Wow. That Part I sure was a long time ago. Wonder why I didn’t mark it “Part I”?
Maybe because, as I confessed last year, I am a world-class conflict avoider, and I said only as much as I could stand to say.
And because I continue to encounter people of good faith and firm conviction within the fellowship of Churches of Christ who simply believe with all of their hearts that the Bible (or at least most of the New Testament) inarguably forbids worshiping God through Christ today with instruments of music other than the voice … well, because of that, I can’t just let the subject drop.
A dwindling few of them have gone beyond the pale in making personal attack, judgment and condemnation on the question (which, for them, is no question at all). Yet many more have not. They simply teach that it is sin, that it displeases God and – some would say – will eventually lead to eternity in hell.
The teaching is based on presumption of the authority of the Bible as an end-to-end book of law, its complete sufficiency in all matters and questions of right and wrong, and therefore, righteousness and damnation.
That’s the first problem I have with this teaching. Where does the Bible claim to be – or even imply that it is – only law and wholly sufficient in every possible question or practice?
The answer might go, Well, 2 Timothy 3:16, for one.
Is that what it says, though? Does it say “all-sufficient”? Or just “useful”?
How about 2 Peter 1:3?
Where does that say “scripture” or “God’s Word”? Doesn’t it say “divine power” and “knowledge through him who called us”? And if that somehow necessarily implies scripture and only scripture (and somehow I doubt that the revelation of God’s divine power and the one who called us is limited to scripture, since I see Him living through His Spirit in other Christians all the time) let’s just go there. Let’s go to scripture. What does scripture say about worship with music?
Let’s start with the examples: Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 and Acts 16:25.
Great example. If Jesus could sing with His followers on the way out to the garden and His imminent arrest, I should be able to do the same, even weighed down with my own sorrows. Same for Paul and Silas in jail. I don’t see any instruments there. I’ll grant that they probably didn’t lug any out to the garden or into the jail. (Though neither of those examples is in a church/synagogue setting.)
But Matthew 18:20!
It’s a great comfort to know that Jesus is with us when two or three of us are gathered to pray and ask God for something … but does He say that makes it a church in musical worship together?
The commands, then: Ephesians 5:18-20.
I’m not sure I’d call them “commands,” since Jesus only gave us one that enveloped the two most important ones in the law. Why not call them “principles”? I completely agree with the principle that we should be filled with the Spirit, rather that with alcoholic spirits – and that thanksgiving for everthing through Christ should characterize our songs to each other. The setting seems to be, not so much gathered worship, as it is everyday living.
Colossians 3:16: more thanksgiving.
Absolutely. Plus the opportunity to teach and admonish each other through song. Same surround: daily living, rather than just gathered worship.
And James 5:13.
Okay, I’m not convinced that this is talking exclusively about worship in a gathered setting, since the subject and verb are singular – but it’s a wonderful principle for any of us to sing songs of praise when happy. Just as Jesus did and Paul could when suffering – Jesus before leaving for the garden; Paul while in prison after being beaten.
All right then! Finally, the rest of the commands: Romans 15:9, 1 Corinthians 14:15.
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Neither of those is a command. Both say “I shall,” or “I will.” They’re expressing more of that gratitude from the heart. Are they examples? Maybe. Let’s take ’em one at a time. Romans 15:9 is quoting Psalm 69:9, perhaps as prophecy that the Lord’s name will be sung to the nations. It was a prophecy that included Gentiles – an important point in Paul’s letter to Rome.
1 Corinthians 14:15 is attempting to set straight some problems with some people speaking – even praying – in tongues during gathered worship, but without anyone translating, interpreting.
The point is that none of these passages has, as its primary tenor, the question of worship with or without musical instruments in an assembly.
Other issues are at hand, and are significantly more important. They are issues of the heart: being sober but joyful, teaching and admonishing, communicating clearly.
The question of the presence or absence of instruments just isn’t there.
If they must be authorized specifically, must not also a song leader, song books or sheet music, pitch pipes, amplification devices, slide or graphic projections also be authorized specifically in order to be scripturally acceptable to God? Does that not take these scriptures and make them say what they do not say?
Who gets to decide which of those supplements are expedient – a term not used with regard to worship in scripture – and which are not?
Does that not make the argument for authorization either man’s teaching binding on no one or God’s teaching binding in every instance in which a question of authorization might arise?
And if, as many from Eusebius until this day have argued, instruments cannot and do not praise God … do the instruments play themselves? Or are they played as the expression of human beings – plucked, stroked, even breathed into by human beings into whom God has breathed the breath of life? Can anyone watch and hear a virtuoso like Yo Yo Ma and still say that only the cello played; that the music did not come from the artist’s very heart and soul as well?
Can you do that with a pitch pipe?
When God breathes His Spirit into us, we become the instruments of His peace. He plays us as His instruments to make His music in this world. It is no longer we who live, but Christ living in us.
Finally, if the argument is made from Romans 14 (which irretrievably puts the question of instrumental/a cappella worship into the category of disputable matters and items of conscience – rather than God’s clear command), neither side can presume to say, “Then why don’t you just see it and do it my way in order to have my fellowship!”
Bottom line, then. Fellowship cannot be extended or denied based upon man’s teaching or preference or interpretation of that which is not specifically and clearly spelled out in scripture. Turning such matters into issues of salvation is arrogant judgmentalism in the extreme. If someone worships differently in such matters; in a way that offends your conscience or mine, we don’t have to worship in that way. But in order to be instruments of His peace, we absolutely must
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. ~ Romans 15:7
Good folks – whether we like instrumental worship or not; whether we agree with a cappella-only worship or not as a practice – if we have any heart at all for maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we must stop preaching Christian brothers and sisters into hell over an issue that our fellowship has raised as some sort of misguided mark of holy distinction from God.
Being “right” about a cappella worship is not one of what we have called five acts of salvation (or any of the other opportunities we have to accept, proclaim and be like Jesus Christ). Nor is instrumental worship “sin” – or it would it not have been in the Old Testament and would be in Revelation 5‘s kingdom-to-come, too?
No one is compelled by scripture to observe the practice they don’t like. No one has to give up the one they prefer.
But we must give up hatefulness and judgment and divisiveness and promoting man’s teachings as if they were God’s.