Prohibition and Discretion;
Authority and the Silence of Scripture.
A Study in Church of Christ-non Instrumental Music Restoration “Principles”
Providence often works in our lives in ways we only appreciate in retrospect. God has a way of circumstantially setting certain things before us to serve his Purposes. It was under such circumstantial providence that, for a period of over a year, I found that my drive home from work every afternoon coincided with a radio broadcast on a local AM Christian talk station. The program was hosted by a somewhat fiery preacher who spent day after day preaching a slant on Christian theology and how to understand the Bible that I had never heard before. The more I listened the more disturbed it made me. And the more disturbed I became the more compelled I became to keep listening every day on the way home! Finally, I felt I had heard enough to want to write the man with some of the things that were bothering me about how he was trying to interpret Scripture. It just seemed like something was seriously wrong with his whole take on fundamental interpretational hermeneutics. And he preached with such singular and exclusive certainty, as if that one outlook alone could lead to Salvation. My letter was kind, though one of disagreement and criticism. I wanted him to have the opportunity to reconsider some of his assumptions, especially since he was broadcasting his outlook on a radio call in show, making short work of any callers who disagreed. He was also the pastor of a local church where a whole congregation of Christian believers was undoubtedly being marinated weekly in this stringent outlook that we will shortly delve into as the subject of this paper.
Now I had no idea if my letter would have any impact, be garbage canned, or even read. But, to my surprise, the preacher decided that he would shut down the phone lines for an entire week, and dedicate the on air time to going through my letter, point by point, to set me straight! He sent me the tape series of the week’s broadcasts, as well as two tracts, which I greatly appreciated. For both the on-air programs, and the tracts, really elaborated some of the principles that he had been preaching over the air waves in a way personalized to my own thoughts and concerns. His denominational slant was, I found out, a conservative branch of the American Restoration movement which I came to call the, “Church of Christ non- Instrumental Music”. The prime focus of that outlook lies in two main “principles”. One, “authorization” for any religious action whatsoever requires Bible chapter and verse example. And two, everything else (the silence of Scripture) absolutely prohibits, on pain of losing one’s very Salvation! Without chapter and verse “authority” for even the subtlest detail, one cannot walk in “Faith”.
This pastor’s radio response and associated tracts will be the subject of the following critique which will explore the implications of such a theological perspective, testing all things, as a Berean, to see if what that denominational line says is true. The study will find its initial impetus from the issue of the Church of Christ non Instrumental Music’s doctrinal ban on instrumental music in worship. But, more substantially, it will face more foundational issues that underlie this specific issue. Concepts like, “legalism”, “the silence of Scripture”, “acting in Faith”, “authorization” or “prohibition”, must be rightly understood. These are the real root of discussion here and will lead the discussion to a far ranging set of interconnected issues relevant to those topics besides music. For it is out of these kinds of ways of relating to the Bible and God’s Will that the whole Church of Christ concept of prohibiting musical instruments in church worship arises in the first place, and that specific issue is not the worst result of such teaching of unbiblical “principles”.
I want to reader to understand that I am not trying to be an absolute advocate for instrumental music, in and of itself. The issue from my perspective is not really a desire to argue FOR instrumental music at all. But it is to defend right doctrinal thinking AGAINST what I perceive as a terrible and more general interpretational legalism in how to understand the Bible in ordering our lives as Christians of Faith. If “authority” must be absolutely defined according to specific biblical example only, and the silence of Scripture likewise assumes an absolute “prohibition” on fundamental principal, then the implications of our whole outlook in terms of doctrinal thinking will be pervasively affected. Music is only one example, though admittedly one that seems to stand out as a particularly quirky and eccentric application of an otherwise more general interpretational hermeneutic outlook. The real underlying issue at hand is discovered in considering how to apply meaning to the above terminology I have mentioned when seeking to discover the Truths revealed in Scripture.
I have found that this issue is a very lively one on the internet with much written from the “Church of Christ non-instrumental” perspective. So, it is thus an important one to get right since it is an active controversy in the Church. My letter will therefore be based upon the series of radio broadcasts responding to a letter I sent to the pastor/host of that show concerning the issue of instruments of music in worship (we’ll call him “preacher John”) , the two tracts he sent me, (Earl Robertson’s, “Instrumental Music in Worship” and Mike Willis’, “Why I oppose Instrumental Music in Worship”), and the fruits of some internet related research that includes other like-minded sources opposed to instrumental music in worship on the same basic grounds.
Despite the controversy that faced us, preacher John himself commented on the broadcast series in response to my letter that, “Truth never backs away from investigation.” Thus, he himself heralded the call to do just that; investigate that response and test its assertions, its “principles”, and its arguments in light of a wise and well balanced manner of approaching the Scriptures.
Let me start out by speaking a little about the term “legalism”. On the broadcast the preacher had commented on my accusation that his asserted salvific ban on using instrumental music in church services amounted to legalism. Having looked the term up, he said,
“Legalism. Strict, often too strict and literal adherence to the Law. That was the first definition. The 2nd definition was, “In theology, the doctrine of Salvation by good works. Now if the gentlemen believes... that I am teaching or that I believe the Bible teaches that I can earn my Salvation via my good works, then that’s wrong. I don’t believe that. And I do not believe that the Bible teaches that I can earn my Salvation or put God in debt to me so that He owes me my Salvation.”
Yet that is not the limit of what defines “legalism”. What we are speaking of in our instance, for example, is what one might call “reverse-legalism”. That is, the principle of legalism is just as valid in cases of overly strict, man made religious prohibitions doctrinally tied in as absolute requirements to Salvation, as it is for overly strict, man made mandates. So his response merely begged the question. The issue is not whether he was asserting “works” as something that must be adhered to be saved. It is that he was asserting prohibitions that must be adhered to in order to be saved. Whether they are legitimate and biblical prohibitions, or manmade religious doctrines, will determine whether they are examples of legalistic false teaching or not. In his case it is not that he was teaching, “that I can earn my Salvation via my good works”, but it is instead that he was teaching that we will lose our very Salvation if we don’t abide by his interpretation of what defines Scriptural authority, and the associated concept of an otherwise blanket, tacit, and absolute prohibitive silence of Scripture. This, I will argue, is wrong for some definitive reasons.
I had heard preacher John assert on his call in program on numerous occasions that the use of instruments of music in worship would be “vain” and that God would absolutely and totally reject any such worship. This would not necessarily prove that he legalistically attached Salvation itself to this doctrinal prohibition, but it was pretty indicative of it. So, I researched what some of the other Church of Christ non-instrumental churches, preachers, and tracts had to say. I was, in fact, able to nail down the fact that this denomination does attach our very Salvation to the abstinence from musical instruments in worshiping God. From the Berea Church of Christ webpage called, Why The Church of Christ Worships Without Instruments of Music! http://www.berea.com/cc/whychrisworship.htm, we find minister Charles E. Moore telling us that,
“Why take a chance on losing your soul simply because we like something, especially if that something is not authorized by the Word of God?”
At url http://www.bibleweb.com/library/jh-im4.html, the web page entitled,
Instrumental Music in Worship: Final Notes, has Jeff Himmel of the Spring Warrior Church of Christ concluding his series on the issue saying,
“To add musical instruments, however we might enjoy them, is to "exceed what is written" ... It is a dangerous assumption that puts souls at risk.”
From the tract preacher John shared with me entitled Instrumental Music in Worship by Earl Robertson, we find Mr. Robertson directly linking abstinence from musical instruments in worship to Salvation, asserting that to use musical instruments to worship God is equal to rebelling against the authority of Christ, and thus, he says, “essential to Salvation”. He goes on to argue the point that, “Any action outside the teaching of Jesus is fatal”. Thus, since his whole point throughout the tract is to try to demonstrate that use of instrumental music in worship is absolutely against the teaching of Jesus, his assertion is to then attach the prohibition against using musical instruments in worship to our very Salvation.
Finally, from the other tract I received entitled, “Why I oppose Instrumental Music in Worship”, we find that Mike Willis goes so far as to say that, “The punishment of Hell will come upon those who step outside the boundaries of God’s Word in their worship.” Of course he is, in context, referring specifically to the use of instrumental music in church.
It needs to be made clear that indeed we do need to, abstain from what God does not want us to do, respect the authority of Christ, and not violate God’s Word in worship. The point here is that it is the writers’ assumptions that using musical instruments violates these needs and that the violation of the absolute prohibitive nature of Scripture’s silence is one that amounts to losing one’s very Salvation. That assumption needs to be tested. I will argue that the arguments supporting that accusation all fail. In their failure, the doctrines of absolute prohibition of the silence of Scripture, and its application with respect to a prohibition against using instruments of music in worship, will be revealed as nothing more than unbiblical, man made religion. As such, these doctrines absolutely fit the category of false legalism; binding up the people in unbiblical restrictions upon which their Salvation is said to be dependent.
The “principles” Church of Christ Non Instrumental Music proponents preach that underlie our issue of prohibiting instrumental music in worship lie in three main areas. They assert that the silence of Scripture presumes absolute doctrinal prohibition. Any action one might presume to take, “stepping out”, as they say, into the silence of Scripture, is absolutely to be considered forbidden by God and violating this principle will result in the loss of Salvation according to this denomination’s doctrinal line of thought. In line with this principle, they thus define “authorized” very narrowly as being limited to only what Scripture gives explicit example of. Lastly, they assert that these two principles define the limits of how we may act in “Faith”, only allowing action where Scripture overtly gives specific demonstration, and considering silence as otherwise absolutely prohibitive.
I want to deal now with the concept that the silence of Scripture assumes an absolute prohibition. Commenting on the “principle” that “silence prohibits”, I had said that God never fails to point out what God really hates. Preacher John of the radio talk show made the following response;
“You sure about that?...Well, do you know any place that the Bible specifically condemns suicide? I don’t. Do you know any place where it specifically condemns child pornography? No. How about arson? No. How about drug abuse? No. How about gambling? No. Are there principles? Yes. That’s the point.”
I think these comments specifically help to reveal that his principle about silence as absolutely prohibitive is a mistaken human concept, not the Bible’s. Let me explain why. The principle Church of Christ apologists teach of silence as prohibitive asserts that silence absolutely prohibits...PERIOD! It is a simple, flat, and absolute assertion. Yet silence does not always prohibit. Silence, at times, gives reasonable discretion. When silence prohibits, it is because, despite the absence of explicit prohibition by immediate example, there really hasn’t been an absence of clear direction that would govern that action at all. None of the examples our radio host mentioned above (suicide, child pornography, arson, drug abuse, or gambling) are things that Scripture is really “silent” in terms of condemning, even though not detailed by specific name. Silence does prohibit in those instances distinctly because they are actions that carry fundamental moral implications, in and of themselves, that violate absolute moral standards that are overt in Scripture. Suicide, in and of itself, is murder. Child pornography, in and of itself, is sexual sin. Arson, in and of itself, is violence against a neighbor and their property. Drug abuse, in and of itself, is inherently evil for the same reasons abuse of alcohol (another drug) is. And gambling, in and of itself, openly violates the biblical principle of stewardship. These are not really arguments from an absolute silence at all are they? Scripture is clear in condemning them on general principle as fundamental evils, in any context of consideration. Thus, they are not parallel examples to compare to use of musical instruments in worshiping God in Church. Playing musical instruments, as preacher John himself had often conceded, is not, in and of itself, a moral question. Certainly we agree that worshiping God and going to church are simply good. We find that the circumstances that define the context for silence surrounding the issue of playing instruments in church is completely different than that of the inherently evil actions that preacher John asserted as comparative parallel examples. It is reasonable, even inarguable, that silence prohibits in the instances of pornography or suicide because they are actions that inherently carry moral implications that Scripture is not silent about. It is not the case for strumming a guitar to accompany a hymn. The Church of Christ argument here is a non sequitur that uses unlike things in an invalid comparison.
In another spot on the broadcast preacher John commented,
“Everybody who is of a religious nature has a view related to the silence of the Scripture. Everybody, whether they realize it or not. And it really boils down to one of two views. People believe that the silence of the Scripture authorizes. In other words, in an area about which the Bible is silent we can do anything we want in the name of religion. The other view is that the silence of the Scriptures prohibits or condemns...and that’s the view that the Bible itself expresses....”
But that is a false dichotomy. There aren’t just two extreme and absolute views at opposite ends of a polarity for us to choose from. Based upon a proper understanding of just what has been said in a given situation, we will discover that silence does at times prohibit, but at other times invites reasonable discretion. Silence does not always carry the same implications. Silence prohibits, when it does, for very observable and definite reasons that are not always present in every situation.
What are these specific conditions that make silence prohibitive? For one, when action not explicitly prohibited still carries objective inherent moral implications that we are otherwise still responsible for knowing, silence then does prohibit. Like the child who pokes his brother in the eye, only to complain that he was only told not to hit him, but no one said he couldn’t poke him in the eye, we know when one command or prohibition covers a wider range in its absolute moral implications and intent than any one specific example need cover exhaustively. All of preacher John’s above examples fit that category of “silence”. That is, silence that prohibits because of an action’s association with clear biblical moral principles which make us responsible for knowing that this action or that action falls under a wider biblical moral umbrella.
Another condition under which silence is prohibitive is when detail is explicitly emphasized as being singularly specific, and especially when even accompanied by attendant warnings against any change. Then silence otherwise prohibits. God is sovereign. He can command singularly limited specificity regardless of how trivial such details might seem to us. Yet when He does, the context is clear. One good biblical example of this condition of prohibitive silence exists in the dramatic emphasis God placed on the subtle details of the Old Testament sacrifice, and the dire warnings that bade men not to dare change any of those details. Once commanded in their elaborate and subtle detail, silence otherwise prohibits because the unchangeably singular specificity in detail was itself exclusively inherent in the command.
Less relevant to our study, but another condition wherein silence prohibits, is when the context of what has been said logically, precludes the possibility of change. Then too silence prohibits. In other words, the implications of an overt command or prohibition may logically preclude even the possibility of other actions not specified. When God made Moses the leader of the people, that assignment, by definition, precluded any one else from fulfilling that role at that time. Only one person could be that leader. Some things preclude others by definition of their inherent exclusivity. Then, obviously, silence prohibits change. Singularity in ownership more than implies exclusivity beyond which silence prohibits the possibility of change. If I give you five dollars, I don’t have to list all of the people I am not giving the money to. The rational concept of singularity in ownership assumes exclusivity. But this is not the case with the issue of instrumental accompaniment in worship. “Singing” does not logically preclude “accompaniment”.
Apart from these conditions, I cannot find a legitimate reason to say that silence prohibits. Outside of these conditions, silence invites reasonable discretion. And that’s a LOT of the time, both Biblically (as in our issue of instrumental music in worship), or just in the common everyday way we communicate with one another.
Again, the “silence” of Scripture is not always “silent” in the same way, and playing musical instruments doesn’t fit the categories of “silence” that I just described (and that define all of preacher John’s examples), wherein silence can carry an implicit prohibition. Use of instruments of music isn’t a fundamental moral issue like pornography is. It does not exist in a context of emphasized detail with attendant warnings against any possibility of changes or additions. And there is no logical necessity concerning singing that would preclude the possibility of accompaniment. Thus, while we can say that silence doctrinally prohibits pornography, (a fundamental biblical moral principal is inherently being violated), we need to recognize that that context of silence is utterly different than the one surrounding the issue of instrumental music in New Testament worship. When we study that context we find no such implicit prohibition from Scripture’s silence. That’s what makes the Church of Christ prohibition an example of man made legalism, doctrinally insisting, upon pain of loss of Salvation, that such an unbiblical prohibition is Scriptural.
Now if one argues that violating God’s authority is the fundamental issue of morality that makes playing instrumental music in Church evil, then one has to demonstrate biblically how doing something innocent (playing musical instruments), in the service of doing something absolutely good (worshiping God in church), violates a fundamental moral biblical principle. As was demonstrated above, all of the other proof texts used by Church of Christ apologists to try to demonstrate that such a violation occurs if musical instruments are involved in church music also fail in a similar fashion. They are all invalid, non parallel examples, as we shall shortly see. The whole point here is to demonstrate that one can’t necessarily just assume a biblical prohibition against musical instruments in worship out of just the silence of Scripture, because silence does not always prohibit and condemn. Observably, the whole Church of Christ line of argument depends upon the false, blanket assumption that silence always condemns and prohibits. It is a fatal flaw in that theological perspective. For silence often assumes and invites reasonable discretion. Silence does not automatically imply the absolute prohibition of otherwise innocent action.
I used the concept of a kid poking his brother in the eye to show how we really know that one kind of silence that prohibits, does so because some actions that haven’t been given an explicit prohibition, still clearly fall under the moral blanket of things otherwise commanded or prohibited. Let’s look at some every day examples preacher John used. They too will help show that, conversely, there is an aspect of “silence” that HAS TO give reasonable discretion, and we all know it and assume it in every day life. Preacher John said several times in the broadcast series,
“How many of you who are parents out there want your children to feel they are authorized to do whatever you are silent about...How many of you business owners want your employees to feel that they are authorized to do whatever you are silent about. Silence prohibits. Why don’t we give God the same consideration?”
But what we really expect from our kids, and employees, is that they will consider our silence to prohibit only in terms of our having expressed clearly the reasonable intention which we want them to abide by. More specificity in detail is understood to necessitate a need for us to communicate specifically beyond general intent when and if special directions in detail are required. When an action is morally neutral, and an action taken in discretion would not violate the intention we gave them, or otherwise negate specific requirements overtly declared, we expect them to use common sense and good judgment and to exercise reasonable discretion. It bears repeating the key condition of authentic communication here, that if there are otherwise innocent actions that we want to specifically exclude from possibility anyway, we graciously must communicate those explicit restrictions, realizing that , for actions that carry no inherent moral implications against our expressed general intention, we need to make desired prohibitions explicit. WE, as authority figures, are responsible for showing, beyond our silence, where those kinds of actions are to be prohibited. This is reasonable, kind, and the natural way in which we always communicate.
If my daughter asks me if she can make a ham sandwich, and I say yes, she has, at that point, reasonable discretion with which to make her sandwich. My silence does not prohibit her from using anything besides the bread and ham that were conveyed, or “authorized” explicitly. In fact, if your child started asking for specific “authority” for each specific ingredient that she could add to her sandwich, considering nothing authorized but the ham and bread, she would quickly irritate any parent in her lack of exercising common sense and the reasonable discretion that we all assume. If she gets into the Muenster cheese that Dad had reserved for himself, whether or not she violated reasonable discretion will depend upon whether she was responsible for knowing in advance that it was off limits. After all, we share our intentions imperfectly and sometimes fail to set specific limits on otherwise innocent actions that we don’t want taken. Thus, analogies are imperfect. God, however, is not such an imprecise communicator. Knowing that silence often gives reasonable discretion, not just prohibition, God does indeed always, either give us the moral background to know when silence prohibits, or, explicitly prohibit when action he does not desire is otherwise innocent. Else falls for us under reasonable discretion. He told Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit in the Garden. The prohibition not to eat the specific apple from the specific tree was an absolutely necessary explicit prohibition distinctly because eating apples, like playing music on the piano, is not a moral issue. It reasonably requires an explicit prohibition if one is desired.
So I say again, God never fails to point out what God really hates. And yes, I am sure about that. I am sure because it assumes the normal, rational way in which we must communicate and function in life as thinking, sentient creatures, and that God, in his Grace, would not confuse us concerning. I am sure about it because the concept that, “silence condemns, silence prohibits” as a flat absolute, is absolutely wrong. Silence often gives reasonable discretion, and we all know it. God never fails to point out what he hates, either by way of inherent background moral prohibition that we all know (Romans 1), Explicit biblical moral principles under which many actions are understandably covered, or specifically expressed sovereign prohibition when he desires restriction on otherwise innocent action (evil apples as opposed to innocent ones).
Thus, one of the fundamental planks of the theological “principles” that govern Church of Christ non Instrumental Music biblical interpretation is wrong. The fact of the matter is that silence does not always prohibit and condemn. Ham sandwiches can have mustard or mayo...or neither, beyond explicit “authorization” for such additions. Likewise, music offered in reverence to God in Church may be accompanied or A Cappella. It’s one of those kinds of actions that do, in fact, require an explicit biblical prohibition if we are going to doctrinalize one. None exists in Scripture.
Neither does any doctrinally compelling one, with contemporary relevance, confront us from history. There have been many arguments citing Church Father’s and various protestant leader’s opposition to instruments of music in the church. Most websites I found that were dedicated to an apologetic against instrumental music in worship (and also the two tracts that were sent to me) included sections which developed such arguments as proofs that their doctrinal prohibition was “biblical”. Besides the fact that those arguments are irrelevant to the Church of Christ non Instrumental Music doctrinal perspective that only gains authority (permission) by overt demonstration from New Testament chapter and verse example (non biblical historical sources are not sources of “authority”), we should recognize historically that instruments of music were opposed in the early centuries of the church for reasons often related to historical context that does not apply to us today. There was a direct association with competing pagan religions of the time that used musical instruments. Also, despite the direct influence of Jewish singing forms in the earliest Christian worship, there was a perceived need contemporary to the first half of church history, to more clearly make some definitive breaks with the Jewish rites and practices. Thus, Thomas Aquinas (Catholic theologian about 1250) could assert that: “Our church does not use mechanical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.''
The point here is that to impose those archaic historic considerations on today’s church is completely anachronistic. We don’t need to clarify the separation of Christianity from Judaism today as was formerly deemed necessary. By now doctrinal clarity establishes clear lines of demarcation. We don’t have to depend upon superficial stylistic differences to delineate the two religions. There is no fear that use of instruments will, “seem to Judaize”, in today’s Christian worship. Likewise, in the same way that the Jehovah’s Witnesses arguments against celebrating birthdays, Christmas or Easter on grounds of past historic pagan roots are utterly invalid in their anachronistic legalism, so too we don’t need to doctrinally eliminate musical accompaniment out of some fear that it too will be too closely associated with what was formerly some competing pagan cult religion in the New Testament historic context. Even if those religions still existed in our contemporary historic setting, the subsequently established doctrinal delineation that has occurred across the millennia no longer requires dependence upon trivial stylistic distinctions to establish distinct theological identity. The early church Fathers, in one sense, very validly rejected instruments of music for contemporary historic reasons that simply don’t exist as considerations today.
Beyond that, the fact of the matter is that while certain of the Church Fathers, or various ground breaking protestant leaders, have every right to voice a general negative opinion on use of musical instruments in the Church setting, (or any of a number of other issues), we can’t necessarily assume a doctrinal position based upon their opinion as if it was normative revelation. Such sources are helpful and should be considered, but are not proofs and are not always necessarily absolutely correct in any given instance. Significantly, they don’t fill in the gap of Scripture’s silence with a, “thus saith the Lord”, prohibition. You see, the problem here is not one of the Church of Christ’s expressing a “preference” based upon either historic or biblical arguments. Preacher John asserts a biblical injunction prohibiting under pain of lost Salvation. One might legitimately argue for a preference on such an issue for noble reasons and act upon it in good conscience. However, one cannot, as preacher John does, legitimately create a salvific prohibition over this issue as if it were a fundamental biblical principle. That’s false legalism.
It needs to be shown that in the instance of instrumental music in worship, the silence of Scripture grants discretion, not a tacit command of prohibition. The most effective way in which I can hope to demonstrate that preacher John’s flat, prohibitive perspective is wrong, is to root out, point by point, the invalid nature of all of his examples and proof texts related to this issue, as well as those of the tracts and websites I had discovered. As the arguments fall, one by one, they will strip away the facade of asserted biblical authority to ultimately reveal that the prohibition is not biblical at all. It is a manmade prohibition no less than the ceremonial hand washing requirements of the Pharisees; the tradition and religion of man; one that needs to be repented of.
I have already demonstrated how the earlier examples preacher John had cited of pornography, drug abuse, etc, were utterly unlike, non-comparative examples that did not at all parallel the consideration of using instrumental music in church. Indeed, none of his asserted instances were examples of discretionary silence. They were all the little boy poking his brother in the eye, knowing that such action was clearly prohibited under broader categories of responsibility. Let’s look at some other invalid examples asserted as being “like” comparatives with playing musical instruments in the Worship service.
In the broadcast series the following excerpt is relevant here. When I said to preacher John that his “principles” of authority and prohibition were being legalistically applied to spiritually trivial, non doctrinal items like musical instruments in the Church he responded,
“Well I have a question to ask. Who calls it trivial? Who calls it trivial? I think back to old Nadab and Abiu back in Leviticus Chapter 10. Let me ask you this my friends. Do you think where somebody gets fire is a trivial matter?...Because Nadab and Abiu were consumed with fire from heaven because they got their fire to burn the incense, which fire still burned the incense, it still smelled the same, from a different source than that which God has authorized. You know what. I think it’s kind of trivial; if you get it from a match; if you get it from camp fire; if you get it from the AUTHORIZED fire off of the altar before God, or if you get it from a lighter.” ...God didn’t think it was trivial.”
But anyone who reads Exodus from chapter 28 on knows that God was very singularly specific in all of the detail that he commanded of the priests and that that detail was not a matter of discretion, but was specifically part and parcel of what God explicitly demanded. There is no comparison to the general admonition to sing in the New Testament, distinctly absent any such warnings concerning exclusive detail, with the lengthy and highly detailed specificity of God’s commands concerning the Old Testament sacrifice. God uses terms that make it clear in the Old Testament case that he is specifying detail apart from which there is clear prohibition when he uses phrases like, “just so you shall construct it.” or Leviticus 16:13,
"He shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die.”
Detail was exhaustive, specific, and greatly emphasized as vital throughout this entire context in a way it simply is not when considering the admonition to sing in the New Testament Church. God warns in the Old Testament instance concerning the details of the sacrifice that failure to obey the details he is setting forth precisely will be punished. It is in this context that at Leviticus 16:12, God tells Moses that,
"He (the priest) shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil.”
Nadab and Abiu didn’t heed God’s clear command to obey His detailed instructions, ones in which the context carried warnings that everything had to be done in a precise manner, and that anything else was sin. Thus, Nadab and Adieu disobeyed clear and specific commands of God, the relevance to our issue of which included attendant warnings not to change the details he had specified. This is simply not parallel with preacher John’s reading a prohibition against musical instruments into New Testament silence, where no such context specifying exclusively singular detail exists concerning music in worship. There is a huge difference between the mention of singing, absent the mention of accompaniment in the relevant New Testament passages, and the Old Testament command here for specific detail with attendant warnings not to alter that specified detail.
Also, if one accompanies a song, (such action being innocent in and of itself, and something that God has not specified a prohibition against), one observably still sings the song. However, if one gets fire from somewhere other than where God has specified (His having made specifically clear that the specifics are of grave importance and changing them is disobedient) then this is NOT merely an “addition” like accompaniment is. It is an utter “replacement” of specific detail that God has commanded. It is disobedience, negating what God said to do in a context wherein He is particularly emphasizing specific importance of specified detail without possibility of any deviation. Here we have a case where silence prohibits because God has specified detail explicitly to the exclusion of anything else. This is not the case in the New Testament passages that tell us to sing to the Lord. We do not replace or negate singing in the accompaniment of song in New Testament worship. Thus, again, the two examples are not comparative parallels at all.
Preacher John went on to say,
“I think about Uzzah. They’re transporting the Ark of the Covenant. They go across the threshing floor... it begins to fall off of the ox cart...and Uzzah stuck his hand up to keep the Ark of the Covenant... from falling. Trivial. But not according to God. Uzzah was struck dead. So my question is who calls it “trivial”.”
My question is, where’s the parallel to preacher John’s prohibition from silence for instrumental music in worship? For Uzzah, whatever his intention, directly disobeyed a direct prohibition against touching the Ark or any of the “holy things” associated with the Tent of meeting! (Numbers 4:4) For even those responsible for carrying the holy things were warned that, “...they must not touch the holy things or they will die.” (Num 4:15) Both at Num 4:19 and Joshua 3:4 we find that it was clearly understood that even coming near the ark could be fatal. It was an explicit understanding that touching the Ark of the Covenant was a deadly serious violation of God’s Will. Silence has nothing to do with Uzzah’s disobedience.
Elsewhere in the radio broadcast preacher John made the following argument in support of an argument from silence as being biblically prohibitive;
“In Acts Chapter 15 my friends there was... a council. And the problem that they dealt with...related to Gentiles in the Church. And there were many Jewish Christians who were going about to the various Gentile churches and saying that they had to be circumcised. And that they had to keep various aspects of the Law of Moses in order to be saved. That was creating quite a significant problem because it was absolutely contrary to everything Paul was teaching as he went to the Gentiles... Look at Acts chapter 15, ...It says,... ‘...For as much as we have heard that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls saying ye must be circumcised and keep the Law to whom we gave no such commandment.’ The reason those Jewish Christians were wrong in what they were saying is because they didn’t have the authority to say it! And the reason they didn’t have the authority to say was because no such commandment had been given to them. About that matter there had been silence. And because silence had been prevalent concerning those issues, they were not authorized to teach it.”
But preacher John himself gives indication of the reason why this was no prohibition from silence. For he himself notes that what they were teaching was, “absolutely contrary to everything Paul was teaching as he went to the Gentiles...”. About that matter there had not been silence at all. They were wrong to teach what they were teaching distinctly because it was counter to what had been clearly taught by Paul, for which they were responsible. We see that preacher John’s misuse of Ch 15:24 is eisegesis, reading his doctrinal presupposition into a text that doesn’t mean or demonstrate what he wants it to say. For before that, in chapter 15: 7 Luke tells us that;
“...Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
Note that Peter says that, “some time ago”, God had made it clear that He had already accepted the Gentiles, uncircumcised as they were. It was clear from Scripture that those teaching a legalistic mandate to be circumcised as a Jew, were in opposition to the Scriptures, even the Old Testament. For James goes on to comment at Acts 15: 13;
“..."Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this...”
They weren’t wrong because the Apostles hadn’t given them some explicit authorization to teach their circumcision doctrine. That’s eisegesis, reading meaning into the text that simply isn’t there. They were wrong because, as preacher John himself contradictorily noted, what they were teaching was, “...absolutely contrary to everything Paul was teaching as he went to the Gentiles...”. It was also absolutely contrary to the Scriptures, even the Old Testament prophets according to James in the passage. The false teachers in this passage did not, “step out in silence”, to seek authority. They rebelled against what was already openly being taught, and even demonstrable from the Written Word. Thus, again, there simply is no parallel with the use of instruments of music in New Testament worship here.
In another on-air argument preacher John asserted the following attempt to demonstrate that silence prohibits;
“I want to show you how the Bible uses silence and what the Bible tells us about silence. In Hebrews chapter 7 beginning in verse 11 the Hebrew writer said, "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood whereby the people received the Law what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedech and not be called after the order of Aaron. For the priesthood being changed there is made of necessity a change of the Law. For He of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe of which no man gave attendance at the altar For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood.’
In other words my friends Moses was silent about men of Judah being priests under the Levitical system...What that means is that Jesus could not be a priest on Earth unless the Law was changed. And the reason being was the old Law specified where priests were to come from; the tribe of Levi. About the tribe of Judah, nothing, silence. Does that not teach, is it not indeed not the whole point of that passage that the silence prohibited?...My friends you can go from Genesis Ch1 al the way through the last chapter of the book of Malachi, and search for a passage that says, “men of Judah cannot be priests under the Levitical priesthood” and you won’t find it. It’s not there. About it, God was silent. But they couldn’t be because He was silent. You see my friends, silence prohibits. Silence, condemns.”
The point here is that the “Law” (God) wasn’t really silent at all. God (and Moses) was silent about specific prohibitions distinctly because they were rendered unnecessary by way of the implications inherent in the specifics of God’s overt command. That’s why the Hebrew writer recognizes an absolute need for a change in the Law. If it wasn’t explicit in the Law formally, there would be no need to likewise formally and explicitly change it. God was explicit as to just who exclusively could belong to the priesthood according to the established Old Testament Law. Preacher John finds an instance of the word “silent” and, again, pours an entire edifice of doctrinal intent into a passage that in no way is trying to argue support for the doctrine of an absolute, across the boards prohibition from the silence of Scripture. Obviously the Hebrew writer isn’t contradicting himself. His mention of Moses being “silent” concerning the tribe of Judah is not to presume that the Law wasn’t explicit in its having exclusively given the tribe of Levi the priesthood. Preacher John himself concedes that, “the old Law specified where priests were to come from.” Yet he fails to recognize that only in certain objectively identifiable cases such as this does silence prohibit. For in the details of that specificity of the Law concerning who could be priests, an explicit exclusivity was established for the tribe of Levi, not just a role loosely assigned that would require any further prohibition. This, once again, is utterly different than the silence of the New Testament concerning accompanimental instruments in the worship service. There is no such scriptural exclusivity ever expressed on that subject; just an absence of mention concerning details such as accompaniment, which preacher John himself concedes is an inherently innocent activity, and even a formerly biblically demonstrated positive tool in the service of worship and singing.
The “whole point” in Hebrews was only to show that the Law (specific rules of allowance explicitly limiting who the priests could be) was necessarily changed in order to allow for Jesus as an eternal priest of a completely superior order of qualitative difference than the old. The point of the story is to magnify the glory of Jesus’ eternal priesthood, not argue the prohibitive silence of Scripture! God was very explicit in granting that priestly right only to that tribe in the Old Testament Law. And it is distinctly that context of God’s explicitly exclusive command that establishes the prohibitive silence of Moses concerning the Old Testament priesthood.
Preacher John says that since “Moses spake nothing of the tribe of Judah” as priests, that the “silence” of Scripture is thereby proven as absolutely prohibitive. But the fact is that Moses silence prohibits distinctly because the Old Testament clearly and absolutely denied anyone besides Levi the authority to be priests. Judah wasn’t specifically prohibited, because they fell under the general, universal prohibition that no one but Levi could be priests. The singularly exclusive command of God that no one except those of the tribe of Levi could be priests, is what establishes an otherwise prohibitive context of silence. Yes, as preacher John said, “You can go from Genesis Chapter 1 all the way through the last chapter of the book of Malachi, and search for a passage that says, “Men of Judah cannot be priests under the Levitical priesthood” and you won’t find it.” But the fact is that what you will find from many examples is an openly exclusive command of God that no one but the Levites could be priests, so that the tacit prohibition exists only because the positive command was absolutely clear, exclusive, and one specifically precluding anyone else. Judah fell under the obvious blanket prohibition established by God’s explicit biblical command. It is a context of silence that has nothing to do with the issue of Scripture’s silence concerning use of musical instruments, wherein there is no such exclusivity formally established for singing that explicitly excludes or precludes anything and everything else.
“... Of all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the Tent of Meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary. Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the LORD commanded Moses.”
Here we see that, “of all the Israelites”, God overtly set apart only the Levites in his “command” to Moses. God’s explicit singular specificity here establishes a context of prohibitive silence beyond which silence prohibits because what is commanded clearly and formally in Scripture makes it so. This is simply not the case with the issue of instrumental music in the relevant New Testament passages.
This concept of the Levites being singularly “set apart” comes up several times in Scripture, and again, establishes a formal singularity in God’s command as to who could be priests.
"Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests.”
“Then tie sashes on Aaron and his sons. The priesthood is theirs by a lasting ordinance.”
“ At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today.”
Let’s look at another indication in Scripture certifying the singularity of the Levitical priesthood. The command of God that the Levites, as priestly tribe, would alone lose their normal rights for inheritance, again establishes their formal singularity as priests wherein their inheritance alone would be out of the tithe as the priests of the people.
“ The priests, who are Levites-indeed the whole tribe of Levi-are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the offerings made to the Lord by fire, for that is their inheritance.”
“The Levites, however, do not get a portion among you, because the priestly service of the LORD is their inheritance.”
Again, silence thus prohibits distinctly because God has specified exclusively concerning the Levitical priesthood in a way that is utterly absent from the issue of instrumental music in worship. The two contexts of silence are qualitatively different, one assuming a prohibition in silence, but the other inviting reasonable discretion.
And this singularity in terms of the priesthood is expressed as an, “ordinance” and a “covenant” of God. In other words a formal exclusivity asserted in Scripture itself as a “thus saith the Lord” command. This is a command of exclusive singularity utterly absent from the issue of instrumental music in New Testament worship.
“It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting and bear the responsibility for offenses against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites.”
“And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue," says the LORD Almighty.”
Malachi 28 “But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi," says the LORD Almighty.”
Finally, we find that the biblical context of silence surrounding the Levitical priesthood is also one in which silence prohibits out of that third category of prohibitive silence I had described; that of logical necessity. For if only Levites could touch the holy things or the Ark, then everyone else is excluded by logical definition of that prohibition. Thus, no one, including Judah, need be listed specifically as they all fall under the logically observable impossibility of being priests when they can’t handle any of the instruments of worship.
"After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die.”
1 Chronicles 15:2;
“Then David said, "No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the LORD chose them to carry the ark of the LORD and to minister before him forever."
“Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who goes near it shall be put to death.”
Scripture goes so far as to specify that Levites alone got no inheritance because their inheritance (their very livelihood as a profession and inheritance from generation to generation for their offspring’s benefit) was to be given them only out of the tithes, “from the Lord” as the priestly tribe. No one else had their means of inheritance so replaced as part of God’s own defining aspect of the priesthood. The exclusivity that God attached to only the tribe of Levi, owning exclusively, as it were, that function and profession within the people is clear and explicit. It is even specified as a “covenant” that God had with them alone. And the details of God’s covenant with the Levites wherein they alone could touch and handle the objects of worship creates a logical impossibility precluding anyone else being able to function as a priest, formally and by definition. No one but the Levites could handle the objects of worship. Thus, by logical extension, no one could be priests except Levites.
Moses’ silence concerning other tribes is thus of a very definite type. It is a silence that exists within the context of God’s explicit and universal prohibition against anyone else besides Levites being priests. God had given that right to Levi alone as expressed openly and clearly in Scripture. Moses’ “silence” in that he “spake nothing of Judah” is a qualitatively different silence than the discretionary silence by which instruments of music are merely not mentioned in New Testament passages.
So preacher John’s point that asserts a blanket absolute prohibition of the silence of Scripture is again defeated by observation of another of his unlike and invalid comparisons which lump together qualitatively different contexts of silence. When specificity is either implicitly or explicitly singularly exclusive in nature, then silence prohibits. When logical necessity creates a context of silence that assumes prohibition then silence prohibits. Such is the case with the Old Testament priesthood, as made so in the Law and the observed need to have to formally change it for Jesus to be allowed as a priest. But such is not the case in the New Testament passages relating to singing. No change in the “Law” is required to strum along with a hymn. No logical preclusion exists for accompaniment when Scripture tells us to sing. There silence invites reasonable discretion. Preacher John consistently fails to distinguish the very different contexts in which the implications of silence change. The differences in these contexts objectively exist in any event and can’t be carelessly mixed as he once again attempts to do.
Asserting the doctrine of silence of Scripture as being absolutely prohibitive preacher John says,
“In 2nd John 9 John said, “Whosoever transgretheth or goes beyond, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God.” Now let me ask you, If God hasn’t said it, and you do it, are you abiding? No.”
But the context of this passage relates to belief in Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ having “come in the flesh” and those whose false teaching would deny this. The NASB translates the passage, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God...” So the question is, does accompaniment deny that Jesus came in the flesh? Does accompanimental music “go too far” and fail to abide by Jesus’ teaching? The answer is, no it doesn’t. Directly put, Jesus did not teach concerning music in worship. There is no prohibition, or any command with an implicit prohibition, to be found in any Gospel passage related to the issue of music in worship. Where Jesus’ teaching is concerned, and across the whole New Testament landscape, the silence that exists in relation to that subject is one of reasonable discretion. Jesus has not, as in preacher John’s Old Testament examples, specified concerning music in any way that is exclusively restrictive of accompanimental music. There is no inherent background moral issue creating prohibitive silence. Nor is there any logical necessity precluding discretion concerning music in worship.
Preacher John later said,
“Is it adding to the Word to say if God doesn’t said it don’t do it? Or is it adding to the Word to say that if God doesn’t say it let’s do it anyway? Which one’s adding to the Word?
But he frames the issue, once again, in a simplistic way that creates a straw man. For the fact of the matter is that if, “God doesn’t say it”, we may indeed find evidence in a given situation that does create a tacit prohibition. But, as previously elaborated, we may conversely find that silence invites reasonable discretion in a different situation. Indeed, silence does not offer the simplistic invitation to just go ahead and “do it anyway” as an absolute license, any more than silence absolutely prohibits. One must rightly respect the context of silence surrounding an issue which may either prohibit, or may offer discretion. Again, the example of instrumental music in worship cannot be legitimately argued to exist in a biblical context of prohibitive silence.
Another proof text preacher John used to argue an absolute prohibition from the silence of scripture is 1st Peter 4:11.
“Over in 1st Peter Ch 4:11 Peter said, “If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God.” Well what does that mean, except if you’re going to talk, talk where God has spoken. If you’re not going to talk where God has spoken than you’re not speaking as the oracles of God. If you venture out to find authority in the silence of the Scriptures what have you done? You’re speaking where God has not spoken. You’re going beyond that which is authorized. You are out in that realm of the nebulous area of man’s authority and man’s authority is not good enough. It either comes from heaven or it comes from man. And if God has not spoken on the subject, which He has not concerning instruments of music, then you are out there in man’s authority and that’s not good enough.”
But, in terms of speaking only “as the oracles of God” we have already seen that God does, in a very observable sense, communicate in His silence. How we discern the intent and meaning of silence is part of how we must approach the Scripture so as to speak only “as the oracles of God”. Preacher John himself asserts as much when he assumes that God always and formally speaks prohibition in silence. But I have already demonstrated that God often invites reasonable discretion in His silence, as we all do at times. Here preacher John abuses the text in his assumption that God’s silence only communicates prohibition to us. That is a false assumption that 1st Peter does nothing to support. When we speak “as the oracles of God” we sometimes have to discern the context of silence to do that. Sometimes it will mandate prohibition. But at other times (as in the case of instruments of music in worship) the oracles of God will grant discretion. Once again, the false underpinning assumption that preacher John works from (that silence always prohibits) drives all of his interpretation toward a false doctrinal outlook and creates a mind set that skews his understanding of the very “oracles” he is to be faithful to.
Preacher John’s on air response to my observation of this is relevant here. I had said,
“You’re reading between the lines adding spiritual mandates of prohibition to God’s Word while admitting that the lines themselves aren’t even there where the Bible is silent.”
Preacher John responded,
“That is a clever way of wording it. But the problem is he is still out there where there is no authority. Seeking authority in the realm of silence and neither this gentlemen nor anybody else does that in any other walk of life.”
But really, upon deeper thought and meditation, and through the process of forming this response, it occurs to me that there are, in fact, lines to be read in-between what God says in Scripture. The problem is that the various contexts in which God’s silence exists VARY in the implications of that silence, depending upon just what He has said. Those tacit lines of communication that lie inherent between the lines of what God has said can only be rightly understood if we carefully discern whether His silence is prohibitive, or discretionary. From what God has overtly declared there will sometimes be a silence that otherwise prohibits. But not always. Sometimes we will find that the circumstances of His silence grant flexibility in choice, latitude; discretion. In reality, what, “neither this gentlemen nor anybody else does…in any other walk of life”, is to try to function rationally or authentically within an artificial, man made, and incorrect “principle” that asserts that silence exists in flat, absolute prohibition. God’s silence, like our own, communicates rationally in genuine ways that are functionally authentic. This often invites and assumes our discretionary use of common sense; latitude and freedom within discernible boundaries that at times give us more choice under His blessing than preacher John seems able or willing to recognize or accept.
Arguing for the absolute silence of Scripture from another example preacher John says,
“In The Lord’s Supper we use unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. But ya know what. The Bible never says not to use Coca Cola and Cake. Can you do that? (Nope) Why not!? Isn’t that contrary to the New Testament pattern? The Bible doesn’t say not to. Tell ya what. The Bible doesn’t say... not to play poker during the services. It doesn’t say not to? My friends, in no other area of life, in no other area of life, do we derive authority to act on the basis of what somebody has not said what not to do.”
Well, again, the poker example is obviously an invalid non parallel example with respect to instrumental music in worship. It is patently wrong because, as pointed out before, it falls under the realm of irresponsible stewardship, in and of itself sinful. Also, the basic disrespect of doing any worldly, carnal based activity during a church service wherein we are supposed to be there for spiritual reasons to focus on praise, worship and spiritual edification would be openly disrespectful, even blatantly insulting, in the same way that Jesus became infuriated at the money changers at the Temple.
But let’s look at what is “authorized” for use in the Lord’s Supper. Preacher John lists “unleavened bread and fruit of the vine” and assumes that he has listed two explicitly biblically authorized items. The problem is that “fruit of the vine” is ambiguous in just exactly what we are to use in the cup. Preacher John obviously reads into that phrase “grape juice” as an absolute, but it is not explicit at all. Fruit of the Vine does not tell us precisely just what is “authorized” in any singular, definitive sense. My point here is to demonstrate how fruit of the vine” exists, short of actual silence, in an ambiguity that grants reasonable discretion, not singular authorization, and again reduces the Church of Christ “principle” concerning “authorization” and the silence of Scripture to wrong headed, man made religion. The real weight of biblical evidence would define fruit of the vine as wine. That is most likely what would fit the authentic “New Testament pattern” according to biblical and historic evidence, as we shall see. But THANK GOODNESS the Holy Spirit, in omniscient wisdom, purposefully avoids the actual explicit term and chooses instead the more flexible “fruit of the vine”. One can only imagine what horrific, nightmarish applications of the Church of Christ Non Instrumental Music legalistic way of discovering “authority” would plague the saints if Scripture had said, “unleavened bread and wine.” Preacher John would undoubtedly be galavantin’ out there trying to force worshipers to drink wine for communion as a command singularly authorized by its mention in Scripture!!! But God’s Spirit did not give such legalism that kind of foothold concerning the Lord’s Supper. In using the somewhat imprecise term, “fruit of the vine”, we have latitude. It usually means alcoholic wine in Scripture, but can mean non alcoholic grape juice. We have some discretion based upon what is said, not singularly explicit “authority” beyond which we risk losing Salvation.
But we need, for a moment to look at this tangential issue from preacher John’s expressed attitude that what we must do is “imitate” the New Testament Church literally, not just emulate them in spirit. According to his outlook, if the New Testament church did it, we must do it just that way, or sin to the loss of our very salvation. We need to look at the Church of Christ non Instrumental music spin on what defines a legitimate “restoration” Church to see if they themselves stack up to their own doctrinal principle. I do not say that wine “must” be used because the weight of biblical and historic evidence would lead us to define “fruit of the vine” as wine. But since the evidence does lean heavily in that direction, I merely observe that the Church of Christ Non Instrumental Music outlook would have to see it that way. Of course they don’t use wine. Against their own legalism, they use grape juice against the historic and New Testament evidence that would indicate the most probable exact “pattern” of New Testament practice. Let’s look at that evidence for a moment.
It would be first a good idea to see what Jesus’ attitude was concerning wine. Did He feel that wine was something evil; something intrinsically wrong to have used for the Last Supper at Passover? Several observations can help establish a context here. The Last Supper was a Passover meal. At http://www.christiancourier.com/questions/fermentedFruitQuestion.htm we find the observation that;
“...there is considerable historical evidence that the common Passover beverage used by the Jews in the first century was “wine.” Dr. Jack Lewis states that: “Wine was ordinarily used at the Passover and is called “fruit of the vine’ in Berakoth 6:1” (Commentary on Matthew, Austin, TX: Sweet, 1976, Vol. II, p. 147).”
The website “Twelve Reasons To Use Wine In The Lord's Supper”, agrees that,
“The context of Matthew 26:17-20 is the observance of Passover. As one compares vs. 17 to 27 it stands out that Jesus took the same cup that was before Him for Passover and instituted His supper. Jewish Rabbi’s and Scholars will attest to the fact that the Passover then and now calls for wine to be used.”
Another compelling observation lies in the realization of time considerations. The Palestine grape harvest begins in the Jewish month of Elul (August-September). The harvest is over before Tishri 15-21 (September-October), the Festival of Booths - Deuteronomy 16:13. Because the last supper was on Passover, at Nisan 14 (April), seven months had passed since the grape harvest. Long before the Last Supper, any grape juice in Palestine would have been wine. Therefore, when Jesus drank the "fruit of the vine" at the Last Supper, he could only have been drinking wine.”
Now I have heard one desperate argument that there can be found some ancient Greek pagan sources that describe a process for preserving grape juice over time by sinking crocks of it to the bottom of cold streams. This is an invalid attempt that goes so far out on a limb that it breaks off under the strain. For geographical and climatic differences between Greece and the desert climate of the Middle East preclude the possibility that any such process could similarly have been a general way of preserving grape juice there, and certainly not for seven months!
With that historic evidence in mind we see biblical evidence revealing Jesus’ own attitude concerning wine.
At John 2:1-11 - Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine which was drunk at the wedding at Cana. Surely we wouldn’t attempt the foolish argument that the wine at such Jewish wedding celebrations was grape juice! But if we wanted to twist Scripture in such a way, we would be disallowed by the steward’s own comments regarding the fact that the better wine is usually served first and the poorer vintage left for later after the guest’s discrimination has been somewhat lessened.
...the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."
Jesus was evidently a vintner to shame Moet and Chandon! The steward was surprised to find that Jesus’ superior vintage wine had been served last. Jesus made wine from water, not grape juice.
At 1 Tim. 5:23 Paul tells Timothy to drink not just water, but a little wine for the sake of his stomach and frequent ailments. If the Holy Spirit through Paul encourages the drinking of wine, we presume to put words in God’s mouth if we prohibit it’s legitimately moderate use or re -define “fruit of the Vine” at the Lord’s Supper as necessarily meaning grape juice.
Gen. 27:25 - Isaac brought Jacob wine, and he drank, with God's favor.
Neh. 8:10 - Nehemiah commands the faithful to drink sweet wine to celebrate the Lord and His holy day.
Ecclesiastes 9:7 - "drink your wine with a merry heart, for God approves what you do."
The fact is that even on the vine, the juice in grapes is turning into wine because of the yeast and microbes at work in the grapes. I recall from my youth the heady smell of wine from the grape vines we kept in our back yard. Bees would actually get drunk and become very aggressive as the grapes fermented right on the vine. This activity continues during and after the pressing of the grapes and extraction of the juice. With this in mind it is a fact that, pure, non-alcoholic, grape juice was actually impossible until 1869, when one Mister Welch discovered how to pasteurize grape juice.
Referring specifically to the practice of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament Church we find the following observation from the website http://www3.pei.sympatico.ca/hlkemp/topics/wine.htm very relevant,
“The term "fruit of the vine" could be taken as grape juice; however, we know with certainty it was wine from the way the Lord's Supper was celebrated in Paul's day. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, blasting them about abusing the bread and wine used in the Lord's Supper. "Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk." (1 Corinthians 11:20,21) Paul went on to say, "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup." (1 Corinthians 11:27,28) So, we know for a certainty that real wine, not grape juice, was used in the Lord's Supper...”
Near the end he makes a very valid point, strong in its connection to the heart of the issues that we face,
“The whole idea of being a conservative, or an evangelical, or a fundamentalist, is to adhere to what the Bible really says. The admonition against drunkenness is in line with what the Bible really says, but the admonition against wine itself, and the twisting of scripture to represent wine as grape juice, is as dishonest as any other false tradition. Do not be numbered with the Pharisees on the judgment day; if you claim to derive your beliefs from the Bible, derive your beliefs from the Bible alone.”
Yet, after all of this, I am not advocating a reverse legalism that we must have “wine” for the Lord’s Supper simply because the historic and biblical evidence leads us to believe that that was how it was done then. It is only preacher John’s misapplication of “authorized”, if consistent, which would find that his use of grape juice is simply not “authorized” in accordance with the “New Testament pattern” as demonstrated in definitive Scriptural indications of what was used in the cup at the Lord’s Supper! In reality, preacher John himself can’t even really abide consistently by the narrow rule he sets up as an overarching “principle” for what is to be considered “authorized”. The evidence we find in discovering the New Testament pattern and practice is wine for the cup at the Lord’s Supper. But the whole point here, as it relates to our issue of how silence (or ambiguity) often invites reasonable discretion, is that the manner in which God’s Spirit chose to express it in the ambiguous term “fruit of the vine”, never specifying wine (OR grape juice!), allows us to use grape juice with confidence, even if it isn’t the same, exact, “kind” of “fruit of the vine” used at our Lord’s Last Supper Passover meal, or the same wine indicated in use by the new fledgling Church which caused Paul to make the comments he did concerning it. What we see in reality is that Scripture, sometimes in its purposeful ambiguity, sometimes in its silence, is not always concerned with spelling out every detail of the New Testament pattern, much less limiting “authorization” to any such principle of exhaustive scriptural expression in detail.
Another aspect of New Testament worship where this is distinctly the case is, in fact, in the music. In another quote from his radio broadcast preacher John asserted that,
“We don’t have soloists in the Lord’s Church. We don’t have choirs in the Lord’s Church because the New Testament pattern is “all Christians speaking to themselves in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord.” So we don’t have that potential because there are no soloists in God’s Church. There are no choirs in the Lord’s Church. It is congregational singing. So no, we don’t have that potential and that is a completely different subject from what we're talking about and the gentleman has missed the point.”
But I have certainly not missed the point that I am trying to make and it is not at all off topic. For the actual reality of the “New Testament pattern” would reveal that preacher John’s attempt to rigidly imitate every detail of what represented New Testament Church worship is undemonstrated in what he himself does in worship services. The Church of Christ Non Instrumental Music’s narrow and wooden defining of New Testament worship by the banning of any and all actions not explicitly demonstrated by example in the New Testament verses of the Scriptures, actually fails to model New Testament worship in SINGING. For if preacher John’s worship services, as he asserts so boldly, are utterly without soloists or separate choruses, then he is distinctly not following the historic New Testament pattern, even when just considering unaccompanied vocal singing. From Donald J. Grout’s definitive, “A History of Western Music”, 3d edition, ISBN 0-393-95136-7, we read on page 12,
“...the worship services of the earliest Christians were closely modeled on the Jewish synagogue services...We may therefore note here briefly some of the general features of Hebrew music which found a place in early Christian worship and which eventually entered into the various types of Christian chant...psalms were sung in alteration between a soloist and the congregation; in one form of alternation, which later became important in Christian liturgy under the name of responsorial psalmody, the leader sang the first line of each psalm verse and the congregation responded by singing the second line...A related form of singing was antiphonal psalmody, in which the two parts of the verse, or alternate verses, were sung in turn by two choruses. Still another usage inherited by the early Church from the Jewish service was the reciting of prescribed passages of Scripture by a soloist, using certain melodic formulas the essential outlines of which could be retained while details were varied to suit the requirements of a particular text.”
Now that’s a historical fact concerning the New Testament “pattern” of worship, yet Scripture is “silent” concerning detailing it as part of the New Testament “pattern” of worship. And, significantly, preacher John proclaims that he has no choirs or soloists in his worship services! This should lead him to realize that Scripture does not teach an absolute prohibition out of its silence. Nor does it detail every tiny aspect of worship as it was practiced by the New Testament Church. That is erroneous human religion, not Scripture’s teaching. Scripture, again, when compared now to historical sources of extended detail about what the early Church was doing, reveals that it is not concerned with spelling out every detail of the New Testament pattern. Thus it is false doctrine to create a “principal” that asserts that if something is not detailed in Scripture that it must then be utterly and absolutely banned. What preacher John said about how big the Bible would need to be if every prohibition were spelled out in Scripture is just as true in reverse. The sword cuts both ways. He said on the broadcast, “Can you imagine what a book the Bible would be if the Lord had to tell us everything not to do. It would be enormous. It could fill the world.” But let’s paraphrase what he said in reverse, “Can you imagine what a book the Bible would be if the Lord had to tell us everything to do down to the last detail since anything not explicitly stated is to be considered absolutely prohibited? It would be enormous. It could fill the world.” Obviously preacher John misses the implications of the inverse of his ill thought out point. But history here simply shows that both absolutes are wrong, unscriptural and unreasonable ways to approach the Bible.
Let’s look at another aspect of music that is not detailed in the New Testament, but has very discoverable, definitive and observable patterns of practice within the New Testament Church. As we look into the actual singing that defined New Testament worship, we have already seen that they did have soloists and antiphonal choruses. But what about the characteristics that defined the singing itself? Keeping in mind that preacher John’s “principle” of discovering “authorized” practice is to prohibit the addition of anything not spelled out. Instruments of music are banned because they constitute an “addition” to what is specified according to his governing principle. With that in mind we pick up from preacher John’s comments on the broadcast;
“Rather than let him or me say what the true purpose of music in the Church is, lets let the Bible tell us what the true purpose of music in the church is. First place I’m gonna go is Ephesians chapter 5 verse 19. Paul wrote, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Collosians 3:16 gives us a little bit fuller understanding of that. He said, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and Hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord... We put those together then and we see that the purpose that God has given for music in the Church is to speak to one another, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and Hymns and spiritual songs, and praising God. That’s the New Testament purposes for music in the Lord’s Church. And I’d like to say that there’s not an instrument on the face of this earth that teaches and admonishes anyone when that’s one of the basic reasons for music in the Lord’s Church.”
The first observation I have to make is that neither is there an instrument on the face of this earth (or certainly not one in use in worship services) that necessarily denies those virtues or qualities to the singing by their addition. But, in terms of abiding by preacher John’s own principle, his problem is deeper than this. Making musical “melody” is not the same thing as making musical “harmony”. By Scripture’s mention of making “melody” and “speaking with one voice” (Romans 15), harmony or polyphony would be ruled out as “unauthorized” according to his hermeneutic. In actuality, Early Christian music was monophonic chant influenced by the Jewish cantorial tradition. It was monophonic and did not use additional aspects of musical construction, such as harmony or counterpoint. Even by the time of the Middle ages sacred music was limited to the monophony of chant, which consisted of one note sung at a time without harmony. Medieval composers introduced polyphony much later with two or three or four parts to be sung simultaneously. Before polyphony, religious singing in the Church consisted of one melodic line, known as chant. Yet I have listened to many internet audio clips of Church of Christ congregational singing in beautiful 4 part harmony that would be utterly prohibitive according to a consistent application of their own doctrinal stance; an “addition” no less than accompaniment with a guitar in terms of going beyond what the Bible says explicitly. Melody only is mentioned, never musical harmony in parts. That is an addition to what is “authorized” according the Church of Christ doctrinal hermeneutic. And one may call it a “trivial” distinction, but, according to the Church of Christ Non Instrumental Music application of the principle of “authorized”, God wouldn’t think so!
One of the early Church Fathers, Justin Martyr (A.D. 139), tells us that;
“... only the use of plain song. . .”, defined the music in worship services of the early Church. (Monophonic, No harmony)
Thus, even though Justin Martyr also said that there was no instrumental music used at that time, the point here is that to abide by preacher John’s own standard of “authority” as being explicitly scriptural with no additions of any kind allowed, not only does he have to eliminate instrumental music, but, according to the pattern of worship described and defined by Martyr, his church neither can sing in harmonic parts, which they do. Such singing is not only not “authorized” to do in Scripture, but such singing is even distinctly observable as not being part of the early Church pattern for singing! Harmony is a stylistic “addition” to making “melody”, not only being a scripturally observable distinction, but a historically provable fact of New Testament worship as well.
The reality is that it doesn’t matter any more if you use a piano to accompany a hymn than if you sing it in parts, or in monody, or even in a polyphonic style that interweaves separate rhythmic lines in counterpoint. God has not prohibited discretionary stylistic elements of worship concerning music. As soon as one tries to do so in human willful religiosity, we find that such unbiblical principles come in through the back door to condemn the very perpetrators who are promoting the false teaching in a number of different ways. Preacher John’s intention to sing only could be a spiritually sound preference, if expressed as a preference in style of worship, even on the grounds of humble simplicity and an enhanced emphasis and clarity of sacred text within sung music. But when he binds the Church in unbiblical restrictions based upon legalism rooted in and expressed in a self proclaimed exclusivism, we find that he himself doesn’t even abide by the implications of his own rigidity. He condemns others who don’t abide in his doctrinal creations, yet neither does he himself abide in them when the actual facts and implications of them are looked into. This is serious doctrinal error, of great concern to those who love the True Faith, and great culpability to those presuming to lead others down this kind of doctrinal path!
While we’re at it, let’s look at some other instances wherein Church of Christ Non Instrumental proponents don’t abide by their own doctrine of “authority”, down to minutia of detail, necessitating New Testament chapter and verse, with everything else tacitly prohibited. On the broadcast preacher John proclaimed that;
“When we gather together as a congregation of the Lord’s people we do so one block West of Southern Parkway. Our facilities are situated right at the corner of 6th and Florence and they border the Waterson Expressway.”
Such, “facilities”, do not fit the pattern of New Testament worship as expressed in the Scripture or evident from historical fact. Preacher John is not authorized to conduct worship services in a separate, external church building according to his own “principle” of what can be considered authorized. Sadly, the reference that came to mind which reveals this example of how preacher John fails the standard of his own legalism came from Ron Rhodes book, “Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses”, 1993 Harvest House, ISBN 1-56507-106-9.
House Churches at Sader meals was the demonstrated NT pattern for gathering for worship, not an external church building. (And, as mentioned earlier, with wine as the drink for the Lord’s Supper that Paul says some were abusing to their own shame). In preacher John’s case, the “authorized” New Testament pattern is revealed as anything but what he does when he tells us that, “We gather together as a congregation... one block West of Southern Parkway.” Ron observes that in the case of JWs, they wrongly claim exclusive biblical support in that they go from house to house preaching, misinterpreting what “house” meant in the New Testament context. But here, considering preacher John’s insistence that we must model exactly, only and everything that is “authorized” by overt example in the “New Testament pattern” of worship, the point Ron makes is just as relevant against what is merely a different facet of the same spirit of legalism. On page 46 Rhodes comments;
“... The word “house” in Acts 20:20 most likely refers to house Churches. In the early days of Christianity, there was no centralized church building where believers would congregate. Rather, there were many small house-churches scattered throughout the city...In his book, “The Church in God’s Program” theologian Robert L. Saucy notes that, “the practice of meeting in homes evidently became the established pattern, for we hear of the church in a house (Col. 4:15; Rom. 16:5; 1Cor. 16:19; Phil. 2). The use of specific church buildings did not appear before the end of the second century.”
Rhodes goes on to assert wisely in contradistinction to the Church of Christ legalism that insists that the “pattern” of worship must coincide with only what is explicitly mentioned within the New Testament passages that;
“That something took place in the first century of church history is not grounds for saying that the same thing should be done throughout every century in church history.”
Yet if we are to insist that we are only “authorized” to do exactly what the New Testament believers did only as recorded in Scripture, Church of Christ congregations will need to tear down their church buildings and start meeting in member’s homes. Certainly this Church of Christ change away from the New Testament “pattern” in style and practice of worship is no less significant a departure from the original and overtly demonstrated “pattern” of New Testament worship than accompaniment of singing would be.
There is another aspect of the Church of Christ non Instrumental music “principle” concerning its application of what defines biblical authorization and prohibition that bears consideration here. That is, if specific biblical example is the only legitimate way to seek authority for action, and the silence of Scripture otherwise absolutely prohibits, then that principle will necessarily be true for any area of Christian living wherein the Bible speaks, not just the worship service. Singling out only the worship service for such “principles” to apply while not consistently applying the same hermeneutic to other areas of Christian life and lifestyle Scripture speaks to would be a gross theological double standard. With that in mind we must consider whether Church of Christ non instrumental worshipers are abiding by these scripturally demonstrated aspects of the revealed “New Testament Pattern.”
The New Testament Pattern that is explicitly and on more than one occasion modeled in Scripture is that of a communal, socialist lifestyle wherein ownership of personal property was abandoned and possession of property was in common, distributed according to need;
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. “
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”
Has the Church of Christ pooled everyone’s money into a communal kitty and distributed it as needed, no one claiming anything as his own? They have not, as we well know, and the double standard does glaringly exist on fundamental “principle” within that denominational line of thought. We are told that we must do only what Scripture explicitly authorizes, yet against that self imposed and unbiblical standard, we find that preacher John himself ends up chiefly guilty of breaking it while he has his congregation singing in harmony, in an external Church building, not living communally according to the New Testament socialistically patterned lifestyle!
One very controversial Christian issue finds particular application in all of this. Let us consider how the Church of Christ non Instrumental Music principle of singular and exclusive Authorization by specific Scriptural example, and its associated principal of an otherwise assumed and absolute prohibition from the silence of the Scriptures, plays out with respect to birth control. While abortion is not a controversy within the pale of orthodoxy, birth control finds a great range of in-house debate within the Church distinctly because, while Scripture is mostly “silent” concerning it, it is not utterly silent, and the issue at stake concerns God’s sole chosen means of bringing human life into existence; heavy territory for mankind to presume to meddle thoughtlessly or selfishly within. However, the most relevant point within our context of consideration is whether or not the Church of Christ non-Instrumental Music can legitimately justify its stance supporting birth control, while promoting its particular doctrinal understanding and application of the principles of biblical authority and prohibition; doctrines it so stringently and inflexibly teaches? Thus, I will not attempt to answer definitively, in a general sense, the question of whether and under what conditions birth control might or might not be justified for the Christian. It is enough here to test that question only by the standards of Church of Christ “principles” to see if their allowance for it abides by their own biblical principles of “authorized”. So what does Scripture tell us about sexuality, procreation, and birth control?
The first Scriptural indication we have of the purpose and function of human sexuality is from Genesis where God tells Adam and Eve to multiply. Later, He tells her that because of her sin she will be made to suffer in child birth, and, upon being expelled from the Garden we next find that Eve lays with Adam and conceives;
Genesis 1:28 “God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”
“Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man."“
4:25 “Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, "God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him." “
We find immediately that sexual relations is assumed in Genesis to have a procreative purpose, and, relevant to Church of Christ style “authorization”, no other one is expressed. God commands them to go forth and multiply, and every time sex is mentioned in relation to Adam and Eve in Genesis, it is procreative. There is no Scriptural indication of anything that would grant “authorization” to evade God’s expressed procreative purpose for sexual relations. The speculation that Adam and Eve may otherwise have practiced some form of birth control that Scripture is silent about is irrelevant here. Where Scripture speaks concerning their sexual relations, they had children. Where Scripture is silent, Church of Christ doctrine PROHIBITS.
Later, after the flood, God is again very direct in expressing His will concerning how sexual relations between man and wife are to carry a procreative primary purpose.
“As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it."
If we are operating from the Church of Christ “principle” of “authorized” this verse is crystal clear and singular, as was that to Adam and Eve. According to the Church of Christ hermeneutic, we would be authorized to multiply; period. It offers no opportunity for additional changes wherein man can decide to order his sexual relations so as not to multiply, but merely authorizes procreation.
But there is more. For we have an explicit example wherein Onan evaded procreation through Coitus Interruptus. Let us see what God thought about that and how the example of Scriptural writ would necessitate the Church of Christ in terms of their doctrinal principle of how we must define “authorized”.
“38:9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord's sight; so he put him to death also.”
Now we have a Scriptural example that gives a biblical instance of God’s great anger at Onan who presumed to interfere willfully with the procreative purpose of God by purposefully evading it. Whatever the implications this text might have generally for the average Christian, within the context of the Church of Christ’s espoused principle of authorization as being solely based upon scriptural writ, chapter and verse, this example would be doctrinally compelling.
The New Testament does not address these issues this directly. Therefore, where the Law is not amended in the New Covenant, we must assume that what the Old Testament teaches still applies. Again, where the Church of Christ is concerned, Scriptural example is the sole agent of authorization. Using common sense in consideration of the idea of discretionary silence is disallowed here. Explicit Scriptural example alone authorizes. All else is automatically and absolutely prohibited and condemned. Listen again to preacher John’s own assertion, and apply that “principle” to this issue, “Silence prohibits. Why don’t we give God the same consideration?” In the New Testament God is silent concerning birth control. It’s allowance in interference with the openly expressed procreative purpose of sexuality is not Scripturally authorized by preacher John’s “principle”. In the Old Testament it is even condemned in the case of Onan, and Scripture otherwise commands procreation; “go forth and multiply.” What is “authorized” for sexual relations by Scriptural example? Procreation. God is silent (or even condemning by example) concerning birth control? PROHIBITION!
But what do we find Church of Christ apologists saying about birth control? What proof texts do they present that biblically authorize man to interfere with the procreative purpose of sexuality that God designed? Do they argue an allowance for something that has no authorizing text for direct support? Do they exercise what they argue is “common sense”, “galavantin’ out there in God’s silence”, to use preacher John’s parlance, to seek authority? If they do, again according to his own words, “that isn’t good enough.”
Let’s read and analyze what one Church of Christ minister had to say concerning this issue on the Highland Heights Church of Christ website found at;
“The notion that the bearing of children is the only God-given purpose for marital relations is wrong. The Bible stresses the true purpose; that God made man and woman to complete one another and to fulfill each other's needs. The following reading from the New Testament, I Corinthians 7:2-5, summarizes these teachings... "Do not cheat each other of normal sexual intercourse unless, of course, you both decide to abstain temporarily to make special opportunity for fasting and prayer. But afterward you should resume relations as before, or you will expose yourselves to the obvious temptations of the devil.” This passage then very clearly teaches that the purpose of sexual relations is to fulfill the natural biological urge and thereby avoid fornication. The doctrine that the only God-given purpose for marital relations is for the purpose of bearing children is clearly contrary to the scriptures. Opposition to birth control is based on this false assumption.”
But the real false assumption asserted here is this gentleman’s straw man. For those who fully recognize the unitive and adultery preventing purpose for sexuality in marriage may still argue a legitimate simultaneous need for recognition and respect for the other concurrent, procreative purpose as well. The Church of Christ apologist here seems unable to recognize that his argument is guilty of the inverse of exactly the criticism he accuses against those whom he says only see a singular procreative purpose in sexuality. For he himself next asserts his own equally faulty singular purpose for sex, arguing that, “...the purpose of sexual relations is to fulfill the natural biological urge and thereby avoid fornication.” It is as wrong to define that as a singular purpose of sexuality as it is to say that the only God-given purpose for marital relations is for the purpose of bearing children. Both purposes exist for sexuality in marriage. The key point here is that observing and respecting one purpose does not necessarily free us from observing and respecting the other. Scripturally, these God ordained purposes are inseparable. In other words, God’s purpose for faithful, intimate, loving unity in the sexual union can never be seen to negate or replace His expressed procreative purpose for sex. Biblically, the two purposes exist concurrently. Thus, the truth of I Corinthians 7:2-5 does nothing to negate the simultaneous procreative purpose God has for sex between husband and wife. Such an assertion is a blatant biblical non sequitur.
The fact is that the Church of Christ apologist, according to his own espoused principle of “authority” and the associated flatly prohibitive nature of Scripture’s silence, needs more to authorize birth control than the mere recognition that there exists a secondary purpose for sexuality in marriage. He must show Scriptural chapter and verse that “authorizes” him to negate that other, primary, procreative purpose that also exists. This he can not do. Thus, the misapplication here of I Corinthians 7:2-5 is nothing more than a rationalized evasion of a basic Church of Christ “principle” that seeks a way around the procreative purpose God expresses in Scripture for sexual relations between husband and wife. I suppose it’s easier to live with the application of a legalistic principle if it just means singing A-Cappella, as opposed to applying such a standard for what is “authorized” with an even consistency that then must likewise allow God to providentially decide how many children one will be responsible for raising?
The minister in this article goes on later to amazingly add,
“...God plainly teaches, in the passages mentioned, that husband and wife should fulfill one another's sexual needs. This necessitates regular marital relations. God has given us the good sense to know how to accomplish this without necessarily having children.”
Now, besides the attempt to use proof texts that do not even speak to the proclaimed procreative purpose God expresses in Scripture for marriage, the gentlemen now wants to appeal to “good sense”, not Scripturally demonstrated and specific authority, in authorizing the very grave consideration of when and whether to purposefully obstruct God’s sole chosen means of creating human souls! When we consider the double standard here in comparison to the same denomination’s contradictorily severe attitude towards something as innocuous as accompanying singing, the degree of just how far false doctrinal teaching can go, and the double standards with which it gets unevenly applied, is melodramatically revealed. The Church of Christ non Instrumental Music principle of authority by chapter and verse alone with an otherwise absolute prohibition of Scripture’s silence is glaringly contradicted on this issue.
At another Church of Christ website, http://www.scripturessay.com/q403c.html
minister Mike Scott answers the following question;
“Q. "Is the use of birth control wrong?"
“I do not find a single verse, or principle in the Scriptures which would prohibit birth control. The sexual relationship between a husband and wife was intended by God for pleasure as well as procreation ...the general answer to your question is "No."
Here we find an apologetic argument that asserts, “Well, I don’t find any prohibitions in Scripture telling me not to.” Sound familiar preacher John? This Church of Christ non Instrumental music apologist bases his allowance for birth control on a lack of prohibitions!!! We notice that he does unwittingly concede that there are two concurrent purposes for sexuality in marriage (“...pleasure as well as procreation...”). Thus he makes it easier to recognize immediately the invalidity in his similar attempt to that of the other minister in wrongly arguing that the unitive purpose for sex in marriage somehow automatically gives license to erase, by human will, God’s procreative purpose. Amazingly, this same minister, on the same website, uses opposite theological hermeneutic to say of instruments of music in worship,
“ We must follow the safe course. We can sing and fulfill all the requirements of Scripture to please God, or we can do something that does not fulfill the Scriptural requirements to please God, that is not mentioned in the Word of God, and which is an addition to the Word of God. Which one is the safest course? It's obvious, isn't it?
Therefore, Christians concerned with pleasing God in worship will refrain from using instruments. “
Again, the caricaturized degree of the double standard demonstrated here in terms of inconsistent application of the principle of authority by chapter and verse alone, with an otherwise hard prohibition in Scripture’s silence, is dramatic! He uses a “principle” to condemn a morally neutral act used in the service of praising God, and then utterly abandons the principle to condone and “authorize” an act, with no explicit scriptural support, that presumes to take procreative providence out of the hand of God!
It is good in establishing the fact of a doctrinal pattern of teaching to observe multiple apologists corroborating the same “principles”. This is done rather easily as we compare the two tracts that were sent to me with the arguments preacher John used on his broadcast. Let’s look first at the tract “Why I oppose Instrumental Music in Worship” by Mike Willis.
From page 3 of Mike Willis’ “Why I oppose Instrumental Music in Worship”, we see a classic example of eisegesis. He asserts a polemically intrusive reason as to why Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by God in an attempt to support the idea that only very specific Scriptural detail can ever please God. This biased misinterpretation is another expression of the argument that only what is demonstrated by particular example in Scripture can ever be considered “authorized”, and with anything else carrying a tacit and absolute prohibition. This is a God with no reasonable discretionary leeway ever granted. Mike argues,
“God revealed the kind of worship which men were to offer when they left the Garden of Eden. The Scriptures relate, “By Faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain...”(Heb. 11:4) One can walk by Faith only when he moves in obedience to God’s divine Revelation. Hence Abel offered unto God the kind of sacrifice which God commanded. In contrast, Cain offered a sacrifice to God with which God was not pleased and He rejected it. This Bible account demonstrates that not all worship pleases God; the only worship which pleases God is that which is offered in compliance with God’s divine revelation.”
So, Mike argues that God rejected Cain’s offering because it was the wrong “kind” of offering. Presumably he asserts here that when God “revealed” what “kind” of worship which men were to offer, He wanted sheep and not produce and that any deviation would evoke His wrath and rejection. Abel, a shepherd, gave a sheep offering, while Caine, a farmer of crops, gave from his harvest. My first question for Mike is to ask where did God say to them in Scripture that only sheep and not crops could be “authorized” as an offering? There is no such distinction of “kind” to be found in Genesis at the Fall of Adam and Eve. So his argument is a blatant eisegesis, reading that “authorizing” distinction back into the text where it does not exist. This is especially true since the whole basis of his argument is to assert that only what is given by written Scriptural example can define authorization. Such a limiting “authorization” precluding Cain’s “kind” of offering is absent from the first four chapters of Genesis. So let’s look at the account from Genesis wherein Cain’s offering was rejected, while Able’s was accepted, to see what interpretation fits the story.
Genesis 4:2 “...Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.”
Now having read the above passage from Genesis, let’s keep in mind that Mike (representing that Church of Christ non Instrumental mind set) wants us to believe that God rejected Cain’s offering of crops only because crops was the wrong “kind” (something “unauthorized”). Despite the fact that such scriptural indication of sheep as authorized while crops was not is utterly absent from the passage, (or any previous passage), just what does the passage really tell us about why God rejected Cain’s offering? Notice that Abel’s offering was of “fat portions” and “of the firstborn”. Cain’s offering by contrast is merely said to be, “some of the fruits of the soil”. Contrary to Mike’s eisegetical attempt to read an alternate meaning into the passage with no “authorizing” text to support that interpretation, it is clearly evident from what is in the passage that God rejected Cain’s offering because it lacked in quality, not kind. The point of the story has nothing to do with the “kind” of offering Cain offered. It has to do with the fact that while Abel, in great Faith, gave fat portions from the firstborn of his flocks, Cain, evidently, gave what he himself didn’t even really value very highly of his harvest. He gave an insulting offering that did not match the "first fruits" quality that Abel offered. Again, it is the most awful case of eisegesis trying to sustain an unbiblical “principle” with which Mike tries to create in Caine the same damnable rebellion by “kind” that he will later argue compares to those who offer the wrong “kind” of worship if they strum a guitar with a hymn. And so, we see that the error of legalistically prohibiting musical instruments outside any legitimate biblical prohibition, overt or implied, generates a cancer that infects the overall view of Scripture in areas that don’t even have anything to do with music. Cain was selfish and faithless in that he gave poor quality in his offering, not because vegetables were the wrong “kind”!
Mike’s next example is from 1Kings 12-13. This example is said to demonstrate that authorization for worship must be explicit from chapter and verse only and exactly for the Christian believer. Of course the tacit assumption here is also to say that silence otherwise absolutely and formally prohibits. He says,
“God had revealed to Moses on mount Sinai the kind of worship which His people were to offer to Him. (See Exodus. -Deut.). About 500 years later, the kingdom of Israel divided into two nations- Israel and Judah. King Jeroboam of Israel was afraid that the worship in Jerusalem would draw men back to Judah. Consequently, he established an alternate form of worship in Bethel and Dan. He changed the worship place from Jerusalem to Bethel and Dan; he used idols in their worship; he used men from every tribe for priests rather than using only Levites; he changed the date of the holy day...God had revealed the kind of worship which should be offered to God; when they departed from it, they were guilty of sin and their worship was unacceptable.”
Now keep in mind that Mike’s example has to be a legitimate parallel to the issue of our using musical instruments in worship for his example to have any validity. The first thing we see here is that, rather then adding some elements to worship, this example shows a replacement of aspects of worship that eliminate what God commanded. There is a big difference between adding something (which may or may not be all right depending upon the context of God’s expressed Will), and utterly eliminating what God commands by replacing it. Already Mike’s example is thus revealed as not being a legitimate parallel to accompanying singing in worship wherein the singing is not being eliminated or replaced, but merely enhanced. When we sing with a guitar accompanying we still sing. When you change the date of the holy day, then you eliminate the date God ordained by replacement.
Also, from the perspective the concept of silence as prohibitive, we notice that the sin of Jeroboam was against scripturally specified detail that God had formerly made singular by explicit command. For example, like what we have already observed about just exactly why the “silence” of Moses was prohibitive in terms of Judah not being able to participate in the priesthood, we find that Jeroboam broke an explicitly singular command of God concerning the Levitical priesthood. This is simply not the case with the relevant New Testament passages concerning singing in worship where there isn’t even an implicit prohibition against accompaniment, much less an explicit one such as is the case in this Old Testament nonparallel example.
In another attempt to make the prohibition against musical instruments in worship seem biblical, Mike uses this argument,
“When the Pharisees made “washing of hands” a religious ceremony, Jesus condemned their practice saying, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” There is nothing morally wrong with washing one’s hands before eating. However, to make it an act of worship to God was to render worship useless. Anything that it introduced into worship on the authority of man will nullify one’s worship.”
Yet the observable reality here is that no one is mandating the use of musical instruments as a “doctrinal” requirement like the Pharisees were hand washing. This is thus another absolutely non- parallel example with the use of musical instruments in worship. Jesus’ words concerning the Pharisees who were binding up the people in religious legalistic requirements has absolutely nothing to do with the discretionary use of musical instruments in the worship service. Those who use musical instruments to augment their worshipful singing are not making a doctrinal requirement out of it, for Scripture doesn’t make a doctrinal issue out of it, one way or the other. The passage, however, actually is revealed to be accusative against Mike’s mindset, not those who would play the organ to accompany a hymn. For it is Mike (and the Church of Christ mentality) that has established a legalistic prohibition, even establishing it as a salvific “doctrinal” requirement, and rendered a commandment of men as if it were a “thus saith the Lord” injunction, where none exists. That is where the parallel to Pharisaical legalism exists.
On page 6 Mike badly abuses Revelation 22:18-19 in another horrible case of eisegesis. He wants the following passage to demonstrate that if we add anything to the worship service (like musical instruments which are not mentioned), we will be removed from the book of life! This is a serious assertion, as serious as it gets! But let’s look at the passage and, in context, see just what it is saying. Revelation 22:18 begins;
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book.”
It is immediately obvious that Mike is inserting something (adding to the book of this prophecy!) an eisegetical interpretation that does not belong to it! For the passage does not warn us not to add anything to the worship service at all, but specifically is referring only to adding or taking away from the “words of the book of this prophecy” (Revelation). Strumming along with a hymn adds nothing to the “prophecy” revealed in the “book of this prophecy” of Revelation. Neither does such take anything away from that revealed prophecy. Frighteningly however, one could well argue that Mike’s eisegesis (reading “into” the text something extra that it doesn’t intend to convey) is adding to the book of that prophecy.
Mike goes on to assert that,
“...the kind of worship which pleases God must be revealed in the New Testament.”
But we know that what he really means is that every detail of worship must be limited to only what the New Testament explicitly gives example of. And, as we have already seen, not only is that not a true biblical principle, it isn’t even one that the Church of Christ proponents of the “principle” adhere to with any consistency themselves. There are many details of New Testament worship that are not given in Scripture, but are nevertheless objectively observable from historic sources. Scripture simply does not attempt to exhaustively detail everything concerning worship in some singularly explicit “authorizing” fashion. “Singing” is revealed in the New Testament, but singing in harmony is not revealed in the New Testament. In fact, it was monody. Singing is mentioned in the New Testament, but not the soloists and antiphonal choruses that defined the actual details of the style of worship that actually took place. Churches of Christ assert that they have no soloists or choirs, but only congregational singing. That, however, is not the New Testament pattern! So, while the Church of Christ is condemning the use of musical instruments because they are allegedly not authorized in Scripture as part of the “New Testament pattern”, they themselves are busy singing in four part harmony, without choruses or soloists, distinctly different from the historic New Testament pattern! We don’t discover these details from the New Testament because they aren’t in there. Yet many of these “additional” details are, in fact, discoverable as the true New Testament pattern of worship. The bottom line is that every detail of the style of worship isn’t included in the New Testament. In fact, we don’t, and can’t, argue the need to duplicate the New Testament pattern, and then try to doctrinally limit ourselves to only what the New Testament says about worship. If we were going, in fact, to “restore” New Testament practice by way of exact and explicit imitation there are many significant details concerning the practice and style of worship that the Bible simply does not mention! Folks, it is not a doctrinal issue with God. It well should not be made into one by man! That is the kind of thinking that Jesus was referring to in Matthew 15:8-9!
Now it is observable that in the Old Testament, musical instruments were employed in worship. This certainly does not prove outright that we can use them in New Testament practice. But it does demonstrate that there is nothing innately wrong with using musical instruments with which to worship God. Keep in mind that many of the Church of Christ arguments either imply or assert outright that musical instruments themselves are a lesser, spiritually lacking way in which to praise God. Preacher John said on his radio broadcast that, “I’d like to say that there’s not an instrument on the face of this earth that teaches and admonishes anyone when that’s one of the basic reasons for music in the Lord’s Church.” That’s a common slant from the Church of Christ Non Instrumental Music denominational perspective that tries to discredit music by instruments as if it were intrinsically unsuited, in and of itself, for worship. Mike Willis makes the same false assertion in his tract,”Why I oppose Instrumental Music in Worship”, as he devotes a whole section on what he calls, “Abuses related to Instrumental Music in worship”. What they amount to are abuses related to man’s sinfulness, not musical instruments. But it makes too tempting a target for him not to try to blame people’s “petty feuding”, pridefully egotistical “hurt feelings”, or lack of exercising reasonable discretion in choosing instrumentation or musical style; (issues of the heart), on the musical instruments themselves. The point is that what the Old Testament examples of musical instruments in the service of worship do prove outright, is that this whole slant that qualitatively demeans them as fundamentally unsuited for worship is absolutely wrong. God would not have accepted faulty and unsuitable praise in the Old Testament any more than He would in the New.
But I need to refer again specifically to preacher John’s comment that, “...there’s not an instrument on the face of this earth that teaches and admonishes anyone when that’s one of the basic reasons for music in the Lord’s Church.” Besides the insinuation that musical instruments are incapable of having a legitimate functional purpose that is meaningful in worship, this is also yet another case of an argument that presents a non sequitur, suggesting that if musical instruments don’t fulfill all of the purposes for New Testament music, (which of course they don’t) that they then automatically have no place at all and can’t fulfill any legitimate purpose in worship. Musical instruments were inherently appropriate for Old Testament worship. Whatever purpose one wants to attribute to them, God approved of their value in worship. And is it not the case that Old Testament worship, like New Testament worship, had the purposes of “teaching” and “admonishing” in worship, with musical instruments still appropriate in accompaniment? A survey of the Psalms alone would quickly and definitively indicate that it was. So it is a logical fallacy to suggest, on principle, that using musical instruments are ineffective and inappropriate in New Testament worship because they don’t teach and admonish, in and of themselves. And this is true with the full recognition that those attributes are indeed vital purposes for New Testament (and Old Testament) music.
Mike asserts an argument that just because instruments of music were used in the Old Testament, that doesn’t mean we can use them now. He begins,
“If the use of mechanical instruments of music in the Old Testament proves that they can be used today, anything else used in worship in the Old Testament can also be used today.”
Of course, already, Mike asserts another non sequitur. God could very well desire or allow for some things from the Old Testament, while disallowing others. Thus, it does not logically follow that if one or more things from Old Testament worship carry over, that all necessarily do. Continuing based upon this non sequitur, Mike says,
“During the Old Testament era, the following things were also practiced, burning incense,...daily animal sacrifices, ...observance of the Sabbath day, a separate priesthood. In addition the Old Testament allowed for polygamy, commanded Levirate marriage, and many other things which would not be accepted today.”
But the burning of incense, (unless commanded as a religious doctrinal mandate) would not be a sinful practice in a worship service any more than a piano would be. One cannot scripturally demonstrate it in any way as such. And we know why animal sacrifices are no longer legitimate. That has formal Scriptural reason since Scripture proclaims that Jesus became the final and eternal Sacrifice for sins.
In terms of a change in the Sabbath, as far as New Testament theology is concerned, we see that Mike specifically has linked the change from the Old Testament Sabbath holy day, as compared to New Testament Sunday worship, as a like comparative example with which to justify the doctrinal banning of instruments of music in New Testament worship. Yet Paul also told us explicitly in Romans 14:1 that we must not doctrinalize over one day as being holier than another, those who do falling into that category of those he asserts have a weak faith. Paul, in terms of any concept of “doctrinal” thinking, offers personal discretion over such things. It makes sense to honor Jesus Resurrection, that greatest gift God has given mankind, as the New Testament day of church going. But it is not to be made into a legalistic doctrine. Every day is a day the Lord has made and one of the most popular and legitimately needed topics taken up by preachers in Sunday sermons is how that we must not try to be holy on Sunday, regarding this as some innately holier day, while we live worldly lives the rest of the week.
“...One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. ...Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another...”
These kinds of things are not doctrinal issues to God and are not presented in New Testament Scripture as such.
We know why the priesthood was limited to the Levites in the Old Testament by explicit Scriptural exclusion of anyone else. And we likewise know, from Scripture, that the Law was formally and explicitly changed as recorded in Scripture to allow Jesus the eternal priesthood, since He was out of Judah. What relevance do these things have with the presumptuous creation of a doctrinal prohibition against musical instruments out of the silence of Scripture? For they are objectively observable things in Scripture not at all dependent upon arguments from silence. Is not polygamy or Levirate marriages obviously precluded and thus denied by the New Testament Scriptures relating to marriage and faithfulness to one’s spouse? Musical instruments are not implicitly banned in any such like fashion. Indeed, there are many things from the Old Testament which are not acceptable today. And for those that are not doctrinally acceptable, the reason is because they are clearly discoverable as not being so from Scripture. Such is not the case in the doctrinal prohibition the Church of Christ has created against using musical instruments in worship. Polygamy is implicitly prohibited by the New Testament passages related to marriage and faithfulness to a spouse. The priesthood is limited explicitly in Scripture in terms of prohibition. Musical instruments neither implicitly or explicitly fall under any such Scripturally prohibiting doctrinal indications.
Mike makes another argument that has implications he had not considered. He says,
“Mechanical instruments of music were not added to the worship of the Old Testament as a matter of personal preference at the whim of the Old Testament saints. The mechanical instruments were added by divine command... The Lord commanded mechanical instruments of music in the Old Testament. Where is the similar commandment for them to be used in New Testament worship?”
But if we look at the issue in the way Mike here frames it (as a doctrinal mandate of the Law), then the real question would be, “Where is the New Testament prohibition against musical instruments in worship that would formally change the Law if God had formerly “commanded” them?” For, as we see in the example of Jesus’ allowance to the priesthood, the Law had to be explicitly changed to negate the Old Testament Command, and this change is openly proclaimed in the New Testament. If God “commanded” musical instruments in the Old Testament on point of doctrine, then the onus is on Mike to demonstrate from New Testament Scripture that a change in the Law was formally announced on that issue. From the Church of Christ principle of authority by Scriptural writ alone we must ask, “Where is the New Testament text that “authorizes” a change in the Law that would ban musical instruments in worship?” Of course no such “change in the Law” is ever mentioned with respect to musical instruments like it is with respect to Jesus priesthood. It simply is not that type of doctrinal issue.
Mike draws a distinction between what would constitute a legitimate “aid” to music in worship, from what he asserts is an illegitimate “addition” to music in worship. He argues,
“Are the piano and organ only an aid or are they additions? How does one distinguish aids from additions? One could argue that putting peanut butter on the unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper would improve its taste and make worship more palatable. Would this be an aid to worship? I think most of us would agree that it is not an aid; it is an addition- and unauthorized addition. But how do we arrive at this conclusion? An addition is a violation of specific authority because it introduces another item of the same class. For example, the Lord specified unleavened bread and fruit of the vine to be used on the Lord’s table. The use of another kind of food on the Lord’s table is an addition. In contrast, the use of one container or many for the fruit of the vine and the use of plates to pass the unleavened bread are simply aids; they aid in distributing the elements which the Lord authorized but do not introduce unauthorized items. In like manner, a pitch pipe, song book, shaped notes, and a leader all assist us in doing what God authorized- to sing. The introduction of another kind of music, like the introduction of another kind of food on the Lord’s table, is not an aid; it is an addition- an addition unauthorized in God’s Word.”
In the first place the example of putting peanut butter on the unleavened bread is an utterly invalid comparative with using musical instruments in worship. The use of unleavened bread at the Passover or Lord’s Supper is an explicitly singular item that is specified as such in a way that singing simply never is. Adding peanut butter to the bread is not that same as adding accompaniment to the song. Both are additions. One is prohibited by exclusively restrictive Scriptural explicitness. The other is not. This however brings up again the mention of the cup. For, once again, though Mike assumes grape juice as a definitively singular “authorized” meaning for “fruit of the vine”, there is no such legitimate Scriptural singularity in the meaning of the phrase. More often than not, and in the weight of New Testament evidence, it means wine, not grape juice. So how does Mike’s principle of “authorized” survive this ambiguity? It doesn’t. According to his principle there is no way to know what is really authorized in the cup since it is not explicit. The best we could do with this instance is observe that it was most usually means wine and that was most likely what was used, given New Testament and historic evidence. Yet this the Church of Christ does not use!
Furthermore, Mike shows a little naivete’ in his denial of the legitimate use of accompaniment as a distinct “aid”, not just an addition. Getting on pitch with a pitch pipe is one thing, Staying on pitch until the end of a song is quite another. If he condones the use of a pitch pipe to establish the key, then he cannot turn right around and deny that the use of fixed pitch instruments to keep the music on key is not also an ongoing “aid” to the music in the same fashion. And it cannot be argued that accompaniment is not really a “legitimate” aid only because the congregation’s singing might be able to somehow stay on pitch, or survive close enough that it doesn’t functionally matter and such an “aid” is not really needed. For the “degree” of need for the aid is irrelevant here. As a pitch pipe legitimately “helps” (aids) establishing a key, accompaniment likewise helps (aids) staying on pitch. Some church congregations may have one or more members with perfect pitch who could lead the singing (If they were authorized to serve such a function in the New Testament passages that speak of worship!), But for many congregations the loudest singer in the room is also the one with a tin ear who can drag the group off key within only a few bars. The point is that both a pitch pipe and accompaniment serve as legitimate aids where key and pitch are concerned.
Keeping the music on tempo too can be aided by the accompanist. This a pitch pipe cannot do. A song leader can do this, but that fact takes nothing away from the fact that the organist or pianist or guitarist can legitimately serve the same function, even enhance and improve the effectiveness of it additionally. That is, accompaniment is a fully legitimate and objectively observable “aid” to leading the tempo and holding the key of the music, even if it also adds an “additional” element.
Finally Mike concludes saying,
“We encourage you to go back to the simple worship which God has revealed in the Bible that man should bring to God. We oppose the departure from this worship in any form, whether it be by using incense, burning candles, praying to Mary, or using mechanical instruments of music...”
But neither incense or musical instruments are either implicitly or explicitly banned by the silence of Scripture. Unless made so by false religion (pro or con), neither incense or musical instruments are doctrinal issues for New Testament worship and are never made so in the New Testament. Neither are they innately evil actions or innately unsuited for worship or they wouldn’t be scripturally demonstrated in the Old Testament as acceptable accompaniments to worship there. As far as Candles, there again is a classic case where the silence of Scripture grants discretion. Scripture makes no doctrinal issue of this possible practice and, unless made some kind of legalistic ritual necessity, is harmless. If not candles, then not stained glass, or statuary or jewelry, or steeples with crosses, on separate church buildings (rather than house churches), that believers likewise aren’t “authorized” to congregate at, while singing with the unauthorized additions of harmony to the “melody”! The espoused wooden “principle” of demanding New Testament chapter and verse for every tiny detail or action to have “authority” simply does not work, even for its own proponents. The inclusion of praying to Mary simply shows that the gentlemen has very poorly thought through his own argument. For, while there is no Scriptural doctrinal argument against incense, candles, or musical instruments, praying to Mary falls into an utterly different category. Scripture is crystal clear in that we must pray only to God alone, and not to anyone else. Thus, Mike includes an item in his list that is qualitatively different from the other three, invalidly mixing doctrinal apples and oranges.
Mike’s own arguments in this tract have revealed that he lacks an appreciation for just how the full implications of his own arguments defeat his position. The principles Church of Christ non Instrumental believers assert for “authority” and the absolute prohibition of Scripture’s silence, are the fruits of man made religion, not God’s. They are principles that are observably unkept in any consistency by the very legalists who would subject the saints to them on pain of lost Salvation.
Let us turn next to another such tract written by Earl Robertson entitled, “Instrumental Music in Worship”. In his introduction we immediately get the flavor of those two pet doctrinal interpretative “principals” we have been analyzing; that is, the flat prohibition of the silence of Scripture, and “authorization” by explicit scriptural indication only, down to the last detail. He says on page 1;
“There is no evidence that any church of the New Testament ever used instrumental music in its worship. No Apostle of Christ ever taught any church to use it in worship. Yet all the discord does not mean that God did not clearly express His will in this matter. The problem is not over what God says, but the difficulties are occasioned over what God has not said (authorized).”
But there is Apostolic teaching that asserts that many such items of religious practice are points of discretion and individual discernment, and that those who doctrinalize such things do so wrongly and out of a weak faith.
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.... ...One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. ...Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. ...So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
We immediately notice that it is the doctrinally restrictive person on such matters whose faith is first said to be weak, and that we are to bear with one another in acceptance and patience on such disputable matters. That certainly does not mean that they should not be encouraged to a stronger more legitimate Faith. But in either case Paul says that God WILL make them stand. These discretionary religious differences are NOT concerning Salvation. Also, I think another relevant point here is that, while we had better indeed be careful not to “condemn” ourselves by what we “approve”, the fact of the matter is that there is latitude, discretion and discernment involved, not absolute doctrinal certainty, on many religious issues of practice. The principle of absolute and singular “authority” for every religious practice only when and if detailed specifically in Scripture is utterly debunked here as false “principle” of man made religion.
There are two sides to this coin. In opposition to Scripture, many doctrinalize over disputable matters. Yet, on the other hand, some may indeed go too far in what they approve. Discernment is needed. For example, with respect to the silence of Scripture, I have already described the nuances that we must discover in different contexts of silence to see whether an action may be considered “approved” with God’s blessing, as opposed to where genuine tacit prohibition may be indicated. It is not the case that the simplistic, wooden, Church of Christ “principle” of authority and prohibition which we have been considering can legitimately or effectively replace that kind of prayerful and studied discernment.
Also, the solid scriptural indication here asserts that many things are more a matter of personal conscience than absolute doctrinal “principle”. This passage from Romans asserting flexibility in some religious practice is interestingly framed specifically in terms of acting from “faith”, in direct opposition to the unbiblical and misdefined way Church of Christ non instrumental apologists try to narrowly define walking by Faith from their own assumption of doctrinally “Authorized” by explicit scriptural example alone Exercising personal discretion and walking in Faith are specifically demonstrated by Paul in this passage as often being mutually compatible, not mutually exclusive as the Church of Christ paradigm wrongly asserts.
Later, on page 8, Earl begins and entire section entitled “We Walk by Faith”. In it he says,
“If God has not spoken about a matter, positive action taken in the performance of any such deed is presumptuous sin.”
Yet we have just seen from Romans 14:1 that this is a false assertion refuted by the apostle Paul. God has not “spoken” explicitly in Scripture about a number of things related to religious practice that are discretionary details, not actions to be doctrinally banned by Scripture’s silence.
Earl continues speaking to the issue of faith,
“Some justify the use of instrumental music in worship by saying that there is no specific statement in the Bible saying, “Thou shalt not use instrumental music in worship.” The idea that there must be a “thou shalt not” before a thing is sinful is a false premise. When one’s course is set on a false premise, his conclusions necessarily will be false too. It invalidates the Apostle Paul’s statement that we walk by Faith!”
Yet we have just seen that in Roman’s 14 Paul distinctly equates examples of discretionary action with walking by Faith! Indeed it is true that, “When one’s course is set on a false premise, his conclusions necessarily will be false too.” The problem for Earl is that the false premise that exists here is the one asserting the absolute prohibition of Scripture’s silence and the singular, narrow defining of “authorizing” as limited to exact Scriptural example down to the tiniest detail. In fact, Earl’s espousing of these Church of Christ "premises" presumes to invalidate what Paul tells us in Romans 14 about walking in faith and how that there is room for discretion in much of our religious practice. Paul specifically forbids us to doctrinalize such disputable things in an exact parallel to the way that Church of Christ religious thinking does with respect to items like musical instruments in the church worship service.
Earl goes on to assert the exact same two invalid arguments Mike did in his tract concerning Caine’s rejected offering to God and Uzzah’s having touched the Ark of the Covenant and being struck dead. The pattern of eisegesis is consistent across the spectrum of this skewed way of reading Scripture. His repetition of Mike’s invalid arguments is wrong for exactly the same reasons. But, as Earl so accurately observes, when you start out with a false premise, it warps your entire theological perspective. Like Mike, Earl’s eisegetical assertion that Caine’s sacrifice was rejected because it was the wrong “kind” rather than the true meaning that it was an offering of faithlessly poor quality, reflects his obsession with supporting the unbiblical “principle” of authorization by overt Scripture alone, with else falling to prohibition. So too the invalid use of Uzzah whose intent was good, but who was struck dead because he was not “authorized” to touch the Ark, regardless of his good intentions. Now one might lend sympathy to Mike toward a naivete. But not so for Earl who elaborately details all of the reasons why his own argument concerning Uzzah is invalid! For he himself explains how the command of God was explicit in forbidding anyone but the priests from touching the Ark! Uzzah’s intentions have nothing to do with the fact that this example is an utterly non parallel example of blatant disobedience, separate from the issue of instrumental music in New Testament worship! Again, we recognize that Uzzah broke an explicit command of God. For one playing piano to accompany a hymn there is no such parallel Scriptural injunction. And, as we must set this consideration in the proper overall context, we have to keep in mind that Scripture’s silence could possibly have created a tacit prohibition as we looked into it further. Silence sometimes prohibits, sometimes grants discretion. But when we do look at the issue of musical instruments in worship, we find that there is not only no explicit prohibition, there isn’t an implicit one either. The fact of the matter is that the Church of Christ non Instrumental Church has created a doctrinal prohibition against musical instruments distinctly against Paul’s admonition in Romans 14:1 not to do so over such issues.
Also, like Mike, Earl draws a distinction concerning “kind” as an attempt to make a logical argument. He comments on page 17 of his tract,
“There are two kinds or species of music; vocal and instrumental; singing and playing. If God had commanded, “Make music”, then we could sing or play. But He did not give a generic command merely authorizing “music”; God gave specifying authority- authority naming one kind out of the general term “music”. God authorizes singing, not playing.”
But we can see the polemic twisting Earl engages in here if we analyze just what he is saying. First of all, and as we have already demonstrated in this study, Earl is simply wrong when he suggests that God “commands” only singing. Singing is mentioned by example to be sure, while musical instruments are not. In fact, the complete context of passages relating to music in worship is very scanty in the New Testament and, as we have formerly seen, is not at all exhaustive of what defined New Testament practice. There are many aspects of the details of New Testament worship that are simply not included in the pages of the New Testament, including such musical details as soloists, antiphonal choruses, or other items already mentioned earlier. Paul admonishes us to sing in the New Testament. That is far from putting singing on the level of singular, exclusively restrictive “Command” that is otherwise tacitly prohibitive on pain of lost Salvation! And we see the indication that Earl himself somehow appreciates the fact that his argument might be going too far as we notice that his wording next falls short of actually saying that God “commands” singing to the exclusion of anything else. He phrases it in that lingo peculiar to the Church of Christ on this issue, saying instead that while God might have “commanded”, “music”, (in which case we could play instruments), He instead, “...gave specifying authority- authority naming one kind out of the general term “music”.” God, in fact, does not anywhere in the New Testament “command” singing to the explicit exclusion of instrumental accompaniment, and it is Earl’s reading into the silence of Scripture concerning a biblically discretionary act to assert it as an exclusionary “command”. This, we recall, is well illustrated by observance of all of those formerly examined invalid Church of Christ attempts to compare the issue of instrumental music in the relevant New Testament passages, to what end up non parallel Old Testament examples wherein God did overtly prohibit, or implicitly speak prohibition in His silence in an objectively observable and distinct way.
Continuing beyond an already invalid argument, Earl goes on to make another false assumption. He asserts;
“God authorizes “singing” and not “playing”. This specific does not include another kind; singing does not include playing. Therefore playing is eliminated.”
But while playing may not be the same “kind” as singing, neither does the inclusion of playing negate the obedience to sing! His “exclusion” is a false assumption. One sings to fulfill the admonition to sing whether one sings alone or accompanied. Singing does not include playing. But neither does it logically preclude playing. Again, the “elimination” of playing in this argument is not a logical necessity of kind, despite the distinction, unless you buy into the false assumption at the front of the argument that “authorized” equals, defines, and is limited to specific Scriptural mention on every act that a Christian could seek God’s favor in doing. Romans 14:1, again, refutes this false principle. There are many areas of reasonable discretion in religious practice that only those of “weak” faith try to doctrinalize.
He uses another such elaborate explanation to draw this distinction, a distinction without a doctrinal difference unless one accepts his legalistic understanding of “authority” and “prohibition”.
“God’s command to Noah embraced specific authority, not general. God said make the ark of Gopher wood. “Wood” is generic; “gopher” wood is specific. Oak, poplar and cedar are all coordinates- kinds separate and distinct from each other. Noah could not have done the will of God had he used any other kind of wood but Gopher.”
Indeed, since God specified the kind of wood he wanted, then if Noah used cedar, he could not have, by definition, used gopher. If he had used any other wood than gopher wood he would have been replacing God’s specific command with something different than what God specified. But one who sings, sings, whether accompanied or not. Accompaniment is a separate addition enhancing and aiding singing, but not a replacement of it. The use of instruments of music does not preclude or “replace” the admonition to sing like Noah’s using oak instead of gopher wood would have. Earl’s argument would have some level of legitimacy if accompaniment replaced or precluded singing as using cedar wood replaces and eliminates the specificity to use gopher wood. But it obviously does no such thing. So the example is revealed as another invalid non-parallel example in comparison to using instruments of music in the worship service. One can sing unaccompanied and fulfill the admonition to sing. One can sing accompanied and still fulfill the admonition to sing, despite the “addition” which does not replace singing by its addition. One cannot fulfill the command to use gopher wood, unless one uses gopher wood! Unlike examples. Invalid argument. Gopher wood, by definition, is exclusively restrictive of oak. “Singing” is not, by definition, exclusively restrictive of accompaniment. Earl’s argument assumes that specification in both instances is exclusively restrictive. But there simply is no such indication concerning music in the New Testament necessitating our considering singing as exclusively restrictive.
The same thing is observable as Earl tries the same “kind” distinction with respect to the lamb at Passover. He says,
“If God had only commanded the offering of an “animal” for the Passover feast, any kind of animal would have been accepted. However, the command was not general authority, but specific. Cow, hog and horse, are all animals and are coordinates with neither "kind" dependant on the other. When God said “lamb” that authorized only the lamb for service out of the entire animal kingdom....Another animal than the lamb would have been different in kind and rejected by the Lord. Just as “horse” would have been another coordinate in the animal kingdom, so is “instrumental music” another kind of music than singing. Another kind is both unauthorized and lawless. Jesus said that such action cost men their souls.”
So, in another expression of the absolute legalism by which this thinking opposes Romans 14:1, we find that this whole issue is doctrinalized as a salvific mandate. To play the guitar as you sing a hymn is distinctly damnable according to this legalistic mindset.
But let’s analyze again the argument. Once again we notice the invalid comparative. The replacement of a lamb with a horse is not the same thing as accompaniment as an addition or aid to singing. If one had a horse instead of a lamb at Passover one disobeyed God.
But this example needs further consideration. There is another way in which it is a nonparallel with New Testament music in worship. Significantly even the addition of a horse in the Old Testament context would be wrong since, as we have already noted earlier, God, in the Old Testament rituals like Passover specifics or Temple worship specifics was explicitly and exclusively commanding the detail. Those who didn’t obey the specific detail for the Passover were told that they would die along with the first born of Egypt. This is not the case in the New Testament passages related to singing. They are simply not presented as singular commands forbidding of any and all additional discretionary details. Unaccompanied singing is not “commanded” with attendant warnings in the context that threaten punishment and death as were the Old Testament Passover requirements. Once again Old Testament commands of exclusive detail are carelessly and invalidly mixed with the New Testament admonition to sing, which never has the same exclusively restrictive context as those Old Testament examples.
We find once again that a horse replaces a lamb. Accompaniment does not replace singing. Even if the instruments, as an “addition” alone, were to be frowned upon, accompaniment is, in fact, also a helpful aid, (again; maintaining tempo and pitch). Like a fork or bowl with which to serve the lamb, but which need not be “authorized” by explicit chapter and verse, accompaniment legitimately aids in keeping the singing on key and in tempo, even if it also “adds” something to the service. Wooden forks and spoons are no more legitimate than silver, though silver additionally adds something nicer to enhance the meal as an addition separate from its function as an aid. Likewise, I think God appreciates our attempts to render worship to Him in “excellence”. Accompaniment can certainly do this for music, both as it reinforces and leads the melody, guides the tempo, and maintains the pitch and key of song. At any rate, there is no explicit OR implicit biblical mandate against such “additional” details to New Testament musical worship as accompaniment, or even instrumental music for mood enhancing segues within a service that still otherwise has lots of rich singing. Instrumental music is, in fact, a legitimately observable aid to singing, but even if it weren’t, doctrinalizing against it from what amounts to a discretionary context of New Testament silence would be legalism.
Earl’s next argument really makes no logical sense. Yet let’s look at it anyway. He says,
“Obedience to God is with the heart. It is just as true that all our worship to God is with the heart. It is not with the piano or organ; it is with the human heart. This is the instrument and object of the specific to sing...the object of “make melody” is specified in addition to it- the heart. Since the heart is named it will not permit another instrument.”
Observably however (if Earl wants to refer to the metaphor of making melody in our hearts), if the piano or organ are not the “human heart”, neither are the vocal chords the human heart, whether metaphorical or literal! Earl seems to be confused about human anatomy here! From the perspective of the metaphor, it is as absolutely legitimate to observe that, with “heartful” expression, one can play music from the heart as well as one can sing music from it. His false argument here reveals again a mind set that is merely polemically trying to sustain a position without thinking very far into his own argumentation, not someone sincerely and objectively seeking the Truth of the matter.
Earl makes another typical miscomparison of Old Testament with new in an argument filled with false assumptions that bear scrutiny. He says on page 33,
“Advocates of instrumental music in worship to God in Christ’s church smilingly say, “David had it.” So, this is to mean that we today can use it too! Grant that David played before the Lord and was right in doing it. But how does that prove that it is scriptural today to play it as worship to God? David had many wives and concubines: he “shamelessly uncovered himself” before women and declared such was “before the Lord”. Suppose the Lord accepted it, does this prove it would be right to do such today? David did not live under the Law of Christ; we do. David enjoyed the benefit of animal sacrifice for sin, but we have the blood of Christ. The Covenant of Christ does not authorize instrumental music; therefore instrumental music in worship to God today is not dedicated with the blood of Christ. Any act not under His blood is without sanctification.”
We notice that Earl concedes that, “David played before the Lord and was right in doing it.” This reveals again the invalidity of so much Church of Christ argumentation against instruments of music as being intrinsically unsuited for worship. Preacher John said that, “there’s not an instrument on the face of this earth that teaches and admonishes anyone”, and Mike Willis spent considerable effort blaming instrumental music for the fruits of man’s sinful egotistical human heart. Yet God approved of David’s playing, demonstrating that arguments that attempt to discredit instrumental music as fundamentally unsuited to worship are false arguments. God would not have approved faulty worship in the Old Testament any more than the New.
That David had concubines has no connection to instruments of music at all. Does God “authorize” David to have concubines? And are not the New Testament Scriptures explicit in a way that specifically excludes polygamy in marriage? If we are to be faithful to one wife, and elders of the church are to be the husbands of one wife, and we even know that to look at another woman besides that one wife in adultery in one’s heart, then polygamy is logically precluded by specific scriptural indication. Such is not the case with respect to instruments of music. The admonition to sing does not logically preclude accompaniment. Such an argument is another blatant non sequitur.
As far as David dancing naked before the Lord as an act of Old Testament worship that would be disapproved today, where in the Old Testament does God command (authorize) David to dance naked “before” Him as praise or worship? According to the legalism of Church of Christ thinking concerning authority and prohibition, David had no explicit authority to do that and consequently must surely burn in hell!
Indeed, David lived under the Old Covenant of animal sacrifice while we live under the New. Yet that is another case wherein animal sacrifice today falls under an explicit change in the Law wherein it is proclaimed that there is no more sacrifice for sins since Jesus has become the eternal and perfect Sacrifice. Hebrews 10:14 “...because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy... And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” Obviously if it is said that Jesus is an eternal and perfect sacrifice, and that, as such, there will be no more sacrifice for sins, further prohibition is unnecessary as far as animal sacrifice. It is clearly explicit in what has been said, even as a logical necessity, that there can be no more such sacrifice. This is not the case with instruments of music in the relevant New Testament passages related to music in worship. There is no such context that precludes accompaniment of singing in worship as there is precluding animal sacrifice in relation to Christ’s final and eternal personal sacrifice. Another non parallel example friends.
Earl’s final comments in the above argument assume falsely once again the Church of Christ understanding of what defines authority and prohibition in terms of our approach to understanding God’s Will in Scripture. But if he is correct, he himself has observably condemned David to Hell who danced naked before the Lord in praise and worship without authority, and himself to the same fate who sings with the unauthorized addition of harmony to the music, in an external Church building instead of private house churches that are revealed in the New Testament as the New Testament “pattern” of worship.
Significant too is the fact that we see Earl again assuming that his “principles” of authority and prohibition extend beyond the worship service in their application. For Old Testament/New Testament parallels that he tries to draw such as polygamy vs monogamy, demonstrate that legitimate consistency in application of these principles would need to be doctrinally pervasive, not isolated to consideration of the worship service alone. Thus, if Earl feels that those who play instruments of music in worship will go to Hell in their rebellion, so too will those who don’t pool all of their possessions, claiming nothing as their own, and live thereafter in a communal socialist lifestyle. The Capitalist social lifestyle is not only not “authorized”, clear Scriptural indication demonstrates that the New Testament pattern was definitively communal! Once again Earl gets caught in his own legalism, unwittingly condemning himself and all the rest of those beholden to the Church of Christ mentality who live and operate against the consistent application of their own “principle” within our free market capitalist society!
Earl concludes his tract saying,
“Do not be a party to apostasy. Do not be a party to the dividing of the people of God by the introduction of unauthorized things...”
Yet, according to the valid application of Romans 14:1 here, it is Church of Christ legalism that, in doctrinalizing prohibitions under pain of lost salvation, creates division, not those who, in good faith and the exercise of reasonable biblical discretion, accompany hymns and songs, or use instrumental music to set a mood within a service where singing is also included. Those who doctrinalize where Scripture does not are the ones who “divide” the people of God.
In my initial letter to preacher John I had written that, “...what it is that we are to be obedient about, in your interpretation , is only according to your interpretation from silence.’
He then responded,
“...that’s absolute foolishness. I don’t mean to be harsh by that. But that is absolute foolishness. Let me say right now. What we are to be obedient about is in what God has said.”
But it isn’t foolishness at all. For it is an observable fact that preacher John has God “saying” , “NO!”, in His silence as an unconditional absolute; “speaking” only prohibition out of His silence, irrespective of context. Such a “principle” exists as an utterly incorrect and biblically unsustainable way to approach Scripture. What has been demonstrated in this study is that what God “says”, often offers us by implication of His otherwise tacit lack of detail, (or prohibition concerning detail), the latitude of reasonable discretion. It is, in fact, preacher John’s misinterpretation that God always “says” prohibition in His Silence. It necessarily does no such thing. We can’t read the Bible that way and we don’t live every day life that way in the basic way in which we communicate. It is an artificial way to define authentic communication on any level and a standard by which preacher John himself can’t consistently abide by when the matter is looked into. It isn’t “absolute foolishness”. It is an absolutely valid observation of serious doctrinal error.
So, along the course of this study I have found that the Church of Christ principles of “authorized” by explicit New Testament writ down to the subtlest of details, with an otherwise absolute prohibition of the silence of Scripture are neither rational, or biblical. These principles are applied in fire and brimstone tones threatening loss of Salvation to those who don’t abide in them. Thus, as they are revealed as man made mandates said to be necessary for one’s very Salvation, they are absolute legalism. And, as is always the case, the full implications of these “principles” would find fire licking at the heels of the very proponents who preach them. For as we have seen, neither are the Church of Christ teachers of “authority” and “prohibition” abiding by them. Those very ones who condemn the use of musical instruments in worship, do not themselves abide by the broader application of those very principles in areas like birth control, place of gathering for worship, socioeconomic lifestyle, or a host of other areas wherein their practice exists in a blatant double standard against their own doctrines.
I prayerfully appeal to all who love the Lord to read and re-read Romans 14:1 and repent of any spirit of legalism that may be binding you and your congregation. If, in your own conscience, you feel compelled to sing unaccompanied, then do so, “as unto the Lord”, with good Christian blessing. Yet, do not condemn those who use instruments, as we all likewise know to desist from condemning anyone because they hold one day more holy than another, or consider every day alike; or because they eat only vegetables, or because they eat meat as well. Let every man be convinced in his own mind; prayerful; diligent and careful; so that he is not found to speak out of a careless lack of study, or from ulterior motives, or a bad conscience. Then he will not be condemned by what he approves, or what he might otherwise have presumed to doctrinally condemn! For such legalism is no less a deadly malignancy within the Church than liberalism.
In Jesus Christ,