Lessons from History

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?

5 thoughts on “Lessons from History

  1. Mt:5:22: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.Mt:5:23: Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;Mt:5:24: Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.Mt:7:3: And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Mt:7:4: Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?Mt:7:5: Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.Who do you think gains from a situation like this?

  2. Keith,I want to thank you for your wonderful posts brother. I believe as believers we can learn from our past and grow from it. We need to cherish, the love and grace of God every day we live. You and your blog challenges me to do just that brother. I pray that you have a wonderful week brother!In Him,Kinney Mabry

  3. Keith,I have for a long time wrestled with this question. I appreciate your posts and ability to caricature the logic behind some of our positions. Though not convinced in my conscience that I could worship with an instrument, you have left me much to chew on. Thanks.

  4. Josh, you made my day.There’s a good reason why consciences should <>not<> be easy to change.So don’t take my word for anything. Don’t take anyone else’s word for anything, either. Keep diving into the Word and being refreshed by it, always drenched in a little more of its truth each time you’re immersed in it. (Many of life’s dry spells result from failing to take the plunge into what God wants to say to us.)And ask for God’s Holy Spirit. I believe He will do what He says He will do: guide you into all truth.

  5. Keith, thanks for pointing out that, regardless of how right or wrong it may or may not be to worship with instruments, what is so painfully obviously more important is how we treat each other as brothers and sisters.I especially love the passage you linked to in John 17–one of my favorites. (And that’s saying alot…cause it’s hard for me to pick a favorite verse or two!) I think that no matter which side of the debate a person may fall on, it’s important for us to remember that one of our Lord’s dying requests, if you will, was not that we worship Him with/without instruments…but that we be united to each other through Him.

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