Can We Know For Sure?

By Mike Willis

In spite of the number of arguments which have been presented in this treatise on instrumental music, someone is apt to be thinking, “Can I know for sure whether or not instrumental music in worship is sinful?” “Is the usage of instrumental music in worship such ah important issue as these writers are portraying it to be? After all, I cannot iln-~ agine that God would be concerned about such a trivial, issue.” Hence, we raise the question in this article, “Can we be certain about instrumental music in worship?”

The Rise of Agnosticism

We are living in an age in which agnosticism is rising; I do not mean by this the classic form of agnosticism which affirms that it is impossible to know whether or not there is a God. I am speaking of an agnosticism which states that it is impossible for man to know anything positively. To these agnostics, all truth is relative.

Here are some typical statements affirming the agnostic stance with reference to truth:

For nothing can of itself be labeled as “wrong.” One cannot, for instance, start from the position “sex relations before marriage” or “divorce” are wrong or sinful in themselves . . . . Whatever the pointers of the law demands of love, there can for the Christian be no “packaged” moral judgments – for persons are more important even than “standards” (John A.T. Robertson, Honest To God, pp. 118, 120).

To those in the Scriptural law camp we can say, “Oh, yes. You may sincerely believe that `Holy Writ’ is the `Word of God.’ But if you try to literalize the ethical sayings in it, you will soon find yourself in lots worse trouble than the mere headache of trying to figure out what to do when you turn its maxims into rules . . . . Either cheap melancholy or utter frustrations will follow if we turn the Bible into a rule book, forgetting that an editorial collection of scattered sayings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, offers us at most some paradigms or suggestions (Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics, p. 77).

But if people do not believe it is wrong to have sex relations outside marriage, it isn’t, unless they hurt themselves, their partners, or others (Ibid., p. 140).

That this has spilled over into the church is apparent from recent articles in both Integrity and Mission.

Roy E. ,Osborne wrote, “In a recent reaction, Craig M. Watts writes an excellent article differentiating between homosexuality the `disease’ and homosexuality the `sin”‘ (“A Look at the First And Second Look at Homosexuality,” Integrity, January, 1974). In the same issue of Integrity, an anonymous homosexual wrote, “I am a Christian . . . . The only fulfilling sexual relationship I have ever had has been with a person of my own sex . . . . If I were again to have the opportunity of a physical relationship with that person, I would not feel guilty or condemned by God . . . . I do not objectively know how God defines me” (“A Homosexual’s Viewpoint,” Ibid.).

The October 1979 issue of Mission showed the same attitude toward homosexuality; the paper acted as if one could not know whether or not homosexuality was sinful. An article entitled “Coming Out In Houston: The A Cappella Chorus” was published in which Lynn Mitchell, Jr. interviewed some homosexuals who were organized to give homosexuality respectability among members of the churches of Christ. In his commentary “We Fear Homosexuality,” Mitchell said, “I cannot yet accept the designation of homosexuality as one of God’s `gifts.’ If it is one of his gifts, I hope that he will get. past my defenses and show me that it is” (p. 64). Obviously, for Mitchell, what the Bible says on the subject is not authoritative!

Leslie D. Weatherhead wrote a book entitled The Christian Agostic which seems to be directly or indirectly affecting the movement of relativity which has shown itself among us. In his “Preface,” Weatherhead said,

I am writing for the “Christian agnostic,” by which I mean a person who is immensely attracted by Christ and who seeks to show his spirit, to meet the challenges, hardships and sorrows of life in the light of that spirit, but who, though he is sure of many Christian truths, feels that he cannot honestly and conscientiously “sign on the dotted line” that he believes certain theological ideas about which some branches of the church dogmatize . . . (p. 15).

This book would say to the modern laymen “Don’t exclude yourself from the fellowship of Christ’s followers because of mental difficulties. If you love Christ and are seeking to follow him, take an attitude of Christian agnosticism to intellectual problems at least for the present . . . .” (Ibid., p. 21).

In Weatherhead’s opinion, matters such as the virgin birth (p. 31), the bodily resurrection (pp. 17, 20), the deity of Christ (p. 20), the atonement of Christ (pp. 113, 123, 347), and the inspiration of the Bible (pp. 192-193) were matters concerning which the Christian could not know for sure what the truth was, concerning which he recommended the agnostic stance. Yet, he saw a basis for unity for Christians in spite of disagreements over such matters; he wrote,

If Church unity means that all must believe the same things in the same sense, it can never be achieved. I should regard it as undesirable, and I should feel that any pressure brought to bear to achieve it, unwarranted. To my mind, the way to unity is not by endless discussions aimed at making men believe the same thing or worship in the same way.

What then is the way forward? I am convinced, after years of attending conferences on church union, that it is by getting to know, love, respect and tolerate one another, and then by showing a united front against every form of evil (Ibid., p. 161).

This is the kind of “unity” which has characterized Episcopalians for years. In his book Growth and Decline in the Episcopal Church, Wayne B. Williamson described the Episcopal Church as a fellowship “which tolerates completely antithetical views.”

Something of the morass into which comprehensiveness can lead is discerned in a report of recent happening in two of our major cathedrals. In was widely reported that during “a recent service at the Washington Cathedral a Muslim Azan, a Jewish Baruch, and aspirations from the Hindu Pali Prayer Book issue(from the pulpit” (Rutler 1978:4). The other episode took place in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. I hosted a Shinto ceremony in the name of ecumenicity. In gratitude for this recognition the Japanese Shintoists gave an altar (Shin) which the Cathedral received and ensconced within the Cathedral as a gesture of ecumenical solidarity (Ibid:10).

What can one say of this “comprehensiveness” when he is persuaded that tolerance of error is not a virtue; indeed, such tolerance will eventually sound the deathknell of true religion. The Christian religion is a religion of deep convictions, not of facile compromises. Christian charity does not require that one dissimulate, temporize or compromise (p. 21).

This religion fellowship is becoming alarmed at its agnostic and ecumenical stance in religion.

One who has been reading the writings of Leroy Garrett, Carl Ketcherside, Edward Fudge, Arnold Hardin, and R.L. Kilpatrick recognizes the similarity in what they are saying with reference to church support of human institutions, premillennialism, usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship, church sponsored recreation, and some other issues to what modernists have been saying with reference to denominational divisions. The only difference is that those among us want to be highly selective with reference to what issues they take an agnostic stance on and a unity-in-diversity approach toward.

There Is An Objective Truth

There is an objective standard of truth by which all doctrines are to be measured! That truth can be ascertained and obeyed. We see this from certain passages in both the Old and New Testaments. The wise man advised us to “buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). David plainly confessed that he walked in the truth (Psa. 26:3; 86:11). Furthermore, he said that he taught the truth in the congregation of Israel (Psa. 40:10). These were not the statements of egotists; they were statements of men who recognized that “truth” was to be identified with the ordinances and commandments of God (Psa. 119:43, 151). They understood that “the sum of thy word is truth” (Psa. 119:160).

Jesus expressed this same attitude toward truth. He believed that there is an objective truth and that truth is His word. Furthermore, men must know that truth in order to be delivered from the bondage of sin (Jn. 8:32). Truth came by Jesus (Jn. 1:17) and is Jesus (Jn. 14:6; cf. Eph. 4:21). “Thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17); it is the only means which man has for being sanctified. Furthermore, by it all men shall be judged (Jn. 12:48). Hence, like the writers of the Old Testament, Jesus recognized that there is an objective standard of truth which all men can know through the reading of God’s revelation in the Bible.

Hence, the Scriptures purport to be the objective standard of truth by which all things are to be measured. Both conduct and doctrine are to be measured by the standard of God’s revelation in the New Testament Scriptures (I Cor. 4:6; 14:37-38; 2 Thess. 3:4, 6, 11). The New Testament Scriptures were preached and were to be received as the word of God, not the mere words of men (I Thess. 2:13; Eph. 3:1-5). They are our sufficient guide to everlasting life (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). The man who refused to stay within the revelation of God’s word was not to be fellowshipped (2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).

The Scriptures then are the measuring stick for determining what is right and wrong in reference to both morality and doctrine. In a society which sees nothing wrong with -pre- and extra-marital sexual relationships, homosexuality, gambling, nudity, divorce and remarriage for any reason whatsoever, prostitution, and any number of other immoralities, the Christian must preach the word of God as the standard by which to measure all moral questions. Similarly, to an age which teaches that men are acceptable to God whether or not they believe in Jesus as the only way to truth and light, that one can be a Christian without believing in the virgin birth, bodily resurrection, the atonement, and other important biblical doctrines, and that one can worship God acceptable in ways not revealed in the Scriptures, the Christians must hold forth the word of God as the measuring standard for all doctrinal issues.

Yes One Can Know For Sure

So, when we approach the issue of whether or not one can know for sure what God thinks of using mechanical instruments of music in worship, we affirm that a man can know for sure what God thinks about using mechanical instruments of music in worship. He simple must approach this issue in the same manner as he approaches any other issue regarding the Scriptures. Let me illustrate:

1. Can a pious unbeliever be saved? The man of God must commit himself to being guided by the revelation of God in order to answer this question. The Scriptures teach that, unless one believes in Christ, he will die in his sins (Jn. 8:24). Jesus affirmed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6). The apostles revealed, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Consequently, the man of God can answer the question “Can a pious unbeliever be saved?” without a doubt; such a man cannot be saved!

2. Can a pious, unimmersed believer be saved? This is another question which has confronted God’s people; yet, the disciple of Christ can answer that question so long as he is committed to following God’s word. Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16). Again, He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). Water baptism is essential for remission of sins (Acts 2:38), washing away one’s sins (Acts 22:16), and salvation (1 Pet. 3:21). Hence, the pious believer who has not been immersed is lost. The man who is guided by the revelation of God has no trouble answering this question; he can know for sure what the truth is.

3. Is the papacy wrong? The man of God is sometimes required to deal with the subject of whether or not the papal form of church government is wrong. He can know for sure what God thinks about it. The word of God reveals the organization of the local church. Elders are to be appointed an every congregation (Acts 14:23). The Scriptures always refer to a plurality of elders in each local church. The qualifications of these men are given in detail (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:6-8). The limitation of their authority is the “flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet. 5:1-3; Acts 20:28). There is no Bible authority for any kind of intercongregational union and for officers over a plurality of congregations. Hence, one can know for sure that the papal form of church organization is an apostasy disapproved by God. Similarly, he can recognize absolutely the proper form of church government as a pattern revealed from God, all departures from which stand equally condemned, whether they be Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or the sponsoring church version of apostasy!

4. Is sprinkling acceptable as baptism? Others raise the issue as to whether or not one can know whether sprinkling or pouring will be accepted by God as baptism. The man of God can know for sure what God approves. He resolves to be guided by the revelation of God. He finds that God requires a man to be baptized. An honest investigation of the word “baptize” in the original languages will reveal that it was an immersion (see any reputable lexicographer). Furthermore, he will see that Bible baptism involved the usage of much water (Jn. 3:23), a going down into and a coming up out of water (Matt. 3:16; Acts 8:38-39); he sees that it is compared to a burial (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12). Hence, the baptism of the Great Commission was an immersion in water for the forgiveness of one’s sins. The man of God knows that this meets God’s approval. In the absence of divine authority for sprinkling and pouring for remission of sins, he can know that God disapproves of sprinkling and pouring as substitutes for baptism. Similarly, he can know that God disapproves of infant sprinkling. Hence, he can know for sure what God thinks about these things.

5. Are counting rosaries in prayer, using water on the Lord’s table, burning candles, and using holy water acceptable in worship? The man of God who is aware of the diversities of public worship is sometimes faced with the issue of whether or not God accepts these diverse expressions of worship. He can know the answer to these questions because he is committed to following the revelation of God. He understands that things introduced in worship without divine authority invalidate the worship (Matt. 15:9; Col. 2:20-22). God has divinely revealed what kind of worship pleases Him; anything for which there is no divine authority stands outside the revelation of God and condemned thereby. God has revealed a pattern for worship. If there is no law for worship, no form of worship is wrong (Rom. 4:15; 5:13). If there’s a pattern of worship, every expression of worship outside that pattern -is sinful. By simply consulting his concordance to see if items such as those mentioned above were mentioned in the Scriptures and then studying the Scriptures in which these words are found, he can see whether or not God authorized these items in worship. Finding that He did not, the man of God can know positively that their usage in worship is disapproved by God.


In exactly the same manner as a man can know the answers to the above questions, the man of God can know whether or not instrumental music in worship pleases God. If there is no positive divine authority for-using-mechanical instruments of music in worship, the practice stands on exactly the same basis as counting beads in prayer, using holy water, burning incense, and any other form of worship which is not authorized of God. If a man can know that these things displease God, he can also know that the usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship also displease God.

Whatever stance he takes with reference to those who introduce other apostasies in worship is exactly the same stance which one should take with reference to those who introduce mechanical instruments of music in worship. If one is unwilling to extend the right hands of fellowship (Gal. 2:9) to those who burn incense in worship, burn candles, count beads during prayer, observe the Lord’s supper unscripturally (either because of the usage of the wrong items, for the wrong purposes, or at the wrong intervals), and who otherwise depart from the divine pattern of worship, he should also be unwilling to extend the hands of fellowship to those who violate the Lord’s pattern for worship by introducing mechanical instruments of music in worship.

A Christian cannot take a permanent agnostic stance on such matters. When he assembles with groups using the mechanical instruments of music in worship, he is forced to decide whether or not to participate in that worship. He can know for sure what God thinks about this kind of worship for he has the revelation of God in the New Testament to guide him. A Christian can know for sure that God disapproves of mechanical instruments of music in worship.


  1. Can one consistently imply that he cannot know for sure what the truth is on one subject on which the Bible speaks without giving up the Bible as his objective standard of authority (cf. Jas. 2:10-12)?
  2. Is there any difference in principle in the following statements?

a. A man cannot know for sure that a sincere atheist will be lost.

b. A man cannot know for sure that an idolater will be lost.

c. A man cannot know for sure that a pious, unimmersed believer will be lost.

d. A man cannot know for sure that a Catholic will be lost.

e. A man cannot know for sure that a man who uses mechanical instruments of music in worship will be lost.

  1. Is there an objective standard of truth? If so, what is it?
  2. Is the affirmative statement, “There is no absolute truth,” a contradiction of its affirmation?
  3. Can a person know the truth?
  4. Must a person know the truth in order to be saved?
  5. What stance should the church take toward the man who refuses to walk within the boundaries of God’s truth?
  6. How can one know that

a.. The pious unbeliever is lost?

b. The pious unimmersed believer is lost?

c. The papal form of church government is sinful?

d. Sprinkling is not acceptable for baptism?

e. Departures from God’s pattern of worship are sinful?

  1. Has God given a pattern for worship? Pursue the consequences in the event that the answer is “yes” and in the event that the answer is “no.”

Truth Magazine XXIV: 24, pp. 391-394
June 12, 1980