By Larry Ray Hafley
This question has been argued and answered both ways. In America in the last century when instruments were introduced into churches-of Christ, they were proposed as aids to worship by the innovators and opposed as additions by the “anti” debaters. Instruments in worship may be aids, or they may be additions. They cannot be both. Essentially and eventually it is a matter that must be settled in the court of scriptural authority.
The Aid Argument
When it cannot be proven that instruments in worship are commanded, there are those who will contend that a piano or an organ is an aid to the singer in the same sense that a hammer, saw, and axe abetted Noah. “No,” the argument says, “a hammer, saw, and axe are not mentioned, but they are authorized as aids to do what God said; namely, `make thee an ark.”‘ “Further,” our Brother Argument avers and avows, “instruments are aids in the same way that communion cups and collection baskets are aids in taking the Lord’s Supper and gathering the-contribution.”
Bye, Bye Psallo Argument
If the above reasoning is true, instruments are not commanded. Down goes the psallo arguments. In recent years, it has been argued that instruments inhere in the command to “sing” and make melody. However, if instruments are an aid, they are not commanded. Noah’s hammer and a church’s cups and trays are aids. They are not commanded. So, if instruments are aids, they are not commanded in Scripture. You see, if a communion tray had been commanded, its use would be mandatory, obligatory. One could not justify a tray and cups as aids if they had been commanded. Likewise, if instruments were commanded in the psallo, they could not be used on the basis that they are aids to singing.
What Are You Doing, Noah?
“I am building an ark,” Noah replies. And that is what he was told to do. When he hammered, sawed, and chopped, he was building an ark. Hammers, saws, and axes were to expedite the command to build an ark. What are pianos and organs for? They are for playing, for making instrumental music. Did God say, “Make thee an ark?” Assuredly, He did. Hence, the hammer, saw, and axe were aids for Noah to do what God said do. Now, where did He say, “Play,” or “Make instrumental music?” When one finds that command, he will have an argument. Without the command to build an ark, the hammer,, saw, and axe are additions; when used, they cause one to do that which is unauthorized. But with the command to build the ark, they are aids to do what God said do. Therefore, we need the command to play before the instruments are scriptural.
God said, “Sing.” One can make vocal music without a harp, but it is fairly impossible to build an ark without a hammer, saw, and axe, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Therefore, instruments of music cannot be aids to singing in the same class as hammers are to building.
(1) Music is a general term. Under the heading of music, we have two kinds or classes; that is, vocal and instrumental, or singing and playing. (2) Wood is a general term. Under the heading of wood, we have various kinds. We might have gopher wood and oak wood. (3) Travel is a general term. Under the heading of travel, we might have walking and riding.
General Terms Kinds Or Classes
(1) Music Vocal or Instrumental
(2) Wood Gopher or Oak
(3) Travel Walking and Riding
When God specified “gopher wood,” that eliminated all other kinds or classes of wood. At least Noah recognized that it did, for, “Thus did Noah, according to all that God commanded him (including the use of gopher wood LRH), so did he” (Gen. 6:22).
If Christ had said, “Go ye walking into all the world and preach the gospel,” evangelists would be restricted to that kind of travel. But Jesus did not say that. He said, “Go.” This is travel in a general sense. We say walk, ride, sail, or fly, and whichever means we choose we are still doing what God said, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing different.
Again, suppose God had specified “walking” as the way to travel. If He had, we might use a cane as an aid to walking, or even special leg braces and walking shoes. When we did so, we would be doing what God said – “Go walking.” But what if someone came along and said, “Let’s take my car; it is an aid to walking!” Would that be acceptable? No, it is another kind or class of travel. A car is a way to ride, not walk.
When God said “sing,” he declared the class or kind of music he desired and demanded. “Sing” (vocal music) eliminates instrumental music as “gopher” nullified oak wood; or, as walking would remove riding as a mode of travel. An instrument, such as a piano or organ, is no more an aid to singing than a car is to walking. A cane is an aid to walking, not riding. Traveling in a car is riding, not walking. An organ is another way to make music; it is instrumental, not vocal, and God said, “Sing,” not “Play.”
A Quote From G.C. Brewer
Brother Kurfees made the point that God has commanded us to “go” and preach the gospel to every creature, but that God has not told us what method to use in going. We are, therefore, left free to use any method we please. We may (1) walk; (2) we may ride a horse; (3) we may ride on the train; (4) we may go by automobile; or (5) we may go by airplane. Any one of these methods is included in the command to go. All of them together may be used if convenience demands it; they add nothing to the command. We are “going” regardless of which method of travel we use. But now Brother Kurfees shows that if God has specified the method of going, then we could not use any other method without violating his command. If God has said “walk,” then if we should ride, we would be doing something God did not authorize – we would be using a method of our own. Brother Briney came back with the reply that the command to walk does not exclude the use of a walking cane. The cane is simply an aid in doing the thing commanded. Again, Brother Kurfees argues that if God says ride a horse, we could not ride any other animal without violating the command. The riding the horse is the thing God commands. But to use a saddle on the horse would by no means change the command of God. We would still be doing exactly what God said – we are riding a horse to the place of preaching. We may use a bridle, a saddle, a saddle blanket, a quilt, or anything else that a horseman wants to use. These are only his own conveniences in doing the thing the Lord commanded. The walking cane in walking is parallel to the saddle in riding.
The application of this argument should be plain. Here it is: God has commanded us to sing. When we use eyeglasses, we have not added something to the thing God commanded, nor have v”e in any way altered his word. We are still singing. When we urge a hymn book, a tuning fork, we are only using things that are parallel to the bridle and saddle; we have added nothing to what the Lord has commanded; we are simply singing. These are conveniences in the doing of the thing commanded, and are, therefore, implied in the command itself.
But can we put instrumental music in this category? (Note: We must be able to if the instrument is an aid to singing -LRH.) Is it a convenience in doing the thing commanded? However much one may claim that the instrument is an aid to singing, any thoughtful person will have to admit that it is also an addition to the thing commanded. Singing is one thing and playing is another. They are distinct; either one may be done without the other. There are two types of music – vocal music and instrumental music. They are clearly distinct from each other, and some of the very finest vocalists are not instrumentalists and a great many more of the most renowned instrumentalists are not, in any sense, vocalists. A man who is dumb, a man whose tongue has been removed or whose vocal organs are diseased may be able to render excellent instrumental music; but surely anyone can see without further illustration that we here have two distinct things – vocal music and instrumental music. We can also see that God has commanded the one, vocal music; the other he has not commanded. Then to add instrumental music to vocal music would be equivalent not to the use of a bridle or saddle in riding the horse which God commanded man to ride, but it would be equivalent to riding a horse part of the time and riding an automobile part of the time, or a ship, or any other thing that man might want to add to the thing commanded. When God says walks, a man cannot ride. He may use crutches; these would add nothing to the command. If God simply said ride, then one might ride anything that his convenience suggests and still be doing only that which God says do. But if God names a specific vessel or animal upon which one must ride, then one cannot add something else to it without altering the command of God or disobeying his word.
This should take care of the oft-repeated argument concerning hymnbooks, tuning forks, church houses, electric lights, etc. These are only conveniences for the doing of the thing the Lord has ordained. They add nothing to it; they take nothing from it. They do not alter, in any respect, the thing the Lord has commanded (G.C. Brewer, A Medley On The Music Question, pp. 38-40).
Since this article is written to be included and incorporated in a series of topics, the questions it raises have purposely not been pursued. You may find the implications and ramifications of any essay on this theme to be answered by another author under a related heading.
- What must finally and ultimately decide the issue of instrumental music? Give Scripture to sustain and support your answer.
- Why do advocates of the instrument often advance them as aids?
- If instruments are in the same class as communion trays and collection baskets, can they be considered commands of God?
- What affect, if any, does claiming the instrument as an aid have on the psallo argument?
- What is the gist of the psalm argument?
- When Noah used a hammer, saw, and axe, was he doing anything other than what God told him to do?
- When one plays on a piano, is he doing anything other than what God told him to do?
- Is a cane an aid to riding? Is a cane a method of traveling?
- Could Noah have used Knotty Pine to panel the ark to make the interior look better without adding to what God said?
- In what ways are songbooks parallel to Noah’s hammer, saw, and axe?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 20, pp. 330-332
May 15, 1980