Historical Study of Controversy Over Instrumental Music In. Worship (3)

By Bob Tuten

Apologetics And Oppositions

Became the religious periodicals played such an important role during the controversy over instruments and are the source from which we draw a great deal of information during these periods, it seems quite appropriate to mention the leading ones and their editorial positions.

The Apostolic Times, which was begun in April of 1869, could not accept the missionary society, yet it accepted instruments of music. Their position was commonly referred to as the “middle of the road” stand. For awhile this position was popular but gradually faded because of its inconsistency. Most came to realize that opposing instruments as human additions to divine worship was in principle the same as opposing missionary societies as human additions to divine work. The Christian Standard was led to accept the instrument on the same grounds that it accepted the society. The American Christian Review and The Gospel Advocate also saw the inconsistency of a “middle of the road” position and naturally rejected the society.

Such leading men in the brotherhood as A.S. Hayden, Isaac Errett, N.A. Walker, L.L. Pinkerton, and J.B. Briney placed the authority for the use of instrumental music upon expediency.

The apology chiefly used for introducing the instrument was the rapidly changing world. The frontier had pushed on westward; larger cities were growing up in the mid-west. Science was making new discoveries. The train was increasing its speed and efficiency, tying the country closer together. New standards were arising, and consequently, society was raising its requirements. Some felt that a worship without an instrument was all right in a society that was accustomed only to the backwoods, but new standards of respectability were now set up, and the church to be progressive must meet these standards.(1)

With N.A. Walker, however, it was more than just expediency. He sold instruments to churches for which he conducted meetings around the country and thus found himself in a profitable business. Walker evidently felt that the instrument helped convert people to Christ and reported baptizing three hundred people and using an instrument in every service except one. J.B. Briney, who at first rejected the instrument, but later favored its use, made an interesting statement concerning Walker in the American Christian Review which follows:

I suppose he has an improved edition of the commission to this effect: “Go preach the gospel and play on an instrument to every nation!” What a mistake the Savior made in leaving the instrument out of the 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!

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 . . . .

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 cannot 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 knows this and much more, and yet he is going through the country introducing the instrument wherever he can, and organizing churches with it . . . .

“Concerning him, I can only say to the brethren, “Ephraim is joined to his idols. let him alone.”(2)

Those opposing the use of instruments in worship were such men as Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscortb, W.K. Pendleton, Ben Franklin, D.P. Henderson, J.W. McGarvey, Robert Richardson, Moses E. Lard, and Alexander Campbell, although Campbell was too old for the most part before the controversy rose to its peak. These individuals could not see grounds for expediency. To them, instruments were human additions to divine worship. The following articles appeared in The Christian Standard:

It was expediency that caused the Pope and Church of Rome to make the change from immersion to sprinkling and pouring. in Christian baptism; and that caused the same “church” to introduce the organs in the worship of God, or what was styled that worship. From the Roman Catholics the Episcopalians got it; and thus it has come on down to us of the present day. The chart of God’s word is the only safe guide in religion. As long as we adhere to that, properly or correctly interpreted, there is no danger; but when we leave it, there is no telling where we will float to or land.(3)

As regards the use of musical instruments in church worship, the case is wholly different. This can never be a question of expediency, for the simple reason that there is no law prescribing or authorizing it. If it were anywhere said in the New Testament that Christians should use instruments, then it would become a question of expediency what kind of instruments was to be used, whether an organ or melodeon, the “loud-sounding cymbals,” or the light guitar”; whether it should cost $50 or $500 or $1,000, and what circumstances should regulate the performance.(4)

Those in favor of instruments felt that the use of them was not a transgression. of law since there was no law on that point and was, thus, expedient. The objection to this, however, was that expediency has to do with the manner, time, means, and circumstances of doing things authorized by God. No question of expediency can arise until it is first proven that the things themselves are lawful and proper to be done.

With the controversy intensifying with the passing of time, the ultimate end had to be division. As early as 1864, Moses E. Lard gave these suggestions as a remedy for disciples defending the apostolic pattern who were being forced to worship with the instrument by majority rule.

1. Let every preacher in our ranks resolve at once that he will never, under any circumstances or on any account, enter a meeting house belonging to our brethren in which an organ stands. We beg and entreat our preaching brethren to adopt this as an unalterable rule of conduct. This and like evils must be checked, and the very speediest way to effect it is to one here suggested.

2. Let no brother who takes a letter from one church even unite with another using an organ. Rather let him live out of a church rather than go into such a den.

3. Let those brethren who oppose the introduction of an organ first remonstrate in gentle, kind of decided terms. If their remonstrance is unheeded, and the organ is brought in, then let them at once, and without even the formality of asking for a letter, abandon the church so acting; and let all such members unite elsewhere. Thus these organ-grinding churches will in the lapse of time be broken down, or wholly apostatize, and the sooner they are in fragments the better for the cause of Christ.(5)

Division had not been considered too often prior to 1870 except to say that both sides were blaming the other for making it a test of fellowship. Finally in 1870 John Rogers laid down a pattern which proved useful later for those of the minority. He said, “If the whole congregation, after all laudable means have been used, persist in the use of organs, or any other objectionable thing, we must withdraw from such disorderly congregations, and go where we can worship with a good conscience.”(6)

By 1906 two separate groups were listed in the United States Census of Religious Bodies. Those using instrumental music were known as Christian Churches or Disciples of Christ; those refusing to use it were known as Churches of Christ.


1. West, Op. Cit., Vol. II., p. 83.

2. J.B. Briney, “The Organ or the Gospel – Which?”, American Christian Review, Vol. XIII., No. 7 (February 15, 1870), p. 50.

3. Alexis, “Alexis on Instrumental Music in Worshiping of God in Christian Congregations,” Christian Standard, Vol. IV., No. 19 (May 8, 1869, p. 145.

4. Robert Richardson, “Expediency,” Christian Standard, Vol. III (1868), p. 409.

5. Moses E. Lard, “Instrumental Music in Churches and Dancing,” Lard’s Quarterly, Vol. I., No. 3 (March, 1864), pp. 332, 333.

6. John 1. Rogers, “Objectionable Language,” Apostolic Times, Vol. 11., No. 26 (October 6, 1870), p. 206.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 49, pp. 791-792
December 13, 1979