Go back in time with me, a little over a century and a half, when the Restoration Movement was still aborning and unrest was brewing in the United States of America regarding the ownership of human beings as slaves.
That’s when the disagreement over instruments of music used in worship began in earnest. Before that, you can find very little in the way of history or commentary about it, beyond a meager number of disgruntled writers who did not like it and variously composed a few lofty poetic metaphors or pithy comments about it, but did not count the matter worthy to number among 95 theses nailed to a door. (The Greek Orthodox Church has long practiced a cappella-only worship for many of the same reasons cited by those in the Restoration Movement who require it – but rarely makes an issue of it when parishes in America adopt instruments.)
The issue pretty much came to a head at Midway, Kentucky in the early 1860s when a melodeon (small organ-like instrument) was brought into a church building to aid in the singing. If he did not have the consensus of the other elders, then one of them and his slave engaged in the acts of breaking and entering the building, stealing the instrument, and chopping it to bits with an axe. When it was replaced, they were satisfied simply to break in and steal the second one and store it in that elder’s barn.
Those who dislike instrumental praise are apt to cite a related incident at a Christian college in Texas in 1894, where their point of view protested more civilly and democratically – but still disrupted worship and caused an awkward confrontation as an organ was about to play – long after both sides should have come to the table of discussion and ironed it out.
There is plenty of blame and plenty of unChristian behavior to be assigned to both points of view over the issue and over the years.
So in weighing the issue on its own merits and demerits, may I ask that we consider these questions together:
Is Christian worship with or without instruments a scriptural matter, which one side or the other or both can definitively resolve by pointing to scripture and saying, “This what God says about it, and this is inarguably all He says about it”?
Or is it a disputable matter, about which God expresses no preference in scripture?
If it is, at its essence, a disputable matter – and people have been disputing it within the Restoration Movement for 150+ years and in Christendom at least to some extent for centuries before it – what does scripture say about handling disputable matters?
Can both points of view practice what they believe without calling it God’s law, enforcing it upon others and judging them as wanting in the balances if they disagree and practice differently?
Did Christ live, teach, bless, die and live again in order to bring more law, unspoken law – or freedom from law?
Does the ongoing disagreement over Christian worship with or without instruments unite or divide people in the body of Christ?
Does God stand to gain from men insisting on either side of the disagreement as the law for all and perpetuating it?
Does Satan stand to gain from it?