Instruments Of His Peace

Does anyone remember why musical instruments are forbidden in our fellowship, Churches of Christ?

My guess is, the answer is no – and anyone who could remember first-hand what started it all would be well over 150 years old by now.

You’d have to look it up in the history books, now – and the “wikipedia” entry on the matter reads like this:

… L. L. Pendleton, who was a member of a Midway, Kentucky church brought a piano into the church building. One of the elders of that assembly removed the piano that evening but it was soon replaced by another. Until that time all singing in the churches had been a cappella – without instrumental accompaniment. Generally speaking, the bulk of the urban congregations, particularly in the Northern states, were not totally adverse to this development, which was also gaining momentum in the other religious groups around them, while rural congregations, particularly in the Southern United States, tended to oppose this trend.

I haven’t found a refutation of any of these basic facts (although it was a melodeon, not a piano), including the one that Restoration churches had been singing a cappella until that time. Restoration churches had also been questioning a number of other items termed “innovations” – things like cooperative missionary societies or other church organizations which were condemned by some as divisive (though colleges were permitted). There were also questions of exclusivism – the belief that only people who had and followed the correct interpretation of scripture constituted the true church. And there were problems between Northern and Southern churches over slavery, and there is no point in glossing over any of them.

By the time that the U.S. Census Bureau separated the two factions officially, 40 years later, there were questions about baptism contributing to the division. Then lots more followed: how many cups? Bible school? dining in the building? … and even more nonsense that doesn’t deserve to be mentioned.

But it all started with a pre-World War II “battle of Midway” that forever changed the course of the movement.

All of the articles and papers that have been written on the subject since; all of the trees that have perished; all of the good intentions of serving and worshiping God the right way have failed to sound even one note of unity – or a few notes of harmony – as a lasting result of that division, capstoning the primary purpose of the Restoration Movement.

To read some of them, you’d think there was someone arguing back.

I haven’t encountered anyone arguing that the first-century church worshiped with musical instruments; though there is discussion about when it began – between the third and sixth centuries is the common thought. The fact is, we don’t know. It wouldn’t make much sense for Christians in prisons and catacombs to sing with musical instruments, but others meeting in houses and synagogues might have had the opportunity. The fact that musical instruments aren’t mentioned in most of New Testament scripture doesn’t prove that they weren’t used. (That would be like arguing that since God isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther, He had nothing to do with what happened in it.)

Certainly Israel worshiped God with instruments of music; you find references to them peppered throughout the Psalms. Do we have trouble with the fact that the sound of harps is heard in heaven during God’s Revelation to John, harps played as loudly as rushing waters and peals of thunder? Or that the saints victorious over the beast are given harps to accompany their praise to God?

Do we then conclude that at some point in the intertestamental period God changed His mind about accepting praise accompanied by musical instruments, but that in the kingdom yet to come He will change it back?

Are we just arguing the case because we still believe Christians have to understand and perform perfectly in order to be acceptable to God, and if our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were wrong about this issue they are therefore forever lost and damned? If we accept the possibility God could forgive some of them for being wrong about slavery, could He not forgive them for excluding others based on a belief about acceptable worship?

Are we arguing it because we want to maintain our peculiar distinctiveness, our sectarian uniqueness, our tribal identity, our claim on the name “church of Christ”? And with it, the unquestioning confidence that we are right about this and if you’re not right about this you’re going to hell?

Are we arguing it because it’s hard to say that we were wrong and exclusive and prejudiced and divisive?

Or are we arguing it because we just like to argue?

Is that the way for us to be instruments of His peace?

14 thoughts on “Instruments Of His Peace

  1. Keith,Thanks for this post. You make a case that is tough to challenge. What concerns me about this whole topic is what little good it does for the Kingdom of God. I really wish the pro-acappella people would be honest to the Bible and themselves and everyone else and just say that they like it. That would do it for me. I’m not against acappell worship. I against it being imposed with teh Biblical force wehn the Bible itself does not. Rick Warren said it and so have many others: “There is no Biblical Worship Style!”Any style with whatever or no instruments can be worshipful if it is an expression of love for God, dependence on God, or an outcry to God (or lots of other kinds of expressions). Peace,Chris

  2. Thanks Keith. I will probably quote you on this. You took all of the poorly worded arguments that I have used (not that I like to argue) and worded them well. And in a loving way!Thanks again!

  3. Excellent post! I, too, like the more positive spin you put on some of these “thorny” issues. I’ve long felt that if we would get busy filling our time with positive service in God’s kingdom, there would be much less time – or NO time, hopefully – for sitting around arguing about whatever.My only interjection here is to offer that whatever we say about worship and however we “do” worship, we should remember that in the New Testament worship was always a very “participatory” activity and not entertainment. We don’t go to be entertained, but to participate together in singing, praying, communion and being rebuked and exhorted to every good work. I just happened to have read an excellent article on that subject yesterday called “Church Worship: Circus or the Real World?” by John N. Clayton from the January/February issue of “Does God Exist?”. I found it while ago in its entirety on his website ( Go to “Journal Archives,” then “JanFeb05,” and then “Church Worship Circus Or The Real World.”I highly recommend the article, which is short, for its take on the participatory nature of worship as a whole, not just the music, although he mentions music in speaking of worship. For one thing, Clayton grew up in an atheist home and was an avid atheist until he was in college. His conversion to Christianity and subsequent affliation with churches of Christ offer a unique perspective on how our worship services (and the worship services of other groups) appear to an outsider.

  4. Keith, No…..I am not prejudiced just because I am in Malibu, but your post was dead on. If it was as important to God as we have made it, can you imagine Him NOT saying ONE WORD concerning this? That is absurd! Can you imagine NOT TELLING your children of something that could cause them to be separated from you? Is God not a better Father than we are? It’s a preference……and it’s my preference too! And it is a tradition of our fellowship. I have nothing against it always being a tradition of our fellowship. But it’s time we quit judging those who hold a view different from ours. Let’s be known for our love, and not our condemnation. Especially when it comes to brothers in Christ.Thanks again for another great post. WISH YOU WERE HERE! 🙂DU

  5. Our congregation’s leadership has begun using the terms “honoring our musical heritage”, or “our musical tradition” rather than using Biblical reasons for why we sing a capella in worship. Our preacher has actually been heard to say that if a piano will bring more people to Christ, he’s all for it. Probably not too loudly or in certain company, but he has said it! It’s ironic, though, that they hired my husband, a Baptist, as worship minister. He loves the a capella sound and feels that it really enhances our worship. But we’ve been members of other churches where we’ve rocked out during worship as well.

  6. David, <>a capella<> is still my preference too. It’s my heritage. I like the purity of it. I like the participatory quality. At the same time, it’s hard to listen to an <>a capella<> version of “The Hallelujah Chorus” without the counterpointing trumpets at the climax. It just doesn’t seem, well, right.<>A capella<> was probably the choice of every major church leader and writer from Eusebius in AD 190 through the Restoration. Many of them tried to paint any alternative as an affront to God. But most of the arguments still seem spun from Emporer’s wholecloth to me. Many writers begin by saying “we don’t know if the first-century church used musical instruments,” only to say later things like, “the fact that the first-century church didn’t use them proves …”And virtually all of them are predicated upon the “must do it right” mentality.Thanks for all the insightful comments so far, folks.

  7. FYI, I prefer acapella as well. I just don’t see it as one of those issues we just draw a line in the sand over.Let everything with breath Praise the Lord!!

  8. Keith, thanks for your imput on this much agrued topic among our fellowship. You know, I never remember a Baptist or Methodist friend of mine ever challenging me about singing acappella, even though I was being armed by my teachers with all the right scriptures to argue our style of worship choice. My preference too is acappella but would it be if I had been born into an instrument accompanied worshipping family? God be patient with our petty traditions which often distract us from a higher calling. Thanks again Keith for your comments.KR

  9. So, I will be the first–I prefer instrumental worship. To this point in my life, I have always been in acappella churches, my husband prefers acappella so I am good with staying.The best argument I have heard lately for acapella is the Nadab and Abihu and their strange fire argument. (Of course, I didn’t buy it, but I think it’s about the best there is.)I wish I could document this, but I heard somewhere that in excavating the Jerusalem temple they found a an orchestra pit–so the church that met there surely could have had instrumental worship. Has anyone heard anything about this?? I doubt they had many organs in the catacombs.Great discussion Keith!!!JB

  10. JB, I don’t know about an orchestra pit … but a lot of scholars seem to agree that there were musical instruments used in temple worship; though there’s no consensus on it in synagogue worship of the same era.It’d be difficult to give up <>a capella<> for a lot of us – but I don’t think we’ll ever have to. I’m certainly not calling for it!

  11. Excellent post and conversation on the whole instrument discussion. As I have stated, I am new to the CoC but have heard all “arguments” on this matter. I, like you, enjoy the simplicity but intimacy that takes place when we sing a capella. You brought up a good question, yet such a simple question I would love to hear answered by many of our brethren. Instruments were cleary used in the OT and we know they are used in the end, did God change his mind in between? I am not a fan of the verbage ” We must be silent where the bible silent” Great post Keith.

  12. O didn’t think you were calling for the end of acappella–neither am I!! Anyway, I get to worship with instruments a lot–I have a CD player in my car and my kitchen. When I drive I try to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel!!!As far as the history you started this blog on–wasn’t instrumental music almost a north/south, rich/poor issue at one point??JB

  13. I resisted the urge to mention this in the text of my post, because I really don’t like hypotheticals as a general rule, but …… I have to ask myself how I would feel if God had given me extraordinary talents in playing musical instruments, but no voice at all; if I were a hearing person but mute. Would I feel was worshiping with all my heart by expressing myself solely in ASL (American Sign Language)?If I could pour heart and soul into a bow and violin, for instance, couldn’t the talent God gave me be used to worship Him in pure gratitude? Would my praise have to be given outside of the assembly of the saints, who might be uplifted by its music?Sure, I know you could refute this with a hundred other gifts God gives that some would see as inappropriate in the assembly.But maybe some of those ought to be reconsidered as well.Jack and Jill Maxwell draw extraordinary murals behind Mike Cope’s Story-telling in Abilene.Others tell the Story with puppets in children’s worship.Still others tell the Story with skits and reader’s theater-style readings.And – on another “note” – I have never heard of an objection in this century to the use of microphones and voice-amplification instruments. They are certainly not scriptural (how could they be?), and were some people who still grumbled about them when I was a child, fully believing that they were an self-important affront to God because they made a song leader or preacher’s voice and role more important than anyone else’s in the assembly.No one would take that objection very seriously today, would they? Even in assemblies of twenty or thirty you’ll often find a p.a. system today, and probably few are concerned about the expense or the distortion of voice or even the awful feedback noises that they make which interrupt worship.How would Stone and Campbell feel about a p.a. system if they could see one? What would Peter think? (He certainly didn’t need one on Pentecost!)Would we still be held to their point of view?

  14. JP, you mention the “we must be silent where the scripture is silent” argument. I think the way you have heard that used in regard to this issue is a mistatement of the rule. Let me elaborate (which I will now do, whether you let me or not):I think this is a good rule of thumb, (speak where the bible speaks,and be silent where the bible is silent) and is supported by John’s admonition from the angel at the end of the book of Revelation. If we go adding or taking away from the words, we are in pretty deep trouble.However, being silent means we are to be silent (not take a position), not that we are not to do something not mentioned. If we are taking a position one way or the other on a matter not mentioned in scripture, we are NOT “being silent”, we are adding to the scripture! Being silent, therefore, means not binding on others preferences we have (which I share with most of you commenting, that is, a capella).We are given FREEDOM from the rules, the do’s and dont’s, and our worship is to be from the heart. If a piano helps someone to worship from the heart, though I don’t understand how it is better, let it be. We have bigger things to worry about.don

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