We are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.
Chapter 27, continued
Randall illustrates the exclusionary principle that underlies the Regulative Principle —
“Mike, what did the Lord use in the communion meal?” I thought about it for a second and said, “Unleavened bread and wine from the fruit of the vine.” “That’s right Mr. Mike! But why not use meatloaf and ice-tea? Jesus didn’t say we couldn’t use them, did He?”
(Kindle Locations 5684-5688).
Can you believe that anyone would fall for that? I mean, using an instrument adds to the singing — it does not prevent the singing from happening. If you replace communion bread with meat loaf, you’ve not used the bread at all. There’s an obvious, huge difference between replacing a commanded element and adding to a commanded element.
In fact, the early church practiced the love feat or agape, which added a full meal to communion (e.g., Jude 12).
An excellent source book on early church practice is Everett Ferguson’s Early Christians Speak, vol. 1. Ferguson is a world-class expert in the Patristic literature, a professor at Abilene Christian, and a strong advocate for a cappella worship. He writes,
Jesus instituted the memorial of himself at the last supper in the context of a meal. It seems that a meal provided the most convenient context in which the Lord’s supper was observed by early Christians. … The Didache [late First Century] also sets the eucharist in the context of a common religious meal. The Roman governor Pliny [ca. AD 110-115] places the Christian gathering for a common meal at a separate time from the “stated” religious assembly.
Early Christians Speak, p. 130.
It was obviously okay to add to the Lord’s Supper. But doing something other than what is commanded is, of course, disobedience.
(And the Churches of Christ add many elements to their Five Acts of Worship, such as “the invitation,” “coming forward,” announcements, baptisms, confessions of sin, and placing membership — all traditionally done as part of the worship hour.)
Of course, there are times when doing more than is asked might be a mistake, but it’s hardly a universal rule. After all, the Law of Moses only commands the eating of unleavened bread and certain other foods at Passover (Exo 12; Num 9; Deu 16). The drinking of wine is not mentioned at all — and so it’s an addition — and yet Jesus drank the cups of wine at Passover because it was not wrong to add wine to the meal despite the lack of scriptural authority.
“You see, if I tell my kids to do a specific thing, I don’t need to give them a list of all the other thousands of things that I don’t want them to do at that moment. Why? Because my specific instruction excludes everything else.”
(Kindle Locations 5707-5709). Again, I’m astonished that Shank fell for this. If I tell my son to brush his teeth before going to bed, it’s actually okay for him to put on his pajamas, wash his hands and face, and get his teddy bear to prepare for bed. On the other hand, it would not be okay to climb out the window. (Actually, my kids are all grown up, but you get the point.)
You see, there is no supposed grammatical rule that excludes “everything else.” Context, custom, purpose, and all sorts of other things define what is or isn’t excluded, not some imagined law that “excludes everything else.” This just beyond absurd.
We then get the Nadab and Abihu argument — which I’ve actually found in the writings of John Calvin but no one earlier than him. This 16th Century argument is equally flawed because they used “strange fire,” not the fire of the altar that God lit himself and commanded them to use. They didn’t disobey a silence; they disobeyed a direct command.
According to Lev. 16:12 these coals had to be taken from the altar.
Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), 155.
In short, they broke an express command, not a prohibition implied from silence. It’s a bad example.
The history of instrumental music
Randall next argues against instrumental music from church history.
“Hundreds of years after the Lord’s church began a large portion of the church fell away from the Truth into apostasy. Corrupt leaders formed the Catholic Church which was modeled after the existing governmental structure of Rome. They introduced instrumental music into church services along with many other unscriptural practices.”
(Kindle Locations 5757-5762). Here again we meet the old argument that anything that’s Catholic is surely sin. (It’s sheer bigotry and reveals an unlearned understanding of church history. It did not happen as he describes.)
Even though many early Christian writers opposed the instrument, not a single one opposed it because of the Regulative Principle. If we should follow the beliefs of the early, uninspired Christians, why not also following their reasoning?
Likely the earliest opponent of instrumental music was Clement of Alexandria late in the Second Century or early Third Century. And he opposed instruments because the military used them. He was a strict pacifist. (Chapter 4 of The Instructor, vol. II, “How to Conduct Ourselves at Feasts.”) And wasn’t even speaking in the context of worship but of banquets! — and the Churches of Christ generally allow instrumental music in banquets.
For, in truth, such instruments are to be banished from the temperate banquet, being more suitable to beasts than men, and the more irrational portion of mankind. For we have heard of stags being charmed by the pipe, and seduced by music into the toils, when hunted by the huntsmen. And when mares are being covered, a tune is played on the flute— a nuptial song, as it were. And every improper sight and sound, to speak in a word, and every shameful sensation of licentiousness — which, in truth, is privation of sensation— must by all means be excluded; and we must be on our guard against whatever pleasure titillates eye and ear, and effeminates.
If we are to accept him as having special knowledge of the apostles’ will, must we also be pacifists? And must we consider all instrumental music as effeminate?
And on it goes, with each early church father having a different stated reason for opposing instruments and none agreeing with the reasoning of Randall or the conservative Churches of Christ.
Moreover, the Churches of Christ have historically claimed to be “silent where the Bible is silent,” and so they’ve rejected arguments for infant baptism, a single bishop, and such like based on uninspired early church sources — until it suits a segment to violate our principles and claim that uninspired history reveals God’s will. I mean, you really can’t have it both ways.
And then there are the Christian hymns called the Odes of Solomon discovered relatively recently and dated to around the end of the First Century (not that the scholars are unanimous) — long before anyone wrote anything opposing instrumental music. Here are some verses —
And because of his salvation He will possess everything. And the Most High will be known by His holy ones:
To announce to those who have songs of the coming of the Lord, that they may go forth to meet Him and may sing to Him, with joy and with the harp of many tones. The Seers shall go before Him, and they shall be seen before Him.
And they shall praise the Lord in His love, because He is near and does see.
I poured out praise to the Lord, because I am His own.
And I will recite His holy ode, because my heart is with Him.
For His harp is in my hand, and the odes of His rest shall not be silent.
I will call unto Him with all my heart, I will praise and exalt Him with all my members.
Also, Ephesians 5:19, which supposedly excludes instruments by silence, paraphrases Psalm 108.
(Eph 5:18-21 ESV) 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
(Psa 108:1-4 ESV) O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! 2 Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! 3 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. 4 For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Paul, a Jewish rabbi, quoted from Psalm 108 in writing Ephesians 5:19. If he’d intended to ban instruments by silence, it’s sure a strange choice of a psalm to quote.
It’s especially strange when you realize that the Jewish approach to citing an Old Testament source was to quote a small part, intending to reference the full context, because they lacked chapter and verse numbers.
To increase the impact of a statement, rabbis would quote part of a Scripture and then let their audience fill in the rest.
Ann Spangler & Lois Tverberg, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, p. 38. Far from indicating that the omitted text does not apply, the omitted text often contains the very point the rabbi wants to make!
Finally, it should be obvious that if we were to read Eph 5:18-21 as a single sentence (as in the Greek, KJV, and ESV and contrary to the NIV) that the command is not “sing” but “be filled with the Spirit,” and the four participles that hang on the command each give an example of what being filled with the Spirit would produce in us.
be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another … , singing and making melody … , 20 giving thanks … , 21 submitting to one another … .
Therefore, in context, the “command” to sing is no command at all but an example of what being filled with the Spirit will do in us — and so it’s not exclusive because the Spirit does far, far more. Who knows? It might even move us to wake the dawn with a harp and a lyre, as it did for David. Or maybe the Spirit would move us to sing to God accompanied by a harp, as the author of the Odes of Solomon was moved.
To clinch his argument, Randall quotes various Reformation leaders as rejecting instruments — but it’s just so hypocritical to cite as authoritative these men whom Randall earlier declared damned and only interested in pleasing people, rather than Jesus, just a few chapters ago. I mean, he quotes John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church, and who, according to Randall, is an apostate burning in hell. His rejection of the instrument would seem to argue against that conclusion, since he’s supposedly an apostate.
And frankly, if Randall were to read everything taught by the same early church fathers who argue against the instrument, he’d likely consider them damned as well. For example, regarding Clement of Alexandria, the Wikipedia states,
Clement argues for the equality of sexes, on the grounds that salvation is extended to all of mankind equally. Unusually, he suggests that Christ is neither male or female, and that God the Father has both male and female aspects: the eucharist is described as milk from the breast (Christ) of the Father. …
Clement then digresses to the subject of sin and hell, arguing that Adam was not perfect when created, but given the potential to achieve perfection. He espouses broadly universalist doctrine, holding that Christ’s promise of salvation is available to all, even those condemned to hell. …
Among the particular ideas Photius deemed heretical were:
- His belief that matter and thought are eternal, and thus did not originate from God, contradicting the doctrine of Creatio ex nihilo.
- His belief in cosmic cycles predating the creation of the world, following Heraclitus, which is extra-Biblical in origin.
- His belief that Christ, as Logos, was in some sense created, contrary to John 1 but following Philo.
- His ambivalence towards docetism, the heretical doctrine that Christ’s earthly body was an illusion.
- His belief that Eve was created from Adam’s sperm after he ejaculated during the night.
- His belief that Genesis 6:2 implies that angels indulged in coitus with human women. In orthodox Catholic theology, angels are considered genderless.
And Clement is likely the earliest uninspired writer to criticize the use of instrumental music. We have no business making doctrine based on these uninspired sources at all, and we certainly shouldn’t make the assumption that these men were close enough to the apostles to know what they taught beyond what is recorded in the scriptures. It’s obvious that these early but uninspired writings are not always filled with apostolic wisdom.
 There are other Odes of Solomon in which “harp” is clearly a metaphor for the human voice, and so it’s argued by some to be true here. However, the reference to worshiping God with “all my members” and “His harp is in my hand” indicate the use of more than just the voice.