Instrumental Music or A Capella Singing
As I understand the history of events that brought the a capella churches of Christ and instrumental Christian churches into existence as they are today, the issue that drew the line in the sand, was that of instrumental music. Lincoln's war, the Civil War, had a profound effect on the relationships of Northern and Southern churches. There is some evidence that Southern congregations were upset about the extravagance of spending money on instruments by richer Northern congregations after the war. Over time the subject became a doctrinal issue and in 1889 Daniel Sommer's Sand Creek Address and Declaration drew the line in the sand.
Here are the two most common verses that are associated with this issue.
It is basically from these two verses that it is taught that using an instrument in a worship service would be a sin. However, the context of these verses does not indicate that a worship service is the subject being discussed. If this is correct then would any use of an instrument at any time be sin? Did God intend for the instrument to become a salvation issue?
A growing number of people in the church of Christ are listening to Christian music and attending Christian concerts where instrumental music is used. If Christian instrumental music is evil, is it not evil all the time? If it is godly and sanctioned by God, as it was in the Old Testament, is it not godly all the time?
Your entire life is to be dedicated to God. The idea that there is a sacred part of our lives and a secular part of our lives comes from the Catholic church. Over one hundred years ago the Catholic church adopted what Augustine wrote. Augustine took this teaching from ancient Greek philosophy. It has absolutely no basis in scripture.
Our God does not arbitrarily make something right one day and then make it wrong the next. This is a fundamental understanding concerning God's nature. Even God must obey His own Law for His Law constitutes His morals. God's morals did not change with Christ's death on the cross. If something is immoral today then it was immoral on the day that the Adam was placed in the garden. Instruments were accepted and even commanded in the previous covenant's worship, but supposedly not accepted in the current covenant's worship. This current belief also shows a lack of understanding as to what constitutes the New Covenant.
Some say that using instrumental music will send you to "hell". Take a look at the following.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Obviously I am trying to make a point by inserting "nor users of musical instruments in worship". The Bible is very clear as to what is sin. Nowhere in any list of sins in the New Testament is any kind of music, singing or instrument mentioned as sinful much less a sin that will send you to "hell". In fact it is quite the opposite as we shall see.
I am aware that it is taught that in general practice, worship was accomplished without instruments after the time of Christ. One must consider that during the times of the apostles a church that was basically in hiding would not be forming choirs or holding public concerts. Another reason for the practice was probably more closely linked to the fact that the Catholic church controlled nearly all worship for the greater part of the time period before they came into use.
There are several writings from the early church fathers condemning instrumental music in worship. Upon close examination it appears that some of the reasoning was a reaction to "Jewish/Edomite" worship practices and as Augustine put it, "The pipe, tabret, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and circus, it is easy to understand the prejudices against their use in the worship." (Augustine 354 A.D.) So it would appear that the instrument was avoided not because it's use was evil, but because of how it was used elsewhere in society. This is still common today. I am aware of congregations who avoided a type of ministry because another denomination in town was known for it and the local church did not want to be associated with the denomination.
One thing is certain is that much of true history has been hidden, changed, still unfound or recently discovered and not commonly known. The more I learn about the history of Israel the more I find that is the opposite of what we have been taught. There does now appear to be some evidence that some congregations in the first century did use instruments.
I have had one church of Christ preacher who admitted to me that if the instrument was wrong it would be wrong all the time. Another told me that he had no problem with instrumental music. I witnessed both of them as they taught the use of instrumental music in worship as sinful from the pulpit. I believe that most people in the church believe it to be acceptable, but would not admit it publicly.
I personally enjoy the four part harmony employed in a capella singing, but many churches are now losing the four part harmony when they stop using song books. In churches that use instruments some times the instrument may become more important than the song to be sung, but that in itself is not a reason to avoid its use. We often emphasize the wrong aspect of any worship event. I believe that in the next 20 years most churches of Christ may have or allow, in special situations, instrumental music. (Since writing this more than six major congregations of the churches of Christ now accept the instrument to some degree.)
The scripture is very helpful in this area. Paul would never consider using the sin of adultery in a positive way for an example for some other practice or teaching. However, Paul does in fact use the instrument to make a point in 1 Corinthians 14:7. Here is the verse with additions to show more of the true Greek meaning.
1 Corinthians 14:7-8
There are examples of the harp being used in Revelation. The twenty four elders are praising God with harps in Revelation 5:8. How can this be without sin if the use of the instrument in praise to God is sin in worship for us? Even if this is all symbolic you will never find scripture use something that is a sin as an example to show a righteous act. Remember God's morals do not change and his laws are not arbitrary.
We have a Master Key Chromatic Pitch Instrument commonly known as a pitch pipe. Note both words that are associated with the device, instrument and pipe. It is described as both a musical instrument and a pipe. It can be used to play a tune. Now, would there be anxiety among the pews one Sunday morning if I were to substitute the pitch pipe for an Irish whistle playing only one note to obtain the correct key for the song we were about to sing? This actually has been done without objection and you can probably see where this is going. What would be the difference if I substituted a guitar? How about if I played one note at the start of each verse to make sure we were still on key? You see we have made an exception that really only amounts to a technicality. We do use an instrument in most churches, but we have created a special method that makes it's use acceptable to those in the pews. It is just a matter of how we were taught. I wonder if the pitch pipe was resisted among the southern churches after the split after it was first introduced?
A couple of years ago I began learning to play the mandolin. If I sit and pick out "Farther Along" in my home is it a sin? Would it be a sin in a worship service if no one was offended? Would God have been offended in 1000 BC? What changed that made instruments an offense? Can anyone provide any scripture at all that shows why God would decide that instruments or the use of them was righteous one day and sin the next day and then righteous again in the future? Do you know of anything in the Bible that God was totally arbitrary about when it comes to what is sin? The two verses above state that we should sing Psalms. Can anyone explain how we are to sing Psalms with out an instrument when some of them state to use a certain instrument when they are sung? Please see added information in the Notes section below.
The verses above use the phrase "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs". A friend suggested that I ask the question why something would be repeated three times if it is the same thing. In other words the verses do not say "non-instrumental music, non-instrumental music and non-instrumental music". Each of the three words have their own distinct meaning. It would be dishonest to suggest that psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are all exactly the same thing. It is also dishonest to ignore parts of the definitions for those words because they do not line up with one's theology.
Perhaps what we have missed because of our misuse of the above scriptures was really an admonition concerning how we are to sing. Sing from the heart and not just with the lips.
Well I hope you are getting the picture. Most all churches have some pet doctrine that they cling to even though it is evident to most other churches that the doctrine is false. This is the one the church of Christ has clung to. It certainly is not the worst one out there. Someone took two scriptures that were not specifically about worship and made them a vague command for worship only.
Here is Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 copied out of the King James version with each main word replaced with the primary Strong's definition.
Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in a set piece of music or sacred ode (accompanied with the voice, harp or other instrument; a "psalm") and celebrate or sing non-carnal songs, singing and playing on a stringed instrument in your heart to the Lord;