Instrumental Music: An Experiment in Christian Dialogue

Angel with harpSo it’s been a long, hard week. It’s been encouraging to have 50 or 60 comments a day — I mean, I remember when getting just one spam comment was cause for rejoicing! But, man, it’s hard to keep up with the reading!

And as might be expected for a Church of Christ website, the conversation heads off into all sorts of directions that I never anticipated. And that’s no complaint. I’m delighted people are talking.

But as I was pondering all this on my way to meet my wife for our Friday night date, it occurred to me that there might be a way to encourage frank and thoughtful exchange of ideas in a more directed way — so that the readers don’t burn themselves out trying to keep up with the reading and answering challenges from 20 directions at once. I mean, I’m not involved in most of the discussions because I just can’t keep up — and I’m pretty obsessed with the blog.

So here’s the idea. The issue of the day seems to be instrumental music. Both sides know the other sides’ arguments pretty well. Many of the discussions are headed in a profitable direction, but I thought it might be helpful to start a discussion that begins at the beginning. And rather than me just up and saying what I believe, I thought I’d limit my participation (most of the time) to working through the arguments made by the conservative side — and they are many.

My role would be to point out the logical fulcrums or pivot points — the key points on which the arguments stand.

Here’s the first —

The Dichotomy

The scriptural argument against instrumental music normally begins with an argument for the Regulative Principle — the term for the teaching that silence in the scriptures is a prohibition.

The argument is that silences are either permissions or prohibitions. If they are all permissions, then we can worship Mary or dance during the sermon or burn prayer candles because there’s no prohibition against such things. Therefore, they are all prohibitions.

This is plainly a false dischotomy as a matter of logic, as is easily shown. Girls, I’ve observed, are either pretty or ugly. Well, it can’t be that all girls are ugly, because I’ve been to the movies and I’ve seen [insert name. The only pretty movie stars that come to mind just prove how old I am]. So as I’ve clearly shown that girls aren’t all ugly, they must be all pretty.

And that’s a ridiculous argument, because the truth is that some girls are pretty and some girls are ugly. And some of kind of in between. And some are really pretty to some people but not to others. You see, just because a given girl might be pretty or ugly, that doesn’t mean girls as a group are all pretty or all ugly. Obviously.

You see, it’s elementary logic that the opposite (negation) of “all silences are permissions” isn’t “all silences are prohibitions.” No, the opposite is “not all silences are permissions” = “some silences are prohibitions.” You know, it’s possible, at least in theory, that some silences are permissions and some are prohibitions. It’s possible.

For example, if I tell my son, “Go to the store and pick up a jug of milk,” and he comes back with milk and hamburger helper, he may have disobeyed or he may have noticed that we’re out of hamburger helper and that we really needed hamburger helper and, using the good sense God gave him, made a good decision. After all, he’s my son and I’ve taught him good judgment. You see, it depends on much more than just whether I was silent.

Just so, in the area of worship, the silences may be filled with love, the Spirit, the purposes of the assembly, the nature of our faith, or other things besides whether there is a command. It’s possible.

But — and this is a big “but” — it could still be true that God intends for us to interpret all silences as prohibitions. Logic and language won’t reach that conclusion all on their own, but if God has said in the scriptures that all silences are prohibitions (or, more exactly, that the church’s activities all require scriptural authority), then they are. It will then depend on revelation more than logic, and that’s a far more solid foundation on which to build an argument.

Therefore, to my way of thinking, the real test — and the test where conservatives are glad to take their stand — is whether the scriptures themselves insist that authority is required.

The scriptures

And so, I think it would be helpful to both sides of the debate to spend some time wrestling with God’s word as it has been argued to apply to this question — one passage at a time.

The passage I’ve heard most commonly argued is 1 Cor 4:6 —

(ESV) I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

I’ve commented on this one before, and I’ve never found the Greek to bear particularly on it (although someone may well prove me wrong). Rather, to me, the interpretation depends on the context.

The readers should know that 1 Corinthians may well have been the earliest of the New Testament books to be written. If it’s not the earliest, it’s among the earliest.

And so, I’d like to invite all sides to share how they exegete the text in context. What did Paul mean to say to the church in Corinth when he wrote this?

Now, if it turns out this passage does not teach the Regulative Principle, that doesn’t defeat the argument, because there are other passages argued for that rule. But this is a very commonly quoted passage to make the case.

In two or three days, I’ll post another passage frequently argued to support the Regulative Principle. So that I’m not accused for picking only those passages the progressives find easy to refute, I’d appreciate receiving a not-too-long list of passages that support the Regulative Principle from someone on the conservative side.

I’m going to try to stay out of the discussion — mainly because I’ve just gotten my copy of N. T. Wright’s After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, and I’ve promised to review it in the next two weeks (rather like telling me that I have to eat ice cream in the next two weeks! I mean, I’m so looking forward to this book!) I can’t promise to stay out, of course, because I am who I am, but that’s the plan.


46 Responses

  1. Jay

    Not to go beyond what is written.

    If 1 Corinthians was one of the first book written, what is Paul talking about….The Old Testament or the New that is yet to come ? Or is this a rebuke about the Gnostics?


  2. I don’t know what text Paul is referring to when he puts up himself and Apollos as exemplifying the meaning. There is a lot I don’t understand about the passage and situation. It doesn’t exactly jump out at a person that he is talking about something that is analogous to the laws and bylaws of a corporation or a piece of legislation detailing specific things. It is difficult to see how such vagueness could support a ruling on church music that draws a boundary between one small group of Christians and which separates them from the rest of the millions and millions of other Christians. I take heart from something Paul said a couple of chapters later where he says “Everything is permissible to me but not everything is beneficial”. That, it seems to me, conveys that we are to use our judgement to assess what benefits a body for a particular place and time.

  3. Jay, I also just received my copy of Wright’s new book and need to read it ASAP, but I find this such an enticing starting point for this kind of discussion that I can’t avoid wading in. Firstly, to be up-front about which “side” I’m on, my history involves ICOC and quite a lot of COC invovlement as we “transitioned”. ICOC took the silence = permission stance, and I’ve got plenty of friends who take the silence = prohibition stance. Somewhere in the early part of that transition I read something about Christ being the answer to every single issue faced in the world, about Christ being testified to by all of Scripture, about Christ being the content of the gospel, about the church growing up into Christ, about even the nature of God’s revelation changing in a remarkable way: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1). I’m afraid I would gladly dance during a sermon if the preacher was proclaiming the glories of Christ!

    This text, if nothing else, must bring us to shift our focus from taking “sides” to finding Christ in all his supremacy in the centre and doing away with our pride. Here’s my thinking as to why:

    – The flow of the argument from 3:1 has regarded their quarelling (taking sides, following Paul or Apollos, etc.), which to Paul is evidence enough that they are “mere infants in Christ”, and that they are worldly (which he has been contrasting with spiritual).
    – Paul’s view of his Apostolic ministry is massively Christ-centred: Apostles chosen by Christ, to build as servants upon a foundation laid by Jesus Christ.
    – The seriousness of all this is that the church is God’s temple (“you” in 3:16 refers to the community, collectively); destroy God’s people whom he is forming in Christ, and God will destroy you.
    – “All things are yours … and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (3:21-23) – Paul wants the Corinthians to get the magnitude of the implications of the gospel. In Christ, God is restoring all things, he is finally creating a people in his image (in the One who truly bears that image), and they will receive the entire inheritance – all things! The idea of sitting around arguing over “sides” in that context is outrageous and counter to God’s all-encompassing project in Christ.
    – Thus chapter 4, where Paul applies the things he’s already stated about Apostleship (chosen by Christ, building upon the foundation laid by Christ) to tell them not to be so interested in comparing him with others or taking his “side” or another’s “side” – God will judge Paul’s efforts at the appropriate time, for now it doesn’t really matter – he’s just a servant doing his best in what he’s been called to do.
    – So to 4:6. The “do not go beyond what is written” genuinely is “notoriously difficult” (as Fee says) – but whatever it meant, the thrust is towards the sentence “Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” IF we understand that Christ has laid the foundation, that Christians are variously gifted and called to build upon that foundation, that God is jealous for the people he is creating in Christ and will destroy anyone who destroys his community of believers, then we should get over taking sides and delight together in the tremendous inheritance that is ours if we are faithful to Christ.

  4. I wrote a blog article a while back on this passage. In a nutshell:

    The Corinthians had been inappropriately judging Paul, Apollos, Peter, and their followers, and taking pride in one man over against another. They had formed opinions about how things should be, and how they should not be, in areas that were not spelled out by God. And they were forming factions around those opinions. It was in this context that Paul called on them to learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” They needed to stop forming factions over issues that were not written in the scriptures.

  5. Does anyone actually believe that all silence is prohibitive? Isn’t the whole idea of the doctrine of expediency that some silence is permissive?

  6. Perhaps the key to the saying “Do not go beyond what is written” can be found in the Old Testament scriptures Paul has already quoted in the letter when he said of almost every one of them “It is written …”

    In defending the message of the cross as the power to save, 1 Corinthians 1:19 quotes part of : “the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

    1 Corinthians 1:31 abbreviates Jeremiah 9:24a: “but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD,”.

    1 Corinthians 2:9 quotes Isaiah 64:4: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

    1 Corinthians 2:16 quotes Isaiah 40:13: “Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?”

    1 Corinthians 3:19 quotes Job 5:13: “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.” And in the next verse, 1 Corinthians 3:20, he quotes Psalm 94:11: “The LORD knows the thoughts of man; he knows that they are futile.”

    Without exception, these snippets of scripture build Paul’s case that God’s wisdom is so far superior to man”s that it makes no sense to regard one man above another. And to me, that explains the saying (whether it came from Paul, or Apollos, or elsewhere): “Do not go beyond the word.” The word contains God’s wisdom, superior to that of any man.

    “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” ~ 1 Corinthians 4:20

    So, I would have to say that if the Regulative Principle turns out to be expressed explicitly in the word of God – in so many words, like the principle of God’s superior wisdom above – then it represents His wisdom and we should should obey it without compromise.

    And if it turns out, in later installments of this series on Jay’s blog, to be an interpretation drawn from a heterogeneous compilation of unrelated scriptures, disconnected from any common theme (unlike those above), then it is a teaching of man; it is not inspired; and we should not be compelled to accept it.

  7. Kieth

    Right on…thank you.


  8. I have been playing the piano in churches for over 20 years. God gave me a talent so I use it to glorify Him. I don’t think it is wrong to use the talents we have to praise and worship the God we serve.

    However, there is a flip side. I have often seen musicians get the praise and honor because of what they can do. Christ must have preeminence in all things. A church musician should be humble in what he or she does and give God the glory for the ability he / she has.

    Additionally, everything that is done in a church should point to or support the Gospel message. If it does not, then it should not be allowed.

    Finally (and this is really beside the point), I like GOOD a capella music. However, if the singing is not good, then I would suggest bringing in several instruments to cover it up.

  9. I believe Alan has neatly summed up the context this verse sits in, for which Paul is using the OT quotations (which Keith has reminded us of) to make his point.

    Those who take this passage out of its context as fuel to defend their regulative principle seem to rest on the presumption that the NT is a new law like Torah but with some different rules.

    Here is my example of the false dichotomy the regulative princicple assumes. If I telll my son “run to the store and buy me some milk” does that mean I my instruction to “run” excludes him from taking a car or riding a bus to the store? Language just does not work that way.

    Grace and peace,


  10. Bryan

    in 1960 I heard Amazing Grace in a congregation df the Church of Christ in Alex, Oklahoma. You can’t get any more rural and poor in wealth than Alex, Oklahoma.

    The singing was not all that great but to me it was awesome. I had never heard Amazing Grace sung quite like that. I am sure that to God it was as beautiful as any chorus of angels. It was from their hearts.


  11. I have learned over the years to not express an opinion that any woman is ugly or that I find any woman other than my wife to be pretty. However, I have met some pretty ugly men in my life. 😉

    Yet another discussion about IM among CofC folks could also turn out to be pretty ugly. I appreciate the suggestion that it could be done in a manner that would be reasonable and beneficial, but I also have 60 years experience with the CofC. So far the comments are encouaging. Let’s hope it lasts.

    One thing I wouild point out is that there seems to be little emphasis on the actual words sung (the fruit of the lips) in our discussions of church music. I suspect that could also arouse controversy in our fellowship with some liking the old songs (fossilized theology) and some the new songs (7-11 songs employing 7 words and 11 notes). I’ll have to agree that poor folks singing Amazing Grace from hearts is always rich and beautiful music.

  12. The view that Paul is refering to his own OT quotes when he says “not to think above what is written” is interesting. Especially since Acts tells us that Apollos was from Alexandria and we know Alexandrian Jews had a tendency to “think above what is written” by making everything in the Old Testament allegorical. Perhaps Paul is instructing them to interpret the Old Testament literally rather than allegorically as Apollos does.

  13. Bob S., wouldn’t that contravene Paul’s entire point? He’s strongly advocating that they cease favouring either Paul or Apollos and instead uphold Christ. To just throw in a little comment calling them to align with his hermeneutic over Apollos’ would undo the whole thing, wouldn’t it?

  14. The context has been well-covered by the previous commenters. What I have never received a clear answer on from conservatives is how far they carry this principle. Most say it only applies to worship, although the context is not worship, but pride and interpersonal relationships (or something like that).
    It seems to me that the logical conclusion of the conservative view of 1 Cor. 4:6 is that we should not do anything that the scriptures do not mention, which, of course, even they do not believe.

  15. I agree that music from the heart is rich and beautiful. Good music goes beyond singing in tune and with great harmony. One of my favorite songs to hear is Do Not Pass Me By when it is sung by the congregation at the Jimmy Hale Mission. It is beautiful in its own way because it is sung with such feeling.

    I guess my whole point is that doesn’t matter to me if the music is sung with an instrument or not as long as it is done well (or at least to the best of one’s ability).

    As a musician and former music educator, I am sometimes annoyed whenever I hear church musicians and / or choir members justify their poor performances by saying, “It wasn’t good but at least we made a joyful noise unto the Lord.” Certainly that saying is in the Bible and if a joyful noise is the best a person can do then I don’t have a problem with it.

    However, most singers and instrumentalists can do better if they would put forth the effort and practice. My response to the “joyful noise” comment comes from Psalms 33:3b… “play SKILFULLY with a loud noise”
    (emphasis mine).

    My comment about using instruments to cover up bad singing was in reference to poor performances done by those who have the ability to do better. It certainly was not intended for those who have little or no musical background but still love to sing and sing from the heart. I certainly do apologize for not making that clear in my previous comment.

    While I do believe that our best music in this life is “noise” when compared to the music of the Heavenly realm, I don’t think that should be used as an excuse not to give the best of our abilities to the praise and honor of our Lord.

    I have enjoyed reading the comments regarding this issue. Thanks to those who responded to what I had to say…

  16. summer,

    You raise an interesting question. In Reformed theology, the Regulative Principle was limited to worship, on the theory that God is particularly concerned about the worship service.

    However, the Churches of Christ have expanded the principle to pick up church organizations (to oppose missionary societies) and the use of the church treasury (to oppose missionary societies and, for some, orphans homes).

    I’ve heard it argued by some that the RP applies to all of life — which seems to be an essential claim unless you can show how it’s limited. But if it applies to all of life, life gets really complicated.

    I have a copy of Lipscomb and Sewell’s book Answers to Questions compiling their responses to all sorts of questions while they edited the Gospel Advocate 100 years ago. The apply the RP to literally everything.

    If someone asks whether it’s ok to play croquet, they respond by first determining whether there is authority — express or implied — for croquet. Yes, really.

    They are quite inconsistent, sometimes arguing that authority is essential, sometimes arguing that the absence of a prohibition is enough. But their thinking is never far from RP.

  17. The context of 1 Cor 4:6 definitely points toward the result that “You do not take pride in one man over against another.”

    I doubt that the issue in Corinth was whether to follow Paul or follow Apollos. After all, he said, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit.” I have often heard preachers do similar things (and have done it myself): “Now if Charlie and I had a fight…..” when Charlie is really one of my best friends and everyone knows it.

    There was no competition between Paul and Apollos – but there was competition between some leaders in the Corinthian church. Paul just did not embarrass them by calling their names.

    In context the passage is dealing with exalting men to a level no man should occupy. This is “preacheritis” gone to seed.

    As someone observed above, it is a long step from this to thinking that the Scripture must specifically “authorize” every word and every action. In fact, I know of know brethren who consistently accept that as a regulative principle – and I’ve graduated from five Christian schools (from 1st grade through MA plus 2 years at SSOP) and preached for most of my 70 years, so I think I know a little about how my brethren think and argue.

    I still have not seen anything on this thread defending the conservative use of this verse as a “proof text.”

  18. Jerry Starling points out that no respondent to this blog has attempted to defend the conservative use of this verse to prove the regulative principle applies to us who are in Christ. It doesn’t. Yet each varying law which separates one Church of Christ sect from the other Church of Christ sects is just a further use of the regulative principle which caused them all to believe in an anti-instrument law. The apostle Paul still pleads with us all to seek unity in Christ by not adding to what the apostles revealed, either to require or to forbid.

  19. Despite my shared background in the tradition(s), I’m really NOT into the CoC controversies. I’m a missiologist more interested in critical contextualization, active evangelistic engagement, and pursuit of justice. And I find myself much more aligned with original Stone-Campbell impulses than what has evolved since then. But a friend sent me a link to the site.

    I must say that I’ve always thought that the silence hermeneutic is quite strange. The same churches that feel so strongly about silence dictating a restriction on musical instruments, build church buildings that are never mentioned in the New Testament — especially since they didn’t exist for three centuries. I’m not condemning church buildings, just making an observation.

  20. Main-line Churches of Christ use the same arguments against Instrumental Music that Non-institutional Churches of Christ use against cooperative efforts. Yet, they cannot see the fallacy in their basic premise: that anything not specifically “authorized” is forbidden.

    That is, it’s forbidden unless it is something they want to do. Then they bring in the “law of expediency” to justify what they want to do – but if someone else calls on that law to justify something the other wants to forbid, it is going beyond what is written!

    Consistency, thou art a jewel! It is this inconsistency that Jay and Todd pointed out consistently in the Grace Conversation dialog a few months ago.


  21. I like KB’s list of quoted scriptures very much. It as good a way to understand 4:6 as any I’ve seen.
    Al Maxey does a good job of noting how Jesus sees additions to the law. (Look up law of silence in his site.)
    Jesus came to a Jewish country years after its law was given, and saw additions such as the synagogue, the drinks in passover (see Maxey). and a modified temple (Herod’s temple is larger, and had extra rooms not in Moses or tabernacle.) Guess what, Jesus attended unauthorized synagogues, used add drinks in passover meal both without comment! Now for the temple, he drove once or twice (John’s gospel is an alternate passover) the moneychangers out. Realize how significant this is; Judiasm had a prescribed law with descriptions of articles in worship, and Jesus accepted additions! Apparently He did not know the law of silence!

  22. @Mick Porter “To just throw in a little comment calling them to align with his hermeneutic over Apollos’ would undo the whole thing, wouldn’t it?”

    Kinda like where he says he won’t brag about his being caught up into the 3rd heaven then brags about it? 2nd Cor 12. Its classic Paul. The entire argument clearly is to get them to agree with him rather than Apollos.

  23. continued from above, Why else would he throw in 1 Cor 4:15 “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” In other words, Apollos may be a lowly instructor, but I’m your father, so listen to me not him.

  24. Bob S., I appreciate that, but it still looks to me that Paul is driving them to see the central, supreme position of Christ Jesus and the outworking of the gospel over and above personalities – even when his own Apostleship is at issue.

    Why else would he use the word Christ 10 times in chapters 3 and 4? And why does the word Christ rarely appear in these debates except in the denominating term “Church of Christ”?

  25. But Paul clearly sees himself more as the apostle of Christ than anyone else per Galatians, due to his vision, and certainly it is likely that in his emphasis on Christ he is just as well emphasizing his own authority against Apollos and even Peter, neither of whom were called by a miraculous post-resurrection vision nor caught up into the third heaven to receive unspeakable mysteries. That is a gun Paul pulls out in the next Corinthians letter after all.

  26. Check out this website that shows what the Bible teaches about Instrumental music

  27. Jay

    Exodus 15.

    When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Miriam the prophetess and other women danced and played tambourines. Miriam sang

    Sing to the Lord,
    for He is highly exalted.
    The horse and the rider.
    he has hurled into the sea.

    Could this be a type of worship for us?

    We have been delivered fro slavery of sin.

    This worship of deliverance by Miriam, a prophetess shows great gratitude after having been rescued by the power of God from certain death and re bondage back to Egypt and slavery.

    Why can’t we do the same with gusto.

    Off the subject, the Jews knew how to throw a party of gratitude. Can you imagine what a blast Mary and Martha had when Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus. Why can’t we Christians have a blast like Mary, Martha and Miriam?

    We have the Regulative Principle and Calvin to keep
    us solemn and boring.

    Respectively for those conservatives


  28. Bob S., Why did Paul say, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit” if the real difference he was getting at was between himself and Apollos? He used himself and Apollos as illustration of how foolish it is for Christian leaders to seek followers for themselves instead of for Christ.

    The number of times (listed by Keith above) that Paul had said, “It is written….” in the preceding chapters and the number of times that these quotations laud the wisdom of God above that of men should settle that we follow God – not men even if those men happen to be great teachers and servants such as Paul and Apollos. I repeat: Paul and Apollos are to illustrate Paul’s point. He is not speaking of a controversy between these two brethren.

    Besides, the supposition that Apollos make the entire OT allegorical because he was from Alexandria where this was a common hermeneutic is just that: a supposition with no real evidence. Luke said (in the same place he said Apollos was from Alexandria – Acts 18:24f) Apollos “was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord… and taught about Jesus accurately.”

    Luke’s evaluation of Apollos should satisfy any of us. After all (1) he knew Apollos and (2) he wrote by inspiration. Let’s not hypothesize some great conflict between Paul and Apollos with Paul trying to win converts to his own hermeneutic from those who were following Apollos. This is an interpretation that is at variance with the entire thrust of the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians.

  29. Jared,

    Very glad to have you as a reader. Although we’re taking up instrumental music/Regulative Principle right now, we cover a wide variety of materials here, including missiology (just finished a series on Plant With Purpose) and even social justice (coming later this month).

    Poke around the index (on the left side of the screen, under Pages). You’ll find all sorts of stuff.

    Personally, I’m more interested in the series on the Cruciform Gospel than the instrumental music material, but the readers seem to prefer instrumental music — and so we’re going both directions at once. By Wednesday I hope to show how the two directions are really the same. We’ll see.

  30. Dear Jay:
    I have decided to wade in on the subject of IM, given how you began this discussion. Is there a reason that you omitted some recent research regarding Ephesians 5:18-21 (and the broader context of 4:17-5:21) which I know you have seen and which I will suggest may revise the discussion some?

    While I know that you do not plan to review Deceiving Winds, I believe you should at least note the research on the key text that is documented in the book.

    Yours in Christ,
    Bruce Morton

    c: Phil Sanders
    Greg Tidwell

  31. Dear Jay:
    To confirm in a separate note, I am aware that you will be posting additional discussion regarding other passages, but I ask my question as a result of how you begin this discussion — the focus on proposed silence.

    Yours in Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  32. Bruce,

    The scriptural argument against instruments is nearly always couched in terms of the Regulative Principle. The Regulative Principle is argued to be supported by a handful of scriptures. Therefore, it’s only right and good to search the scriptures to see whether the support is really there.

    But I’m glad to ask the readers to consider other arguments. To avoid any suggestion that my presentation biases the discussion, send me a succinct summary of the recent research (no more than 1,000 words, including citations) and I’ll post it. But it’ll need to wait until I’ve finishing posted the passages argued to support the Regulative Principle.

  33. Dear brothers

    If the argument goes like: “There is no example in the scriptures for instrumental music in worship, so it is forbidden”, it sounds strict and consistent at first. But it has a strange taste to it, too. Because we cannot live that way, since the Bible does not tell us each and every detail of what to do and what not to do.

    But on the other hand it can serve as an eye-opener. I come from an instrumental (Evangelical) church and played the mandolin and the guitar in our worship team. If someone points you to the fact, that the Bible is silent about instruments in NT-worship this can and shall lead to the following question: Why am I doing this?

    I enjoined making music; but there was something I discovered (in the course of about 20 years): The lyrics lost substance and the musical taste of our generation prevailed. The songs were losing sound doctrine, while the performance of the worship teams became more and more “professional” and the arrangements more and more sophisticated, sometimes even too complicated for congregational singing. Why are we doing this?

    I mean, let’s be honest: Is it really for God’s glory or for the satisfaction of our musical taste? One of the main reasons for Contemporary Christian Worship (CCM) is the concern for the younger generation. This concern is highly commendable. But what always led to tensions (I have a friend in an instrumental church that has been in constant conflict over CCM for over 10 years)! On the surface it looks like a conflict between generations, but that’s not true. There a younger brothers and sisters who prefer the older hymns, because they long for substance, and vice versa (older ones who want to sing the modern songs, maybe because of a midlife crisis). It is actually about the question. How appealing to men shall our worship be? The argument: “It is to keep or to win the young generation or the unchurched neighbours” is quite revealing. But that’s not the focus of worship, neither in the OT nor in the NT.

    So we have to acknowledge that the scriptures are silent about instruments in worship. But how are we to deal with this fact? Can we conclude that we are free to use them anyway? Maybe that’s a little hard to discern (and you can argue about this until our Lord returns). So I suggest we ask the next generations after the Apostles. There we will find two things:

    First, they continued singing a-cappella, which (in my opinion) proves that this was the tradition handed down by the Apostles. And this practice prevailed in the Eastern Orthodox churches until today, also among the Old Order Anabaptist churches and other ultra-conservative groups (for different reasons, maybe).
    Second you’ll find the reasons they set forth for a-cappella singing: It is too worldly. The use of musical instruments in the context of banquets, the theatre and other immoral activities ruled them out for the use in the congregation. That’s one reason they gave. Another one: Musical worship was part of the Old Covenant and the Temple; if we are to use them, we might as well restore circumcision and animal sacrifices.

    Note: They never used the argument: “the scriptures are silent about it”, but their reasons are sound and biblical. Actually, they also objected to four part harmony, chromatic melodies and “Egyptian” clapping of hands. (see for instance Clement of Alexandria, around 180 AD)

    But, when I joined the church of Christ, I did not do it because of the a-cappella singing. Not even because of the “no-name”-attitude (I came from a Christian Assemlby – similar to the Plymouth Brethren – who have the same basic idea of confessing unity by refusing extra-biblical names), but because of the better representation of the Gospel. I accepted a-cappella singing, and I reflected my experiences in an instrumental church.

    I also say and stress it: Using instruments or not using them is no reason for disfellowshipping one another. Becoming worldly is the issue, we should be concerned about; becoming self-centred and men-pleasing in our worship is to be addressed.

  34. Alexander, you have made some great points. Your reasoning sounds more like discerning what is better from what is inferior, rather than what is permitted and what is prohibited. We would come closer to the target if we would focus more on the purpose of singing in the Christian assembly. Sometimes we stay at the superficial level and miss the deeper meaning and purpose of singing.

  35. I like Alexander’s comments. The older hymns do seem to have much more substance than the later contemporary worship songs. Just look at the words in the hymns written in the 17 and 1800s and compare them to the words of today’s Christian music. There is a noticable difference.

    There are some exceptions, but most contemporary songs are just fluff and feel good music. There is no substance. In my opinion, the songs represent the milk of the Word and not the meat…(and it is skim milk at best.)

    However, I did use some contemporary songs for a marching band halftime show once. It’s great music for ballgames and pep rallies… : )

    I want to also add though that just about every time church music went through some kind of change, there was a good bit of resistance. For example, harmonization was not acceptable when it was first introduced in the church.. It was considered by some church leaders to be of the devil… Additionally, much of the harmonies that we use in many of our older songs, (especially Southern Gospel) have their roots in jazz music.

    Instruments or not, we often sing melodies and harmonies that originated in sin city New Orleans.

    Maybe we should go back to the Gregorian Chant… That way we have no instruments and no harmonies to pollute the song service. Also, we have more people singing correctly because everyone gets to sing the melody…

  36. Bryan,

    Remember that the “older hymns” we still sing today are the ones that have stood the test of time. They are a small percentage of the songs written in those years. I expect that some of the contemporary songs of today will take a place along the songs so many love so well – not because they are contemporary, but because they are well-written songs with great theology embedded in them.

    No song is “good” because it is old – or because it is new. Good songs require good music (and tastes in music definitely change over time) and good thoughts (which are not as susceptible to change).

    However, when good old songs quit communicating the message they once did – or when the music itself is so foreign to the singers of today – it may be time to retire them .

  37. Okay, totally random question: What does Jay mean when he always talks about “Stamps-Baxter?” I take it that the term defines some of our cheesier COC songs (“Ring Out The Message” springs to mind). Curious if anyone can clear this up for me.

    I thought Alexander Basnar stated a clear, reasonable case to not use IM. I am personally indifferent, but his reasoning for not using IM makes sense to me. Like Alan said, “discerning what is better from what is inferior, rather than what is permitted and what is prohibited.” Now THAT is a good basis on which to decide whether or not to introduce IM.

    It is funny to me how different personal tastes can be. One gentleman thinks the devo songs are “milk, not meat”…I personally think the old songs are too difficult to understand. I do think it is funny, however, that songs written in the 20th century use King James words (Thou’est, thine, etc) 🙂 Personally, I get a lot out of a song where a line is repeated over and over like, “nothing compares to the promise we have in you.” I dunno, just works for me.

    My fav songs are the ones that are pulled directly from the Psalms.

  38. ****I forgot to mention, at church Sunday night I thumbed through the songbook and tried to find “Stamps-Baxter” songs…I found a couple songs by “Stamps”, and maybe one song by a “Baxter.” But nothing with both writers.

  39. JMF wrote:

    Personally, I get a lot out of a song where a line is repeated over and over like, “nothing compares to the promise we have in you.” I dunno, just works for me.

    Those are known as 7/11 songs. Seven words, repeated eleven times… 😉

  40. JMF, Stamps – Baxter was a prominent music publishing company. Google Stamps – Baxter Music Company. Wikipedia has an article.

    I envy those that don’t know these things, that didn’t grow up with all this stuff. It must be very freeing.

  41. Some one said:
    “I personally think the old songs are too difficult to understand.”

    What a great commentary on late 20th and early 21st century American society. We no longer understand English all that well.

    There seem to many that sing some of the old songs w/o understanding the meaning of the words they are singing. A Mighty Fortress by Martin Luther has been sung in Roman Catholic Churches and Amazing Grace is sung fairly often in Churches of Christ.

    Wonderful thing about our education system is that it has taught many that it is not important to understand what was said or meant. You only need to understand what it means to YOU. What else really matters anyway?

    Thank God for hesed,

  42. Alexander, that is an argument against IM in which I wholeheartedly concur. In the past few months, I’ve attended a worship at at a large, progressive congregation that will remain unnamed. Every time I’ve been distracted by the concert-like surroundings and even found the a cappella songs hard to sing and understand because the mics of the praise team were so hot. In addition, during the Christmas service, candles were lit and a manger were brought on to the stage to “set the tone”. Icons anyone? That is the kind of assembly that I think appeals more to what feels good rather than what is substantive. I don’t find the traditional worship any better, because in most congregations, its about form rather than function and the surroundings are also artificial. The downside of both? I can only see the back of my brother’s head. That’s hardly building one another up is it?

  43. Alan,

    There is no song more 7/11-ish than Bringing In the Sheaves (1874)

    Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
    Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
    Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.


    Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,
    Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,

    Guys, there are good old songs and bad old songs, and good new songs and bad new songs. In 100 years, the good new songs will have survived and most of the bad songs will have been forgotten, and our grandchildren will argue that all the songs from 2000-2010 are great — because only the great ones will have survived.

    Charles Wesley wrote something like 7,000 songs – and we still sing only about 12. Somebody in the 18th Century had to sing the other 6988 songs, all-the-while complaining about the awful new songs.

  44. > Guys, there are good old songs and bad old songs

    And there are actually some people who like Stamps-Baxter songs. In music, as in other things, beauty is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.

    And, if we are actually supposed to speak to one another in song, then it matters more what resonates with the other person than what resonates with me.

  45. Jerry et al,

    You are right about the old songs standing the test of time. I also noticed some comments about Stamps – Baxter. They, along with several other publishing companies produce books filled with new songs about every six months. These were (and still are) songs written for the convention singings and what some may remember as the old fa so la singings. I had the opportunity to study at a convention singing school in 1982. It was founded by one of the writers for Stamps – Baxter… After I got over being homesick, I enjoyed my time there and learned a great deal.

    Many of the old songs like I’ll fly Away come from these old convention books. So back to Jerry’s comment, yes many, many songs are produced every year. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of them do stand the test of time.

    As far as contemporary music is concerned, I do not care for much of it personally, but that does not mean that I think it is bad music. A lot of it is really good. I used to tell my music appreciation classes that just because they didn’t like something didn’t mean it was bad. There is a lot of good music out there that people like or don’t like and their reasons are very respectable.

    My personal preferences are for the old convention style songs as well as the traditional church hymns. I don’t care if they are sung with instruments or not. I don’t care if I am playing the piano or singing. I can worship either way.

    I also like great hymns that have a story behind them. My favorite is; It Is Well With My Soul. If you don’t know the story behind the words to that song, it will be worth your while to look it up. Sometimes great music is the product of great suffering. I will never understand how Philip Bliss could enduure what he did and write such beautiful words. Obviously God’s grace was upon him.

    I could write on and on about gospel music because it is what I love…. However, it is late and I’m tired….

    I have enjoyed reading all the comments and participating in this discussion…


  46. I have written a few dozen songs myself, and – guess what! – they are all new songs. Some of them are even considered good. I agree, the question is not old versus new, but substance versus fluff.

    Yet, there is something different. Today the bulk of songs is written by song-writers; in the past the percentage of poets that were teachers and theologians was a lot higher. That added to the substance.

    In years past, the songs were also meant as a means for teaching (teach one another with hymns …), which was also important in a time when Bibles were expensive and not everybode had the education to read well. Even the longer hymns (some German hymns have 15-20 verses) were often sung by heart. Today the focus is on (the vague term) “worship”.

    I also have the impression, these new songs are “publisher-products” that follow a market-demand. It sounds like big business when I see a CD titled “WoW – Worship Hits Volume 10”. I would call that worldly.

    Last but not least: Most new worship hits are not for congregational singing, but are performance music that require a band to sound right. They may have good lyrics, but they don’t work for a church service (too sophisticated). And of course you cannot sing these a-cappella (we tried it, it sounds awful!).

    If we just follow the rather pragamtic principle “Form Follows Function” that rules out a number of the new songs right away. If we view it from a scriptural perspective, I point to my earlier statement: It is about our attitude: Do we want to please purselves or worship God? Most of the discussion centers around I, me, myself and my own personal taste …


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