I would never call it sinful to use intruments in worship.
But I call it inconsistent with the idea of Restoration.
If we strive for unity through going back to the “Ancient Order of Things”, a-capella worship (to be sure) is one of the “minors”. But it always becomes an issue, when people want to depart from “the old paths”.
I would most likeley disagree with the standard reasoning or the attitude among many conservative churches – because they make this bigger than it is, even a salvation issue (if they are quoted correctly in this Blog).
But I also disagree with the progressive approach, because it does not fit the idea of restoration, but is – concerning instrumental worship – indeed based on wishful thinking. The church of christ in their oldest records we have unanimously rejected instruments in worship. You cannot deny this fact, nor easily argue, that a-capella worship was an innovation in the 2nd century. This is they way it was from the beginning, and it did not change until the middle ages.
Why? Pray, why do progressives always start a fight on this issus? Why don’t they comply with the tradition and focus on the spiritual quality of faith and church life? Changing such externals as instrumental versus a-capella might stir up a few more emotions in worship – but that’s not to be confused with spirituality. On the other hand it does cause division among the churches of Christ, and it causes many to fall into the sins of resentment and ugly talk about others. And this indeed can become a salvation issue!
Is what you gain worth the price, Jay (et. al.)?
I want to repeat that I find Alexander an engaging, thoughtful, spiritual conversationalist. I’m not picking on him. And the questions he asks are critically important to the contemporary Churches of Christ. You see, in most of Christendom, the decision to be a cappella or instrumental would be thought of as being on the order of what color to paint the foyer — a matter of taste and expedience. But in the Churches of Christ, it’s beyond that. Even for those (like Alexander) who don’t see the question as doctrinal, it’s often seen as an identity question. Unspoken but often very real is the question: “If we aren’t the churches that sing a cappella, who are we?”
Is my teaching on the instrument inconsistent with the Restoration Movement?
The Restoration Movement was indeed founded as a unity movement, but unity was not sought through uniform worship practices. Rather, unity was sought by not allowing such disagreements to be barriers to fellowship. Instrumental music was not an issue during the first 60 years of the Movement. Rather, the original goal was to overcome creeds — that is, doctrinal statements that served as tests of fellowship.
One of the founding documents of the Movement is Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address” of 1809. He wrote,
3. That in order to this, nothing ought to be inculcated upon christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion; but what is expressly taught, and enjoined upon them, in the word of God. Nor ought any thing be admitted, as of divine obligation, in their church constitution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles upon the New Testament church; either in express terms, or by approven precedent.
Now, the supposed prohibition of instrumental music is certainly NOT “expressly taught, and enjoined.” Therefore, Campbell urges us to not to treat it as of “divine obligation” or to make it a part of our “church constitution and managements.”
Campbell, in referencing express commands and approved precedents, is NOT saying those are the only things authorized. Rather, he’s saying those are the only rules we can treat as “divine obligation” or include in our “church constitution and managements.” That is, we aren’t allowed to make up rules out of silences.
5. That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the scriptures are silent, as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be; no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency, by making laws for the church; nor can any thing more be required of christians in such cases, but only that they so observe these commands and ordinances, as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church; or be made a term of communion amongst christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.
Campbell then declares that where the scriptures are silent, no human has the right to “supply the supposed deficiency, by making laws for the church.” Therefore, Campbell denies that silences are necessarily prohibitions. Rather, the laws we must obey are laws “expressly taught” (paragraph 3, quoted above). He then insists that we can insist on no more than obedience to actual commands found in the scripture. And he prohibits binding anything not as old as the New Testament. That seems to plainly ban the use of Third Century writings.
6. That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God–therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs’s confession.
Inferences, even if “fairly inferred” so as to be “truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word” are not “binding upon the consciences of christians” because to hold otherwise would be to make one’s faith depend on the “wisdom of men.” Therefore, “deductions” are not terms of “communion.” Therefore, the instrumental vs. a cappella controversy cannot be a salvation or fellowship issue to someone wanting to be true to the Restoration Movement.
The original Restoration Movement was about unity achieved by insisting on nothing but the word of God — not even inferences and deductions. Now, the argument against instrumental music begins with inferring that all silences are prohibitions (a very doubtful inference) and then inferring that the scriptures are silent on the instrument (also very doubtful).
Thomas Campbell would certainly not have agreed with the 20th Century insistence on a cappella music as a term of fellowship or as somehow defining the boundaries or our identity as a Movement. Indeed, it is the exact opposite of his teaching.
On the other hand, I’m confident his congregation was a cappella. All frontier congregations were. It wasn’t an issue in those days because of the cost and because most frontier churches were rooted in Calvinism, and the Zwingli/Puritan branch had especially insisted on the Regulative Principle, banning all on which the scriptures were silent. You see, our position on a cappella music is not Restoration teaching at all. It’s Zwinglian.
The Restoration Movement was specifically designed to unite all Christians without regard to the speculations of the Zwinglis and other men — to no longer divide over issues other than faith in Jesus. Alexander Campbell wrote in The Christian System,
It must strike every man of reflection, that a religion requiring much mental abstraction or exquisite refinement of thought, or that calls for the comprehension or even apprehension of refined distinctions and of nice subtleties, is a religion not suited to mankind in their present circumstances. To present such a creed as the Westminster, as adopted, either by Baptists or Paido-Baptists; such a creed as the Episcopalian, or, in the fact, any sectarian creed, composed as they all are, of propositions, deduced by logical inferences, and couched in philosophical language, to all those who are fit subjects of the salvation of Heaven–I say, to present such a creed to such for their examination or adoption, shocks all common sense. This pernicious course is what has paganized Christianity.
Our sects and parties, our disputes and speculations, our orders and castes, so much resemble any thing but Christianity, that when we enter a modern synagogue, or an ecclesiastical council, we seem rather to have entered a Jewish sanhedrim, a Mohometan mosque, a Pagan temple, or an Egyptian cloister, than a Christian congregation. Sometimes, indeed, our religious meetings so resemble the Areopagus, the Forum, or the Senate, that we almost suppose ourselves to have been translated to Athens or Rome. Even Christian orators emulate Demosthenes and Cicero. Christian doctrines are made to assume the garb of Egyptian mysteries, and Christian observances put on the pomp and pageantry of pagan ceremonies. Unity of opinion, expressed in subscription to voluminous dogmas imported from Geneva, Westminster, Edinburgh, or Rome, is made the bond of union: and a difference in the tenth, or ten thousandth shade of opinion, frequently becomes the actual cause of dismemberment or expulsion.
The New Testament was not designed to occupy the same place in theological seminaries that the carcases of malefactors are condemned to occupy in medical halls–first doomed to the gibbet, and then to the dissecting knife of the spiritual anatomist. Christianity consists infinitely more in good works than in sound opinions; and while it is a joyful truth, that he that believes and is baptized shall be saved, it is equally true that he that says, ‘I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.’
(Paragraphing modified to facilitate readability.) The practices that Campbell condemns could just as easily refer to the teachings and practices of the 20th Century Churches of Christ. Campbell declares Christianity “paganized” — not due to impurity of worship but by insistence of forming sects and parties regarding disagreements over such things as how to worship! Rather, Campbell urges that “Christianity consists infinitely more in good works than in sound opinions.”
Campbell wrote in the same article,
Religious philosophers on the Bible have excogitated the following doctrines and philosophical distinctions:–
‘The Holy Trinity,’ ‘Three persons of one substance, power, and eternity,’ ‘Co-essential, co-substantial, co-equal,’ ‘The Son eternally begotten of the Father,’ ‘An eternal Son,’ ‘Humanity and divinity of Christ,’ ‘The Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son,’ ‘God’s eternal decrees,’ ‘Conditional and unconditional election and reprobation,’ ‘God out of Christ,’ ‘Free will,’ ‘Liberty and necessity,’ ‘Original sin,’ ‘Total depravity,’ ‘Covenant of grace,’7 ‘Effectual calling,’ ‘Free grace,’ ‘Sovereign grace,’ ‘General and particular atonement,’ ‘Satisfy divine justice,’ ‘Common and special operations of the Holy Ghost,’ ‘Imputed righteousness,’ ‘Inherent righteousness,’ ‘Progressive sanctification,’ ‘Justifying and saving faith,’ ‘Historic and temporary faith,’ ‘The direct and reflex acts of faith,’ ‘The faith of assurance, and the assurance of faith,’ ‘Legal repentance,’ ‘Evangelical repentance,’ ‘Perseverance of the saints,’8 and ‘Falling from grace,’9 ‘Visible and invisible church,’ ‘Infant membership,’ ‘Sacraments,’ ‘Eucharist,’ ‘Consubstantiation,’ ‘Church government,’ ‘The power of the keys,’ &c. &c.
Concerning these and all such doctrines, and all the speculations and phraseology to which they have given rise, we have the privilege neither to affirm nor deny–neither to believe nor doubt; because God has not proposed them to us in his word, and there is no command to believe them. If they are deduced from the Scriptures, we have them in the facts and declarations of God’s Spirit; if they are not deduced from the Bible, we are free from all the difficulties and strifes which they have engendered and created.
Alexander Campbell could not be clearer that some very dear and much-debated doctrines should not be terms of communion. Indeed, he goes all the way back to the Council of Nicea to condemn division over “speculations” — although there are many things here that the Churches of Christ affirm as true. But each example is also an example of a major division of Christ’s church thoughout history, each of which Campbell condemns. And he certainly had an opinion as to who was right on each question. He just denies the rightness of dividing over such things.
Study the list closely. It’s a truly astonishing list, as many of the items on the list are considered the very definition of orthodox Christianity. Campbell, however, writes,
When the Messiah appeared as the founder of a new religion, systems of religion consisting of opinions and speculations upon matter and mind, upon God and nature, upon virtue and vice, had been adopted, improved, reformed, and exploded time after time. That there was always something superfluous, something defective, something wrong, something that could be improved, in every system of religion and morality, was generally felt, and at last universally acknowledged. But the grandeur, sublimity, and beauty of the foundation of hope, and of ecclesiastical or social union, established by the author and founder of Christianity, consisted in this, that THE BELIEF OF ONE FACT, and that upon the best evidence in the world, is all that is requisite, as far as faith goes, to salvation. The belief of this ONE FACT and submission to ONE INSTITUTION expressive of it, is all that is required of Heaven to admission into the church.
A Christian, as defined, not by Dr. Johnson, nor any creed-maker, but by one taught from Heaven, is one that believes this one fact, and has submitted to one institution, and whose deportment accords with the morality and virtue of the great Prophet. The one fact is expressed in a single proposition–that Jesus the Nazarene is the Messiah. The evidence upon which it is to be believed is the testimony of twelve men, confirmed by prophecy, miracles, and spiritual gifts.
The one institution is baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Every such person is a disciple in the fullest sense of the word, the moment he has believed this one fact, upon the above evidence, and has submitted to the above mentioned institution; and whether he believes the five points condemned, or the five points approved by the synod of Dort, is not so much as to be asked of him; whether he holds any of the views of the Calvinists or Arminians, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, or Quakers, is never once to be asked of such persons, in order to admission into the Christian community, called the church. The only doubt that can reasonably arise upon these points, is, whether this one fact, in its nature and necessary results, can suffice to the salvation of the soul, and whether the open avowal of it, in the overt act of baptism, can be a sufficient recommendation of the person, so professing, to the confidence and love of the brotherhood.
As to the first of these, it is again and again asserted, in the clearest language, by the Lord himself, the Apostles Peter, Paul, and John, that he that believes the testimony that Jesus is the Christ, is begotten by God, may overcome the world, has eternal life, and is, on the veracity of God, saved from his sins. This should settle the first point; for the witnesses agree that whosoever confesses that Jesus is the Christ, and is baptized, should be received into the church; and not an instance can be produced of any person being asked for any other faith, in order to admission, in the whole New Testament.
The Saviour expressly declared to Peter, that upon this fact, that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, he would build his church; and Paul has expressly declared that “other foundation can no man lay (for ecclesiastical union) than that JESUS IS THE CHRIST.” The point is proved that we have assumed; and this proved, every thing is established requisite to the union of all Christians upon a proper basis.
(Paragraphing modified to facilitate readability. Italics in original. Boldface is mine.) The “Synod of Dort” is the council that adopted the five points of Calvinism, abbreviated “TULIP.” Campbell, a former Calvinist, declares that neither Calvinism nor non-Calvinism is a term of communion.
Now, the 20th Century Churches of Christ correctly admitted converts to baptism and communion solely on a confession of faith in Jesus. Good. But they failed to treat that as the only foundation for ecclesiastical union. They treated faith in Jesus as sufficient to become saved but not sufficient to stay saved, instead adding a burden of commands and inferences far greater than the Mosaic 613 commands, declaring all sorts of things essential to be a part of the Restoration Movement, indeed, essential to salvation.
No … the idea that we must practice a cappella singing to be part of the Restoration Movement is the very opposite of Restoration Movement thought. Rather, to be true to the principles of the Movement, we must work for unity across denominational lines, without regard to disagreements over doctrines such as Calvinism, focusing instead on faith in Jesus.
At the same time, there is a strain of thought in the Campbells some call “primitivism,” that is, a desire to return to First Century practices. They scoured the scriptures (and Patristics) for lessons on how to worship, how to organize the church, and such. However, these conclusions were not tests of fellowship. Alexander Campbell himself made it clear that he didn’t consider the pattern of worship that he taught a salvation issue, as noted recently by John Mark Hicks.
The interesting question, however, is whether [Campbell] thought the “order” he discerned within the New Testament was a test of fellowship among believers. Did he believe that conformity to this order was necessary to salvation? Was it his intent to identify the marks of the church that defined the true church so that every other body of believers who did not conform to those marks was apostate and thus outside the fellowship of God?
This was implicitly raised in the Christian Baptist by one of Campbell’s critics. Spencer Clack, the editor of the Baptist Recorder, wondered whether Campbell’s “ancient order” functioned similarly to the written creeds to which Campbell mightily objected (CB 5 [6 August 1827] 359-360). Campbell’s response is illuminating. He maintained that his “ancient order” was no creed precisely because he had “never made them, hinted that they should be, or used them as a test of christian character or terms of christian communion” (CB 5 [3 September 1827] 369-370,
Therefore, I utterly disagree with the notion that the progressive viewpoint “does not fit the idea of restoration.” The idea of restoration is to stop adding commands to the Bible that aren’t there and to unite despite disagreements over what the Bible says, so long as we remain united in our faith in Jesus.
And we aren’t a true Restoration Movement until we grant each other freedom to disagree regarding matters of silence. Indeed, to do otherwise is to entirely leave the teachings of the founders of the Movement. Freedom that can’t be exercised isn’t freedom.
But I insist that we follow the Campbells on these questions, not because of the authority of the Campbells, but because they were solid scholars of the scriptures. And on these points, they interpreted the scriptures aright.