By Ron Halbrook
In the recesses of memory echo referenced by gospel preachers to an article by J.B. Briney in which he warned, “Ephraim is joined by his idols, let him alone.” This was probably the taproot of our decision to name a column on the meandering of the recent liberalism “Ephraim’s Idols.” In the early years of controversy among brethren in this country over instrumental music in worship, Briney (1839-1927) was a lion in opposition to the practice as a perversion of worship. In the American Christian Review (Vol. XIII, no. 7 [15 February 1870], p. 50), he reacted to N.A. Walker’s report of many baptisms resulting from efforts to teach which included instrumental accompaniment in worship. Briney wondered if Walker’s infatuation with the instrument grew out of a new, improved edition of the Great Commission. The true source of such paraphernalia as musical instruments and mourner’s benches is sectism and denominationalism, as Briney noted. When the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached in fulness with love, these gimmicks are not necessary. The man who introduces perverted worship borrowed from denominationalism causes division among Christians for the sake of a practice not authorized in the apostolic writings of Scripture. Romans 16:17-18 says to mark such a man and avoid him. When Ephraim is joined to his idols in hardness of heart, there is nothing we can do but “let him alone.”
The sad sequel to the story of Briney’s article is that he was later swept along by the strong tide of popular demand for the instrument. Briney defended the practice in written debate with J.W. McGarvey in the Apostolic Times, orally debated W.W. Otey in Louisville, Kentucky, during 1908, and tried to answer M.C. Kurfee’s Instrumental Music in Worship (1911) by publishing the book Instrumental Music in Christian Worship in 1914. Failing to heed his own warning, Briney joined himself to the idol and was finally let alone by faithful brethren. Briney’s article from the 1870 American Christian Review was entitled “The Organ, Or the Gospel – Which?” It is here reproduced for our admonition.
The Organ, Or The Gospel – Which? J.B. Briney
N.A. Walker, in reporting meetings recently help by himself in Kansas, Ohio, and Indiana, says: “We used the musical instrument at every meeting during the year save one, by the harmonious consent of the brethren.” He also reports Oar three hundred additions during the year. The obvious intention of this report is to make the impression that the instrument was a means, if not the main means, of bringing these persons into the church.
It appears that this son of Jabal carries his instrument with him all the time, and plays it wherever he can get the “harmonious consent of the brethren.” I suppose he has an improved edition of the commission to this effect: “Go preach the gospel and play an instrument to every creature!” What a mistake the Savior made in leaving the instrument out of our commission, when N.A. Walker can convert (?) three hundred persons per annum by the use of the instrument, while he might fail altogether with the simple gospel! I can not account for this blunder upon the part of the Son of God, only upon the supposition that he never dreamed that such men as N.A. Walker would ever attempt to preach the gospel. The fact is, he does not tell us in his report whether he preached the gospel. He only says that he used the instrument. Now, by his permission, I will make a suggestions to N.A. Walker, by which I think he can swell his figures considerably for the present year. Let him combine a mourner’s bench with his other instrument, and I think his usefulness (?) will be greatly increased. Most any carpenter can make one, and it would not cost much.
With N.A. Walker I am personally unacquainted, but how to reconcile a disposition to travel through the country sowing the seed of discord and strife among brethren with the spirit of the Master, I know not. N.A. Walker knows that the use of an instrument in the worship is an offense and a source of deep mortification to many of his brethren in all parts of the country.
He knows that its introduction has caused strife and contention in various places, and, in some degree, injured the influence of some congregations. He knows that some of his preaching brethren can not conscientiously preach for a congregation where an instrument is used. He knows that leaving the instrument off can do no harm, while taking it on must work mischief. He known all this and much more, and yet he is going through the country introducing the instrument wherever he can, and organizing churches with it in. Not only so, but he publishes the fact to the world. He glories in this work of mischief. But he says it is done by the “harmonious consent of the brethren.” Certainly. This “harmonious consent of the brethren” is understood in these parts. I have no idea that N.A. Walker will ever change his course. He will evidently lose the respect of many of his brethren. It may be, however, that he cares as little for the respect of some of his brethren as he cares for the conscientious protestations against his course.
Concerning him, I can only say to the brethren, “Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone.” Especially let him alone.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 44, p. 706
November 6, 1980