SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY FOR INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC
-A. Ralph Johnson
PART I: INTRODUCING THE ISSUES
INTRODUCTION: A DIVIDED HOUSE (Mt. 12:25)
A stranger entered a Scottish anti-instrumental church carrying a mysterious black suitcase and proceeded forward to seat himself in the front row. As has too often been the case, the congregation was not used to outsiders attending and he was eyed with considerable suspicion. The old man sat silently by himself, patiently awaiting the beginning of the service. Finally, the song leader approached the lectern to announce the first number. As he did, the old gentleman reached down, opened his case and brought out one of those old-time hearing aid horns. No sooner had the horn emerged than one of the elders who had been diligently keeping a wary eye on him, leaped forward with the stern warning, “One toot und y'r oot!”
At the time I was told this by a well-known anti-instrumentalist, I was in Texas being “wined and dined” as their guest in an effort to get me to “switch.” The seductive appeal of plenty of oil money to grease the wheels of my move was clear but there was no doubt that it was still, “One toot and y'r oot!”
It seems incredible, that in a world groaning in despair, careening toward eternity, two factions of the body of Christ should be locked in mortal combat over the MOMENTOUS issue of whether one can use an organ to help with the whole song, or may only use a tuning fork to get the first note! How can it be that the agonized prayer of Jesus for his disciples to be, “ONE, that the world might believe” (Jn. 17:21), should be disregarded in order to bind on brothers a venerated archaic tradition?
Those who insist that we imbibe this party spirit have often berated us as cowards, without the courage of our convictions, for refusing to meet in the middle of the street with six-guns ablaze to defend our cause. That does not settle who is right. It only indicates who thinks he has an edge on being able to make someone else look bad, --or who has the more fragile vanity. My daddy used to say, “when two fellows try to see who can be the dirtiest, --the one that wins, IS!
A Word of Caution
One difficulty with writing is, to accurately convey feelings. It is also difficult, when a subject affects millions of people in different ways, to speak to the needs of each without leaving others feeling pained that they have been lumped with the “bad guys.” In citing arguments made against instrumental music, I do not wish to imply that all anti-instrumentalists hold to all of them. I recognize that most anti-instrumentalists are wise enough to reject many of the really outrageous ones. I do not wish to blame all for the folly of a few.
Permit me also to explain that I use the term, “anti-instrumental” rather than “non-instrumental” or “a cappella brethren,” because those two terms fail to fully express the essence of our situation. There are many who by preference, circumstance, or for other reasons, do not use instrumental music but do NOT believe that it is sinful. One may by choice sing a-cappella. By “anti-instrumental” I mean those who oppose religious use of instrumental music, as sinful. I have no problem with those who simply prefer to sing unaccompanied.
My purpose is to expose error in these arguments, and set forth sound evidence to show that instrumental accompaniment is authorized for Christians. I do so with a background of many years of facing attacks by anti-instrumentalists calling in question our intelligence, honesty and courage, but recognizing that much of this is from those who even other anti- instrumental brethren call, “Antis.” I have tried to make my response to the point, even if it sometimes seems blunt. Some people understand nothing else.
Personally, I am much impressed with our non-instrumental and anti-instrumental brethren. Most are intelligent, caring, and God fearing. They love the Lord and cherish the scriptures. I could want no better friends. I regard each of them individually on their own merits, not on the basis of those who have shown rancor and rudeness. As far as I am concerned, they are some of the best people in the world.
So, please understand that while I write with a sharp pen to pique interest and to puncture fallacies, I have no intention of lumping all together. I simply want people to think so they can be free from misconceptions, and further our unity together in Christ.
In writing this I find myself in much the situation of Paul in 1Cor. 7:8- 11. What I write may seem painful but sometimes a little pain is necessary to get action. Think what is said through carefully. Accept what is true. Discard what is not. I am not insisting that anyone wear a shoe that does not fit. The reader is accountable only to God. Please pray for me as I try to suggest some thoughts for consideration in the problem of a divided house.
A. HISTORY OF MODERN ANTI-INSTRUMENTALISM (Shades of Calvin!)
While there was a form of anti-instrumentalism among the post-apostolic “fathers,” modern anti-instrumentalism comes to us through John Calvin in the Reformation, largely as a reaction to the elaborate excesses of Rome with its costly cathedrals, lavish organs, pomp and ritual. Calvin, one of the most influential opponents, led the Reformation Movement in Switzerland, out of which the Presbyterian Church developed. He swung to an extreme position of religious austerity, forbidding trained choirs, parts singing, chanting, and any other music in the churches than the Old Testament Psalms. His rigid, arbitrary spirit was so harsh against “innovation” that he even imprisoned Bourgeois who dared rewrite some of the melodies that he himself had written for the Psalms.
Luther, in Germany, and leaders of the Church of England, after some initial reservations about elaborate organs, struck a different course. But Calvin's influence was considerable and in time extended itself into the Church of England and to the Methodists and Baptists.
The key difference in approach between Luther and Calvin was that Luther held that only what the scriptures revealed to be sin must be rejected. On the other hand, Calvin maintained that the only way to be rid of the evils of Popery was to discard everything not taught in scripture. In the struggle between these two concepts lie the roots of the modern controversy.
At the turn of the 19th century, as the Restoration Movement was beginning on the western frontier in the United States, almost all churches were non-instrumental. This was due not only to the influence of Calvinism but also to the harsh nature of frontier life. Its remoteness and austerity was a formidable obstacle to anything as expensive as the huge pipe organs of the day. It was no small thing to manhandle and cart them by wagon to remote locations to be assembled in the crude structures then used for church buildings. On the other hand, the banjo, fiddle and other simpler instruments were so associated with dancing and worldly behavior as to be considered unsuitable for religious use.
Thus stood the situation at the beginning of the 19th century when in 1808 Alexander Campbell and others broke with the ultra-conservative Seceder Presbyterian Church and joined with the Baptists, later leaving them and calling themselves, “Disciples of Christ.” It would not be easy to shake the powerful influence of Calvinistic tradition, particularly in music, which is always an emotionally charged area.
But economics and cultures change. Prosperity and accessibility to finer things brought by the steam engine revolutionized life on the frontier. Churches grew larger and more affluent. It was inevitable that in time people would seek to improve their music through use of instruments. The development of small organs and melodeons, less costly and more easily transported, presented an ever-stronger appeal.
Of course, there was considerable resistance. In time, most denominations resolved the issue in favor of instruments but among the Disciples the dispute simmered for years. Alexander Campbell remained silent for a long time but finally, at the prodding of others, in one short article in 1851 he characterized the instrument as being like, “a cow bell in a concert.” He thereby impressed his extensive influence on the side of the opposition during the crucial formative years of the movement. There is no evidence that he considered it a matter of disfellowship.
Campbell’s negative position against instrumental music would probably have soon lost its force had it not been for three other intensifying factors.
First, was the isolating and divisive effects of the Civil War, which left the South impoverished and embittered. Most denominations split directly but, while the cleavage among the Disciples was precarious, total severance into separate communions was fended off until after the turn of the century. However, the effects of the war left the Southern churches poorer, fiercely independent and suspicious of Northern intrusion.
The second factor that fueled the issue was the actions of the American Christian Missionary Society, largely dominated by Northern churches. In 1841, Alexander Campbell began a series of articles on cooperation, which resulted in its formation in 1849 with him as president. It was strongly resisted as a throwback to the old denominational systems and because it was financed by directly purchased memberships. However, Alexander defended it vigorously and continued as President, delivering the annual address almost every year until his death in 1866. Dissent was strong but his firm support overrode most of the opposition for the time.
As usual with such inter-church organizations, with growth the need of finances moved it to influence affairs of the local congregations. Many, regarded it as a serious threat both financially and to the autonomy of the churches. Southern churches became especially outraged when it spoke out against slavery. The end of the war and the death of A. Campbell, with the Northern churches firmly in control, left the sides drifting apart without remedy.
The third problem, the encroachment of liberalism, was decisive in bringing about the end. The idea of uniting all sects in Christ on the authority of the word became distorted to0 bring all into fellowship without regard for anything the Bible said. Indeed, even the Bible itself was devalued to be nothing but man’s attempt to explain god. The brotherhood organizations and colleges were opened up to the popular liberalism of the day and soon the worst fears of a “Trojan Horse” were realized.
In 1906, many of the Southern churches broke with the Disciples and set their own course. Opposition to instrumental and institutional “innovations” crystallized as two of their distinctive dogmas. They jumped ship and watched with smug satisfaction as the “digressives” steamed away toward the horizon of liberalism --and then they fell into bitter internal combat over the theological application of their principles with regard to communion cups, Sunday Schools, church buildings and a host of other issues.
They have long complimented themselves and attacked others as “liberal.” Only with the greatest difficulty have some come to realize that a few years after they left, there was a departure from the Disciples by instrumental conservatives. “Open membership” of the un-baptized, blatant denial of scriptural credibility and increasing intrusion into congregational affairs, had caused many others to take to the lifeboats.
As in most independence movements, these represented a broad spectrum of views, from a simple claim of autonomy, without regard even for baptism, to demands for wholesale reform. They were variously known as, “Christian Churches” and “Churches of Christ.” Of these, except for instrumental music, many to this day are identical to those who disdained its use. They immerse for remission of sins, have weekly communion, insist on qualified elders, reject denominational ties, disdained women's authority over men and upheld the inspiration of the scriptures. They even squabble over the same things and on some issues at times are more conservative than many non-instrumental brethren.
Time has considerably softened the harsh nature of the conflicts. We often use the same literature, attend the same workshops and cross lines in church attendance. Of course, some still insist on maintaining the old outposts, but largely we keep finding ourselves field-to-field, occupying much the same ground, separated only by an old, sagging, rusty barbed-wire fence of tradition overgrown by suspicion and prejudice. Fortunately, it seems ready to fall of its own weight.
B. THE ISSUES DEFINED
Two key issues confront us:
(1) To what extent may fellowship exist between those who use instrumental music and those who oppose it?
(2) Is it sinful to accompany Christian songs with musical instruments?
Although the second question may logically come first, I have chosen to address the issue of fellowship first because, unless we can cross the communication gulf there is little hope of resolving the conviction problem. Changes in thinking require new input. (“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” --Rom. 10:17) Successful dialogue is difficult to carry on at such a distance.
Our greatest obstacle is fear. One side fears creeping “liberalism” of the other, and they in turn fear the other's rank “legalism.” To break down this wall, we must come to know and understand each other. We need to feel the bonding power of love and to see how much we have in common. We need to witness the commitment of each other in order to instill respect and remove apprehension. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1Pet. 4:8)
The bitter wrangling of the past could never convince either that the other had much that was desirable. Why should anyone want fellowship with such hostility? As I once heard it put, “I don't mind being told I'm going to hell, but I hate to have you act like you're GLAD!”
When we come to know and respect each other for the sincerity and love of the truth each possess, we begin seeking ways to bridge the gap. Out of this we may recognize that this is no greater difference than others within our own camps. When we realize how little distance is between us and how overwhelming is the job before us, we begin to feel that we need each other and there are many areas in which we can work together in spite of differences. Gradually we sort out the true issues and began dismantling the barriers. In time we may learn that the only real “gap” between us is the distance between our ears.
Since few of us perfectly agree in all respects, we must learn to receive one another, as Christ received us (Rom. 14:1; 15:7). The standards by which we judge our brothers will be those by which we also shall be held accountable (Matt. 7:1). God loved us in spite of our weaknesses and we are to love our brothers in spite of theirs (Rom. 14:1-12). Those who are harsh with others should consider how great a debt they have been forgiven (Matt. 19:32). The scriptures say nothing against instrumental music but it speaks loudly as to what will happen to the servant who begins to beat his fellows (Luke 12:45- 46).
This does not mean that sin is not sin or that we must suppress conviction. It does mean that we need to keep checking whether we are right and reaching out with love to resolve differences (2Cor. 13:5). It means that we should recognize that different people grow at different rates. It means that in some areas we are going to have to receive brothers in spite of their failures and that we need to work more on ourselves and let God be the judge of our brothers. (Rom. 14:1-12)
The more we discover ways and areas where we may work together in Christ, the less distance will be between us, and the more we will want to remove the obstacles that separate us. Those who work against this need to consider the serious nature of insisting on keeping the body of Christ divided (John 17:21-23; 1Cor. 3:16, 17; Rom. 16:17). God is not silent on that.
We do not have to compromise conscience, but neither must we demand that others compromise theirs. We can discuss the basis of our convictions, correct that which is not sound, and try to persuade others to do the same. In areas where we are not required to violate our conscience, we can love and work with those with whom we differ.
All too often issues are made of things that really do not apply to us. If I feel that I should not hum, whistle or clap to a gospel song (as some do), I need not do so. However, why would it be wrong to do what God said to do (“sing”) because someone else does something we think he should not? I am not accountable for his choice. I am accountable for myself. To his own Lord he stands or falls (Rom. 14:4).
If someone does not believe in playing music sings while someone plays, why should his singing be sinful? Wherever one sings, whether someone is playing or not, they are doing nothing different than in their own congregation. They sing --nothing more, and nothing less. They are not playing a single note.
Anti-instrumental response to this is that participation indicates approval. If they feel that way, of course, they should not sing, but I disagree. Was it sinful for Paul to, “sing in the spirit,” with the Corinthian church, in view of their abuses of tongues (Chapter 14) the Lord's supper (Chapter 11) and many other problems? Each was to examine “himself,” not each other (11:28 cf. Rom. 14:4, 10-13). Was Paul responsible for those who bound the Law when he kept it, along with “thousands” of other Jews (Ac. 21:17-26)? Was Paul sinning by praying in the temple where instrumental music was used (Ac. 22:17)? By circumcising Timothy (Ac. 16:3), was Paul to blame for those seeking to bind circumcision?
We may feel that a woman leading songs in the assembly conflicts with scripture but I do not sin by doing what God said, “sing” just because she leads. Why should I refuse to do what God commanded because someone else does wrong? The Bible teaches that women should not teach men in the church, but listening to a woman teach is not a sin.
The scriptures tell us that when we gather to eat the Lord's Supper, we should leave all other eating “at home” (1Cor. 11:17-34), but why would it be a sin for me to partake if somebody else decided to eat a cough drop! Even if they ate fried chicken, it would not be a sin for me to take communion. Paul did not tell the church at Corinth that they should refuse to partake of Communion if somebody brought their meal. My good does not become sin because others do things that are wrong.
I agree that we need to consider the expediency of doing a thing and we have the right to seek to get the problem corrected. If others would likely assume that we are condoning something sinful, it may be legitimate to avoid it (1Cor. 10:25-29). However, singing is not a sin, and one does not condone instrumental music merely by singing with it. If such a position were applied to every difference, it would be impossible for the church to exist.
The claim that singing while someone plays an instrument is an endorsement is a double-edged sword. If anti-instrumentalists cannot participate with us lest they appear to condone our use of an instrument, why does not the same rule make it wrong for us to sing a-cappella with them? If we are correct, are we not thereby showing approval of them binding upon others an unscriptural commandment?
They are very insistent that we surrender the instrument to prove we seek unity, but even when we don't use it they often will have no fellowship with us. It is not just a case of not being willing to sing with us while the instrument is played. That is often used to gain special advantage.
This is the typical double standard. They say they cannot have fellowship because we sing with instrumental music. We cannot be invited to preach or participate as equals in their activities. Indeed, often they will not even speak at our workshops and their preachers who do are ostracized. They dare not touch the “unclean” lest they appear “defiled” before a few hard-nosed followers.
We are shunned, yet, they expect us to come to their churches, and send to them people who move or are away from home. They are quite happy to have us help fill their congregations with paying people we have won and taught and then teach them we are damned. We are to do the giving and they do the taking.
They argue that since we have no conviction against singing without an instrument that we should surrender it in order to demonstrate that we want unity. If we will not then we are blamed for the division. But, who insists on the division, they or we? Who will not sing with whom? I am sorry but some of this kind of special pleading appears to be subtle exploitation. I get the feeling I am being taken for a ride, as so eloquently expressed in an old limerick,
“There was a young lady from Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger,
They came back from the ride,
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger!
While we have often gone along with such double standards, frankly I feel a little indignant. Our goodness is used against us in order to subjugate us to their tradition. I feel like Paul who circumcised Timothy but, when pressured by the Judaizers, declared that he would not give place to them even for an hour (Gal. 2:3-5). I am willing to go more than half way. I have gone the second mile. But all too often their idea of “half” is pretty distorted. It is like the old story about “rabbit stew” in the army--Half rabbit and HALF HORSE, that is, ONE RABBIT AND ONE HORSE!
I refuse to be finagled into surrendering our freedom in Christ in order to have the “privilege” of them being nice. They want me to respect their conscience. Let them respect mine.
They reject us. I do not reject them. I believe we have the stronger case and time is on our side. In order to grow they have had to de-emphasize the issue. Gradually their churches are being filled with those who care nothing about it. In turn, the more those churches grow the less the issue dares to be pressed.
Many among them either seriously question or have abandoned the basis of the anti-instrumental position. That does not mean they have adopted the instrument or are declaring their convictions openly but I know that many no longer view it as a sin. There have been surveys taken among their leaders showing majorities no longer hold it as an issue. In fact, I know of some congregations of non-instrumental background that hold both non-instrumental and instrumental services--and sometimes the instrumental service is larger.
There is a new generation of leaders, no longer sworn to the prejudices of the old guard. They care nothing about such squabbles. They want to remove the “iron curtain” that separates brothers and sisters and move together in winning people to Christ and work together against our common foe. Like a crowd on the corner at a traffic light, it appears to be green and they are impatient to cross. The fact that some color-blind old men in front think it is red will not restrain them much longer.
To those outside the church, this claim seems ridiculous. Why would anyone think that God would send people to hell for accompanying singing with an instrument? I am convinced that people are won in spite of this doctrine, rather than through consideration of it. They are sold by other areas of appeal and it is accepted with the package. In time they become accustomed to it as a mark of the “true faith.” The tradition takes root and they, or their children, accept it.
a. THE ANTI-INSTRUMENTAL VIEWPOINT
Anti-instrumentalists present their case in different ways.
1) “Anything not authorized is sin.”
It is often claimed, “Everything we do is found in the New Testament.” Of course, that is not actually the case. They do many things that are not found in the New Testament. They have church-owned buildings in which they meet. They use collection baskets. They use songbooks. They use radio and television to preach. They ride in cars to “go preach.” Indeed, they cannot even find congregational singing in the New Testament. When challenged, they must modify this claim.
“Where is the New Testament
command for instrumental music in the church?”
My answer is, why must we have a command and where is either a command to sing in the church, or a prohibition of instrumental accompaniment? The places where music is mentioned give no commands against instrumental music nor to sing in the church.
Rom. 15:9 is neither a command nor is it confined to the church service.
Eph 5:19 is speaking of Christian walk in general (5:15), not specifically the meeting of the church.
1Cor. 14:15 is speaking of the church service but gives no command, either for or against instrumental music.
James 5:13 is not confined to the church service.
Col. 3:16 is Christian behavior in general, not specifically the church service.
Heb. 2:12 is not a command.
Thus, in order to bring these scriptures into the question, it must be broadened to include both inside or outside the assembly.
3) “God said to sing thereby excluding Christian use of any other kind of music to praise God.”
Illustration: When God told Noah to build the ark of “gopher wood,” all other wood was excluded.
“Authorization,” it is maintained, may be in one of three ways:
1) Direct command
2) Approved precedent
3) Necessary inference
b. VIEWPOINT OF THOSE WHO USE INSTRUMENTS
Those who use instrumental music contend that its use cannot be sinful because of one or more of the following reasons:
1) There is no law that makes it sinful. (Rom. 4:15; 5:13; 1Jn. 3:4)
2) It is an innocent aid to singing, not an addition to any prescribed act of worship.
3) It was not sinful for Christians to keep the Old Testament Law (which included instrumental music) as long as it is not being bound upon others for justification. (Rom. 7:7, 12; 1Cor. 9:20; Ac. 21:18-26; Ac. 16:3)
4) The Book of Revelation indicates that God did not regard it as sinful. (Rev. 5:8-9; 14:2-3; 15:2-3)
5) Use of the Greek words, “psalmos” and “psallō,” in the New Testament indicates that instrumental music is not sinful. (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Rom. 15:9; James 5:19; 1Cor. 14:15, 26)
6) Old Testament use of the Hebrew word, “zamar” (Ps. 18:49; 57:7-11; (108:1-3) prophetically speaking of the New indicates instrumental music is not sinful.
The anti-instrumental approach does have value. We cannot throw the worship service open to anything and everything that comes along. Rejecting what is not found in the New Testament example provides a way to restrict innovation. However, while helping to avoid some difficulties, it fails in others and has its own detrimental side effects.
A command, approved precedent or necessary inference can prove authorization. To these, I would add a fourth point, “statement of approval.” This would not fit into the class of command, example or necessary inference. If God approves something, it is O.K., though it may not be required.
I would suggest that authorization might be either general or specific. We do not need to have everything we do specifically authorized.
We have general authorization for freedom to do whatever does not violate God's law.
-Rom. 4:15. “Where there is no law, neither is there transgression”
-Rom. 5:13. “Sin is not imputed when there is no law.”
-1Jn. 3:4. “Sin is the transgression of law”
(cf. John 9:41 “Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye would have no sin”)
In order for instrumental music to be sinful there must be a law that in some way restricts our freedom to use it. Where is that law?
It is argued that the law inheres in the specification that “singing” is the kind of music God called for. Therefore, any other kind must be specifically authorized. We shall carefully examine that claim.
It is necessary that there be a law in order for a law to be broken. Without a law, a policeman has no authorization to demand that a license be produced. Our response would be, “Where does the law say that we must have one?” Therefore, My question to anti-instrumentalists is, Where is the authority to prohibit instruments?
I need an authorization to drive a motorized vehicle on a public highway because there is a law that requires it. It is vain to seek to convict by repeated demands for authorization alone. Innocence is assumed until the accuser proves guilt.
One must marvel at shrewdness that has no law against instrumental music but by repeated demands for “authorization” makes it appear that without a specific approval, instrumental music in New Testament church services is sinful. It is the old tactic that a falsehood, repeated often enough, begins to sound convincing.
There is no law, but demands are made and they sit back, pick holes, offer theories and second-guess everything anyone provides to prove innocence. However, assertion alone is not evidence.
This is much like the methods used by the comforters of Job. Because Job had so many problems they assumed he must have sinned. The more he protested the more they insisted he was showing guilt.
Paul, in Col. 2:20-23, challenged those who were binding prohibitions, to produce their authority. He questioned why people should be subject to ordinances, “Handle not, nor taste, nor touch.” Lack of authorization to touch was not a legitimate basis for prohibition.
Is this a sound hermeneutic? Approved precedent can demonstrate authorization, but in the absence of any scriptural requirement for authority, it is meaningless. We are not required to do everything the apostles did and we are not restricted from doing everything they did not do. We are required to do what the apostles told us to do. We must not do what they restricted.
Carl Ketcherside, a non-instrumental preacher and debater for many years, recounts how his father went to speak for a congregation. He was to bring his message right after the Lord's Supper. However, he was surprised and mystified when, after singing a hymn at the close of communion, they all marched out. Not understanding what was happening he walked toward the back, only to be met by them coming back in. They informed him that they followed the divine pattern that, “when they had sung a hymn, they went out.” Carl said that his father did not have the heart to tell them that it says, “they went out unto the Mount of Olives.”
Milo Hadwin, an anti-instrumental preacher, in his thesis, “The Role of New Testament Examples as related to Biblical Authority,” has correctly shown that without a command a scriptural precedent is not binding. To be required, the precedent must be enjoined by some scriptural teaching.
To maintain that everything we do must be specifically authorized, is obvious nonsense. Do I need to be specifically authorized by God to drive a car, preach on the radio or play a pre-recorded message on a tape recorder? The Amish would think so but our brethren have not slipped that far from reality. However, there has been no end of problems due to this type of reasoning.
Carl Ketcherside provided an interesting list of examples in Volume 32, #2 of Mission Messenger. Some have insisted on meeting in upper rooms because the early church did. Some have opposed baptisteries because the Lord was baptized in a river. The sequence of worship in Acts 2:42 has been insisted upon. The Lord's supper is only mentioned being held after dark. Foot washing is an old “approved precedent.” Insistence upon one cup, and whether the vessel should have a handle, has been argued. Should the wine be fermented? Should we break the bread first? Should we have “Sunday Schools”? Should money be sent to support television programs or homes for orphans? In Volume 32, #6, he tells us of the great struggle over, “The posture of Prayer.” He further mentions fighting about church buildings, stained-glass windows, spires, carpeted aisles, crosses, passing the offering and use of quarterlies.
I sometimes get calls by people from out of town asking about the time of our services. These used to commonly enquire whether we supported the Herald Of Truth radio program or supported orphan’s homes. In recent years the issues seem to be centered on whether we are support a church kitchen or are we “non-kitchen.”
To this could be added an almost endless number of other “issues,” many of which I have known personally. Should we have communion on Sunday Night? (After sundown it becomes the second day of the week by Jewish time) Must the loaf be unleavened? Should it be home-baked? Should it be whole-wheat? Should hands be raised when we pray? Is it sinful to hum, whistle or clap in the worship service? Should we have a choir? Should we have special music in addition to congregational singing? Should women be allowed to sing in special music? Must the Psalms be used in the song service? Should congregations hire an Evangelist to preach for them? Should we have Bible Colleges? Should we drive a church bus to pick up children? Should we have flags (American and Christian) in our sanctuary? Should we have a separate “Junior Church” for children? Should we hold summer camps? Should the church own a “preacher's house”? And always, there is controversy as to the type of music--not just whether it should be instrumental, but, historically, even whether such songs as “The Old Rugged Cross,” and later, choruses, should be sung. Some churches have squabbled over whether words to songs should be projected on a screen before the audience, or whether they should sing from songbooks.
AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH
If we do not recognize the hermeneutic of excluding all not found in the New Testament, how can we protect ourselves from digression? Shall we just permit anything and everything?
Not at all. There are other very effective ways of preventing excesses, maintaining the simplicity of New Testament worship, and preserving our personally chosen traditions, without twisting the scriptures to impose unauthorized rules upon the brethren. Many of us have accomplished this just as successfully as anti-instrumentalists.
We were given church leaders who have rules to govern choices for the church (Heb. 13:17). Two of these rules are, expediency and edification.
1 Corinthians 6:12 12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
1 Corinthians 10:23 23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
1Corinthians 14:26 “Let all things be done unto edifying.”
Whether we choose to eat meat or keep days is a matter of expediency (Rom 14). Likewise, those in leadership are to determine expediency and what edifies, for which they will be responsible to God. Members likewise may decide personal matters of expediency.
I have no objection to those who wish to sing without an instrument doing so. They may do this because they cannot find instrumental music in early churches. They may do it because they feel that instruments make people too dependent or that in their judgment a cappella music is much more beautiful. They may do it because their tradition has been non-instrumental. In this there is no sin. But putting the issue into the classification of sin and dividing the body of Christ is unwarranted and sinful itself.
This may not be strong enough to always get things our way but the other approach has not solved our problems and it has certainly created much mischief. No system will work except as the people themselves demonstrate Love and dedication to God.
In many respects, I may be as conservative as many of my anti-instrumental brethren. In the Bible I see no “Bible Colleges.” I see the New Testament teaching and example was of training for leadership done under the elders of the church or under an evangelist. Nor were Evangelists appointed over every church. Evangelists were the missionaries of the church supported to carry the Good News. Only once, at Ephesus, do we see anything remotely resembling our modern hireling system. In that case it appears that Timothy was left in Ephesus for a few years to deal with problems arising among the Elders. Nothing was wrong with this but that is no basis for subverting the whole position of the eldership. However, to me, these are my judgments as to what is expedient.
When, in college, I proposed going back to “the scriptural pattern” for training preachers in the church and received some very good advice. If I thought it would work then get busy and show that it would. If it works, people will more likely listen to results than criticism. This avoids strife over theories or personal tastes. It is not a sin to teach the word, in college or outside. If there is any sin it is with those who are scripturally told to do so and do not, or with those who discourage them from doing so.
I find that problems can be solved, not on a basis of silence but through a desire to accomplish what is most successful for God, measured by the standards He has provided. In both 1Corinthians, chapters 11 and 14 when Paul dealt with problems within the assembly, he focused on expediency. Because they were divided they had turned the Lord's Supper into a meal of their own. He emphasized what the Lord had said. He then told them that if they were hungry, to eat at home so their gatherings would not be unto judgment. He gave some specific commands. Beyond that he repeatedly emphasized the need for whatever was done to be edifying to the whole church. In order for a thing to edify it must be understandable, orderly, and consistent with the scriptures.
The same method is used to deal with all sorts of matters relevant to the assembly. We are gathered to eat the Lord's Supper (Ac. 2:47; 20:7; 1Cor. 11:20, 33). We want to hear the apostles' teaching (Ac. 2:47; 1Cor. 14:26). We come to have fellowship (Ac. 2:47; 2Cor. 8:4; 1Cor. 16:1, 2). We are to pray (Ac. 2:42). We are to share spiritual music (1Cor. 14:15, 26; Heb. 2:12;). My desire to please God causes me to avoid anything that seems to fall short. That accomplishes a lot more with fewer problems than trying to impose some humanly devised law of exclusion.
Indeed, a law of exclusion fails to adequately cover the problem. Even if we were to concede that the command to “sing” excludes any other kind of music, there are many things that people can do during the worship service without violating that principle.
What command would exclude incense? Shall we go to Revelation to show that in heaven, “incense” is the prayers of the Saints? (Rev. 5:8) If so, why not go to Revelation to show that singing with instrumental music is pleasing to God?
I believe that most of our differences could be resolved on a basis of judgment, expediency, example, love and mutual respect. However, there is a tendency for those who feel their case is not sufficiently convincing to attempt to try to reinforce it with some cleverly devised “principle” contrived to make it appear that God is on their side. The present controversy has been cluttered with such arguments.
MUST THERE BE A SPECIFIC COMMAND AGAINST INSTRUMENTS?
Not at all. By insisting anti-instrumentalists must show a law, I am not maintaining that unless an express statement can be found that a thing is sin, we are free to do as we please. In trying to protect our positions, both sides have failed to recognize the valid factors in what the others have been saying. In so doing we have turned off the other person's mind and contributed to the opposition. We have simply disconnected ourselves from further thinking of the problem through together.
Both sides have a point. A law is required for something to be a sin. But that law need not specifically condemn it. It is true that a command to do something does by nature have an exclusive element to it, if by doing something else the thing commanded was not fully accomplished or there was a clear intention that it be exclusive. Anything that prevents full compliance or is substituted for it, is a violation of the law, whether or not it is specifically condemned. Whatever is implicitly made clear must be fully complied with.
Noah was required to build an ark of gopher wood. Unfortunately, that statement tells us little as to the full implications of these words in light of Noah's situation and comprehension. Did that prevent him from using a cedar dry-dock, or oak ax-handles to help in the construction? He could have made a birch rowboat with no violation. Indeed, he could have owned a whole boat building enterprise and constructed many boats of other woods, without offense. But one ark had to be made of gopher wood.
Likewise, we are told to sing. Instrumental churches do. Thus we do what God commanded. There is no offense in playing musical instruments to aid in keeping pitch, harmony etc., any more than in using a tuning fork or a pitch pipe. We have not failed to do what was commanded.
From a boat building perspective the brief scriptural statement is far too limited to clearly establish that nothing but “gopher wood” and “pitch” were permitted in the ark's construction. Far too much legalistic presumption has been imposed on these texts. Ancient ships were provided internal roping to strengthen the hull against stress. They used caulking materials to prevent water seepage. If “gopher wood” did not exclude the use of caulking to seal, were the other normal shipbuilding materials excluded, or did it mean that where wood was used, it should be gopher? Would it have been a sin to use brass spikes or pins to help hold things? Was all of the internal flooring, stairs, handrails, storage shelves etc. required to be made of gopher or did it only refer to the hull? If some special part normally made of other wood was used, would God have been displeased? For example, if I paid someone to build me a “fiberglass boat,” should I be upset to find, metal and even wood included? They are naturally viewed as being a part of the fiberglass job.
In fact, the Hebrew word translated, “gopher” is not as specific as some would lead us to believe. It may only mean, “pitch wood.” In that case, a variety of woods of that type, --pine, fir, spruce etc., would have been within the range specified. Similarly, the Greek words translated “sing” are not as specific or as exclusive as has been maintained. Three different Greek words have been so translated – “psallō,” “humneō,” and “adō.” “Psallō” has within its root the concept of plucking strings. How then can that be excluded without some clear statement to that effect?
All too often the true issues have been confused by rigid presumptions. Illustrations that have no parallel to the true problem have been injected into the instrumental discussion. Examples of substitutions (the “gopher wood” argument) in no way prevent us from using instruments to aid. If Noah did not build such an ark, he would not have obeyed. But we are not maintaining that the commandment need not be obeyed, either in part or in whole. It says to “sing,” and we do sing.
“Sing” does not, in itself, exclude playing. One can both sing and play. Playing does not prevent singing and it is not a substitution for it. In spite of the attempts to make it sound like it does, no New Testament passage says that singing is the only kind of music God wants in the worship service. Indeed, there is no definitive statement of what can be permitted in the liturgy. The popular “proof text” (Eph. 5:19), is a general teaching concerning the Christian “walk” (Eph. 5:2, 8, 15). It is not confined to the church service, and certainly is not intended to define its total limitations.
Another example is the debater who argued that letters sent to people did not have to list all of the addresses to which they were NOT being sent. Such an argument is irrelevant since we have explicit laws that require that letters must not be taken any place other than through the post office system to where they are addressed. As long as the letter gets to where it is addressed, it does not matter whether a truck, airplane or boat is used as an aid to deliver it, or even through which post-office it passes. To fail to do this is a failure to do what was commanded. We might also point out that the letters to churches in the Book of Revelation were sent to the seven churches in Asia but that does not exclude us from reading and learning from them.
One debater argued that if your dad told you to go to the store to buy some “shoes” he would not have to list all of the other things you could not buy. I am not so sure that purchasing a pair of socks in order to be permitted to try on the shoes would be a crime.
We might also point out that strings go with many kinds of shoes. Should the child assume that shoes with strings are not allowed because he was not told to get shoes with strings? Likewise, in telling us to speak to each other, God uses two words to describe our music. “Adō,” indicates simply singing. “Psallō” properly indicated plucking strings. The choice is left to us. Neither of them excluded instruments.
This faulty “exclusion” claim is not, and cannot be, logically and objectively applied. It is arbitrarily used where the individuals have decided they need it to get their way when sound scriptural hermeneutics fail their case.
Does the statement of James, “If any is merry, let him sing psalms” (James 5:13), exclude all music other than singing psalms when one is merry? Note that says nothing about the church worship service. May I whistle or hum a tune when happy? Do not anti-instrumentalists play music when they are happy? Is the rule only valid when arguing against instruments?
Does the admonition of James that those who are sick are to call for the elders exclude calling a doctor? Why would singing and making melody with the fingers be sinful any more than calling the elders and a doctor?
Does the advice of Paul for Timothy to, “take a little wine for your infirmities” (1Tim. 5:23), preclude all other medications?
1Corinthians 16:2 says, Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him. Is it a sin to take up a collection for the saints on any other day?
Does the command for men to lift up holy hands in every place (1Tim. 2:8) exclude praying without holding up one’s hands? Must we always greet one another with a holy kiss? (Rom. 16:16; 1Cor. 16:20; 2Cor. 13:12; 1Thes. 5:26; 1Pe. 5:14) Must we always welcome those into the fellowship with a right-handed handshake? (Gal. 2:9) Must all widows have washed the saints’ feet in order to be supported in their old age (1Tim. 5:10)?
Does the command to “go…preach,” (Mark 16:15) exclude radio and television? Shall we exclude sending a tape recording because it is, instrumental preaching and singing? Since anti-instrumentalists generally accept tape-recorded singing, perhaps we could solve our difference by putting in a jukebox. We could then buy a-cappella recordings, drop in a quarter, punch a button for the song, and, because it is “singing,” both instrumentalists and anti-instrumentalists, could sing together with accompaniment of trained voices. Indeed, we could buy recordings of the non-instrumental group, “A cappella” that claps, clicks their tongues, hum and make other sounds like instruments. No one would even know it was not instrumental. (Kind of like the Adventists who make “hamburgers” out of vegetables to taste like meat.) But probably this would only produce another split between the “recorder” and “anti-recorder” factions of the church of Christ. Most likely there is already such a group!
WHERE IS ANY SPECIFIC AUTHORIZATION FOR CONGREGATIONAL SINGING?
Indeed, where is the authority for the whole congregation singing together? In 1Cor. 14:15, Paul says he would sing in the congregation. In verse 26 it specifies that “when you come together each one of you has a psalm....” That is individual singing. Following the reasoning of the context that indicates that while one was speaking the rest must remain silent (14:23, 27, 29, 31), one could make an argument that no more than one was to sing at a time. Where is any other authorization? Certainly it is not found in Hebrews 2:12, the only other passage where music in the church is specified.
Some try to argue congregational singing from Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16. However, these passages are not defining the liturgy of the church service, nor do they specify that the singing may be in unison. We may teach and admonish each other individually, perhaps better than congregationally.
We could go back before the cross to find authorization for collective singing. The Old Testament scriptures authorize it. Based upon this, at the Passover supper Jesus and his disciples sang together. However, if we go before the cross for this we also have authorization of instrumental use in the Psalms. Jesus and the disciples participated in the temple worship. After the cross the apostles continued in the temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42; 21:26; 22:17 [“prayed”]; 24:18). Were they sinning?
We also might go to the book of Revelation and find people singing together in heaven. However, they also sang with instruments (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2).
There is one last lone hope for congregational singing. It isn't much but it does leave the door slightly ajar. It certainly was a far cry from the church assembly (no breaking of bread) but when Paul and Barnabas were thrown into prison, Luke says they were praying and singing hymns unto God (Acts 16:25). Of course, it does not say that they sang at the same time. They might have been singing songs alternately. Should we take a chance on our salvation, since the precedent does not specify whether they sang together? What a tortured struggle results from such a concept of Biblical interpretation!
If it said, “The only kind of music to use in the Christian worship service is singing,” that would exclude any other kind. Anti-instrumentalists often paraphrase that as being what was intended but that is not what it says, and we have no authority to read that into it. Eph. 5:19 contrasts being filled with wine, versus being filled with the Spirit--not instrumental versus vocal music.
Thus, the first issue that must be resolved is, where does the Bible require specific “authority” in order to sing with instrumental music? Where is the law that makes vocal music exclusive? With this we come to the very kernel of the issue. The usual anti-instrumental arguments leave one with the feeling that something is missing. Careful examination reveals serious flaws.