The Argument against Musical Instruments in Worship

Some, not many, church groups do not believe in the use of musical instruments in public worship. The major example is the Churches of Christ. No less than one of their foremost scholars, Everett Ferguson, takes up his case agains the use of instruments in public worship (The Early Church and Today, vol. 1). What are the arguments against the use of instruments?

First, Christians sang in public worship already in the apostolic era: 1 Cor 14:15, 26; Hebrews 2:12; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16. In these contexts no one mentions any instruments. Silence doesn’t prove the case, but it is part of the case. No text prohibits instruments.

Second, the Greek work psallo, “to psalm” or “to make melody,” could be used for using stringed instruments but Ferguson argues this term was often used among Jews for non-instrumental “rendition of their religious songs” (278). The term us used in the NT close to terms for singing or praying. So he suggests the term in the NT is used for vocal and not instrumental music.

Third, Christian history. Again, as in the NT, there is singing but no mention of instruments in public worship. Indeed, some observed the absence of instruments in Christian worship. Eusebius: “We render our hymn with a living psalterion… more acceptable than any musical instrument.” Ferguson sees this as “particularly strong” (280).

Fourth, the Jewish synagogue. In synagogues no musical instruments are found, and that in contrast with the temple. I would argue in turn that if God permits instrumental music in the temple, which after all is the highest pinnacle of worship, then God accepts instrumental music.

Fifth, the Christian assembly. He argues from the importance of edification to the need for vocal music but not instruments since edification is instruction. In find this argument simply flawed, and it ought to be dropped. Some people can be edified by instruments, simple fact.

Sixth, the argument from the nature of human service to God. God is spirit and worship is to be non-material. Spirituality is the focus. This argument, too, ought to be dropped… instruments can effectual spirituality. For many instruments, like a violin, do just that.

Apart from five and six, the other arguments are reasonable though I think number four has a weakness. In the end, argument from the NT is by way of silence and silence is not compelling to me. The text from Eusebius, in my view, is substantive and worthy of consideration.

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  • Stephen W

    Why would God care? Seriously? How is this even a discussion???

  • Dan Arnold

    Here’s the thing, we also have evidence that the early church did not have multi-part harmony (e.g., SATB) but if I remember right, the CoC does allow it. My question is, if these are the arguments against musical instruments, shouldn’t they be applied to harmony, too?

  • scotmcknight

    Because our brothers and sisters think it matters…

  • Evidence2Hope

    This was discussed on a forum I used to be on, the thread was at over 3000 posts when I left and it was still going. It’s one of those subjects where it doesn’t matter to some but is everything to others

  • Jamin Speer

    As a lifelong CoC member, I think you would find that many of us do not find the Biblical argument very convincing, and instead refer to this as a preference. There is something remarkably beautiful about a cappella music that I think is lost with instruments. This is also a comment we get from visitors from other backgrounds. It is true that historically we have been dogmatic about the issue, but I think the much stronger case is that a cappella music is the purest expression of all parts of the church working as one body in creating beautiful harmony. I also find that it puts the focus on the words, which for me is lost some with instruments. But again, these are preferences, not dogma for most of us.

  • sanctusivo

    But the question is why it matters: I’m 6th-generation CoC. I prefer acapella because the congregational singing is much better than with an instrument present. Scot’s been to some of our meetings/churches; there’s nothing quite like it (not that we’re the only acapella tradition in the U.S.: there are several). The historic argument, even ranging from irenic to strident, has been patternistic, which made their churches distinctive,ultimately resulting in judgmentalism and division. The original goal was to erase differences among denominations, but the end result was more divisiveness. The best reason – for me – to keep it is for edification within our own fellowship, but one cannot make (and it would abuse the text to do so) a dispositive case for or against acapella or instrumental music from the usually applicable scriptures. It should remain a distinctiveness without division, much in the spirit of Rom. 14.

  • Rick

    What do they do with passages such as Psalm 33:2?:
    “Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings”

  • nickgill

    Why would God care that lambs had blemishes? Why would God care whether or not the Passover bread had leaven in it?

    God has a funny way of deciding for himself what he cares about (remember the parable of the wedding feast, where even though the doors have been thrown wide to everyone from the highways and the hedges, one fellow still gets kicked out for not wearing the wedding garments?), whether or not it makes sense to us.

    The question for COC folk is, what does God want? Is God concerned with how he is worshiped? They seem to be honorable questions, at least, even if the answers aren’t as easily discerned as our tribe would like to assert.

  • KentonS


    Should that read “What are the arguments *in*favor*of* the use of instruments?”

  • KentonS

    I was a choir kid. My mom was a semi-professional symphony cellist. For her, some of her deepest spiritual moments came when she played her cello. For me, some of my deepest spiritual moments came when the instruments dropped off and we sang a cappella. (Although I also play guitar and that can be deeply spiritual too.) Doesn’t Galatians 3 mention something about neither instrumentalists nor vocalists for we are all one in Christ Jesus?

    I think a far more important issue is the question of worship or performance. My biggest pet peeve is when music is either intended or received as for everyone else and not for God. (Applause is the usual manifestation of that.)

  • Norman

    As part of the leadership in one of our larger cofC we wrestled with our heritage view and decided we were not bound to what our forerunners had concluded on this matter. Many cofC members realized we overstepped on this issue and many of our larger congregations embrace both styles of worship now. I do prefer a Capella music in worship but I also like good musical instrumental songs as we’ll.
    Don’t really see worshiping God restricted as we are free in Christ to express our hearts. Trying to lock down worship styles smacks of a return to old covenant mentalities that the new covenant set aside

  • Cosmo

    Like others, I feel most of the arguments against musical instruments in worship are unconvincing. Instruments can be a beautiful addition to congregational singing if done well and IMO should be encouraged.
    My problem is that music in so many churches today has taken on a life of it’s own and has gone well beyond supporting congregational singing to suppressing it. The high volume and intense beat goes over the voices of the church and effectively becomes the event. We have churches here in Texas that actually offer ear plugs to participants who can’t tolerate the sound. Somebody help me with that??
    It seems to me that all of the various elements of our liturgy should encourage congregational participation not squash or overshadow it. In too many congregations the church needs to be invited back to the worship service.

  • I went to undergraduate at a Reformed Presbyterian school and they also hold that you can’t use instruments in worship. If there were instruments used during the school’s chapels they wouldn’t call it a time of worship. They’d call it convocation.

    I remember hearing the arguments back then and not really buying it. I’d say that I still don’t buy it. As some others have mentioned when the performance of music becomes a hindrance to congregational singing then it’s a negative. However, I think one could argue that the performance mentality can be there with or without instruments.

  • RJS4DQ

    I regularly use earplugs in most evangelical churches these days … My home church, my brother-in-law’s church, worship at my daughter’s college, as well as other functions. I simply carry earplugs with me at all times (except when I forget and often feel compelled to leave the auditorium or sanctuary during music). Frankly, I find it a bit off-putting … But good earplugs are better than any alternative I’ve found. (Including joining a CoC church, although I am sure there are many very good ones as evidenced by the many commenters on this blog.)

  • joey

    “old covenant” mentalities?

  • Mark Russell

    Scot, thanks for mentioning this work and for your article. Many use unflattering epithets for those who disagree with them. While I disagree with your conclusions, I appreciate your willingness to address it and the spirit of your writing.

  • Norman


  • joey

    “Because our brothers and sisters think it matters.” THIS is on target. The “issue” won’t be settled with book, chapter or verse. But, then, we don’t think scripture is an instruction manual, right? We WORK THINGS OUT in love and faith. A particular congregation makes a decision in brotherly love, SO THAT the congregation can move on to the things they can be certain of.

  • joey

    Of the “old covenant”? Do you mean the Law (of Moses)?

  • joey

    The Law of Moses was never about “legalism.”

  • Norman

    Then we disagree 🙂

  • Steve Puckett

    Scott, coming from a CofC perspective, I truly appreciate your involvement with our national conferences like Pepperdine and ACU. Growing up in the vocal tradition, I truly love the sounds of praise the human voice can produce. When my pastor friends visit our church, they often comment on the broad involvement of people singing and the beauty of the harmonies. I hope we can preserve this tradition while honoring and loving those who have an instrumental tradition. When I was a young man, I could not always follow the silence path. I always wondered if following a strict NT pattern is the only way why did we not meet in upper rooms on Saturday night for worship and communion and why did we have church buildings and song books. In my later years, and I hope more mature and non-judgmental years, I dearly love worshiping in both formats. I would hate to discourage the use of any God-given gift for honoring him. Peace.

  • joey

    “No text prohibits instruments.” This approach reduces scripture to an “instruction manual.” Since there isn’t explicit commands concerning instruments, we feel free to make our own way. But those who choose to “make their own way” are STILL depending on an explicit command mode of biblical authority. They think they have risen above a “command only” mode (“legalism”) when, in fact, that is precisely what they remain wedded to.

  • **Disclosure: I graduated from a seminary affiliated with the Churches of Christ and serve as the minister (pastor) of a Church of Christ.**

    I once believed Ferguson argument, and the belief that Churches of Christ have historically held to was correct but not any more. The line of argumentation put forth all assumes that the New Testament seeks to regulate Christian worship so that the New Testament is read as legal writ. The premise is wrong; if following a written law was the point of the gospel then God already had a law in place that is “holy, righteous, and good” (Rom 7:12) – and this law was never the problem to begin with.

    Further more, I think a good case can be made that the social-factors surrounding the American Civil War and the division between the northern and southern states had as much, if not more, to do with the Churches of Christ digging their heals in against instrumental music. Then there was only a Restoration Movement but by the late 1,800’s there was the Churches of Christ (a cappella) in the southern states and the Disciples of Christ (instrumental) in the northern states.

    Any ways, I am edified in both a capella and instrumental worship.

    Grace and Peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  • Churches of Christ have their roots in the Presbyterian and Methodist traditions, which at the start of the 19th century practiced non-instrumental worship. Many of the Reformers and Protestant church leaders, including Luther and Calvin and Wesley, were against instrumental music in worship, seeing it as an innovation (the reason that the Eastern Orthodox Church does not use instruments in their liturgy).
    In the mid- to late-19th century America, the issue was addressed by many denominations of whether or not the organ was acceptable. It wasn’t until the 1880s that the Methodists and Presbyterians officially adopted instruments. Around this time, the Disciples of Christ wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement was following suit.

    Of course, this came with controversy; however, the controversy was not strictly theological. It was economical, as well. Organs were expensive and often had to be imported from Europe. Small, rural churches simply could not afford them. Larger, urban churches could. Is it a coincidence that Disciples of Christ churches were largely urban and Churches of Christ were rural, and the DoC used organs and the CoC did not? I don’t think so. Compounding this was post-bellum attitudes: Churches of Christ were (and still are) largely in the South, and Disciples of Christ were in the North. After the Civil War, the South was in dire economic straits and their churches, again, just couldn’t afford the organ.

  • Phil Miller

    It seems to me that the human voice is a kind of instrument once you start singing, anyway. Musical instruments are simply an extension of the body when they are used correctly.

    What do the non-instrumental CoC folks think of things like hand-clapping or foot-stomping? In some traditional African American songs, there weren’t instruments, but the services got nearly as rowdy as a rock show.

  • joey

    Yikes! God has never been a “legalist.” The Law of Moses was all about grace (or, rather, God BEING gracious.)

  • Ray

    Your question addresses a deeper hermeneutical issue in the C of C which Ferguson does not get into but is at play in how the C of C arrived at their practice of a capella worship. It is a valid point and has to be considered in light of how the earlier generations of the movement viewed scripture.

    Historically, the C of C, as part of the American Restoration (or Stone-Campbell) Movement, adopted a particular understanding of the Bible in the 19th century that was strongly dispensationalist – that is, salvation history was seen as divided into 3 dispensations: the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the New Covenant/Spirit/Church (which begins in Acts 2).

    The argument goes that since we are now in the 3rd dispensation, the previous eras are no longer valid for the practice of the church. God gave us the new “pattern” for worship & church practice in the pages of the NT. Since the OT was reflective of the old dispensations, any reference to instrumental worship could be dismissed.

    Pardon my oversimplification of the hermeneutical issue. For an in-depth analysis of this perspective, you can check out the book Disciples and the Bible, by M.E. Boring.

  • Rick

    Thanks for the feedback.

  • Joshua Tucker

    As a CoC minister, I just want to thank you for ministering to our tribe in a respectful way. Many of us don’t see the validity of the arguments against IM, but we try to be respectful to others’ convictions and preferences. Thanks for not writing us off but helping to encourage us to be more focused on Jesus. Looking forward to hearing you at another of our seminars in the future. 🙂

  • Norman

    Phil it’s a mixed bag. Some are not comfortable with it (hand clapping), but that aspect of the coFC is diminishing as time goes by.

  • Ray

    No problem – you raise an important question. Many in the C of C (including myself) see the weaknesses in this view of scripture, which seems to lend itself to pseudo-Marcionite tendencies. While it can be easy to be judgmental or pejorative of this approach, it must be remembered that this perspective was born out of a particular Sitz im Leben in which the 19th century leaders were operating and forming their theological views. Their intent was to honor God through what they perceived as a needed reformation of a divided Christianity.

    The catch is that over the last 40 years or so there has been a significant re-evaluation of our heritage among many (but not all) in the C of C, as we have come to terms with some of the weaknesses of our inherited hermeneutic, doctrines, & practice, while at the same time appreciating the strengths of those particular aspects which make us distinctive. I am grateful for the ongoing efforts to construct a more robust theology around our distinctive practices, beyond the simple “thus saith The Lord”.

    Since we hold to congregational autonomy with no denominational governing body, there is a growing diversity of thought & practice among those who still claim the name C of C. That is why you are going to see a variety of responses from C of C folk to the issue of instrumental worship on this comment board.

  • David Lindsay

    The Psalms encourage using instruments for worship.

    An example is Psalm 150:
    Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse.
    Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
    Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre.
    Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.
    Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals.
    Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!

  • Adam

    By this logic, all clothing must be replaced with robes. All bibles must be replaced with scrolls. All shoes with sandals. All cars eliminated. All pews with standing. If nothing can be used in worship because it wasn’t written about thousands of years ago, we’ve got a lot of problems.

  • Ray

    David, your observation is noteworthy. Rick raised the same point earlier. Please see my reply to him for explanation of how C of C has traditionally handled this issue.

  • John Mark Hicks

    I don”t think the economic argument works well as organ was not the only instrument used. Many portable instruments were used as well like fiddles and the first instrument used in some the groups you mention was the bass viol. Organs replaced those instruments over time. There were other dynamics as work in the urban/rural differences which were more sociological than economic.

  • Norman

    Removal of the Mosaic Law code for justification seems fairly straight forward from Paul and the Hebrew writer.

    Col 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 BY CANCELING THE RECORD OF DEBT THAT STOOD AGAINST US WITH ITS LEGAL DEMANDS. This HE SET ASIDE, NAILING IT TO THE CROSS.
    20 If with Christ YOU DIED TO THE ELEMENTAL SPIRITS of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, DO YOU SUBMIT TO REGULATIONS— 21 “DO NOT HANDLE, DO NOT TASTE, DO NOT TOUCH” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 THESE HAVE INDEED AN APPEARANCE OF WISDOM IN PROMOTING SELF-MADE RELIGION AND ASCETICISM and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

    Heb 8: 6 But as it is, Christ[b] has obtained a ministry that is as MUCH MORE EXCELLENT THAN THE OLD as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been NO OCCASION TO LOOK FOR A SECOND. … 13 In speaking of a new covenant, HE MAKES THE FIRST ONE OBSOLETE. And WHAT IS BECOMING OBSOLETE AND GROWING OLD IS READY TO VANISH AWAY.

    Gal 3: 10 For all WHO RELY ON WORKS OF THE LAW ARE UNDER A CURSE; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, AND DO THEM.” 11 Now it is evident that NO ONE IS JUSTIFIED BEFORE GOD BY THE LAW, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”[d] 12 But THE LAW IS NOT OF FAITH, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 CHRIST REDEEMED US FROM THE CURSE OF THE LAW by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit[e] through faith.

  • joey

    Paul is telling the Gentile Colossians that they don’t have to become practicing Jews in order to be in Christ. There’s nothing about what Paul says here that implies that Judaism was legalistic.
    The New Covenant is more excellent because, among other things, it is not exclusively Jewish. God’s before-the-world-was-created-commitment was to ALL of Mankind, not Jews only. A New Covenant was needed in order to fulfill that commitment. There’s nothing in the Hebrews text that requires us to have a legalistic understanding of the Mosaic Law.
    In Gal 3, like Romans 10, there were some Jews who were requiring Gentiles to become practicing Jews. It never entered their minds that “practicing Jew” meant “sinless” or “earning.” No one believed that! Judaism was not seen as earning God’s good graces. It was, however, seen as the exclusive pathway. Gentiles could be “saved” in Jesus, but ONLY if they became practicing Jews. But Paul says that Jesus is the “end of Jewishness for righteousness” (Rom 10:4). Again, there’s nothing here that requires us to view the Law of Moses as “legalistic.”
    Read Psalm 119. The Author explicitly says that he was righteous according to the Law, and he wasn’t talking about sinlessness or perfect, “legalistic” law keeping.

  • Norman

    Sorry but I’m not buying your ideas as it sounds too much like messianic Jewish theology that is trying to rewrite the NT. I’m not going to argue with you though as we are starting to get way off track the intent of this post.

  • joey

    “Messianic Jewish theology”?! This is NPP – NT Wright, et al. Oh well. My initial response was triggered by your characterization of the “instrumental issue” as legalistic comparing it to a caricature of the Old Covenant as “legalistic.” BOTH characterizations are naive. I happen to attend an instrumental Church of Christ.

  • Stephen W

    If God were to care about it, he’d have said so, no?

  • Stephen W

    But what is there to work out? Some people worship with instruments, some a capella and others in silence.

    But to try to build a theology around it? That’s why I struggle – what has this got to do with following Jesus?

  • Norman

    Joey the way you have framed it doesn’t seem to resonate with Wright and NPP in a form I recognize. I’ve encountered messianic Jews who make these arguments but I don’t recall Wright drifting as strongly in that direction.
    Perhaps then if you want to discuss it in regards to my description as legalistic then I’ll be glad to continue.
    Thanks for the dialogue.

  • Norman

    Joey you seem to be defending tradition and taking “making their own way” to task. Your argument doesn’t seem logically consistent. Care to elaborate and clarify your premise especially since you feel comfortable enough to attend an instrumental congregation.

  • joey

    When this issue is debated, both sides pull out “their” verses in an effort to “trump” the other side’s verses. The “for” instruments group at some point usually characterizes the “against” group as legalists. What the “for” group isn’t recognizing is that they, too, are legalists IF they base their position on there not being an explicit verse condemning the practice. They think that means they have “freedom” to do whatever they want BECAUSE it isn’t explicitly prohibited.
    I attempt to take a “narrative” approach. Scripture is authoritative not firstly by way of “commands” or “principles.” Scripture is our teacher. We are called to view reality in terms of “story” (or some other such analogy). We live out our part in the story by being faithful to the underlying plot. Scripture is not a command/response document.
    If a particular congregation has a enjoyed unity with a tradition of non-instrumental music, to disrupt that unity over a perceived liberty would be to violate the underlying plot of the Story wherein peace and unity are paramount. Our (Church of Christ) ancestors made a decision, for whatever reason. Our tradition became what it became. Unity was enjoyed. For the sake of unity, the tradition should be continued.
    The leadership at my own congregation made the switch for wrong reasons (so I judge). Some people left. Some left over conscience. That the unity was disrupted grieved the Father deeply. Of that I am convinced. Some left because once the distinction of non-instrumental music was gone, they preferred to go to a church that did instrumental music better. Personally, I wanted to maintain the fellowship my family had with the congregation. I think the decision of the leadership was wrong. They are human. I am not dwelling on their decision. Pursue me if you wish.

  • Andrew Watson

    To many of the Songs of David in the Psalms were written to be set to music for me to believe instrumental worship is wrong. I am a huge heavy metal and hard rock fan myself, some of the most intense worship I have experience was using that style of music in corporate worship in a church plant a few friends of mine started a couple of years ago.

  • Andrew Watson

    After I posted my last comment I scrolled down and read the dispensationalist argument for why Psalms doesn’t apply. It is a creative argument,

  • Joshua P

    I just can’t in good conscience worship with instruments in a corporate setting, and I’m at peace with that. It’s not a judgment of anyone else. To your own Master you stand or fall. The IM issue isn’t really the issue. The issue is the authority of Scripture and how you understand it, so it’s one of the most central issues of all when you get right down to it. Someone may find Eph 5:19, etc. not to be very specific as far as commands go, but for me, they’re specific enough. Accapella singing accomplishes God’s will with regard to worship as far as I can tell, but there are problems with four-part harmony, hand-clapping, praise groups, solos, choirs, and lots of probs with IM. There are problems with everything, because we are the problem. I can’t wait ’til the Lord returns and fixes it all! God help us all in the meantime! We need it. I’ll just keep singing. Thanks for the thoughts. —JLP

  • Norman


    Thanks, I appreciate the input.

    I will venture to say that what you are outlining has been the problem for the early church in the first century dating back into 2nd T Judaism. There were various factions within Israel of Pharisee’s, Essenes and then we encounter Messiah who turned both of those groups on their heads that were looking to a physical manifestation of self-righteousness for Israel regarding Messiah and a new world order put right. Christ begins teaching them that their desire for righteousness would not come as they anticipated which was difficult for all groups to get their minds around.

    Lk 17: 20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God IS NOT COMING IN WAYS THAT CAN BE OBSERVED,

    The OT speaks of a physical Israel if they can live up to those standards and they are so are given opportunity after opportunity but never achieve. Within those prophesies though there is projected to be a different way that God Himself will enact in lieu of their attempt at self-righteousness (see Exe 34,36,37).

    Christ comes and institutes that better way which is life through the spirit instead of via the Law.

    Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what THE LAW, WEAKENED BY THE FLESH, COULD NOT DO.

    Paul outlines that intent and purpose extensively throughout Rom 5-8 in which he says that the Law or commandment via Adam and Israel brought the curse of “death” (separation from God) regarding right standing in God’s presence.

    Rom 7: 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

    Therefore through walking in the Spirit through Christ (Rom 6) we have been freed from the constraints of the commandment/Law. Law’s intent was not bad but man’s ability to live by it was futile due to the limitations of the “flesh” (human weakness).

    This is where I disagree vehemently with those who insist that we are still bound by the Law of Moses. In my reading of the OT and NT I see the narrative specifically illustrating that Christ came and did away for the Jew first and then the Gentile the dependence upon the fleshly approach to living by “Law/command”. This is what Paul is telling those Gentiles and yes Jewish Christians in Galatians that they are making Christ of no use if they revert to that old process of justification; it doesn’t just fit one group (the Gentiles) as it’s a universal theme and application for all men whom are now equal in Christ.

    We can follow the idea that we should not rock the boat regarding Tradition in the cofC but that is a slippery slope of logic IMHO. I grew up in a town of 300 that had two churches of Christ that were side by side; one NI CofC and the other Progressive cofC. My family came from both churches through marriage of my parents. One adhered to no separate bible classes, not helping orphan homes and at one time divided over communion regarding one cup or multiple. The progressive cofC did not feel constrained to those ideas. So there is no single minded consistent cofC out there and there never will be. It reminds me of the old preacher story about the introduction of air-conditioning into our churches the last century. Previously windows would be opened and the communion table would be set and the elements would be covered with a nice covering to protect them from flies. When windows and doors were shut with the advent of air-conditioning someone wanted to remove the covering of the elements but it raised such a fuss because that is the way it had always been done and had become part of what was expected during the worship service. Things change and navigating those changes within the church has been out there for over 2000 years and counting. The Jewish Christians didn’t want to give up some of their rituals that Paul said were no longer binding and so due to their conscience they felt obligated to resist. This Jewish wrangling over adherence to the Law festered among the early church for decades and centuries and is rising again within the Messianic Jewish community.

    We in the churches of Christ have a history of tending toward “legalism” in manifest ways over the century and those battle lines are continuing to be observed as people reevaluate whether we are adhering to “tradition” and a legalist pattern or are we fully appropriating the freedom in Christ that the New Covenant provides. Christ said it was pretty basic: love the Lord your God and love your Neighbor as the foundation of the Law and the prophets. I think we do well to teach that idea robustly even if it can bring tension to those who have been accustomed to those ways that have “the appearance of wisdom … but provide no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”.

    Joey, we in our church spent years teaching and preparing our congregation before instituting the two variations of worship music. We also have orientation classes for new comers in which we outline our beliefs as we are a cosmopolitan mixture of believers with a 50/50 ratio of cofC and non cofC members. We had cofC around us who contacted me and provided me what they considered a refutation of the instrument based upon a reformed Presbyterian author that exhorted and used the OT and the Law as his rationale for no instrument. I still have my response to them saved that I wrote three years ago but one of the striking mentions was the idea that we were attracting non cofC members and losing our identity. That is where the old mentality takes us as it is fearful of evangelism toward the world just like the Jews of the OT and NT were accused of not being lights to the Nations.

    Oh well books are written on these issues 🙂



  • mteston1

    “Worship and/or performance” is certainly an issue, maybe the issue as I experienced it in regard to these matters. This certainly may not be the case for you Kenton and your mom, but after years of pastoring the biggest problem with “instruments” in the worship setting was not the instrument but the person behind the instrument, didn’t matter what it was, voice, guitar, drums, organ, didn’t matter what . . . it too often became about them, about the applause as you noted, about what “they” as in audience wanted, I could go on and on. What was interesting was that these same people became the assessors of “performance or worship.” For me, it was always hard to address what I thought was obvious performance and personality based music leadership because the individual “felt” like they were worshiping. Hmmmmm? Thats really hard to challenge because of the obvious subjectivity and nature of such an enterprise. And after saying all that, I haven’t even touched on the needs for attention, adulation, and list could go on for those who had such “gifts.” it was always astonishing to me how many people desired to be up front leading instrumentally or voice wise who obviously didn’t have gift or talent but thought they did. I have retired early from the whole sordid thing because really I could no longer with any clarity grasp what was “for God” and what was simply self promotion.

  • KentonS

    Good words. One thing I wish we could do would be not putting the focus on one person. We could start by killing the special music solos and instrumental verses. Maybe then we could move the musicians to the back or to the balcony. I think that might be best for everybody that didn’t have their heart in the right place. (I know mine wasn’t always in the right place.)

  • mteston1

    Kenton I think you’re exactly right. The years our leadership team tried to set a different course we tried never to allow anyone to sing a solo without an extended time singing with others, creating the texture of authentic harmony both in the song itself and also delivering that message to the congregants that music, when done as a gift was intended. The young persons, when they experienced a soloist, just gravitated to the music and we had to find a way to integrate them properly in such a setting and slowly into that setting. That balcony back idea, yes, yes and yes. LOL

  • joey

    The righteousness the Jews were seeking was not a MORAL quality. The righteousness they sought was “covenantal inclusion.” They sought, Paul says, “a righteousness of their own,” that is, a Jewish-ONLY, covenantal inclusion.
    In addition, Paul was NOT speaking of generic, universal “law keeping.” If we were to ask Paul, “Can a person EARN salvation by keeping rules?” he would say, “No.” But that is not what he is talking about in Romans and Galatians.
    This is all NPP. If you haven’t already, you might consider reading Stendhal “Paul Among Jews and Gentiles” and Wright “What Saint Paul Really Said” and “Paul in Fresh Perspective.” If you’d like to pursue this further with me, you can e-mail me at jbazf-at-suddenlink-dot-net

  • joey

    BTW, I share your concerns concerning the modern “Jewish” push. It’s creepy.

  • Norman


    Just to make sure your understand my position a little better I’m going to quote Paul in Rom 6 in regard to accusations that others were throwing at him regarding his new approach to justification.

    Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

    Paul doesn’t infer that one should continue to sin, but the problem becomes what people were adding to the list of things that make one righteous. Corporate worship service is a slippery slope of logical inference if you start dictating what that entails for others.

    Paul was quite sensitive to others customs as he amply portrays in Romans 14 and 1 Cor 9 where he insist that one should bend over backwards to accommodate the weaker brother when called for regarding his conscience. However we can’t let the weaker brother continue to dictate to the point that others are held to overly restrictive inferences of theology that sound teaching should eventually correct. People have to learn to give and take in a community of the faithful just like we do in our marriages. That is where Loving God and loving our brother is the highest calling that should keep brothers and sisters focused on the communal good.

    By the way I’m very comfortable examining Paul from the prism of the NPP; as 2nd Temple Judaism and early first Century origins is my area of extensive study. Being a good cofC adherent I’ve always by passed the reformers and the Catholics and go to the literature of the origins of our faith community to determine what it was built upon. That can also means I disagree with those who try to soft sell the implication of what Paul was trying to do as IMO it has nothing to do with the reformers but with the battles going on for centuries within Judaism that culminated in Messiah. There was a battle brewing that percolates within OT and 2nd T literature that illustrates the dissatisfaction with practices found within Judaism which included Law keeping. This requires that we pay very close attention to those OT pieces and not gloss over them as many in the cofC have tended to do in the past.

    A very pertinent read of first century Christian ideas regarding Judaism is the Barnabas Epistle which is essentially a Christian commentary on why the Jews under Moses were not the rightful heirs of the new Covenant. A lot of NPP scholars don’t really pay as close attention to some of these details as they should IMO. This letter gives us a glimpse of the early mindset and we ignore it at our own loss for deeper insight.

    Same here if you want to contact me at normbv at yahoo dot com


  • keithbrenton

    I’m a lifelong member of the a cappella Churches of Christ. Scot’s observation “silence doesn’t prove the case” pretty much says it all.

    If God had intended to forbid worship using musical instruments in his church, would He not have explicitly said so in New Testament scripture, so that none of His children would have mistakenly trampled over His requirements for them?

    Likewise, if He had purposed to require worship using musical instruments by His children, would He not have outlined exactly which and how?

    In either case, He doesn’t. It isn’t mentioned in the New Testament in connection with the church. It’s mentioned favorably in the Old Testament in connection with the worship of His people. Nothing is said to contradict or confirm that approval for the people of the New Testament church.

    He is very plain and often detailed in His law given to Moses. Yet believers in Christ are under a law of love; a relationship through grace.

    So whether you view this as a legalistic conundrum or a simple, heartfelt desire to worship God as He prefers, you pretty much have to come to the conclusion that the use of musical instruments by His children in worship of Him is a matter of their choice, not His.

    He didn’t send His Son to suffer and die to bless and save people whom He then eagerly lies in wait to destroy because they somehow misunderstood His silence on a crucial matter that He could have made plain with a few, simple words.

    That’s not the God of scripture.

  • Darrin Snyder Belousek

    I may have missed something in the argument,and perhaps this is addressed further down in the comments, but…

    What about the Psalms–the actual psalter in the Bible? Several Psalms (Psalm 33, 43, 57, 71, 81, 92, 108, 144) state or imply the use of instruments in worship, and Psalm 150 explicitly exhorts us to utilize multiple instruments in the praise of God. If the Psalms contain examples instruments used in worship and even instruct us to use instruments in worship, then does that not validate Christians using instruments in worship? Or, does Ferguson argue that the early church eschewed the Psalms in worship, or used them only selectively to downplay instruments?

  • R.J.

    “Ferguson argues this term was often used among Jews for non-instrumental “’rendition of their religious songs”’ (278)

    In all due respect, is this true? Or just an inference drawn from Ferguson?