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Enumerating Our Powers

Friday, August 24th, 2007

The Enumerated Powers Act is a bill that Congressman John Shadegg has proposed to Congress in every session since the 104th. As of yet it has not been passed into law.

Here’s the purpose of the bill in Congressman Shadegg’s own words:

The Enumerated Powers Act, H.R. 2458, requires that all bills introduced in the U.S. Congress include a statement setting forth the specific constitutional authority under which the law is being enacted. This measure will force a continual re-examination of the role of the national government, and will fundamentally alter the ever-expanding reach of the federal government.

Basically, if passed into law, the Enumerated Powers Act would require Congress to cite constitutional authority for every law passed in either the House or the Senate. Some of the bill’s proposals have been adopted, but on the whole it seems our lawmakers are not comfortable limiting themselves to the restrictions placed on them by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution.

The church has an Enumerated Powers Act of its own: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Clearly the Lord intended for his people to seek authority for all of their actions.

Certainly this is true with respect to worship. But more and more Christians are becoming comfortable with expressions of praise that are not authorized in the New Testament.

Instrumental music is one example. Singing is the only music God authorized in the New Testament (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). But some preachers are insisting that God allows the playing of musical instruments too. Where did they learn that?

The word “authority” in the Greek language denotes power. In fact, it is translated “power” in numerous places. For example, the King James Version of Matthew 10:1 says Christ gave his apostles “power against unclean spirits, to cast them out.” The word here is the same word often translated “authority” (see ESV). Would we assume from reading this that these men had power to leap off of cliffs and land unharmed? That would have been a dangerous assumption for one of the apostles to have made. Jesus did not give them power to fly. If they had tried, I’m betting they would not have been pleased with the outcome.

What powers have been granted to us by the New Testament? In other words, what can we do in the name of the Lord Jesus? We can only practice what the New Testament has expressly or implicitly authorized. Let us cite a book, chapter, and verse for everything we do.

We should not be surprised that people don’t want to seek authority for their religion. They don’t want to look for it in politics either. The best policy is still to enumerate our powers. That is the surest way to an eternal reward (Mt. 7:21-23).

Authority or Interpretation?

Friday, December 15th, 2006

I once heard Bobby Duncan say, “Practically every question underlying present-day denominationalism is a question of authority, and not of interpretation.” Really, there is not much disagreement over what the Bible actually says. The disagreement is over what it is telling us to do today.

For example, Catholics sprinkle for infant baptism, not because they think that they can find this practice in the New Testament. Every New Testament scholar knows that candidates for baptism were immersed in the early church. Catholics allow sprinkling for baptism because, in addition to the authority of the New Testament, they accept the authority of the Pope, who has allowed an alternative to immersion.

The churches of Christ only immerse candidates for baptism because we accept only the New Testament as our authority in matters of religion and daily living. Our motto is, “Speak where the Bible speaks, remain silent where the Bible is silent.” As long as we adhere to this principle, we maintain a distinct position in today’s religious landscape.

These things came into my mind when I read that the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Texas has added an instrumental service to their worship schedule.

“There is unity in our eldership, and we are so thankful for that,” said Jon Jones, one of the elders who leads the Richland Hills church. His words sound hollow, seeing as how two of the elders resigned following the groundbreaking decision.

Rick Atchley, the church’s pulpit minister, was quoted as saying, “…I firmly believe that if Richland Hills is to be most faithful to God’s word and Christ’s mission, we must become a both/and church with regard to instrumental and a cappella praise.”

How is it possible that Brother Atchley can claim we are more faithful to God’s word by allowing instrumental music into our worship assemblies? The New Testament says nothing about “instrumental praise.”

As Brother Duncan said, this isn’t about interpretation. Reputed Bible scholars of every stripe agree that you cannot find instruments of music in the New Testament. The Bible doesn’t need to be re-interpreted. This is about authority. Unfortunately, there are some among us (and the number is growing) who no longer believe that we must follow Scriptural authority in everything that we do (Col. 3:17).

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that believers must worship God “in spirit and in truth.” The Bible is the only source for truth (Jn. 17:17). Will the churches of Christ insist on following the truth revealed through the New Testament, or will they abandon that truth to follow the fleeting trends of society? The answer to this question not only determines whether we will employ musical instruments in our praise to God. Its implications reach even further into the very nature of who we are.

Make no mistake. This is not just about the instrument.