Instrumental Music and Fellowship

By Wayne S. Walker

[Editor’s note: In the early 1800s, religious reformers like Alexander Campbell and Barton Warren Stone, who sought to restore non-denominational Christianity and began independent congregations known as Christian Churches or Churches of Christ, found that one common denominational practice which they could not find authorized in the Scriptures was the use of instrumental music in worship, so they jettisoned it. The melodeon was reintroduced in 1859 at Midway, KY, by L. L. Pinkerton, and quickly became a source of disagreement, debate, and even division among Christian Churches and Churches of Christ until 1906, when the U. S. Census Bureau recognized two distinct bodies—Christian Churches which used the instrument and Churches of Christ which did not.

Those of us in Churches of Christ love everyone and would like to have fellowship with all those who believe in Christ, but when it comes to our spiritual fellowship we are plainly told, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God” and that “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him…” (2 John vs. 9-10). That is the historical and scriptural background out of which the following article was written nearly thirty years ago. What is so interesting is that the “let’s just ignore our differences, agree to disagree, and have fellowship anyway” cry referred to in the article always involves Churches of Christ giving up their vocal opposition to the instrument, never the Christian Church giving up the instrument. WSW.]

There has of late arisen among some in churches of Christ a rather vocal “Let’s all try to have fellowship with the folks in the Christian Church” movement. Of course, efforts like this have occurred in the past, but it seems that the present attempt is more concentrated. I, for one, am not in sympathy with this movement for several reasons. The first is that the majority of people in it, though not all, are from congregations that are already teaching and practicing things which are not authorized in God’s word, and that tells me something right there. They may have a desire to seek fellowship with the Christian Church as is, but I surely do not.

A second reason is that Bible fellowship is primarily a local congregational matter. Each local church determines whom it will or will not accept into its fellowship. One of the criteria that must be used in making that decision is soundness of doctrine and practice (Romans 16:17-18). There simply is no Biblical basis for establishing “fellowship” between churches, except in the matter of relieving needy saints, let alone between “groups of churches.” The whole idea is denominational to the core. The church universal is not a body of congregations but a body of individual believers.

But the main reason why I oppose this movement is that I am firmly convinced from the Scriptures that instrumental music in worship, which is practiced by the Christian Church (along with many other unauthorized activities), is a violation of God’s pattern for the worship of the church. Some apparently want to quibble about whether “congregational singing” per se is even authorized (it is: 1 Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16); but whatever kind of music is authorized for praise to God in the New Testament, it is always described as “singing” and never as playing on a mechanical instrument.

Some in my family left the Christian Church almost thirty years ago [now over fifty years ago], as have many other fine Christians that I know, for some very good reasons, one of which was that they reached the conclusion that the use of instrumental music in worship is wrong. I have no intention of turning my back on the Biblical principles that forced them out. Since we are to speak only as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), we must also commit ourselves to be silent where the Bible is silent. And since God’s word is absolutely silent about the use of instrumental music in worship by Christians, we have no right to practice that of which God spoke nothing (Hebrews 7:14).

Faithful churches of Christ everywhere plead and work for the unity among believers for which Christ prayed (John 17:20-21). And we are willing to sit down and discuss any differences we may have with anyone using an open Bible to settle them. But any “unity” achieved must be upon the basis of God’s revealed word and not compromise. This “we can have unity if churches of Christ will just cease their opposition to instrumental music” approach simply will not work. The one who troubles Israel is the one who introduces unauthorized practices, not the one who opposes them (1 Kings 18:17-18).

Furthermore, for those who recognize the true nature of the local church—completely independent and autonomous—there is simply no possibility of developing such a “fellowship” in the first place. Let all of us, both as individual Christians and as local congregations of God’s people, believe, teach, and practice only what is revealed in the New Testament, and this problem of unity and fellowship will take care of itself without any trouble. In everything, it is necessary for us to learn not to go beyond that which is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). May we always do just that.

—taken from Gospel Anchor; June, 1986; Vol. XII, No. 19; pp. 12, 17