Instrumental Music: The Patristic Evidence and the Regulative Principle, Part 1

Angel with harpIn contemporary Church of Christ thought, worshipping God with instrumental music is sinful because (a) it violates the Regulative Principle, that is, because it lacks authority in the scriptures, and (b) the history of the Christian church shows a uniform rejection of the instrument for its first 1,000 years.

I thought it would be interesting to investigate the reasons given by the early church for rejecting instrumental music. Do they agree with the Regulative Principle?

AQUINAS “Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.” (Thomas Aquinas, Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 3, page 137)

The Jewish synagogues were also a cappella, and had been from before the time of Jesus. Aquinas’ knowledge of Judaism was limited to his reading to the Old Testament, which describes the temple service as including instruments. Aquinas does not treat the choice of instrumental music as from God but as a choice made to draw a contrast between Christianity and Judaism — when in fact both the Christians and Jews worshipped a cappella!

AUGUSTINE “musical instruments were not used. The pipe, tabret, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and circus, it is easy to understand the prejudices against their use in the worship.” (Augustine 354 A.D., describing the singing at Alexandria under Athanasius)

Augustine describes the absence of instruments as coming from “prejudice” arising from the use on instruments in heathen cults and other “degenerate” practices. Thus, his argument is built on culture.

CHRYSOSTOM “David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument; but, if you like, you may yourself become a cithara, mortifying the members of the flesh and making a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh no longer lusts against the Spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable path, then will you create a spiritual melody.” (Chrysostom, 347-407, Exposition of Psalms 41, (381-398 A.D.) Source Readings in Music History, ed. O. Strunk, W. W. Norton and Co.: New York, 1950, pg. 70.)

Chrysostom’s argument leans toward Gnosticism, as he wants Christians to be “mortifying the members of the flesh,” as though the flesh were inherently evil.

CLEMENT “Leave the pipe to the shepherd, the flute to the men who are in fear of gods and intent on their idol worshipping. Such musical instruments must be excluded from our wingless feasts, for they ar[e] more suited for beasts and for the class of men that is least capable of reason than for men. The Spirit, to purify the divine liturgy from any such unrestrained revelry chants: ‘Praise Him with sound of trumpet,” for, in fact, at the sound of the trumpet the dead will rise again; praise Him with harp,’ for the tongue is a harp of the Lord; ‘and with the lute. praise Him.’ understanding the mouth as a lute moved by the Spirit as the lute is by the plectrum; ‘praise Him with timbal and choir,’ that is, the Church awaiting the resurrection of the body in the flesh which is its echo; ‘praise Him with strings and organ,’ calling our bodies an organ and its sinews strings, for front them the body derives its Coordinated movement, and when touched by the Spirit, gives forth human sounds; ‘praise Him on high-sounding cymbals,’ which mean the tongue of the mouth which with the movement of the lips, produces words. Then to all mankind He calls out, ‘Let every spirit praise the Lord,’ because He rules over every spirit He has made. In reality, man is an instrument arc for peace, but these other things, if anyone concerns himself overmuch with them, become instruments of conflict, for inflame the passions. The Etruscans, for example, use the trumpet for war; the Arcadians, the horn; the Sicels, the flute; the Cretans, the lyre; the Lacedemonians, the pipe; the Thracians, the bugle; the Egyptians, the drum; and the Arabs, the cymbal. But as for us, we make use of one instrument alone: only the Word of peace by whom we a homage to God, no longer with ancient harp or trumpet or drum or flute which those trained for war employ.” (Clement of Alexandria, 190AD The instructor, Fathers of the church, p. 130)

Clement’s argument is highly allegorical. He notes that instruments are used by “those trained for war” and “the class of men that is least capable of reason.” In short, his argument seems to be that the instrument is wrong because the instrument is used by the military and the uneducated.

CLEMENT “Moreover, King David the harpist, whom we mentioned just above, urged us toward the truth and away from idols. So far was he from singing the praises of daemons that they were put to flight by him with the true music; and when Saul was Possessed, David healed him merely by playing the harp. The Lord fashioned man a beautiful, breathing instrument, after His own imaged and assuredly He Himself is an all-harmonious instrument of God, melodious and holy, the wisdom that is above this world, the heavenly Word.” … “He who sprang from David and yet was before him, the Word of God, scorned those lifeless instruments of lyre and cithara. By the power of the Holy Spirit He arranged in harmonious order this great world, yes, and the little world of man too, body and soul together; and on this many-voiced instruments of the universe He makes music to God, and sings to the human instrument. “For thou art my harp and my pipe and my temple”(Clement of Alexandria, 185AD, Readings p. 62)

Here Clement argues that the voice is appropriate for worship because the body is made by Jesus, whereas instruments are made by humans.

CYPRIAN “Instruments were permitted in the Old Testament for the sake of their [the people’s] weakness, to stir up their minds to perform their external worship.” (240 A.D.)

Again, we see prejudice against the Jews, with the author assuming instruments were used in the temple worship solely due to the weakness of the Jews and ignoring the several hundreds of years that the Jews worshipped in the tabernacle without instruments.

EUSEBIUS “Of old at the time those of the circumcision were worshipping with symbols and types it was not inappropriate to send up hymns to God with the psalterion and cithara and to do this on Sabbath days… We render our hymn with a living psalterion and a living cithara with spiritual songs. The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to God than any musical instrument. Accordingly in all the churches of God, united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and piety we send up a unison melody in the words of the Psalms.” (commentary on Psalms 91:2-3)

Eusebius argues that it was the Jews who used instruments on Sabbath days, and so Christians should sing in unison, symbolizing their unity. Of course, we in the Churches of Christ rarely sing in unison. We prefer four-part harmony, and often have part-leads, that is, we have different voices sing different words at different times. Eusebius would not approve.

Eusebius, like Aquinas, was ignorant of Jewish worship practices. They used instruments at the temple — and not just on Sabbaths. The synagogue was actually a cappella.

MARTYR “Simply singing is not agreeable to children (Jews), but singing with lifeless instruments and with dancing and clapping is. On this account the use of this kind of instruments and of others agreeable to children is removed from the songs of the churches, and there is left remaining simply singing.” (Justin Martyr, 139 AD)

Justin Martyr plainly appeals to prejudice against the Jews.

MARTYR “The use of music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jew, in their infant state, but only the use of plain song.” (Justin Martyr, 139 AD)

Again, we see Justin appealing to prejudice against the Jews.

TERTULLIAN “Musical concerts with viol and lute belong to Apollo, to the Muses, to Minerva and Mercury who invented them; ye who are Christians, hate and abhor these things whose very authors themselves must be the object of loathing and aversion.” (200 A.D.)

Tertullian argues that instruments are used in the worship of idols and so are inappropriate to the worship of God.

There’s not a hint of the Regulative Principle in these quotations. There’s not a word about authority or the lack thereof.

There is a clear desire to be unlike the Jews — but in such ignorance of Jewish practice that the Christians actually worshipped on Sundays much as the Jews worshipped on Saturdays!

There’s a desire to flee any association with the military or with the licentiousness of pagan society. And there’s some Platonic thought, associating instruments with the corruption of the flesh and the voice with the purity of the human spirit.

And so, the Churches of Christ have adopted the Patristic position while rejecting the Patristic rationales. But we really can’t have it both way, can we? I mean, if these uninspired writers are affirming an apostolic teaching, surely they’d also be affirming the apostolic reasoning, but there’s not a hint of the Patristics’ logic in the scriptures.

Indeed, if we were allowed to use the Patristics to confirm our scriptural conclusions, we’d have to also conclude that our reliance on the Regulative Principle is in error, as the Patristics do not remotely support that inference.

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39 Responses to Instrumental Music: The Patristic Evidence and the Regulative Principle, Part 1

  1. Matthew says:

    Some years back when I was playing tuba professionally, I was exhorted by a private instructor to regard the human voice as the most perfect instrument on Earth. I agreed with him at that time as I do now. I suppose for that reason I react positively to Clement's argument that the voice is appropriate for worship because of Whom has made the body. I certainly think you have blown some holes in the Regulative Principle here though.

    I tend to look upon acapella worship as appropriate because of the way we use our entire being (body, mind, spirit) in the process of worship when we sing acapella. I'm not suggesting dualism, in fact, I think if we viewed ourselves as embodied spirit (but organically unified) it would be easier to see that when we sing, we unite those different essentials that comprise our being, and in concert, use them to worship God. I suppose one could make the counter argument that one can worship in this way too even when accompanied with instruments as well. I suppose they might be right. Though I wonder why our instrumental friends sometimes exhort us to never abandon acapella worship in our tradition. Perhaps they feel they have lost something when they moved away from the style.

  2. Tim Archer says:

    Thanks, Jay, for an interesting survey of ancient literature.

    If you'll forgive a tangent, reading Clement's first comment reminded me of how uniformly the ancient church rejected military service. Funny how rarely you hear THAT prohibition appealed to these days.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. Dave says:

    Count me in as one of the instrumental folks that would urge you to not abandon acapella worship. As we have added more gadgets and doubled the decibles, our worship has suffered. I fear that our services have evolved into performances. Much less participation. Instruments, in my opinion, aren't sinful – just annoying. Just listen to a great acapella rendition of Our God, He Is Alive and tell me – want to bring in the drums, tamborines, bongos, etc.? Not on your life!

  4. I have argued that the claim "The early church didn't use instrumental worship" is far from indisputable fact – and that folks who like(d) a cappella-only worship write to promote their preference to law, and have for ages; folks who like both vocal and instrumental worship have no axe to grind and don't bother to write.

    Those who dislike instrumental worship would no more agree with every other belief and tenet of the authors they quote – from Aquinas to Augustine to Clement to Chrysostom to Eusebius to Justin Martyr to Tertullian to Barclay to Clark to Knox to Luther to Spurgeon to Wesley; from Campbell to Franklin to Lipscomb to McGarvey to Stone to West – than they would agree with those who like instrumental worship.

    Which, to me, throws the issue directly into the purview of Romans 14's "disputable matters."

    And, man, have we disputed this one!

  5. Alan says:

    I think much in our services, even a Capella services, is performance based. We hire a preacher in part on his ability to perform in the pulpit. We often comment on good the singing sounded. We judge our services on how much we got out of it rather than we put into it. Performance is always a factor – all that matters is the degree.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Dave, You speak as though you have been to every single church that sings with music and you speak as though you know the hearts and minds of all those who are worshiping. I know when I worship, singing with music doesn't keep me from singing my heart out to the Lord. I am pouring my heart out to the Lord not to the music!

  7. Trent Tanaro says:

    Thank you Jay for bringing us this research and insight. Tim, that is so true in the church today about the military viewpoint.

    Thanks to both of you for all you do!!

  8. Edward Fudge says:

    Superb research, Jay, and a well-stated summary of the results! This is the kind of factual data that can clear the air of foolish prejudices and unfounded assumptions. Keep up the good work!

  9. Matthew says:

    I sure appreciate Tim Archer's comment above about service in the military. There is a clear indication from the early church fathers that they advocated against military service for Christians. We don't talk about that very much. When I taught a class on the subject a couple of years ago, it was very difficult.

  10. Rich says:

    It seems like the below excerpt shows that Clement appealed to authority for his conclusion. He appeals to "The Lord", "wisdom that is above this world", "the Word of God". Clement's other statements seem to indicate his personal understanding why God likes acappella.

    "The Lord fashioned man a beautiful, breathing instrument, after His own imaged and assuredly He Himself is an all-harmonious instrument of God, melodious and holy, the wisdom that is above this world, the heavenly Word.” … “He who sprang from David and yet was before him, the Word of God, scorned those lifeless instruments of lyre and cithara."

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Clement's reference to "the Lord" is to God's creation of the voice ("the harp of the Lord"), not to scripture.

    His reference to "the wisdom that is above this world, the heavenly Word" is a reference to the Lord — it's an appositive awkwardly placed at the end of the sentence, saying that the Lord is wisdom and the word.

    Clement certainly expressed his opinion of God's will, but he did not argue that the voice is authorized in scripture and the instrument is not.

    To check my conclusion, I found another translated at Ken Sublett's website,

    A beautiful breathing instrument of music the Lord made man, after His own image. And He Himself also, surely, who is the supramundane Wisdom, the celestial Word, is the all-harmonious, melodious, holy instrument of God.

    Still less than clear, but certainly not an argument based on the Regulative Principle. Rather, the argument seems to flow from God's creation of the human voice in parallel to Jesus being the voice of God (allegorical to Jesus being the word of God, I'm sure).

  12. Royce Ogle says:

    Thanks brother for a great, informative post. Our early brothers are valuable, but not on the level with Scripture, and as you conclude, not a verse supports much of what they say as to their opposition to instruments in worship.

    Many of our predecessors rejected instruments because they did not want to be associated with the Jews or the military. Do we realize that the citizenry at large in our towns and villages associate a cappella only singing in worship with people who don't speak to each other, who slander each other in "brotherhood" journals and blogs? We have earned our reputation well.

    By the way, I worship with an a ccappella congregation and love our singing!

    Royce

  13. Alan says:

    There’s not a hint of the Regulative Principle in these quotations.

    That's the key lesson from your article. Mandating a cappella singing based on the silence of the scriptures is an invention of the Reformation (primarily, Zwingli and his peers). Can anyone point to a voice prior to the 1500's making such an argument about instruments from the regulative principle?

  14. Jason says:

    Washington and Adams didn't explicitly talk about orginalism either, but that doesn't meant it isn't the best approach to Constitutional interpretation. Like the Regulative Principle, that method of interpretation only developed later, after changing time and circumstance introduced enough ambiguity to make it necessary to think systematically about the source of authority exercised by the interpreter.

    One can believe that there ought to be an objective constraint on our ability to interpret Scripture–such as that offered by the Regulative Principle, which one might call a sort of Biblical originalism–and also believe that the same constraint bound the early Church fathers regardless of whether they understood it in those explicit terms.

  15. Todd says:

    And the point is that the Patristics did not summon one scripture to support their disapproval of IM and in fact some who oppose it on other grounds conceded judgment in light of other scriptural precedents.

    "Yet even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre there is no blame – you will mitate the righteous Hebrew king in his thanksgiving to God." – Clement of Alexandria 195AD

    "I will not deny – when listening to David – that this invention has been in use with the saints and has ministered to God" Tertullian – 235AD.

    So the early church didn't use IM, justified their non-use of it on non-scriptural grounds (grounds established by human reason rather than upon apostolic command) and bowed to scripture rather than condemn its use completely.

  16. Jason says:

    You need to look at that Clement of Alexandria quote in its original context. It comes from a section entitled, "How to Conduct Ourselves at Feasts," which appears to be speaking of gatherings of Christians and non-Christians–not of corporate worship:
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf02.vi.iii.ii.i

    He also says, apparently in more direct reference to worship:

    >>The instrument of peace, the Word alone *by which we honor God* is what we employ. We no longer use the ancient psaltery the trumpet, and timbrel, and flute…<<

  17. Anonymous says:

    Jason, We no longer use the ancient psaltery the trumpet, and timbrel, and flute.

    Where does the Bible say, "People are to no longer have Instrumental music." BCV.

  18. Jay Guin says:

    Jason,

    I wouldn't contend that the Patristics never argued that they were following God's will. Rather, the point I wanted to make is that they don't argue from the absence of the authority. In other words, there is no evidence of our scriptural logic pre-Reformation. Strange, isn't it, that the Patristics on whose writings we place so much weight don't seem to be aware of our central argument.

  19. Jason says:

    Jay, I understood your point. But, it seems to me that to the extent that they didn't argue from an absence of authority, perhaps it is merely because they saw no need to. They were closer in time, culture, and proximity to those who lived with Jesus and the Apostles. That authority (from which our view of the authority of Scripture is derived) was less abstract and less obscured by barriers of language and culture. In short, there was less of an absence to argue from.

    It's less important precisely why someone three generations removed from the first Christians thought that Christians did not use instruments in worship. What's more important is that those people seemed to take it for granted that Christians did not, in fact, use instruments in worship. In a way, it is the presence (not the absence) of the authority in that consistent practice that is most persuasive to me.

    I don't think it's strange at all that they didn't have a sophisticated doctrine of the regulative principle–no stranger than that George Washington never heard of "originalism." It just wasn't an issue yet.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Jason – What’s more important is that those people seemed to take it for granted that Christians did not, in fact, use instruments in worship.

    Jason, These men did not worship with people in the Bible. And I don't believe these men worshiped with every Christian during their time. These men in your words "took it for granted" that Christians in the Bible never used instruments. And as Jay pointed out there surely seems to be prejudices among these men.

  21. Jay Guin says:

    Back in Roman times, they had no printing. It seems likely that their language — idiom, colloquialism, etc. — changed even faster than ours does. After all, 300 years before Paul takes you back to classical Greek times, and you have to take a different course in school to learn classical Greek rather than the koine Greek of the First Century. The language changed a lot in 300 years.

    And Aquinas and Augustine wrote in Latin. If they knew Greek, it was not as a native Greek speaker.

    I'll grant you that some of the Patristics knew their koine Greek better than us, but not most. Some would understand it much less well than many modern Greek scholars.

    Moreover, it's obvious that many of these authors had lost touch with Judaism — and yet Judaism is the root of Christianity. Modern studies are shedding great light on the New Testament by studying ancient Judaic texts. And yet many Patristics had no interest in their Jewish heritage. And many reflect considerable Platonic thought — or other non-Christian thought. The purity of apostolic thought was very quickly corrupted.

    Did they have a need for the Regulative Principle? Well, let's hypothesize that the principle is apostolic. Why did the church go to a monarchial bishop in the early Second Century? What about the early church's insistence that the bishop must be present for baptisms? Or the adoption of infant baptism by Irenaeus (late second century)?

    Was there less of an absence to argue from? Well, it seems to me that there a substantial absence of First Century practice.

  22. Jason says:

    >>Did they have a need for the Regulative Principle? Well, let’s hypothesize that the principle is apostolic.<<

    Why? I must be failing to articulate what I mean. I'm not saying it is apostolic. I'm saying that to argue it is (or must be in order to be valid) is to insist on an anachronism.

    The Apostles didn't need the principle. The early Church fathers did–the farther removed from the First Century, the more so they needed it. To the extent they didn't have it, the result is the exact type of early error you point out: monarchical bishop, infant baptism, etc. If they had it and held fast to it, perhaps there wouldn't have been a need for Reformation and Restoration.

  23. Jay Guin says:

    Still not following you. (And I have no idea why your comments keep getting trapped in the spam filter).

    If the Regulative Principle isn't apostolic, then it's a bogus argument.

  24. Jason says:

    I'll try one more time. The Apostles would have no use of a doctrine about how to deal with an absence of authority because they *had* authority.

    If you're of the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox tradition, you also have no need of it, because you still have sufficient authority to answer any question–a living church hierarchy with a claim of apostolic succession.

    However, if you reject that sort of authority in favor of solo scriptura, then you have some problems. You have to deal with ambiguities where authority is uncertain or absent. You can either: (1) claim license to do whatever you want in such matters, (2) claim that absence of authority should lead to restraint, and/or (3) look for some other type of authority to inform and anchor Scripture in its historical context. *Early* church tradition/practice can serve as that sort of gap-filling authority.

    We do that on instruments and many other matters as well. So, I don't actually think the regulative principle is necessary to insist on a cappella-only worship. There isn't an absence of authority if you view the first century tradition as authoritative.

    But this approach, or the regulative principle itself, or any other interpretive concept is valid or invalid on its own merits. Asking whether it is apostolic misses the point. The Apostles were not in our position. They didn't need such interpretive concepts to bridge the gap of history, culture, and language that we must bridge.

  25. Todd Collier says:

    And yet your statements assume that neither the apostles, nor the patristics lean on scriptural authority. The fact is that they do.

    The apostles quote extensively (if a sometimes via paraphrase) from the OT and no less than Peter leans upon Paul's writings to support the main thrust of one of his own arguments.

    As for the writings we are discussing one of the arguments for the reliability of the NT text is that the NT could be reassembled several times over from the extensive quotes of the 2-4th century Patristic writers. They are constantly supporting positions – much as we do here – by reference to this passage or another. But on IM they have no NT passages upon which to draw. My argument is simply that if Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 meant to the early chuch what we say it means about IM they would have said so and ended the argument, and they would have supported it with the testimony of Paul, John, Peter, Clement, et al whose disciples they were.

    That they did not means that our interpretation of those passages is not that of the authors nor their disciples. Therefore to use those passages as we use them is to wrongfully handle the text.

    Strictly applied the NT text is silent on the issue of IM. The Patristic writers do not use IM, do not like IM but refrain from condemning IM and they use scripture only to support their lack of condemnation, not to prove the practice wrong.

  26. Jay Guin says:

    Todd,

    You make an excellent point. One of the striking features of most of the Patristics is their derivative nature. They quote and paraphrase the scriptures constantly. Nor are they hesitant to build a case from scripture. It's striking how absent NT scripture is from the discussions of instruments.

  27. Jay Guin says:

    Jason writes,

    You can either: (1) claim license to do whatever you want in such matters, (2) claim that absence of authority should lead to restraint, and/or (3) look for some other type of authority to inform and anchor Scripture in its historical context.

    Jason,

    It's a false dichotomy (or trichotomy). It assumes that authority is the issue, without proof or even much in the way of evidence. I suggest we look in the scriptures to see what the test is. As I've said before, 1 Cor 14 teaches that the test is whether the practice fulfills the assembly's purpose — does it edify? encourage? strengthen? comfort? cause unbelievers to glorify God? Heb 10:24-25, to much the same effect, says we assemble to encourage one another and to spur one another to love and good works.

    Thus, the question becomes: does the proposed practice fulfill God's purpose in giving us the assembly?

    I teach this because I find it in the Bible and because it makes sense. The assembly thus furthers God's purpose in saving us —

    (Eph 2:8-10) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    And that has a symmetry that always shows up when we work from a gospel-based premise rather than a law-based premise.

    And it fits with the Beatitudes. And 1 Cor 13. And Rom 12. Indeed, the assembly becomes a natural extension of the major themes of the scriptures — Kingdom, gospel, love, service. Indeed, as God in Jesus is working to undo the Curse of Genesis, forming his people into a loving community of service — a community shaped like Jesus — a purposeful approach fits perfectly with the direction and purpose of God's redemptive work in Christ.

    Show me from the scriptures where I have to have authority in worship but not when being entertained, and I'll reconsider my position.

  28. There’s not a hint of the Regulative Principle in these quotations. There’s not a word about authority or the lack thereof.

    I think you mix apples and pears. If I understand your logic correctly it goes like this:

    a) The church of Christ uses the regulative principle to rule out instruments in worship. And they point to church history to confirm their conviction.
    b) But The patristice writings don't use the regulative principle (although they rule out instruments as well).
    c) Since they don't use this principle, the churches of Christ are wrong about their insistence on a-capella worship based on (or supported by) the patristic writings.

    But the Early Christians opposed instruments in worship based on Biblical reasoning. And even if you want them to quote Col 3:16+17 or Eph 5:18-19 and to use the regulative principle, you can't make them do it. If they acknowledged the regulative principle, it is not necessary that they point to these verses and argue from the silence. The fact they don't quote from the NT itself confirms the same silence we find in it concerning instruments. And they explain the very reason why we don't use instruments in a sound an biblical way.

    Their biblical reasoning is represented in quotes like this one:

    CYPRIAN “Instruments were permitted in the Old Testament for the sake of their [the people’s] weakness, to stir up their minds to perform their external worship.” (240 A.D.)

    Here (and that's the mainline of their thinking!) Cyprian points to the difference in quality between the Old and the New Covenant. We don't have an "external" worship with a temple and bloody sacrifices any more, hence the instruments are not for us, because they belonged to the type and the shadow.

    I mean, if these uninspired writers are affirming an apostolic teaching, surely they’d also be affirming the apostolic reasoning, but there’s not a hint of the Patristics’ logic in the scriptures.

    My background is dispensationalism. I learned to reject the position of restoring the nation of Israel to their land and some other aspects of this rather new theology. But when I read the early Christian writers for the first time, I immediately understood their reasoning. It is based on a clear distinction between the old and the new; between the temple and the church.

    If you don't get their logic, that doesn't mean there isn't any. Or if you don't see the biblical roots of their reasoning, that doesn't mean they lack these roots. I see them clearly, and I canm follow their reasoning without any problem.

    I prefer this reasoning to the regulative principle, although the regulative principle is not wrong in itself. It just needs to be confirmed. Say: "There is silence about an issue" "Why is that so?" "Well, I think, because …" => And then follows a theory that needs confirmation. Our assumption is that in the New Covenant the use of instruments is wrong. Sometimes we just say: "It isn't there, so it is forbidden." (Keep it stupid and simple) But if you ask for more information, most conservative brothers will point to the difference between the covenants. OK, that's a theory about why there is this silence; and this theory needs to be confirmed.

    It is confirmed that we draw the correct conclusion from the silence on instruments by the "dispenational" interpretation of the patristic writers. It is not necessary that they use the same kind of reasoning as Alexander Campbell or we. But the conclusions matter, because correct conclusions will lead to correct applications. And these do matter.

    Alexander

    P.S:.: Besides that they also stress nonconformity to the world. CCM and using instruments actually strives to conform to the world in order to make worship more appealing to men. There is a real chance to clothe this motive in the words of "outreach to the lost" or "tearing down walls that separate" – while actually many among us ust want to satisfy their musical taste (i.e. their flesh). I don't point on anyone I don't know – I went through this whole process myself.

  29. Mike Ward says:

    Jay,

    This is a very interesting article.

    I think the tendecy to use the ECF when they agree with us and ignore them when they don't is part of a broader pattern.

    E.g., the OT is rejected as a source of authority for instrumental music, but the OT is appealed to, to justify the existance of the law of silence.

    The example of the Last Supper is considered binding in the matter of unleavened bread used in the LS, but it isn't event permissive with regards to the day the LS may be taken.

    Protestant reformers are cited in one instance and rejected in another.

    The "you're just being silly" defense is scoffed at when the Christian Churches uses it to defend instrumental music, but it used as a defense when anyone asks us for our authority for restrooms (and for the authority to go use them in the middle of worship!)

    Typically, "bible only" really means "bible (and anything else that agrees with my interpretations and excepting anything in the bible that does not) only".

  30. Jay Guin says:

    Mike,

    You are very perceptive.

  31. Jay Guin says:

    Alexander,

    My point was and is that the Patristics don't argue from the Regulative Principle, and I think you don't disagree. Rather, you point out that the Patristics give other scripturally grounded reasons, which you find persuasive.

    That's not an illegitimate argument, but it's not an argument traditionally made by the conservative Churches. And it bears consideration.

    Let's take your quotation from Cyprian —

    CYPRIAN "Instruments were permitted in the Old Testament for the sake of their [the people's] weakness, to stir up their minds to perform their external worship." (240 A.D.)

    Is that true? Is there any evidence that the use of instruments in the OT was "to stir up their minds"? What does the OT say?

    1 My heart is steadfast, O God!
    I will sing and make melody with all my being!
    2Awake, O harp and lyre!
    I will awake the dawn!
    3I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
    4For your steadfast love is great above the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

    David certainly doesn't see the use of an instrument as solely external. He finds in instrumental worship the ability to "make melody with all my being." Surely we take him to have been speaking the truth.

    Yes, worship of any kind can be external, but there's nothing inherently external about instrumental worship. Nor does instrumental music "excite the mind" in some illegitimate way in this psalm.

    In fact, Heb 8 – 9 makes a distinction similar to Cyprian's but different in a critical way. There, the writer condemns "external regulations" for how to worship, not external instruments.

    The problem the Hebrews writer has with OT worship was the imposition of regulations for how to worship, rather than the Spirit's internal guidance.

    And David's psalm speaks of personal, impromptu worship, not the worship of the temple. He is describing worship driven by the Spirit (which he possessed) in this particular psalm.

    Therefore, while I agree that Cyprian made a scriptural argument for a cappella music, I think it's an argument that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

  32. kim says:

    i realize this particular article is about how the patristics conducted their arguments, but i don't understand why the book of Revelation never comes up in this discussion. It seems that author assumed instrumental worship to be normative (5:8, 14:2, 15:2), and it's clearly not referring to "Old Covenant" woship.

  33. Jay Guin says:

    Kim,

    The Revelation is very relevant to the instrumental music question. Sadly, the conservatives dismiss the arguments out of hand without really considering the point. You can read some deeper ruminations on that point at —

    A Debate on Instrumental Music, Part 1

    A Debate on Instrumental Music, Part 2

    A Debate on Instrumental Music, Part 3

  34. abasnar says:

    Revelation uses the imagery of the temple. If we argue for IM from this book, we also must burn incense – that's BTW the reasoning behind burning incense in those churches who do this.

    If we regard incense as symbolic, we must regard the golden harps as symbols as well. Regardless how we think about IM in general, the book of revelation is no evidence for the us of instruments in an assembly.

    Alexander

  35. Jay Guin says:

    Alexander,

    "Must burn incense"? To have permission is not the same as having a command. You could at most argue that incense becomes permissive if instrumental music becomes permissive due to the teachings of Revelation.

    I would point out that Rev. treats the sound of the harp as a blessing —

    (Rev 18:21-23) Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: "With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. 22 The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. 23 The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world's great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.

    Part of God's punishment of Babylon was to deny them the joy of instrumental music. That hardly indicates God's displeasure with instrumental music.

    Moreover, the worship of God in heaven is explicitly pictured as involving harps —

    (Rev 5:8-10) And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

    Incense is explicitly made a symbol for the prayers of the saints. That's the only way the word is used in the Revelation. But in heaven, the harps always accompany the singing of praise and aren't said to symbolize anything. But we do see that the harps and other instruments represent a healthy, happy society.

    Now, to apply the lesson of the harps, we have to decide what the harps symbolize. It's not enough to declare them symbols. Symbols of what?

    I think the harps are there because the worship of heaven demonstrates that the Exile is over. No longer do such verses as the following apply —

    (Psa 137:2-4) There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" 4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

    The Jews gave up the instrument during the time of Exile, and this is why the synagogues were a cappella. The instrument was considered only appropriate in the temple.

    But in Christ, the Exile is over and the kingdom has come. There is no longer any reason to mourn the separation of God from his people or his people from their inheritance. Yes, the harps are symbolic, but they represent the coming of the kingdom and the end of Exile. We can again pick up our harps and sing because the kingdom has come and Jesus sits on the throne of David.

  36. R.J. says:

    MARTYR “Simply singing is not agreeable to children (Jews), but singing with lifeless instruments and with dancing and clapping is. On this account the use of this kind of instruments and of others agreeable to children is removed from the songs of the churches, and there is left remaining simply singing.” (Justin Martyr, 139 AD)

    Justin Martyr plainly appeals to prejudice against the Jews.

    MARTYR “The use of music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jew, in their infant state, but only the use of plain song.” (Justin Martyr, 139 AD)

    Actually these writings have been confirmed((and were believed for over a 100 years) to come from someone several hundred years later. Falsely attributing himself as Justin Martyr.:)

  37. HistoryGuy says:

    RJ,
    The issue over the quote from Justin has been known for a good while, but changes nothing in history. Justin is not the only writer from the 2nd century and the quote is consistent with every other ECF for the first 600 years of church history who comments on the issue. We have earlier sources verifying a cappella. Every ECF who writes on the issue contrasts the Old and New Covenant in defense of Christian practices, like Psalm singing, and not from an anti-Semitic bias. Scholars have two main conclusions about the a cappella practice of the church for the first 600-1000 years, and Jewish prejudice is not in the list.

    Please share with me the scholar(s) who believe Justin appeals to Jewish prejudice

    Thanks,
    HG

  38. Jay Guin says:

    History Guy,

    Given the extent of anti-Jewish sentiment in the Roman Empire after a succession of Jewish revolts, it would be astonishing if there weren't anti-Jewish bias in Christian writing.

    Consider the materials gathered here: http://www.yashanet.com/library/fathers.htm

    For example,

    John Chrysostom (344-407 A.D.) – One of the "greatest" of church fathers; known as "The Golden Mouthed." A missionary preacher famous for his sermons and addresses.

    "The synagogue is worse than a brothel…it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts…the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults…the refuge of brigands and dabauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews…a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ… a house worse than a drinking shop…a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and a abyss of perdition."…"I would say the same things about their souls… As for me, I hate the synagogue…I hate the Jews for the same reason."

    Admittedly, ECF prejudice grew over time. Early on, the church was not anti-Semitic at all. But over the years, a distinct anti-Semitic bias developed within the church — not universally but unmistakably present.

    If we read the famous anti-instrument quotations with this fact in mind, it's hard not to notice the odor of prejudice —

    AQUINAS “Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.” (Thomas Aquinas, Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 3, page 137)

    Why is it important to "not seem to Judaize"?

    CYPRIAN “Instruments were permitted in the Old Testament for the sake of their [the people’s] weakness, to stir up their minds to perform their external worship.” (240 A.D.)

    Why presume that the Jews were weaker in mind than anyone else? Why consider their worship merely "external"? Did they never worship from the heart?

    FALSELY ASCRIBED TO MARTYR “Simply singing is not agreeable to children (Jews), but singing with lifeless instruments and with dancing and clapping is. On this account the use of this kind of instruments and of others agreeable to children is removed from the songs of the churches, and there is left remaining simply singing.”

    FALSELY ASCRIBED TO MARTYR “The use of music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jew, in their infant state, but only the use of plain song.”

    Why refer to Jews as infants and children? This is condescending if nothing else. After all, God commanded the use of instruments.

    Were David, Isaiah, and Nehemiah "infants" in their worship of God?

    Now I don't believe the a cappella practices of the early church stem from anti-Jewish prejudice. But the arguments made to defend the practice sometimes do reflect an anti-Jewish prejudice.

    Practices that start out merely as practices soon become traditions soon become doctrines. And when they become doctrines, we find whatever arguments we can to defend them — and the arguments often have nothing to do with the original reason for the practice.

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