The classic Restoration Movement hermeneutic is to think in terms of commands, examples, and necessary infererences (CENI). This approach struggles a bit when confronted with inconsistent examples. For example, we see that the Jerusalem church met daily (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 5:42). And yet the churches in Troas and Corinth seems to have met weekly (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), although the texts are a bit ambiguous. Logically, if we were meet daily, we’d honor both examples, but we only meet on Sunday and Wednesday, and we consider Sunday the only day that’s strictly mandatory.
How do we decide? Well, traditionally, what we do is look at the Patristics, writings of uninspired early Christians that reveal that the early church meet weekly on Sundays. But this is contrary to being “silent where the Bible is silent” and sola scriptura.
The Story, however, takes us down a radically different path. You see, the Story is all about overcoming brokenness and Otherness by the power of the Spirit through participation in a covenant community. How often does a covenant community need to gather to overcome Otherness?
The answer becomes very pragmatic. In some cultures and settings, daily meetings may well be possible and delightful. In others, weekly meetings may be all we can muster. But even where weekly gatherings are the norm, if we are truly seeking Oneness, we’ll look for opportunities to be together in smaller groups — classes, prayer groups, accountability groups, study groups, etc. And if we want to help the world overcome its brokenness and Otherness, we’ll look for chances to be together to serve others.
If we grasp the Story, we see the assembly as a gift from God to grow together — together with each other and together with God and together with as many lost people as we can get to come — for edification, comfort, strength, and encouragement. And do you know what? This is what the Bible teaches. We’ve just been blind to it because we started at the wrong place.
(Heb 10:24-25) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
What we are to do when we meet (however often that may be) is “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” and “encourage one another.” The instructions are in the active voice. We don’t go to be spurred (passive) but to spur.
In practical terms, we go to help our brothers and sisters live another week in mission for God.
In a parallel passage, Paul deals with whether it’s proper to speak in tongues or to prophesy in a meeting of the saints.
(1 Cor 14:3-4) But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
He draws a line — not between authorized and unauthorized acts — but between acts that help us overcome brokeness and Otherness, acts that strengthen, encourage, comfort, or edify, and those acts that don’t. And in light of God’s story, this makes perfect sense.
And so, how often do we have to meet? Wrong question. Better question: how often do we need to meet? Best question: how often do we get to meet? After all, if the assembly truly accomplishes its purpose, we’d be looking for ways to meet more and more.
Now, in my congregation, we’ve dropped Sunday night assembly for small groups, because small groups help us in these areas in ways that a second assembly cannot. And we’re finding our members spontaneously forming lunch and breakfast accountabilty and Bible study groups and taking on service projects as community, often out of the small groups but sometimes along other connections.
We meet all the time.
I’m sure my readers know the classic argument. Under the Regulative Principle we inherited from John Calvin, we conclude that all that is not specifically authorized (by CENI) is prohibited. Instruments are nowhere authorized. Therefore, they are prohibited.
But under the Story, we are brought into covenant community to overcome brokeness and Otherness by the power of the Spirit. We gather to edify one another and to encourage one another to love and good works. And we intend for our love for each other to be so intensely present in the assembly that God-less visitors fall on their faces declaring that God is surely present.
Therefore, the question is pragmatic. Do instruments help us edify and encourage each other? Do they help us overcome Otherness and brokeness? Do they help visitors see the presence of God?
The answer isn’t immediately obvious, is it? And that’s because the answer is cultural and pragmatic, not theological. Actually, the answer is plain to those who’ve studied the culture. You see, nearly every Protestant church in the U.S. that has more than 2,000 members has at least one contemporary music worship service. That wasn’t true 10 years ago, but it’s true today because experience and study of the culture has taught the lesson.
But the culture isn’t entirely uniform, and the skill with which we do instrumental worship vs. a cappella worship varies. My own church, with nearly 700 present most Sundays, is a cappella only, and we find our worship attractive to people with many different denominational and unchurched backgrounds. But we do it pretty well. And we have lots of voices. Not every church can do it well. Besides, I think it’s likely more important to be contemporary than instrumental.
Now, for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere, the Regulative Principle is not scriptural. Considerations of edification, love, and God’s mission are. Musical styles is simply not a doctrinal question. Do what best serves the purpose of the assembly where you are.