Friday, December 15, 2006

Instrumental music one more time

My understanding is that the Richland Hills congregation in the metroplex of Dallas has now openly advertised a Saturday night service with the Lord's Supper and instrumental music.

The Christian Chronicle tells the story, so I won't. They studied the scholars on the subject for three years. What scholars did they study? Did they study all sides or the side they wanted? McGarvey noted that when the wish becomes the father of the practice, exegesis rolls off like water on a duck's back.

The arguments I have heard over the last few decades usually sound good until it is asked why the early church didn't get that point. Why didn't they understand what some supposed scholars now know.

Why didn't they feel free to use the instrument since Jesus felt it was okay to drink four cups of wine at the passover (ha!)? Why didn't the early church use the instrument since it was used in the temple? Why didn't the early church use it, since Psalm 87 speaks of it in prophecy? Why didn't the early church use it, since it is supposedly in heaven? How is it that the early church could have missed the long-touted psallo and psalmos arguments?

All these imaginative arguments fall flat. They are the dreams of people today who want the instrument, not the understanding of the early church that opposed the instruments.

If these scholars are so smart about the early church, why then didn't those common Christians of the first century (and succeeding centuries) not understand and apply the same?

If you would like to read a lengthy article on Music in NT worship, go to and follow the prompts to the bottom of the transcript page.

Just because some "big" and "popular" preachers and churches choose to do something foolish doesn't mean the rest of us should.



Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Interesting choice in J.W. McGarvey Phil. McGarvey's "exegesis" lead him to believe, until the day he died, that the Missionary Society was biblical, safe and effective.

Is it not possible for Atchley to have read McKinnon, Ferguson, etc and come away not convinced that there is a THEOLOGICAL reason to condemn instruments in worship?

I have maintained for a long time that this is no issue of fellowship nor salvation. I have studied Mckinnon AND Calvin Stapert's new definitive work on musical thought in the early church (Eerdmans 2006).

Interestingly enough I have never come across a Church Father that objected to instruments on the basis of the word psallo. If you know the one give me the reference.

Rather the Fathers opposed instruments on two grounds that I can tell: 1) paganism and 2) anti-semitism. This last one runs throughout much of the corpus of the Fathers.

But if Paul can offer an animal sacrifice, with the approval of two other inspired men (James and Luke) I doubt seriously he would have a theological objection to instruments. And in fact if my research is accurate Paul could not have offered his sacrifice without the sacred trumpets.

Bobby Valentine

Phil Sanders said...

how nice of you to write. For those who do not know, Bobby and I have bantered back and forth for many years. While we greatly disagree, we have endeavored to maintain a cordial relationship.

Interesting, Bobby, that you should bring up the Missionary Society. It seems that opposing it is the one major thing that churches of Christ and Christian churches agree upon. I would point readers to Choate and Woodson's book, Sounding Brass and Clanging Cymbals, pages 177-205, to see the results of the Society. Bobby, any individual, even McGarvey, can be right on one point and wrong on another.

I suppose Atchley can come to whatever conclusion he pleases. The fact that he does not buy the arguments does not make them invalid. Many people think sprinkling is an appropriate form of baptism in spite of Romans 6:3-7 and Col. 2:12-13. The Pharisees willfully blinded themselves against the Lord, and so do many people today. I am also reminded of 2 Peter 3:1-18.

The early church did not use instruments of music in part because they found no instruction for it. They also opposed it as worldly and Jewish. (Perhaps their opposition was not so much anti-Semitism as it was understanding what covenant they were under).

Psallo was not the issue for the early church that it is today. The Jews had been psalloing psalms in this synagogues for hundreds of years without an instrument. They did not assume (as did Slade and those who followed) that psallo was permission granting. If they had, why didn't they use the instrument? This, Bobby, is your conundrum. You must show how they figured a way to use the instrument anyway. You cannot just dismiss their refusal.

I have also shown in my book, Let All the Earth Keep Silence, that the early fathers understood that they were not to go beyond the instructions of the apostles. This is the theological basis for rejecting the instrument. And those who can permit the use of IM have little to say about other ungodly innovations: purgatory, clergy/laity, sprinkling, binding of holidays, polygamy or many other such things.

Since no one was pushing at that time the use of the instrument, they didn't fight that battle.

The progressives among us today are not merely pushing IM, they are subtly condemning anyone who stands in their way as judgmental and darkened in their understanding. We have been called unloving, sectarian, and even divisive for buying the truth and not selling it.

As for their three years study, McGarvey spent decades, as did Lewis, Ferguson, West, and Woodson. Am I supposed to take Atchley's word and ignore these men, as if they were pseudo-scholars?

As for Paul, Paul acted as a Jew in the temple, worshiping the way Jews worshiped in the temple. Your argument might have some punch if Paul then had trumpeters playing when the offerings were given in the church. When did any inspired man ever bring the temple worship into the gathering of the body of Christ? Why didn't they, Bobby, if indeed it were all right?


Anonymous said...


I have not read, I assume, nearly as much as you and Bobby have of the words and works of the early church fathers. I have read the entire Bible through over and over instead. Shall I consider it my loss or my gain?

In reading the bible through, I have found that silence of the scriptures is most often indicative of the importance of taking a resounding stand. If there is a resounding stand taken, then we should heed it. If the scriptures are truly silent, then who are we to presume the meaning without the inspiration of God to guide us?

Paul was NOT silent about the use of instruments to communicate. Indeed he testified that when the flute, harp, or bugle is played without distinction in the tones, then its message will be indistinct as well. Would not the converse also be true? If there is distinction in the tones does not the soldier know it is a call to battle?

Surely Paul could have spoken in 1st Corinthians 14 about the "sin" of using IM in assemblies of the saints if he had wanted to or felt it a worthy subject. But here's the point: the Holy Spirit did NOT move him to say anything against the use of "lifeless things" when played distinctly. Nor did he say anything else beyond using the IM as good illustrations of why we need interpreters whenever and if ever someone speaks in a tongue in the assembly.

I do not advocate that all must use IM to please God. I advocate that whatever one does must be done with distinction in the tones to please God. Paul taught as much. Paul also taught that whatever men do, we will all stand or fall before the Lord for it, and the Lord is able to make us stand (c.f. Romans 14:4).

If you disagree with this, please be sure to show me without silence of scriptures to silence your resounding call. That is, lay aside 'silence' on this issue only if and when the scriptures do so to declare the IM a sin in any place where they are offered by the faith of the one offering their tones unto the Lord.



Phil Sanders said...


Of course, the New Testament is our final and only authority. We understand that. The argument we are having comes from the notion that the early church also understood that. If the teachings of Jesus is our final authority, then the early church practice reflects that understanding. The fact that the early church uniformly and vehemently opposed instruments is a meaningful statement of what they understood the Lord to teach in Scripture.

Glenn, the silence of Scripture is not merely silence. What must be understood is that God has spoken, He has spoken all that He intends to say for men to know His will and keep it. When God finished, He hushed. It is presumptuous then to go on speaking in the silence of God by innovations such as IM, purgatory, the clergy-laity distinction, or sprinkling for baptism. Such things are presumptuous, and the Scriptures condemn planting new doctrines or practices where God has not (Mt. 15:13-14; Col. 2:20-23; 2 John 9; Gal. 1:6-9).

While the Scriptures mention that instruments have purpose; we find no evidence that Paul is promoting them in the worship of the church.

If we require the Scriptures to tell us everything that is a sin that men could dream up, certainly our Bibles would be much larger than they are now! Instead the Scripture tells us what God wills and wants, and we understand that it is all He wills and wants. It is complete and final (John 16:13; Jude 3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). We have all the will of God in the New Testament, and there is no hint there that IM is to be used in Christian worship. People have to read that into the text, abusing the Scripture.

My friend, one cannot rule out silence as if it did not matter. The silence of Scripture is a silence that comes after the all-sufficient Word has been given. To innovate IM after God has hushed is sinful.

For a more complete study of this I hope you will take the time to read the tract that I mentioned in the blog.

Thanks for writing,

Drew Kizer said...


That was the most confusing comment I have read in a long time.

Phil, can you tell me where that McGarvey quote came from? I've read it here and in your transcript on and I'm very interested in the context in which it was spoken.

Thanks for sharing your insights on this blog. I enjoy reading them.

Gary W. Kirkendall said...


I am looking into this issue. I noticed in your anaswer to Bobby that you say, "The early church did not us instruments of music in part because they found no instruction for it." How do you know that? How do you know that they considered it "worldly & Jewish"? Also, why is it that the early church would follow so many other Jewish practices, or imitate them (elders, reading & studying the OT, etc.), but come out oppossed to instrumental music? I do not find oppostition to them in the NT. It seems that there is no references at all. Fergusen says (which I am certain you know), " . . . the NT gives no negative judgement on instrumental music per se. The situation is simply that instruments are not refered to in the church's worship" (page 42).
Also, don't you think that the cradle of the debate is that almost no one understands how it is that we move so easlily between the posts of "Exclusion and Expediencey?"
In paragraph six of your answer to Bobby V. you hint at this looking at the church Fathers. Do you not think that modern practices in the many Churches of Christ (orphan homes, multi-cups, located preachers, christian camps, publishing houses, etc) would be a shock to them? I have a good friend who preaches for a congregation oppossed to eating in the building, orphan's homes, etc. He explained to me how the "Box in the Foyer" works -- money placed in there is not "technically" placed in the church treasury, so its OK to use that money for organizations. He also plainly admits that it is symantical game. It seems clear that there are many accepted practices in the modern church that go beyond the specific instructions of the apostles, and we look to ourselves to decide if it falls under the law of exclusion, or the mercy of expediency.
Judge Highers, and others, feel that the problem is simply a matter of education. I am willing to accept that possibility and I am in hope that someone will do so in a compelling way -- at least as compelling as the pro-instrumentalist are doing at the present time. I read his recent article in the GA entitled, "Is it a Salvation Issue?" It is very hard to make the jump from the biblical definitions of sin to sin being defined as "introducing unauthorized modes of worship into the assembly" in such a short article. In the end, it is left to us, as students, to decide what is unauthorized and what is expedient. His conclusion depends upon the assumption that the reader already opposses instrumental music in worship, which is, in my opinion, a flaw.
I remember you from the old days in Mississippi. You are quite gifted as a thinker and a student of the Bible. I would welcome a major and compelling work on the subject of instrumental music in worship from someone like you, who is convicted of it's sinfulness.

Phil Sanders said...

thanks for writing. I too remember with fondness our days in Mississippi and appreciate hearing from you. Thanks for your kind words.

Ferguson's book on A Cappella Music in the Early Church is full of quotes from the fathers, showing that they regarded music as worldly.

The Early Church Fathers opposed instruments of music in Christian worship.
Justin Martyr (ca. 150 AD) condemned any association with musical instruments as worldly.
Tertullian (150-222 AD) mentions only vocal music in worship.
Clement of Alexandria (200 AD) severely denounced the use of instruments among Christians even
at banquets.
Augustine (354-430 AD) displays the general attitude of the early church against instruments of
music for any purpose. “Let no one’s heart revert to the instruments of the theatre.”
Gregory of Nazianus (330-390 AD) mentions instruments but not in any way to approve them. He
believed their only use was the arousement of sensuousness.
Jerome (347-420 AD) speaks only of vocal music and emphasizes that the heart is the source of
Theodoret (ca. 400 AD) says the use of the instrument is a “childish” relic of the Old Testament and is excluded from the worship of the church.
Chrysostom (4th century AD) says of the instruments of the Old Testament allegorically look forward to the pure worship of the lips.

Gary, there are numerous things of the first covenant that are not endorsed in the second. Animal sacrifices, the burning of incense, a Levitical priesthood, and Sabbath keeping were all good things of the first covenant but not found as any part of the covenant by which we are sanctified.

While there is no specific judgment statement made on IM, that does not mean the New Testament is silent on the principle of doing only those things we find instructed in the Scriptures. We have as much reason to believe in purgatory, the clergy/laity dichotomy, sprinkling for baptism, or polygamy as we do IM, since we find no specific judgmental statement about these either.

If we have to have a specific prohibitive statement for everything that is wrong, how can we condemn gambling, polygamy, illicit drug use, or the pope?

The differences between additions and expediencies is a major issue here and--frankly--one in which many people stumble. In Acts 16, Paul concluded that he ought to use a ship in order to "come" over to Macedonia and help the people there with the gospel. No ship is mentioned specifically but certainly this expedient is approved. Why? Because it helps fulfill the command.

Expedients aid and expedite. They help fulfill what is instructed. Additions add to the command and change it so that more happens than is intended. The difference between an aid and an expedient is the difference between hammers and saws building the ark and using a second kind of wood beyond the gopher (whatever that is).

I would point to the altar of Ahaz in 2 Kings 16:10ff. This is no expedient; this is an addition. I would point to Saul's presumption in 1 Samuel 13. These lessons ought to teach us that we cannot go beyond the word and please God.

I would invite all readers to invest some time in my book, "Let All the Earth Keep Silence." I devote a chapter to expediency.

If IM is an innovation, it is sinful and is a salvation issue for those who create splits with it. I believe the progressives among us are driving a wedge like that over a century ago.

I hope this is a start in clearing up your questions and in helping work through this difficult time.

God bless you, Gary,

Phil Sanders said...

The McGarvey quote can be found in his Short Essays on Biblical Criticism, page 116 (GA, 1956). This book is apparently from articles he wrote in the Christian Standard (1893-1904).

I hope this helps,

Drew Kizer said...

Thanks, Phil. I found the article online, here.

Paul said...

I don't know what the big fuss is. We are commanded to use an instrument in worship!

The heart.

Anonymous said...

I've been having this debate for quite some time and one of the ideas that keeps coming to my mind is this: What other worship practices which were encouraged in the times of the Old Covenant are now not only not encouraged, but are forbidden without any sort of warning in the New Testament?