Perversions in the Worship of Many Local Congregations
Since apostolic times, faithful preachers of the gospel have forcefully and scripturally requested biblical authority for every practice in which they engage themselves religiously. It is the abandonment of this worthy plea which has been the forerunner (harbinger) to all apostasies, both ancient and modern. It is mandatory that we remember the church of the Lord is continually only one generation from possible apostasy (cf. Judg. 2:6-15; 1 Tim. 4:1-6; Acts 20:28-32). If we fail in our responsibility to teach even one generation what the Scriptures teach concerning the work of the church, the organization of the local congregation, the standard of authority for the church, the worship of the church, and the other undenominational aspects of the church, we will very quickly see the conception and birth of a "generation that knows not the Lord nor the church for which He died! Brethren, this fact concerns me greatly!
The need of requesting and producing (from the Scriptures) authority is as pertinent to the present generation as it was to the Lord's disciples in the first century and during the restoration movement, inaugurated by men who reasoned that sectarianism was not regulated by the dictates of God, but by the dogmas of men! Their plea was, "Let us speak where the Scriptures speak and be silent where the Scriptures are silent." This was simply one of many ways of saying, "we must respect the authority of the Scriptures in every detail! " In matters of doctrine, speculative theories are not to be tolerated as God's divine law! This is a truth to which Christians must adhere.
Regarding the message of the Scriptures relative to authority, the reverberating doctrine is, "Whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17). "If any man speaketh, speaking as it were the oracles of God. . ." (1 Pet. 4:11). "Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written..." (1 Cor. 4:6). We who are Christians (members of the churches of Christ, Rom. 16:16) ought to always understand the obligation of walking by faith, which occurs only when we walk exactly as God's word directs, for this is the only way that we will ever be well-pleasing to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:7; Rom. 10:17; Heb. 11:6).
A multiplicity in the brotherhood seems unconcerned with citing biblical authority, i.e. a (1) direct statement, (2) approved apostolic example, or (3) implication, for recent innovations in the worship of several local churches. Two of these modem practices particularly disturb me, and they are: (1) The introduction of special musical performers such as choirs, soloists, duets, quartets, and quintets into the worship assemblies of churches of Christ. (2) The frequent custom of many churches consisting in the participation of "taking up" so-called "love offerings" or "mid-week collections" while engaged in gospel meetings or special classes during the week. The fact is: these practices are gaining momentum! Their acceptance is accelerating! Of course, it is a well known truth that whenever a small hole is allowed to remain in the dam, enabling some of the water to ooze out, the time is forthcoming when the hole enlarges, therefore allowing all of the water to proceed out! The same truth is applicable to the church. If we tolerate the entrance of one erroneous activity into the church of our Lord, the time is quickly coming when numerous things for which there is no authority will be accepted without question! I am convinced that many brethren have not seriously questioned the scripturalness of the special "singing groups" and the so-called "love offerings/mid-week collections!" Please, consider with me some information concerning the two innovative practices which have crept into the worship of various local churches.
The "Group Singing" Crisis
I distinctly remember a gospel meeting sponsored by one of the local congregations in LaMarque, Texas in February of 1975. The local evangelist announced that the next night "The Lemon Five" would be present to perform for the church. It was (and is) difficult for me to accept the reality of what actually happened the following night. The choir was robed and gave a spectacular (?) musical demonstration. They flabbergasted and charmed the audience like a chicken snake does a baby duck! Their musical skill was so flamboyant and remarkable (?) that the brethren cheered and laughed!
At the conclusion of the service the local preached asked, "Does anyone have any comments and/or questions?" I raised my hand to ask a question, and it was a long time before anybody recognized me! Finally, the moment came when I was allowed to ask the brethren one question at the end of a short talk which I had prepared. I asked in essence, "Brethren, where is the divine authority for what has occurred in this assembly tonight?" In response they laughed at me, some threatened to do bodily injury to me, and one challenged me to a public debate regarding the issue of chorus groups singing for the assembly! The evangelist whom they had selected to do the preaching in the meeting is the gentleman who issued the challenge for a debate. On the morning of February twenty-eighth, nineteen hundred and seventy-five, Grover C. Washington of Dallas, Texas signed to affirm the following proposition: "It is in harmony with the scriptures for the churches of Christ to bring into the assembly chorus type groups, composed of members of the church which would sing for those assembled. " I signed to deny the proposition! The arrangements were finalized and, I contacted brother Washington many times prior to the actual debate in order to inform him of all the details. All seemed to have gone well until the night when the debate was supposed to have begun. Friends, this is the night when Grover C. Washington did not show! At least one worthwhile factor resulted from his absence; many of his spiritual cohorts were appalled at his apparent cowardice! Many asked, "Do you think brother Washington bit off more than he could humanly handle?" Others asked, "Do you think some of his preaching brethren in the Dallas area were able to show him how utterly ridiculous the proposition is which he signed to affirm?"
Regardless of the many reasons one may state as to why he possibly did not attend to debate the proposition which he signed to affirm as a result of a challenge which he issued, there is one thing I do know of a certainty; brother Grover C. Washington did not appear at the appointed place (Dickinson Texas Junior High School) in defense of what he propagates with reference to chorus groups performing for churches! It is indeed a sad occasion when one who professes to be a gospel preacher will issue challenges and fail miserably to keep them! I still have the propositions, and so many times I groan in my spirit when I consider the influence that our brother has over so many churches and young preachers, yet at least once he failed to meet the demands of the New Testament to "be set for the defense of the gospel of Christ" (Phil. 1:15-17) and "contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 3)! 1 have definite plans to keep the propositions just in case our dear brother decides to accept a six-year-old challenge which he issued!!
This demonstrates in perfect fashion the kind of trouble which a man (even a preacher of the gospel) gets himself into when he tries to defend an unscriptural practice! Even an uneducated country boy (who has the word of God on his side) can fare well against an intellectual giant (who has abandoned the Bible)!
At this time, let us observe some of the reasons why it is sinful for a congregation to employ "chorus groups," "soloists," "choirs," "quartets," and other special singing groups to sing for the assembled ones.
Chorus groups, quartets, and other special singing groups are proven to be unscriptural when one considers the fact that no group should sing for the church because the church itself is to sing. Yes friends, each saint who is a member of a local congregation has the obligation to sing! No one can do that for you; it is your responsibility! Consider the language of the following texts of Scripture. "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord" (ASV). In the Greek Testament, the phrase "speaking one to another" is lalountes heautois. Lalountes is the nominative plural masculine participle, present active of the root word laleo. The meaning of laleo is "to speak, to talk, to make vocal utterance." (Note: The fact that Paul instructs Christians to make vocal utterance, i.e. "speaking" declares unauthorized the prevalent activity of "humming" in worship!) The word lalountes is one of the three participles in this text. The other two are adontes and psallontes. Heautois is the dative plural masculine of heautou. Heautou is a reflexive pronoun and is frequently used in the plural for the reciprocal pronoun allelois. And when it is so used the connotation is to do a certain thing reciprocally, mutually, and to one another. The idea in the, present text under scrutiny is this: Paul says by inspiration that everyone is to speak in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with the heart to the Lord. The actions are to be participated in by all! One New Testament Greek scholar says in commenting on the phrase lalountes heautois, "Heautols is for allelois, as in iv. 32, and cannot signify, as Morus and Michaelis would render it 'with yourselves,' or 'within you,' but 'among yourselves,' or 'in concert... (Commentary On The Epistle To The Epheslans, p. 399, Greek Text, John Eadie).
There is not authority in this passage for "special groups" singing for the church, but to the contrary, this text flatly declares choirs and quartets, etc., to be without warrant, for it teaches congregational participation! B.F. Westcott, in Saint Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, The Greek Text With Notes, says on p. 82, "The Christian congregation as Christians join in the various forms of praise, and the same strains which set forth aspects of God's glory elevate the feelings of those who join in them" (emp. mine and Amen RD).
We now go to the companion text of Ephesians 5:19 which is Colossians 3:16, where the same apostle writes, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God." The two words "one another" are translated from the Greek term heautous which is accusative plural masculine of heautou. This is the same root word that was used by the apostle in writing to the Ephesians. Once again his instructions consist of mutual teaching, admonishing, and singing. The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament uses the words "each other" to translate the word heautou in both passages! A similar construction to Colossians 3:16 is found in verse 13 of the same chapter "forbearing one another, and forgiving each other." Question: Was the injunction given to only a few or to all? Was each one to forbear and forgive, or were only a select few to do the forbearing and forgiving? Authority cannot be found in this passage nor anywhere else in the New Testament for choirs and other special groups to sing for the church!
Churches that introduce chorus groups into the worship to sing for the assembly find themselves ignoring the voice of ancient historians who unitedly acknowledge that the singing of the early church was mutual/simultaneous as each saint expressed his heart sentiments to God Almighty. Schaff in his monumental work History of the Christian Church (Vol. 1, p. 463), speaks of "The song, a form of prayer, in the festive dress of poetry and elevated language of inspiration, raising the congregation to the highest pitch of devotion, and giving it a part in the heavenly harmonies of the saints" (emp. mine RD). In a volume titled Ancient Christianity Exemplified (pp. 329,330), Lyman Coleman testifies: "The prevailing mode of singing during the first three centuries was congregational. The whole congregation united their voices in the sacred song of praise, in strains united their ability. . . . The most ancient and most common mode of singing was confessedly for the whole assembly; men, women and children blend their voices in their songs of praise in the great congregation. Such is the testimony of Hillary, of Augustine, and Chrysostom. 'Formerly all came together and united in their song, as is still our custom. . . .' Each one blended all in one harmonious melody." (Note: Other historical reference sources could be cited, but these will suffice to show that even sectarian scholarship in many cases will acknowledge what the truth ,really is! What a blessing it would be if brethren would always do the same.)
Choir singing is also denominational in nature. Singing which is done by special groups has not always been a part of the services of churches of Christ. Its acceptance is of relatively late origin. It, as is the case with so many innovations, was borrowed from denominationalism! The larger sectarian bodies had their trained choirs as a permanent part of their worship services, and they seemed to enliven their singing sessions, so why would they not do the same for our periods of devotion? Choirs (choruses) are simply one of the many "goodies" which churches of Christ have discovered in sectarian duffel bags (trash cans and garbage piles). Inasmuch as choirs (choruses) are denominational in nature, they are not authorized by the "doctrine of Christ" and therefore rest under the condemnation of Christ (2 Jn. 9; Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 22:18-19).
Choirs, quartets, and other special singing groups are condemned because they are engaging in worship by proxy! That is, they are doing for the church what the church itself is commanded to do. Whenever God stipulates for a certain activity to be done by each saint in an assembly, he means for it to be done by each saint, without getting someone to do it for him. If the church may, by divine authority, employ a "group" to sing for those assembled, why could it not employ a "group" to give for those assembled and/or partake of the Lord's Supper for those assembled? It seems to me that, if the church may without divine authority employ a "group" to do one thing for the assembly, it may consistently employ a "group" to do everything which God commands each saint to do! If not, why not? Friends, would you consider letting a "group" go to heaven in your stead?
The so-called "love offerings" or "mid-week" congregational collections immediately fall into the very same category as the "special singing groups" and, as a matter of fact, most of the churches which participate in one of these innovations will endorse the other! Birds of a feather flock together.
God's specified time (day) for the congregational contribution is "upon the first day of the week" (1 Cor. 16:2). This is the only Scripture in God's New Testament that tells us the day of the collection. If God Almighty had desired collections involving the congregation on some other day, He would have told us! Since He did not reveal any other day for congregational collections, we have no right to add another day, for we are to remain in what hath been written (cf. 1 Cor. 4:6).
Two acts of worship are restricted to the first day of the week: (1) collection (1 Cor. 16:2) and (2) the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7). To observe either of these items of worship at any other time than God's appointed time, the first day of the week, is to engage in a sinful practice, i.e. an act of transgression (Matt. 7:21-23; 1 Jn. 3:4).
The practice of "taking up" collections on days other than the first day of the week is unscriptural, denominational, schismatic, and a definite sign of an attitude which is ripe for apostasy from God's divine way and order!
Brethren, let us get back to the time honored practice of "speaking where the Scriptures speak and being silent where the Scriptures are silent!" Repudiate all sectarian practices and unite upon truth (Jn. 17:17, 20,21) and be as a golden pillar whose brightness never fadeth because of the eternal light emanating from the majesty in the heavens!
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 21, pp. 656-657, 660