An illustration from one of the old-time preachers was, “You don’t have to take down the whole fence to let the cows out!” The point is that breaking down the fence in one place would allow the cattle to escape, even though it might be assumed that the rest of the fence was still standing. The application is that if we surrender one fundamental principle of the Scriptures, we have opened a way to surrender many more.
I am persuaded that many of our people do not understand what is actually our objection to instrumental music in worship. It is not an issue of culture, musical tastes, tradition, or whether we can afford a piano. There is a principle involved. It is a fundamental principle. The principle, stated positively, is that worship that is “in spirit and truth” is worship that is according to scriptural instructions. Stated negatively, the principle is that nothing should be allowed in worship which is not authorized by the word of God.
In our worship every Christian should find spiritual satisfaction in knowing that what is being done is according to the Bible. When I sing, or pray, or commune, I delight in the knowledge that I am participating in a congregation that embraces the apostolic faith and practice. Those who attack us for not accepting instrumental music should admit to themselves that what they resent is people trying to be loyal to the Scriptures. A capella music is not likely to be questioned since it is so clearly what is taught. Those who are not pleased with it are not pleased with something that pleases the Lord. If instruments are added, it is not longer a capella – and no longer what the Bible enjoins.
Why do we object to instrumental music in worship? Because it is not authorized. Yes, we know the numerous apologies favoring instruments. They argue it’s in the Greek, in the Old Testament, in Revelation, helps the singing, etc. But when “the dust has settle,” nothing has ever been brought forward which authorizes instrumental music. It can be affirmed with absolute certainty that the only music authorized for Christian worship is singing and making melody in the heart.
The principle that must be honored is that what is not authorized is not acceptable. Unauthorized innovations are additions to God’s instructions (cf. Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18). They violate the mandate given to the apostles (Matt. 18:18). They go beyond the things that are written (1 Cor. 4:6). They alter and add to the covenant (cf. Gal. 3:15). They are not “in truth” because they can’t be found in the truth (John 4:24). They are after the doctrine and commandments of men, and therefore, vain worship (Matt. 15:9). By imposing the traditions of men, they make void the word of God (Mark 7:13). Since they originate in the will of men, they are “will worship” (Col. 3:23).
Now, back to the illustration that opened this article. If the principle of authority can be disregarded on the issue of scriptural music, there is no logical objection that can prohibit any other unscriptural invention. God has set boundaries (a fence) around our faith and practice. When the fence is broken over the music issue, by what principle can objections be made to infant baptism, sprinkling, additions to the Lord’s Table, burning incense, etc.?
In a conversation with a preacher who defends instrumental music, I asked where is the authority for it. Eventually, his argument was reduced to his saying, “The Bible does not specifically condemn it.” I agreed, but urged that he consider that some things must be determined by biblical principles, not by specific prohibitions. To press the point, I asked him if he would object if someone in his congregation wanted to add jelly to the bread for the Lord’s Supper. I told him that there is no text that specifically forbids the jelly. Therefore, to object he would have to decide the question by a biblical principle, rather than by a specific prohibition. I asked, “What would be that principle?” (The only possible principle would be as stated above: what is not authorized is not acceptable.)
What was his answer? He said that he did not know of anyone who wanted to add jelly, so there was no need to answer my question. I pressed the point, but he continued to refuse to answer. I told him that it seemed to me that he was refusing to answer because he knew that the principle which would forbid the jelly is the same principle that forbids the instrument.
A faithful brother told me of visiting a building belonging to an instrumental church. He asked if he could have one of the tracts on display. The front of the tract raised the question: “Where Does The Bible Authorize Infant Baptism?” When the tract was opened, there was not anything printed on the inside. On the back was the explanation that nothing was printed inside because there is no text that authorizes infant baptism. The conclusion was that infant baptism is unacceptable because there is nothing in the Scriptures that authorizes it. The brother then explained to his host that the title could be changed to: “Where Does The Bible Authorize Instrumental Music?” and the application would be exactly the same.