instrumental music browsing by tag


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.

Instrumental Music and the Early Church

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

When somebody asks why the churches of Christ do not use musical instruments in their worship services, two verses are usually cited: “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Eph. 5:19). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). It is then explained that nowhere in the New Testament does God authorize the use of musical instruments in worship. As the verses just cited demonstrate, only a capella (i.e., vocal) music is commanded.

A common objection to this argument is that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are too vague to leave the objective Bible student with the impression that the use of musical instruments in worship is sinful. One might ask, “Am I to believe that the early Christians refrained from the use of instruments in their worship because they interpreted these passages as you do?” The objection is understandable. Not much is said of the music used in the worship of the early saints, and some believe that we take the verses that mention singing a little too far.

Is there any historical evidence on record to corroborate the conclusions we have drawn from Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, and the other New Testament verses that support a capella singing in worship? Thankfully there is. Consider the following quotations.

In his commentary on the Psalms, Origen, an ancient church leader who lived in the second and third centuries, wrote,

Formerly when those of the circumcision worshipped God in ordinances which were symbols and figures of things to come, it was not out of place to sing hymns to God with the psaltery and lyre, and to do this on the sabbath day. . . We render our hymn with a living psaltery, a living lyre, in our spiritual songs. For the unison song of the people of Christ is more pleasing to God than any musical instrument.

Not only does the early writer object to the use of musical instruments in worship, but it is also significant that, later on in his comments, he refers to the apostolic command involving “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” which is found in both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.

Consider another voice from the past, this time a preacher named Chrysostom who lived in the third century. He, too, opposed the use of instruments in Christian worship and contrasted New Testament worship with Old Testament ceremonies. Commenting on Psalm 144 he writes,

Then there were instruments with which they offered up their songs, but now instead of instruments the body is to be used. For now we sing also with the eyes, not with the tongue alone, and with the hands, and the feet, and the ears. For when each one of these members does that which brings God glory and praise . . . the members of the body become a psaltery and lyre, and sing a new song, not with words, but with deeds.

These ancient sources raise an important question: Where did the early Christians get the idea that musical instruments were to be excluded from church services? Certainly the idea did not come from Judaism or paganism, for both religions included instrumental music in their worship. These Christians must have drawn their conclusions about the worship God desires from the same source available to us today—apostolic instruction in the New Testament.

If all the history of the church is to be taken into account, instrumental music appears to be a recent addition to worship. In fact, for the first one thousand years of its history, the church excluded lyres, harps, organs, etc. from its worship services. And even when western churches began to employ the use of organs, they still refrained from using them during the liturgy proper. Today the eastern orthodox churches still refuse to use anything beyond vocal music. In the words of Everett Ferguson, “Only in the present context of the western world does the a capella practice of churches of Christ seem unusual or out of step” (“Some Contemporary Issues Concerning Worship and the Christian Assembly,” unpublished paper).

Regardless of whether the early Christians employed musical instruments in their worship or not, we should refrain from their use today because God has not authorized them. As it has been said many times before, “Let’s speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent.”