Question #188

Isn't your stance on musical instruments in worship divisive?

Grace and Peace to you...I've enjoyed your website tremendously! I am a brother in the church of christ but I do not agree with the doctrine the church of christ stands on regarding no musical instruments allowed. I am so sad that Satan has used this "disputable" matter to divide. If we are to use the argument of what the early Christians did and did not do regarding musical instruments then we need to go back to early christian writings regarding the greatest event that took place during weekly worship which was the "Love Feast" or taking the bread and wine in remembrance of Christ. Rarely any of us participate in this in the manor that our early brothers and sisters did. In today's church we take time out of our service to remember Jesus by sharing a communion message, praying and then passing a bread plate and a Juice plate. What we do today doesn't near resemble what our brothers and sisters did in the first century church or what our brothers and sisters did in the several centuries to follow. Study out "the Love Feast". We can spin the instrument issue anyway we'd like using scripture but just as the New Testament doesn't say that we can use instruments, it doesn't say not to. I am impacted in my worship whether instruments are used or not. The bible does not say that it is a sin to do so. In the churches of christ we have been extremely dangerous in our approach in making this a salvation issue. I don't believe that my words will sway anyone because I believe that Satan is unbelievably clever and this will be a disputable issue the churches of christ will engage themselves in until it's membership dies out or Jesus comes back. Again, this site is awesome and for the most part extremely informational.

The Answer:

One again we are confronted with a “question” that disagrees with our conclusion from scripture regarding the use of musical instruments in the worship of God, fails to address or dispute the arguments made in support of those conclusion, and presents for our consideration conclusions without reference to or support from the scripture, and makes an argument from history related to the agape or “love feast.” That argument primarily consists of the accusation that since we have not restored the “love feast” practiced by the early church, that we are free to use instruments of music in our worship. That is, since we are doing wrong by not restoring one New Testament practice we are free to do another wrong by not restoring the music of the first century church. What are some of the problems with this approach?

  1. While multiplying two negatives may give you a positive in math, in morals two wrongs never make a right. Instrumental music can never be made “positive” or right by demonstrating that something else is “negative” or wrong. This should have been learned at our mother’s knee.

  2. The argument related to the agape does not refer to a single verse of scripture. Where is the “thus saith the Lord” for the practice that we are urged to restore? The reference to the agape as a practice of the early church implies that the practice was universal and was authorized by direct apostolic command, binding example, or necessary inference. He who urges us to adopt the practice if we are to continue to follow the New Testament practice of acapella music in worship surely has some passage of scripture to support the practice. Listen! Listen! Only silence.

  3. The basis of the argument is found in history. We are told that we do not follow what was done in the early church because in the early church the Lord’s Supper was observed as part of the agape or vice versa. We are pointed to no scripture. Amazingly, we are not pointed to any history except to the writer’s own “take” on what that history was. We cannot check his sources for either their accuracy or for the writer’s accuracy in his statement of his sources.

  4. The sum of these problems is that our writer has his mind made up and will justify his conclusion by any means that eases his conscience, no matter how weak, frivolous, inaccurate or illogical those means may be. The writer may think that he has come up with something new, or at least that whoever he heard make this argument had come up with something new, but, like all of the other attempts to justify mechanical instruments of music to which response has been made on this website, it is old. In fact, not only is it old, it hasn’t been around for a long time because those who have made it in the past have given it up because of its weakness.

For that reason there is little to nothing that can be done or said that will change this writer’s mind. Why should he listen to what is said here when he refuses to listed to God’s word? However, lest others be led astray by such folly, let’s look at the history and the practice of the New Testament church.

First, let’s recognize up front that the early church did have a fellowship that was known as the agape. No one has ever disputed that. Look in any religious history or religious encyclopedia and you will find it referenced. For our enlightenment, the following is from the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, edited by Everett Ferguson. It is found under “AGAPE (LOVE FEAST).” After discussing some history of the word agape, is the following:

In the history of early Christian practice, however, agape is also a liturgical term. Translated “love-feast” (Jude 12), it springs from the meal that the New Testament various call the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42-47; 20:7-12) and “eucharist” (1 Cor. 11:20-34). A core tradition in the early church, the meal explicitly recalls the meals Jesus celebrated with his disciples, especially the Last Supper (Mark 14; Matt. 26; Luke 22; John 13; 1 Cor. 11) and the postresurrection meals recounted in Luke 24 and John 20-21.

Although the evidence is scant and controversial, the breaking of bread/eucharist unquestionably was conditioned by religious meals in first-century Judaism, especially the fraternal meals that celebrated religious table-fellowship (haburah) and in particular, the Passover meal. In time, the meal was also shaped by customs of the Greco-Roman world, especially the cult meals of the religious fraternities (taiasoi, collegia) and the funerary societies. When transported into a predominantly Hellenistic world, however, the meal was subject to serious abuses. Paul himself records heavy drinking, greed, disdain on the part of the well-off for the poor, and partisan strife (1 Cor. 11:17-22).

Eventually, abuses, coupled with imperial rescripts forbidding the meals of secret societies, brought about the separation of the fraternal meal (agape) and eucharist, but not everywhere and not at once. In Ignatius (ca. 110), for instance, the celebration of the agape is related to but distinct from the eucharist (Smyrn. 8:2); so also, the Didache 9; 10; 14. In Justin Martyr, the eucharist seems to have absorbed the fraternal functions characteristic of agape ( 1 Apol. 65; 67). Yet in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, there is a rubric (26) about the agape for widows, and Tertullian is quite clear about its social purpose: it is for the relief of the poor (Apol. 39). On the other hand, in Clement’s Alexandria (ca. 200) agape and eucharist are joined, in spite of the signal abuses to which Clement gives witness (Paed. 2.5-10).

There is general agreement that from the mid-third century agape and eucharist to their separate ways, with the former becoming clearly a fraternal meal to relieve the distress of the needy. It remained such in North Africa, at least, into the fifth century, for Augustine (Faust. 20.20) distinguishes it sharply from the funerary meals (refrigeria), of which he disapproved. By the end of the patristic age, however, the agape had fallen into disuse.

Now let’s look at the scripture. The Lord’s Supper was instituted immediately after Jesus observed the Passover with the twelve and immediately before his crucifixion. Matt. 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-23. Paul was not there, but he received a special revelation from the Lord concerning it. 1 Cor. 11:23-25. It was designed to commemorate the Lord’s death, 1 Cor. 11:26, and Christians are to observe it upon the first day of every week. Acts 20:7,

The Corinthians had corrupted the Lord’s Supper by combining it with an ordinary meal. Most likely this resulted from an improper mingling of the agape, in which the saints gathered and shared in a common meal, with the Lord’s Supper. Jude 12; 2 Peter 2:13. What is certain is that they had greatly abused the purpose and intent of the memorial feast with the love feast. Paul saw it as a situation that required immediate correction because the practice followed by the Corinthians made it impossible to properly observe the Lord’s Supper. 1 Cor. 11:20. Paul described the corrupt practice in 1 Cor. 11:21. It consisted of participating in a common meal in connection with the Lord’s Supper, selfishness in eating before others, and a failure to understand the nature and purpose of the Lord’s supper.

The correction is stated in 1 Cor. 11:22-30. If they are to have a fellowship meal the place to have it is in the home. It is not a part of worship. They must understand the nature and purpose of the Lord’s Supper (For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. v. 26.), and partake in a worthy manner (But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. vv. 18-29.).

The corruption of the Lord’s Supper has led to the inability to observe it, which in turn resulted in the damnation of the Lord and Christians who were weak, sickly, and asleep (v. 30). It is the very practice that Paul strongly condemned that our writer, in his desire to justify the use of mechanical instruments of worship, urges us to restore. The truth is that we have restored that which Paul approved. Fellowship meals involving small groups to congregational “dinner on the ground” and “ice cream and pie suppers” are often held where the saints gather to be with, enjoy the presence of, and be strengthened by one another. But these things were not in the first century and must not now be a part of the Lord’s Supper. Just as they did in Paul’s day, they would not add to the Lord’s Supper; they would corrupt it.

Yes, we can learn from history. Those who fail to do so are bound to repeat it!

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)