Instruments Of His Peace

Does anyone remember why musical instruments are forbidden in our fellowship, Churches of Christ?

My guess is, the answer is no – and anyone who could remember first-hand what started it all would be well over 150 years old by now.

You’d have to look it up in the history books, now – and the “wikipedia” entry on the matter reads like this:

… L. L. Pendleton, who was a member of a Midway, Kentucky church brought a piano into the church building. One of the elders of that assembly removed the piano that evening but it was soon replaced by another. Until that time all singing in the churches had been a cappella – without instrumental accompaniment. Generally speaking, the bulk of the urban congregations, particularly in the Northern states, were not totally adverse to this development, which was also gaining momentum in the other religious groups around them, while rural congregations, particularly in the Southern United States, tended to oppose this trend.

I haven’t found a refutation of any of these basic facts (although it was a melodeon, not a piano), including the one that Restoration churches had been singing a cappella until that time. Restoration churches had also been questioning a number of other items termed “innovations” – things like cooperative missionary societies or other church organizations which were condemned by some as divisive (though colleges were permitted). There were also questions of exclusivism – the belief that only people who had and followed the correct interpretation of scripture constituted the true church. And there were problems between Northern and Southern churches over slavery, and there is no point in glossing over any of them.

By the time that the U.S. Census Bureau separated the two factions officially, 40 years later, there were questions about baptism contributing to the division. Then lots more followed: how many cups? Bible school? dining in the building? … and even more nonsense that doesn’t deserve to be mentioned.

But it all started with a pre-World War II “battle of Midway” that forever changed the course of the movement.

All of the articles and papers that have been written on the subject since; all of the trees that have perished; all of the good intentions of serving and worshiping God the right way have failed to sound even one note of unity – or a few notes of harmony – as a lasting result of that division, capstoning the primary purpose of the Restoration Movement.

To read some of them, you’d think there was someone arguing back.

I haven’t encountered anyone arguing that the first-century church worshiped with musical instruments; though there is discussion about when it began – between the third and sixth centuries is the common thought. The fact is, we don’t know. It wouldn’t make much sense for Christians in prisons and catacombs to sing with musical instruments, but others meeting in houses and synagogues might have had the opportunity. The fact that musical instruments aren’t mentioned in most of New Testament scripture doesn’t prove that they weren’t used. (That would be like arguing that since God isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther, He had nothing to do with what happened in it.)

Certainly Israel worshiped God with instruments of music; you find references to them peppered throughout the Psalms. Do we have trouble with the fact that the sound of harps is heard in heaven during God’s Revelation to John, harps played as loudly as rushing waters and peals of thunder? Or that the saints victorious over the beast are given harps to accompany their praise to God?

Do we then conclude that at some point in the intertestamental period God changed His mind about accepting praise accompanied by musical instruments, but that in the kingdom yet to come He will change it back?

Are we just arguing the case because we still believe Christians have to understand and perform perfectly in order to be acceptable to God, and if our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were wrong about this issue they are therefore forever lost and damned? If we accept the possibility God could forgive some of them for being wrong about slavery, could He not forgive them for excluding others based on a belief about acceptable worship?

Are we arguing it because we want to maintain our peculiar distinctiveness, our sectarian uniqueness, our tribal identity, our claim on the name “church of Christ”? And with it, the unquestioning confidence that we are right about this and if you’re not right about this you’re going to hell?

Are we arguing it because it’s hard to say that we were wrong and exclusive and prejudiced and divisive?

Or are we arguing it because we just like to argue?

Is that the way for us to be instruments of His peace?