Interpreting the Bible: Instruments of Music

bible.jpgSo let’s try out all these theories on a tough question: is a cappella music in worship mandatory?

Rather than considering the traditional arguments, let’s go through the hermeneutical principles taught earlier and see where they lead us.

Each bold caption refers to an earlier post. In fact, this post concludes a Angel with harpdozen or so earlier posts on hermeneutics. Please read those before reading this one, or it just won’t make sense to you. The captions each link to the appropriate earlier post, in case you want to read the post and then the argument regarding instrumental music as you go.

“The Mighty Works of God.” What do learn about instrumental music from God’s miraculous work throughout history? Well, God moved in history to reconcile sinful men to himself. The Exodus, the giving of the Law, the sending the prophets were all for this purpose.

But God found that the Law of Moses was a system doomed to failure. Man could not bear the burden of these rules. And so he sent his Son to die for our sins. And then he sent the Spirit to change us.

(Heb. 8:10-12) This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

The author of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah’s prophesy of the new covenant and explains that it will be radically different. Under the Law of Moses, men were required to read the Law, interpret it, and obey it. But God found this system insufficient. Under the new covenant, God himself is to write his laws on our hearts–another mighty work.

This is clearly the work of the Spirit. And it tells us not only how we will learn the new laws but the nature of new laws. These will be the kind of laws that change men into saints.

(Eph. 3:16-19) I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Paul prays that God, through the Spirit acting in our “inner being” will teach us to know a love the surpasses knowledge–clearly something that’s beyond human doings.

(Rom. 5:5) And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Again, we see that love is given us by divine action. Just so–

(Gal. 5:22-23) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

And so we see the kind of laws to be written on our hearts by God himself acting mightily through his Spirit.

Now, it would be surprising to learn that God replaced the old covenant of laws with a new covenant of laws–except in the new covenant the laws are written less plainly, even cryptically, so that most readers actually misunderstand God’s will for how to worship him. Why send his Son and his Spirit just to make it harder to obey?

“God is Sovereign (and We’re Not).” God makes the rules. All glory belongs to God. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

And yet we have an approach to scripture that is astonishingly humanistic. To reach correct conclusions requires considerable intellectual effort on the part of the believer. Rather than the rules being laid out nice and easy, like in the Law of Moses, we find the rules scattered about in surprising places. The verses banning instrumental music aren’t even found in a discussion on how to worship, but in passages dealing with how to live.

And so, we sometimes feel pride in figuring it out (as evidenced by our condescension toward those who disagree). But our salvation doesn’t depend on human wisdom.

(1 Cor. 1:26-31) Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

(1 Cor. 2:1-2) When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Anytime our theology gets so complicated that the common man needs professional help to make it to heaven, we’ve taught error. If we need a degree just to be able to prove from the scriptures how to worship correctly, we’ve taught error.

Of course, there are depths of theology that require great intellect to plumb, but these lessons aren’t essential for salvation or worship. Rather, the doctrines that bring us into right relationship with God and allow us to serve and worship as he wishes are simple and easily discerned. Indeed, they are given, not earned; understandable by the weak and require little explanation. After all, it’s just “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

“Know the Author.” What kind of person is this God Almighty? Well, if we know Jesus, we know the Father. And so, what kind of person was Jesus? How did he teach? What was his message?

(John 4:24) God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Interestingly, Jesus taught nothing at all about how to worship other than that we should “worship in Spirit and in truth” and should refrain from human commands. He says nothing about five acts, instrumental music, or even meeting on Sundays. He spent three years preaching and teaching and never got around to the issues that define our identity as a people!

He says quite a lot about ethical living–forgiving one another, loving one another, and so on. He spent much of time healing the sick and casting out demons. He demonstrated great compassion for hurting people. But he never sat down and set out a bunch of rules on church organization, names, or worship. Plainly, he had more important things to talk about.

And so, what does it mean to worship in Spirit and in truth? “Truth” means the truth about Jesus, the gospel.

(John 14:6) Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This is explained in more detail here. “Truth” doesn’t mean according to a bunch of rules indistinguishable from the Law of Moses in complexity. It’s just the gospel.

“Spirit” is more than human attitudes. It’s the Holy Spirit. Jesus was just talking to the Samaritan woman about “living water,” which is later defined for us as the Holy Spirit in John 7:37-39. This makes sense, as Jesus introduces his teaching on worship with, “God is spirit.” Hence, the “spirit” in which we are to worship is spirit in the same sense that God is spirit.

True worship is not determined by whether we worship on Mt. Zion or Mt. Gerezim or the punctilious rules of the Law–it’s purely a question of whether it’s motivated by the gospel and empowered by the Spirit.

I know this seems awfully vague and perhaps even subject to abuse, but this is what the passage says. Indeed, we are repeatedly told that the “new way of the Spirit” contradicts the old way of the written code. When we interpret the New Testament as though it were a statute or book of laws, we clearly misunderstand.

(Rom. 7:6) But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

(2 Cor. 3:6) He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant–not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

These and many similar passages take us back to Hebrews 8, quoted earlier. The laws that matters are written on our heart by God.

“Don’t Forget the Old Testament.” In the instrumental music context, the first part of the Old Testament usually brought up is the fact that instruments were used in the worship of God in the temple service. They were. God approved.

Nadab and Abihu. Others like to cite the story of Nadab and Abihu as proving God will damn those who worship without authority. I hate to spend too many words on this false argument, but it’s so deeply ingrained in our thinking, I think I have to.

If we look at the story of Nadab and Abihu closely, we find that the account strongly supports the view that grace applies to worship just like the rest of our relationship with God.

First, Leviticus 10:9 strongly suggests that Nadab and Abihu were guilty of drunkenness, and this occasioned their mistake and offense. Adam Clarke says in his commentary on Leviticus, “The cabalistic commentator, Baal Hatturim, and others, have supposed from the introduction of this command here, that Aaron’s sons had sinned through excess of wine, and they had attempted to celebrate the Divine service in a state of inebriation.”

Second, and more importantly, we must contrast this story with the immediately following account of Eleazar and Ithamar. These two men were appointed to replace Nadab and Abihu. However, in vv. 16-18, Moses finds that the two men had incorrectly handled the very next ceremony! Moses was very unhappy, to say the least.

Aaron defended their mistake:

(Lev. 10:19-20) Aaron replied to Moses, “Today they sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD, but such things as this have happened to me. Would the LORD have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” 20 When Moses heard this, he was satisfied.

Aaron said that he too had made mistakes in the service. It was an accident. These things happen. And Eleazar and Ithamar were not punished.

As stated in G. J. Wenham, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Leviticus, p. 30, “This suggests, perhaps, that God is more gracious to those who make mistakes because they fear him than to those who carelessly and impudently enter his presence as Nadab and Abihu did.”

The fact that the two stories are immediately juxtaposed as they are in Leviticus 10 is intended to make a point, and the point is surely that God overlooks honest mistakes (among those in grace, of course) but does not overlook willful disobedience.

Is authority required for worship? The real question, thus, is what the Old Testament says about whether an “act of worship” requires authority. And the best example is the use of instruments in the temple worship. Instruments are nowhere authorized in the Law of Moses. Indeed, the Law goes into great detail about the services are to be conducted and says nothing of instruments.

However, David had instruments played in the tabernacle (1 Chron. 15:16 ff; 25:6-7). And yet this worship was approved by God. The Psalms frequently refer to the use of musical instruments in the worship of God, and God approved Solomon’s temple, where the instrumental service was continued. And all this was without authority. Indeed, it’s hard to deny the observation that instrumental music was an addition to the Law of Moses. And God accepted the worship.

“The Gospel.” As mentioned above, the explicit command for how Christians are to worship is “in Spirit and in truth.” “Truth” is the gospel, the truth about Jesus.

Worship is thus built on a celebration of our salvation through Jesus, as a free gift of grace. Therefore, nothing could be further from the spirit of New Testament worship than seeking to please God by strict adherence to arbitrary commands divined from offhand comments and silences.

In fact, Hebrews teaches us that worshiping according to regulations is a mark of the obsolete Old Covenant–

(Heb. 8:5-7) They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

The logic of Heb. 8-10 is that the flaws of the Old Covenant are shown by several things, one of which is the fact that Moses was told to build according to a “pattern.” The writer says anything built according to a pattern is a “copy and shadow” of the real thing, and hence inferior.

(Heb. 9:9-11) This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order. 11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.

Characteristic of the Old Covenants are “external regulations” for worship. The earthly tabernacle–built according to a heavenly pattern–is replaced by the perfect tabernacle in heaven itself. Anything man made is inadequate to honor God.

(Heb. 9:23-24) It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

“Copies” just will not do. Man cannot duplicate the original and create something worthy of God.

(Heb. 10:1) The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

Pattern keeping creates only a shadow of reality, as true reality is in heaven. This is why the writer says in 9:1–

(Heb. 9:1) Now the first covenant [even] had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.

The writer’s point is that “regulations” for worship” are a feature of the Old Covenant that necessarily proves the inadequacy of the Old Covenant. Rather, under the New Covenant,

(Heb. 8:10-12) This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. … 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Internal regulations make all the difference. Hence, we can truly be said to worship in Spirit and in truth. God moves us to worship through his Spirit (Eph 5:18: “be filled with the Spirit”!) “Truth” in John is the truth of the gospel, the truth about Jesus. The truth of God’s grace.

What are the true rules? Does this mean there are no rules? No. The assembly has a purpose. We are to edify, encourage, comfort, and strengthen one another (1 Cor. 14) and spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). As the assembly has a purpose, practices contrary to the purpose are wrong.

But these activities are all prompted by the Spirit, and so God-made, and so acceptable even though imperfect.

The purpose of the assembly is a natural consequence of the command to love one another. We cannot love another apart from each other! We have to spend time together, and mutual encouragement is essential to our growth in Christ.

“The Only Thing That Counts–the Faith Part.” We are saved by faith. Obedience is a product of faith, not an addition or a co-condition. Therefore, if we make having a certain kind of worship a condition to salvation, we’ve denied salvation by faith.

The danger here is grave, as the entire book of Galatians is aimed at warning us away from this danger. Indeed, adding conditions to the plan of salvation risks teaching another gospel and being alienated from Christ! This is explained in Do We Teach Another Gospel?

And we would therefore be surprised to see God creating an elaborate regime of rules and regulations for worship, requiring scrupulous obedience, as a condition to salvation. It just completely contradicts the conclusions of Galatians–

(Gal. 5:4) You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

(Gal. 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

(Gal. 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“The Only Thing That Counts–the Love Part.” How does singing a cappella prove our love to God better than using the gifts he’s given us to worship him with instruments?

The classic response is that Jesus said if we love him, we’ll keep his commandments. But this begs the question: how do we know it’s a commandment when it’s not even commanded?

Moreover, when Jesus asks this question, he tells us what his commandment is–

(John 15:10-12) If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Jesus not only insists on obedience to his commands. He tells us that his commands are but one: Love each other.

John interprets Jesus’ words the same way–

(1 John 3:21-23) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

(2 John 1:6) And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

And so, we aren’t free to imagine any rule and compel obedience. We are told the command we are to obey. Love.

But we know from other passages that all the law hangs on the command to love. For example,

(Rom. 13:9-10) The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

We’ve never really believed this passage. But the same idea appears in several places. It’s a common refrain in New Testament thought. God was serious when he inspired it.

(Now, he’s not denying baptism, as he’s speaking only to the saved.)

“The Meanings of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” Baptism frees us from law.

(Col. 2:11-14) In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

This is the passage that we frequently quote as declaring the Law of Moses repealed (v. 14) by being nailed to the cross. But the point of the lesson is that the “written code, with its regulations … stood opposed to us.” These were God-given rules, but they opposed us because in our weakness we couldn’t obey them.

And yet we perversely insist on imposing a new code with new regulations that are just as damning as the Law of Moses, and in so doing, we insult our baptism, indeed, we insult the cross.

There’s no sin in singing a cappella on Sunday morning. But when we make it a salvation issue, then we’ve destroyed grace and unity, and then it’s a grave sin.

God did not nail the Law to the cross just to enact a new law.

Just so, the Lord’s Supper is, among other things, a lesson in unity. We cannot allow our views on singing (or communion!) divide the body. To do so would be a desecration of the very worship we offer. If we treat as lost those who are saved, we’ve sinned against the body of Christ. We’d better be right!

You see, there’s a false teaching that the “safe” practice is to say “no.” Better yet, to be really safe, we need to condemn all those who don’t say no.

This is as wrong as can be. Safety is only found in grace. When in doubt, go with faith, love, and unity–not division and condemnation and law.

“The Holy Spirit Matters.” We’ve already touched on this, having considered that we are to worship in Spirit and in truth. Consider also these verses–

(Eph. 5:18-19) Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

(Phil. 3:3) For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh–

Although the Ephesians 5 passage is silent on instruments, it does contain a command: “be filled with the Spirit.” In Philippians, Paul declares that we worship by the Spirit.

Now, in neither case is Paul referring to the New Testament, which hadn’t yet been written. He wasn’t saying, “Read your Bibles”! Rather, he was speaking of the influence of the Spirit that indwells all Christians.

What do these verses mean? Well, this post is already WAY too long. And I don’t think I’m capable of fully explaining the meaning. But here’s a start–

(Gal. 5:22-23) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Our worship is to be characterized by the Spirit’s fruit.

Acts 6:3 refers to the first deacons as men “full of the Spirit,” likely meaning filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Acts 10:24 makes the same comment regarding Barnabas, and he was a powerful evangelist. Similarly, Acts 4 reports,

(Acts 4:31) After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Both here and in Acts 10, being filled with Spirit is associated with bold proclamatin of God’s word.
Acts 13:52 says the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit when they won a victory over false teachers.

(Rom. 15:13) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, the Spirit can give us joy and peace and hope–all very much associated with worship.

In an important worship passage, we are taught–

(Rom. 15:5-6) May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

True worship requires true unity–which is a gift from God, not a work of man. We need only recognize the unity that God has created and that we so often deny.

(Eph. 4:3) Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

So what does it mean to worship in Spirit? Well, at least, it means to worship in true unity, recognizing all your brothers and sisters as brothers and sisters, rather than denying the work of God and his Spirit in saving even people who disagree with us about how to worship.

And it means proclaiming God’s word boldly while having the joy, peace (stop fighting!!), love, and other virtues we receive from the Spirit.

And it means using the gifts God has given us. After all, isn’t the fact that our gifts are from the Spirit sufficient authority to use them?

(1 Cor. 12:21-23) The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty … .

“Be Careful of Positive Law.” God did not send Jesus so that we’d be burdened with a bunch of arbitrary rules to test our obedience. He sent Jesus so we’d be empowered by the Spirit to work within the mission of God on earth.

Worrying about the rules for how to worship is Old Testament thinking. It’s legalistic thinking. New Testament thinking is worrying about how we can please God by living like Jesus–in compassion for those in need and preaching the gospel. We were saved to do good works.

(Eph. 2:8-10) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This is a cosmic thought. It goes back to before the Creation! The plan has always been to redeem us to do good works. Therefore, the job of our leaders is to equip us for good works–

(Eph 4:11-12a) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service … .

You see, when we focus on rules rather than mission, we completely miss the point.

“Beware the Patristics. Well, this argument is already made. But it’s easily summarized.

We Protestants deny the authority of any writings other than the scriptures. We in the Churches of Christ further insist that we should silent where the Bible is silent.

This utterly excludes the so-called historical argument. The writings of Justin Martyr and Thomas Aquinas have no authority for us. Therefore, we need to stop teaching our members that the historical argument matters.

It doesn’t create a presumption. It doesn’t reinforce other arguments. It doesn’t confirm the conclusion. It is irrelevant.

“Distinguish Commands from Historical Accidents.” It’s not really necessary to go here, because the only reason we know the early church was a cappella is from uninspired sources. Wondering why they taught as they did is quite beside the point. Nonetheless, it’s interesting (not relevant, though).

You see, the Jewish synagogues were a cappella, and were for many centuries thereafter, because they considered it wrong to emulate the temple worship–which was instrumental–for fear the members would think the synagogue somehow replaced the temple. Moreover, the use of instruments involved carrying a burden and was interpreted as violating the Sabbath.

Thus, when the early church met in synagogues, they remained true to the a cappella practice of the location. It’s likely, I think, that they continued a cappella practices as they moved into private homes because (a) many members were Jews and would have found instruments offensive and (b) they met in homes.

The early house churches could hold no more than 30 people, and so churches had to split up into several homes to worship. As a result, it would have been difficult to have enough trained instrumentalists and enough instruments to have instrumental music everywhere.

The associations with instruments in that culture were evidently idolatrous. Clement of Alexander (150-200) associates instruments with drunkenness, animal passions, and idolatry. In fact, instruments were commonly used as part of idolatrous sacrifices–

Musical instruments were frequently played at sacrifices. Sculptured scenes depicting Roman and Greek sacrifices normally show a musician playing the aulos. The loud wailing of the pipe may have served the practical function of drowning out the squeals of the dying animal, as the incense did of sweetening the odor of the sacrifice. In origin, however, the practice is usually understood as apotropaic magic, to frighten evil spirits away. Another suggestion is that the music soothed the gods and made them more favorably disposed toward the worshiper. Regardless of its purpose, instrumental music normally accompanied animal sacrifice in the ancient world.

(Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993; p. 81-2).

Later on, Thomas Aquinas defended the practice as not wanting to “Judaize,” but, of course, the Jews didn’t use instruments either. Obviously, that’s not the real reason.

The fact is that their conduct was consistent with the culture they grew out of–Judaism. Moreover, there were reasons built in the local culture–instruments had strong associations with idolatrous worship.

Therefore, the practice is consistent with a local, temporary need deriving from cultural issues rather than eternal principles. After all, while modern music is quite capable of being animalistic, too, it can also be ethereal. I mean, I’ve heard The Messiah and the works of Bach. And DC Talk and Jars of Clay and Mercy Me.

Much odern music can lift our spirits to the heavens and bring glory to God. If you deny that, you just don’t know music.

“Learn from history.” A cappella singing was the exclusive practice of the Christian church for nearly 1,000 years. It’s still the practice of the Eastern Orthodox. After the Reformation, the Lutherans used instrumental music–leading to the glorious works of Bach. The Calvinists, however, were a cappella. The Anglicans remained instrumental after their split from Catholicism.

The Calvinist churches split over the issue about the same time the Churches of Christ did, with the great majority going instrumental. We fought over the same issue at the same time with many of the same arguments. After all, our founders, Stone and the Campbells, were Calvinists. They rejected Calvinistic theories of predestination and such, but they remained Calvinistic in the many of their worship practices. And most of their early converts were from the Baptist Church, which was very Calvinistic at the time–and thus also a cappella.

The Churches of Christ split from the rest of the Restoration Movement churches in the years leading up to 1906–but they also split over other issues, many of which are long forgotten–whether to allow located preachers (we were opposed!), missionary societies, using carnivals to raise money (we were opposed), and such.

I think instrumental music became the most prominent issue in our thinking because it so differentiates us from the rest of the believing world. We aren’t alone in this practice, but we are unusual–and people just naturally tend to define themselves by their differences rather than their similarities.

It is my observation that doctrines tend to become hardened once they result in divisions. We often even say, “Of course, instrumental music is a salvation issue–why else would we have split over it!” as though the behavior of our great, great grandparents defines Biblical truth!

This should be a warning to us. Divisive issues are emotional issues, even generations later, and hence rarely evaluated objectively. Indeed, we often test a proposed hermeneutic by whether it produces the “right” answer on instrumental music–very much putting the cart before the horse.

Hence, history teaches us to set aside our emotional attachment to the question and to try to be dispassionate and objective. Don’t get angry. Just try to honor God’s word by treating it fairly and evenhandedly.

“Woe to You Pharisees!”But I Say Unto You …” In two posts, we considered Jesus’ approach to hermeneutics. Interestingly, Jesus does not create new laws. Rather, he interprets pre-existing laws in new ways. He clearly never creates a rule banning instrumental music from worship.

His method of interpretation is to apply and even broaden the commands in light of the heart of God–the fact that God loves us all and so we must do the same. Indeed, this principle of love is so important to Jesus that he declares that the entirety of the Law of Moses and the Prophets are found in the Golden Rule.

It’s very hard to find a ban on instrumental music in the Golden Rule!

Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees warns us that there’s no safety to be found in imposing rules that God doesn’t. If there’s doubt, you can’t just assume that God prefers that a rule be imposed! In fact, it seems that the safer course is to err on the side of freedom.

After all, in Galatians, the leaders of that church were condemned–fell from grace–just because they required circumcision! At worst, it would seem a good health practice. Why not just insist on the rule–just in case? Why not be safe?

Paul condemned the Galatians because they sought salvation in rule keeping rather than in grace. He said, in effect, if you add anything to the plan of salvation as a further requirement for salvation, you’ve destroyed the plan of salvation. If you want to impose a rule as a condition of salvation, you’d better be right!

Conclusion. I’ve tried to offer an example of how a difficult, emotional issue can be considered using Bible-based hermeneutics. At this point, the reader should be able to reach a sound conclusion even though we’ve not even addressed the authority argument built on 1 Corinthians 4:6. Nor have we tried to construe the usual proof texts in Ephesians and Colossians. This is because if you start with a sound hermeneutic, you never even reach those questions.I have, however, addressed many of these arguments elsewhere. Look for the icon of the harp-playing angel under Index.

The fact is we’ve badly misinterpreted 1 Corinthians 4:6 (“Do not go beyond that which is written.”) out of its immediate and literary context. It just doesn’t mean that you have to have authority for each act of worship.

Other arguments are built on the importance of acting out of faith, assuming that if there’s no express command, it’s sin. The arguments build from such passages as–

(Rom. 14:23) But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

“Faith” is faith in Jesus, not ascribing to a doctrinal scheme (Rom. 10:8-10). In context, it particularly refers to accepting Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9), an important part of our faith. Hence, Paul’s point is that if you act contrary to God’s will as you understand it, you are violating your faith–your commitment to the Lordship of Jesus–even if you’re wrong, your heart is sinning.

This thought has nothing to do with the foreign notion that acts of worship must have authority.

The verses counseling us to sing simply do not address the question of instruments. They prove nothing and never have. The entire argument hinges on the assumption that specific authority is required for all that happens in the assembly, and it’s just not true.

God gave us guidance as to the purpose of the assembly (edification, encouragement) and he gave us good sense empowered by the Spirit to design our assemblies to achieve those goals in a way that addresses the needs of each local community and culture. That’s enough.


24 Responses

  1. This is nit-picking, but I’m not sure I believe the interpretation of the Nadab and Abihu story you present here. It seems to me that the command in the first situation was from God, the second at the instigation of Moses (and hence less punishable by death if Aaron can justifiably make a case against the order). It may be better to argue from the big picture of God and his nature ascertainable from the whole of Scripture – his supreme holiness but also his supreme grace – rather than try to rest your case on an interpretation of a difficult and confusing passage.

  2. Moses’ complaint against Eleazar and Ithamar was that they burned the goat rather than eating it–

    (Lev 10:16-17) When Moses inquired about the goat of the sin offering and found that it had been burned up, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons, and asked, 17 “Why didn’t you eat the sin offering in the sanctuary area? It is most holy; it was given to you to take away the guilt of the community by making atonement for them before the LORD.”

    Lev. 6:26 is God’s command that the goat be eaten by the priest rather than burned. Therefore, it is indeed God’s command that was violated.

    The point is not to build a case on the contrast between the two stories in Lev. 10, as that case is better made in other places, but to demonstrate that such stories as Nadab and Abihu have been misinterpreted over the years in a very destructive way.

  3. Jay you think its ok to have instruments in worship.

  4. I’m going to make a post ont his sonn come check it out at my blog.

    heres the link

  5. Jay, this is the most eye-opening of all of your writings. I’ve always wondered why God could be so specific in the old law regarding worship, yet most conservatives would dare venture to pick and choose verses and silences on which to build a “new law”. Disturbing indeed but exposed beautifully here.

  6. Good summury of this topic. I would add that the practical administration of a congregation requires the “meat for idols” principle. If many otherwise good Christians, have objections to instruments, and having or not having is not commanded, then for their sakes,, we should not have. Sadly, the weak in knowledge, wins because of love, per Paul. The hardest thing is to call the limit on weakness.
    I have surveyed many c of C websites, and find some offer multiple services, insturmental & non. The most common musical list is “singing in the traditional acapella style” without condemnation of others.
    Lastly, given full knowledge of no command in this area, we are free to choose. Several writers before 300ad noted that the church chose music to be different from the pagan temples. While every music concert in our society is not a pagan rite, perhaps when we come together to praise God, something simple, different than culture, encouraging participation rather than watching a performance, could be our best choice. Maybe chants were the best.

  7. I will say that any proclaimed church of Christ that uses instrumenntal music is not a church of Christ.

  8. Thanks. I’d actually forgotten that I’d written this (it’s two years old). Very encouraging to hear that it’s doing some good out there on the internet.

  9. Paden,

    Damned and sinning are two different things, right? What scripture says that those who use the instrument are damned (as opposed to sinning)?

  10. Jay if instrumetal music is a sin(wich it is and i strongly affirm that) then if you worship God with it all the time then you are living in sin.

    Besides the reason it is a sin is because it is an addition to Gods word and I assume you know the rest when I quote Revaltion 22:18-19

  11. And so all who sin are damned?

  12. Paden, all my life I heard this “law of exclusion” reason for style of music. The law is false, see Maxley in links for simple excellent writing on this. Without a non-Biblical law, there is no right or wrong in how we sing. Jesus never said anything about this.
    If you “know” its sin, please give the chapters & verses.

  13. uuggggggh! IM again?

  14. Hey … I’m starting a series on sex. It’s the readers who want to talk about the piano. I’m only posting here to turn the conversation toward the doctrine of apostasy, which is on my mind for some reason.

  15. That’ll get ’em in the door, LOL.

  16. Ok in about 2 weeks i’ll probably do a post on instrumental music all of you feel free to join in on discussion.

    But to larry I will say this. There is a way in wich we are told to worship. We are told to sing. There are two kinds of music instrumental and a capela. One is authorized and bring in the other is an addition. Here is what you are left with if you wish to justify it. Prove we have authoritie for it. You cant get out of having authoritie. Without authoritie we are free to do whatever we want. If you justify instrumental music then you justify anything.

    It is an addition to the bible and thats that.

  17. If you live in sin and dont change.

    Jay if you dont go to church the rest of life and insted go to a strip club every night will you go to heaven. No.

    If you worship God a differnt way then he has authorized and add to his word the rest of your life will you go to heaven. I will let you answere.

  18. Also to larry I am not sure what you were wanting me to look at when you said maxley.

    Are you refering to max lecado.

    If you are then I will say this about him. He left the truth a long time ago and is teaching false doctrine.

  19. That’ll get ’em in the door, Jay. LOL

  20. On this website, the first “other c of C link is Al Maxey’s “reflections”. He is in New Mexico, and plain spoken. By the way, I vote for acapella. But the Greek word for sing in most of Paul’s letters also referrs to pluck, as on a lyre, harp, etc.
    By the way, song books, song leaders, microphones, four part harmony are all additions. None of these were done in the first 300 years of the church. For that matter airconditioning, paid preachers, and church buildings are additions but no one seems concerned. We pick and choose which additions are sin.

  21. Larry I am not going to say alot more here on this but I want you to know something.

    I am going to male a post soon on this and hope you come over to my blog and read it. Just to let you know there is an answere to every thing you just said. I feel I am quit knowledgable on the subject and when it comes up over at my blog i hope you take part in discussion.

  22. Paden,

    So you’re saying that I’m not forgiven for any sin I’m currently committing? I have to actually stop each particular sin for God to forgive it?

  23. Paden,
    Instrumental music is not a sin. There is ZERO scriptural proof for it., What is sinful is that you condemn other believers in Jesus for using instruments, something the Bible does not teach. If anyone is in danger of not being saved it is the traditional COCer’s who insist that Acapella is the only way. I like both and use both. Those who condemn IM violate Paul’s teaching in Romans, the grace of Jesus Christ, and set up a NEW LAW, and speaks where the Bible does not speak. Anathema to all of you.
    Gary Cummings

  24. …add to that, Sunday worship. When was THAT authorized?

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