Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Instrumental Music

There are a couple of interesting polls at the Christian Chronicle website in the aftermath of the publicity Richland Hills Church of Christ in Forth Worth has received with their decision to add a Saturday evening instrumental assembly. You can see the poll results here and here.


In light of the on-going discussion regarding worship and the use of instruments, I want to revisit some ideas I shared in a blog on May 2nd of last year:

One of the distinctives of our heritage in the Churches of Christ has historically been our commitment to acapella (Latin for “in the style of the chapel/church”) singing in the worship assembly. But why has acapella singing been a hallmark of our heritage?

It is important to remember that as descendants of the Restoration Movement, our aim has always been to restore faith and practice as described in the New Testament. When one studies the worship assemblies of the New Testament, no where is instrumental music mentioned as a feature of worship.

“But Jim, what about David? Didn’t he play his harp in praise to the Lord? And what about temple worship in the Old Testament? Doesn’t the Old Testament speak of instruments within temple worship? And what about the end of time? Doesn’t Scripture say the very second coming of Jesus will be signaled by the blowing of a trumpet? And aren’t the praises of God in heaven going to be accompanied by instruments?”

Those questions form the basis to many of the objections I have heard voiced to me personally regarding our historical position of singing without instruments. But my response to those questions is this: our aim in the Churches of Christ, as descendants of a Restoration Heritage, isn’t to restore the worship of David, the temple or even to seek to duplicate the worship of heaven. Our aim is to restore the faith and practice of the first churches as revealed in Scripture. And the revelation of Scripture is that the first churches used their voice alone in praise and worship to God.

In Ephesians 5, Paul describes clear evidence of a Spirit-filled Christian when he says they “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5.18-20). Elsewhere, Paul told the Colossian church that the proof of the indwelling Word of Christ in a believer’s life is seen in a commitment to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and…sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3.16).

Ironically, some of our Restoration leaders had a hang-up over the validity of even vocal singing to God. Men like Thomas Campbell interpreted the Scriptural injunction to “make music in your heart” and “sing…with gratitude in your hearts” as a prohibition against vocal singing since the over-arching emphasis in the language of Scripture was upon the heart, not the mouth or voice. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a person advance the argument against acapella singing on the basis some of our Restoration leaders did, but that argument was a very real discussion in the early days of the Churches of Christ in North America.

Practically speaking, the voice is the only instrument God had a direct hand in creating. And theologically, historically and practically, I am supportive of our historical position in the Churches of Christ to worship God corporately with acapella singing.

Having said that, my caution would be for us to avoid an attitude of spiritual superiority or smugness toward those who see the philosophical question of the silence of Scripture regarding instruments in the New Testament as permissive. I once had a very well respected professor/teacher in our heritage say to me, “Jim, I am convinced if Paul were to visit any of our churches today and found an instrument, he wouldn’t have as much trouble with the instrument -- given his Jewish background and thinking and his familiarity with temple worship -- but he would have major misgivings with the way we participate in the Lord’s Supper.” When it comes to restoring the “ancient order of things” we still have some room for improvement.

I would also add that at the end of the day, God is God and I am not! And as such, God is free to judge according to his own dictates and choices. I cannot legislate to God what God can and cannot do; how God can and cannot judge the apex of his creation -- mankind and mankind’s attempt to bless God in worship. I do know this, God will judge me according to the very standard with which I judge others (see James 4.11-12). And in this life, if I am forced to choose justice or mercy, I will always seek to err on the side of mercy for the sake of the day when I myself stand before the Righteous Judge.

Do we teach the rule of Scripture of do we teach the possible exception? As it relates to baptism, if God chooses in his sovereignty to make exceptions, I'll praise him for his grace. But that is God's call, not mine. In the mean time, as it relates to teaching baptism for the forgiveness of sin and acapella singing as the form of worship, I am committed to teaching the rule of Scripture, not the possible exception.