It’s Back… Musical Instruments in Worship


I remember my first visit to a no musical instruments in worship church of Christ several years ago.  I was new to a certain city, and was visiting churches, looking for a church home.  This particular church of Christ looked nice enough.  On Sunday mornings there seemed to be plenty of cars in the parking lot.  So I decided to pay them a call.  

My first impressions were very favorable.  The sanctuary was air conditioned and brightly lit, the people were very open, warm, and welcoming, and I enjoyed participating in the singing during worship.  

But the service was just so… quiet.  I found myself to be terribly distracted by the silence during key moments of worship – Lord’s Supper, during the collection of offerings, etc.  

It’s not that I was used to a lot of noise, but instrumental music has always been a part of the worship experience for me, and so (for example), when the men collected the offerings and there was nothing but silence, it was very strange to me.  I realized that music (be it organ, piano, guitar) helped me with focusing my thoughts on God during times like the giving of offerings or the Lord’s Supper.  

It was the last time I’d visit an assembly with the name, “church of Christ” on sign outside for quite some time.

It’s not that I had any thoughts whatsoever that the people in that church were doing anything wrong by worshipping without instruments.  As Romans 14 admonishes us, if it is what God has led them to do, then I had no problem with it.  But I didn’t find their arguments against using instruments in worship (the “Law of Silence”) to be particularly compelling, it was not my conviction, and frankly, not my cup of tea.

But, since starting to watch our three local TV hyperconservatives, and subsequently starting this blog, I’ve been introduced to people who apparently think Romans 14 was written for other people.  They feel this incessant need (insecurity?) to condemn those who use instruments as part of worship.  And then they seem to be surprised when people respond strongly back.  

Here is an article I found recently about this issue, with my comments in red:

By Eusebio Tanicala

A Baptist author directs his diatribe against Churches of Christ preachers who believe that it is wrong to have instrumental music in Christian congregational worship. He calls our position as “Instrumental Insanity.”

It would be nice to have some context for this comment.  What exactly did this Baptist author write that qualified it as a “diatribe”?  Is the “insanity” he mentions connected to the fact that people don’t use instruments or that many condemn everyone else who does?

Many instrumental music practioners in congregational worship argue that the term “sing” in its modern meaning automatically calls for an instrumental accompaniment or at least the instrumental accompaniment is not prohibited. It is argued that “where there’s no expressed prohibition a thing or action is allowed.”

This is an incomplete argument.  It’s not just that “instrumental accompaniment is not prohibited” – but it is authorized in the Old Testament, and that authorization is never removed.  Never.  So, musical instruments were a part of past worship.

Not only that, but it’s bookended.  Musical instruments will be a part of future worship.  Thanks to the Apostle John for giving us Revelations 5:8,9; 14:2,3; 15:20 and 18:22.  

These Biblical truths negate Mr. Tanicala’s following argument, but let’s take a look.  Let me preface it by saying that this argument to come is what the hyperconservatives ALWAYS fall back on – that somehow allowing musical instruments in worship will lead to jell-o wrestling during prayer and hamburgers and french fries as a part of the Lord’s Supper, which is simply ridiculous.

The above axiom is a dangerous guide in interpreting the Bible. It opens the gate to virtually any kind of faith and practice in the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I suggest that we confront this axiom with this illustration.

Step number one: Let’s tell the mechanical instrument user: “Let’s follow your line of argument. You appeal that the modern meaning of ’sing’ calls for an instrumental accompaniment and anything that’s not expressly prohibited is allowed. Since instrumental accompaniment is not expressly prohibited, there’s freedom to use it.”

Step number two: “Churches believe in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The modern meaning of ‘Supper’ in the Philippines includes serving a plate of rice for each individual, and participants in the Pinoy supper may be served chicken tinola soup, lechon kawali, chopsuey, sinigang na bangus, a glass of water, and softdrinks. These are not expressly prohibited in the New Testament, do you grant freedom to some who believe that the Lord’s Supper may include these food items? May I know your categorical answer please. #

Article found here.

All of this stems from the church of Christ hermeneutical creed, CENI (which stands for Command, Example, Necessary Inference).  The idea that if you don’t have a specific command for something, you mustn’t do it.   You can read more about CENI here.

Friends, if you assemble with a church of Christ that doesn’t use instruments in worship, then I support you fully.  If God has laid that conviction on you and your congregation to worship with just the voice, then go for it.  I love a cappella music, and used to be a part of a choir that sang largely in a capella style.  

But, understand this.  You cannot find any Scriptural justification for judging your brothers and sisters in Christ who choose to worship with instruments.  None.  You can bring up Nadab and Abihu, but it is not a correct understanding of what happened to those two men, nor is it a correct understanding of what most churches who use instruments do.   See this article to understand what I mean better.

What you are doing is in direct violation of Romans 14.  And I realize that a post like mine comes dangerously close to violating Romans 14 as well, but I am not trying to convince you to use instruments or to violate your conscience.  Rather, I am trying to get you to see that you have no grounds to stand in condemnation of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

I leave you with a passage that is becoming one of my favorites.  I’ve posted it before, and I’ll post it again.  

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.  One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.  Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand….

For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: 

‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, 
‘every knee will bow before me; 
every tongue will confess to God.’ “  

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Romans 14:1-4; 9-12 

For more good discussion on this subject, visit this website.

For those who didn’t grow up in a church named “church of Christ”…

If you are trying to understand where these folks are coming from, I would highly recommend spending some time on the ex-church of Christ website – especially in the “Church of Christ: Doctrine & Culture” board.  There are some insight into this culture for those of us who weren’t raised in it.  

It’s really interesting to me as a person who was raised in a different faith tradition, and you might find it to be so as well.  At the least, it is informative to understanding any hyperconservative churches of Christ that might be in your community.

My Kind of CofC Attitude

In my daily online readings, I found a blog from another CofC preacher with whom I could fellowship.  Thank goodness for CofC men like this!  They give me hope for the Church of Christ folks out there.

He wrote:

“I make the case for a cappella music in the assembly like Everett Ferguson makes it. He examines the NT passages, considers the life of the early church, and considers any theological significance to the practice. The New Testament delivers and reflects apostolic teaching, and playing is not mentioned. For 600 years instruments were not used. Jesus alwasy led us to the heart of the matter and perhaps the theological significance of apostolic teaching reflected in the epistles is the heart involvement in singing.

I make this case. And I believe it. I believe and teach that instrumental music in the worship assembly is outside of God’s will.For many people, the case for a cappella music is strong and convincing. I am among them. Many of these people I have found have a heart for God, a great desire to please him, and their lives reflect their commitment to godliness.

For many people, the case for a cappella music is weak and unconvincing. Many of these people I have found have a heart for God, a great desire to please him, and their lives reflect their commitment to godliness.

Those who contend so vigorously against the case for a cappella music would do well to admit that those of us who believe it are not stupid, we are not all legalists, and we don’t come to our conclusions without evidence.

Those who contend so vigorously for the case of a cappella music would do well to admit that simply on the basis of godly people who don’t believe the argument, the case is not as cut and dried for some as it is for others. It is not like the works of the flesh that are obvious. Instrumentalists are not stupid, self-centered, nor do they draw their conclusions without evidence.

At the end of the day, many of us are going to believe just as we believed at the beginning. Some of us are going to have been convinced to change our minds in both directions. And we are going to have to deal with the bigger question of what do we do with each other; and the answer is going to refelct what Jesus is going to do with both of us.

Father, please deal mericfully with me. I want to do right, but I’m sure I’ve got some stuff wrong. Father, please help me deal mercifully with other children of yours who disagree with me.
In Jesus Name,
Amen

Found here.  

Answering Norm Fields – December 21, 2007 – Part II

guitar 

“Mechanical Instruments in Worship”

Norm said that the use of musical instruments to aid in worship is like using jelly on the communion bread to aid in taking the Lord’s Supper.  There’s one big problem with this clever but incorrect analogy – nowhere in the Old Testament were believers given authority to use jelly in any part of worship.   However, in the book of Psalms, believers are given permission to use musical instruments in worship.

Ps 33:1-3; Ps 71:22; Ps 81:1-2; Ps 92:1-4; Ps 98:4-6; Ps 147:7

And in the NT?  As Norm discussed last night, we have Eph 5:19 & Col 3:16 both talking about “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”.  Last night Norm tried to disarm these passages by focusing on the lack of a specific instrument being mentioned – and claiming that the instrument in question was “the heart”.

1)  What about the passages where the heart isn’t mentioned?  Like James 5:13?  “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”

2)  But the bigger question here is:  when the writers of the New Testament spoke of singing “psalms”, to what were they referring?  Just general songs that were made up?  If so, whey did they make the distinction between “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”?  Those are three different words in the Greek – “Psalms/psalmos” – “hymns/hymnos” – “spiritual songs/pneumatikos ode”.  Why wouldn’t they have just said, sing to yourself using songs!

Let’s look at “psalmos”.  

It means:

1) a striking, twanging
a) of a striking the chords of a musical instrument
b) of a pious song, a psalm

It seems to this amateur student of Biblical Greek that the writer’s use of this word is implicit permission for musical instruments.  Either directly by use of “striking, twanging, or striking the chords of a musical instrument” or by use of the Psalms – wherein the permission (some might say command) to use musical instruments is repeatedly given. The first century church would have used the Psalms as their songbook! It’s the only “psalmos” they had!

As to the question of silence, and as had been argued before, the Bible is silent on the subjects of church buildings, audio and visual equipment, worship leaders, located preachers, youth ministers, campus ministers, pitch pipes, tuning forks, Sunday school, and indoor pools for baptisms yet folks feel free to use them because they accomplish a purpose. Any method that fulfills the purposes of God is permissible so long as it does not violate a clear principle of Scripture. We apply the same rule of interpretation to instrumental music.

Finally, these verses which Norm and company throw out whenever they get the chance (Eph 5:19 & Col 3:16) aren’t even dealing with what folks can and can’t do in worship.  They are talking about daily living!  If you use these verses to conclude that the use of mechanical instruments is wrong in your assembly, then you must also conclude that it is wrong outside the assembly because both passages are focused on daily living.

More on the Instruments in Worship Debate

This is a fascinating look at how this subject is NOT settled within the Churches of Christ:

http://www.abpnews.com/2503.article

I suppose to Johnny, Norm and James, the churches that have decided to experiment with musical instruments in worship are apostate.

But, what about the point made in the article with reference to Calvin? James, Norm and Johnny, where is your biblical authority for singing songs that aren’t scriptural songs, like the Psalms? And for singing non-unison songs?

PS – let me just say this – I am not arguing against churches being “acappella-only”. If your church worships this way, then I think it’s great! My point is that people shouldn’t be using money given for the spread of the Gospel to purchase airtime where they are going to spend a great deal of time and energy telling others in the Body of Christ that they are going to hell for using musical instruments in their worship of the Lord.

Musical Instruments in Worship – how the conversation could go

A fictional episode of one of the local CofC programs. Also a primer on one way to approach their arguments condemning the use of musical instruments in worship.

Fictional CofC TV host:

“Do you use mechanical instruments of music in worship?”

Fictional CofC TV caller:

“Yes.”

CofC host:

“By what authority do you play musical instruments in worship?”

CofC caller:

“Well, Psalms 150 says…”

CofC host:

“Woah, woah, woah. Which covenant are you under…the Old or the New?”

CofC caller:

“What? Well, I guess the New…”

CofC host:

“You guess. Hmm. Do you practice everything in the OT or pick what you like? Do you sacrifice animals?”

CofC caller:

“Well, no of course not. But in the New Testament it says that you should worship with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs…”

CofC host:

“Okay, but by what authority can you play musical instruments, when it only says to sing?”

CofC caller:

“Well, where does it say we can’t use instruments?”

CofC host:

“Exactly! The New Testament is silent on the subject. And so how can we presume to say that God gave us permission?”

CofC caller:

“Now wait a minute. The Bible is silent on lots of issues dealing with worship. By what authority do you have song leaders, song books, pitch pipes, PowerPoint, PA systems, and so on?”

CofC host:

“Well, now… um… those are worship aids.

CofC caller:

“And where do you find the authority to use these aids?”

CofC host:

“Let me ask you a question. Do song books, PA’s and things replace or change the command ‘sing’?”

CofC guest:

“Well, let me ask you a question. Does the use of musical instruments replace or change the command ‘sing’?”

CofC host:

[uncomfortable pause]

“Er… do you know that the Baptist denomination is not found anywhere in the New Testament?”

An Article Showing the Division in Churches of Christ

http://preachermike.com/2007/10/01/a-time-to-speak-christian-chronicle-ad

I felt like this was an interesting article dealing with the divisions that exist in the Church of Christ over the issue of mechanical instruments in worship. I am also somewhat relieved to see that there are folks who call themselves Churches of Christ who are less judgmental, condemning, and dogmatic than our local TV folks. That’s a relief.

Max Lucado is a pastor of a Church of Christ assembly, too, I recently found out. I wonder what the local TV folks think about him? Probably not much.

That’s one of the big beefs I have with Norm, James and Johnnie – this stubborn sticking to the “my way or the highway” doctrine. If you don’t check off the exact same boxes they are checking off, you are in sin and bound for hell. The idea of interpretation is meaningless, as their interpretations are the only correct ones.

I do appreciate, however, their willingness to discuss the issues, even if they do sometimes take a while to answer. ;)