Dialogue with Robert Prater, Part 3

dialogueRobert responded to my post of yesterday, and I’m glad he did as he raises questions that need to be addressed. As before, his original comment iis italics.

This is a very long post, but Robert advocates for his position thoughtfully and he deserves an answer.


I appreciate you taking the time and giving the response that you did to my comments. Please know that I have tremendous respect for you and your views. In part, my response was probably more on the “defensive” side (I guess of the traditional “Church of Christ” view you’d probably say) and not spoken with the best words of kindness and gentleness. But, I do feel very strongly about this issue and greatly as a preacher of the gospel and having grown up in Churches of Christ, I fear we are standing at a vital crossroads like maybe no other time, especially concerning the issue of instrumental music and unity. So it is with great sincerely and humility of heart I respond once again.

Thanks. I very much appreciate your thoughts, and I agree that we in the Churches of Christ are at a critical crossroads, although I imagine we disagree as to which fork in the road we should follow. The importance of the decisions we need to make require that disagreeing parties take the time to talk about their disagreements. There is no other way to resolve the conflict that so pervades the Churches.

There are two primary reasons why I don’t encourage “inter-congregational” fellowship between Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The first is my matter of conviction on this issue that using instrumental music in worship is an unauthorized practice and has resulted in division within the body of Christ. Jay, the history on this couldn’t be any clearer than it is.

As a matter of history, certainly a division resulted. However, I would disagree that the instrument is the true origin of the division. Rather, my reading of history traces the division to a change in doctrine from that of the Campbells and Stone. The next generation invented the idea of “positive commands,” arguing that grace does not extend to commands that aren’t rooted in morality.

Alexander Campbell himself made it clear that he didn’t consider the pattern of worship that he taught a salvation issue, as noted recently by John Mark Hicks.

The interesting question, however, is whether [Campbell] thought the “order” he discerned within the New Testament was a test of fellowship among believers. Did he believe that conformity to this order was necessary to salvation? Was it his intent to identify the marks of the church that defined the true church so that every other body of believers who did not conform to those marks was apostate and thus outside the fellowship of God?

This was implicitly raised in the Christian Baptist by one of Campbell’s critics. Spencer Clack, the editor of the Baptist Recorder, wondered whether Campbell’s “ancient order” functioned similarly to the written creeds to which Campbell mightily objected (CB 5 [6 August 1827] 359-360). Campbell’s response is illuminating. He maintained that his “ancient order” was no creed precisely because he had “never made them, hinted that they should be, or used them as a test of christian character or terms of christian communion” (CB 5 [3 September 1827] 369-370,

(Emphasis Hicks’).

The Restoration Movement was a unity effort. The plea was to limit teaching and practices to just what all could agree was a God-given directive and be silent about (not teach or practice) those things that were without direct evidence. For example, individuals may have an opinion that instrumental music would be accepted by God, but for the sake of unity would limit their practice to just doing what God clearly asked for–singing. And this seemed to work for the most part until some began to push their opinion and division resulted. (And I know about the Historical argument of the context of the Civil War during the mid/late 1800’s between the North and South that has to be factored into this discussion)

First, what you say is only partly true. Campbell particularly wanted to create a uniform order of worship. He most definitely did not intend for it to be a test of Christian communion.

Second, Thomas Campbell was just as clear. This is from one of the founding documents of the Movement, the “Declaration and Address”

6. That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God — therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs’s confession.

7. That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient; and the more full and explicit they be, for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of christian communion: unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.

Repeatedly, the founders of the Movement insisted that their desire to return to First Century worship practices should not be terms of communion. After all, the logic by which we reach those conclusions is inferential — and we may not damn each other over inferences.

Now, obviously enough, if someone considers a given worship practice sinful — say, multiple cups — he cannot worship with that church when that practice is followed. However, “fellowship” in this context refers to recognition of someone as a brother or sister in Christ, which is very different. We may have to worship separately, but that doesn’t mean we must damn one another.

In fact, the Churches of Christ have always recognized this. The multi-cup churches are quite willing to consider the one-cup churches as sister congregations. It’s just that many one-cup churches won’t extend the multi-cup churches the same fellowship. You see, we are quite willing to fellowship certain errors, so long as those errors are more restrictive than we are. Of course, this means that, in practice, there is precious little fellowship across doctrinal lines.

Second, I believe intercongregational fellowship with congregations (either Church of Christ (i.e., Richland Hills or Christian Churches) would most certainly encourage them to continue to practice what I believe to be an unscriptural practice and secondly, more importantly, would eventually, be a discouragement for anyone to oppose it. When churches of Christ and preachers fellowship those who use the instrumental, will there not be over the long term, pressure to begin to use it themselves in certain congregations, thus creating more disruption and division??? (Gal. 5:20)

When we treat one-cup congregations as saved, do we encourage them to continue in their error? Do we encourage the multi-cup churches to go one cup?

My home congregation was the only institutional church in town. The several other Churches of Christ in the area were all non-institutional. And yet my church considered the non-institutional churches as sister congregations. Some of the non-institutional churches actually returned the favor. And no one was tempted to become like the other. The tolerance didn’t lead to increased error — regardless of which side of the divide you’re on.

Rom 14, of course, plainly addresses exactly this question. Those who considered the eating of certain meat sinful were commanded to accept those who did not, and vice versa. Those who insisted on treating some days as special holy days were required to accept those who do not as saved, and vice versa.

Either side could have objected that tolerating the error of the other side would encourage further error, but Paul understood how very divisive and destructive to God’s church such an approach would be. He therefore commanded tolerance despite error. Of course, he wasn’t urging them to treat as saved the impenitent or faithless.

Jay, it’s already happening within Churches of Christ. Didn’t you read last month’s Christian Chronicle about the 28 Churches of Christ being excluded (mostly notably Richland Hills) for using instrumental music? Do you honestly think they will be the last ones? Don’t you think their example and even encouragement (don’t tell me some of them aren’t encouraging other Churches of Christ to consider using IM) will cause others to follow their example?

Let’s do take Richland Hills as an example. They declared in that same article that they consider themselves to still be a part of the Churches of Christ. They still cooperate with the a cappella churches. They have made no division.

However, some among the a cappella churches have refused fellowship with them. It was these a cappella churches that caused the division. These churches will tolerate countless disagreements — as thoroughly documented by Todd Deaver in Facing Our Failure. They just decided that instrumental music — an inference — is a salvation issue while tolerating disagreement on many other things. (And they won’t share with us how they happened to draw the line on that issue.)

Jay, quite simply, for those of us who believe that spiritual activities must have authorization from God, our fellowship is going too hindered. Because I cannot violate my conscience or give up my conviction that all activities in the worship assembly must have authorization from God.

Why instrumental music and not, say, women wearing hats? Or do you draw fellowship lines over hat wearing? How about elder re-affirmation? Or praise teams? Or children’s church? Or fellowship halls?

No one is asking you to worship contrary to your conscience. No is asking you to give up your convictions. The plea is simply to stop arbitrarily imposing your conscience on others. It’s simply not enough to argue that this practice or that is error. You must show where in the Bible the errors you tolerate don’t damn and the ones you break fellowship over do. Otherwise, you are imposing “rules taught by men.”

Now, if you think the fellowship issue only concerns the Christian Church and the use of instrumental music, than you are greatly naïve. (which I don’t think you are) This “ecumenical” road that so many on the far left in Churches of Christ are seemingly dead set on going down has been put into motion. Where will it all end? Who “won’t be fellowshipped?” How much false doctrine does a person or religious body have to teach and practice before they are not fellowshipped and brought into the mix? Who will ever be “excluded” and not “recognized as a brother in Christ?” Disciples of Christ? Southern Baptist? Lutheran’s? Methodist’s? Yes, even Catholics???

Long before we talk about whether there will be Methodists in heaven, we need to sort out what the Bible says.Then we go wherever the scriptures direct, without precondition.

I think the rules are pretty clear. To be saved, one must —

  • Hear the gospel of salvation by grace through faith by the power of the death, burial, and resurrection Jesus, the Christ (not trying to completely define the gospel so much as to put some meat on the bones).
  • Believe the gospel
  • Repent by submitting to Jesus as Lord
  • Confess the gospel
  • Be baptized

Now, that works regardless of who does the teaching or baptizing. We can talk about what makes a baptism efficacious some other time, as we’re now talking about apostasy. But there are plenty of Baptists who’ve been baptized by immersion for the remission of sin. I know several personally. All among the Christian Churches meet this standard. Most among the Disciples do. And many among the Churches of God do. There are others. We have no monopoly on this teaching.

So they’re all saved by the most traditional, conservative teaching in the Churches of Christ — unless they fall away.

Unlike the conservative Churches, I actually think the Bible contains a doctrine that specifies who falls away. It’s simple, too: Undo any of those things that brought you to salvation in the first place. In other words,

  • No longer believe (1 John 4:2-3)
  • No longer repent (Heb 10:26)
  • No longer rely on faith to save, and instead try to be justified by works (Gal 5:4).

It’s simple, Biblical, easy to teach and understand, and parallel to what places us into salvation in the first place.

Being a member of the church and being in fellowship with God are two different things. One may by error lose fellowship with the Lord and His church. (2 John 9-11 [yes I know “liberals” hate the use of this passage and only limit the “doctrine” mentioned to the doctrine of Jesus Christ coming in the flesh, but I do think a general principle if still found there, see also 2 John 4; 3 John 3-4)

If my “member of the church” you mean on the roll of a congregation, I agree. I you mean “member of the church universal,” I would have to disagree.

The problem with 2 John 9-11 as interpreted by the conservatives is it proves too much. In other words, if the verse really says “all error damns,” then all error damns. And I doubt you actually teach that. If that’s not what it says, then what does it say? I mean, you can’t just pick out the “error damns” verses for errors that bother you a lot and pull out the “grace covers error” verses for the errors that don’t bother you. Do you believe that all error damns? You should, because that’s what you think 2 John 9-11 says.

I do think there is a principle found in the New Testament that one who willfully and persistently adds to the teaching of God and leads other men to do, can sin in such a way against God and fellowship with faithful Christians may be limited. (Rom. 16:17-18; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:14)

I entirely agree, as I’ve said before. Who are you accusing of willfully adding to the teaching of God? You see, I think many among the conservative add to the word of God by arbitrarily picking certain doctrines to be fellowship issues and just as arbitrarily declaring other doctrines to not be. But I wouldn’t accuse them of doing so willfully. I think most have been deceived — which is very different, I think.

When J.W. McGarvey left the Broadway congregation in Lexington, he did not leave because he no longer considered them brethren. He left because they introduced an error, which he could not participate in or approve or fellowship.

Exactly. McGarvey treated instrumental congregations are brethren — even preaching for them. He just refused to violate his own conscience by singing with an instrument. He’s a great example of what I’m arguing for.

When people leave the Word to practice unauthorized forms of worship, they can separate themselves from the will of God. They may think they are disciples, but they are not truly disciples (John 8:31).

But McGarvey didn’t reach this conclusion. He considered the instrumental churches still saved. He left because he couldn’t worship with them. Nonetheless, he considered them saved and remained in full fellowship.

Yes, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about the “slippery slope” argument. Take The Disciples of Christ denomination. They have now become one of the more theologically liberal denominations in America. They will not say with certainty that Jesus is the only way to heaven that the Bible is the final authority, or that homosexuality and abortion is a sin.

I grant that the Disciples have become quite liberal. Have all instrumental denominations become theologically liberal? Are all Baptist Churches liberal? All Churches of God? It’s really hard to argue from history that the instrument is the cause of the Disciples’ liberalism. Maybe it was the fact that we lost our influence over them when we withdrew fellowship. (Not saying it’s true. I don’t know why they went liberal. But losing the influence of more conservative churches surely didn’t help.)

Isn’t it more logical to argue that our insistence on dividing over whatever we feel strongly about has led to a severely divided Churches of Christ and that this doctrine continues to injure our reputation, has led to the birth of cults (such as the original ICOC and some of the extreme congregations recently mentioned here), and is now triggering a decline in our numbers? Those are the real fruits of our doctrine.

Charles Spurgeon was a reformed Baptist preacher as you know who took doctrine seriously. He also understood how lacking it was in his time. His words remind us of the need for doctrinal emphasis in our own generation. “Remember, too, that error in doctrine is not only a sin, but a sin which has a great tendency to increase. When a man once in his life believes a wrong thing, it is [incredible] how quickly he believes another wrong thing. Once open the door to a false doctrine – Satan says it is but a little one – yes, but he only puts the little one in like the small end of the wedge, and he means to drive in a larger one; and he will say it is only a little more, and a little more, and a little more…….take care, Christians, if you commit one error, you cannot tell how many more you will commit. (Spurgeon sermons, “The Form of Sounds Words”, May 11, 1856)

I entirely agree. This is why I blog as I do — to refute doctrinal error that is destroying souls in the Churches of Christ — and costing us our ability to effectively seek and save the lost. Once we divided over the instrument, we came up with scores of other doctrines to divide over — and we’re creating more even today.

I mean, we started as a unity movement built on a unifying doctrine — and we then made just one mistake: we decided some doctrines beyond faith, penitence, grace, and baptism are essential to salvation. Daniel Sommer split the Movement over located preachers, societies, fund raisers, and instruments. And we spent the next 100 years finding more and more doctrines to split over.

And so we live in fear for our salvation, wondering if we’ve found all the hidden commands amongst the silences, rarely certain of our salvation. I can’t tell you how many people have come to me in tears because for the first time in their lives they discovered through my work that they are actually saved. And I won’t sit idly by while our preachers deny the members the joy of their salvation.

Jay, I just strongly feel that we in Churches of Christ need to continue to faithfully proclaim and encourage all people to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thess. 2:15) To remind people that said Jesus that the Word he spoke will judge them in the last day. (John 12:48) And you and I both know and believe that Jesus continued to give His “Word”and pattern for the church through His inspired apostles and other N.T. writers—1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 3:15. I fully admit that this is a fine line in pressing this truth and yes even withholding fellwoship from others without personally condemning them to hell. Again, I’ll let God do the eternal juding. But it is a fine line that am trying to walk because I believe it is the most Biblical approach.

We have no right to withhold fellowship from those whom God fellowships. We can be no less inclusive than God himself, because we certainly aren’t wiser or better than God.

The one exception, found in 1 Cor 5, among other places, is a withdrawal to warn a member of our congregation against impenitence. The goal isn’t to separate from him because he’s damned but because we want to keep him from falling away by bringing him to repentance. I find no authority for withdrawing from entire congregations that are within God’s grace despite their error.

In conclusion, I leave you with the words of Everett Ferguson’s conclusion he wrote concerning a Cappella Music. “We are on good historical and theological grounds to engage in a cappella music in our public worship. This is safe, ecumenical ground that all can agree is acceptable. Instrumental music cannot be confirmed as authorized in the text of the New Testament. It did not exist in worship until centuries after the New Testament was written. Vocal music is more consistent with the nature of Christian worship. Neither side of the instrumental music controversy has had a monopoly on Christian love and humility, and neither side has reason for pride. My hope is that we can go beyond our recent history of bitterness and unite on the original undivided ground of the Restoration Plea. This should not be done out of the spirit “one side is right and the other wrong.” But let us be New Testament churches – in practice and in attitude, in loyalty to the Bible, and in the exercise of Christian freedom.” (A Cappella Music in Public Worship)

May God help us to work to this end,

The “Restoration Plea” does not involve withdrawing fellowship over issues such as instrumental music.

Nor does Ferguson seem to argue for division. It’s fine for him and for you to argue for a cappella music. That’s not the point of this discussion. The point is simply that if someone wants to contend that instrumental music damns, they need to be prepared to defend their position with scripture. And it’s woefully inadequate — and tiresome — to argue that error damns while not damning over all error. And if you won’t damn over all error, please share with us where the Bible singles out instrumental music as a salvation issue.

I’m tired of seeing articles damn brothers and sisters over this and that without the least effort to explain why this and that damn. And my heart goes out to those who read such articles and hear such sermons and wonder how they’ll ever be saved, as the preacher sure seems to be saying that any error damns. The result is to leave countless saved people in mortal terror for their souls — which is cruel and wrong.

I just want somebody to stand up and actually fill in the gap: where in the Bible does it tell us which errors damn and which ones don’t?

I’ve offered my reading. I’ve explained my thinking in great detail.  As you seem not to agree, what do you see in the scriptures? What’s the rule? And if you don’t know what the rule is, how on earth did you conclude that instrumental music is an error than damns?

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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12 Responses to Dialogue with Robert Prater, Part 3

  1. Alan says:

    Robert wrote:

    Because I cannot violate my conscience or give up my conviction that all activities in the worship assembly must have authorization from God.

    As a preacher, you undoubtedly have a consicentious obligation to construct the worship service as you believe the scriptures teach. So introducing instrumental music would indeed violate your conscience, and therefore you must not do it.

    However, if you did introduce instruments, how would it violate the conscience of one of your members? Each member can continue to obey every positive command of scripture (including singing) without doing anything not positively commanded (including not playing an instrument). If I sing while someone else plays an instrument, I am obeying the command to sing, whether or not playing an instrument amounts to violating God's word. There is nothing anyone else can do that violates *my* conscience. My conscience is only violated by things that I do myself.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    I would add this Alan. The one thing that we in the churches of Christ have a hard time with is being ok with questioning how our conscience and convictions were formed. A preacher asked me recently about this when speaking of changes: “What about us that it is matter of conscience?” I asked him why he was sacred of questioning his conscience. He did not have an answer. This represents a one of the main things affecting most fundamentalist fellowships. One group is willing to constantly challenge their conscience with brutal self honesty and the other is not. This single issue alone is what so many others are based on.

  3. Weldon says:

    In Romans 14, Paul gives a truly profound remedy to this fellowship dilemma:

    Romans 14:3 NIV “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does for God has accepted him.”

    It’s subtle, but Paul acknowledges the two way street eloquently here. Notice the specificity of the instruction:

    “The man who eats everything [The Strong/The “Progressive”] must not look down on him who does not [The Weak/The “Conservative”]”

    “The man who does not eat everything [The Weak/The “Conservative”] must not condemn the man who does [The Strong/The “Progressive”]”

    Notice that the Strong (the “Progressives”) were commanded not to look down on, whereas the Weak (the “Conservatives”) were instructed not to condemn. The wisdom of this passage is truly amazing, particularly when you consider the accusations that the two camps sometimes lob at each other:

    Strong/Progressive: “The conservatives are a bunch of narrow-minded legalists, they have no concept of God's grace.” (i.e. Condescension)

    Weak/Conservative: “The liberals are apostates, they've left the faith and they're intentionally violating God's will.” (i.e. Condemnation)

    After theses subtle but insightful instructions, Paul solidly chastises both sides of the argument with a “who do you think you are?”:

    Romans 14:4 NIV “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand…”

    There’s my two cents.

  4. Jim K. says:

    I am reminded of the words of Campbell (I think) when he spoke of every Christian having to obey God as they had (or were given) the light to do so, then after gaining more understanding, move forward in their beliefs etc.

    So much of what this discussion is about revolves around cultural / traditional arguements. Jay you are right, the Gospel is really simple, so simple that everyone wants to make it more complex and add styles, commands, just to make it better for them because they believe that to control people.

    We must always remember that the gospel was simple enough for an uneducated fiserman to drop his nets and follow Christ. While our methods must change to reach each generation, the message must always be the same. One other realistic divide that the church today has not faced, is the inclusion of our black and even hispanic brethren into our fellowship. I believe this is done for much the same reasoning that we don't fellowship those who play the instrument of have multiple cups.

    The error you point out Jay, is serious, and it reaches further than any of us care to admit. The idea of fellowshipping each other – because we are brothers in Christ – and not necessarily worshipping with them, is HUGE! and it is a most worthy goal. I for one am with you on this.

  5. Jay Guin says:


    You are spot on.

    The conservatives argue that Rom 14 is about non-doctrinal matters, like the color to paint the foyer. But eating meat — which was about meat sacrificed to idols or about keeping kosher — was doctrinal enough that the Jerusalem council met to deal with the issue.

    Just so, holy days — whether Sabbath keeping or the Passover etc. — are certainly doctrinal as well. Even today, Christians debate whether Sunday is the Christian Sabbath and whether it's sin to celebrate Christmas – as questions of doctrine.

    Rom 14 is the solution to the problem. Stop judging. Stop looking down on your brother. He'll stand, not on his merits, but because God will make him stand.

  6. Alan says:

    Exactly. Special religious days are obviously doctrinal issues. Imagine the reaction of the churches of Christ in town if one of them started observing the Sabbath every Saturday. And yet… Rom 14:5-14 etc makes it clear that they should accept one another despite the disagreement.

  7. Jay, once again I thank you for your very kind and generous space you have taken up your blog to respond and answer my comments. Once, again, it is with deep humility and sincerity of heart that I respond to your words First of all, I would say that we have applied a much more consistent standard with regard to fellowship and unity than you lead people to believe. It is very quite common to hear liberal brethren who like to critize the more conservative members of the church by saying, “We’ve spit and divided so much.”

    I challenge that assertion and demand it be proven by data reliable, experienced church growth experts. Carl Mitchell, long time Bible professor at Pepperdine and Harding wrote:

    “….we often hear those promoting them claiming that churches of Christ have become just as divided and sectarian as have the denominations. In answer, I would say that our “so called” divisions are not true divisions in the denominational sense. The various exponents of the restoration movement do have points of difference which affect some aspects of fellowship, but do not equate to the organic divisions of the denomitional world. They are not organically different churches. Typically, churches in the restoration momvent have remained true to the basis tenets of scripture regarding the church (Eph. 4:4-6) They recognize Jesus as the church’s only head, that all Christians are to be unified in one church (neither mine nor yours but Christ’s), that scripture is their only creed, local autonomy under the leadership of elders and deacons, the New Testament plan of salvation and (with the exception of some how have chosen to use instruments, or have opted for unscriptural roles for women), worship after the new Testament order.” (Direction for the Road Ahead, p. 227-228)

    Thomas H. Olbricht a brilliant and tremendous scholar from Pepperdine University has written, ‘Certain groupings within Churches of Christ have drawn lines over Para-church institutions, Bible classes, multiply communion cups, one preacher churches, and a few other distinctions, but these together comprise less than 10 percent of the total of churches of Christ.”

    Frank S. Mead, in this universally accepted classic book, on “Handbook of Denominations in the Unites States” makes very favorable and position statements regarding the amazing unity that does exist in the Church of Christ – he says despite being a “fellowship with no central headquarters, creed books or confessions of faith to preserve and keep unity.”

    Yes, churches of Christ are autonomous. Yes it is not unusual to find variations from congregation to congregation.

    Now, Jay, for the me the issue and subject is quite clear even though I understand that you and I strongly disagree on its “clarity.” The fact remains from the Old Testament to the New Testament that changing the instructions of God in every age and in any circumstances is always sinful and condemned. That it not uncertain.

    Jay, I think I can at least in my mind, summarize the great major difference in our approach to scripture as follows: Having faith that God will accept what we do is not the faith of the Bible. The faith of the Bible believes that God will do what He has said and that His word is the final and only authority. (Matt. 7:21-24; Rom. 10:17) To go beyond what is written and add such things into God’s worship is not having faith in God but in ourselves.

    Jay, you seem to hold the position that since the grace of God covers the ignorant and all of our error in some way that a person can continue to enjoy the grace of God and continue in error. “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” (Rom. 6:1-2) Paul seems to disagree with your assumption (which you just take too far) that ignorance allows people to continue in sin. I fear that you have redefined the grace of God. Many today are simplying refashioning Jesus of the Bible into a different Being—one who is unconcerned about obedience and whose “grace” forgives everybody unconditionally. I fear you have “over reached” the grace position and fear it will lead you even further down a road of ecumenicalism.

    We must know how to love God, and God teaches us in the inspired word. Keeping that word is an act of love in response to the grace of God. When someone dos not keep the commandments, he does not show the love to God. (cf. John 14:15-25; 15:8-10)

    God has always regulated worship. He has never left it up to us to come before Him as we please. Jesus laid down two requirements for acceptable worship when he said they must worship in "spirit" and in "truth." It simply cannot be an either/or choice as it sadly seems to so often be the case in Christianity today. Jesus said that the Father is seeking a particular kind of worshipper. Everything we do must always be in according to "faith" (Rom. 10:17) Take for instance the worship Cain in the OT. Whatever he offered to God, we know it was not pleasing to God because it was not "according to faith" as opposed to Abel (See Hebrews 11:5) It seems today that the attitude is that God basically "has to" accept anything I offer to Him in religion and worship just as long as I offer it to Him sincerely. Again, we need both "spirit" and "truth" in worship and in our Christianity.

    Now, I know, it is correct to say that there is some inconsistency in all of us. None would be so bold as to claim perfect conformity to every principle we espouse. Our personal or collective failures do not, however, nullify the validity of correct principles. It is especially disappointing, therefore, that any would disparage the necessity of seeking Bible authority by pointing to what they suppose are our inconsistencies.

    In the first place, human consistency is not what validates a spiritual principle. Our inconsistency (and/or hypocrisy) can be an adverse influence. It can cause others to violate the principle, but the principle will still be correct. For example, we reject infant baptism because it is not authorized by “thus saith the Lord.” Will the inconsistencies charged above mean that the principle upon which we reject infant baptism is no longer valid?

    In fact, however, while we confess that we may not always be consistent, the issues cited hardly make the case. To put the issue of acceptable worship practices in the same category as youth minister, buildings, pews, etc., is mixing “apples and oranges” and fails to distinguish between generic (general) and specific authority. Some things are authorized by generic authority. “Thus saith the Lord” is implied for things which are incidental to the instructions given.

    Again, I think this whole debate and argument about “is instrumental a salvation issue” or “which error condemns and which doesn’t?” is a diversion away from the real question. Perhaps the easiest way to defend that which is indefensible is simply to declare that it is not an important issue. The question raises a smoke screen. It takes the focus away from the practice itself and puts all of the emphasis on whether it really matters one way or the other. What is one to do if he practices something for which he has no biblical authority? How is he to defend a practice that he prefers, yet cannot justify scripturally? It seems like to me that you are simply seeking to minimize the practice. Make it seem marginal and unimportant. If one does not have scriptural authority for what he practices, yet the unauthorized practice is "not a salvation issue," then it does not matter whether the practice is authorized. Therefore, the proponents have no need to furnish biblical authority for his practice.

    I challenge you to either deny or affirm that instrumental music in worship has New Testament authority in the worship of the church. I challenge you in your blog to prove that instrumental music in worship is scriptural. Instead, the question is asked, "Is it a salvation issue?" and “where in the Bible does it tell us which errors damn and which ones don’t? Where in the Bible tells it tells us that we have the right of God to hold to, teach, promote and practice any error, certainly error that leads to disruption and division within the body of Christ?

    Sin is practicing in worship what the Lord did not authorize. This principle seems the most difficult
    for some people to understand and accept. Not all worship is acceptable to God. Jesus clearly taught that worship is vain if men teach "as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). The inspired apostle admonished us "not to go beyond the things which are written" (1 Corinthians 4:6 asv). "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God" (2 John 9).

    One of the clearest examples is that of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1: "Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them." The English Standard Version says they "offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them." The passage is abundantly clear. When Nadab and Abihu offered what God had not authorized, "Fire went out from the Lord and devoured them." They did not argue that "unauthorized fire" was not a salvation issue.

    The point at issue is not and never has been whether instrumental music in worship or any other practice is a salvation issue or “which errors damn and which ones don’t? The real question is whether it is a sin to introduce into the worship a practice that God did not authorize. If we will focus on that question, and determine what the Bible teaches, we will not be distracted by side issues and smoke screens.

    To ask, "Is it a salvation issue?" without examining whether the practice is sinful in the sight of God is to put the cart before the horse. Let it first be determined if the practice is scriptural. If there is no scriptural justification, does the practice represent an unauthorized addition to the Word of God? Is it a sin to bring unauthorized worship into the assembly of the saints? When we answer these questions, the inquiry about whether we are dealing with a salvation issue will answer itself.

    Jay, even in recent years, many Evangelicals are sounded some alarms overing worship that is without Biblical authority. In his chapter in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, John MacArthur states, “My concern is this: The contemporary church’s abandonment of sola Scriptura as the regulative principle [i.e., its abandonment of worshipping only in ways that are authorized by Scripture] has opened the church to some of the grossest imaginable abuses – honkytonk church services, the carnival sideshow atmosphere, and wrestling exhibitions.” (The Coming Evangelical Crisis, p. 181)

    I recommend if you haven’t already, read John Price’s book, “Old Light on New Worship” Price makes the statement, “The regulative principle demands that those who would brin any addition into God’s worship must prove that they have scriptural warrant for doing so. In this case, the advocates of musical instrumentation must demonstrate from the New Testament that Christ demands their use in His worship. The burden of proof rest upon them, and, apart from such proof, they cannot and should not be used. And if we bring unwarranted additions into Christ’s worship, we transgress His authority and prove ourselves violators of His prerogatives.” (p. 54)

    Years ago a tract in favor of instruments had the title, “Does the Bible Teach That a Person Will Be Damned if He Uses a Musical Instrument in Worship?” G. C. Brewer reviewed the tract and stated clearly what is the real issue:

    Those who practice anything that the Lord commands are on safe ground; there is no question about the destiny of the souls who do what the Lord authorizes them to do. . . . If a man is doing something that causes anyone to question his chances of reaching heaven, then he is, without doubt, engaging in a questionable practice; and if such a man resents the implication that he might possibly be lost, he himself shows that he is appealing to sympathy and not banishing the question and removing the doubt.

    At the end of the day, I agree with the late radio and TV preacher, Adrian Rogers who said: “It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error. It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills. It is not love and it is not friendship if we fail to declaim the whole counselor f God. It is better to be hatred for telling the truth than to be loved for telling a lie.”

    Bottom line, should those who worship with instruments forsake them, I would gladly seek to have full and complete fellowship with them. At this point, how can I do anything but speak out against a practice that goes beyond (in my conviction) against the authority of Scripture? My first loyalty is to the will of God. I can’t cooperate and have full open fellowship with those who I believe continue to act outside the will of God – that would send a mixed signal in my opinion and will encourage more congregations and Christians to embrace the unscriptural practice of instrumental music in worship. Now yes, we are to still treat our brothers as brothers, even when there is a disruption in fellowship (2 Thess. 3:14-15).

    For love of Christ and His church,
    Robert Prater

  8. Pat says:

    "I can't cooperate and have full open fellowship with those who I believe continue to act outside the will of God -"
    This may sound simplistic, but does that not include each of us? Whom would Mr. Prater be able to fellowship?

  9. Robert Baty says:

    Robert Prater,

    I think you've got your website address here entered incorrectly for this list. It won't connect for me. Maybe too many dots or something. I used Google to find your website.

    Before July of 2005 I was an Oklahoman, a member of the Barnes and McLoud churches at various times for the few years before leaving.

    You report being in Shawnee, not far from where I was, and working on your masters at Oklahoma Christian.

    That postures you rather well, along with your "concervative" inclinations, to possibly provide some input direct from Oklahoma Christian in response to Jay's promised article on the issue involving Oklahoma Christian exploiting Rev. Rul. 70-549 in allowing its employees to register as ministers and claim tax free housing allowances based on the feds recognizing, at the behest of such schools, the school as an "integral agency of the churches of christ".

    Jerry Jobe, OC's former basketball minister, went to court on behalf of OC to insure OC, despite its founding principles, would continue to be recognized as an "integral agency of the church" so basketball ministers and others wouldn't have to pay tax like regular folk.

    I mention that because I note you mentioned "para-church" organizations in your message above.

    Now that the feds have taken sides on that, contrary to the law and principles upon which schools like OC were founded and are maintained, I figure you might want to weigh in when and if Jay posts his analysis.

  10. Thanks Robert Baty for the info on OC's employees being allowed to register as ministers and claim tax free housing allowances. I'd probably yield and agree more with Jay's fine blog post from today on this issue and question. But, I'm don't feel too strongly about it either way.

    However, I fail to the see an equal compraison betwen my attending school at OC and whether or not that practice of OC is the best and most faithful application of the princples OC was founded upon in view of what the NT says about "obeying the government" and Christians "obeying the laws of the land and paying taxes." I'm sure in your mind it is a fair comparison between how you view OC in error on this issue, yet my "fellowshi" and support of OC while withholding fellowship and support to Christian Churche who clearly are practicing and prompoting congregatioanl worship and thus causing division and disruption in the body of Christ, but I just don't see that as a fair equation.

    It seems like you practicing what is called argumentum ad hominem, which literally means "argument to the man," and refers to arguments which attack a person's behavior and/or circumstances rather than his position. Oklahoma Christian's supposed "questionable" tax break policy for faulty members really is irrelevant when it comes to the rightfulness or wrongness of instrumental music.

    God bless,
    Robert Prater

  11. Robert Baty says:

    Robert Prater,

    I think you misunderstood my comments.

    I was just noting your association with OCUSA for purposes of developing the discussion on the housing allowance issue if there were to be interest.

    As you note, Jay has now posted his commentary and I have posted a reply thereto.

    So, if you have the interest, and there is some application, you may be an excellent candidate to document your efforts to bring up to date information from OCUSA on the matter.

    It was just a suggestion. Personally, I think, if you try to get some official, hard evidence out of OCUSA, you are going to run into trouble.

    But it would be good to document any such efforts and the latest, up to doate position the school wants to publicly acknowledge.

    Who knows, you might even run across some folks who will relate to the issue and my name in association therewith! :o)

    Robert Baty

  12. Robert Baty says:

    I also note that you seem to have corrected the link to your own website. It is now working just fine!

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