Posted in Church History, Doctrine, Instrumental Music, Worship

Three New Arguments (on the Instrumental Music Question)

The churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have been formally recognized as two groups of people at least since 1906. The division occurred over the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society and the introduction of mechanical instruments of music into public worship. D. S. Burnett played a prominent role in the establishment of the society, and L. L. Pinkerton of Midway, Kentucky was involved in the innovation regarding music. Pinkerton, in a letter to Ben Franklin, said, “So far as known to me, or, I presume to you, I am the only ‘preacher’ in Kentucky of our brotherhood who has publicly advocated the propriety of employing instrumental music in some churches, and that the church of God in Midway is the only church that has yet made a decided effort to introduce it” (Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. I, p. 311).

In passing years as more and more brethren demanded the change in worship, much discussion, disagreement, aggravation, tension, and separation followed. It was a sad time for the church.

Over the years many debates have been held on the music question. One of the greatest debates on the issue of scriptural music in worship was between N. B. Hardeman and Ira M. Boswell held in 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee. Boswell contended that the Greek word, “psallo,” used by Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and translated in our ASV as “making melody,” permitted the use of a mechanical instrument in worship. In his first affirmative speech he declared that he was attempting to prove that “To sing with or without instrumental music is scriptural” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 29). Neither Boswell nor any other disputant of whom I am aware ever committed himself to the position that the New Testament obligates worshipers to worship with a mechanical instrument of music in the song service.

Hardeman admitted that some instrument inhered in the word “psallo.” He took the tack that “psallo” did demand some kind of instrument. But in the passage, the particular instrument that Paul named is “the heart.” Boswell resorted to much lexical evidence for the Greek word which indicated that some instrument of some kind inhered in the word, but then he would not draw the conclusion that Christians today must use that instrument, whatever it was. In his second speech, Hardeman said, “It seems to me that Brother Boswell is in this kind of a predicament: First, God demands it. The word means it, and you cannot do what ‘psallo’ means without the use of the musical instrument. That is Brother Boswell’s contention, as from the lexicons to which he has referred; and then the next part is, notwithstanding the word means that and notwithstanding that idea inheres in it, yet I can leave it out” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 56). This was a fantastic moment in the history of the discussion!

In the debate Boswell’s weak position was completely routed, and Hardeman took the correct position on the music issue including proper handling of the word “psallo.” Hardeman’s effort was masterful. And when he took the position that the Greek word, “psallo,” did, in fact, demand an instrument, his approach was a complete surprise to Boswell. Boswell did not expect it!

In Hardeman’s biography we learn that Hardeman viewed his debate with Boswell as his best (James Marvin Powell and Mary Nelle Hardeman Powers, N. B. H., p. 195). We also learn the following:

Some twenty years after the debate, Hardeman met Boswell in Louisville, Kentucky. He told Boswell that he had heard that Dr. Carey Morgan, who at the time of the debate was pastor of Nashville’s Vine Street Christian Church, and J. J. Walker had stayed up nearly all night after the first session of the debate, trying to answer Hardeman’s argument, and revamp their own arguments. Boswell said that was true. Hardeman and Boswell remained friends through the years, though their paths did not often meet. There was mutual respect though their views were poles apart” (N. B. H., pp. 195, 196).

The issue has been debated much, and the history of the debates has revealed that on the polemic platform, mechanical instrumental music in worship has never been proved to be authorized by the New Testament, while singing without the accompaniment of any mechanical instrument of music in worship has been conclusively proved to be authorized.

Our preachers have defended the truth on the issue for years. Sadly, too many brethren now alive have become ignorant of history and are completely out of touch with Bible authority and, therefore, find mechanical instruments in worship harmless, appealing, and acceptable. How tragic!

Finally, let me by way of three new arguments, add to the history of the defense of the truth regarding scriptural music in worship. Consider the following:

First Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorized both singing and playing, then the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.
  2. The Old Testament authorized both singing and playing (Psalm 149:1; Psalm 87:7).
  3. Then, the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.

Second Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing, then the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.
  2. The Old Testament distinguished singing from playing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150).
  3. Then, the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.

Third Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing, then the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
  2. The Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150; Ezekiel 33:32).
  3. Then, the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
Posted in Instrumental Music, Restoration History, Worship

“Play On, Miss Bertha”

By Roy C. Deaver

[Note: This piece was written by my grandfather, Roy Deaver, many years ago, giving some of the sad history of the school that would in time become Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth–Weylan].

These words are sad words—some of the saddest ever uttered in all Restoration history. The dictionary says that “sad” means “…to be associated with sorrow.” Some words are sad because of their inherent connotations. Some words are sad because of the circumstances out of which they came. Some words are sad because of the consequences which they brought.

On Monday, September 1, 1873, in the pioneer village of Thorp Spring, in Texas, Thorp Spring college came into being. This year—1973—is the centennial year. In celebration, the ex-students of Thorp Spring Christian College held a reunion “on campus” July 21 and 22. At the time, I was in a gospel meeting at nearby Morgan Mill, and was privileged to attend the reunion. Brother Don Morris spoke on Saturday afternoon, and brother Foy E. Wallace, Jr. was the speaker on Saturday night. Because of my own preaching engagement I did not get to hear brother Wallace, but I did get to hear brother Morris. Brother Morris spoke on “Add-Ran and Its Heirs.” His lecture was tremendous. It will become an exceedingly valuable document in Restoration literature.

Brother Morris spoke at length about unscriptural organizations in Texas, and the consequent divisions among brethren. He spoke of the steps which led to the formation of the “Texas Christian Missionary Society” in Austin, Texas, 1886.

Brother Morris then discussed the introduction of mechanical instruments into Christian worship. He mentioned that the instrument was introduced “…first in congregations in Dallas, San Marcos, Waco, and Palestine.” He continued as follows:

“But the place at which the introduction of the organ received most attention was, without doubt, Thorp Spring, in Add-Ran College. The occasion was a gospel meeting in February, 1894. The speaker was B. B. Sanders, and the song director, E. M. Douthitt. These two often worked as a team and were known to use the instrument in worship. Before the meeting began, there was much discussion—on and off the campus of Add-Ran—about whether the organ would be used. As the meeting began, a crisis at Add-Ran was developing. It proved to affect the church throughout the state.

On February 20, 1894, the climax was reached. Before the service began, Joseph Addison Clark—the father and pioneer—and his wife took seats at the front of the auditorium. Their son Addison Clark, the president, arose to begin the service. Joseph Addison Clark arose, walked toward the pulpit, took a paper from his pocket, and presented it to his son. It was a petition. The petition was signed by the elder Clark and more than a hundred others, who asked that the organ not be used, on the ground that it was not authorized in the New Testament. Addison read the petition, conferred briefly with his brother Randolph, and then announced that he had promised the students that the organ could be used in the meeting and that he could not go back on his word. He turned to the organist and said, ‘Play on, Miss Bertha.’”

At this point, brother Don Morris was not able to continue for several moments. He wept audibly, and most of the audience wept with him. Brother Morris continued:

“As the organ and singing started, Joseph Addison arose with his wife and led the opposition out of the auditorium. He was a gray bearded man, seventy-eight years old, with a cane. About 140 people, according to Randolph’s son Joseph Lynn, followed the elderly Clark out of the building. Many in the remaining congregation wept. My father, who was a student that year, was present, and he told me many times about Uncle Joe Clark—how he appealed to the audience not to use the organ and how he led the group out of the auditorium.”

Brother Morris closed his great speech as follows:

“…we of Churches of Christ today are the real heirs of the first years of Add-Ran and of the gospel taught in the first Texas churches. This is true because today we continue in the slogan first used by Texas pioneers and the Campbells before them: ‘We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.’ This principle has been followed by the Thorp Spring Church from the beginning in 1873 until now. And we believe that this is the true pattern for church organization, for purity in worship, and for all things religious. To use this pattern is more important than excelling in numbers or affluence. We look to the New Testament as the guide in restoring the Lord’s church, and we pray that He may bless us as we attempt to follow it.”

And RIGHT NOW, more so than ever before in my lifetime—there are IN THE CHURCH those who are saying: “MISS BERTHA, PLAY ON!” May God help us to have the faith, the conviction, the courage of Joseph Addison Clark.

Posted in Doctrine, Instrumental Music, Worship

The Instrumental Music Question, From Another Angle

More and more, members of the Lord’s church in various places are beginning to advocate the use of mechanical musical instruments in worshiping God. This, in spite of all the hard won battles of days gone by, where ground was gained and minds were converted to the truth when we once powerfully proclaimed that every belief and practice must have a “thus saith the Lord” in back of it.

Often, the justification for instruments in modern worship is based, at least in part, on an appeal to the Old Testament. Perhaps the one making such appeal does not comprehend the distinction between the Old and New Testaments. Or, perhaps he believes that any practice that was once right in God’s eyes will always be right in God’s eyes. Thus, if Israel used instruments under the law of Moses, there is no way instruments could be wrong now.

In replying to that argument, we have often held up examples of other Old Testament practices, such as animal sacrifices and burning incense, neither of which we use in our worship now. N. B. Hardeman rightly argued along those lines in his classic 1923 debate with Ira Boswell. That which proves too much, proves nothing. If instrumental music is alright now because it was alright once, then we should also be able to offer goats in worship, and even practice polygamy.

But, let us approach the subject from a different angle (which I have not seen done before). If it is right to justify instruments today because Israel used them at one time, then ponder what that means. If an Old Testament practice could never be wrong in the New Testament, then would it not also follow that every right practice in the New Testament would also have to be a right practice in the Old Testament? Said another way, if “once right, always right” is true, then it should follow that what is right under the gospel should not have been sinful under Moses. In other words, the principle (if correct) should work both ways, right?

Consider that there are numerous Old Testament prophecies about the church, and that “all peoples, nations, and languages” would serve the Messiah (e.g. Daniel 7:13-14). What if a forward looking Israelite decided to ignore the distinction God made under Moses between Jew and Gentile? After all, the gospel makes clear that such a distinction exists no more (see, especially, Ephesians 2:11-22). Jesus brought Jew and Gentile together in himself, having torn down the “dividing wall of hostility” that had been put there by divine legislation. Now, did any Jew in Old Testament days have the right to ignore that “dividing wall” God built? No. It was good that it existed under the Old Testament. But, it is sinful for anyone under the New Testament to perpetuate what was abolished with Jesus’ death. If someone today says that every Christian doctrine would have been right to practice in the Old Testament, that is simply false. And the converse is false, as well. It is wrong to say that every Old Testament religious practice must be acceptable to God now. It is wrong to justify any practice solely on its being right under a divine law that has now been abolished.

Moses did not baptize for remission of sins, and it would have been sinful for him to start the practice. Likewise, we do not approach God through Levitical priests serving in a tabernacle containing the Ark of the Covenant. We would sin in trying to re-establish that expired practice.

The gospel brought radical change to the status quo of two millennia ago. It is wrong today to kill a goat as an animal sacrifice to God—not because it has always been wrong, but because it is not authorized in the gospel. It is wrong today for a man to have two (or more) wives—not because it has always been wrong, but because it is not sanctioned in the gospel. It is wrong today to enforce Jewish dietary laws (cf. Mark 7:19)—not because they were wrong under Moses, but, rather, because they have not been re-instituted under the gospel of Christ. Think of the law of Moses as having been issued with a sunset provision. Moses’ law was nailed to the cross, but, unlike Christ, it was never resurrected (cf. Hebrews 10:9; Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15).

Our task is not to imitate what God once allowed under a now-abolished law, but, rather, to learn what his new law demands. To justify present practice by relying on the law of Moses is like going to the store to make a purchase with a stack of Confederate money. It would have worked (in the South) in the early 1860’s, but nowhere today. “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” (Hebrews 8:13, ESV). True, the Jews had musical instruments in worship, but their entire God-given system turned obsolete and vanished, taken out of the way, nailed to the cross by God himself. The Old Testament has much to offer (cf. Romans 15:4), but it is not normative for worship in the Lord’s church. No one has the right to appeal to the Old Testament in justifying a practice he cannot find in the New Testament!

In a nutshell, the old covenant was abolished. The new superseded it. The new covenant does not say anything about the Lord’s people using mechanical musical instruments to worship God, but it does mandate singing to worship God. Hence, the church of Christ’s historic opposition to anything other than acapella music in worship. Those who would give up that position must prove that instruments are acceptable in worship today, but on what basis? If they do not prove it by Scripture, they are disobeying 1 Thessalonians 5:21. They cannot justify it based on the Old Testament. The only remaining option is to justify the practice by New Testament proof. Where is that?

God can—and has—changed his law in going from Moses to Christ (cf. Hebrews 7:12-14). Those who would take a superseded, abolished law from Moses to sanction worship that Christ never authorized, are playing with fire.