A Significant Discussion On Instrumental Music: The Blakely-Highers Debate

By Dick Blackford

Due to its significance the editor of Guardian of Truth asked me to review this debate which occurred in Neosho, Missouri, near Joplin where the first Restoration Summit meeting took place in 1984. The summit was a unity meeting between fifty preachers of the Independent Christian Church (ICC) and fifty preachers from churches of Christ (institutional brethren who oppose instrumental music). Joplin is a stronghold for the Christian Church, being the home of

Ozark Christian College and College Press, a publishing house operated by members of the ICC. The debate took place April 12-15, 1988, between Alan E. Highers of the church of Christ and Given O. Blakely of the ICC. By this writer’s estimate, attendance ranged between 700-900 nightly.

The Propositions

The first two nights brother Highers affirmed, “The use of mechanical instruments of music as an element of Christian worship is without scriptural authority and therefore sinful.” Brother Blakely denied. The last two nights brother Blakely affirmed, “The employment of instruments of music in the singing of praise does not transgress the law of God, is harmonious with the faith of Christ and is inoffensive to God; hence, it is scriptural and in harmony with the word of God.”

Brother Highers denied.

The Basic Argument

Brother Highers emphasized that the issue is whether we abide within the authority of Christ. Colossians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 4:6, and Matthew 4:4f were introduced to show that one must have authority for his practices and must not exceed what is written. Thus instrumental music was not authorized in the New Testament and could not be done by faith (Rom. 10:17). Blakely responded that “in the name of Christ” stands for his person or character, into which we are baptized, and that everything we do is to be done out of that relation ship and union with Christ. He said that life, not legality, is the point of Colossians 3. Highers showed from biblical usage (Acts 4:7f) and from Thayer’s definition that to do something “in the name” of another is to do it by that person’s power or authority.

Throughout the debate Blakely argued that the new covenant did not involve authority and that our problem was that we didn’t see God alike. He said Highers’ proposition did not employ proper nomenclature, was not apostolic or godly, and neither his propositions nor questions addressed reality. He repeatedly said there is no liturgy, no such thing as “acts” of worship pre-approved by God, no such thing as corporate worship, and that Highers’ proposition was devised by man’s wisdom, not God’s. He introduced the woman of Mark 14 who anointed the Lord in honor and devotion. His point was that she did this without scriptural authority, yet she was commended. Other Scriptures were used to make the same argument.

Blakely said there was no such thing as authorized worship and charged that such was creed making for no authority was needed. He charged that the “have I done it right?” syndrome is out of harmony with the new covenant and that such a concept comes from the law of Moses, not grace; that it is the person (Christ) not the deed that makes worship acceptable. He said worship is a right thing to do and there is no wrong way to it; there are no regulations, no meticulous routine.

Highers produced several quotes from leading writers of the ICC, including Blakely’s father (Fred), Duane Dunning, Don DeWelt (all of whom were present and supporting Blakely in the debate), as well as Blakely himself, which showed unmistakably that they had taught that worship was prescribed, must be authorized, was corporate, and that there were “acts of worship,” thus regulated. He further showed that what these men taught was the very thing Blakely called “unscriptural and ungodly.” The footnote on Matthew 2:2 (ASV) was cited which indicated that the meaning of the word worship denotes “an act of reverence.” The case of the Pharisees (Matt. 15:9) was used to show that acceptable worship is inseparable from teaching and obeying the truth. Worship “in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24) showed that worship is regulated and that if Blakely’s position was correct then we may burn incense in worship, observe the Lord’s Supper on Monday, use tea and meat in communion, employ rosary beads in prayer, do a holy dance before the Lord, and handle snakes as a token of worship. Highers asked, “Does doctrine affect worship?” Blakely appeared to argue from a subjective viewpoint by saying that we don’t burn incense and offer animals because they “don’t blend with the reality that has been proclaimed by the gospel; they don’t comport with where we are in Christ Jesus.” But he did not say such practices were unauthorized or that it would be wrong to do so.

Highers pointed out that Blakely’s use of the woman’s unauthorized anointing of Jesus (Matt. 14) was an admission that instrumental music was an unauthorized act and conceded the arugments of all Christian Church preachers in the past who affirmed that the instrument was authorized. He showed it was contradictory to cite authority from the Scripture to show that no authority was necessary. Highers said the real significance of Blakely’s argument was that it implied that the woman could have acceptably observed the Sabbath on Monday or monthly, served as a priest, or offered a pig as a sacrifice. He asked, “Does her spontaneous act imply that she could violate the expressed will of God?

On the last two nights Blakely argued that instruments were used in the past (O.T.) with God’s approval and will be used in the future (heaven, Rev. 14) with God’s approval. Highers showed that this proved too much for it would allow incense and other parts of the law to be brought in, plus, if what is done in heaven is authority for what we are to do on earth then it would outlaw marriage (Matt. 22:30). He stressed that Blakely’s proposition used the present tense (“is . . . does. . . “) not the past or the future and that Blakely needed to prove it was acceptable now. Highers pinpointed the basic difference between them by showing that his position was that all actions that were without scriptural authority were sinful, whereas, Blakely’s position was that all actions without scriptural authority were acceptable. He noted that churches of Christ and Christian churches were united in the past but that the introduction of the instrument caused division. Further, that churches of Christ still occupy the same position of the pioneers who rejected the instrument when they said, “Let us speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.”

A chart was introduced by Highers which showed that Christian Church debaters in the past had argued that instrumental music was authorized. He charged that Blakely had broken new ground and had established a new hermeneutic which in effect admits that, (1) we do not have authority, (2) we do not need authority, (3) we will not give authority.

Observations and Implications

1. Borther Highers pointed out that brother Blakely has helped some of our brethren who thought the only difference between churches of Christ and the ICC was the instrument of music.

2. I could not help but recall that some denominations arue that there is no prescribed plan of salvation (no pattern), just a nebulous “acceptance” of Jesus as Savior. The ICC was arguing that there is not pattern for the worship of the church. And some of our institutional brethren argue that there is no pattern for the work of the church. Denominations add sprinkling and pouring to the plan of salvation; Christian churches add an instrument to the worship; institutional brethren add an institution to the work. Of course, God’s pattern for all of these is not found in one verse alone, but is found by taking all the New Testament says about each subject.

The Blakely-Highers Debate is a significant one. It will be available on audio and video tape after May 15, and in book form after August 15. This writer recommends that readers obtain a copy for a more detailed study than can be given in this review.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 12, pp. 353, 375
June 16, 1988