Dialogue with Robert Prater, Part 5

dialogueI’ve edited several of Robert’s paragraphs from his comment posted earlier today. This is no disrespect. Rather, I just don’t want to unduly test the readers’ patience. The full text of his comment is still posted.

<snipped introduction>

First of all, to answer your question, I would agree with position 2, “Some doctrinal error damns and some does not.” However, I don’t agree with you on where God has drawn the line because I don’t think it’s as simple as you hope and desire to make it. That somehow, God has to specify and exactly “spell out” which commandments we can disregard and disobey and which error we can hold to, practice and promote, yet will not condemn and which ones will. Too simplistic. It’s too “legalistic.”

JFG: God doesn’t have to do anything. Therefore, I’m not insisting that he has to doing anything. Rather, I’m saying that God has in fact answered the question in the verses I’ve cited in the earlier posts.

What I’m saying is that anyone who wishes to argue that a given practice necessarily damns has to defend that position from the scripture – or else he’s adding to the Bible – which is sin.

And I think most in the conservative church are guilty of adding to God’s word – which is every bit as wrong as subtracting from God’s word. They’ve invented a doctrine that people are damned for certain errors, which they pretend to defend from the scriptures by arguing that the scriptures say all errors damn – which is (a) not true and (b) not what they actually believe. It’s just that they can’t defend what they actually believe.

And it’s a seriously dangerous error, as it risks violating Galatians’ injunction against seeking justification through works.

(Now there’s a surprise for you, as you usually one to refer to people like myself as being more legalistic lol! And yes, I do agree that there certainly are “matters of preference” about which we should not raise an issue or judge one another. (cf. Romans 14)

You entirely missed my point. Romans 14-15 are not about matters of preference. The issues that Paul considers in those chapters are doctrinal issues, for reasons that I’ve previously argued.

However, when we come together in our assemblies to worship God, and especially the issue of Biblical authority behind our worship practice, we are dealing with an entirely different type of issue. This is no “minor” or “small,” or a “preference” or non-issue we’re talking about. I’ll come back to this point of acting presumptuously in worship.

Rom 14-15 is not about matters of preference. Whether to honor holy days, such as the Sabbath or Passover, were and remain serious doctrinal issues. Entire denominations have been formed over Sabbath observance. It’s not a matter of mere preference. These are issues addressed in scripture over which Christian disagree and divide.

But, let me try to deal with your question of “which error condemns and which errors do not?”

Did God have to specifically and exactly throughout the Old Testament and on into the New Testament spell out which errors would condemn and which errors would not? I think not.

Again, God doesn’t have to do anything. But if someone wishes to declare someone damned over a disagreement, he’d better have Biblical justification for it – and merely announcing that someone is in error does not even remotely prove the point.

There is a principle at play here that you and other progressive minded brethren in the church seem to struggle with accepting and recognizing. Changing the instructions of God in every age (especially in the area of worship) and in any circumstance is ALWAYS sinful and God condemns. That is not uncertain.

As I have repeatedly said, no one may intentionally disobey God’s will and be penitent. For those in rebellion to God’s will, Heb 10:26 ff pronounces very explicit rejection and punishment.

PLEASE stop accusing me of things I strongly oppose.

You actually raise this same non-issue several times in your post. I’ll not address it again.

<snipped lengthy discourse on Regulative Principle>

Dr. Stafford North I believe says it well:
‘In view of what God has said in both the Old and New Testaments about how important it is to worship only as He has revealed, and in view of the condemnation that falls on those who do not, surely adding a kind of music not used by early Christians when under apostolic guidance must be viewed as a matter of importance. Does this raise it to the level of a salvation issue? Clearly there are worship errors that do reach that level.

Are there worship errors that damn? Certainly. Willful disobedience of any of God’s commands condemns. Which is why I do not defend willful disobedience.

And here is the clincher: How can anyone be absolutely certain that God does not care whether one adds instruments or not? One may say he thinks God does not care, but there is no way, in view of all the Bible says about not departing from the revealed plan of worship, that anyone can be certain. Since we can be certain that singing without instruments is in harmony with God’s revealed plan, but cannot be equally certain that using instruments is acceptable, surely it is wiser not to use them.” (“Where Do You Stand on Instrumental Music? Where Should You Stand?”)

Why doesn’t the identical argument apply to one cup or refusing to support orphanages through the church treasury or fellowship halls or requiring women to wear hats? I know people in those camps, and they make the identical argument.

Consider your own argument on the lips of a no Sunday School proponent —

And here is the clincher: How can anyone be absolutely certain that God does not care whether one adds [Sunday school] or not? One may say he thinks God does not care, but there is no way, in view of all the Bible says about not departing from the revealed plan of [instruction], that anyone can be certain. Since we can be certain that [having no Sunday school] is in harmony with God’s revealed plan, but cannot be equally certain that [having a Sunday school] is acceptable, surely it is wiser not to use them.”

You see, there are several problems with this argument (I call it the safety argument) —

* The safety argument bans anything over which anyone can raise a doubt. It proves too much.

* The argument presumes that binding a rule is always safer than not. Thus, any fellowship that adheres to this argument will, over time, find itself accumulating more and more rules. History proves the obvious.

* It’s just as wrong to add to God’s word as to take away. It is no more safe to impose a rule God does not impose than to ignore a rule that God does impose.

* The argument contradicts grace. We are told that we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. We are banned from imposing rules made by man. But under this argument, our confidence is not in grace but in our avoidance of all risk – our own works — and on removing doubt by imposing rules.

* The argument flatly contradicts Rom 14-15, where regarding doctrinal disputes (not involving faith in Jesus, repentance, or seeking justification by works) Paul tells both sides to stop judging and looking down on each other and even refuses to give the right answer on the holy days question.

* The argument flatly contradicts the book of Galatians. Let try the same argument in First Century terms —

And here is the clincher: How can anyone be absolutely certain that God does not care whether one [is circumcised] or not? One may say he thinks God does not care, but there is no way, in view of all the Bible says about not departing from the [scriptures that require circumcision going all the way back to Abraham], that anyone can be certain. Since we can be certain that [being circumcised] is in harmony with God’s revealed plan, but cannot be equally certain that [not being circumcised] is acceptable, surely it is wiser [to be circumcised].”

Isn’t this just the sort of argument the Judaizers were making in Galatia? And Paul’s condemning of them is not that they performed the wrong works. He condemned them for seeking to be justified by works at all. The contrast Paul draws in Galatians is between works and faith in Jesus, not between wrong works and right works.

What did Paul say was the fate of those who sought safety in law keeping?

<snipped list of various worship issues>

Let me give you some more examples of what I’m talking about. Jay, how about congregations that favor a monthly or weekday obverstance of the Lord’s Supper? It is a fellowship issue? Error which could potentially condemn? Does God have to spell it out exactly and specifically in such matters? Is there not a principle that established of faithfully following what God has commanded us in this regard?

Yes, there’s a principle. I’ve stated it and written at length on it.

God will not condemn believers who misunderstand his will regarding the frequency of taking the Lord’s supper so long as they are genuinely penitent, that is, if they truly believe they are acting in accordance with God’s will. God will cover the error by his grace. That’s what grace is for.

<snipped question about willful disobedience>

<snipped list of controversies and questions about willful disobedience>

Let me come back your major premise and question, which I think is illegitimate and also quite frankly, an emotional ploy and tactic. (“After all, who among us could even imagine claiming to be without error on any subject or matter?”) Again, as I stated in my last post, I think you and others have “redefined” the subject of grace. I think your question misunderstands the nature of grace and salvation. There will never be no such thing as a perfectly “faithful child of God” whose only deviation from the will of God is the use of instruments in worship. No one’s salvation is dependent on their perfect sinlessness. G. C. Brewer said,
“We do not use instrumental music in worship because there is no authority for it in the New Testament. This is the position we take and this is the issue between us and those who use the instruments. Anything else that may be brought into the discussion is irrelevant and confusing. This is the issue. “It is not a question of who will be damned or who will not be damned. It is not a question of how good and sincere some people are who use instrumental music in worship–good and sincere people by the millions sprinkle babies, confess to the priest and count beads in prayer, etc. It is not a question of how far wrong a man may be and still be saved, or of how many things that we may do that God has not authorized and still be Christians. It is a question of what the New Testament authorizes us to do in worship and what it does not authorize. “When we obey God’s word we have God’s promises—including eternal salvation. When we refuse or fail or fall short of God’s will, God will judge us. We are told not to judge one another.” (A Medley on the Music Question or a Potpourri of Philology, Gospel Advocate Company, 1948, pp. 12-13).

Okay. Do you disagree with Dave Miller’s condemnation of Richland Hills?

Do you disagree with the Gospel Advocate’s conclusion that instrumental music, giving women improper roles in worship, and error in divorce and remarriage damn?

Do you disagree with the ad run against Quail Springs announcing that their minister is an apostate?

Is Dub McLish in error for refusing to fellowship not only Richland Hill and Quail Springs but all who fellowship them?

Would you serve on a board with Rick Atchley? Mark Henderson? Would you refuse in order to be “safe,” effectively disfellowshipping people while simultaneously saying that only God may judge?

I mean, does your willingness to let God judge mean that you treat those you disagree with as damned? Or do you treat them as saved? It seems to me that if you truly suspend judgment, then you should do as Paul commands in Rom 14 —

(Rom 14:4)  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.

(Rom 14:10)  You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

In the place where Paul says not to judge, he commands us not to look down on our brother, too.

Jay, Christians have eternal life by virtue of faith in Christ, and are to live by faith (Romans 1:16-17). <snipped lengthy discussion of 5 acts of worship> Moreover, we limit the day of eating the supper and giving of our means to Sundays, because that seems to be the clear of import of our Bible examples. By faith, we employ the same practices as revealed in God’s word. But outside of divine revelation, we have no basis for faith or religious action

Notice the contrast. You start by speaking of “faith in Christ,” which is quite Biblical. Then you confuse the Regulative Principle with faith in Jesus, asserting that doing anything not commanded is not “by faith.”

You see, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” does NOT mean that everything written in scripture is “faith in Christ.” The necessity of faith in Jesus does not require that I must have authority for everything, because that’s just not what those words mean. Rather, the “word of God” is the message about Jesus, regardless of how communicated.

In context, it’s speaking very specifically about the “gospel” or “good news,” and it’s a serious mistake to confuse “gospel” with “silences about how to raise money” and such like.

<snipped arguments previously made and addressed>

Lastly, let me do say this to try to answer further your question, about error that condemns and error which doesn’t Is there not a clear cut distinction between a heresy and an error and between a factionist and one with a mistaken view? One who holds a doctrinal error is not a factionist, but one who is push and seeks to gain disciples for his view. Heresy is not simply being honestly mistaken on a matter of doctrine, but the evil effort to create division within the body of Christ.

I think I agree. Let me explain. Let’s suppose that a church adopts instrumental music being, as you say, honestly mistaken. Now suppose a church down the road damns them and refuses all fellowship. Which church did the dividing? Plainly, the second. And I think they are at serious risk of violating Galatians – seeking to be saved by works rather than faith in Jesus.

And they stand under the command of Rom 16:17 —

(Rom 16:17)  I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

You see, the “teaching you have learned” includes, at the least, Rom 14 –15, which Paul had just taught. Dividing contrary to Rom 14 –15 plainly places one under the penalties of Rom 16:17.

This might mean that I would never brand a brother who holds I believe a personal conviction like your view on instrumental music (or Premillennialism view, etc.) as a “heretic,” though I would insist that those views are not according to scripture. But, we could still have unity and fellowship in the body of Christ as long as you didn’t try to “build a party” (which I’m afraid your blog is doing to some degree) and practice such as the leaders in the Chrisian Church have done in the past and continue to to in the present. If you were to do that, you would be a factionist, whether right or wrong in doctrine. Heresy is therefore a behavioral problem just as much as it is a doctrinal problem. Scriptures such as in Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Phil. 3:17-18; Titus 3:10)

Now, think carefully here. If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying I can be in error on Premillennialism so long as I don’t teach my views. Of course, if I’m right, then I’m free to push my views all I want. That can’t be right. It certainly isn’t much comfort.

In other words, you seem to say that you may push your views on instrumental music, because you’re right, but I can’t push my views, because I’m wrong.

Or you may be saying something entirely right, which is that we should teach without dividing. And if that’s what you’re saying, then I agree. But as I’m trying to work against division, and you think I’m a factionalist, then I guess you’re saying something else.

<snipped argument on intentional disobedience>

Now of course, a novice or babe in Christ will not be judged the same as a stronger and more mature Christian. My question is: What of the church leaders who, departing from a unified view, and grant permission to go beyond the instructions of Scripture be held accountable? Will not teachers incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1)? Can they knowingly continue to practice their presumptuous ways?

Again, tedious beyond words. No one is arguing that anyone may knowingly violate God’s word. Please stop beating this dead horse.

And “unified view”? So tradition is the test? And only tradition within the Churches of Christ? Are you really saying that the measure of my salvation is whether I violate traditional teaching in the Churches of Christ?

<snipped injunctions to obey God, which are not the issue>

In my next response, which will be in a few days (and which will be my last posting in our discussion), I want to come back to the historical position and view regarding instrumental music and the issue of fellowshipping error and unity today.

I’ll look forward to it.

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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25 Responses to Dialogue with Robert Prater, Part 5

  1. J. Prince says:

    Towards the end of the text above, Robert says the following: "What of the church leaders who, departing from a unified view, and grant permission to go beyond the instructions of Scripture be held accountable? Will not teachers incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1)? Can they knowingly continue to practice their presumptuous ways?"

    Going beyond the instructions of Scripture? With all due respect, this bed rock and consistent condemnation from the Conservative CoC towards any one who would have the audacity to come to a different interpretation than theirs drives me right straight up the wall.

    Over the course of many hours (and many years) of conversations with conservative brethren, I have NEVER been able to effectively communicate the basic fallacy and spiritual arrogance of this position (Jay – please help me here). The conservative criticism (condemnation) based on "going beyond the instructions of Scripture" has at its root, the assumption that the accusers interpretations are perfect and infallible.

    Let me give brief example: Many a conservative has and continues to condemn those who take the Lord's Supper less frequently than they do and on days other than Sunday. While I believe that taking communion on the first day of the week is a fine practice and I hold to it, other interpretations also have merit in spite of our tradition to the contrary.

    If the frequency was so everlastingly important, why didn't Jesus make a point of specifying that? Why did he institute it on a Thursday if the "pattern" is the main thing? My point is not to change the first day of the week communion but rather to ask, plead that we allow for other interpretations within other groups without feeling the necessity to condemn or even criticize.

    The ultimate and sad irony is that of the two mistakes (taking communion other than Sunday and condemning those who do so), the condemnation of penitent though possibly mistaken Christians is the much more serious offense. Does it damn? I have no idea but I do know that such condemnation of differing interpretations DOES divide the body of our Lord.

    I have spent the last 40 years of my life in the conservative CoC and for most of that time, I’ve known in my heart that condemning others for their differing interpretations is not right. I didn’t know specifically why that wasn’t right until I studied deeply a topic that is, in my experience, rarely covered and even more rarely covered to any depth in the conservative CoC. That topic is God’s grace and how he applies it to me and how I am called to extend it to my fellow Christians.

    Again with all due respect brother Robert, there is no condemnation in grace and there is no grace in condemnation (of a penitent, baptized follower of Christ).

  2. I usually find myself frustrated by these conversations. They read like the two people are writing about the same general subject, but not about the same specific things. I am not sure how to correct this or even if it is possible to correct or even if correcting it is a good thing to do.

  3. Robert Baty says:


    Are you saying you will look forward to it being his last? :o)

    Robert Baty

  4. FairCogent says:

    “…I would never brand a brother who holds I believe a personal conviction… as a heretic… though I would insist that those views are not according to scripture.”

    Interesting… the opinions of those we disagree with are “personal convictions” while ours always somehow turn out to be made exclusively “according to scripture”. One wonders how Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics (and even Muslims and Buddhists) manage to hold so strongly to their opinions, in spite of the fact that they’re JUST “personal convictions”.

    “…as long as you didn’t try to “build a party”… If you were to do that, you would be a factionist, whether right or wrong in doctrine.”

    Some time ago my previous (coC) congregation built a new parking lot. The Presbyterians next door actually prayed during their service that it be filled (as reported by our preacher during service). I still ponder how many sat in silence that day questioning, as I questioned, that if the situation were reversed, we would pray the same prayer for their congregation. I don’t like to consider the question for very long.

    “factionist”… perhaps it means more than someone who disagrees with us?

  5. Jay, thank you once again for you response to my posting . I want to talk some about the historical argument concerning instrumental music and how it relates to the issue of unity and fellowship. First of all, I’m going to reference again John Price’s, “Old Light on New Worship.” I don’t know if any of your readers of this blog have read it or not or have heard about it, but I would strongly encourage them to take a look at it. There is much to commend within its pages. Price is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Rochester, NY and a graduate of Trinity Ministerial Academy. He has done a thorough job of presenting what’s called “the Reformed” view on music and describing the Regulative Principle (what we would call prohibitive silence). He has done a good job of looking into history.

    But, keep in mind all the while, this book is unlike any you’ve probably read before on the subject. This book is not written by a member of the church of Christ. To me, it’s surprising, to say the least, to find a Baptist preacher writing this kind of “Back to the Bible” article while many of the churches of Christ in the USA are experimenting with innovations in worship and practice. While some of our brethren clamor for instruments, at least part of the evangelical world are clamoring for their removal.

    The foreword is excellent and is written by Edward Donnelly, who is the Pastor at Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, Newtownabbey which sings unaccompanied in their worship assemblies. He is also the Principal, Reformed Theological College, Belfast Northern Ireland.

    How is it that a Baptist and Presbyterian, with no affiliation to the churches of Christ, and both live in the Northeast and even across the Atlantic Ocean, can study and come to the conclusion that instrumental musical are without Biblical authority and thus to be rejected?

    According to some, the folks in and among the body of Christ are at the height of ignorance for listening to their 'tradition' to continue a practice that is limiting to what God allows. Yet here is an author, who independent of any of that so called 'tradition,' studies and reaches the exact same conclusion?

    Price, has written this book outlining his research as to why the congregation where he works has removed instruments of music. They had just one instrument, but, after careful study, he determined that one was just not needed and, in fact, violated the New Testament. Price writes about some of the history and background leading up to his change in theology and practice:

    “During my training for the ministry in the early 1990s, I wrote several papers relating to the regulative principles of worship and music in the church. In 2003, several churches … began to introduce multiple musical instruments into their worship. This motivated me to make a more in-depth study of this subject, and my book 'Old Light on New Worship' was the final outcome of this study. “Since my conversion to Christ, I have worshiped for over 20 years in churches where the piano was the only musical instrument used. The stated reason for its use was always to aid singing. Though I could not find any such practice in the New Testament, I accepted this explanation for some time. After doing my study on music in the church, I came to the conclusion that the use of a musical instrument was not to be a part of New Testament worship. It was at that time that my church made the change to a cappella singing.”‘

    Price writes about the introduction of instruments in the Old Testament, but their absence from New Testament worship. He writes about the history of instrumental music, including scores of quotes from denominational leaders opposing their use.

    Price launches into the theological section of the book, where he goes through every use / institution of musical instruments in the Bible (well, the OT seeing there aren’t any mentioned in NT worship!) and clearly shows that ‘there is no record in Scripture of a musical instrument ever being used in public worship without an explicit divine command’. He even says:
    “God has always regulated His worship even in regard to musical instruments in both the Tabernacle and the Temple. The use of musical instruments in worship has never been a matter of liberty for men to do as they please. The Lord has clearly placed instruments under His own authority in worship. God has regulated even the specific instruments to be used…..” (p. 25)

    He goes on to say:
    “We have established an important biblical principle at this point in our study. The men of the Bible have always viewed musical instruments in public worship as under God’s authority. Their use has never been seen as a matter of liberty so that men may do as they please. It is important for us to note that nothing throughout the remainder of the Bible will change this perspective. Musical instruments in worship have always been viewed by the people of God as under divine authority. Those who assume that instruments in worship are a matter of liberty have adopted a view that is contrary to the men of the Bible and finds no support in the Word of God.” (p. 28-29)

    He further makes a very powerful observation and point:
    “There are many who claim that God no longer holds musical instruments under His authority in the New Testament. They say that He may have established His authority over them in the Old Testament but He has relinquished His authority in the New Testament. Those who make this claim must prove their case, not from humaning reasoning and evasion of the truth, but by the Word of God alone. They must go to their Bibles, as the final authority in all faith and practice, and show, by clear and convincing evidence, that God has actually relinquished His authority over musical instruments. The burden of proof rests upon them to show that it is so. Apart from such evidence, we must leave musical instruments where God has placed them, under His authority, to be used by His command only.”

    One last final quote from Price’s book. He later on in his chapter on “The History of Musical Instruments” after talking about the unanimous rejection of musical instruments by the Church Fathers throughout the early centuries of the church says:
    “The significance of this rejection of musical instruments in worship by the Church Fathers cannot be underestimated. It provides the most convincing historical evidence that musical instruments in worship was not commanded by the apostles or practiced in the churches of their time. If the apostles had commanded and used musical instruments in the early church, then surely this practice would have been carried on by the Church Fathers…..Is it possible that musical instruments were used in all the churches of the New Testament, and yet immediately after the death of the apostles, the Church Fathers were able to completely eradicate them from worship, and that, as we shall see, for over a thousand years? The thought is absurd. All the historical evidence leads to only one conclusion, that there were no musical instruments in the apostolic churches.” (p. 77-78)

    Price later on he says after reviewing all the evidence from the quotes of church leaders and historian, concerning the absence of musical instruments in Christian worship, Price says:
    Can we ignore this massive evidence from church? Can we actually believe that from the days of the apostles, for well over a millennium, the Christian church was ignorant of the will of Christ in regard to musical instruments in worship? Can we really think that such vast segments of the Christian church have misunderstood the will of God in worship, and that we have somehow arrived at a better understanding? The fact is that the advocates of musical instruments stand opposed to the greatest theologians of the church. Who is willing t take this stand on this issue against all the Church Fathers: Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Clement, Eusebius, Chrysostom…..and over a thousand years of church history? We add to this the likes of John Wycliffe, John Calvin, John Knox, Zwingli…and other Reformers…………….the historic unanimity on this issue is decisive. What does it say about us if we are willing to oppose the collective testimony of the greatest men throughout the history of the church? Someone may say that these are only men and we must follow the Scriptures alone. This is true. But where is the New Testament evidence that demands the use of musical instruments?( P. 146)

    Jay, I for one don’t want to “write off” and dismiss the witness of the ancient church. You and other progressive in the Church of Christ and other leaders in the Christian Church must adequately explain this and show justification for using them in light of this major point of history of the worship of the early church. Again, some of the greatest theologians, some of the greatest minds ever have exercised their God given abilities on the topic. Shall we ignore them? I think not! What other conclusion can we come to than that instrumental music should have no place in Christian worship? Can clearer and more convincing light from the Word of God and history be presented to convince you to abandon your current practice of IM?

    Cecil May Jr. writes, “The churches that grew out of the restoration movement were united on music in the assembly until the instrument was introduced. A cappella music is still acknowledged by all to be scriptural and acceptable. A unity movement should not abandon a position that is known to be right in favor of one for which a biblical case has not been made. If that principle is abandoned, the burning of incense, dancing before the Lord in Christian assembly, anything, is acceptable as worship. And infant baptism and all forms of hierarchical church government come in by that door as well. That is not to say that those who accept instrumental music accept those other things, but they have abandoned the basis on which they are reasonably excluded.” (Why is Instrumental Music Such A Big Deal?)

    This fact and evidence is clearly seen that the leaders of the Restoration Movement of the last century opposed it. Alexander Campbell's testimony and views were very clear. Robert Milligan insisted that instrumental music in Christian worship "is wholly unwarranted by anything that is either said or taught in the New Testament." (Scheme of Redemption, p. 336). Moses E. Lard said. "The question of instrumental music in the churches of Christ involves a great and sacred principle. That principle is the right of men to introduce innovations into the prescribed worship of God. This we utterly deny. The advocates of instrumental music affirm it." (Lard's Quarterly, Oct. 1867, p. 368). Prof. J. W. McGarvey said, "we cannot adopt the practice without abandoning the obvious and only ground on which a restoration of Primitive Christianity can be accomplished" (What Shall We Do With the Organ, p. 4), and "the use of instrumental music is an element of Jewish worship which was thus discontinued and therefore, it is condemned by the infallible authority of the Spirit." (Millennial Harbinger, 1864, p. 513). Isaac Errett, writing in an editorial of the Christian Standard for 1861, stated: "The genius of the reformatory movement is not favorable to choir singing and instrumental music. No choir singing or instrumental music should ever be allowed to interfere for a moment with this privilege and right of the saints."

    While discussing the issue of fellowship and instrumental music, let’s come back to brother McGarvey. Although brother J. W. McGarvey consistently taught the need for men to have authority for all they teach and/or practice (Col. 3:17), he admitted in his later years that he did not always practice what he preached. After years of compromise, brother McGarvey confessed the lesson he learned and it has been documented for us today. The following account by Jesse P. Sewell (one of the first presidents of ACU), reveals a message we all should consider very seriously:

    “In January, 1902 or 1903, I was preaching for the Pearl and Bryan Streets church in Dallas. Brother McGarvey, an old man at the time, was invited to speak at the Central Christian Church in Dallas. We had three men in the Pearl and Bryan Streets church who had graduated from the College of the Bible in Lexington, under Brother McGarvey, and they were great admirers of him. They suggested that we invite Brother McGarvey to preach at Pearl and Bryan that night. We did so. I was just a boy of 24 or 25 then. I was sitting by the side of the great old man on the front seat, waiting for the service to begin. As we sat there talking, Brother McGarvey said to me: ‘Brother Sewell, I want to say something to you, if you’ll accept it in the spirit in which I mean it.’ I told him I’d appreciate anything he had to say to me. He said about these words, ‘You are on the right road, and whatever you do, don’t ever let anybody persuade you that you can successfully combat error by fellowshipping it and going along with it. I have tried. I believed at the start that was the only way to do it. I’ve never held membership in a congregation that uses instrumental music. I have, however, accepted invitations to preach without distinction between churches that used it and churches that didn’t. I’ve gone along with their papers and magazines and things of that sort. During all these years I have taught the truth as the New Testament teaches it to every young preacher who has passed through the College of the Bible. Yet, I do not know of more than six of those men who are preaching the truth today.’ He said, ‘It won’t work.’”

    “That experience has been an inspiration to me all the days of my life since. It has helped me, when I was ever tempted to turn aside and go along with error, to remember the warning of this great old man.” (Jesse P. Sewell, “Biographical Sketches of Restoration Preachers,” The Harding College Lectures, 1950, Searcy, Arkansas: Harding College Press, 1951, pp. 74-75.)

    In other words, after having won the battle by teaching against instruments, J. W. McGarvey admitted that he lost the war by fellowshipping instrumental churches. Apparently, brother McGarvey came to see the instrumental issue as a fellowship issue. An example of this was the case of McGarvey and the Broadway Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. McGarvey had assisted in the founding of the congregation in 1870, but in 1902 he had to move to another congregation because, in spite of all of his teaching and protests, the church voted in the organ. This great Bible scholar saw it as both unscriptural and divisive, and as a cause for withdrawing fellowship.
    The party which forces an organ into the church against the conscientious protest of a minority is disorderly and schismatical, not only because it stirs up strife, but because it is for the sake of a sinful innovation upon the divinely authorized worship and the church; and, inasmuch as the persons thus acting are disorderly and schismatic, it is the duty of all good people to withdraw from them until they repent.”
    (J.W. McGarvey, quoted in J. E. Choate and William Woodson, Sounding Brass and Clanging Cymbals, (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 1990), pp.129f.

    Again, I challenge you with the voice of respected historians who generally agree that instrumental music has been a major cause of division among people pleading for New Testament Christianity. Sober minds warned that pushing the instrument would disrupt fellowship.

    W.E. Garrison, historian among Disciples of Christ, acknowledges that “many churches” divided on this issue. (Winfred Ernest Garrison, Religion Follows the Frontier, 237) A.W. Fortune concedes, “The introduction of the organ into the worship of the church was the occasion of bitter controversy, and was one of the main causes of the division which finally came.” (Alonzo Willard Fortune, The Disciples in Kentucky, 372)

    Herman Norton of the Disciples Divinity House, Vanderbilt University, avows that the practice of using musical instruments in worship “gradually increased, causing an eruption at practically each introduction” in earlier years. (Herman A. Norton, Tennessee Christians, 159)

    Stephen Eckstein says, “As a result of bitter controversy over instrumental music, Texas churches of Christ split into two irreconcilable bodies.” ( Stephen Daniel Eckstein, Jr., History of the Churches of Christ in Texas, 250.

    Jay, I’m thankful that there remains plenty of young, middle aged, and older faithful gospel preachers who can see right through this “unity in diversity” and “broader fellowship” with the Christian Church and denominations and acceptance of instrumental music in worship. I’m very proud to have signed the ad For a Cappella that appeared in the Christian Chronicle in October 2007 (which I know that you and others deployed). We believe that this kind of fellowship will almost certainly lead to further encourage and promotion to use instrumental music in worship as well as many other departures from the faith.

    In the New Testament “fellowship” means communion, sharing, partnership, or joint participation. It is a term of intimacy. When Christians work and worship together, following the same Master, “striving together for the faith of the gospel,” being “of one heart and of one soul,” walking “by the same rule,” and speaking “as the oracles of God,” there is a divine fellowship that transcends social sharing, association with neighbors and friends, and other kinds of human togetherness. It is my conviction that when mechanical instruments of music are used in worship it become a barrier to open and complete inter-congregational fellowship.

    It is my conviction of faith that all acts of worship we do we must have only what the New Testament teaches. It is what the Bible says, not its silence, which is our guide. Any practice which deviates from the divine plan revealed in the New Testament, whether in the work, worship, organization, or life of the church, is to be rejected. This attitude leads to the conclusion that instrumental music is a perversion or corruption of New Testament worship, and I will not openly fellowship those who promote it.

    Whatever is sinful is a barrier to fellowship with God. If one believes that instrumental music in worship is sinful, he should not participate in such perverted worship. Should we not teach those who are in error? Yes. By word and example!

    I agree completely when Dr. North goes on to write concerning the issue of fellowship:

    "Should those who oppose the use of instruments, then, extend their fellowship to those who do? Fellowship implies approval. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses the question of fellowship with the man who has his father’s wife. He says that even the pagans do not approve of such behavior. For the Corinthians to continue to fellowship him would be to send a message of approval for something even pagans condemn. Paul then commands them to withdraw from him. Paul also writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 that “if anyone does not obey our instruction in this epistle, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.” To associate with those who have strayed, Paul says, is to send the message of approval of what they do. In the same way, John tells Christians that if someone “comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him” (2 John 10). Again the point is clear, to extend fellowship implies approval. This does not mean, of course, that we can have no contact with such people, but does mean that we do not extend to those who are engaging in a practice which is not in harmony with scripture the same fellowship we would to those who are in such harmony. If those not believing the use of instruments is God’s plan for Christian worship extend full fellowship to those who do, by such fellowship they indicate that they consider the matter of no consequence. For them to extend their fellowship, indeed, is an encouragement to use the instrument. If it makes no difference in fellowship, then it really makes no difference. While, as indicated above, we cannot predict exactly how God will deal in judgment with those who use the instrument, the very fact that we do not know that God will approve of it should be sufficient reason not to give it our support. Extending fellowship to those who use instruments in worship is certainly an encouragement for them to continue its use and, eventually, a discouragement for anyone to oppose it. Surely no one would believe that churches who fellowship those who use the instrument will, over the long term, not have pressure to begin to use it themselves. To fellowship those who use the instrument in worship is but a way of saying that the issue is of no significance.” (Article, “Where Do You Stand on Instrumental Music? Where Should You Stand?”)

    In conclusion, Dr. North references a story told by Jerry Rushford written about Christians on the Oregon Trail. Many of those who made this journey were members of the churches of Christ. As they got to Oregon, they established churches and thrived. By 1871 they had more members than any other religion in that area with over 3,500 members. By the 1880’s, however, some among them said they had been too narrow. They needed changes in their worship. They should be less isolated and take part in “inter-faith” meetings. Some agreed and some disagreed. The result was division and both sides declined. Within thirty years, the non-instrumental churches were down to a third of their former numbers. Let’s work to avoid such a situation in our time. Let’s stand firm on the truths that can be known from Scripture. Like first century Christians, let’s proclaim God’s plan of salvation to all who have not obeyed it. Let’s demonstrate to the world that is possible for the church Jesus built in the first century to exist today. May God bless us to this end.

    Sincerely in Christ,

    Robert Prater

  6. Scott Stegall says:

    While I appreciate the debate, the premise of the discussion is EXACTLY why our young attend elsewhere…… they wouldn't read through this kind of banter to save their lives…… they would much rather put on their headphones, ignore us, and go help with the soup kitchen that is sponsored by every other church in town…. probably exactly what Jesus would do as well…..

  7. Glenn Ziegler says:


    It appears you have written a good reply that sailed right on past Robert without any real affect. Paul did indeed teach to accept one another while disagreeing on things that some think are matters restricting fellowship. I'm not surprised.

    One of the most neglected admonitions, and oft-perverted as well, is the commandment Christ gave that is recorded for us in John 13 – to love one another AS HE LOVED US. When Paul applied that teaching in his letter to the Romans, he went where few today are willing to go – straight into the controversy over how and when to restrict fellowship. That his teaching in 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2 follows the same pattern as Romans 14-15 is also hardly ever spoken about, for fear (I suppose) of stirring this controversial pot.

    Many today would oppose their brethren in ways that Paul and Jesus would not. Others would not have understood how Paul could oppose Peter to his face and not use his position to settle such fellowship-shaking doctrines as eating meat sacrificed to idols and holding certain days as more special than any others while serving the Lord DAILY.

    Most are unaware of the uses and meanings of the words so often parsed during these discussions/arguments/breakdowns in fellowship. Those who are aware of the words also fail to research their meaning and use during the time when Paul wrote as opposed to what those words and usages meant centuries later and how their use affected their meaning in those later years. Of course, the answer isn't found in word meanings like that, but in the very commandment of Jesus to love one another AS HE LOVED US. Why is it that the only cross we are willing to "bear" is the one that Jesus died upon? Where are our own crosses to remind us that it is OUR OWN LIVES that must be laid down now for ALL of our brethren and not just the ones smart enough or sound enough to agree with us?

    Keep telling the truth, Jay. Some of us are listening. And maybe together we can reach Robert and the others who have ears so stuffed with tradition that they cannot hear the truth….yet.

    God have mercy on us.

  8. Alan says:

    While St. Francis of Assisi didn't exactly say it, a long time Franciscan guide is, "Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words." God bless

  9. Joe Baggett says:

    Amen Scott Stegall!

    I wish more would understand this.

  10. J. Prince says:

    Robert – why is it impossible for those of the conservative persuasion to allow even the slightest possibility that IM is a Romans 14 type of doubtful thing? Like you, I do not worship and do not intend to worship in an assembly that has IM. HOWEVER, once I step back from the traditions of my heritage, it is easy to see the case (even though I disagree with it) for IM.

    IM is prevalent and commanded in the OT, it is featured in Heaven and in between there is silence on the topic. If it is so important that we cease IM in worship, why do we have only silence? Some very smart, sincere and faithful Christians view silence, given the OT inclusion of IM, as indifference.

    You continually cite the example of the early church though by reading the epistles, it is clear that they made many elementary mistakes, omissions and even willful sins in their pattern and practice.

    In my experience, conservatives condemn or at least criticize those who use IM in worship on the grounds that they are WILLFULLY disobeying God’s will. You must know that at the very worst these folks are mistaken in their interpretation on the matter. If you could open your thought process to the possibility that those who worship with IM are making an error in interpretation, the whole idea of rejecting these children of God would go away completely. This is because if you were to continue to insist on having no fellowship with these erring Christians, you would logically become a church of one because erring brothers and sisters are the only kind we have.

    I am not trying to make the case for IM. I am actually personally opposed to it. The case I am trying to make and that I believe is the scriptural approach is to accept our differences in this and other similar areas of disagreement as Romans 14 issues and celebrate our common love for and devotion to Him. I have doubts about the appropriateness of IM in worship. I have no doubts about the unscripturalness of condemning and rejecting one who is seeking to serve our Lord the best way they know how and who, in the process, make some doctrinal mistakes. Please allow people to be human and make mistakes. How can we encourage those whom we reject and to whom we refuse fellowship??

    It is not my wish to change any of the practices or patterns of the conservative CoC save one – condemning those who would dare interpret doctrinal matters differently from them. Romans 14 along with some of Paul’s other writings could not be more clear on these types of matters yet the conservative CoC insists on perfect patternism as a test of fellowship. To clarify my orientation on the matters under discussion, I am a conservative, grace centered member of the Lord’s church who, like Jay, prays for the day when we stop dividing ourselves over doubtful things. O… and I hate labels but sometimes its the only way to communicate clearly.

  11. Robert Baty says:

    > "Why do we have only silence?"

    Recently, under another article here, I noted my belief that the New Testament was NOT silent on the matter but named the instrument to accompany our singing.

    Robert Baty

  12. Jimmy Prince says:

    Of all the things I said above, why only reply to my example and not my main point? The issue I am trying to present is not IM or no IM or silence or no silence. It is the unscripturality (my made up word) of attacking and condemning those who don't see things just like we do. The bible is NOT silent on that matter. Again, I agree with your stance on IM but not your complete dismissal of those who interpret silence and OT example as freedom in this area.

    You object to IM and have all of your reasons for doing so but when will conservatives stop condemning those who interpret things differently. Encourage, yes, condemn, no. My point is not the doctrinal soundness of IM or acapella but rather the attitude toward those who, though we disagree, eat meat offered to idols…er… use IM in worship.

    Again I'll ask – why do conservatives refuse to allow the principle taught in Romans 14 apply to IM and other issues of differing interpretation? Also, why do conservatives insist on complete adherance to THEIR interpretation of the correct pattern of worship before they will consider any degree of fellowship? Rightly or not, many times this attitude comes across to other believers and non-believers as arrogance which for all too many, gives them one more reason to dismiss religion all together.

    There are issues for you that appear to be plain and simple and many of those who have differing interpretations of the same issue have the same personal clarity. Please conservative brothers and sisters – stop treating every issue as being zero sum. Allow for differences and celebrate our common Lord and Savior.

    Jesus desired that we be united in HIM. He called us to unity, not uniformity. Paul taught that we are going to disagree on matters of interpretation and tradition. My prayer is that some day we stop making so many matters of interpretation into matters of salvation and rejecting those whom God accepts.

    btw… I am completely convicted that baptism and living a penitent life are not matters of interpretation.

  13. Robert Baty says:

    Jimmy, "you talkin' to me'?

    Sounds like you're exhibiting a bit of an "attitude" problem.

    The thing about places like this is that folks get to pick and choose the issues of interest to them.

    I think you erred in your claim, as reflected in my comment.

    For myself, I have engaged in several discussions here, to the extent of my time, talent and interest.

    I thought by doing so, some might requite my contribution and discuss my principle interest as reflected in Jay's article on the housing allowance that was recently posted and to which I have posted several comments.

    No one has joined me in that discussion.

    As to your present preferences, Jimmy, I prefer to watch more than participate.

    Robert Baty

  14. K. Rex Butts says:

    Don't you think it is sort of funny how we have let a 16th century philosophical principle (the regulative principle) impact our way of reading scripture so much?

    What did Peter Paul ever do without the regulative principle? Wait…I know the answer…he had to actually those Christians in Corinth who were eating all sorts of wild meat as part of the brotherhood. Too bad for Paul, had he known about the regulative principle he could have just told them that any meat not mentioned in scripture was prohibitted since it was not specifically authorized. And if they did not listen to Paul, he could whip out the Nadab and Abihu story on them.

    Oh, if Paul would only have had the knowledge we have now.

    Grace and peace,


  15. Jimmy Prince says:

    Robert – if my comments exhibited attitude, I sincerely appologize. The emotion that went into my comments is mostly frustration. My frustration is in not being able to communicate my point (yet again) about condemnational attidudes towards those who have differing interpretations.

    Were you and I to sit down and have a conversation, I would be completely surprised if we disagreed on our interpretations of doctrinal or pattern issues. And if I have misinterpreted your comments and positions, again I appologize. I am reading and studying Jay's blog because he seems to be able to express concerns that have been growing in me for a number of years now.

    It seems that the more of my heart I pour into expressing my concerns, the less I effectively am able to communicate with my conservative brothers. I do gain some comfort in the observation that Jay's comments are very often misunderstood and some of the posts (like yours I think) at times take issue with something that Jay is not saying.

    My concerns are not just rambling posts in the middle of the night but they have cost me (by my reluctant choice) the direct fellowship with a group of believers where I worshiped, shared joys and unspeakable sorrows for over 16 years. So I'm not pontificating on a pet peeve, I'm expressing the heart felt concerns for attitudes that I believe lead to divisions in the Lord's body.

    Please don't take any offense from my comments. None is intended. Help me understand the attitude that concerns me. Or you could just watch and not participate.

  16. Robert Baty says:


    Care to try again?

    That didn't make a lot of sense to me.

    Are you proposing that the first Christians didn't have a regulative principle?

    (See Jay's other comments about the use of language and the need to agree on the meaning of terms when discussing important subjects.)

    Robert Baty

  17. Robert Baty says:


    No offense taken.

    I know the feeling; really I do!

    Been there, done that!

    I manage to catch it from both sides, but "liberals" have been, typically, much nicer about it.

    Some "conservatives" really are out to get me! :o)

    I've only recently picked up on all the press these days being given to the issue you mention. I'm interested, but I prefer to let others more competent deal with the weightier matters above my pay grade.

    I stumbled on to Jay's blog as a result of seeing the link elsewhere with reference to the fuss over Deaver's book.

    So, here I am and I am enjoying it while it lasts; though the reality of the problems we face is a bit depressing.

    Robert Baty

  18. Jimmy Prince says:

    Liberals??? You mean progressives? 😉

    Gotta love those labels.

  19. Jimmy Prince says:

    I think it is either hardliners and liberals or

    conservatives and progressives.

    All in all, I think we're all seeking the same label – Christian…

  20. Robert Baty says:

    Well, I just checked, and that Belle, Mo preacher still has me classed as shown in the following quote from his personal webpages (EMPHASIS ADDED):

    > "…I (Jerry D. McDonald) desperately want to get
    > him (Robert Baty) in front of an audience for
    > four nights to show that he is a HERETIC and
    > he needs to be marked and avoided…"

    Personally, I think the housing allowance issue is a lot more interesting, intriguing, and historically significant.

    Those preachers/historians have gone on and on about the government and what happened in that religious census of 1907; for over 100 years now. Yet, they haven't begun to deal with, on anywhere near a similar scale, Revenue Ruling 70-549 (see Jay's housing allowance article and comments posted thereto).

    See some of you over there?? It's been kinda lonely!

    Robert Baty

  21. K. Rex Butts says:


    Yes, I am suggesting that 16th/17th century philosophy has nothing to do with scripture.

    Grace and peace,


  22. Robert Baty says:

    That didn't add much to your original comments, and was not particularly responsive to my inquiry.

    That's all right!

    I just think I disagree with you.

    Robert Baty

  23. K. Rex Butts says:


    You are right. It is alright to disagree…and we can still be brethren.

    Grace and peace,


  24. Pingback: How to Argue Like a Christian: Conversation with Robert, Part 6 « One In Jesus.info

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