He Got His Chops in Church

Joseph_Williams_Orebro_2013I have been enjoying coaching debaters from my local congregation as they prepare for the mock debates at the Lads to Leaders Convention in Atlanta this weekend. The debate proposition for 2014 is “Resolved: The use of mechanical instruments of music to accompany the worship of God by His church is not authorized by His Word.” For this opportunity to study with eager, young Bible students I thank the organizers of L2L, which is the best expedient for training young people to be spiritual leaders.

Because I have been focused on this debate topic pretty steadily for some weeks now, I seem to always be thinking about arguments concerning music in worship. Today, I heard a new band on my satellite radio. As the DJ introduced the song, he told a story about how the lead singer “got his vocal chops” by performing in church, and nowhere else.

Notice what has occurred here. For at least part of the time this now-famous singer was in a religious assembly, the worship was designed not to lead him to focus on God by deflecting attention from his own status and toward heaven (as congregational singing tends to do), but rather to help him turn into a better entertainer.

Those of us who are interested in restoring New Testament Christianity have rightly emphasized that the fundamental principle determining whether an act is permitted in Christian worship is whether God has authorized that act in the New Testament. The act of playing instruments as part of the worship is, despite all the arguments to the contrary, simply not authorized by the New Testament.1 Our L2L debaters will stand on this fact.

One secondary, yet powerful argument against instrumental music in worship can be learned from the story of the entertainer who learned his craft in church. There is obvious wisdom in God’s prescription for vocal, congregational praise for keeping the focus on praise itself: Any singling out of special musicians (singers or instrumentalists) necessarily tends to convert worship into an earthly show, i.e., a circumstance where one individual or group assumes the task of impressing some human audience. By contrast, congregational singing necessarily tends to minimize this effect: If one person who is singing along with the rest of the congregation starts to assume the task of impressing others with his musical prowess, the environment of equal participation authorized by God goes a long way toward reminding the individual singer that his role is the same as everybody else’s—to praise God and teach his brethren (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). In short, God’s “set-up” for worship isn’t conducive to learning how to be an entertainer of other people.

As we notice the unscriptural modification of worship all around us in the religious world today, we should not miss the opportunity to learn about God’s wisdom in designing Christian worship, and we should not fail to advocate for a return to the pure, simple worship of the apostolic age. This was an age when musical instruments were available and were probably featured even in Jewish worship (E.g., Psalm 150), but were rejected wholesale by the followers of Christ.

  1. See Dave Miller, Richland Hills and Instrumental Music: A Plea to Reconsider (Mongomery: Apologetics Press, 2007). 

  • Sandra Moore

    Your point here is one I have often thought of. A former neighbor of ours (who is in his 70s) plays guitar at every opportunity for the denomination he is a part of, and bragged about being asked to play every time he visited a congregation of that denomination. He said he used to be invited to visit the church of Christ but “they would never let him play.”

  • Ann Evans

    I have two friends with beautiful voices who refuse to sing out in worship because it might draw attention to themselves, (afraid someone might think they are trying to impress). Missing the blessing of a strong voice, my being able to hear someone on key, strong and clear, helps me to sing out with more assurance that I at least have the tune. Are these people wrong in their attitude or am I?

    • Caleb Colley

      Dear Mrs. Anne,
      Good question. All of us who have voices (strong or weak, musical or…less so) must obey the command to sing, and in view of what we have to sing about, we should sing heartily, i.e., with enthusiasm. This does not necessarily mean that we sing as loud as we are capable of singing (it would hurt our throats and limit our ability to sing further). Still, your friends should sing out, not with the intention of impressing folks, but with the intentions of giving God the full “fruit of our lips,” the “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) and of edifying the brethren (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). Only your friends know their own motives, of course, but the noble motive of humility before men must not keep us from humbly honoring our God.
      To put it another way, follow this four-step process:
      1. Imagine how we would sing out if the Lord were physically in our presence during the public assembly;
      2. Then, remember that the Lord is actually there with us (Psalm 139);
      3. Consider that, if the people who hear us sing to the Lord cannot appreciate our motives for singing out, then they are probably not singing with enthusiasm themselves. This a problem of immaturity on their part;
      4. Consider that our singing out consistently may be just the thing to help others see more of the significance of the Object of our enlivened praise.

      • Janice

        Great article, Caleb! And great response to Ann Evans. I am one of those people who has a good singing voice. I have been trained to sing, a little bit, in opera and classical music, and, of course, have sung a capella in the church my whole life. I get a lot of compliments. Having said that, I could be adamant in promoting choirs and solos, musical instruments, praise teams, and praise leaders, but I do NOT! I know you have extensive musical ability because I have seen you perform (a long time ago) at Roundhouse. You could also have reason to support musical instruments, but to your credit, you do not either.

        I sing with enthusiasm because the Lord deserves it! But I always tell people, *God said sing. He did not say sing well.* We must sing! All of us! I tell people too, that I listen for other voices in the congregation and pay close attention to the song leader to be sure I am singing *with* them, not above them. The worship service is not the place for superiority nor entertainment. We should be united in song.

        Our praise is to come from the heart. A musical instrument does not have a heart. It cannot express a thought or idea, therefore, it is nothing more than a sounding brass or a tinkling symbol. “Churches” which sing with an instrument are always listening for the instrument. The members cannot sing without the instrument! Actually, a good number of them can’t sing *with the instrument either! In our churches of Christ, you will always find members who know nothing about reading music who are excellent singers, because we have actually learned to sing, not listen for an instrument. We should all love to sing praise to the Lord!

        Keep up your good work, Caleb!

  • we operate a church of Christ internet radio station 24/7,will there be audio of this debate if so how to listen or download???


    • Caleb Colley

      Hi Travis,
      Thanks for the question. This is a mock debate competition for teenagers. To my knowledge there will be no debate audio or video available from the Lads to Leaders office. However, if you would like to see how debate works at Lads, there probably will be video (shot by parents, etc.) that you could see. If you are interested in this, or if you are interested in starting a Lads program at your congregation, please contact me through email (calebcolley@gmail.com) and I will help you.
      All the best,

- 2018