On another blog recently, a friend adjured me to keep breaking down idols.
It hadn’t occurred to me until then that my fellowship’s obsession with a cappella-only worship is an idol.
We of the churches of Christ worship it above the unity Christ prayed for on the night He was betrayed. We worship it above the teaching of Paul to Galatia that adding any law to the atonement of Christ is a fruitless attempt to weaken the power of His blood. We worship it above dozens of more life-shaping, world-saving instructions Jesus explicitly left, which we ignore at our own leisure – and peril.
And by “worship,” I mean that we elevate a cappella-only worship above all of these things. We preach it. We argue it. We condemn others who do not accept it.
Yet a cappella-only worship is a teaching of man which – though it may go back to a human preference expressed very early in church history – has no firm or inarguable basis in scripture. There is certainly no command for it. There is no example of it. There is no unimpeachable inference of it, for those who require such things.
It is a doctrine which pends solely – not on love for God and for others – but on a singular way of looking at scripture as law, the silence of which on any given practice expresses God’s disapproval and condemnation.
That “law of silence” is called the “regulative principle of worship,” and has its origins in the teachings of John Calvin, many of whose other teachings my fellowship (Churches of Christ) would immediately repudiate.
And the view of scripture as law persists in spite of verses like:
“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” ~ Romans 7:6
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” ~ Romans 8:1-4
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” ~ Galatians 5:16-18
The clear implication of these passages – and many, many more – is that we didn’t need more law. We needed grace. We needed Christ. We needed the guidance of His Spirit within us.
No matter what anyone tells you, scripture doesn’t tell you that Christ came to bring more law. His singular commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you,” expresses all the law and the prophets; for love that acts for the benefit of others mirrors God’s love, and expresses love for God as well. This is the “law of Christ,” spoken of in Galatians 6:2, because it expresses love by carrying others’ burdens. This is “Christ’s law” spoken of in 1 Corinthians 9:21, because it wins those not having the law, rather than binding its restrictions on them.
Law does not express love. Law expresses guilt and failure and judgment. It does not unite; it separates. It sees everything as intrinsically right or wrong, where common sense reveals that some things are neither. Because law must be interpreted, authority is required to clarify. Judgment must take place. Violators must be punished.
This is the case with the law of silence, specifically reformulated within the Restoration Movement to exclude everyone who didn’t agree with what the excluders believed, especially about a cappella-only worship. I am sorry to have to speak so plainly; it is a shameful fact of our history.
We can choose to perpetuate this error by continuing to condemn those who do not bow down to our idol of a cappella-only worship.
Or we can
- repent of our guilt,
- stop condemning what God commanded and approved in the Old Testament (and never repealed, if we can only see scripture as a matter of law)
- stop consigning to hell those who practice vocal and instrumental worship,
- admit that a cappella-only worship is a matter of personal preference – and has been since just after the first century –
- and that New Testament scripture says virtually nothing about it.
(Except, of course, that it does not seem to be practiced in the eternal heaven revealed to John in Revelation 15:2-3.)
If we refuse and say, “I’d sooner die first,” then God can certainly arrange that. He has done so before for idolators. And we just might end up somewhere that a cappella-only worship does not take place.
But it might not be the place we’d prefer.