The questions below were given to me by a gracious lady at the 1989 Forum in Texas with the request that I answer in THE EXAMINER.
1. What is your position on "giving of your means" to a local congregation a person is attending, even though you may not agree with everything the people are doing? Should you support that "work"? Is using the money "your own way' for spreading the gospel an option?
ANSWER: As can be seen there are three questions here, all related. My "position' on any question is not what counts, but rather what God's word teaches. Nowhere in NT Scripture do I read of any saint" 'giving of your means to a local congregation,'" meaning an identifiable organization or local church such as we have today. The writer seems to use the expression "a local congregation" and that "work" as identical; and such is common in Church of Christ vernacular. Preachers often speak of "taking the work" (probably an apt term) or "moving to a new work", meaning another "local congregation" or church.
Nowhere in NT Scriptures do you find any instruction for "giving of your means" to "a local congregation". It is without any scriptural basis. There is no requirement to join or become a member of a "local church institution" and "support that 'work'." In practice this means dropping your contribution into the collection plate to be gathered up by the elders and used as that corporate board (Eldership) decides; and you have no voice or vote in how your money is used. This is leaving your responsibility to others; it is religion by proxy.
Your money is your asset and it is your responsibility to use it as you deem right and wise for spreading the gospel, teaching the saints, or helping the needy. Using your money "your own way" is not merely an option it is your personal responsibility and it is the teaching of Christ (cf. Acts 2:44-45; 11:29-30; Rom. 12:13;1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 and 9; 11:7-9; Phil. 4:14-16). There is nothing in Scripture that commands any saint to "give as prospered" into the local corporate church treasury, which is the "operating fund" for the corporate institution.
2. In your opinion, developed through years of study, do you believe the use of "instruments of music" is scripturally allowed or forbidden? ANSWER: It is neither "scripturally allowed" or scripturally "forbidden."
The NT Scriptures say absolutely nothing about instrumental music one way or the other.
I could stop there and it would be a complete answer to the question; but I will be so bold as to offer some addition comments.
First, I do not know of any scripture or justified combination of scriptures which "scripturally allow" instrumental music (IM) while singing praise to God; nor do I know of any scripture or justified combination of scriptures that "forbid" or condemn the use of IM while singing praises to God. I refer only to NT Scriptures, of course. On this subject, the Scriptures are silent, as is true about many other things freely practiced by the Lord's people.
Through the years I have known many dedicated saints who had no hesitation in singing praise to God in their homes or in social gatherings even when a piano or guitar is used to accompany the singing. Is that "worship"? Most disciples will "join right in" when listening to some quartet or country/western singers singing "Amazing Grace" or some other good hymn even when instruments are used. And they enjoy it and find it uplifting.
Is "God Bless America" a song of prayer or praise to God? Often saints have sung this song, as well as "Onward Christian Soldiers", and other such songs, with instrumental accompaniment. Is this a violation of God's word? Is such sinful?
In my view, most Christians at a school function, civic club, community meeting, or at a social function in the home do not have a problem with singing praise to God accompanied by an instrument of music. Why is it sinful if the same thing is done with a group of saints in a "church building"? Is the church building some sacred place where such has been expressly forbidden?
It appears that the use of an instrument is magnified into a matter of sinful action only when it is used in what is today referred to as "corporate worship;" those specified times set by the Eldership of the local corporate church institution, called "Worship Services.'' These "Worship Services" are today claimed to be the divinely prescribed times when the obedient church members must come together at the appointed place, to engage in the man-designed and man-required "Five Acts of Worship"! Scripture says absolutely nothing about such "services''. (The total "five acts" are required only at the "main service" on Sunday morning. On Wednesday evening only three of these "acts" are allowed; and also only three at the Sunday evening "service", unless you missed the "main" service that morning, in which case you will be allowed to go to a back room where you can "get" the Lord's Supper and the corporate church can "get" your money contribution, which is vital to the corporate operation. Now if some highly sensitive church member thinks these remarks are harsh or ugly, please stop to recognize that such is the way the system works. I'm just telling it like it is and you know it!)
Since it touches on this subject, I must deal briefly with another unscriptural concept or teaching that is set forth by some of our preachers as if it is the very "law of God". It is what may be justly called "pattern theology". I am very familiar with this teaching and, in my earlier years as a preacher, I preached it and attempted to defend it. It is based upon the assumption that God has given us, in NT Scriptures, a "divine pattern" that spells out in rather precise detail what the local corporate church is, must be, and must do in all its activities. The claim is that God has given us in the NT Scriptures an explicit "pattern" for serving Him in and through the corporate institutional church; and, of course, as the sermons and writings put it, "We must build all things according the divine pattern."
According to "pattern theology", there is a divine pattern for: 1) the "local church"; 2) the establishment of the church; 3) the worship of the church; 4) the organization of the church; 5) the name of the church (It is "Church of Christ", of course, as anybody should be able to understand!); 6) the work of the church; 7) the mission of the church; 8) Church membership; and 9) the identity of the church. (Unfortunately we came to be Church preachers and defenders; not Jesus Christ preachers and defenders. The sad thing is that it has only gotten worse and with many of the preachers it appears that the Church of Christ is given far more concern and dedication than Jesus Christ Himself. Oppose Christ if you will, but don't mess with the one true Church of Christ!)
It is difficult for those trained and indoctrinated in the Church of Christ rituals and rites of corporate church "Worship Service" to recognize that this whole setup is from men, not from God. Other denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, have their prescribed rituals and form of "worship services," to be conducted under the control of the corporate church at the appointed times at the appointed place "the Church", the Sanctuary, the sacred building where most church activities take place.
It is this whole business of the local corporate church, this denominational concept of serving God in and through an institution, under institutional control, that is the taproot of most of the problems facing the disciples of Christ in our day. If we could free the saints from membership and control of the local corporate church institution many of our problems would resolve themselves.
There are two erroneous and dangerous concepts upon which this unscriptural "pattern theory" is built. The basic one is that there is such a thing as the local institutional church, an independent, autonomous, functional unit or corporate structure called "the local church." It has identity separate and apart from the members who "belong to it". This church corporation can sue and be sued at law; but the members are not being sued when this is done. This corporate concept is an assumption pure and simple, based upon man's conscious and/or unconscious desire to provide organization and structure for the people of God. The Roman Catholic Church was the first classic example of this. Today, local church institutions of many kinds abound. Just look at the hundreds of denominations that exist the world over, with all their local church organizations, each one trying to lead people into its particular and peculiar brand of what goes under that broad, uncertain heading called "Christianity." Jesus did not establish, setup or build an institution or corporate structure such as the modern local Church of Christ, the Independent Christian Church, or the local Missionary Baptist Church, or the Roman Catholic Church.
Let me illustrate the above. Is there a preacher anywhere who will affirm a proposition such as the following in a public discussion?
I. The Northside Christ of Christ, 3601 South Orchard, in Tacoma, WA, is scriptural in origin, name, organization, doctrine, and practice; and membership in some such church institution is essential to pleasing God.
That proposition states clearly what must be proven from NT Scripture if there is indeed a requirement from the Lord for local Church of Christ institutions.
The second erroneous and dangerous concept is that there is a "divine pattern" clearly spelled out in NT Scripture. That is what the "pattern theology'' demands for each local church institution, an explicit pattern that must be followed in detail. It means that every essential for a scriptural local church organization is spelled out in clear black and white pattern terminology and absolutely must be followed to have a true and faithful "local Church of Christ".
Based upon the assumption that there is a "divine pattern" that spells out precisely what the "corporate worship service" must be, some brethren conclude that IM is a violation of the "pattern" or "God's law of worship", as they have defined it, and is therefore sinful. The "pattern" doctrine becomes a legal device men have put together. It becomes a law that "authorizes" a definite "five acts of worship" ritual and forbids everything else as sinful. Hence, by such a "divine pattern" or "law", IM in the "worship services" is declared to be sinful.
Another important point needs to be injected here. It is highly questionable that the scriptures say anything at all about what is designated as "congregational singing." Certainly the expression is not found in the NT Scriptures. One is hard pressed to prove from Eph. 5:19 or Col. 3:16 that the reference there is to what we now call "congregational singing". I do not believe that these passages require, as one of the "Five Acts of Worship," that each and every person must all sing together as a "congregation". In fact, I do not believe that what is required there can be accomplished by "congregational singing".
Look first at Eph. 5:19. It is not addressed to a "congregation" or corporate church! It is addressed to the individual saints; each one who would read, or hear read, this letter from the Apostle Paul. It is written in the distributive form, that is, to each person; and as some teaching is applicable, each one should obey. The instruction - "Do not get drunk with wine" - is personal and individual (V. 18). Surely that is not written to a corporate church institution! "But be filled with the Spirit" is also individual and personal in application. "Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" is to be done by an individual or specific group of individuals for the benefit of the others. And it is not a command or requirement for every Christian for the obvious reason that not all saints can sing!
Col. 3:16 is like Eph. 5:19 in its application. Look at it. "Let the word of Christ dwell within you..." certainly applies to the individual and not to some church organization or collective of saints. "...with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs..." is what others do for us who can teach and admonish us with psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs; and they should do it by "singing with thankfulness" in their hearts to God. As we listen and make their words of praise our very own, we join with the person, or persons, in giving thanks in our hearts to God.
These passages do not deal with what is called "congregational singing" where everyone is required to participate. There is no such requirement or command from the Lord or His apostles. There is certainly nothing wrong with "congregational singing"! I do not think that is what is discussed here; and I doubt that the early disciples had any idea about such a thing. Those who can write songs and music, who can sing and make melody with the heart, can indeed speak to us in "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" for our learning and spiritual upbuilding. Let those who can sing for our edification do so! Let the preacher/teacher speak to us in words for our learning, spiritual growth, encouragement, and comfort. Also, let those who can do the same things for us by singing, DO IT! It should be recognized that an instrument of music alone CANNOT teach us anything!! Also, keep in mind that at best the dumb, mindless instrument is merely an accompaniment or an assist to the person who is teaching and admonishing us with the words of the song! The instrument is not included in the instruction Paul gave. IM can not teach and admonish the saints. It takes words to do that.
In my view, with "congregational singing" there is almost nothing accomplished in the way of "teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." How in the name of reason can we teach and admonish one another when we are all singing at the same time?? Teaching and admonishing others isn't happening. We are not really listening to anybody else; we are all singing the same words. At best, each person may get some uplift from his own singing and benefit from the words. It may be that I can receive some edification or enjoyment by listening to a good singer or two nearby, but I would have to remain silent to do that! I do not believe that we are teaching and admonishing one another when we are all singing at the same time.
Paul condemned the saints at Corinth when several of them were all speaking at the same time (1 Cor. 14). He said that they should "all prophesy one by one" rather than all speaking different messages at the same time. Several speakers all talking simultaneously would not edify or teach; it would be utter confusion.
When a congregation is singing the individuals are singing praise to God and each one is edifying himself/herself, confessing his/her faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done for each of them. It is a real joy and spiritual uplift to hear a congregation of saints lift their voices in songs of praise to God; but I do not believe that is what Paul had in mind in the two passages we have examined. Question: How can a congregation of saints teach and admonish one another with "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" when we are all speaking/singing/teaching at the same time? In congregational singing most of us are concentrating on our own singing, probably trying to stay in tune and sound our best, not on teaching and admonishing someone else!
It is my opinion, that congregational singing, when well done, is inspirational and gives us a good feeling of being spiritually blessed. It is a thrill to hear a thousand of God's saints in unison praise the Lord in song; and it is a great thing to do. But that is not what the apostle meant in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16.
In the days of the apostles, music was very simple compared to that of our day. Four-part harmony was unknown in that day. Maybe the justification for the use of an instrument can be found in the same passage that tells us that "Daddy sang bass and Momma sang tenor"! Is four-part harmony "scripturally allowed or forbidden"? In this whole "music question" there are many inconsistencies on the part of those who do use and those who do not use an instrument to accompany the singing.
Well, you ask wearily after all the above; is IM "scripturally allowed"? NO! It is not "scripturally allowed" because Scripture says nothing about it one way or the other. All arguments for its use, while singing praise to God, are man-deduced! They are conclusions of human reason, not by a command, or in any other way suggested by anything in the NT Scriptures.
On the other hand, there is not any clear-cut proof from the NT Scriptures that IM is condemned or forbidden; that it is sinful and that all who use such will be condemned to hell. Arguments to "prove" such to be sinful are based upon human reasoning and human deductions! Solely upon such!
The NT Scriptures are totally silent relative to this subject. With some brethren IM is fully accepted as scripturally right and proper, if not absolutely required to please God. They are going to use it regardless of the division and evil that it brings forth. To associate with them in their church institutions and "worship services" you are going to get instrumental music regardless.
On the other side of this "issue," there are those who believe and contend that IM in the "worship services" of the local corporate church is sinful and all who practice such will be condemned by God; lost in hell.
Thus both "sides" make the use of IM in corporate "worship services" an issue that divides and alienates them one from the other. In so doing they practice "disputes, dissentions, factions'' as condemned by Paul in Gal. 5:19. Paul also wrote in the same connection: "...those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." That is a very serious statement and should be taken to heart by all of us. And all the division and alienation is concerning a practice about which the Scriptures say absolutely nothing! A day of reckoning is surely coming.
In my earlier years, I engaged in three public debates on the question of IM in worship. I denied that IM in worship was scriptural; and I was right about that. It is not scriptural; there is not one word in NT Scriptures about it. I also affirmed, however, that IM in the worship of God is contrary to NT teaching and is therefore sinful. It is not easy to prove that something is sinful which is not even mentioned in the Scripture. My arguments against it were based upon deductions and human reasoning. Question: Is it sinful for one to violate the deductions and human reasoning of men? Think that over very carefully, dear reader!
One more thing. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that there is really only one valid argument for the use of IM in the praise of God and only one valid argument against it.
First, the argument for it: IM music was used by the Jews in their worship in the temple and in the synagogue, apparently with God's approval; and there is not one word in the NT Scriptures that indicates that He would now disapprove or condemn such! Absolutely nothing!
Second, the argument against its use: Not even one time in the NT Scriptures is there anything at all to indicate that the early saints were instructed to use or did use IM in connection with anything, even though there are references to singing. And to further establish this, there is no indication in secular history' that those who claimed to be God's holy people ever used IM in worship until the sixth century; and then only with great opposition to it. Why?
Let me emphasize this fact: Nothing written here is designed to promote or even encourage the use of IM in singing praises to God or in teaching one another in psalms and hymns, l have spoken openly and honestly from my heart concerning what I believe and/or think about this very disturbing subject. I suspect that a few will attack me with vigor and perhaps viciousness to show how "far into error" I have gone. The would-be prophets and defenders of the established order can have a "field day" with this. So be it. I would like for them to deal fairly and objectively with my remarks; but I am not hopeful of that kind of response. In any case, I will want to read what they have to say; and I hope that they will send me any reviews or "exposures".
To the rest of you, I ask that you objectively evaluate what I have offered. Reject what you believe to be wrong, perhaps telling me why, and accept what you think is the truth. I can ask no more. I have been wrong before, so being honestly mistaken is no new experience for me. I would like to hear from you, but I cannot promise that I will answer or respond. If I am to be condemned for being open and honest on this subject, as on all others, then so be it.
There are four other questions that will be answered in the next issue, the Lord willing. CAH