For readers unfamiliar with the discussion, this begins with an article I posted at New Wineskins: “On God’s Salvation, Galatians, and the Instrument,” in which I wrote —
It’s often been said, by both sides, that the dispute is ultimately all about hermeneutics, and indeed , it is. But the fork in the road is not where we normally say. It’s not really about what the early Christian bishops wrote, nor about the meaning of psall?, nor about how to read the silences of the scriptures. Not really. Of course, those arguments matter and need to be addressed, but they aren’t the core of the disagreement.
It’s really about who God is and his eternal plan for his people. Did God send Jesus to save us to worship a cappella? Or did he have entirely different purposes in mind? That’s the question.
And it’s the most important question in the entire debate. You see, once we decide that God is the sort of God who might damn over a piano, we begin to worry about whether he might also damn over how we use the church treasury, whether women wear hats to church, or whether elders are re-affirmed. Once you envision a God who damns over such things, there’s really no end to the rules that your God might damn you over.
For any student of Restoration Movement history, the fruit of our teaching is seen in our countless divisions. Of course, we aren’t alone. The Baptists and many other denominations are severely divided as well. But that hardly excuses our behavior. Rather, it just tells us that we aren’t alone in our failure to understand who God really is.
Matt Dabbs recently posted an article as his blog “Kingdom Living” stating,
Thanks to Mark, however, for pointing out how one-sided this issue of New Wineskins is. I don’t think you always have to give equal airtime to both sides of an issue but it is at least important to present it fairly. I was a little disappointed by how Jay framed the topic in his article On Salvation, Galatians and the Instrument,
“It’s really about who God is and his eternal plan for his people. Did God send Jesus to save us to worship a cappella? Or did he have entirely different purposes in mind? That’s the question.”
Matt raises two concerns. The first is that the articles are one-sided. And, indeed, they are. So is my blog. So is Matt’s. So is the Gospel Advocate. So is the Spiritual Sword. So is the Christian Courier. However, unlike the Gospel Advocate and the Spiritual Sword, New Wineskins has a comment section and the publisher allows unmoderated posting of opposing thoughts — and this is also true of my blog and Matt’s. The Christian Courier website not only doesn’t allow comments, but the last time I looked, I couldn’t find an address at which I could even contact the author, Wayne Jackson. The Gospel Advocate won’t even publish critical letters to the editor!
The point isn’t that it’s okay because everyone else is doing it! The point is that there’s nothing at all wrong with expressing your opinion — even if it’s an unpopular or controversial opinion. To me, the key is whether you allow the opposition to reply. And New Wineskins does — and the comment sections are filled with replies!
Therefore, it’s entirely okay for Matt’s blog to represent his viewpoints only. And he’s to be commended for courageously allowing those who disagree to post their disagreements. New Wineskins does the same.
New Wineskins has always been written from the progressive end of the spectrum — going back to its origins. And I really don’t see why that’s a problem. There is no obligation to present both sides of every argument — especially when the opposing arguments are extremely well known. Any reader interested in the question is already familiar with the array of arguments for the traditional position. Many are not familiar with the counter-arguments.
As I stated in the Introduction that I also wrote,
After over a century of debate, the paths are well worn and the ground is packed hard. What would be the point of regurgitating either set of arguments yet one more time? And so, this time, the discussion will cover fresh ground.
If there’s fresh scholarship or material on the non-instrumental side of the debate, I’m not aware of it, and I’ve been in the thick of this controversy for quite some time. On the other hand, while I can’t speak for New Wineskins, if someone were to present some truly new and interesting material on the non-instrumental side, I expect that New Wineskins would post it. But I see no point in repeating arguments that everyone knows by heart. (And if anyone doesn’t know them, I can suggest some books that lay them out. There are many.)
And so, if anyone wants to take up the other side of the dialogue, I will open the pages of OneInJesus to them to post as they please — provided (a) I get to respond and (b) the posts are from someone who has considerable standing in the a cappella community. My desire is for the very best possible advocate for the a cappella position to engage in unedited dialogue on either or both of the doctrine mentioned here, and they can have equal access to my blog and readership to state their case and to refute my arguments.
I’ve issued such proposals before. I am entirely serious. I’ve undertaken efforts such as this in the past, and would be glad to do it again. On the other hand, I have no interest in posting someone’s position papers that don’t engage the issues. That is, it must be a give-and-take discussion. I’ll not waste the readers’ time with restatements of well-known arguments. The interesting thing would be to see the two sides engage each other.
But the New Wineskins series is not intended to be a debate or a dialogue. It’s the presentation of material that will be new to nearly all readers. But if it takes a debate to be fair, my blog is available.
The framing question
As to the second concern, my respect for Matt is such that I’ve thought and prayed seriously over my framing question to see whether I should stand by it or apologize. But I think it’s right. I am convinced by the scriptures and by the crucible of history that the theology that underlies the a cappella position is not only in error, but poisonous. And I say this even though I’m an elder of a church that worships a cappella and even though I once held to the position that the instrument damns. There are two key elements of this theology.
Damning over the instrument
First, there is the idea that instrumental music damns because it’s doctrinal error. This is anti-gospel in the same way that demanding circumcision as a condition of fellowship is anti-gospel. And the fruit of the doctrine is division and misery. You see, if God damns over the instrument, he also damns over fellowship halls, the use of the church treasury … you know the list. And the scriptures are clear —
(1Co 3:16-17 ESV) 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
“You” is plural in each case, and the context is division within the Lord’s body. We have to speak out against this devastating teaching.
The Regulative Principle
Second, there is the Regulative Principle — the idea that God bans everything not specifically approved in the scriptures. Now if someone believes this but accepts those who disagree in full, active fellowship, they aren’t guilty of the Galatian heresy or what Paul condemned in 1 Cor 3. But they do have a distorted image of the character of God and the gospel. They have a faith that saves, but it is, to use Paul’s words, a weak faith.
In Rom 14, those who insisted on commands that God doesn’t insist on are said to have “weak” faith, because they don’t fully appreciate the freedom we have in Christ. And while it’s a much less severe error, it’s an error that misunderstands who “God is and his eternal plan for his people.” It does because God is not about such things. You see, you can worship God a cappella and be entirely pleasing to him and have a strong faith. But you can’t imagine that God considers instrumental worship unauthorized and disapproved (even though forgiven) and really understand what God is about and what he wants from us.
What kind of thinking — what underlying assumptions — are required to imagine that the “law of silence” is how God expects us to understand him? What image of God leads us to think this way? Well, the arguments made by the anti-instrumental advocates answer that question. Those who teach this perspective teach a God defined by a misinterpretation of the stories of Nadab and Abihu and Uzzah. Those stories, read legalistically and out of context, define who God is in the minds of those advocates. And he’s a God who damns for the tiniest, most innocent mistakes. He’s a God looking for a way to damn us. And that’s a false image of God.
Rather, the scriptures teach us that God reveals himself most fully in Jesus —
(John 14:9 ESV) 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
(Col 1:15 ESV) 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Therefore, God’s love is so great that he’d rather die on a Roman cross than see us damned. God’s love is so great that he’s willing to eat and enjoy fellowship with prostitutes and Roman collaborators and to touch lepers. God’s love is so great that he forgives people who don’t even ask for forgiveness!
Now, I can’t reconcile the God revealed through Jesus with the God described by the “law of silence” advocates. Yes, the stories of Nadab and Abihu and Uzzah are true, but, no, they don’t teach the lesson the “law of silence” advocates would have us believe. I’ve covered those in the past. (I’m not suggesting a contradiction or a change in God’s character but the need to reconsider the lessons taught by those stories.)
The great danger is that we become like what we worship. If we worship a loving, gracious God who mingles with the outcasts and extends forgiveness to the unworthy, we become like that. If we worship a God who rejects worship that fails to satisfy a rule hidden in the silences of the scripture, we become narrow, unforgiving people.
You see, neither the instrument nor a cappella matters. But knowing God as revealed in Jesus matters. And his love is so large and his grace so vast that it requires divine help to even begin to understand them —
(Eph 3:14-19 ESV) 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
It grieves me that so many good people are being deceived by these two false doctrines. They are doing grievous harm and cause untold pain. They make it hard to believe that God would be willing to save, and leave the church filled with people mourning their lack of salvation. I long for the day that the Churches of Christ are filled with people who truly know Jesus and the love and peace of God.