I Visited Cane Ridge and Midway (3)

Clinton D. Hamilton
Tampa, Florida

Walking over the grounds where many momentous events of the great Restoration Movemcnt took place, I reflected upon the attitudes which brought about a division in the ranks of those who set out to restore New Testament Christianity. We have examined the differences in attitude toward the Missionary Society, and now we turn our attention to instrumental music.

During the summer I visited Midway Junior College, originally known as Kentucky Female Orphan School, and spent some time in the "Disciples Room" in the library. There is housed the melodeon which was introduced into the worship of the Midway church in 1859. Out of curiousity, I examined the instrument closely, observing the patent date (1855) and the like. Running through my mind as I stood there was the word of God on the subject of music in the worship, and the attitude that caused men to depart from the New Testament order.

L. L. Pinkerton had a part in the founding of the Kentucky Female Orphan School and he also endorsed the introduction of mechanical music into the worship. The singing at Midway was evidently atrocious, and some of the brethren conceived the idea of bringing the instrument in for the purpose of improving the singing. At first it was used to practice the songs, but eventually was brought in to get the right pitch. From that, it was in easy step to use it in worship. It was first played in worship by Thompson Parrish, a son of James Parrish, one of the founders of the School. Adam Hibler was an elder of the congregation and opposed the introduction of the instrument. He and one of his slaves by the name of Reuben, took the melodeon out one night, but it was soon replaced by another instrument. Thus, the church at Midway was the first to use the instrument of which we have a record; indications are that there were others who used it some seven or eight years before, but we do not know who they were.

In 1851, Campbell had argued that such instruments of music in the worship were tools to stir up "carnal hearts" and to work into ecstasy "animal souls." He also said, "But, I presume, to all spiritually-minded Christians such aids would be as cow bell in a concert" (Millennial Harbinger, 1851, p. 582). In Jan. 1860, Benjamin Franklin, a great preacher, in his paper The American Christian Review charged that churches using such instruments of music had never had or had lost the spirit of Christ, and that if they wanted to be mere fashionable societies, instrumental MUSIC would be in agreeable part of the entertainment.

This attack brought fire from L. L. Pinkerton. He said that he was the only preacher who had taken a public stand in favor of the instrument in some churches and that the church at Midwav was the only one that had made a decided effort to introduce it. How were brethren to defend the use of the instrument?

In 1864, W. K. Pendleton defended the use of the instrument in worship as a mere expedient, asserting that there was no ancient authority for its use. However, he defended its use as an expedient, such as houses of worship, song books and the eating of meats. The defense made was that of the silence of the word of God: where the Bible is silent, men are free to do as they think best. J. W. McGarvey and others argued that the scriptures gave no authority for the use of mechanical instruments of music, and for this reason their use was sinful.

Moses E. Lard said that the instruments were being brought in against the feelings of the brethren, without example of New Testairient churches, as will worship against the authority of Christ, to excite dissention and to give rise to general scandal (see Lard's Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 332-333). But the course had been set; the instrument was here to stay. As in the case of the missionary society, instrumental music was defended as expedient, based on the silence of the Bible.

Thus, societies formed for the purpose of pooling the resources of the church and mechanical instruments of music in the worship were the two great causes of division among disciples in the period of the early restoration movement in this country. The movement had started with the fervor and enthusiasm which have characterized it, but soon differences of attitude toward the word of God produced digressions from the New Testament pattern. The views were such that a reconcillation did not take place, though there were some who tried to occupy middle ground. One such a man was J. W. McGarvey.

To the end of his life, he opposed the use of the organ in the worship, but he never would withdraw his fellowship from those who used it. McGarvey spent years teaching at the College of the Bible, and serving as an elder at the Broadway Church in Lexington. He refused to endorse the use of the mechanical instrument, believing that its use was wrong, but he likewise refused to withdraw from those who did. On the other hand, he did not object to the missionary society, and regretted that such men as Lipscomb opposed it. McGarvey would neither hold membership in, nor preach for congregations using the instrument (West, Search For The Ancient Order, Vol. 2, p. 44).

On Nov. 23, 1902, a vote was taken by the Broadwav church as to whether the instrument would be used in worship; the vote was 361 in favor, 202 opposed. Thus the instrument was brought in (Ibid., p. 442). Anticipating that such a vote would go in the affirmative, McGarvey and his wife, with letters, went to the Chestnut Street church where I. B. Grubbs was preaching. They were joyfully received, and Grubbs commented that they had rather have him than ten thousand aids to worship. As I drove past the site of the old Broadway building, I reflected upon the events that sent McGarvey from the flock where he had labored for decades. Such is the tragedy of division; such is the fruit of a wrong attitude toward the word of God. Though he was opposed to instrumental music in worship, McGarvey's influence helped the digressives gain even more because he refused to withdraw himself from them. Today their literature claims him as one of their great leaders. Churches that use the instrument honor him, but were he here he would not worship with nor preach for them. One really cannot stem a departure from the word of God with one foot in the camp of those departing and the other in the camp of those who seek to stay departures. McGarvey and his work surely demonstrates this.

The following remarks by my colleague Homer Hailey seem appropriate at this point: "Division came, not all at once, but gradually and surely. By 1875, the cleavage was a reality, although not fully recognized bv all. . . Beginning with the organization of the first missionary society and culminating with the introduction of mechanical instruments of music in the worship, a new attitude was growing up beside the older one, which could not but eventually lead to division. 'Shall two walk together except they have agreed?' asked the prophet" ( Hailey, Attitudes and Consequences, p. 221-222). "The two bodies are separated today, not over instrumental music per se, not over missionary societies, but as the result of an attitude toward the authority of the Scriptures" (Ibid., p. 246).

In this history there is so much for our generation to learn. The liberalism and denominational spirit characteristic of those who departed from the ancient order of things are fruits of their attitude. The attitude now prevalent that there are great principles in the New Testament, but no patterns for the work to be done hy the congregations of the Lord's people will wreck havoc too. For the time will come when even more evident departures will be made than are now observable. Yes, reflecting on events of a century ago caused me to ponder what will the present attitude produce in the next century.

Truth Magazine IV:11, pp. 6-7
August 1960