The Fork in the Road: Things That Perish With Using

Robert Prater asked,

Would you refute the view advocated by Ferguson and Hicks that the early church’s nonuse of IM is that instruments were a divinely prescribed part of temple worship that was superseded by the “higher worship instituted by Christ?”

Surely isn’t that enough authority for us to follow in just singing as the early church were instructed and practiced??

I’d like to consider what the scriptures say about our “higher” worship. We start with a favorite proof text of the conservative Churches of Christ —

(Col 2:20-23) Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Paul was challenging false teachers who wanted the Colossians to worship through asceticism. Paul denies that true worship is found in refraining from the use of things that “perish with use” — that is, that wear out.

Greek thought was heavily influenced by the writings of Plato, who argued that the spiritual is good and the material is evil. Therefore, the false teachers argued that we please God by avoiding worship with material things.

Paul called this “self-imposed worship” or, in the KJV, “will worship.”

We next turn to —

(Heb 9:1, 9-12) Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. … 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

The Hebrews writer argues that worship under the Law of Moses was flawed because it involved “regulations for worship” and items “made with hands” that are a part of this creation.

Notice the paradox. Colossians says we should not refuse to worship with created things. Hebrews says that worship with created things is so inadequate that God had to send Jesus to be our perfect high priest to secure eternal redemption through his own blood.

Here’s the solution to the riddle. Hebrews is speaking of worship that saves — that earns redemption — and only Jesus’ offering of his own blood for us in heaven saves. Nothing else will do.

Paul is speaking of worship that saved people do to honor God. And, of course, we worship with things that perish with use. What doesn’t? We reject the false Greek philosophy that says that created things are evil and unworthy (and which led to Gnosticism), and we instead adopt the Biblical teaching that —

(1 Tim 4:4b) nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Again, Paul rejects asceticism and the idea that God is pleased by our rejection of fleshly things just because of their fleshly nature.

Yes, we are not saved by created things, and the worship that saves us is the worship offered by the Son of God in heaven — far removed from the corruption of this world. But until the end of time, Paul plainly teaches in Colossians that it’s wrong — indeed, will-worship — to reject the created things of this world for worship because of their materiality.

After all, our bodies wear out with using. I speak from experience. So do our buildings and hymn books. And our voices. They all perish with using.

There is no scriptural justification for declaring words and hymns made by the art of man “higher” and instruments of music made by the art of man “lower.” After all, there was singing under the Law of Moses, too.

Does that mean we still offer animal sacrifices to God? No — the former system has been replaced — indeed, fulfilled — by the sacrifice of Jesus. But we still worship, because of who God is and who we are — and because of the Spirit compels us.

(Phi 3:3) For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

It’s the work of the Spirit in our hearts that drives us to worship — not external regulations. We put no confidence in the flesh — not in our bodies, our voices, or our handiwork. Our confidence is in the resurrected Jesus.

We no longer come to temple to seek forgiveness. Rather, we have obtained forgiveness, and that fact drives us to worship. But it’s a material, fleshly worship that earns us nothing — and cannot be good enough to earn us anything.

20 Responses

  1. Jay, you seem to have completely missed the strongest argument available to you on this matter (although you may well have used it elsewhere that I haven’t yet seen.) It’s a very simple argument (unless I have just overlooked some part of the law as given in the Pentateuch):

    God never commanded ANY kind of music in worship.

    There is nothing anywhere in any of the law of Moses that says anything about musical worship, whether singing or playing. No form of New Testament musical worship supersedes anything in the Old Covenant, because there’s nothing in the Old Covenant about it. Musical worship is something that man did IN ADDITION to what the law said.

    So, the answer to Robert’s request that you “refute the view advocated by Ferguson and Hicks that the early church’s nonuse of IM is that instruments were a divinely prescribed part of temple worship that was superseded . . .” is simply to say, “Your major premise is completely wrong. Start again.”

  2. To conclude that history alone is evidence of “divinely inspired” anything is seriously flawed — if for no other reason that we do have a comprehensive view of all the facts of history.

    We simply cannot know whether non-instrumental music in worship was the only practice of the early worship assemblies.

  3. Sam,

    The problem with that argument is 2 Chronicles 29:25 :

    “And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the LORD through his prophets.”

  4. Sam,

    2 Chronicles 29:25

  5. Mike,

    Beat me to it by 3 minutes. I had to google it 😛

    Ever read “Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church” by John L. Girardeau?

  6. Mario, I had to search biblegateway for it.

    No, I’m not familiar with that book.

  7. David is right – assuming that we know everything there is to know about the first century – let alone perfect details of a small segment of it – is questionable at best.

    But let’s not forget that applying the Old Testament regulative principle to the New Testament life by the Spirit yields bad theology. It’s like trying to translate German with a Spanish-to-English dictionary.

    This is also the reason why the two sides of this argument are never able to come to an agreement on anything. They are speaking two different languages.

    It’s time to drop the argument and go be the church to a hurting world.

  8. Mike,

    It is available free online. It was written by someone in the Presbyterian church in the late 1880’s.

    I prefer biblos com, myself

  9. Is this thing working?

  10. Ok good


    It is available free online, and was written by someone in the Presbyterian church back in the late 1880’s.

    I prefer,

  11. Back to the topic at hand,

    Looking at Paul’s letter to the Colossians chapter 2. Paul is condemning false additions to their teachings

    6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
    8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ

    which would include additions

    18. the worship of the angels

    and out word, prideful added restrictions

    18 delighting in self-abasement taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind

    and also things of the old law

    16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

    And at the end Paul throws in there

    These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

    Saying that all those things in the end really don’t defend against, “fleshly indulgence” anyhow.

    I’m not seeing everything your pointing to Jay.

  12. We marvel that those who study use by God’s people of musical instruments seem to be unaware of 2 Chronicles 29:25 : “And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the LORD through his prophets.”

    We marvel that in the total absence of any apostolic teaching that we should gather for communal worship that every church nowadays wants to have worship services. Ignoring an Old Testament word concerning a true fact that musical instruments then were used BY GOD’S COMMAND is bad. Ignoring a New Testament exhortation that in our gatherings everything is to be done FOR EDIFICATION surely is worse!

    And Paul’s urging that we worship by SERVING, that that’s the goal of new life in Christ, is surprising (Romans 12:1,2). Moving worship into assemblies rather than in daily life is a strange way to honor Jesus.

  13. “Scuse me. I didn’t ignore it. I overlooked it. Primarily because I was looking for commands about music in the Law. The argument is often made that the Law is superseded by the new covenant. The addition of musical instruments into temple worship by David was not part of the Law, even though it was apparently a later instruction form God through His prophets – – although there is some degree of dispute over just what 2 Chron. 29:25 might say, given that the Syriac and Arabic give it a little differently — “Hezekiah appointed the Levites in the house of the Lord, with instruments of music, and the sound of harps, and with the Hymns of David, and the Hymns of Gad, the king’s prophet, and of Nathan, the king’s prophet: for David sang the praises of the Lord his God, as from the mouth of the prophets.”

    And it seems a strange criticism of the church’s gatherings to say, “Moving worship into assemblies rather than in daily life is a strange way to honor Jesus” — especially in light of Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians, in which he had every opportunity to say to them something like, “Hey, guys, getting together in a assembly isn’t what we were talking about. Just worship in daily life”, rather than giving specific instructions about the assembly.

  14. I just read back thru that, and it sounds awfully snippy. Didn’t intend for it to. Didn’t regulate it enough. My apologies. My thoughts remain, but the tone should have been better.

  15. Mario,

    Obviously enough, Paul is opposing some things. One could truthfully say that adding those things he opposes to God’s truth would be wrong. Indeed. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong because they’ve been added! Paul is not arguing against additions as such. He’s arguing against a false philosophy of asceticism — which is a subtraction! Paul argues that it’s very wrong to reject things that God has not condemned.

    This is a warning to all who reject IM as sinful. If you’re wrong, you violate this passage. There is no safety in saying no.

    Read carefully. Paul says that (even though we have no command to honor a new moon and no example and no inference) “no one is to act as your judge”!! He plainly refutes the Regulative Principle. He says that even though these are mere shadows, no one should condemn people over such things.

    The ESV translates, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

    Don’t you see? These are mere shadows. These are not what save us. And so we shouldn’t condemn each other over such things because they aren’t salvation issues!

    And yet Paul refers to these matters as “worship.” Evidently, Jews were continuing to honor Jewish practices and insisting that Gentiles do the same. Paul says those practices are mere shadows. They aren’t the truth behind the shadows, which is Jesus. But he doesn’t condemn the Jews for continuing to honor the Sabbath as worship to God. Rather, he condemns everyone who condemns or judges others over such things.

    The Jews were wrong to bind these practices, but not wrong to practice them.

    So the conversation isn’t about adding practices. It’s about adding commands: commanding Jewish observances or asceticism — and judging others on matters other than regarding attachment to Jesus, the Head. He’s not remotely teaching the Regulative Principle. Indeed, he’s condemning that kind of thinking.

  16. How does Galatians 4:8-10 figured into this?

    8 However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

    Well in fact most of Galatians 4?

  17. Jay
    I’m not assure about that principle your espousing, It’s kinda late, and I will go back and read your reply again in the morning, but what Paul is describing is those that are showing false humility and abuse of the body, his words, and that maybe a form of asceticism. But what he describes seems to go beyond just asceticism. If just asceticism overall is condemned doesn’t that nullify some other verses, some spoken by Jesus about plucking out one own’s eye if it leads to sin?

    Maybe I’m chasing rabbits, I’ll get back to this in the morning.

    I appreciate the conversations and spiritual study all this has brought about

    -Mario Lopez

  18. If all actions will be called for judgment. How can anything not be a salvation issue?

  19. John Mark Hicks, on April 13, posted notes entitled, “From “Supper” to “Snack”: Why did the Early Church Move from Meal to Simply Bread and Wine?”

    He points out what the practices of the early church were relating to celebration of the Lord’s Supper and explain how they evolved from “love feasts” to the more ritualistic form we have today.

    Based upon Robert’s logic, this is evidence we are violating the divinely inspired example for how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and are at risk of our salvation for failing to repent and return to the early church practice.

    This demonstrates the ultimate failure of CENI as hermeneutic model. In practice, it leads to picking and choosing which examples to follow and which examples not to follow.

  20. David,

    You’d be exactly right, except the Regulative Principle only applies to those acts of worship mentioned by Alexander Campbell is his Search for the Ancient Order series. Obviously …

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