead in other directions, the course must be corrected to match the Word of God.

Psalm 57:7 NIV
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

For further reading…

Phifer Orchestration Services

The Instrumental Imperative

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.