I stumbled across a very intriguing website — the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ site.
Now, I’m sure I’m not the first to made this association, but we have to get this out of the way before we can go any further (and this has nothing to do with the post — at all).
I apologize for the interruption. I mean no disrespect.
So anyway, as I was saying, this is a very cool site for entirely unrelated (and entirely relevant) reasons.
I just love that: self-deprecating humor on the very first page of the site! This is a different kind of Church of Christ.
And there’s this great article about building fences around the law.
In order to protect the Torah (the Law of Moses) from violation, the rabbis erected a “fence” of additional regulations around it. In theory, these additional regulations would prevent people from even getting
close to violating the Law. Over time, of course, this “fence” became indistinguishable from the Law itself.
By the time of Jesus, the rabbis considered a violation of these regulations more serious than a violation of the Torah itself. After all, intepreting the Torah could be difficult even for experts in the Law. But the regulations were designed to be easily understood, they said. But the volume of the regulations would make Congress blush.
Even by itself, the Law of Moses was a complex collection of civil and religious rules that was a challenge to any man (the apostle Peter called it “a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear,” Ac. 15:10). But this fence erected by the rabbis was infinitely more complex, and hopelessly unobservable. The list of Sabbath regulations alone is a bewildering jungle of legalistic trivia that made the day of rest anything but.
What did Jesus think of these regulations?
He insisted that commentaries on divine law by pious men (“traditions”) do not constitute God’s law for everyone else. It’s that distinction that got Him in trouble with the Jewish leaders.
(Mark 7:7) “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
Now, this passage is routinely cited by those who insist on certain rules for worship — such as requiring that singing be a cappella — and used to condemn instrumental worship. It’s a very standard argument.
But Jesus’ complaint with the Pharisees is that they added commands in order to be safe.
(Mark 7:1-4) The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were” unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
The Pharisees weren’t being liberal. They were being cautious. They insisted that people wash their hands before they eat! But this wasn’t for health reasons; it was to avoid any chance that you might accidentally eat something that’s unclean. Palestine can be a very dusty place, and who knows where that dirt’s been! (See R. V. G. Tasker, Tyndale commentary on Matthew regarding 15:1 ff.)
The Pharisees, who were very devout, bound rules to be safe. You never know: that dirt may have touched a corpse or menstruating woman! The safe thing is to wash. And then they took the extra step of condemning Jesus for not joining them in their cautious approach to interpreting the scriptures. And Jesus declared their washing to be worshiping in vain (which also tells you how broadly Jesus defines “worship”).
Similarly, consider —
(Col 2:22-23) 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.
We considered this passage just a few days ago. “Self-imposed worship” in 2:23 is “will worship” in the KJV. And this is another text routinely cited to condemn instrumental worship. But we again see that “worship” is used much more broadly than the assembly —
(Col 2:21) “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?
Paul is speaking of “commands” to refrain from eating or touching things, not in the assembly, but in obedience to God anywhere. This is about asceticism, not the assembly.
And Paul is speaking of adding commands — imposing rules that God does not impose.
Therefore, we have this huge irony. The very verses on which hangs a cappella theology actually oppose adding commands, not ignoring commands. Of course, ignoring commands is also a sin — but there is no command to only sing a cappella. None. The argument is that doing anything without authority damns, and yet the very scriptures on which the arguments hang declare that it’s sin to add commands without authority — a very different thing indeed.
Now, does that mean that the anti-instrument argument is therefore wrong? No. It is wrong, but for other reasons. What it means is that we cannot argue against instrumental music to be safe. That’s an impermissible argument, because it risks imposing a tradition as a command.
(Mark 7:8) “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
There are many arguments permitted us. But building a fence around God’s laws to be safe is not.
One last point. There is no sin at all in choosing to sing a cappella to be safe. It misunderstands grace, I believe, but it’s not sin. And there are plenty of other reasons a church might legitimately choose to be a cappella. My congregation is a cappella — and I’m an elder there.
But when we impose our “just to be safe” rules on others, then we’ve sinned.
Now, to be clear, arguing a position is not imposing a position. However, when a “just to be safe” practice leads to condemning or breaking fellowship with others, then we’ve chosen to step into the shoes of the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned. We don’t want to go there.