Are we Really at the Right Place?

Many Christians would be shocked. They would be shocked to learn that some of their brothers and sisters – maybe even on the pew in front or behind them – actually wonder on Sunday morning if they are really in the right place. Those strong in the faith, convinced of the truth of the old-time gospel, assume that all but perhaps the newborn babes have the same confidence in the church. Then, seemingly out of the blue, that friendly face you have become so accustomed to is gone. The spot on the pew that might as well have had their name on it is now conspicuously vacant. What happened? Eventually you learn that they have left and are worshiping elsewhere. The leaders, elders or preacher have tried to initiate studies, but to no avail.

Sometimes there is really no solution. The soil was just not conducive to the gospel. They were offended by the word, or maybe their heart was elsewhere. Perhaps they were just choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

But when they are gone, concerned Christians cannot help but wonder, “Was there anything I could have said or done to make a difference?” or “Is there anything they could have done to insulate themselves from apostasy?” Sometimes, I believe the answer is yes! There are certain doctrinal subjects that when thoroughly studied and understood leave no occasion for stumbling. The distinction between the covenants, the marriage of faith and works, the role of baptism in salvation and the observance of the Lord’s Supper are notable examples. One of these, thoroughly studied—even independently of the others— repels the honest heart from almost all religious counterfeits. If we—our family and those Christians closest to us— were only “able to comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of one of these subjects we may have the needed insurance against a departure from the church of Christ. If we could pass this knowledge on to our family and those who occupy the pew across from us, it might make an eternal difference.

WHICH IS RIGHT?

Another issue that carries the same weight is music in the church. Two Mid-Western college students, Ned and Fred, in their independent quests for the true church, happened to stumble upon different congregations that teach salvation exactly as it was found in the Bible. They were both immersed within a few months of each other and were zealous for their respective causes. They met up in class and started discussing the newfound faith they had in common. They were members of the same church and obedient to the same gospel. They agreed to visit each other’s services on alternate Sundays. After that first service, Ned told Fred that he enjoyed the sermon and that the services were uplifting. But he was puzzled. He asked Fred, “Why don’t you have a piano or organ?” Fred responded, “Ya know, I never even thought about it.” They were both aware of the Revelation warning (22:18,19) about adding to and taking away from the word of God. Ned said, “Fred, you know that the Bible warns against “taking away.” If the Bible teaches the accompaniment of instrumental music to singing in worship and your church omits it, they are in the wrong and they are probably not in the right church.” “Okay Ned, you’re right! Our churches do worship differently, so they can’t possibly both be right. But remember, that scripture cuts both ways. If the Bible does not teach instrumental accompaniment, you guys are adding to God’s word and would be in the same dangerous position you say we would be in. Let’s see what the Bible says!” (Ned and Fred located Instrumental Music by M.C. Kurfees to guide them in their quest.)

FACTS FROM HISTORY

Both men were surprised to learn that the objections of the conservative congregation were neither new nor unique to the church of Christ. Historically, they learned that many of the denominational big-hitters and early reformers were vehemently opposed to instrumental music in worship. When asked his opinion, John Wesley said, “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.” Among these were (Martin Luther himself), Methodists, John Wesley and Adam Clarke, stalwarts John Calvin and Theodore Beza of the Presbyterian and Congregationalist parties, and prominent Baptists Charles Spurgeon and Andrew Fuller. The annals of history concur with L.B. Wilkes, who said that in New Testament worship the “organ was not introduced by Lord God Almighty, but by Lord God the Pope.” Both the Chambers and New International Encyclopedias credit Pope Vitalian with this daring departure in AD 666. Even with the pope’s stamp of approval, it was not wholly accepted by Catholicism. Various popes argued against and prohibited its use after Vitalian’s bold move. There was in fact, such a long bitter controversy over instrumental music in the Catholic church that the celebrated Roman Catholic scholar, Thomas Aquinas, declares six centuries after its initial introduction. “Our church does not use musical instruments to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.”

DIGRESSIVE JEWS

Meanwhile, Judaism is embroiled in the same controversy. Orthodox Jews are not content to carry the (burning/biting/embarrassing) guilt of this religious “hot potato.” Instead, they accuse their digressive Jewish brethren of “imitating the Christians” by introducing instrumental accompaniment into synagogue worship. It is noteworthy that even the most liberal branch of Judaism (Reformed) never permitted instruments in their synagogue until 1818 in Berlin. Still, only non-Jews could play. When we see the parallel controversies over worship within the Jewish Synagogue and the Christian Assembly, it is striking that the word “assembly” used in Jas 2:2 comes from the Greek word “sunagoge.” The chronicles of Jewish worship up to the 19th century certainly offer no excuses for the innovation of instrumental music in the assembly of the Lord’s church!

ALL OR NOTHING

There is still the tendency among some to run back to David of old to justify this worship novelty. They say, “Well, if it was all right for David then it must be okay for me.” Oh, some Christians are content to live like Jews under the old law until it means no bacon on their breakfast biscuits and no shrimp in their seafood salad. Yeah, they make devout Jews until it turns their Saturday at the lake to an all-day living room lock-in. The church pianist happily assists in her rights through David’s example until her husband uses David as an excuse to come home one day saying, “Pack your bags. We’re moving to Utah. By the way, meet my second wife.” Listen! What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. James said, “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

Further proof that we should not follow David or anyone else to do evil is found in Amos 5:21-6:5. Adam Clarke reasoned from this passage this way, “If there was a woe to them who invented instruments of music, as did David under the law, is there no woe, no curse to them who invent them, and introduce them into the worship of God in the Christian Church?” Sound advice for Christians to consider. In conjunction with this admonition, we should heed Paul’s somber warning to the churches of Galatia, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.”

AUTHORIZED OR UNAUTHORIZED?

In their attempted worship in Lev 10:1-2, the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, learned the hard way that God will not accept unauthorized worship or that “which he commandeth not.” This principle is carried over into the New Testament. Jesus commands the apostles to teach the baptized believers “…to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” In Col 3:17, Paul echoes these sentiments. He says, “…Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” There is a definitive demand here for Christ’s authority in every act of worship. Jesus assured the apostles that the spirit of truth would give them the complete revelation of his will (Jn 16:13). Later, Paul says that through the Scriptures the church is “thoroughly finished unto all good works.” Peter continues in 2 Pet 1:3, “…his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness…” Plainly, the New Testament fully equips us with all the ingredients of authorized worship. Yet, can anyone find instruments or the instructions to play them within the Scriptures? If not, they are simply unauthorized additions!

THE NEW TESTAMENT ON MUSIC

By examining the twenty-seven New Testament books on church music, several compelling facts demand attention. Weigh the body of evidence for yourself: “And when they had sung a hymn Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God.” “I will…sing unto thy name.” “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” “Speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” “In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.” “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God…the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.” The silence of the scriptures regarding instruments is overwhelming. With twenty-seven books worth of opportunities, neither Christ nor His apostles ever commanded or even suggested the playing of instruments in worship. At the same time, they repeatedly relayed the importance of singing praises to God with the fruit of our lips. This point is so easy to understand that it would take a preacher to make it confusing. Simply put, the Scriptures do not furnish instrumental music in worship, therefore it cannot be a good work.

GENERIC AND SPECIFIC AUTHORITY

Let’s illustrate further how to distinguish what is authorized from what is unauthorized. Noah is told to make an ark out of gopher wood (Gen 6:14). Was Noah free to build the ark out of oak, maple or cherry? No, because God had specified what kind of wood was to be used. Only gopher wood was authorized. If the Lord had said instead, “Build an ark out of wood,” then Noah would have had generic authority to use his favorite wood, the most convenient wood available or the kind of wood he felt was best for the job.

Similarly, the Lord commanded that a lamb be offered as a burnt offering (Lev 23:12). This logically excluded the sacrifice of a dog or a hog. Again, if God had requested simply an animal sacrifice, then the Israelites would have been free to offer any animal of their choosing. The Jews did not insist that God list every animal that was prohibited. Noah did not have to be told all the trees that could not be used to build the ark. The Lord’s commands were not to be trifled with and they recognized that. They respected the silence of His word. They gave Him just what he asked for—nothing more, nothing less.

 

Article by: Brett Hickey