Two days ago, I posted an article by Kyle Pope, challenging positions I took regarding the interpretation of Galatians at New Wineskins. I want to respond to some of his points, but I have to begin by thanking Kyle for allowing his article to be posted here at One In Jesus. It’s courageous to state your views on such controversial topics in an open forum. And I need to express my appreciation for Kyle’s respectful tone. Not all Christian dialogue is even polite, much less respectful, and I appreciate the tone of his work.
Of course, I disagree on several points, but I also enjoy the opportunity to dig more deeply into the material and to hear other perspectives. Either I’ll learn or I’ll teach — and both are good and fun.
I’ll post my reply in three parts, although all will be posted today. Some of the materials will be familiar to long-time readers, but some will be new. Kyle raises some points that were raised by others in comments here and at New Wineskins, and so I’ll spend the most time on those issues.
Does Paul’s argument in Galatians apply to instrumental music?
After pointing out the necessity of deriving our doctrines from the scriptures (I agree!), Kyle notes three ways in which Paul’s teachings on circumcision in Galatians is not applicable to instrumental music —
1. Circumcision is a matter that God has addressed directly. He has revealed that Gentiles need not be circumcised (Acts 15:23-29), the blessing of forgiveness is not only for the circumcised (Rom. 4:7-10), yet it is not better or worse if one is circumcised (cf. Timothy’s circumcision Acts 16:3). What God has revealed about music in worship to God is the command to sing (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19).
Well, of course, God’s will regarding circumcision is revealed. That’s the point! The key is to understand why circumcision is a matter of indifference to God. We have to go deeper than merely digging out rules. We have to seek understanding. And in Galatians Paul explains why circumcision is a matter of indifference —
(Gal 5:1 ESV) 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Paul’s logic is simple. Only faith and love count for anything (in terms of salvation) and therefore circumcision does not. Circumcision does not count for anything because it’s not a matter of faith (even though God commanded that Abraham and his descendants be circumcised) or love (even though those who love God will keep his commandments).
2. Binding circumcision reflected reliance upon the Mosaic Law. The focus of Paul’s argument will be that if circumcision is bound it makes one “a debtor to keep the whole law” (Gal. 5:3). This is why Paul refused to yield to such falsehood, because it constituted a rejection of the Law of Christ—the gospel. In contrast, the use of the instrument would reflect a return to Mosaic (or at least Davidic) practice. It is not found in the gospel.
Ah … but Paul’s point isn’t that circumcision is sin. He argues that it’s indifferent —
(Gal 6:15 ESV) 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
The sin that he condemns is in condemning those who refuse circumcision. Indeed, you fall from grace if you take a matter of indifference and turn it into a salvation or fellowship issue —
(Gal 5:3-4 ESV) 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Now, we have to take this passage in context. Paul isn’t saying that you are damned if you follow any practice found in the Law of Moses not found in Christianity — such as bathing after touching a diseased or dead person or refusing to eat camel meat. No, he is arguing against making such practices into tests of fellowship or salvation. And doing that damns. Adding commands to God’s word as salvation or fellowship issues is a damnable offense.
Therefore, if we make a cappella singing into a requirement to be saved, we’d better be right! Because it’s certainly not the safe course — because if we’re wrong, we risk falling from grace! That is not to say that the church can’t include those who consider instrumental music wrong — it can, provided they adhere to Paul’s commands in Romans 14 not to judge or look down on those who have no such scruples.
3. Those who were binding circumcision are identified by the Holy Spirit as “false brethren.” We are not left to wonder how the Lord viewed those who bound circumcision—they are “false brethren” (Gal. 2:4). In contrast, the Lord has not revealed his view of those who reject the instrument (nor for that matter those who accept it). If circumcision is a pattern for our treatment of the issue of instrumental music, are those (like myself) who reject it “false brethren?” Must we conclude that God will “damn for not using the piano” as He would damn those who bound circumcision?
No, but those who make instrumental music a salvation or fellowship issue do indeed risk damnation. The instrument, like circumcision, is indifferent. Making it into a salvation issue is to add a cappella music to the gospel, distorting the gospel. As I wrote in Do We Teach Another Gospel? —
I am not qualified to judge the fate of those among us who teach modern equivalents of circumcision, and less so to judge those who’ve been deceived by such teachers. I only know that having become aware of the problem, I must speak out and call for repentance—urgently—desperately. Out of love, not condemnation—out of concern for souls. …
There is only one gospel, and it won’t admit of any additions at all. Nothing is required to be saved or to stay saved other than the gospel. Those who teach otherwise have been cursed by Paul in the most unambiguous terms. I pray daily for the souls of my brothers and sisters in the Churches of Christ. Please, let’s stop biting and devouring each other and learn to accept one another just as Jesus accepted us.
While admitting that we are saved by faith and not works, Kyle argues,
However, the very realization that leads us to argue that “believing” must move us to baptism (Mark 16:16) or confession (Rom 10:10) in order to constitute saving faith, compels us to obedience in all things (including worship in song). These are works which demonstrate faith. These are works of obedience. None of them merit our salvation, but they are our duty to perform (Luke 17:10).
Kyle makes a category mistake. He argues that because baptism and confessions are acts of obedience required to be saved, all acts of obedience are required for salvation. Now, if each command, inference, and example must be followed as scrupulously as baptism and confession, there is no grace. But, of course, we are to obey whatever is commanded! However, Paul’s argument in Galatians tells us what’s actually commanded for those who’ve been saved.
You see, circumcision had been a command to Abraham and under the Law of Moses. But now Paul argues that because it’s not faith working through love, it’s not a matter of salvation.