New Wineskins: A Series of Comments re Instrumental Music and the Mission of God

WineskinsbannerI wrote a long series of comments over at the New Wineskins issue on instrumental music I’m the editor for. The comments aren’t too long for a post, just for comments — and the 3,000 character limit at New Wineskins made posting these problematic. And so, here are the comments, somewhat edited —

Deciding Whether to Use an Instrument

Once we agree that the scriptures grant freedom as to instrumental music, whether to exercise that freedom is a matter of wisdom and experience. No congregation should have to make that decision alone. Rather, we should also learn from one another. What mistakes have others made that we can avoid? How much benefit did the addition of instrumental music bring? How much detriment? What proved to be a good way to manage the transition? What proved to be a bad way? 

These questions need to be discussed because we exist in community and need to share our experience and wisdom. That doesn’t mean that I can decide for your church what is best for your church (within the realm of expedience), but I may well have information or experience that would be profitable to your congregation’s leadership as they wrestle with the question (and vice versa).

Moreover, although we certainly have freedom on the issue, it’s freedom for a purpose. We are free, but we are also committed to God’s mission. We exercise that freedom in faith and love. And if one choice or another would better serve God’s mission, the mission is paramount.

Hence, the decision to add or not add instruments must be made, not based on internal political grounds, but on missional grounds. Of course, any leadership that loves its flock will want to avoid a division and avoid losing members, but this isn’t done by compromising the gospel. It’s not done by condoning legalism. It’s done through teaching the true gospel, the gospel that gives freedom.

And once the congregation’s leadership has taught freedom in Christ and taught it well, the instrumental question should cease to be political and become missional.

We then ask such questions as: would the instrument make us more effective evangelistically? And we ask that question in community, by learning from the experience, good and bad, of other churches.

The question of whether to remain a cappella is certainly a congregational decision, not to be dictated by other churches (or editors!), but it’s also a decision to be made in community, with wisdom and experience pooled and shared. We don’t all have to do the same thing, but I think all congregations should be part of the conversation.

The Impact of the Mission

Elders have obligations both to our flock and to the lost. Both obligations are defined by the gospel.

As to the lost, the gospel tells us to pursue God’s mission of redemption to invite them into the kingdom. As to the saved, our obligation is much, much more than not giving offense. Indeed, giving offense, in the English sense of the word, isn’t really the question. Rather, as to the saved, we much teach them how to live out the gospel they’ve already accepted.

The gospel tells us that instrumental music is not a salvation or fellowship issue. If our members think it is, we have to teach them better. Indeed, to let them believe otherwise is to let them suffer from the very heresy that Galatians was written to confront. While instrumental music may well be a matter of faithful obedience in the hearts of many members, if they see it as also a salvation/fellowship issue, they are guilty of a works religion, and elders are charged to teach them the true faith. I see no other choice.

Indeed, if someone sees instrumental music as a salvation issue, he likely sees many other such issues as salvation issues and will protest if his congregation extends fellowship to sister congregations that disagree — and this would be division and factiousness. It’s sin. You see, the command to be united is not limited to unity within a single congregation. The entire body of Christ must be united. It’s a command.

Offending the Members

It is true, of course, that Rom 14 teaches us —

(Rom 14:13 ESV) 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

To “offend” in Rom 14 is not cause someone to judge you. He’s commanded not to judge you! To offend is to tempt to sin against one’s conscience. Therefore, I should not use peer pressure to tempt a member to worship against his conscience. But the obligation is on him not to judge or look down on me if I worship with an instrument —

(Rom 14:4 ESV) 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

(Rom 14:10 ESV) 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;

We can’t let his sin guide the church’s conduct. No, we teach our members to obey Rom 14 and we don’t tempt our members to sin against their consciences. Nothing else leads to true unity. Indeed, anything else leads to factiousness — and a congregation of the Lord’s church cannot agree to be factious just to please a brother’s weak understanding of the gospel.

I think Rom 14 is honored when we add an instrumental service rather than replacing our only a cappella service with an instrumental service. We don’t require members to sin against their consciences, but we do allow members to exercise their freedom while calling on those with weaker faith (to use Paul’s term) not to judge or despite their brothers with stronger faith.

Now … with all that in mind … the elders should not consider themselves bound by the scruples of members with the weakest faith. After all, to feel that way would be to give de facto leadership to the most legalistic members. No, the elders lead, not the most legalistic members. But the elders lead with compassion and kindness.

In conclusion

And so, to my way of thinking, this means —

* The elders teach grace to the church, over and over, in many different ways, so that it’s not just the elders who understand that the gospel doesn’t require a cappella music.

* The elders teach mission to the church, over and over, in many different ways, so the church transforms from a rules-based, check-the-box theology to a missional theology, with mission trumping preference and tradition.

* The elders prayerfully consider whether God’s redemptive mission would be better furthered if that congregation has an instrumental service. And this is decided without regard to what we feel comfortable with or prefer, because we laid all those things at the cross when we submitted to Jesus as Lord.

And this is why I’ve published the interview with Rick and Chris. Their churches have done exactly this. They honored Rom 14 and they honored God’s mission, viewed through the lens of grace. They made the transition prayerfully and with kindness. Those members who objected were not tempted to sin against their consciences. The gospel and mission prevailed.

That doesn’t mean all congregations must be instrumental. But I think it does mean that no congregation should consider itself so bound by tradition and fear and the consciences of its most conservative members that instrumental music can’t be considered. It has to be on the table for prayerful consideration.

And I would add this: even if a church decides not to go the instrumental route, no church has the option of refusing to fellowship instrumental churches because they are instrumental. To do that is to be factious, which is sin. And this is one reason it is so very important that our members be taught that the instrument is not a fellowship issue. Making it a fellowship issue is to divide the body of Christ.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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30 Responses to New Wineskins: A Series of Comments re Instrumental Music and the Mission of God

  1. Rey says:

    "How much benefit did the addition of instrumental music bring?"

    I'd like to know. Let's hear it. I'm thinking "none." A piano is just another waste of money like an oversized building, a steeple, a gold-plated toilet bowl, etc. But I'd still like to hear what the supposed benefits are.

  2. Rey says:

    …….or a giant Jesus statue that will just its head blown off by a bolt of lightning.

  3. Royce Ogle says:

    Rey,

    Your the tone of your comments expose what you are.

    Jay,

    In my view, every church deserves the truth. After being taught grace and that IM is not a “salvation issue” or a “fellowship issue” most of our people will still be A Cappella far into the future and thats great. They need to know its a choice, not a command.

    Thanks for the posts at New Wineskins.

    Royce

  4. Royce Ogle says:

    Rey,

    Your the tone of your comments expose what you are.

    Jay,

    In my view, every church deserves the truth. After being taught grace and that IM is not a "salvation issue" or a "fellowship issue" most of our people will still be A Cappella far into the future and thats great. They need to know its a choice, not a command.

    Thanks for the posts at New Wineskins.

    Royce

  5. aBasnar says:

    I don't think it's a choice, unless someone proves to me it is a choice. It might be that there is a truth in the matter that some people (or all of us) fail to see. Then it might become sin (unknowingly) to introduce instruments. it might be wrong after all – and the it ios wrong to say: "It is a choice!"

    I am convinced that there is a historcal truth to the matter that clarifies scriptural ambiguity. In all of these discussions here I sensed, that

    a) it is hard to discern the historic evidence (and there are excuses for being mis-informed or lacking sources)
    b) that sometimes historical evidence is misunderstood (Danny Corbitt on the Odes of Salomo is a priome example for that)
    c) that sometimes wishful thinking determines the process of digging for truth (We are all in danger to mix our desires into our studies – I am no exception).

    So I am far from condemning anyone because of disagreement here. But I am equally far from making it a matter of choice.

    I consider myself open to both sides (in principle). I've been in intrumental churches most of my life, and I can personally agree with a "serving" kind of instrumehtal accompanyment (not with a dominating worship band!). But having joined an a-cappella church made me see things from a new angle.

    But most of all: Having discussed about this issue on this Blog in lenght and detail convinced me more and more – because of insufficient reasonings and misrepresantion of facts on the side of my "opponents" – that a-cappella most likely is the truth of the matter. I say, the weaknesses of arguments for IM convinced me even more than my personal study on the matter.

    So I reagrd it as shakly ground when we say: "It's a matter of choice" … in the end this means: Forget about the truth and do as you please. Wishful thinking may prevail. And this, brothers, is not a path I would choose.

    Alexander

  6. HistoryGuy says:

    Jay,
    The Reflective Hermeneutic from Al Maxey’s article, which you seem to advocate, as well as your comments above, focus on unity in Christ allowing each congregation to follow traditions they choose, as long as they don’t restrict the gospel or break a command of Scripture.

    In light of your comments above, would you extend fellowship to my Eastern Orthodox friends, specifically, those under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America? Their doctrines are considerably different than Catholicism. If you will not fellowship them, can you list a couple points why and how they are restricting the gospel in a way that grace would not cover their/your disagreements?

    This is a very genuine question and very important to me.

    Grace and peace,

  7. Anonymous says:

    HistoryGuy,

    A point of clarification: I don't personally see the standard as "as long as they don't restrict the gospel or break a command of Scripture." Rather, we are free but free for a purpose, and that's to pursue the mission of God. And there are many things that a church might do that are not missional at all. I don't think Al would disagree.

    You see, the silences are filled with freedom, but it's a freedom to serve God in fulfillment of his purposes in saving us. It's a freedom to be what we were always meant to be.

    (Rom 6:17-18 ESV) 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

    "Righteousness" applied to a Christian means much the same thing as Paul's use of the term as applied to God: covenant faithfulness. And since I'm in Romans, I think that's well defined in Rom 12 – 15. It's being like God by living a life of using his gifts in God's service and a life of love — understood in gospel terms.

    Regarding the Eastern Orthodox, yes, they are certainly a part of the Household of Faith. Of course, they teach many things with which I disagree. I do not commend the entirety of their doctrine, but we share a common faith in Jesus.

    In fact, the Orthodox baptize their adult converts by immersion three times. And they are a cappella.

    Now, it would be easy to make a list of where we disagree, but we agree on faith in Jesus. We agree on love for our neighbors. We agree on the inspiration, truth, and authority of the scriptures. We agree on the necessity of a unified church.

    They baptize infants, so that those born in the church are baptized imperfectly. However, those in the Churches of Christ are often baptized denying that the Holy Spirit will be received. Fortunately, God does not demand perfection of us. He does demand faith in Jesus — and they have faith.

  8. Kad says:

    THe cost question is legitimate despite Rey's tone. How much does an organ cost? Is it really the best use of the Lord's money? Couldn't you pay the wages of several preachers in the "3rd world" for months just for the price of one organ?

  9. HistoryGuy says:

    Jay,
    I have many areas of agreement with the local groups, but there are some key disagreements as well. We joke together that I like their pictures (icons) and love the chant… but the incense is a little too Jewish, they need to speak more English in the liturgy, and immersing a baby thrice sounds like a drowning attempt. They have asked me for years why I don’t leave my “schism” and rejoin “the one true church” – orthodoxy. I tell them to dry the babies off, take up Sola Scriptura, change to glade plug-ins, and I’ll think about it.

    Thank you for your consistency and honesty. Have a great night.

    grace and peace

  10. Kad says:

    And stop with purposfully using leavened bread?

  11. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    Just a brief offer regarding the overall conclusions in the recent edition of New Wineskins and your, "Once we agree that the scriptures grant freedom as to instrumental music" conclusion. I am asking you to join me in a relook at Ephesians 4:17-5:21 — not via weblog but by phone. Nothing beats a conversation between brothers.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    MortonBLSL7@earthlink.net

  12. Anonymous says:

    Bruce,

    My church's adult Bible classes are studying Ephesians, and so I'm posting a series reflecting my understanding of the book. I'll shortly be posting through those very verses.

  13. Randall says:

    Have you ever listened to a recording or been to a live performance of Handel's Messiah – with a full orchestra? No need to reply as my question/comment is rhetorical.

  14. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    You highlight chats with Rick and Chris, but when a brother with a different perspective invites a similar interactive chat, you avoid? This is what I hear: Let's not converse, talk with greater interactiveness — just post at a distance.

    A note as you study Ephesians: Paul was urging brothers and sisters to greater conversation and closeness in the Ephesians letter.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    MortonBLSL7@earthlink.net

  15. Anonymous says:

    Bruce,

    I just figured you'd rather first hear what I have to say about the passages that concern you and then decide whether we still need to talk about it.

    I try to avoid private theological debate, because I can invest the same energy in public debate and give many, many more people the benefit of the discussion for the same effort — and I have limited time.

  16. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    It disappoints and saddens me to see your write, "I just figured…." And your further comment clashes dramatically with the value you put on the private conversation with Rick and Chris.

    You see Galatians so clearly. Do you not see the "Ephesian danger" as clearly? What you have been doing in New Wineskins shouts exactly what your posts shout. We can pragmatically ignore what is behind the words and urgency Jesus shares in John 14:30-31. And we can pragmatically handle relationships as we wish; we can avoid the burden of "one another."

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    MortonBLSL7@earthlink.net

  17. Patricia Harrod-Wyro says:

    Jay,
    I am interested in what are fellowship issues that would cause us not to embrace a particular denomination or sect? Since immersing babies, although wrong, would not cause a lack of fellowship and instrumental music is considered choice – is there a line drawn anywhere with any group that would be wrong? What about Methodist with female ministers and sprinkling? Baptist believe in salvation prior to baptism? I am studying scripture, reading your articles, and those of other good writers in an effort to help me see the Truth and understand without blinders and preconceived teachings of the traditional churches of Christ. We are a fellowship who have always drawn boundary lines. As a matter of fact, the churches of Christ are known for fellowshipping only other churches of Christ.
    I greatly appreciate you insight.
    Patricia Harrod-Wyrosdick

  18. Anonymous says:

    Patricia,

    Fellowshipping someone as a brother or sister in Christ does not indicate that we agree on all doctrinal points or that person is not a sinner. The test, rather, is whether that person is accepted by Christ.

    (Rom 15:7 NIV) 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

    If someone has been accepted by Christ, we are commanded to do the same.

    This leads to such verses as —

    (Joh 3:18 NIV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

    Faith is the boundary between condemnation and not. This leads us to ask, what is "faith"? As discussed in recent posts, "faith" is —

    * Acceptance that Jesus is Lord and Messiah (faith)

    * Trusting Jesus to keep his promises (hope)

    * Faithfulness to God's covenant with his church and his people (love (which inevitably leads to works))

    There are dozens of verses that say faith is both necessary and sufficient. But none of these must be done perfectly.

    Now, it's possible to fall away, and this is done by denying the faith. It's not that we must love perfectly, for example. But if we rebel against the Lordship of Jesus and become self-seeking people, who make choices based on our own preferences and not those of Jesus, so we no longer care what Jesus wants, we can fall away as described in Heb 10:26ff.

    Just so, if we deny hope, by treating faith as insufficient and insisting on adding works to faith as a condition to salvation, we may well become guilty of the Galatian heresy, per Gal 5:1-6.

    And if we cease to believe (not merely doubt, but don't believe), we can fall away per 1 John 4:1-3.

    So, yes, there are boundaries. Or there is a boundary: faith.

    The fact that faith includes faithfulness means that true faith always produces works. Therefore, the absence of works indicates the absence of faith. But that's due to the nature of faith. Works that come from a source other than faith are worthless.

  19. Patricia Harrod-Wyro says:

    Thank you, Jay, for you prompt response. I appreciate the care you took to answer my question. I am struggling through being in the church of Christ for all of my life, having a dad who was an Elder and church song leader, I was baptized at 10 years old, and I grew up never being taught Grace or Mercy. I grew up in a time when all you heard was hell, fire, and damnation. For the past year, I have been praying fervantly that God would open my eyes, fill me with and guide me through the Holy Spirit to a better/clearer understanding of His Word. I have had questions about some of our teaching and doctrines for years, but had no one to go to. A couple of months ago, it was as if I started reading the Bible for the first time and many things started to become very obvious to me. I still have a ways to go, but I am striving to break through the chains that I have been bound under. I now realize that many of the cofC rules are man made. I appreciate so much your writings. They are of great value to me in my studies. Your mom told me that she likes to wait until Judge goes to sleep and night and then she takes the time, with pleasure, to read your work. In order for me to be clear, I want to make sure that I understand that the boundary is not sprinkling, women taking active roles in worship, or even the belief in salvation prior to baptism….the boundary is if someone has faith and faith is the only boundary? As you certainly know, the church of Christ traditionally does not fellowship anyone in a "denomination" – if you are not cofC and hold to the cofC doctrines and traditions, you will be lost…Period!….And, that is the mindset that I am trying to overcome because I now realize that many of the "commands" that we are required to adhere to are truly not commands at all.
    Thanks so much for your time in teaching, writing, and sharing your knowledge with us who want to learn the freedom that can be found in Jesus.
    Patricia

  20. Patricia Harrod-Wyro says:

    Jay,

    Regarding this comment:

    "If someone has been accepted by Christ, we are commanded to do the same."

    I am sure I don't need to point this out to you because you know, as I do, that if you are a traditional church of Christ member…It is believed and taught that if you are not church of Christ – you are not accepted by Christ; therefore, that would end that discussion.

    Thanks,
    Patricia

  21. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    I personally know some who claim faith, but who have now become "red-letter Christians." In summary they accept Jesus' teachings in the Gospels (red letter text in some versions), but reject the letters of the apostles as no more than opinion — not the authority of the risen Lord. In some ways they parallel the second and third century Gnostics and the resulting striking abberations of "faith" in that period (which you have highlighted in a previous post). What conclusion do you reach regarding those folks? Do they honor Jesus Christ by their decision or do they dishonor the King of Kings?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    MortonBLSL7@earthlink.net

  22. Anonymous says:

    Patricia,

    Faith is the standard (dozens of passages say this, and I'm just conservative enough to figure we ought to believe them), but faith must be understood in the biblical sense, as noted in my previous post (and in the "Man or the Plan" series). I'll be addressing baptism when I pick back up the "Man or Plan" series (not sure when).

  23. Anonymous says:

    Bruce,

    Is this who you're talking about? http://www.sojo.net/?action=about_us.redletterchr….

  24. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    Yes the belief/conclusion seems to be spreading within the U.S. at present; the Internet sites popping up match my conversations with folks of late. We are returning to the 1970's in some ways — to the time of Jesus Christ Superstar and the strong belief that "I will listen to Jesus, but I do not care about the rest of the New Testament." Interested to gather your conclusions. Do they honor Jesus Christ by their decision of faith or do they dishonor Him?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    MortonBLSL7@earthlink.net

  25. Jay Guin says:

    Bruce,

    I wasn't familiar with the "red-letter Christian" movement until your comment. I found several sites on the subject, all traceable back to teaching by Tony Campolo. Hence my question to you above, which you've not answered.

    Are the red-letter Christians to which you refer the same as the red-letter Christians associated with Tony Campolo's teachings?

  26. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    I know that Tony Campolo "originated" the idea, but I am not certain that people who embrace this perspective would say they are following Campolo. Instead, they seem to embrace the idea without knowing who coined the term; let's leave it at that.

    So, do they honor Jesus Christ by this stance of faith or do they dishonor Him? Your thoughts?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    MortonBLSL7@earthlink.net

  27. Jay Guin says:

    Bruce,

    Excerpts from Tony Campolo's book "Red Letter Christians" may be read at http://books.google.com/books?id=zfKruTZoAgEC&amp

    At page 23, he discusses what the term means, beginning by quoting the Apostles Creed — which is quite orthodox and far from Gnostic.

    He then adds,

    Second, we are Christians with a very high view of Scripture. We believe the writers of Scripture were invaded by the Holy Spirit and were uniquely guided by God as they wrote, providing us with an infallible guide for faith and practice. We emphasize the "red letters" because we believe that you can only understand the rest of the Bible when you read it from the perspective provided by Christ.

    Sounds entirely orthodox to me. And certainly their view of scripture lifts up Jesus.

    Do I agree with all their conclusions? I doubt it. Do I agree that the entirety of scripture must be viewed through the lens of Jesus? Absolutely.

    I've heard similar sentiments expressed in Churches of Christ all my life. My views on the church and government will often disagree with those of Campolo and Jim Wallis, but they are far from heretical or Gnostic. Indeed, they are the furthest thing from Gnosticism, as they seek to incarnate Christ in very fleshly, practical, real ways.

  28. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    Let me stress again that "red-letter Christian" means different things to different folks. I would urge you to not "lock in" on Campolo's writing, but instead on what I shared. The person I discussed with was clear: "the Gospels, yes; the apostolic letters, no."

    Though I did not hear an answer to my question in all that you wrote, I want to show you kindness and not press further. I will leave at this point for you and other readers to consider. I will offer John 16 for study/reflection. Jesus is clear regarding His work as the risen Lord.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    MortonBLSL7@earthlink.net

  29. Jay Guin says:

    Bruce,

    The early church didn't have any of the NT at all, and so faith in the NT is not required for salvation. Faith in Jesus is. However, John wrote,

    (1Jo 4:6 ESV) We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

    It would take consider time to sort through the meaning of the passage, but I think it means, at least, that the saved will recognize apostolic authority. That doesn't mean that the saved will necessarily agree on the canon — as the canon wasn't even established for generations after 1 John was written. But the saved will certainly recognize the truth of apostolic teaching — in general.

    That doesn't mean we'll agree on everything. It does mean that the saved will hear their master's voice in the word of the apostles. "Listen to us" means, I believe, respects the authority of apostolic teaching.

    This is the work of the Spirit.

    (1Co 2:14-16 ESV) 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

    Now, I'm very, very reluctant to judge someone's salvation based on very incomplete information about their beliefs. Why does he reject Acts – Rev? Does he really reject them or simply subordinate them to the Gospels? Is he intending to rebel against apostolic instruction? Does he hold to orthodox teaching or is this a way to teach something truly heretical?

  30. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    She indeed challenges apostolic authority (and does not see that two Gospels were penned by apostles!). Her view is, "I will read Jesus' statements; that is it!" I will not judge her eternal state, but I will suggest that we can and should be willing to take a stance that such does not honor the risen Lord. I have kindly asked questions to urge her to test. I think enough on this subject for me.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    MortonBLSL7@earthlink.net

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