A Review of “Why the Use of Instrumental Music in Worship Should Not be Made a Test of Fellowship”

By Mike Willis

On pages 16-17, I have reproduced an article from Christian Standard (10 November 1991) written by David L. Eubanks, president of Johnson Bible College. This article expresses the common belief of many of our Christian Church friends. Therefore, it deserves a reply.

We appreciate brother Eubanks’ concern about unity. Where Bible attitudes are matched with Bible actions on both sides that unity can be attained and maintained. We shall strive to do that in this reply and commit ourselves to give up any and everything that is a human opinion for the sake of the unity of the church.

We are agreed that the Devil “has used this controversy to sow the seed of discord among the brethren and hinder the growth of the church of Jesus Christ.” However, we are disagreed regarding what that seed of discord is and what plants must be extracted for the peace to be restored.

An Inconsistency in the Argument

Brother Eubanks’ argumentation is self-contradictory. First he intimates that the Bible commanded that mechanical instruments be used in worship and then treated them as optional. If they are commanded, they are not optional. Our good brother cannot have it both ways. Which way will he choose – mechanical instruments are commanded or mechanical instruments are optional?

Mechanical Instruments Are Commanded

In the first section of his article, the president of Johnson Bible College contended that mechanical instruments are commanded. He used the following Scriptures to prove his point: Psalm 87:5-7; Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Do the passages cited prove his point that mechanical instruments are commanded to be used in worship? Let us look at each carefully.

Psalm 87.-5-7. Brother Eubanks contends that this psalm is a prophecy of the church and concludes that “the psalmist prophesied that there would be the players on instruments as well as the singers in the church.” Does his conclusion follow? No!

If this passage is a prophecy of the church, the prophet is using the symbolism of Levitical worship to foretell worship in the Christian era. This occurred on many occasions. We should no more conclude that players of mechanical instruments are a part of the worship of the New Testament church than we conclude that animal sacrifices were a part of its worship, based on this argument.

Isaiah 66:12-24 is a similar prophecy of the church age. Isaiah describes the “new heavens and new earth” when God’s mercy is extended to the Gentiles. In speaking of extending his mercy to the Gentiles, Isaiah revealed God to say, “And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord” (Isa. 66:21).

If brother Eubanks can find instrumental music in Psalm 87, he should have no trouble authorizing a distinct priesthood – a clergy – on the basis of the prophecy in Isaiah 66:21. Yet, I am confident that brother Eubanks would join me in rejecting a priesthood and tell our Catholic friends that what was authorized in the Old Testament is not necessarily authorized in the New Testament. Rather, God was using the language of Old Testament worship to describe divine blessings under the New Covenant. If he can understand this about the Levitical priesthood, he surely can see that the same will apply to his argument based on Psalm 87.

Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3.16

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16).

Brother Eubanks argues that the Greek noun psalmos (psalm) in these passages refers to songs sung to instrumental accompaniment. He also argued that the Greek verb psallo, used in Ephesians 5:19 (make melody) and in James 5:13 (sing psalms) means to “pluck or twang an instrument of music.” What Greek authorities did he quote to prove this? What are his Greek credentials that justify the translation. There is no standard English translation which has ever translated psalmos a song sung to instrumental music. (For a thorough discussion of the psallolpsalmos argument one should read the Boswell-Hardeman Discussion on Instrumental Music in Worship. This argument has been answered on many occasions, but our Christian Church brethren continue to make the argument which, as I shall notice later, even brother Eubanks does not believe to be conclusive.)

He appeals for the instrument not to be made a test of fellowship by saying the scholars are disagreed. (In this respect, he reminds me of some of our brethren who have called for tolerance on the matter of unscriptural divorce and remarriage on the same basis – scholars are disagreed.) I am confident that brother Eubanks is aware that scholars are disagreed on whether or not baptism is for remission of sins and whether or not sprinkling or pouring constitute baptism. Does the fact that scholars are disagreed on these subjects mean that he is willing to treat the action and subject of water baptism as matters which should not be made tests of fellowship? Is he ready to accept the pious unimmersed, to show forbearance on this issue because the scholars are disagreed?

Furthermore, the argument that psalmos and psallo are defined to mean “a song sung to the accompaniment of an instrument” and “to twang an instrument” proves more than he wants it to prove. The argument implies that musical instruments are inherent in the meaning of the words. In a similar manner we both agree that “immersion” is the inherent meaning of the noun baptisma and the verb baptizo. Believing that “immersion” is inherent in the meaning of this noun and its verbal cognate, we assert that Bible baptism is immersion in water. Neither of us is willing to say that sprinkling or pouring can be accepted because of the meaning of the word. If brother Eubanks is correct that psalmos and psallo mean to sing a song to the accompaniment of an instrument of music, the use of that instrument is not optional – no more so than immersion is an optional way to baptize. If the words mean to “sing to the accompaniment of an instrument,” men are guilty of sin who do not use an instrument when they sing. They cannot obey the command to sing a psalm or “make melody in their hearts” without an instrument of music if the instrument inheres in the meaning of the words psalmos and psallo.

This conclusion would mean that the church was guilty of sin for 670 years for not using the instrument of music in worship. This would mean that any church today which does not use mechanical instruments of music in their worship is guilty of sin. If brother Eubanks does not accept this conclusion, he does not really believe that one must have an instrument to sing a psalm (psalmos) or to psallo!

The Argument Is Inconclusive

After making the argument that the instrument inheres in the meaning of these words, brother Eubanks then says, “From my study, I would say that the arguments on both sides are inconclusive.” I appreciate his honesty. This statement is an admission that the evidences to prove that psallo and psalmos include the instrument in the meaning of the word are insufficient to sustain the affirmation. He is correct in this.

However, he now has a problem for himself. Inasmuch as he has admitted that the evidence is inconclusive, he cannot affirm that he is acting byJaith when he uses an instrument. He is in the same position as the man who admits that he cannot prove for certain that sprinkling and pouring are accepted for baptism. To act by faith means that one has clear and plain authority from the Bible to sustain his practice. But, brother Eubanks has admitted that “the arguments on both sides are inconclusive.” He therefore has implied that he cannot “walk by faith” in using mechanical instruments of music in his worship. There remains an element of doubt, even in his own mind, whether or not God approves of instrumental music in worship. This is precisely the situation Paul had in mind when he said, “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Having this self-confessed doubt, brother Eubanks is obligated not to practice what he cannot do with full, assurance of faith.

He also says that the argument against using instruments of music in worship is inconclusive. That is fine, but my practice does not obligate me to prove that using mechanical instruments of music in worship is unscriptural. The man who uses the instrument must prove his practice. In the absence of positive divine authority, mechanical instruments of music stand on the same basis as sprinkling, infant baptism, salvation by faith only, and other unauthorized practices. If brother Eubanks fails to provide conclusive affirmative authority for his practice, which he admits he cannot do (“the arguments are inconclusive”), the practice stands condemned as unscriptural by default.

Is Singing A Part of Corporate Worship?

Brother Eubanks questions whether or not singing is authorized as a part of corporate worship. If he doubts that singing is a part of corporate worship, why does he have singing in his worship? If the Bible does not authorize singing in corporate worship, the logical conclusion is “don’t sing in worship.” However, brother Eubanks’ conclusion is this: since we can’t even prove that singing is a part of corporate worship, we also can use mechanical instruments of music when we sing. How that conclusion follows from the premise, I do not understand.

Is brother Eubanks arguing there is no pattern for worship? If there is no pattern for worship, there can be no violation -no sinful kind of worship (Rom. 4:15). If there are no patterns for worship, then idolatry is just as acceptable in worship as any other kind of worship. If there is no pattern for worship, there is no obligation to partake the Lord’s supper on the first day of every week. If there is no pattern for worship, there is no violation in a church raising funds through taking collections on days other than the Lord’s day or through fund raising schemes (cake walks, car washes, Las Vegas nights, Bingo games, and such like activities).

Is An Instrument An Aid?

Next brother Eubanks affirms that mechanical instruments of music in worship are aids to singing just like songbooks are. The shift in our brother’s argument which says that the instrument of music is an aid to singing contradicts his previous argument that the Bible commands instruments of music in worship, based on the meanings of psalmos and psallo. Both positions cannot be true.

But brother Eubanks, what are instruments of music “aiding” when they are being played during the partaking ,of the Lord’s supper, the taking of a collection, and the offering of the invitation? When a brass band from one of the Christian colleges performs at the Sunday evening worship services, what are they “aiding”? They surely are not aiding the singing for singing is not being done during these parts of the worship.

Playing an instrument is another kind of music, it is not an aid to singing. When we use a songbook as an aid to singing, we are still just singing. When we use a tuning fork to get the first note, we still are just singing. However, when we introduce mechanical instruments of music in worship we have introduced another kind of music – a kind for which there is no authority.

Departure From The Restoration Plea

Brother Eubanks affirms that making the use of mechanical instruments of music a test of fellowship is a departure from a fundamental premise of the restoration plea. That plea was this: “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” Let me unequivocally state that I believe this restoration plea because it affirms the teaching of 1 Peter 4:11 – “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” It expresses the teaching of 2 John 9 – “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.”

Brother Eubanks has misused the slogan and the Bible passages on which the slogan is based. Brother Eubanks is using the plea in this manner: the Scriptures are silent in condemning the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship; therefore, we can use them in worship and you brethren should be silent in opposing us for using them. Brother Eubanks is surely aware that the Scriptures also are silent about infant baptism. There is no Scripture which says, “Thou shalt not practice infant baptism.” Is he guilty of violating the restoration plea when he opposes infant baptism?

Brother Eubanks understands what “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent” means when it comes to infant baptism and sprinkling for baptism. He understands that since there is no Bible authority for either of these practices they should not be practiced in the church. He believes he is standing foresquare on the word of God when he opposes these practices, even though the Bible is silent about both practices. Why does he have trouble understanding what “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent” means when it comes to another subject on which the Scriptures are equally silent – namely, using mechanical instruments of music in worship?

Romans 14 and Unity in Diversity

Brother Eubanks thinks that the mechanical instrument of music should be treated on the same basis as eating of meats and observing of days in Romans 14. (He is like some of my brethren who want to place Matthew 19:9 in the category of things discussed in Romans 14.) Both are placing matters of “the faith” in the category of matters which are “indifferent.”

To clear brother Eubanks’ thinking on Romans 14, let me suggest that he. put the matter of receiving the pious unimmersed in the category of Romans 14. Is he willing to say that receiving the pious unimmersed falls into the category of things under discussion in Romans 14? Here are some others things we suggest he might want to apply Romans 14 to:

1. The kinds of instruments of music he will accept in their worship. Is our brother ready to accept a full band with every kind of instrument or will he limit the instruments to be used to a piano and organ?

2. The kinds of music these groups can sing. Is he ready to accept the hard rock groups (such as Petra), in addition to his contemporary, southern, and bluegrass gospel music?

3. The restructuring movement of the Disciples of Christ.

4. Supporting of missionaries through the United Christian Missionary Society.

5. The belief that inspiration did not protect the writers of the Bible from doctrinal error, much less historical and geographical errors.

6. The belief that Paul’s instructions about the role of women was culturally influenced rather than divinely revealed. Is brother Eubanks ready to accept women preachers, women singing solos, and leading singing?

7. That homosexuals should be allowed to serve as ministers.

Is our good brother ready to apply the guidelines of Romans 14 to these areas over which he disagreed with his Christian Church and Disciples of Christ brethren? If not, why not?

The things discussed in Romans 14 must fit the criteria mentioned in the chapter. Here are some the things said in the chapter:

The Lord will receive a person whether or not he practices the matter under discussion (14:3).

The matter must be done “unto the Lord” (14:6).

The matter must be “good” (14:16).

The matter must be “pure” (14:20).

The matter is not wrong if it is practiced with a clear conscience (14:23).

These things are not true of unauthorized matters. These things cannot be said of a man who divorces his mate for some reason other than fornication and marries another, the one who teaches salvation by faith only and who receives the pious unimmersed, or the one who uses mechanical instruments of music in worship. These things can only be said of things which are authorized of God but not required. Before Romans 14 can be applied, one must first prove his practice is authorized of God. Applying Romans 14 indiscriminately to every matter over which brethren are disagreed leads to the acceptance, tolerance, and fellowship of sin.

Hijacking the Restoration Leaders

Brother Eubanks quoted from Thomas Campbell and J.W. McGarvey as if these brethren agreed with him on instrumental music in worship. In both cases he misrepresented the men.

In the Declaration and Address, brother Campbell wrote, “Although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet they are not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so.” How did brother Campbell apply this with reference to infant baptism? Did this mean, as brother Eubanks says with reference to instrumental music, that one should not judge the man who was sprinkled as an infant? How does brother Eubanks treat the one who chooses to call himself reverend, and who wishes to organize the church in a restructuring movement to become a fully organized denomination? Thomas Campbell never meant what brother Eubanks interprets this statement to mean.

Campbell’s understanding of his statement in Declaration and Address is illustrated by his approach to infant baptism. The Campbells held that “all matters not distinctly revealed in the Bible should be held as matters of opinion and of mutual forbearance.” In a sermon laying out the basis for unity, Thomas Campbell said, “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” Having concluded his sermon, Andrew Munro said, “Mr. Campbell, if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end of infant baptism.” Campbell replied, “Of course, if infant baptism be not found in Scripture, we can have nothing to do with it” (see Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell 1:235-238).

The Scriptures included everything which should be practiced and taught, and excluded everything else. The silence of the Scripture was not viewed as opening the door to many unauthorized practices, but as closing the door to all of them.

In relating what brother J.W. McGarvey said and practiced about instrumental music, one cannot ignore his statement at the end of his life. J.W. McGarvey said to J.P. Sewell in 1902,

You are on the right road, and whatever you do, don’t let anybody persuade you that you can successfully combat error by fellowshipping it and going along with it. I have tried. I believed at the start that was the only way to do it. I’ve never held membership in a congregation that uses instrumental music. I have, however, accepted invitations to preach without distinctions between churches that used it and churches that didn’t. I’ve gone along with their papers and magazines and things of that sort. During all these years I have taught the truth as the New Testament teaches to every young preacher who has passed through the College of the Bible. Yet, I do not know of more than six of those men who are preaching the truth today. It won’t work” (J.P. Sewell, “Biographical Sketches of Restoration Preachers,” Harding College Lectures, 1950, p. 75).

What Thomas Campbell and J.W. McGarvey practiced mean nothing to me, so far as establishing Bible authority is concerned. What Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James and Jude said is all that matters. However, I hate to see good men misrepresented, as brother Eubanks has done to Campbell and McGarvey. He is like the Disciples of Christ brethren who use the Lunenberg letter to show what Alexander Campbell believed about baptism.

Instrumental Music in Worship Is Not All of the Problem

Brother Eubanks might be writing under the impression that fellowship could be restored if we could work through the impasse of instrumental music in worship. He needs to understand that instrumental music is just one among many items which his brethren are practicing to which we object. The Independent Christian Churches are also involved in these other unauthorized practices:

Observing unauthorized holy days (Christmas, Easter)

Church operated schools (kindergartens through colleges)

Using entertainment to draw a crowd

Having quartets, solos, and other singing groups to draw a crowd

Having church support of human institutions (such as missionary societies, orphan homes, old folks homes, unwed mothers homes, colleges, national conventions [the NACCI).

Building gymnasiums, fellowship halls, etc.

Having college bands present programs at the evening worship hour in the building

Allowing women speakers to address assemblies with men present, sing solos, lead singing

Raising funds through methods in addition to the first day of the week contribution (one local Christian Church had a “kingdom circus”)

Loose views on the Holy Spirit (personal indwelling that results in the Lord revealing his will separate and apart from the Bible)

Pentecostal worship practices (hand clapping, handraising, dancing)

National Convention of Christian Churches

Extending fellowship to the Churches of God (Anderson, IN) and Disciples of Christ (Disciples of Christ in Renewal)

Taking the Lord’s Supper on days other than the first day of the week

The Independent Christian Churches distinguish themselves from the Disciples of Christ, making objection to modernism in the Disciples. A formal separation of the two groups occurred in 1968 when the Disciples of Christ restructured their denomination (fellowship between the two groups was broken years before then). There is little fellowship between the two groups, the more conservative Independent Christian Church opposing the more liberal Disciples of Christ. Here are some of the issues to which they object:

Receiving the pious unimmersed

Denial of miracles

Inspiration of the Scriptures

Appointing homosexuals as preachers


The Disciples of Christ have moved into the mainstream of Protestant denominationalism; the Independent Christian Churches are still in the shallow areas of the stream. They object to the “liberalism” they see in the Disciples of Christ. None of brother Eubanks’ arguments and appeals for unity based on Romans 14 have any application to his Disciples of Christ brethren! What brother Eubanks fails to understand is that these developments of liberalism (liberalism which even he admits exists among the Disciples of Christ) spring from the loose view of authority of the Scriptures which was manifested in the introducing of mechanical instruments of music in worship and church supported missionary societies. The seeds of liberalism left unremoved will produce the same fruit over and over again.

Brother Eubanks recognizes the importance of the differences between us, saying, “We must resist legalistic attitudes in which some Christians try to bind the consciences of other believers over matters that are not essentials, for which there is not a clear ‘thus saith the Lord.”‘ I join brother Eubanks in opposing anything which is bound on Christians for which there is no “thus saith the Lord,” especially do I oppose those who bind using instruments of music in worship when there is no “thus saith the Lord” to justify their use in worship.

However, what he calls “legalistic attitudes” is our appeal for “pattern authority.” Both brother Eubanks and I recognize that we have a significant difference in our approach to determining what is authorized of God, which has led us in different directions. We can never attain the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:1-3) without reaching the point that we “speak the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10). Let us open our Bibles to openly discuss these differences, manifesting the attitudes necessary for unity that we might attain and maintain the unity for which Jesus prayed (Eph. 4:1-3; Jn. 17:20-21). We are prepared to meet with our brother wherever and whenever possible to pursue the unity of the Spirit.

We have no interest is ecumenism, unity-in-diversity, union or any other kind of unscriptural plan of unity. We shall resist it on the same grounds as we reject infant baptism, the papacy, denominational organization, and other unscriptural activities.

In the meantime, we must be faithful to our perception of what the Word of God teaches. Therefore, we shall continue to oppose the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship as an unauthorized addition to the worship of God based on the authority and tradition of men which makes worship vain (see Mk. 7:1-13).

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 5, pp. 146-150
March 5, 1992