(Part 2)

August 1, 1997 Issue
by Brett Hickey

The Lord did not leave us a long list of "thou shalt not’s" to guide us in religious matters. When Noah orders materials for the ark (Gen 6:14), the priest singles out an animal for sacrifice (Lev 23:12) or the church selects music for worship, God expects us to follow any specific instructions given. The Christian who sees fit to reverence God and respect the scriptures’ silence can readily distinguish between authorized and unauthorized music. If Jesus or the apostles would have given only the generic command to offer music, we would be at liberty to sing, to play or do both. If they had given the specific command to play, we would all be duty-bound to tote an instrument to worship. But, since the apostolic commands are limited to singing, any musical alternatives are excluded.


Frustrated in their attempts to find authorization for instrumental music in our English Bibles, some have gone to the Greek hoping to find refuge. Unfortunately for those desperate to defend their position, there is no contradiction between the Greek and English. Instrumental enthusiasts make their final stand on Eph 5:19. They take the phrase, "singing and making melody in your heart" to be the equivalent of "sing and play." The Greek falls way short of the miracle these folks are looking for. Remember, the Greek word psallo here translated "making melody" is found four more times in the NT. Three of those times it is translated in the Authorized Version "sing" and once "sing psalms." Thayer’s GL Lexicon authenticates that rendering: "in the NT, to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song." This quote carries added weight because Joseph Henry Thayer had a natural bias in favor of the instrument. His Congregationalist brethren advocated instrumental accompaniment. What is the point? Dr. Thayer did not sacrifice his scholarly integrity to appease the permissive disposition of his denominational allies.

Again, Vine’s Expository Dictionary says that psallo "denotes, in the NT, ‘to sing a hymn, sing praise."’ The phrase, "in the NT," is emphasized, first of all, because the New Testament is precisely where this search should be confined. In addition, it highlights an "oversight" made by entertainment-oriented Christians. In an attempt to soften the blow struck by these highly reputable sources, instrumental music advocates, in some debates and writings, shamelessly omit the words "in the NT" when they quote these authorities. This removes the intended distinction between the New Testament meaning of psallo and more primitive meanings. It also steers the unsuspecting audience away from the Bible truth.

M.C. Kurfees, in his exhaustive work, Instrumental Music, presents E.A. Sophocles (not to be confused with the author of Greek tragedies in the fifth century B.C.) as the most compelling authority on psallo. Sophocles, a lexicographer born in Greece, was also Harvard Professor of Greek for thirty-eight years. The distinguished Professor specialized in the study of the Greek classics written between 146 BC and 1100 AD. He studied the diverse Greek writings of nearly six hundred secular and religious authors. His work and scholarship were so well respected that after his death Professor Joseph Henry Thayer was entrusted by the President and Fellows of Harvard in 1887 to oversee the publication of a Memorial Edition of his Greek lexicon. His research of Greek literature in the Roman and Byzantine periods revealed that in those time periods psallo was only translated "to chant, sing religious hymns." Since these same periods fully envelop the years in which the New Testament was written, it is safe to conclude that the Greek, like the English New Testament, offers no defense for the Christian seeking to justify instrumental music.


As we investigate any aspect of congregational worship, it is important to inquire about the origin of that act of devotion. The most shameful and unacceptable type is described as "will worship" in Col 2:20-23. Will worship is offered when we take it upon ourselves to substitute our personal preferences for the Lord’s explicit commands. Thayer defines will worship as "voluntary, arbitrary worship, i.e. worship which one prescribes and devises for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of faith which ought to be directed to Christ." Cain committed this grievous sin when he offered a bloodless sacrifice in Gen. 4. Nadab and Abihu succumbed to the same temptation in Lev. 10. Apparently from the same principle. Amos rebuked those who invented to themselves instruments of music.


While will worship is self-prescribed, what Jesus classified as vain worship in Mt 15:9 is actually will worship made popular. Jesus said, " vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." This worship was vain, or worthless, because its origin was not from God, but men. Although not responsible for initiating new doctrines, these people blindly accepted the modern ideas of man over the less palatable, but pure, word of God. Simply put, the Lord takes it personal when He addresses a subject in the New Testament and mere men take the liberty of correcting or "improving" upon His will. Perpetuating by consent the use of man-made mechanical music in the house of God falls under this category. Be not deceived; the Lord will not accept such trifling with his commands.


The indifference many men demonstrate toward the particulars of worship indicates their ignorance of, or rebellion against, in the words of Christ. He says acceptable worship is contingent upon man’s willingness to meet certain standards. He told the Samaritan woman, "God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." What is truth? We learn from Jn 17:17 that the word of God is truth. So, to prove that our worship is sanctioned by God we must find it in the Book of books. We cannot worship in spirit without worshipping in truth. How can we pretend to approach God with reverence, if we have not cautiously examined our practice in light of God’s word?


Really, this is the bottom line. If there is no sin, there can be no penalty. In this two-party study, the facts demonstrate that instrumental music in worship originated with man and not God. This, however, was not necessary to eliminate accompaniment as a viable option. Those advocating a capella music need only demonstrate that the playing of instruments in worship would be an unwarranted gamble. At the close of Romans 14, Paul issues this warning against playing games with our souls: "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." In other words, when it is wrong, we do not have the green light to go full speed ahead. Rather, this scripture should serve as a warning, especially in our worship, that we should "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is goad." To ignore the whispers of conscience is to make shipwreck of our souls.

So, how do we acquire faith on this subject? How can we be sure our music is to God a source of pleasure and not disdain? Paul gives the answer in the same book: "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." One more time we are directed back to scripture. So, if we are choosing between that which we know is taught in the New Testament and that which is uncertain, we must always do that which is steadfast and sure. David Lipscomb was right when he said of this verse, "The idea that man can act on his opinion in the service of God is the root of all erroneous practices in the religious world." Using the same standard we arrive at the same judgment, using instruments in the assembly is an unwarranted waste of time, energy and money and is a senseless hazard to the soul.

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