Friday, July 24, 2015

Simplicity on the Musical Instrument Question

Picture by Kelly Ginn, Great Oaks Church of Christ
Great Oaks got a new website earlier this year, so we had to make decisions about what needed to go on the site and how it could to best be communicated.  To help that process, we spent time checking out other church websites, to see how churches communicate who they are and what they do.  This was encouraging for us,  not only to see how churches communicate, but also to see the many good ministries and outreach efforts going on in other places.  

As a result, I still occasionally glance through websites of congregations I’m not real familiar with, seeing how other places do things and keeping my eyes open for things that might help our own communication and/or ministries.  A few months ago, I stumbled over this simple but effective paragraph explaining why the Smyrna Church of Christ (TN) sings acapella in their worship:

Based upon our understanding of N.T. scripture, God does not desire musical instruments in Worship. Whether or not God regards the use of instruments in worship as a "salvation issue" is His call and is not our decision to make (Romans 14:1-4; 9-12). However, we should be certain who we are trying to please. If we love Jesus we will keep his commandments (John 14:15), and do that to the best of our ability. Based upon the N.T. we can know that God is pleased if we sing during our worship, but we can't know He is pleased if we play instruments. No scripture authorizes instrumental music in worship today; it cannot be found. The confidence that God is pleased if we sing during our worship is very important to us.
Matt. 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13

Here’s a couple things I appreciate about that simple explanation:

1)      First, I appreciate that the key question is NOT “is this a salvation issue?”  Trying to argue whether instruments in worship is a salvation issue is a distraction from the real question of whether God wants them or not.  And if we’re trying to please God only on what we decide are “salvation issues,” aren’t we missing the idea of giving our entire lives – big, small, and in between – to God?  Wouldn’t we really be saying, “I just want to give God the minimum amount required for me to get into heaven, and then I want to do the rest my way regardless of how God feels about it?”  It seems to me the person of faith always asks first, “what best honors and pleases God?” and then proceeds to act on the biblical answer, in trust that God knows what He’s talking about.  Let God decide in eternity what is or isn’t a salvation issue.  For now, let’s try to give Him what He wants in every way possible.

2)      Second, I appreciate that they clearly state what I believe is one of the trump cards in the musical instrument discussions: “Based upon the N.T. [New Testament] we can know that God is pleased if we sing during our worship, but we can't know He is pleased if we play instruments.”  That simple statement is awfully difficult to argue with.  We can know God is pleased with singing because we repeatedly see Jesus and the apostles singing and teaching churches to sing in the New Testament.  We cannot know God is pleased with instruments in worship because we do not see Christians using them or being taught to use them in worship in the New Testament. 
Almost everyone agrees that we only see acapella singing in Christian worship in the New Testament and for several hundred years afterwards.  The question becomes ‘what do we do with that information?’  I believe a partial answer is that simple common sense statement: we know that God is pleased with singing, but we don’t know if He is pleased with instruments.  And if that’s true, then when I add musical instruments to my worship I am necessarily saying, “I don’t know if God is pleased with this, but I want it, so I’m going to do it.”  That’s a step I personally can’t take in good conscience, on any issue.

Who is the Gift For?

I once heard a preacher describe it like a husband getting his wife a Christmas gift.  She gave him a list of things she would like: a certain type of shirt, a romantic-comedy movie she really liked, and some shoes.  On Christmas morning, the husband was excited as his wife began to unwrap her gifts.  She unwrapped the boxes, only to find a men’s basketball jersey of her husband’s favorite player, a basketball video celebrating last year’s NBA champions, and some new men’s basketball shoes in her husband’s size.  His wife gives him a confused look.  “Honey, I appreciate you wanting to give me some Christmas presents; but these are gifts for you, not for me.”  “But dear,” the husband replies, “I couldn’t give you that girly stuff with a heart that was really into it, and you don’t want me to give you something halfheartedly do you?  So I gave you something I could really be excited about.” 

Do you think that conversation would go well for him?  Why not?  Because if you are giving a gift to someone you really care about, you make an effort to give a gift they will be happy with.  That’s the first priority.  And your heart will be happy just by knowing you gave a gift that pleased them, and by knowing that the gift-giving will deepen your relationship.  If we love God, why would we bring Him a worship ‘gift’ that is really for us more than Him? Hasn’t He shown us what He wants?

Deep Debates, Simple Answer?

Several times during my formative-faith years in high school and college, I spent time digging into why we sang without instruments in churches of Christ.  I read many books during those times of digging and questioning, hearing the back and forth, some of which (from both sides) seemed much more complex than it needed to be, and some of which (from both sides) included arguments that were very unconvincing.  But I came to believe that the “singing only” position did indeed have the stronger biblical argument.  I still haven't come across a convincing reason to do it differently than they did in the New Testament, and to add musical instruments to worship – every reason I’ve ever heard has a response that is better grounded in Scripture. 

There are some good discussions to have in those back and forth’s – about Old and New Testament worship forms, the meaning of the Greek word ‘psallo,’ the idea of the silence and authority of Scripture, whether the apostles’ practices were meant to be a pattern for us, what worship is and isn’t, whether you can trust God-given forms of worship to reach people, etc.  If someone wants to dig that deep, I think they’ll benefit from the journey.

But in some ways, a much simpler, big picture view goes back to the simple explanation on that website.  It’s about the heart and purpose of worship.  A love for God that wants to please Him above all else.  

Jesus and His apostles and the Christians they taught just sang, without instruments, and God was pleased with it.  If I want to show my love to God through worship, why would I start giving Him other things just because I want them, not knowing (or caring?) whether He is pleased with it or not?    

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