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

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