If you’re persuaded that instrumental praise (or mixed singing-and-instrumental praise) is not acceptable to God under the new covenant through Christ, at what points do you determine the praise to be unacceptable?
If the song/worship leader uses a pitch pipe or tuning fork before it begins?
If the song/worship leader taps a foot audibly during singing, does that constitute the use of a percussion instrument?
If an electronic recording of an a cappella performance is used at some point during worship to teach a song while the congregation sings with it?
If a recording of an a cappella performance is used without the congregation singing along?
If a child’s toy falls off a pew and a bell on it rings during a song?
If the child keeps time with the bell?
If the child is so filled with joy that he/she begins clapping in rhythm to the song?
If an adult is so filled with joy that he/she begins clapping in rhythm to the song?
If a musical ringtone begins to play on a cell phone that someone forgot to turn off during worship?
If the song/worship leader happens to fall into rhythm with the sound of an off-balance ceiling fan thrum-thrum-thrumming away above?
If a worshiper has had throat cancer, has no voicebox, and uses a an electronic voice synthesizer to sing, like the one that theoretical scientist Stephen Hawking is famed for using? Even if it “sang” in a monotone, like a Gregorian chant? Is a Gregorian chant unacceptable because it does not aspire to four-part harmony or tuneful gymnastics? If a voice synthesizer is acceptable, what about a talking guitar (like Peter Frampton’s TalkBox) that could add tune to the lyric just like a voicebox?
If a song/worship leader uses a megaphone as an instrument of amplification?
If a song/worship leader uses a microphone as an instrument of amplification?
If a praise team uses microphones as instruments of amplification while the congregation is singing?
If a praise team uses microphones as instruments of amplification while the congregation is not singing?
If any of these occurrences took place in a surrounding that was not a church building?
If any of these occurrences took place in a church building, but not on a Sunday?
If any of these occurrences took place in a church building, but not on a Sunday or a Wednesday night (or other period of gathered worship normally observed by the church in question)?
If any of these occurrences made someone feel a little uncomfortable?
If any of these made someone feel very uncomfortable?
If any of these prompted someone to stop worshiping?
If any of these triggered someone walking out of the assembly?
If any of these possibilities made someone feel that their elders should meet and legislate unanimous policy on all of them – and any others that could be thought of – before public gathered worship was permitted to take place again?
What if you’re not in a worship assembly, and you’re listening to a worship song on the radio or your CD player or the P.A. system at Hobby Lobby that is accompanied by instruments?
If you’re not worshiping but being entertained by it, is that permissible?
If you start singing along with it but are just being enertained by it?
If you start singing along with it but begin to mean it and stop being entertained by it and start worshiping along with it?
If you continue to be entertained by it and also worship with it?
If you sing along with it and don’t mean it as worship but God hears it and is entertained by it, does that become sin?
Is it okay if it’s not Sunday (although Hobby Lobby would be closed, so it would have to be a radio or your CD player)?
If any of these possibilities made someone feel that their elders should meet and legislate unanimous policy on all of them – and any others that could be thought of – before fellowship with you could continue to be extended?
I ask the questions because I have heard it said (and have read it written) that the simple answer to the question of worshiping with an instrument is essentially “just don’t do it, and you know that you’re safe.”
I don’t find it simple at all.
In fact, I find that if you’re inclined to make rules where no rules have been made, you invariably end up having to make more rules to clarify the rules that you made where no rules were in place before. That’s how Congress and the legislatures stay in business – not to mention all kinds of courts, judges and attorneys.
But do we really need all those rules if God didn’t explicitly go into them Himself, through His Word? (He didn’t seem to have any reservations about being too detailed in the old covenant. And He seems to have nothing against instrumental praise there, nor in heaven as metaphorically described in the Revelation to John. So why would anyone want to call “unclean” what God has called “clean”?)
Wouldn’t Jesus’ favorite top two rules pretty much suffice in worship as well as in the rest of our lives? You, know:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself ~ Mark 12:30-31
That, I think, is where He would draw the line.
Truth is, I don’t find it “safe” at all to make rules God hasn’t made and then bind them on other folks and judge them when you deem there’s been an infraction and then condemn them. Isn’t that what Jesus lit into the Pharisees about doing, time and time again? Didn’t He say things like “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2) and “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 and “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57)
Was He ever recorded as saying “Why don’t you judge what is right for others?”
As nearly as I can tell, there is nothing wrong with having a harmless, uplifting tradition and observing it and enjoying it and even sharing the joy of it with God. Things like holidays come to mind. Or carving a good roast turkey. Or dining vegetarian. You don’t have to impose them on everyone else. And if one tradition makes others edgy, you don’t have to make it a part of your worship together. In fact, if it is a matter of conscience with them, you shouldn’t. Observe that tradition between yourself and God privately. If you’re aware of others observing a tradition that makes you edgy, don’t let it cause you to stumble – especially to stumble into being judgmental of them.
That’s where Paul draws the line of love.
It’s enough to say that a cappella praise can be beautiful and pure and that it is a cherished tradition in your religious heritage; to observe it and thrill to it and worship God with it. To go beyond that is to go beyond what God says in His Word; into the realm where teachings become rules taught by men. (If you are seeking condemnation for instrumental praise, that’s where you have to go – because you can’t find it in scripture.)
In addition, going beyond scripture in this direction limits the concept of worship only to what is done in the assembly of the saints. What we practice in our lives, outside of our gathered worship, affects our worship to God. In fact, what we obediently do every day can also be worship. (Romans 12:1) Worship through day-to-day obedience is the very context (in Matthew 15) of Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 29:13: the Corban tradition set aside God’s instruction to care for parents, and it nullified both the word of God and their worship:
“They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
Tradition can be good – and blessed by God – but not when it supercedes His Word.
And I can’t help but believe that’s where the Spirit of God draws the line, too.