Instrumental Music: Is It Legalism?

music (1)Instrumental Music: Is It Legalism?

The Council of Trent (1543-1563) settled the question of the use of instrumental music in worship by affirming it was approved by God. This was much the insistence of Emperor Ferdinand and had it not been for the Council and the emperor’s influence instrumental music would have been abolished. The use of an instrument was first introduced in the six hundreds but remained a point of contention and disagreement for the next nine hundred years. Today, it is becoming more of an oddity if any church does not have instruments of music in their worship – including the church of the Lord.

It should not come as a surprise the influence of the religious world and secularism of society has crept into the thinking of those who claim New Testament discipleship. Satan has been hammering on the temple of God for two thousand years. He will not stop until he is able to change the worship of God to a worship of man. In the “religious world” he has done a masterful job. The next few decades will see more and more churches of Christ embrace to use of instruments of music. Many of those who held firm a few years ago the absence of authority for such will soon relax their views in favor of an open discussion of it as an approved means of worship.

There is more and more a cry for separatism from so-called legalism to accept in better faith some tenets of doctrine. Proponents of instrumental music use the same tired arguments denominations have used for years. “Where does it say in scripture not to use the instrument” is very common. Some will even be so bold to suggest since it was used in the Old Testament and the Revelation that this would allow it to be used today. Deep studies will be conducted on the use of the word ‘psallo’ and when finished prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the early church used every instrument known to man allowing its use today. The cry is for leniency and latitude to allow a fresh discussion of whether we should ban instruments of music.

The root of the problem comes from those who are proving their arguments with feelings and social provocations than the word of God. It has become a debate about legalism. The word “legalism” is used with such ease and tossed about as a bad word. It suggests salvation by works. Binding too many laws upon adherents becomes a legalistic form of worship rather than an open and free approach to a deeper evolution into the mind of God.

What is legalism? It is defined as “strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit.” Often critics of scripture offer up the legalism argument to show how that worship to God is not based upon “law keeping” but love, grace, mercy and understanding. The Pharisees took legalism to a whole new level but this was not to suggest that God did not base His law on legalism.

There is a need for commandment keeping. King David was a legalist. He writes, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalms 19:7-9). He mentions the LAW of the Lord, the TESTIMONY of the Lord, the STATUTES of the Lord, the COMMANDMENTS of the Lord and the JUDGMENTS of the Lord. David understood that faithfulness to the Lord was not just in commandment keeping. Later the prophet Hosea would rebuke the people because they thought by commandment keeping they could be right with God. The Lord declares, “For I desire mercy (steadfast love – ESV) and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Did this mean God did not require sacrifice and burnt offerings? No! He wanted them to obey Him and He wanted them to obey Him from the heart. One does not exclude the other.

There is nothing in the teaching of the early disciples that suggests there was any use of an instrument of music. The Jews had lots of instruments. Moses in the Law declared the use of instruments. The psalms are filled with the use of instruments. Remember the first Christians on the Day of Pentecost were DEVOUT Jews who when they became followers of Christ – never – used an instrument of music in worship. If anyone would have known the commandment of the Lord it would have been those first Christians. They never used an instrument because they understood the use of an instrument as not part of this new devotion to the Lord.

The early Christians for over six hundred years did not use an instrument. From the pens of many of the early church fathers and protestant authors came the rejection of instruments of music in worship (Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Adam Clarke, John Wesley, and Martin Luther to name a few). And now in our time people have become more devoted in the knowledge of the will of God to declare instrumental music as accepted. The real problem lies in the need to find scripture to back up their claims. Where can one find in the New Testament church anything close to teaching the use of instruments of music? It does not exist. Yet people are being drawn to the persuasive arguments of those who have not studied the depths of God’s word to find their authority but rather the shallow veneer of public opinion and need.

No matter how man tries to answer the questions of faith and practice there is only one way to establish truth: what is commanded by God in His word, what is found in harmony with pattern of the early church and how we are to implement these patterns within the realm of inference. The ‘New Hermeneutic’ of modern philosophy does not change the manner the early disciples addressed doctrine. Acts 15 is the story of Jewish Christians trying to bind circumcision on the believers. The manner by which an answer was established is seen in Peter’s conclusion (necessary inference), Barnabas and Paul’s testimony (apostolic example) and the conclusion by James (the commandment of the Lord). The three prong approach must still be used today or false doctrine will be allowed in the body of Christ.

The debate about instrumental music is only a part of the tide coming in over the body of Christ with false doctrine. Few would suggest that the churches of Christ would ever teach that baptism is not necessary for salvation. But just wait. If you want to know where the church in many places is headed just visit your friendly-next-door denomination and what they are doing and teaching will be the norm in the church of Christ in just a few decades. Consider the manner many churches of Christ today follow after recreation, family life centers, unwed mother homes, etc. The issue of instrument music has invaded numerous church of Christ because of a lack of doctrinal purity to the word of God. Based on the same arguments of music the plan of salvation will be watered down to where the only thing you have to do to go to Heaven is wake up in the morning. And that may not require both eyes.

Hosea proclaimed, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6). We can be too legalistic. That goes without saying. The warning comes when the pendulum swings on the wings of compromise and we reject legalism in every form. Jesus told the woman at the well that worship is according to SPIRIT and TRUTH. You cannot have one without the other. Commandments are necessary. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith” (1 John 5:2-4).

“The distemper has invaded the churches in what goes for gospel music. It would be bad enough if jazz had remained in the night clubs amidst the darkness of heathenism … But when the church borrows both the language and the livery of Sodom, it is time to hang our heads in shame” (Vance Havner)


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