Instrumental Music Is Still A Wedge

By Mike Willis

During the last two years, our liberal brethren (those who support human institutions from the church treasury, practice church sponsored recreation, and accept the sponsoring church form of organization) have entered dialogue with the conservative Christian Churches on unity. Many liberal brethren seem ready to fellowship those in the Christian Church; indeed, some have already jointly participated in benevolent work. However, a wave of protest from the older, more conservative liberal brethren has appeared in recent months. These brethren recognize the threat which this unity movement is posing and are now sounding the alarm. Articles on instrumental music appear frequently in the journals published by our conservative liberal brethren.

Recently Sam E. Stone, the editor of Christian Standard, wrote the editorial printed on the opposite page. The Christian Standard began in 1866 especially to promote the missionary society and can now be identified as a journal which represents the views of the independent Christian Church. It appears to be a reaction to some of the material circulated by the conservative liberals. Please read that editorial.

Where To From Here?

Our liberal brethren need to give attention to what editor Stone said.

On the other hand, no Christian or congregation should condemn those brethren who may choose to employ musical accompaniment with their singing. We are perfectly willing to forego the use of a musical instrument in worship (and have done so many times), but we are not willing to be bound by a non-Scriptural legalism that forbids its use. Christian liberty, as well as sensitive consciences, must be respected.

This constitutes an announcement that the Christian Church has no intention of giving up the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship.

I knew that was the case all along. Our forefathers made every sincere effort to appeal to those brethren in the love of God and for the sake of unity to give up the instrument in order that we might be one in Christ. They loved their instrument more than they loved their brethren or divine truth. The church was divided and remains divided because these brethren refuse to give up instruments of music in worship (and many other things).

The only other alternative that remains is for those who have opposed using mechanical instruments of music in worship to give up their opposition to them. Are our liberal brethren ready to do that? Obviously some of our liberal brethren are not willing to quit opposing the instrument and some are. It is difficult to know just how many brethren stand where. However, it is obvious that any movement which occurs will have to be made by those who have historically been opposed to using mechanical instruments of music in worship. The Christian Church people have announced that they are not willing to move an inch.

Replying To Editor Stone

Sam Stone made several comments which need to be addressed. I trust that I can do so in a spirit of love and concern for the souls of men. I hold the conviction that he is practicing sin and leading others to participate in sin. Consequently, he must be opposed because his doctrine leads men to introduce items in worship authorized solely on the authority of men rendering their worship vain (Matt. 15:8,9; Col. 2:21-23). What is said is written to prevent others from being led into sin and to lead him out of it. If my wording seems strong, stronger than others might like, please understand that my deep convictions are motivating me. Like Jesus, I cannot remain passive when I see the worship of God being corrupted (Jn. 2).

1. The Christian Church does not insist that everyone must worship with an instrument. Editor Stone wrote, “Certainly no congregation should insist that everyone must worship with an instrument.” This statement appears charitable. What he means is that he will not oppose those Christians who, for conscience sake, must worship in congregations which do not use instruments. What is implied, but unexpressed, however is this: We are bound and determined to have instruments in our worship and, if a person does not believe that they should be used, he will have to go somewhere else to worship. There is no way that a Christian who opposes instruments of music in worship can obey the divine command to worship God in song in a congregation which uses instruments of music! To these people, Stone leaves only two choices: (1) do not worship God in song in our congregations or (2) go somewhere else to worship.

2. Stone opposes the exclusion-by-silence principle. He wrote, “We feel it is impossible to hold the exclusion-by silence principle with consistency.” If Stone opposes “exclusion by silence,” he should tell us on what basis he opposes the following:

Infant baptism

Sprinkling and/or pouring

Burning incense

The papacy

Restructuring the Christian Church

United Christian Missionary Society

Using items other than unleavened bread and fruit of the vine on the Lord’s table

Partaking of the Lord’s supper at some frequency other than the first day of every week

Partaking the Lord’s supper on some day other than the Lord’s day

This list could be extended. However, if Stone opposes ‘exclusion by silence,” let him produce a “thou shalt not” which forbids these things being practiced. Surely, he would not be so inconsistent as to say that “some things are excluded by silence but others are not.”

If Stone thinks he might have trouble applying the “excluded by silence” position with consistency, he should begin to look at the inconsistencies which have followed those who believe silence authorizes. Some think the Scriptures do not prohibit restructuring the Christian Church; some think the Scriptures do not prohibit fellowshipping the pious unimmersed; some think the Scriptures do not prohibit speaking in tongues, modern healing, etc.; some think that “rock gospel” should be used in worship. How consistently can Stone apply the “silence gives consent” position?

3. Stone minimizes the instrument by pointing to other divisions among us. He wrote,

Further, solving the instrument question cannot by itself bring about unity. The acapella churches of Christ give ample evidence of this sad truth within their own ranks. While none of their congregations use instrumental music in worship, they remain seriously fragmented over other issues (e.g. Sunday schools, individual Communion cups, orphanages, premillennialism, etc.)

My fellow editor needs to be reminded that accepting the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship will not bring unity among us. The Christian Churches give ample evidence of this sad truth within their own ranks. While all of their congregations use instrumental music in worship, they remain seriously fragmented over other issues (e.g. receiving into fellowship the pious unimmersed, verbal inspiration, use of “rock gospel” music, charismatic movement, ecclesiastical organizations, etc.).


Stone refuses to be bound by a “non-Scriptural legalism.” I join with him in that. I too refuse to be bound by a non-scriptural legalism. Worship that is prescribed and devised by man damns one to hell (Matt. 15:8-9; Col. 2:21-23). I want no part of that and neither does he.

However, we are disagreed over whether or not the mechanical instruments of music can be used in worship with the approval of God. This issue revolves, as it always has and always will, upon a discussion of what God’s word authorizes. If I am correct in teaching that mechanical instruments are not authorized, he and his brethren have sinned by introducing unauthorized innovations into worship and opening the way to many other unauthorized items. If he is correct that instruments of music in worship have divine approval, those of us who have opposed them have sinned by making laws where God has made none (1 Tim. 4:1-3). We are driven back to a study of the Scriptures to find where the truth lies.

I commit myself to an honest investigation of those Scriptures with Stone or anyone else. I am willing to give up anything I teach or practice which cannot be authorized by the word of God. If he will join me in that commitment, I am confident that we can understand what the God of heaven has revealed and join hands in practicing what He has authorized by command, example, or necessary inference.

Unity cannot be attained between us without discussing the issues which have divided us. We are not divided by faithful brethren failing to show love – either in this generation or the one which preceded us. We are divided because some things have been introduced into the worship, work, and organization of the church to which others object. Until these items are removed or shown beyond shadow of reasonable doubt to be authorized of God, so that a man who walks by faith can practice them, division will continue to exist. The only alternative is for a man to compromise his conscience to the point that he will fellowship those who are practicing what he considers to be sin. This I refuse to do. Though I treasure unity of Christians, I have no desire for unity with those who have forsaken the ways of God to practice things for which there is no Bible authority. The Bible not only forbids unity with these people (2 Jn. 9-11), but commands that Christians oppose them (Rom. 16:17-18; Rev. 2:14, 20). I intend to follow what my God has commanded.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 2, pp. 34, 54-55
January 16, 1986