A Lover’s Quarrel: Instrumental Music

Garrett’s third wish is —

Let us, in particular, repudiate our historic position of making instrumental music a test of fellowship and a cause of division.

Obviously, those who claim to stand in the shoes of Thomas Campbell while damning those who use instruments (such as the Gospel Advocate) never read Campbell. As shown in the previous post, Thomas Campbell saw the path toward unity as including a rejection of division based on inferences. And the teaching that instrumental music is sin is an inference. (If it’s not, where’s the command or the example?)

And yet, contrary to our heritage, we decided to divide over the instrument — not just into a new denomination, but into a denomination that damns those who use the instrument. Stone, the Campbells, and Walter Scott would have all disagreed. Indeed, Alexander Campbell would have declared such thinking heresy.

The views of these men on heresy are explained in article in the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Simply enough, disagreeing with Campbell, for example, on doctrinal issues was not considered heresy — not even universalism — so long as the person confessed faith in Jesus. But if the person disagreeing were to make his disagreement a test of fellowship, well, that was heresy.

Thus, when John Thomas denied salvation to Baptists because they were baptized unaware that they were being immersed for the remission of sins, Campbell declared him a heretic. He was, in Campbell’s eyes, dividing the church by denying the salvation of believers in Jesus who’d obeyed the scriptures to the extent of their knowledge.

In short, our division over the instrument is wrong — heresy, really — not because we are wrong about music but because we are wrong to divide over the issue.

Now, I should add that we are also wrong. We aren’t wrong to worship a cappella. My own congregation is a cappella. We are wrong to argue that the Bible requires this. It doesn’t, for reasons I’ve explained here and here

But we won’t unite by arguing over the instrument. Even if we were to agree on that, we’d just find something else to disagree about. People are like that. Rather, unity comes from extending to others the same grace God has extended to us. When we finally understand this, then we won’t have to fight over the instrument.

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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9 Responses to A Lover’s Quarrel: Instrumental Music

  1. Alan says:

    Amen again!!!

    Boy you're inciting me to some pretty short comments… 😉

  2. Nick Gill says:

    Todd Deaver bravely grasps this nettle — the instrument is not the issue, and neither is the authority of Scripture.

    The issue is the scope of grace — fellowship is a clear derivative of the question of grace.

    Well-said, and I'm growing in my admiration for Br. Garrett. I've heard his name before, but you know how us young folks are! 🙂

  3. willohroots says:

    I must share this story in love with you. 30 years ago I had a Pauline experience, repented of my sinful ways, [I was a scoundrel] and sought out a church. Now churches were not a part of my former life, so I was in total ignorance. I went to a Roman Catholic Church and was thrown out for attempting to steal the host when I admitted i was not Catholic. I went to a couple mainline churches and did not hear enough Gospel. I wandered into a rural church during a business meeting. They were voting to buy false teeth for a widow. i looked around and saw a baptistry,
    and oh how I longed to be baptized like my Savior, and i saw they had no organ or even a piano.
    Thank God I cried! I have found it, these people are true Christian, they provide for the poor and can not afford a piano! i joined on the spot. Yes, it was Harding Church of Christ a non-instrumental work. I stayed with them for years even after the false start! I loved them. They threw me out when I won a Judo championship for my college. I am now an SBC Pastor, indebted to those great people who taught me so much. God does work in mysterious ways!

  4. Jay Guin says:


    That's a great story. But why would they kick you out for winning a judo championship?

  5. willohroots says:

    Jay, it was a long time ago. the brothers were concerned about Mysticism creeping into the church. I tryed to tell them it was Japanese wrestling done in bathrobes, but they would not buy it. There was at the time a TV show called "Kung Fu" and it accented the mystic parts of martial arts. Judo was developed in the 1900's is very modern. bowing is not worship, but cultural, just a sign of respect. So I was given a choice, stay on in Judo or give up being a Lay Preacher, song Leader. With heavy heart i left.
    The pastor and the people changed so greatly that in the same building in the 80's, I was able to hold meetings for the "Harding Church of Christ Judo Club."
    Times change. Our God does not.

  6. Joe Baggett says:

    You know I remember the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. The Pharisees thought they were doing what God wanted them to do, so they told Jesus it was unlawful, today we would say unscriptural. Then Jesus points out how ridiculous their sincere efforts to make laws for God were. Who would leave his Ox in the ditch? The banishment of instruments has become equally ridiculous. The intention of the restoration movement was good just like the Pharisees’ was good; let’s just stick to the Bible and follow God’s command but this good intention went way over board. Such to the point that the religious laws we made and how we enforced them through fellowship tests, debates, doctrinal questionnaires to get hired etcetera contradict the character of God. That is legalism. Most legalism starts with good intention but turns into something that is against God’s character. I believe Jesus would look at many of the religious laws that we have made in the churches of Christ and ask us whether we understood the Ox in the ditch question.

  7. jdb says:

    Jay…again a very good post. My eye opening experience came a few years ago when I was talking to a group that we had that was comprised of as many different groups in the Restoration Movement as we could talk into coming. (I wonder if I brought that sentence in on Monday they could shorten it by Friday?)

    Anyway, I was talking to a friend who preacher for the Independent Christian Church. I said, "We are a cappella because we speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent." He said, "We are instrumental because, we speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent." This was a new take for me and I said, "How can that be?" He said, "Well, it's like this. We agree on the things the Bible says, but when the Bible went silent, you guys just kept talking and refused to stop. And you made up rules where the Bible didn't."

    I had never thought about it in those terms but it is a good example of how we both took the same phrase and made it say entirely different things. However, I now appreciate my brethren in the ICC a lot more than I ever did before.

  8. For more from Leroy Garrett, go to http://www.leroygarrett.org. He writes an essay every week or so, Soldier On!, which is available on request. The web site archives all the older material, as well.

    The site also includes his quarterly, Restoration Review, which he self published from 1959 until 1992.

    I've lost track of how many years I've read his stuff. He is a gracious man of God.

  9. jdb says:

    David…thanks for reminding me of the Restoration Review. When I was in VERY RURAL Oklahoma, a man who used to be a preacher got rid of his library and gave me some of his books. Among them were bound copies of the R.R. At the time, and even today, there are things that I have a hard time with doctrinally. However, bro. Garrett was a great writer when it came to Restoration History. Reading those articles lead me to buy his book when it came out and I've been deeply blessed by it. Thanks for the reminder.

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