I reader emailed me some questions on my thoughts re instrumental music. And I’m at home fending off a kidney stone attack — doped up on Oxycodone — and it seems like a good idea to respond via post as I’m sure others have the same questions. But then, maybe it’s the opiates talking.
I … wanted to let you know I appreciate your comments, sincerity, and call to unity for Christ’s church. I found your web site while studying on marriage/divorce/remarriage and found you answered a number of questions I had concerning the more traditional church of Christ beliefs.
I have read your information for elders and found it to be beneficial to me.
Recently I have been reading your blog and comments on the matter of instrumental music (I also serve as a song leader and we too are a cappella). I have 3 questions/comments.
1) In a plea for unity, why can we not all agree to sing? I have discussed this with no one who argues it is wrong for us just to sing. Could this be one reason the early church sang only? On the other hand the instrument is what opens the door of division. If this is dividing(a stumbling block) why would we not cut in out?
The same question was asked by Ralph Gilmore in his debate with Christian Church minister David Faust at Freed Hardeman University a few months ago. I thought the point Br. Faust made in response was compelling. He asked Br. Gilmore why his church didn’t use just one cup and eliminate its Sunday school program to be united with those churches that consider this wrong? It’s a good question.
But this is not the pot calling the kettle black. Rather, it’s a way to point out that unity cannot be achieved by yielding to the scruples of those among us who impose the most rules. I mean, around here, such a strategy would require my church (an a cappella congregation) to give up its –
* Fellowship hall
* Sunday school
* Support for missionaries who believe in the literal indwelling of the Spirit
* Campus ministry
* Children’s worship
* Female co-teen minister (with her husband)
* Multiple cups
* Multiple loaves
* Serving communion from behind the congregation
* Overhead projection of songs
We’d have to cooperate as the non-institutional churches insist. We’d have to give up support for Christian colleges. We’d have to saw the cross off the top of our building. And on and on the list goes.
You see, Paul’s instructions for how to get along despite disagreement don’t urge anything like this. Rather, in Romans 14 he taught both sides to accept the other, both those seeking to impose a rule and those wanting not to impose it.
Now, he also told us not to tempt our brothers into sin. But when my church claps, we aren’t tempting the non-clapping churches in town to do the same. Trust me, they feel no peer pressure from us!
I addressed this aspect of the question in more detail in these posts from the Amazing Grace lesson series –
At a deeper level, if we yield to the scruples of all who impose more rules than we do, we encourage the notion that the only way we can get along is to be the same, which violates the teaching of Galatians, as I’ve explained in these lessons from the Amazing Grace lesson series –
At a very practical level, the fact is that the other churches in town will treat us as pariahs even though we yield to their scruples, just because they know we disagree and because we teach contrary to their views.
The church I grew up in was the product of a split over the anti-institutional issue in the 1950s. To preserve fellowship with the non-institutional churches in the area (we were the only pro-institution church), we supported the local orphans home by separate contribution. And yet we were treated as damned, not because we practiced error, but because we had the wrong “position” on the issue. Such is the peversity of our legalism.
On other hand, if we were to adopt an instrumental worship service (which we’ve not done nor made plans to do), we’d also provide a non-instrumental service so that, as commanded in Rom 14, we’d not compel our members who find the instrument a sin to worship contrary to their consciences. But we’d expect them to treat the instrumental worshipers as brothers in Christ, and we’d expect our instrumental worshipers to treat the a cappella worshipers as brothers in Christ.
You see, the solution to unity is not church politics or conflict avoidance but the gospel — the fact that Jesus died so that sinners could go heaven.
2) As I read the account of the conversion of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:24 scripture states Paul and Silas were placed in stocks. Later in vs 25 it states they were praying and singing hymns to God. I assume this to be a cappella singing since they were in stocks and playing an instrument would have been unlikely. Even though not involved in a worship service, they were worshipping.
I agree that they were surely worshiping a cappella. I doubt the prisoners had lyres in a Roman prison cell! And I’d even agree that it’s likely all the First Century churches worshiped a cappella. That’s certainly what history teaches.
But I don’t believe that such examples are in any sense binding. Here’s the mistake we sometimes make.
Without a doubt, approved examples tell us what is permissible. Is it permissible to send a missionary? Yes, the church in Antioch did this with the Holy Spirit’s approval. It’s okay.
But examples are not commands. Only commands are commands. Therefore, even though Jesus washed the feet of his apostles, we don’t have to do this. Would it be permissible? Yes, the example plainly so proves. Is it mandatory? No. Examples don’t create commands.
Therefore, we are not compelled by examples to (for example) –
* Wear sandals
* Maintain an order of widows
* Appoint seven deacons over a food distribution program
* Participate in love feasts
* Require our preachers to support themselves
* Ordain missionaries by the laying on of hands
* Have elders ordained by an evangelist
* Preach only in the evening
* Hold communion in an upper room
And yet there are those who insist on nearly each of this examples. Well, no one insists on sandals.
The fundamental problem with the notion of “binding examples” is that no one can tell you what the rule is for which examples are binding and which are not. And therein lie the seeds of division and legalism.
3) As I read the passages on music in Galatians and Ephesians, there seems to be an emphasis on the heart. The music we sing is to have an individual effect on the heart of the one singing. Some even refer to this as strumming the chords of the heart.
Thanks again for your efforts
I agree. But nothing keeps instrumental music from touching the heart. I mean, I’ve heard Handel’s “Messiah.”
I’ve heard Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue.” If Bach doesn’t move you, well, you may be beyond moving!
Bach, a devout Lutheran, always wrote his music to glorify God. The manuscript for this piece has several devotional annotations, as pointed out here.
Or Mozart’s Kyrie in his Great Mass in C Minor –
Or more recently, MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” –
And, of course, in congregational worship, the instruments are played with the singing, not in lieu of singing. Therefore, the heart is moved by both the words and the music.
Despite all the rhetoric, the fact is that instrumental music or — better yet — vocal music accompanied by instruments can certainly attune the heart to God.
Brother, I appreciate your heart and your willingness to discuss these important issues. I hope I’ve fairly answered your questions.
I certainly don’t believe that anyone has to use an instrument to acceptably worship God. I just think the arguments that seek to require a cappella singing are not only wrong, but they lead to a legalism that forces us to divide and divide again over every petty issue some preacher or editor gets excited about.
It’s way past time to get past all that and get busy serving Jesus as a truly united body.
PS — Readers, I’m done with instrumental music for a while. We’re moving on to other subjects. (But then, maybe it’s the opiates talking.)