THE LATEST ARGUMENTS FOR INSTRUMENTAL
MUSIC IN LIGHT OF THE SCRIPTURE
By Wayne S. Walker
Back in 1990, I had the opportunity to attend the first night of a debate on the subject of instrumental music in worship that was conducted at Georgetown, Ohio. Dennis Lewis of the Georgetown Church of Christ, an independent Christian Church, affirmed that the use of mechanical instruments of music in the worship of God is scriptural. Paul Vaughan, of the Brown County church of Christ, denied the proposition. The purpose of this article is not to review the entire debate (I was not able to return to hear all the speeches). However, I would like to review some of the newer arguments made during the debate in favor of instrumental music in worship.
After several years of separation between the independent Christian Churches and New Testament church of Christ, there has been a push in recent years, primarily from leaders in the Christian Church, to lump instrumental music in with other matters of personal opinion or individual conscience and thus establish some grounds for “unity” between the two groups. Unfortunately, some of the more “liberal-thinking” lights among us have accepted these overtures and appear willing to compromise on the issue for the sake of peace. In the debate which I attended and in the paper One Body, several arguments of recent vintage have been made to justify this compromise, and they need to be examined in light of the Scriptures.
We are now being told that the New Testament teaches that all things which are not explicitly forbidden by the doctrine of Christ may be done by men living today without their being guilt of sin in so doing. This is just a reworking of the old “the Bible doesn’t say not to” argument and shows a lack of understanding about the nature of authority. It is not necessary for God explicitly to forbid everything that He does not want. Hebrews 7:11-14 shows that whatever God does not authorize, either generically or specifically, is sinful. He reveals what He wants us to do, and we must simply leave it at that. To do otherwise makes human wisdom rather than God’s word our authority.
It is also being affirmed that instrumental music is all right because of the nature of worship. Some would say that there is no specific form nor content for worship commanded in the New Testament. Then they redefine worship to include whatever comes from man’s sincere desire to serve God, so long as it is not explicitly forbidden. Thus, if a person’s desire to serve God expresses itself by using instrumental music in worship, that is acceptable. But this just is not true. When men praise God with music, whatever the circumstances, God has specified the form—singing, and the content—psalms, hymns, and spiritual song (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). There is a vast difference between what God has authorized as worship and what fallible human beings may want to do in their misguided attempts to serve Him.
Another argument being used to justify instrumental music in worship is that we are now under a covenant of grace, not a covenant of law. It almost sounds as if the argument is that we can do things not authorized by God’s law, and His grace will take care of it. Of course, denominational folks have been making this same argument against the necessity of baptism for years. But, again, it is not so. Grace and law are not mutually exclusive. Of course, we are justified by grace, not by law, but this has always been the case. When we sin against God’s law, we can receive forgiveness through His grace as we repent. Yet, He still expects us to keep His “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25) because that is the boundary within which His grace is found. To go beyond it is to remove ourselves from the benefits of His grace.
Surely, no Christian should be a harping hobby-rider on any one subject—be it instrumental music, baptism, institutionalism, divorce, etc.—to the exclusion of other important topics. We must preach the whole counsel of God. But those who do not understand the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Through the years we have been faced with many arguments for instrumental music in worship—“psallo” includes the instrument, instruments are only aids to singing, the Old Testament authorizes instruments, there will be instruments in heaven, etc. We need to be aware of these as well as the more recent arguments and how to answer them from the Scriptures so that we can teach our children, ground those who are babes in Christ, keep those who are weak from falling into this error, maintain the purity of New Testament worship, and generally meet Satan head on as he seeks to conquer us on this issue.
My own family background was in the Christian Church. My grandparents and then my parents left the Christian Church many years ago, and they taught me well why. Like Abraham’s attitude towards that country from which he had come out, I do not seek an opportunity to return to religious error, because I desire something better—the simple truth of God’s word. It is my fervent hope and prayer that we all shall continue to search the Scriptures daily and stand for the truth. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son (2 John v. 9).
—taken from With All Boldness; July, 1990; Vol. 1, No. 2; p. 26