Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Musical Praise and Biblical Silence



     Is it a “sin” to worship with mechanical instruments? This is a loaded question comparable to, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” It can’t be answered with impunity with a simple “yes” or “no.” If one were to say, “Yes, it’s a sin to worship with mechanical instruments,” the inquirer could quickly respond: “Where does the Bible explicitly label it a ‘sin’? If you can’t produce a direct biblical statement, you’re binding what God hasn’t bound!” But to answer with a simple “no” would evoke the response: “If it’s not sinful, it must be okay and you shouldn’t make a big deal out of it.” Either way, the discussion comes to an abrupt halt. This article is an attempt to avert common misunderstandings that result from oversimplification and to address the issue thoughtfully, practically, and biblically.
     The Bible is our complete guide in all spiritual matters, repeatedly admonishing its readers to handle the word of truth accurately and to evade, reject, and denounce its misuse (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Tim. 2:2, 15, 24-26; 3:14-17; 2 Pet. 1:3; 3:14-18; etc.). Here is every text in the New Testament that relates to musical praise in Christian worship: Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; 13:15; James 5:13.1 Each verse specifies vocal and verbal praise, depicting that which instructs, admonishes, and understands.

Scripture
Vocal/Verbal
Instrumental
Both
Matt. 26:30


Mark 14:26


Acts 16:25


Romans 15:9


1 Cor. 14:15


Eph. 5:19


Col. 3:16


Hebrews 2:12


Hebrews 13:15


James 5:13



   Now some might object, claiming that at least some of these verses are taken out of context, to which the following threefold response is offered. First, would it be reasonable to suppose that if any of these passages had mentioned a harp or a trumpet, it would be included in the discussion? Second, even if the dismissal of some of these verses could be rationalized, they cannot all be rejected and the conclusion is still the same. Finally, if all the pertinent information is to be considered, then all the pertinent information ought to be considered.

The Principle of Silence

      To illustrate the biblical principle of silence, consider Acts 15. Certain Jewish Christians were advocating mandatory circumcision (vv. 1, 5). After all, they had plenty of scriptural support for their position in the Old Testament, and neither Jesus nor any of his apostolic representatives had directly discounted this doctrine. How were these teachers and those they taught supposed to know this wasn't right? The Spirit-guided response was simply, “we gave no such commandment” (v. 24  NKJV). In other words, divine silence = no divine sanction. 
     This is further illustrated in Hebrews 7:11-16. How did the Israelites know the divine will concerning the appointment of priests? Quite simply, God explicitly revealed this information: “This is what the LORD commanded to be done …” (Lev. 8:5 ff.), specifying the tribe of Levi as the priestly tribe (cf. Num. 18:1-2; Deut. 33:8-11; Heb. 7:5). God did not (and did not need to) provide a list of other Israelite tribes in order to directly forbid the appointment of priests from any of them. By specifying Levi, all other tribes were implicitly excluded.
     In view of God’s silence concerning the other tribes, would it have been according to his revealed will to appoint priests from the tribe of Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, or Issachar? What about Dan, Gad, Naphtali, or Benjamin? The Lord never said not to. What if some from the other tribes were capable of performing priestly duties just as well as or even better than the Levites? And who better than the Lord Jesus to function as priest? Would it have been according to God’s revealed will for Jesus to have served as a Jewish priest while he was living on earth, even though he was not a descendent of Levi?
     “For He [Jesus] of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (Heb. 7:13-14, emp. added). Why would Jesus not have been permitted to serve as an Israelite priest on earth? It had nothing to do with whether or not he was capable of doing the job, or whether he or others may have desired it. It had nothing to do with God having directly forbidden it (because he didn’t). It had everything to do with the silence of scripture. Moses “spoke nothing” concerning it; i.e., there was no divine sanction for a person from the tribe of Judah (even Jesus!) to serve as priest.

Generic and Specific Instructions2

     What if the injunction was, “Appoint priests from among the Israelites”? Accordingly, anyone from any of the tribes would be allowed; but the requirement was not this generic. The law directed the appointment of priests from among the Israelite tribe of Levi. Therefore, anyone from Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, etc., would necessarily be excluded.
     What if the Bible said, “Commemorate the Lord’s death with food and drink”? Accordingly, any type of food and drink (brownies, carrots, water, coffee) would be permissible; but the stipulated elements of the Lord’s Supper are not this generic. The Lord’s death is to be commemorated with unleavened bread and fruit of the vine (cf. Matt. 26:17, 26-29). Therefore, any other elements are automatically eliminated.
     What if the New Testament said, “Offer music to God as Christian worship”? Accordingly, any type of music (singing, electric guitar, saxophone, etc.) would be permissible; but the musical praise specified in the New Testament is not this generic. The New Testament affirms, “… singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19 + nine other verses). Therefore, any other type of music would necessarily be excluded.

Is Silence Permissive or Prohibitive?

     The injunction to appoint priests from among the Israelite tribe of Levi would permit anyone within the stated category, including tall Levites, short Levites, brown-haired Levites, black-haired Levites, dark-complected Levites, light-complected Levites, etc. None of these options deviates from the specified command. But the injunction to appoint priests from among the Israelite tribe of Levi would prohibit Egyptians, Assyrians, Reubenites, Simeonites, etc. (even serving alongside the Levites), because these options exceed the parameters of the specified command.
     The directive to commemorate the Lord’s death with unleavened bread and fruit of the vine would permit plates or trays or baskets or containers for the specified elements, none of which adds to or deviates from the stated instructions. But the directive to commemorate the Lord’s death with unleavened bread and fruit of the vine does prohibit brownies, carrots, water, coffee, etc. (even if consumed along with the specified elements), because they are unauthorized additions to what scripture teaches.
     The New Testament directive to sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord would permit song books or overheads (for words), a tuning fork (for pitch), a song leader (for tempo), none of which deviates from the specified instructions. But there is no New Testament authorization for playing and making melody on a piano in worship (even to accompany the singing), or beating drums, or juggling Bibles, or dancing with hula hoops, etc. All humanly-devised additions to the specified instructions are implicitly prohibited if the Lord has given no such directive.

Respecting God’s Authority

     Whatever is not communicated in the sacred writings (specifically or generically) is necessarily excluded from God’s revealed will. If the principle of biblical authority is rejected, anything that is not explicitly forbidden in scripture must therefore be permissible, including a universal pope, praying to Mary, praying to angels, praying to departed saints, prayers for the dead, baptizing infants, sprinkling as a mode of baptism, baptizing with rose petals instead of water, sale of indulgences, polygamy, smoking marijuana to heighten the worship experience, et al.
     Even though the New Testament is silent on all of the above and does not explicitly forbid any of them, each must be rejected simply because none is biblically sanctioned. Mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship are to be opposed, not because they are expressly forbidden by the scriptural directive to sing but because there is no New Testament authorization for their use.
     What is our purpose for worshiping? If our primary aim is to please the Lord,3 the only way to be certain about what pleases him is according to what he has chosen to reveal to us. We know what the will of God is by what is revealed in the Bible (Eph. 3:3-5; 5:17), not by what is left unsaid. The heavenly Father presently communicates through his Son Jesus Christ, and the new covenant of God’s Son has superseded the old covenant of Moses and the Jews (Heb. 1:1-2; 8:6-13). If the Lord has not ordered drum beating or trumpet blowing or guitar strumming to replace or accompany singing from the heart as Christian worship, who is presumptuous enough to offer it to him anyway, and by whose authority?
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 All scripture references in the New Testament to man-made musical instruments (Matt. 11:17; Luke 7:32; 15:25; 1 Cor. 13:1; 14:7-8; Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2) involve figurative imagery illustrating things other than Christian worship. For a Presbyterian perspective with insightful historical observations, see G. I. Williamson’s “Instrumental Music in Worship: Commanded or Not Commanded?” in The Westminster Presbyterian (2001), <Link>. Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     2 Examples are numerous. The Lord’s expectation for Christians assembling together (1 Cor. 14:26; Heb. 10:25) does not stipulate a specific gathering place, therefore rental halls and church buildings are sanctioned under this generic prescription. The necessity of hearing and understanding the communication of God’s message (Mark 7:14; Jas. 1:21) justifies sound systems and microphones. The universal proclamation of the gospel (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15) authorizes a variety of transportation modes.
     3 Please read Matt. 5:16; John 8:29; 2 Cor. 5:9; Gal. 1:10; Col. 1:9-10; 1 Thess. 2:4; 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 13:16; 1 John 3:22.



Image credit: https://hoardercomesclean.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/art31580.jpg?w=440

2 comments:

  1. Kevin, I think based on the description you have here that the use of praise teams in the Church of Christ would be totally acceptable. Can you confirm or deny?

    "The New Testament directive to sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord would permit song books or overheads (for words), a tuning fork (for pitch), a song leader (for tempo), none of which deviates from the specified instructions. But there is no New Testament authorization for playing and making melody on a piano in worship (even to accompany the singing), or beating drums, or juggling Bibles, or dancing with hula hoops, etc. All humanly-devised additions to the specified instructions are implicitly prohibited if the Lord has given no such directive."

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    1. Deny, because there are other variables that come into play. Is the praise team comprised of males and females? Does this involve a function of leadership in the corporate assembly? Is the praise team seated amongst the congregation or standing before the congregation, and does it give the appearance of leadership? Does the praise team actually facilitate and benefit congregational singing or detract from it as a virtual performance? There are biblical principles that help to address these matters beyond what is discussed in the article.

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