Where Do You Draw The Line?

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.

15 thoughts on “Where Do You Draw The Line?

  1. Why is it that while I agree with your posts, I begin to feel a little nervous, like I’m going to hurt somebody’s feelings if I agree too much?I am much too slow to step out and do the things I feel because I don’t want to offend others.Is God saying, “Terri, just do it!”?

  2. Very interesting thoughts/questions!I’ve been following your comments on another blog–I want that blogger to feel nothing but love from me (and you have been extremely respectful to him)–but these are the questions I would like him to respond to.I want to draw the line with love, too!

  3. What about when that cell phone you guys are referring to as going off in worship doesn’t go off to <>just any<> musical tune, but to an <>instrumental praise<> song??? Mine actually did about a month ago…oops! 😉Seriously, though…good questions, Keith. Questions like these are what has led me to my current belief/stance on instrumental music in worship.I like the way you think. Because you always make me think.Thanks, bro.

  4. Excellent post, brother! Taking the tradition and making it a firm law leads to ALL kinds of whacky theology. I know of a radio station that will not play contemporary Christian music because God would not be pleased, but they WILL play songs by atheist and songs that promote all kinds of secular sinful lifestyles, as if God would be pleased with THAT!I know of people who won’t allow a wedding with instrumental music in their church auditorium, but the same people will walk 200 yards and attend the SAME wedding, only because it’s in a different building. I’m sure the 200 yards made a huge difference with God!And then there’s Christmas music. Do you know anybody that DOESN’T sing along with beautiful Christmas music about the birth of our Savior? Me either, and most of it is instrumental. Hmmm….how does that work? 🙂 Like Atchley said, we’ve spoken where the Bible speaks, and where the Bible is silent we have spoken even louder. DU

  5. Keith, Is it really personal worship if we only sing words written by someone else? Is that the way David did it or was he singing his personal feelings?Are the songs we sing really singing to God, or about God.

  6. Terri, if you do, be prepared to lose friends. Some folks believe this is a salvation matter. Personally, I don’t believe God is ever silent on salvation matters.JB, I can tell that the other blogger you’re talking about it pretty well put out with me right now and feels like I am attacking him. I hate that; as nearly as I can tell, he is an outstanding Christian minister – I just can’t agree with him on this matter.Matt, I think I’ve heard every cell company brand’s default ring go off in the assembly of my 1800+ member church. (We have a lot of AT&T members.) If that’s instrumental music and a sin, what should be done? Call for a do-over and start at the first song or opening prayer?Lacey, I dunno whether that’s worse than Phil’s phone going off with an AC/DC ringtone ….laymond, you always come up with the most interesting questions! I think Israel sang a lot of songs that David and Asaph and Asaph’s descendents wrote and God heard all of them. I’m sure He thrills to the private songs that we compose in our hearts as surely as a lover treasures a poem from the heart of a beloved. (I wish I knew someone who could write music that would make my poem < HREF="http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/2004/11/upon-three-nails.html" REL="nofollow">Upon Three Nails<> a beautiful lyric, but it just may not be lyrical!)Sometimes we sing about God to encourage and build up one another < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=58&chapter=3&verse=16&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">Colossians 3:16<>, < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=65&chapter=2&verse=12&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">Hebrews 2:12<>); sometimes we sing praise directly to God < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=52&chapter=15&verse=11&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">Romans 15:11<>, < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=51&chapter=16&verse=25&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">Acts 16:25<>. And guess what? Folks around us are encouraged even when we’re speaking to God. It just works that way. If it weren’t for that, we could all just go in our separate closets in our separate homes and praise God and He would hear us. But He knows we need to share it, so we need to sing songs that we know the words and music to, that others perhaps have written, to benefit from that unity in song. It’s not an either-or, but a both-and.

  7. <>“Sometimes we sing about God to encourage and build up one another; sometimes we sing praise directly to God. And guess what? Folks around us are encouraged even when we’re speaking to God. It just works that way.”<> Interesting how that works, huh? You’re exactly right. I’ve already told you why I like seeing you worship. It really does speak to me.

  8. Keith, I admire the way you’ve been respectful of the other blogger. Your post here is well thought out–and even though I don’t believe God’s plan can always be “reasoned” the questions/points you raise here should be prayerfully thought through before an a cappella only stance can be made. It’s just as simple as some would make it seem. I am all for love and respect for everyone, too! Just because I disagree with someone on an issue–doesn’t mean they still aren’t my brother/sister!

  9. I’m not from the CofC tradition, so don’t understand the historical theology of the “no instrumentation” rules. But this thread does remind me of a comment I heard a preacher tell from his past. During the hippie decade, a large number of new christians arrived in churches still wearing their hippie clothes and (shock horror) long hair. The pastor was asked to rule on how long was too long for hair length of good christians. He said that if the length of the hair covered their hearts (metaphorically) then it was too long. Perhaps there is something here about music as well.I don’t think God is as limited as we often give him credit for being.

  10. Good point, Brian … and it’s always good to hear from a fellow Christian outside the range of our own nearsightedness!

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