The New Grace-Unity Movement's Approach To Instrumental Music In Worship

Johnny Stringer
Loudon, Tennessee

For the benefit of readers who might not be acquainted with the new "Grace-Unity Movement," a brief explanation of that movement is in order. The unity which this movement advocates is not unity achieved through reaching agreement regarding such issues as the work, worship, and organization of the church; rather, it is unity which is attained by overlooking such differences - hence, unity in diversity. This is the only kind of unity which is possible, the proponents of this movement argue, for it is impossible for brethren to reach agreement on these doctrinal issues; such issues are matters of mere human opinion, so that we cannot know for certain the truth about them. Hence, we agree to disagree on such matters.

This concept of unity is based on a perversion of the Biblical doctrine of grace. Since we are under grace, the advocates of this doctrine claim, it is not essential that we be correct regarding all of these issues. Even though one is in error on such matters, God will accept him by grace so long as he holds to certain fundamental truths about Jesus and professes Him to be Lord. Since God will accept all of us by grace, regardless of doctrinal beliefs and practices, they conclude, we should accept each other and overlook doctrinal disagreements.

The unity which is taught in this movement is unity which crosses denominational boundaries. Leroy Garrett one of the most notable advocates of this teaching, after referring to different denominational groups, stated that they could all continue to exist, yet "be as one body in the holy bond of Christian brotherhood, despite external differences and even annoying disagreements," and "accept each other as brothers and treat each other as children of God in the same heavenly family . . . . They would drop creedal barriers, having fellowship on the Lordship of Christ and nothing else" (Restoration Review, May, 1964).

One cannot help but note the similarity between this brand of unity and that which has for years been taught by denominationalists. In fact, W.Carl Ketcherside, a primary leader of the Grace-Unity Movement, admits the influence which the denominational ecumenical movement has had on him:

We are wholly sympathetic to the "call of renewal" as voiced by our religious neighbors in ecumenical circles. We congratulate and commend them for their recognition that, our present state is abnormal and for their concern which prompts them to want to do something tangible to remedy it. What they have said and written has affected a great many of us who would not like to credit them for an impact upon our thinking, but they have dragged and pulled some of us into the twentieth century quite against our wills (Mission Messenger, July, 1967, p. 98).

A Matter of Opinion

According to this view, therefore, unity exists despite differences over such matters as instrumental music in worship. The question of whether ox not instrumental music should be used in worship is a matter of mere opinion, so that it is impossible for us to agree, on the matter. In discussing the view which he believes he Campbell's held, and which' he himself does hold, Edward Fudge said, "Anything specifically stated by God is a matter of faith. . . If you've got to put two and two together and get four, theft they called it opinion." Then he added, "Obviously instrumental music and all kinds of issues are not things, most of the time, that we can just turn and read straight out of the Bible, `do not do it.' It's not that simple. It's a matter that you've got to put two and two together" (Truth Magazine, Vol. 18, no. 18, p. 278). Brother Fudge's view, then, is that since there is no direct command which specifically forbids instrumental music, the question is a matter of opinion.

Their conclusion is that since the issue is a matter of mere opinion, surely we should be tolerant of those whose belief and practice differ from outs. Unity exists between us and them despite our differences. In an article entitled "Fellowship and the Instrument" (Vanguard, Vol. I, no. 13, pp. 390-393), Fudge said, "If a man who has been baptized into Christ in obedience to the gospel loves the Lord with his whole heart and seeks only to serve Him, he and I are `one' in that allegiance and loyalty, although we differ on the piano in church." In that same article he said, "As individual Christians, though, brothers who differ on this issue may still have opportunities to be together, and they may then enjoy their onenesses of relationship, of allegiance, and of sentiment and affection."

Is it true that, since instrumental music in worship is not specifically forbidden, the issue is a matter of opinion, so that we should simply agree to disagree on the question, exercising tolerance toward those who worship with the instrument? Absolutely not! Even though the New Testament does not specifically name instrumental music as a thing forbidden in worship, it does in principle condemn all such innovations (as the other articles by other writers demonstrate); and if the scriptures condemn a thing, it is not a matter of opinion whether that thing is right or wrong. We can have unity on this matter, not by agreeing to disagree, but by a common decision to abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 9), follow the scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17), cease practicing human traditions (Matt. 15:9, Col. 2:8), and practice the divinely revealed religion rather than a humanly devised one.

Grace and the Instrument

Due to their concept of grace, the advocates of the Grace-Unity Movement maintain that if people are in error on instrumental music, we should overlook it, recognize that God accepts them by grace despite their error. This concept of grace is unscriptural. We must recognize that God's gracious forgiveness is conditioned on acknowledging our sins, repenting of them, and asking His forgiveness (1 John 1:9, Acts 8:22). God does not promise that He will overlook sins in which we persist; hence, we must urgently call on those who use the instrument in worship to repent of it that they might be forgiven by God's grace. None of us keep God's law perfectly; all of us sin, hence, we depend on God's grace; but we must not persist in our sins, for God's grace is conditioned on repentance.

Sometimes it is argued that God's grace will cover their sin because it is done in ignorance. In the first place, God makes no such promise in His word. In the second place, the Bible teaches that the ignorant will be punished (Matt. 15:14; Lk. 12:47-48). In the third place, in view of the availability of Bibles and of the prevalence of teaching on the subject, the ignorance is generally willful and inexcusable. It is further argued that such sins will be overlooked because the perfect life of Christ is imputed or credited to the one who is guilty. However, the Bible does not teach this Calvinistic doctrine; it teaches that God justifies His sinning child, not through giving him credit for Christ's perfect life, but through forgiving him when he meets the divinely ordained conditions (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). Since God has made no promise that he will forgive sins when these conditions have not been met, we have no right to proceed on the presumption that He will?

Does Romans 14 Apply?

In their plea that we overlook our differences with those who worship with the instrument, the proponents of the Grace-Unity Movement appeal to Romans 14. In that passage, Paul instructed brethren who differed on certain matters to accept one another, not condemn one another. However, the matters over which the Romans differed involved practices which were purely private and individual in nature. One could engage in the practices without involving anyone else. Hence, it was possible to leave the matter between him and God. This is the case with such present-day issues as the covering question and the war question. It is not the case, however, with the matter of using instrumental music in congregational worship. This is not an individual matter which one can leave between the man and his God. Rather, it necessarily involves the whole congregation.

The difference is clear. Those who bring this sin into a congregation bind the evil practice on all who remain in the congregation; a congregation which engages in the practice, binds it on all who would become a part of the congregation. Thus, those who defend and practice this error lead many souls into their evil. If they had their way, all congregations would be corrupted with their sinful deeds and the cause of pure, New Testament Christianity would perish from the earth. There is a vast difference between one who engages in a practice strictly on an individual basis, involving no one but himself, and one who would corrupt the Lord's church. To corrupt God's church is indeed a serious matter, and it must be dealt with seriously.

Since Romans 14 deals with private practices of individuals, it is a fallacy to apply it to practices that involve a congregation. Those who do so are applying the passage to situations it was not intended to deal with. The scripture in Romans which applies to those who defend instrumental music in worship is not Romans 14, but Romans 16:17-18. Unlike those who privately practice things which I could not in good conscience practice, they lead others into sin and cause division in the Lord's church -- division between those who want to engage in a form of worship which is clearly unscriptural, and those who insist on practicing only the religion revealed from Heaven. Hence, we must mark and avoid them.

A Doctrine of Compromise

A consideration of their views makes it obvious that the attitude of those involved in this movement is one of compromise. They are certainly not of the disposition to raise their voices in firm opposition to the use of instrumental music in worship, even if they believe it to be wrong. Tolerance must prevail on such "matters of opinion." Moreover, believing that-hose who use the instrument are going to be saved by grace despite their error, they naturally feel no urgency to lead them out of error. Writing of a meeting between those he ludicrously called "top-level men in the churches of Christ" and a prominent leader in the Christian Church, Carl Ketcherside reported,

It was agreed that these leaders in the non-instrumental ranks would tone down their factional approach in their articles and broadcasts, eliminating such material as would intensify tensions between the two groups . . . the effect has been seen coast to coast (Mission Messenger, Nov., 1969).

This is the attitude we are called on to have. By thus ceasing our strong objections to the instrument, we can have peace with those who use it, and the "unity" advocated by this movement will exist.

The spirit of compromise is manifested in the actions of those involved in the movement. For example, Edward Fudge, who states unequivocally that he does not believe instrumental music in worship to be right, has written a number of articles for The Christian Standard, a Christian Church publication; but his articles have not condemned the errors which that paper upholds, including instrumental music in worship. The only way he could write for that paper is by compromising, not teaching the very truths which are needed by its readers. This does not bother him, however, for he does not believe that being in error on this "matter of opinion" will endanger their souls anyway; God's grace will cover such things.

Although Brother Fudge says that he teaches against the use of instrumental music in worship, he does not urgently call on people to repent of the sin that their souls might be saved. He would teach against it in the same spirit that he taught against institutionalism in a letter to a digressive church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Here is what happened: That congregation had been opposed to institutionalism; but after hearing Fudge present his views on unity, they had taken on a sweeter, more tolerant attitude toward institutional brethren; then, they themselves had gone into institutionalism. On January 4, 1971, Fudge wrote them a letter sympathizing with them because faithful brethren had attacked them for their digression into liberalism. He told them, "I do not believe it best honors the Lord for congregations to get involved with institutions of any sort." Then he added these comforting words: "At the same time we are saved ones because of God's grace to us in His Son, and we are accepted by Him `in the beloved!' Not because we know it all, or do it all right!" (Truth Magazine, Vol. 17, no. 46, p. 725). Thus, Brother Fudge teaches against such things as instrumental music and institutionalism in that he tells folks that he does not think those practices "best honor the Lord" but he does not call on them to repent lest they be lost; rather, he tells them that even if they are practicing error, their souls will not be lost anyway.

It should also be pointed out that some of those who have accepted the concepts of the Grace-Unity Movement have grown progressively softer and more tolerant in their attitudes toward instrumental music, to the point that they have eventually decided that instrumental music in worship is not really wrong. Once one begins to compromise his convictions, tolerating a sin in others, it is not surprising to see him grow so soft in his attitude toward the sin that he no longer considers it to be wrong. David Tant wrote of visiting a church in Atlanta which had a Christmas program, including religious songs accompanied by the guitar. He told of a conversation with Brother Harold Gooldin, a member of that congregation, in which Harold affirmed that instrumental music was a matter of indifference (Ancient Landmarks, January, 1978).

Brethren, we must not take a soft, compromising attitude toward this sin, Proponents of the Grace-Unity Movement are asking us to abandon our firm stand against the instrument, to practice our convictions but raise no strong objections while those who differ practice theirs. We must not heed this appeal. Rather, we must heed the voice of scripture, which calls on us to reprove and rebuke all sins, earnestly contending for the faith (2 Tim. 4:2; Jude 3). We leave you with the warning of J.W. McGarvey:

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 it 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.


  1. According to the Grace-Unity Movement, what is the only kind of unity possible?
  2. Is the unity advocated by that movement the same kind of unity advocated in 1 Cor. 1:10?
  3. According to this movement, why is it not essential that we be correct on issues such as instrumental music in worship?
  4. What is the reason given by Brother Fudge for saying that the instrumental music question is a matter of opinion?
  5. Since they think the question is a matter of opinion, what do they say our attitude should be toward those who differ with us and use the instrument?
  6. Since we are under grace, those who persist in a sin (such as worshipping with the instrument) will not be lost. True or False. (Give a reason for your answer.)
  7. Rom. 14 discusses practices over which brethren differed, and teaches tolerance of one another when such differences exist. In what way do the practices discussed in that chapter differ from the use of instrumental music in congregational worship?
  8. Which passage in Romans does apply to those who defend the use of the instrument in worship?
  9. Ketcherside tells of a meeting between certain non-instrumentalists and someone in the Christian Church and reports that there was an agreement to compromise for the sake of peace. According to that agreement, who was to do the compromising?
  10. What has Ed Fudge had to do to have articles published in the Christian Standard?
  11. Give a scripture which is contrary to the compromising spirit of the Grace-Unity Movement.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 23, pp. 370-373
June 5, 1980