How often the matter gets discussed among preachers in churches of Christ, I cannot say. But, I know that it does. More members of the church than we might care to think do not have this matter settled in their minds, especially as it has to do with the state of those who have been immersed for the forgiveness of sins, submit to the authority of Christ in other areas of their lives, but who use the instrument in worship. Some have said they think its use is wrong and we have been right to argue against its use but do not think they can say it is a salvation or fellowship issue. It should be stated that many of these are sincere brethren who love the Lord and people nor are they change agents intent on trying to destroy the Lord’s body. Too often, we have lacked an environment where we could have healthy, constructive dialogue free of name-calling, suspicion, and visceral discussion. But failing to discuss and work through matters like these does not make them disappear.
Having said that, here are some hurdles I just cannot jump regarding this matter:
- The presence of singing and absence of instruments in New Testament passages. The fact that every instance of singing in the context of the Christians’ activity together reveals singing (Greek is a precise language; ado means to utter words in a melodic pattern [Louw-Nida] and ). Psallo, according to Lexicographers, encompassed playing musical instruments at an earlier time in its linguistic history, but did not mean that in New Testament times (e.g., BDAG, 1094; TDNT, 8:494). Interestingly, the translators of English translations, beginning with the King James Version, were unanimously members of religious groups that used mechanical instruments in music. Despite their obvious bias in worship practice, they translate the Greek “singing and making melody in your hearts.”
- The absence of instrumental music in worship in early church history. Though a member of the church of Christ, Everett Ferguson has the utmost respect from scholarship across the religious spectrum. In multiple volumes, Ferguson meticulously sets forth the case that instrumental music was absent in the church from its establishment until many centuries later. His studied conclusion is that this was neither incidental nor coincidental. He writes, “The historical argument is quite strong against early Christian use of instrumental music in church” (The Instrumental Music Issue, 98; the whole chapter is a worthwhile read). In another work, he states, “The testimony of early Christian literature is expressly to the absence of instruments from the church for approximately the first thousand years of Christian history” (The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, 272). John L. Girardeau, a Presbyterian scholar, devotes an entire, well-documented chapter to the historical case of only vocal music in Christian worship for many centuries and upon doctrinal grounds (see Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church, 86-100).
- The examples of how God dealt with unauthorized worship throughout history. What do we make of what God does with Cain’s worship in Genesis 4, Nadab and Abihu’s worship in Leviticus 10, and Jeroboam’s worship in 1 Kings 12? Why would God care in the Patriarchal and Mosaic Dispensations that His commands for worship be followed per His instructions, but lose that desire under His Son’s covenant?
- The fact that God draws definitive, doctrinal conclusions through the use of silence. The writer of Hebrews says, “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests” (7:14). The argument shows that Jesus could become a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, but not under the Old Testament rule and covenant. Why? God specified Levi as the tribe for the high priest under the old law. It did not explicitly say that a high priest could not come from any other tribe, but it did not have to. What it specified was sufficient, an argument made in the New Testament.
- The fact that authority can and must be tangibly determined. Why is it that we sing in worship at all? Is worship merely a matter of what we come up with and wish to offer? Few would argue such. The basis for worship arises from what the New Testament teaches. Nearly everyone, then, would say there are definitive, delineated boundaries. If there is and must be divine authority for worship, and thus “rules” that are objectively determined, there must be activity that falls out of those bounds. Where will we find the boundary markers if not in Scripture?
This list is not meant to be exhaustive and it cannot, in one brief article, be exhaustive. It is included here to show us the great pause that should exist in changing our minds or our teaching on a matter where God has been vocal and specific. The weight of that is not insignificant or inconsequential. May we lovingly and wisely approach this matter and take great care before we relegate a matter of divine importance to a mere matter of human preference.