Richland Hills, Instrumental Music, and the future of the Churches of Christ, Part 3

Angel with harpNow, all that being said, I have trouble seeing the Churches of Christ remaining a cappella for another 100 years. There are some very good reasons to seriously consider picking up a guitar or violin.

First, we live in a world where a cappella music is nearly unheard of. It’s always created a barrier to the unchurched, just because it’s so unusual, and the barrier is getting greater every year.

Teens and college students can’t go anywhere without their iPods. Kids burn their own CDs of downloaded music and swap them. The whole youth culture is centered on music, almost all of it instrumental.

While I’m very comfortable in an a cappella service, I can’t let my comfort–and preference–hurt my ability to seek and save the lost. It’s a small sacrifice, really, to ask. We’d think little of asking someone to give up years of his or her life to travel to China or Africa to seek the lost–how can we be unwilling to give up our taste in music to do the same?

Second, our continued insistence on a cappella music gives aid and comfort to a certain kind of legalism that we really need to overcome–not coddle.  The hermeneutics and doctrine that demands a cappella music is wrong on so many levels that it impedes the church’s work in countless ways.

Finally, we’ve made the mistake of defining who we are by how we worship. Very significantly, in Rich Atchley’s sermons defending his congregation’s decision, he noted that some members objected to adding an instrumental service because it would contradict our identity. And it’s certainly true that many inside and outside the Churches of Christ identify us by our distinctive worship style. But I thought we are supposed to find our identity in Jesus.

When we come to realize that the scriptures don’t require us to be a cappella, then we have to accept that our choice of instrumental or a cappella music becomes one of taste–or of strategy–but not one of doctrine. And it would be a very odd thing for us to intentionally elect to be identified by our taste in worship styles.

Imagine a denomination wishing to be known as the people who worship in green buildings or who wear black, even though there is no doctrinal reason for that choice. How odd!

Now, a business might, for marketing reasons, elect to be known as the business with a red roof or golden arches, but a religion has no reason to try to “brand” itself. In fact, adding a distinctive characteristic that’s not Biblically dictated is surely a bad thing. It would enforce artificial separations among people meant to be united!

Indeed, as experience shows, it makes us treat something we know intellectually to be acceptable as emotionally wrong. We begin to bind our culture and traditions as law, and this soon becomes pure Pharisaism.

Worse yet, in our zeal to defend our insistence on this practice, we completely distort our theology and our hermeneutics. We read the Bible through a cappella-colored glasses. I’ve actually read articles stating that such-and-such a view of how to do hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible) must be wrong because it contradicts the “command” to sing a cappella! We start with a cappella and then make everything else fit that assumption.

The only solution is to swallow hard and not always be a cappella. Traditions are not wrong when not bound as law. And so, we don’t have to entirely surrender our traditions–we just have to be careful not to surrender to our traditions.

Therefore, the new willingness to break from the pack and use instruments without being disrespectful of our traditional style of worship (which I love!) is a good thing. It’s just not the cure all for saving a lost and dying world. Nor is the greatest need we face. But then, the false body of doctrine that teaches a cappella as a command of God is perhaps the greatest problem we face.

I just don’t think we can get fully shed of the doctrine without actually strumming a guitar here and there, now and then. It’s not enough just to say instruments are okay, as our actions define us much more than our teaching. Freedom in Christ is not worth much if we don’t ever take advantage of that freedom.

Yes, I know these might appear to contradict what I’ve earlier written, but it doesn’t, really. We can’t use an instrument until we’ve taught the true doctrines that permit it. And we won’t be successful in changing our worship, even just a little bit, until we learn better how to create community and inculcate the attitude that the needs of others are more important than my needs.

And so I’m both on and off the instrumental music band wagon. I’m excited about the fact that it may be the beginning of the end for our Pharisaism. And smart ways of using the instrument may well help us reach out to the lost. But if we view it as just a way to compete for the already churched people by having the best worship service in town, then we’ll have completely missed the point of Jesus’ death. You can’t grow a self-sacrificial church by appealing to people’s selfishness.

We should have great worship services, but we can’t build our Christianity around music. It has to be centered on emulating the self-sacrifice of Jesus.

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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0 Responses to Richland Hills, Instrumental Music, and the future of the Churches of Christ, Part 3

  1. Jeff says:

    Depends on your perspective, I suppose.

    If churches are interested primarily in entertaining people and drawing crowds, IM is a logical starting point. If we think we can tell God what he finds acceptable or that it was an oversight on God’s part to not express His desire for it under the New Covenant, then it’s something we should do.

    On the other hand, though, if we have the perspective that only God can tell me what He wants, churches of Christ will continue to shun IM in the absence of God’s approval for it in worship.

    You may be right. We may be moving to man-centric rather than God-centric religion. I certainly hope not, though.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    I understand your point of view but disagree. My reasons are in series of short postings found at–

    The 16 Acts of Worship

    The Question of Silence

    Expressio Unius

    The Argument Against the Instrument Based on History

    Entertainment, Applause, and Worship

    Much more detail may be found at–

    Do We Teach Another Gospel?

  3. Jeff says:

    I don’t see anything in those articles (granted, I skimmed some parts) that addressed the point I made.

    Ultimately, the difference in belief over IM (and a great many other things) comes from one’s conception of God. If you believe you can know whether something is acceptable to God without revelation, you can approve IM if you don’t see anything wrong with it. If you believe you can’t know what God wants without revelation, you won’t presume to do so.

    For me, Isaiah 55:8-9 settles the nature of God in relation to man. Proverbs 14:12 and Jeremiah 10:23 tells me what comes from trusting my own judgment (which is what I’m doing without God’s revelation).

  4. Rick Geddie says:

    The comments made by Jeff, above, resonate so with my phariseical self (this statement is made with NO intention of judging a brother’s motive, simply to express the brokenness of my own judgmental past), that my heart is simultaneously racing, my fingers are shaking as I type, and i am almost shedding tears.

    God has certainly revealed what he wants, but I believe has very little time (though time-full in nature) to dictate to us his worhship style preference. There are lost people dying as we debate this topic. THAT is something he has spent much time to reveal to us that he hates. Furthermore, when we exhaust all scripture that could be used to either allow, disallow, prohibit, or demand a particular worship style, the lostness of the world has still not been allayed, one whit!

    The attraction to adamantly coming down on one side or the other seems not to be righteousness with God, but self-righteousness.

    On the other hand, God spent several thousand years of painstaking details to reveal his Son to us. If “IM” exalts His Son, that seems righteous to me (i.e., to my spirit which is daily being brought inline with God’s own Spirit). If it does not exalt the Son, it is like ANY other person, place, thing, idea, religion, religious argument, act, … that comes before God; it is idolatry.

    I don’t have much tolerance for the deceit the enemy has introduced to interpretive judgment of our brothers. We find ourselves in the very predicament Cain did – needing to prove his own actions by taking out another, whose actions have been approved by God (murder – the ultimate end of our unrighteous judgement).

    Just as Satan convinced Adam and Eve that knowledge of good and knowledge of evil was something to be coveted and acquired (rather than the God-ordained trust in Him), we seem to covet the power of justifying our actions (knowledge of “good”) and condemning others (knowledge of evil). Granted, we do this by holy scripture, but nearly always out of context and in juxtaposition with the spirit in which such scripture was written. Romans 14 speaks LOUDLY to any of us who believe our way of honoring God (read “worship”) is the acceptable way.

    Jesus teaches the Samaritan woman about earthly boundaries to worship when he shines his Light on true spiritual worship not confined to a mountain or a geographical region or vocal cords or instrumental strings, but to the spirit who truely gives his holy Father the recognition and adoration due only Him.

    May we all be so blessed as to truely align our redeemed spirits with God’s Spirit and recognize the Father for who He is, through the illuminating Light, His Son. I am now only beginning to learn how to worship, truely worship… and it has nothing to do with instruments or the lack thereof. Someimes I am touched by a vocally offered song, sometimes with song aided by mechanical instruments, but it is always a gift of God’s Holy Spirit touching mine regardless of the envelope or conduit.

    Jay, I thank you for the thoughtful and balanced leadership you offer. continue to help me with grace and patience.

    Rick Geddie

  5. Jeff says:

    I think you’ve got it exactly backwards. The main failing of the Pharisees was arrogance and self-centeredness, whereas the hermeneutic above is rooted in humility. It’s the attitude that there’s nothing good within me, that I need God to instruct me in what’s right and pleasing to Him. It’s an acceptance that He is the lawmaker and judge, not me, and that I can’t guide my own steps.

    Rick, I’d recommend (as kindly as I can) you re-read what you wrote above. The thing that jumped out at me are phrases like “I believe”, “that seems righteous to me,” etc. It’s exactly what I mentioned in my first post: a man-centric perspective rather than a God-centric one.

    Indeed, the appeal to Romans 14 pre-supposes IM (or anything else) is a matter of indifference to God. Trying to jump there before consulting God’s revelation begs the question at best – or places one in the position of God to approve or deny something absent God’s revealed will.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Please check out my latest post, coincidentally on how I interpret Romans 14. It’s at /2007/05/30/whats-a-disputable-matter/.

  7. Ken Sublett says:

    Does no one care that Rick CONSPIRED with a decade-old agenda to delibertely SOW DISCORD in the interest of UNION with a group which the Church of Christ never JOINED and which the Christian Church SECTED OUT OF a decade after churches of Christ refused to be INCLUDED in the DISCIPLES denomination.

    Next, does no one care that Rick lied about each and ever "raw assertion" he made without even quotaing a proof text: not only does ne nor his Christian church writers know the CONTEXT they do not know the STORY LINE. Stephen reminded any who missed OT 101 that God ABANDONED Israel to "worship the starry host" BECAUSE of PLAY which was musical idolatry at mount Sinai where they lost the covenant of grace.

    Having missed the Greek classics and the facts of all pagan sects, it is easy to ignore the fact that Paul had three SECTS in Rome who were identified by DIET but they all had religious practices wholly devoted to singing and instrumental music used to LIFT UP or arose the people in "spiritual anxiey" which Jesus died to remove.

    Without dipping his pen, Paul defined the SYNAGOGUE which is the Greek for assembling and gathering in Paul's mind. We know that the synagogue never had a praise service and Numbers 10 outlaws it. No Jewish kid failed to recognize that they synagogue or did "church" even in the wilderness to REST, read and rehears the Word–only.

    The phrase SELF-PLEASE is defined in both the Greek and Latin sources to include ALL of the fine arts which is the meaning of HYPOCRITES. The INCLUSION was that the speak with ONE MIND and ONE MOUTH, the resource was "that which was written" or "Scripture." The purpsoe was edification or education (what you do in synagogue or ekklesia), to glorify God by using HIS songs and sermons, to comfort one another with scripture and TO KEEP THE PEACE. Any thing added to that would and did sow discord.

    This is the NOT musical passages we missed. However, the early churches did NOT miss it and knew that even SINGING had no role to play so that singing as AN ACT was added about 373 in order to use NON-Biblical text. This was by unbaptized "bishops" called in so that the Catholic Encyclopedia knows that MUSIC like all of the goodies were added because they were COMMON to all pagan churches.

    As for "a capella" this came form the castrated french music team the pope brought to the Sistine Chapel for his use where the organ was OUTLAWED and where the only official mass was held.

    Not even the Catholics ever fell into "congregational singing with organ accompaniment."

    A Capella can, in fact be traced through the Goat Hide tend used as a battlefield CHAPEL to the pagan worship of the constellation CAPELLA and is intimately connected to the perverted GOAT singers.

    Yes, let's NOT debate PREFERENCES because Paul outlawed SELF centered rituals which the history of Rome proves just the opposite of those misusing Romans 14 to give SOMEONE the liberty to steal the church house of widows so their preference can be performed: there are 168 hours a week and if anyone wants to imitate david and go naked with the servant girls, you can use my farm after dark.

  8. Larry Short says:

    The NT does not prescribe music in Christian worship. It does mention that chrches then sang, and we know from history that was acappella. Was that the apostle’s teaching or just what they did then?
    Any argument that we must do music the way our culture does or we are branding is silly to me. Why do we meet together & worship? To praise God and for the worshipers fellowship. So our choice of music should please God (seems He did not express a strong preferrence) and we mutually share.
    Voices lifted together seems like an excellent mutual activity. A loud song leader, organ, orchestra, or band separates into the performers and audience, and makes this far less mutual. Sadly, we devote too much of the worship time to one person speaking and lost the audience Amen responce.
    Singing together is rare in our culture, it is a performance that we listen to. Imitation of the Ipod culture would have us meet together each listening to his favorite hymns, prayer, and sermon. To the visitor, it would be a service in silence!
    Let’s make good choices for the purpose of why we are doing this together. Most worshipers today do not read notes or do 4 part harmony well. So we sing more devotional type songs which are more quickly learned orally.
    I would like us to be known for our love, or at least the church were you are more likely to see a baptism than the non-instrumental people. Even so, our choice of music should be for God and fellowship rather than to blend in society.
    Years ago, I,an older gentleman, and others went out to eat most Sunday nights. In a public place, my older friend always insisted on a pulbic prayer of thanks before the meal. If he led the prayer it was loud enough for most tables around us to clearly hear. Privately, I asked him why the volume? He said the other diners need to witness someone thanking God. Every now and then some diner would drop by and thank him for the prayer & ask his religious inclinations. Difference can be powerful, especially if for a good purpose. Anyway, others can go to a church service to attend a great performance, as for me, I want mutual participation.

  9. Luke 6:43-45
    “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

    When I was a very young man, I remember an older brother saying, “It might be that when we get to heaven God says, ‘Hey – that no instrument rule? Congratulations! You got that perfectly right! But you didn’t love your neighbor, or even your own brother. Depart from me. I never knew you’. ” (I think God has more grace than that, but I got the point! I obviously never forgot it.)

    So, maybe we should be talking about fruit. For while Law by itself will not make fruit, having fruit shows you are following the Law. Or else why would God increase the fruit of the disobedient? He would be divided against himself! This is why Jesus said you will know them by their fruit, because it is a very effective way to test the spirits.

    While many of the conservative brothers like to point out (angrily, sometimes, “out of the overflow”) that they are on the “Narrow Way” and everyone else is rebellious and disobedient, I see the progressive brothers making a daily impact in their neighborhoods, bringing people to Jesus, and glorifying God. Which of these is the fruit of God, as described by Jesus and His lifestyle?

    When someone loudly proclaims that they have the truth, but then their preaching of it comes back to them empty, what does that tell me about that “truth”? Is that the fruit described in Scripture, of His word never coming back to Him empty?

    It is possible to have the Law, and not the life of Jesus. That is why Jesus didn’t say, “You will know them by their correct and perfect interpretations.” He gave us something far more practical: “If they treat people like I treat them, and make disciples like me, they can’t be full of anything but me.”

  10. Anonymous says:

    I believe whether we singing with or without music we are still singing together. And I just can’t find the verse where the apostles tell people they are to not to sing praises to God with music as they worship ever again.