Dialogue with Robert Prater, Part 4

dialogueI’m stating my point a different way this time, as it’s obvious that Robert is not hearing what I’m trying to say.

I earlier wrote a post pointing out that it is inadequate for those in the conservative Churches of Christ to argue the following syllogism:

  • Major premise: All doctrinal error damns.
  • Minor premise: Instrumental music in worship is doctrinal error.
  • Conclusion: Instrumental music in worship damns.

(I used different words.)

Now, in this series of posts, my argument isn’t that instrumental music is permissible. (I’ve made that argument many times before in this blog, and it’s clearly indexed and easily found.) That is not the question for today. This discussion is a challenge to the Major Premise.

There are three and only three possible positions to take as to the Major Premise:

1. In fact, all doctrinal error damns.

2. Actually, no doctrinal error damns.

3. Some doctrinal error damns and some does not.

I’m entirely certain that Robert and I agree that 2 is wrong – and in fact very wrong indeed. We need not waste breath discussing it.

I reject position 1. I certainly don’t think doctrinal perfection is required to be saved – not even for the mature in Christ. Romans 14 – 15 are really quite clear.

My position is 3. I explained in the last post where I think God has drawn the line. I’ve actually written quite a lot on this site to explain my reasoning and conclusions in detail.

Even now, I do not know whether Robert accepts 1 or 3. I suspect his position is also 3, but as many of his arguments sound exactly like 1, I find myself uncertain.

So I honestly don’t know how to discuss this question with Robert, as he persistently refuses to take a position. (Worse yet, he accuses me of teaching many things that I do not teach. But I’m not going to take the bait and drift off point. We can come back to all that stuff later.)

Now, if Robert accepts 3, as I think is likely the case, I’ve asked him to explain by what scriptural principle he distinguishes those doctrinal errors that damn and those that do not. That’s where this conversation began.

Robert argues as some length that I shouldn’t even ask these questions as they indicate a desire to willfully disobey. It’s not so, and obviously not so.

There are plenty of righteous reasons we need to know God’s will regarding who falls away and who doesn’t. Here’s a start at such a list —

* It’s God’s will. If he taught it, it was for our learning.

* We have many brothers in Christ who believe they know where to draw the line. They readily damn the “denominations” as well as many within the Churches. If they are wrong, they are guilty of truly serious sin. How will we know whether they are right to damn the Baptists, the Christian Churches, and the progressive Churches of Christ unless we search the scriptures? Should we just take their word for it? Should I join them in their condemnation? Or work to oppose them?

* If these brothers are right, then I’m damned. I’m a progressive! And if I’m damned, I’d certainly like to be persuaded.

* As a Christian, I’m called by Jesus to seek and save the lost. Well, who is lost? How will I know unless I know the standard?

* As an elder, I’m called to try to rescue my church’s members when they are in jeopardy of falling away. Do I discipline members who disagree with me on hats? Or fellowship halls? Or instruments? Or the role of women? Now, I already teach on all these subjects. But what if I’m not persuasive? On what subjects must I demand agreement on penalty of loss of fellowship? All subjects?

I could go on. The point is that it’s wrong to argue that the question would only be asked by someone who wishes to disobey. There are plenty of obedient reasons to ask. Indeed, how could we not ask?

And yet every time I ask those who damn over instruments (or the role of women or divorce or whatever) how they reached their conclusion, I’m told —

* That all error damns.

* That instrumental music is error.

* Therefore, instrumental music damns.

When I ask whether all others errors damn, I’m told that God’s grace covers some error – but not all error. But error in worship surely damns.

When I ask whether all error in worship damns, I’m told that God’s grace covers some error in worship – but not all error. But instrumental music surely damns.

When I ask how we know that instrumental music is outside of grace but other error – even error in worship – is sometimes covered by grace, I’m told I want to teach people to intentionally violate God’s will.

In fact, many among my conservative brothers want the rest of us to accept their teaching without their having to bother to defend it from the scriptures. They can’t.

If they could defend their teachings from God’s word, they would. They don’t.

For new readers —

Robert’s and my earlier responses may be found here and here.

First post

Second post

Third post

Robert’s most recent comments

I have cut and pasted Robert’s entire comment below, so that it remains available to the readers, as I intend to come back to it.

Jay, once again I thank you for your very kind and generous space you have taken up your blog to respond and answer my comments. Once, again, it is with deep humility and sincerity of heart that I respond to your words First of all, I would say that we have applied a much more consistent standard with regard to fellowship and unity than you lead people to believe. It is very quite common to hear liberal brethren who like to critize the more conservative members of the church by saying, “We’ve spit and divided so much.”

I challenge that assertion and demand it be proven by data reliable, experienced church growth experts. Carl Mitchell, long time Bible professor at Pepperdine and Harding wrote:

“….we often hear those promoting them claiming that churches of Christ have become just as divided and sectarian as have the denominations. In answer, I would say that our “so called” divisions are not true divisions in the denominational sense. The various exponents of the restoration movement do have points of difference which affect some aspects of fellowship, but do not equate to the organic divisions of the denomitional world. They are not organically different churches. Typically, churches in the restoration momvent have remained true to the basis tenets of scripture regarding the church (Eph. 4:4-6) They recognize Jesus as the church’s only head, that all Christians are to be unified in one church (neither mine nor yours but Christ’s), that scripture is their only creed, local autonomy under the leadership of elders and deacons, the New Testament plan of salvation and (with the exception of some how have chosen to use instruments, or have opted for unscriptural roles for women), worship after the new Testament order.” (Direction for the Road Ahead, p. 227-228)

Thomas H. Olbricht a brilliant and tremendous scholar from Pepperdine University has written, ‘Certain groupings within Churches of Christ have drawn lines over Para-church institutions, Bible classes, multiply communion cups, one preacher churches, and a few other distinctions, but these together comprise less than 10 percent of the total of churches of Christ.”

Frank S. Mead, in this universally accepted classic book, on “Handbook of Denominations in the Unites States” makes very favorable and position statements regarding the amazing unity that does exist in the Church of Christ – he says despite being a “fellowship with no central headquarters, creed books or confessions of faith to preserve and keep unity.”

Yes, churches of Christ are autonomous. Yes it is not unusual to find variations from congregation to congregation.

Now, Jay, for the me the issue and subject is quite clear even though I understand that you and I strongly disagree on its “clarity.” The fact remains from the Old Testament to the New Testament that changing the instructions of God in every age and in any circumstances is always sinful and condemned. That it not uncertain.

Jay, I think I can at least in my mind, summarize the great major difference in our approach to scripture as follows: Having faith that God will accept what we do is not the faith of the Bible. The faith of the Bible believes that God will do what He has said and that His word is the final and only authority. (Matt. 7:21-24; Rom. 10:17) To go beyond what is written and add such things into God’s worship is not having faith in God but in ourselves.

Jay, you seem to hold the position that since the grace of God covers the ignorant and all of our error in some way that a person can continue to enjoy the grace of God and continue in error. “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” (Rom. 6:1-2) Paul seems to disagree with your assumption (which you just take too far) that ignorance allows people to continue in sin. I fear that you have redefined the grace of God. Many today are simplying refashioning Jesus of the Bible into a different Being—one who is unconcerned about obedience and whose “grace” forgives everybody unconditionally. I fear you have “over reached” the grace position and fear it will lead you even further down a road of ecumenicalism.

We must know how to love God, and God teaches us in the inspired word. Keeping that word is an act of love in response to the grace of God. When someone dos not keep the commandments, he does not show the love to God. (cf. John 14:15-25; 15:8-10)

God has always regulated worship. He has never left it up to us to come before Him as we please. Jesus laid down two requirements for acceptable worship when he said they must worship in “spirit” and in “truth.” It simply cannot be an either/or choice as it sadly seems to so often be the case in Christianity today. Jesus said that the Father is seeking a particular kind of worshipper. Everything we do must always be in according to “faith” (Rom. 10:17) Take for instance the worship Cain in the OT. Whatever he offered to God, we know it was not pleasing to God because it was not “according to faith” as opposed to Abel (See Hebrews 11:5) It seems today that the attitude is that God basically “has to” accept anything I offer to Him in religion and worship just as long as I offer it to Him sincerely. Again, we need both “spirit” and “truth” in worship and in our Christianity.

Now, I know, it is correct to say that there is some inconsistency in all of us. None would be so bold as to claim perfect conformity to every principle we espouse. Our personal or collective failures do not, however, nullify the validity of correct principles. It is especially disappointing, therefore, that any would disparage the necessity of seeking Bible authority by pointing to what they suppose are our inconsistencies.

In the first place, human consistency is not what validates a spiritual principle. Our inconsistency (and/or hypocrisy) can be an adverse influence. It can cause others to violate the principle, but the principle will still be correct. For example, we reject infant baptism because it is not authorized by “thus saith the Lord.” Will the inconsistencies charged above mean that the principle upon which we reject infant baptism is no longer valid?

In fact, however, while we confess that we may not always be consistent, the issues cited hardly make the case. To put the issue of acceptable worship practices in the same category as youth minister, buildings, pews, etc., is mixing “apples and oranges” and fails to distinguish between generic (general) and specific authority. Some things are authorized by generic authority. “Thus saith the Lord” is implied for things which are incidental to the instructions given.

Again, I think this whole debate and argument about “is instrumental a salvation issue” or “which error condemns and which doesn’t?” is a diversion away from the real question. Perhaps the easiest way to defend that which is indefensible is simply to declare that it is not an important issue. The question raises a smoke screen. It takes the focus away from the practice itself and puts all of the emphasis on whether it really matters one way or the other. What is one to do if he practices something for which he has no biblical authority? How is he to defend a practice that he prefers, yet cannot justify scripturally? It seems like to me that you are simply seeking to minimize the practice. Make it seem marginal and unimportant. If one does not have scriptural authority for what he practices, yet the unauthorized practice is “not a salvation issue,” then it does not matter whether the practice is authorized. Therefore, the proponents have no need to furnish biblical authority for his practice.

I challenge you to either deny or affirm that instrumental music in worship has New Testament authority in the worship of the church. I challenge you in your blog to prove that instrumental music in worship is scriptural. Instead, the question is asked, “Is it a salvation issue?” and “where in the Bible does it tell us which errors damn and which ones don’t? Where in the Bible tells it tells us that we have the right of God to hold to, teach, promote and practice any error, certainly error that leads to disruption and division within the body of Christ?

Sin is practicing in worship what the Lord did not authorize. This principle seems the most difficult
for some people to understand and accept. Not all worship is acceptable to God. Jesus clearly taught that worship is vain if men teach “as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). The inspired apostle admonished us “not to go beyond the things which are written” (1 Corinthians 4:6 asv). “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God” (2 John 9).

One of the clearest examples is that of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1: “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.” The English Standard Version says they “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.” The passage is abundantly clear. When Nadab and Abihu offered what God had not authorized, “Fire went out from the Lord and devoured them.” They did not argue that “unauthorized fire” was not a salvation issue.

The point at issue is not and never has been whether instrumental music in worship or any other practice is a salvation issue or “which errors damn and which ones don’t? The real question is whether it is a sin to introduce into the worship a practice that God did not authorize. If we will focus on that question, and determine what the Bible teaches, we will not be distracted by side issues and smoke screens.

To ask, “Is it a salvation issue?” without examining whether the practice is sinful in the sight of God is to put the cart before the horse. Let it first be determined if the practice is scriptural. If there is no scriptural justification, does the practice represent an unauthorized addition to the Word of God? Is it a sin to bring unauthorized worship into the assembly of the saints? When we answer these questions, the inquiry about whether we are dealing with a salvation issue will answer itself.

Jay, even in recent years, many Evangelicals are sounded some alarms overing worship that is without Biblical authority. In his chapter in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, John MacArthur states, “My concern is this: The contemporary church’s abandonment of sola Scriptura as the regulative principle [i.e., its abandonment of worshipping only in ways that are authorized by Scripture] has opened the church to some of the grossest imaginable abuses – honkytonk church services, the carnival sideshow atmosphere, and wrestling exhibitions.” (The Coming Evangelical Crisis, p. 181)

I recommend if you haven’t already, read John Price’s book, “Old Light on New Worship” Price makes the statement, “The regulative principle demands that those who would brin any addition into God’s worship must prove that they have scriptural warrant for doing so. In this case, the advocates of musical instrumentation must demonstrate from the New Testament that Christ demands their use in His worship. The burden of proof rest upon them, and, apart from such proof, they cannot and should not be used. And if we bring unwarranted additions into Christ’s worship, we transgress His authority and prove ourselves violators of His prerogatives.” (p. 54)

Years ago a tract in favor of instruments had the title, “Does the Bible Teach That a Person Will Be Damned if He Uses a Musical Instrument in Worship?” G. C. Brewer reviewed the tract and stated clearly what is the real issue:

Those who practice anything that the Lord commands are on safe ground; there is no question about the destiny of the souls who do what the Lord authorizes them to do. . . . If a man is doing something that causes anyone to question his chances of reaching heaven, then he is, without doubt, engaging in a questionable practice; and if such a man resents the implication that he might possibly be lost, he himself shows that he is appealing to sympathy and not banishing the question and removing the doubt.

At the end of the day, I agree with the late radio and TV preacher, Adrian Rogers who said: “It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error. It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills. It is not love and it is not friendship if we fail to declaim the whole counselor f God. It is better to be hatred for telling the truth than to be loved for telling a lie.”

Bottom line, should those who worship with instruments forsake them, I would gladly seek to have full and complete fellowship with them. At this point, how can I do anything but speak out against a practice that goes beyond (in my conviction) against the authority of Scripture? My first loyalty is to the will of God. I can’t cooperate and have full open fellowship with those who I believe continue to act outside the will of God – that would send a mixed signal in my opinion and will encourage more congregations and Christians to embrace the unscriptural practice of instrumental music in worship. Now yes, we are to still treat our brothers as brothers, even when there is a disruption in fellowship (2 Thess. 3:14-15).

For love of Christ and His church,
Humbly,
Robert Prater

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15 Responses

  1. It might be helpful, at least to me, if those referencing “Robert” would distinguish between “Robert Prater”, “Robert Baty” and other possible “Roberts”.

    At least on the front end of these things so folks might right away know when it isn’t about “me”!

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  2. “The various exponents of the restoration movement do have points of difference which affect some aspects of fellowship, but do not equate to the organic divisions of the denomitional world. They are not organically different churches. Typically, churches in the restoration momvent have remained true to the basis tenets of scripture regarding the church (Eph. 4:4-6).”

    Wow, if this isn’t a generalization! He seems to be saying that the church only needs to be from the right tradition (i.e. Restoration tradition) and singed unto the “franchise agreement” to be right with God. Well, he may know the 10 churches in his town, but does he know all of the COC congregations?

  3. I can’t help but wonder if so many of those who contend for the authority of scripture, and spend so much time worrying about how others worship, will in the end, upon pleading their devotion to the letter of the text, hear those dreadful words, “’I never knew you. Get away from me, you evildoers! (Matthew 7:23) That those who add their law of non-contradiction, to speak where inspired revelation is silent, will get the response Jesus gave in Matthew 12:7—“If you had known what ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice’ means, you would not have condemned the innocent”
    The additions of classical liberalism, the dismemberment of truth from beauty in the austerity of these radical protestant sects, the ahistorical understanding of scripture using the Baconian method of finding positive laws is the New Testament narrative that is stripped from its missional context is a dangerous error…!

  4. One thing I see though in this discussion is that words defined by tradition rather than dictionaries and etymologies create unusual ideologies. Can we define doctrine as truth? Can we define belief as an absolute ? If doctrine and belief can have variance for instance in the concept of interpreting can any syllogism stand?

    Doctrine is matter of the mind. Words like autonomy and denominationalism are words of structure and value.
    We use the word autonomy and denominational though as if is good to be isolated and to carry a 100 dollar bill is divisive ! No wonder stores post signs no large denomination accepted. Is this what mean by non denominational ?

    However what does stand clear is our maturity towards understanding leads us either together or farther apart. If we must compete for truth lets do it within the framework of a big God rather than a loud voice.

  5. A question for Robert Prater: Where does scripture distinguish between the apples and oranges – the “difference between generic and specific authority”?

    You cite a number of human authors.

    With all due respect to their scholarship and zeal: do they all agree on the difference between apples and oranges?

    Where does scripture define the difference between generic and specific authority?

  6. Go! – Generic or specific?

    Go in a Chevy! – Generic or specific?

    Go in a green Chevy! – Generic of specific?

    Go in a green, 4-door Chevy! – Generic or specific?

    Sing! – Generic or specific?

    Not being deeply invested in the present discussion on such things, I might simply propose that “generic” and “specific” are semantic terms we use to explain and understand the scriptures.

    I don’t doubt that the scriptures do distinguish between such, but will leave it to others to develop the specifics and relevance to the discussion here.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  7. Robert wrote

    Those who practice anything that the Lord commands are on safe ground.

    I think this gets close to the root of the issue.

    Those who require biblical autorization for everything they do are trying to “play it safe”. That’s not all bad. The problem is, there is no biblical command to “play it safe” in that way. That hermeneutic comes from human judgment, not from the scriptures themselves. Maybe “playing it safe” seemed to be a good idea in the beginning, but it evolved into a law in some people’s minds.

    Ironically, those who bind that extremely cautious approach on others are abandoning “safe” ground because the scriptures do not explicitly authorize us to bind prohibitive silence on others. On the contrary, we are commanded to accept one another without passing judgment over disputable matters.

  8. Robert states, “God has always regulated worship.”

    I do not agree with this generalization. And Robert offers no evidence to support this position.

    In fact, the only words Jesus ever spoke about worship were to the Woman at the Well, when he counseled that true worshippers worship in Spirit and in Truth.

    As is almost always true, Jesus looks at the heart as being more significant than the details of the behavior. He knows that if he has our hearts, he has us.

  9. Robert B.,

    Sing! – generic or specific?

    Sing with instruments! – generic or specific? (2 Chronicles 29:25; Psalm 150; Revelation 15:2)

    Sing without instruments! – generic or specific? (citation …?)

    How can that not be relevant to your comment?

  10. Isn’t it a little fascinating, that the Text clearly shows that they sang with instruments under the Law of Moses, and the angels sing with instruments in Heaven, but for some reason some believe we’d not allowed to sing with instruments under the New Covenant?

  11. Keith,

    It is relevant!

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  12. Jay, I think you once again for the space you are giving to our current “discussion,” and the spirit in which you are responding to my postings. Yes, we disagree with one another, but we don’t have to be ugly or mean spirited in our debate. We clearly and strongly disagree with each other’s position, yet we must treat each other with love and respect as brothers. I will strive to speak and act accordingly.

    First of all, to answer your question, I would agree with position 2, “Some doctrinal error damns and some does not.” However, I don’t agree with you on where God has drawn the line because I don’t think it’s as simple as you hope and desire to make it. That somehow, God has to specify and exactly “spell out” which commandments we can disregard and disobey and which error we can hold to, practice and promote, yet will not condemn and which ones will. Too simplistic. It’s too “legalistic.” (Now there’s a surprise for you, as you usually one to refer to people like myself as being more legalistic lol! And yes, I do agree that there certainly are “matters of preference” about which we should not raise an issue or judge one another. (cf. Romans 14) However, when we come together in our assemblies to worship God, and especially the issue of Biblical authority behind our worship practice, we are dealing with an entirely different type of issue. This is no “minor” or “small,” or a “preference” or non-issue we’re talking about. I’ll come back to this point of acting presumptuously in worship.

    But, let me try to deal with your question of “which error condemns and which errors do not?”

    Did God have to specifically and exactly throughout the Old Testament and on into the New Testament spell out which errors would condemn and which errors would not? I think not. There is a principle at play here that you and other progressive minded brethren in the church seem to struggle with accepting and recognizing. Changing the instructions of God in every age (especially in the area of worship) and in any circumstance is ALWAYS sinful and God condemns. That is not uncertain.

    Did God have to tell David that by moving the ark in another way, it was a salvation issue and an error which could condemn? How about with Nadab and Abihu and them bringing their “strange fire?” Where did specifically say that error would condemn? How about King Saul? When he offered a sacrifice and Samuel told him he had “not kept the command of the Lord your God gave you.” (1 Sam. 13:13). What command did Saul disobey? God never told Saul directly he could not offer a sacrifice. The command Saul disobeyed was God’s command authorizing the tribe of Levi to offer sacrifices. When God told the Levites to preside at the sacriricece He was also commanding all others not to do it. Saul disobeyed this “implied command” and as a result was rejected and severely punished for it.

    In 2 Chronicles 26:16-20, we read of Uzziah entering the temple to offer incense. Eighty courageous priests confronted him saying “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord.” Uzziah, the king, became angry, but the Lord struck him with leprosy which he had until he died. Thus, another case showing that when God designated certain people or certain things in worship, any other action is condemned.

    These examples, and there are some many others from the Old Testament are in the Scriptures for a reason, and they are for our learning (Rom. 15:4) so that we might have hope and not make the same mistakes. Are the Scriptures of the Old Testament never to reprove or correct us (2 Tim. 3:16-17)?

    But these are all Old Testament cases? While we are told to learn from such examples (1 Corinthians 10:11), is God as strict in the New Testament age about worshipping only as He commands? If God expected strict obedience to His worship instructions in both the Patriarchal Age and the Jewish Age, the presumption would be that He would expect strict adherence in the Christian Age. And that is exactly what we find. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul gives a strong rebuke to the Corinthians about how they were partaking of the Lord’s Supper. They had made of it a time of a common meal, a time which created divisions and insults to those who had less to bring. Paul reminds them in verse 24, that what he had told them about how to partake of the supper had come directly from the Lord, and he calls them back to the instructions he had given them before about how to partake. Note that Paul got the instructions about how to worship from the Lord and had passed these to the Corinthians. They, however, had added unauthorized things to their partaking of the communion. Paul urges them to return to what he had taught before. He further charges that those who have added these things would be worshipping “in an unworthy manner” and so are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27). Clearly this makes worshipping according to what has been revealed to us a matter of highest importance. Jay, what if they were to reject and ignore Paul’s warning? Would that become a ‘salvation issue?” An error which might condemn?

    The fact of the matter is that on matters of worship God has always given very specific teaching, and if there is any lesson to be learned from God’s dealing with people over the span of the Bible story, it is that when God tells His people how to worship Him, He expects them to follow His instructions exactly. Again, from the very first occasion of worship recorded in scripture, the case of Cain and Abel, it is clear than one can worship unacceptably. God wants His specific instructions about worship to be followed.

    Dr. Stafford North I believe says it well:
    ‘In view of what God has said in both the Old and New Testaments about how important it is to worship only as He has revealed, and in view of the condemnation that falls on those who do not, surely adding a kind of music not used by early Christians when under apostolic guidance must be viewed as a matter of importance. Does this raise it to the level of a salvation issue? Clearly there are worship errors that do reach that level. And here is the clincher: How can anyone be absolutely certain that God does not care whether one adds instruments or not? One may say he thinks God does not care, but there is no way, in view of all the Bible says about not departing from the revealed plan of worship, that anyone can be certain. Since we can be certain that singing without instruments is in harmony with God’s revealed plan, but cannot be equally certain that using instruments is acceptable, surely it is wiser not to use them.” (“Where Do You Stand on Instrumental Music? Where Should You Stand?”)

    Jay, I believe to have established a solid, well established scriptural principle to help us not in thinking in terms of the question you want to raise: which doctrinal errors damn and which do not? But rather, let’s faithfully respect God’s commandments by obeying them and not worry ourselves with whether or not if we don’t keep them will God condemn us or not? Clearly, the evidence that God has done so in the past and warns us in the present to faithful respect and obey His commandments and instructions for His people in the church.

    Let me give you some more examples of what I’m talking about. Jay, how about congregations that favor a monthly or weekday obverstance of the Lord’s Supper? It is a fellowship issue? Error which could potentially condemn? Does God have to spell it out exactly and specifically in such matters? Is there not a principle that established of faithfully following what God has commanded us in this regard? Does God give us the right to practice it without regard what He has commanded? We read about the early church “abiding in the apostles doctrine….” (Acts 2:42) and one of areas that remained faithful to was in the “breaking of break” (most scholars believe is a reference to the Lord’s Supper). Acts 20:7 we have an example of an apostle of Jesus Christ faithfully remaining in the apostle’s doctrine by assembling with the Lord’s church on the first day of the week to break bread with the disciples. (Acts 20:7) Do we have the right to ignore that and practice and teach whatever we want not right abide and remain ourselves in the apostle’s doctrine? (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2, 23; Phil. 3:16, 17; 4:9)

    How about congregations who decide to ignore or reject the Biblical example and authority of supporting the work of the church through the weekly free will offerings and giving of the Lord’s church on the first day of the week? How about if they decide to support the work of the church instead through fundraisers, community chili suppers, lottery tickets, garage sells, etc. (1 Cor. 4:6, 17; 7:17; 11:2; 16:1-3; 2 Thess. 3:4)

    How about congregations where women are allowed to preach and teach and have authority of men? Serve as deacons and elders? What if a congregation decides to just forget the concept of deacons and elders and form their own (better they think) way of organizing the spiritual leadership of the congregation? Salvation issue? Fellowship issue? Error which could condemn? Do they have the “right” without judgment or condemnation from other believes and most certainly God, act contrary to the clearly revealed Scriptural pattern? (Acts 14:23; 1 Cor. 14:34, 35; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 2:11, 12, 15; 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9) Does God give us the right to teach, practice and promote false teachings and error such as Premillennialism? Praying to God through Mary? Infant baptism? How about the false doctrine of “once saved always saved?” How about the doctrine of Calvinism? (Sometimes referred to as the “Tulip?”) Need I go on?

    Which errors damn and which ones don’t Jay? I think you are asking the wrong questions. Where do we the right to add to or take away from God’s authority and commands and teachings as given by Christ and His inspired apostles and other New Testament writers?

    Let me come back your major premise and question, which I think is illegitimate and also quite frankly, an emotional ploy and tactic. (“After all, who among us could even imagine claiming to be without error on any subject or matter?”) Again, as I stated in my last post, I think you and others have “redefined” the subject of grace. I think your question misunderstands the nature of grace and salvation. There will never be no such thing as a perfectly “faithful child of God” whose only deviation from the will of God is the use of instruments in worship. No one’s salvation is dependent on their perfect sinlessness. G. C. Brewer said,
    “We do not use instrumental music in worship because there is no authority for it in the New Testament. This is the position we take and this is the issue between us and those who use the instruments. Anything else that may be brought into the discussion is irrelevant and confusing. This is the issue. “It is not a question of who will be damned or who will not be damned. It is not a question of how good and sincere some people are who use instrumental music in worship–good and sincere people by the millions sprinkle babies, confess to the priest and count beads in prayer, etc. It is not a question of how far wrong a man may be and still be saved, or of how many things that we may do that God has not authorized and still be Christians. It is a question of what the New Testament authorizes us to do in worship and what it does not authorize. “When we obey God’s word we have God’s promises—including eternal salvation. When we refuse or fail or fall short of God’s will, God will judge us. We are told not to judge one another.” (A Medley on the Music Question or a Potpourri of Philology, Gospel Advocate Company, 1948, pp. 12-13).

    Jay, Christians have eternal life by virtue of faith in Christ, and are to live by faith (Romans 1:16-17). But what we do, as a matter of faith in Christ, is governed by principles found in God’s word, for “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). We cease to “live by faith” when we base our convictions and practices on human desire, however well-intentioned. Again, Jesus exposed this spirit in the Pharisees by quoting the prophet Isaiah. “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). Jesus wasn’t just condemning their worship practices; He was condemning their self-service that rendered worship meaningless. That same spirit thrives today.

    Jay, we eat the Lord’s supper, sing, pray, and teach in our worship assemblies because God’s word shows those same practices by first century Christians under the direction of the apostles (see Acts 20:7-12; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; 1 Corinthians 14). We contribute money to the furtherance of God’s work because God’s word so orders (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Moreover, we limit the day of eating the supper and giving of our means to Sundays, because that seems to be the clear of import of our Bible examples. By faith, we employ the same practices as revealed in God’s word. But outside of divine revelation, we have no basis for faith or religious action.

    Jay, the issue then become submission to God. This is the major issue for every believer. This submission must pervade everything I do. This being so, my submission in worship to Him is likewise critical. We dare not presume that God will accept in worship what He has not specified. Who are we to sit in judgment upon His wisdom? The Scripture furnishes us with all of the instruction we need to approach God acceptably. It equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17). By singing with our lips, we can accomplish everything God intended our worship in song to be. Why not be content to do just that? Improvising is dangerous.

    Now, of course, I leave all the eternal judging and condemnation to God. (This is not addresing the unity and fellowhship which in my next posting I’ll discuss further) But, yes of course, at the end of the day, God is God and I am not! And as such, God is free to judge according to His own dictates and choices. I cannot legislate to God what God can and cannot do; how God can and cannot judge His creation. And yes, we all need the “grace of God” to make! it But, that still doesn’t negate what God has commanded us to do and what He expects out of His children and even warns us about remaining faithful to His Word and many passages that even warn of the dangers of “falling from grace.”

    Yes, I do know this, God will judge me according to the very standard with he will judge you and every other soul who has ever lived since Christ. By the Words of Christ. (John 12:48) Neither you or I are in the place to judge people’s eternal soul. We are however, commanded to judge righteously the fruit–actions.

    Lastly, let me do say this to try to answer further your question, about error that condemns and error which doesn’t Is there not a clear cut distinction between a heresy and an error and between a factionist and one with a mistaken view? One who holds a doctrinal error is not a factionist, but one who is push and seeks to gain disciples for his view. Heresy is not simply being honestly mistaken on a matter of doctrine, but the evil effort to create division within the body of Christ. This might mean that I would never brand a brother who holds I believe a personal conviction like your view on instrumental music (or Premillennialism view, etc.) as a “heretic,” though I would insist that those views are not according to scripture. But, we could still have unity and fellowship in the body of Christ as long as you didn’t try to “build a party” (which I’m afraid your blog is doing to some degree) and practice such as the leaders in the Chrisian Church have done in the past and continue to to in the present. If you were to do that, you would be a factionist, whether right or wrong in doctrine. Heresy is therefore a behavioral problem just as much as it is a doctrinal problem. Scriptures such as in Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Phil. 3:17-18; Titus 3:10)

    In any Bible discussion, when we are trying to come to a more realistic understanding of the instrumental music issue or any issue, we must ask this question: does such a belief, behavior, or practice violate an instruction of God? If indeed the matter violates the instructions of God, then it can potentially become a salvation issue.

    I do believe that it is entirely possible for this to become a salvation matter. Because there is enough evidence to me to show that adding the instrument can rise to the level of tampering with God’s word, of speaking when God is silent. One does not have a specific prohibition for it, but the Bible everywhere condemns men for “innovations” and “going beyond God’s Word.” (Jer. 23:16-40)

    Now of course, a novice or babe in Christ will not be judged the same as a stronger and more mature Christian. My question is: What of the church leaders who, departing from a unified view, and grant permission to go beyond the instructions of Scripture be held accountable? Will not teachers incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1)? Can they knowingly continue to practice their presumptuous ways?

    Again, I do not have the right to pronounce any final “eternal judgment” upon those who use instrumental music or on any matter. But, my job and yours is to as best as we can, faithfully proclaim and encourage all people to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thess. 2:15) To remind people that said Jesus that the Word he spoke will judge them in the last day. (John 12:48) And you and I both know and believe that Jesus continued to give His “Word” through His inspired apostles and other N.T. writers—1 Cor. 14:37.

    In my next response, which will be in a few days (and which will be my last posting in our discussion), I want to come back to the historical position and view regarding instrumental music and the issue of fellowshipping error and unity today.

    Sincerely in Christ,
    Robert Prater

  13. Robert wrote:

    However, when we come together in our assemblies to worship God, and especially the issue of Biblical authority behind our worship practice, we are dealing with an entirely different type of issue.

    This is a fundamental assumption in your argument, for which I don’t see any scriptural evidence. It appears to me to arise from fallible human judgment. So everything built on this assumption is also fallible.

    Did God have to specifically and exactly throughout the Old Testament and on into the New Testament spell out which errors would condemn and which errors would not?

    That question is a red herring. We know there are errors which lead to condemnation, and others which do not. Jay gave a list of perfectly valid reasons why we need to be able to discern between the two classes of error.

    While we are told to learn from such examples (1 Corinthians 10:11), is God as strict in the New Testament age about worshipping only as He commands?

    It is disputed whether God has commanded everything that conservatives generally claim. It is further disputed that the New Testament contains laws in the same sense as the Old. Having said that, deliberate disobedience is condemned in both testaments.

    The fact of the matter is that on matters of worship God has always given very specific teaching

    This is also disputed. There is nothing in the NT that is even vaguely similar to Leviticus. We derive weekly communion from a single scriptural example of it being taken on one particular first day of the week (along with non-inspired history from the second century). We derive weekly contribution into the general fund of the church from weekly collection of a gift to the poor in a remote city. Where is the “very specific teaching” about a cappella music? That is at best an inference, and one that is disputed by many. The OT law was vastly more specific than the instructions in the NT.

    Since we can be certain that singing without instruments is in harmony with God’s revealed plan, but cannot be equally certain that using instruments is acceptable, surely it is wiser not to use them

    We’re back to the “safety” argument, which is purely human reasoning. No scripture tells us to use that hermeneutic.

    But rather, let’s faithfully respect God’s commandments by obeying them and not worry ourselves with whether or not if we don’t keep them will God condemn us or not?

    Jay has addressed this previously. Neither Jay nor anyone else here is choosing to disobey. There are valid reasons to care about what errors can be condoned, and that is not one of them.

    Acts 20:7 we have an example of an apostle of Jesus Christ faithfully remaining in the apostle’s doctrine by assembling with the Lord’s church on the first day of the week to break bread with the disciples. (Acts 20:7) Do we have the right to ignore that and practice and teach whatever we want not right abide and remain ourselves in the apostle’s doctrine?

    Acts 20:7 is evidence that it is OK to take communion on Sunday. It is not evidence that it is wrong to take it on Thursday night (as Jesus did with his apostles), nor is it evidence that it is sin to fail to take communion on a particular Sunday.

    How about congregations who decide to ignore or reject the Biblical example and authority of supporting the work of the church through the weekly free will offerings and giving of the Lord’s church on the first day of the week?

    There is no biblical example of collecting money weekly for the expenses of the local congregation. Absolutely none. But we are obviously expected to have funds to support the minister, elders, qualified widows… Therefore, even by conservative hermeneutics the source of funds is an expedient. It is exactly analogous to the mode of transportation used to go and make disciples. We are free to chose a method to raise funds.

    How about congregations where women are allowed to preach and teach and have authority of men?

    At least on this question we do have a clear scriptural command (and an emphatic one, at that). But we still have to make a distinction between those who understand the command but disobey, and those who misunderstand the command.

    Which errors damn and which ones don’t Jay? I think you are asking the wrong questions.

    Again, Jay has given sound reasons why it is important to consider that question. Your arguments against his question are straw man arguments, because they don’t address the substance of what he is saying.
    Robert quoted G.C.Brewer who said:

    It is a question of what the New Testament authorizes us to do in worship and what it does not authorize.

    No. 1000 times, no! It is a question of whether authorization is needed for every detail of worship, not whether authorization exists for a particular detail. The two sides are talking past each other, not to each other. Conservatives assume their hermeneutic is correct, and it is not. No progress can be made until that assumption changes.

    Jay, the issue then become submission to God.

    Robert, the issue is whether conservatives will submit to the clear biblical instructions in Romans 14-15. Accept one another without passing judgment. Keep your objections between yourself and God. And don’t put a stumblling block in your brother’s way. God is able to make him stand, and he will do it. Will conservatives submit to that, or will they willfully disobey?

  14. I would have to point out that it is at least equally logical to reason that since God commanded instrumental worship in David’s era, never rescinded the command in scripture and revealed to John instrumental worship in heaven, the only “safe” way to worship. It could be argued that a cappella worship changes the instructions of God in this age, which you describe as sinful and which God condemns, Robert P.

  15. That doesn’t sound “logical” to me, and both might be “equally illogical”.

    I thought the New Testament commanded instrumental music and even named the instrument (i.e., specific as opposed to generic).

    But perhaps that has already been covered in the extensive postings which I have not reviewed.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

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