By Fred A. Shewmaker
In 1968 or 1969 my wife and I talked with a lady in her home at Sabina, Ohio. In some way she had connections with the Christian Church. The one at Sabina may have been called: “Church of Christ.” In our discussion mechanical music became a topic that was considered. The lady informed us of the local preacher’s assertion that the Bible does not authorize congregational singing. At the time such an assertion, to my mind, made that preacher a maverick. Now, less than twenty years later, the thing which he asserted appears to be the official doctrine of Independent Christian Churches.
When the lady supplied us with information regarding that assertion, we read Ephesians 5:19: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” To the three of us this verse seemed to authorize each one in an assembly to sing with all others in the same assembly. Now comes Don DeWelt and those associated with him, denying that Ephesians 5:19 authorizes each one in an assembly for worship to sing while all others present are singing.
There is quite an irony in their denial. The irony lies in the fact that they are using the denial in an effort to unite mechanical music and non-mechanical music churches to which they refer as: “heirs of the Restoration Heritage.” This is ironic because as they appeal to a common heritage, they are abandoning the common ground of that heritage. Until recent times both the mechanical music and non-mechanical music peoples have held in common the belief that the word of God in such passages as Ephesians 5:19 authorizes all who come together into an assembly for worship to sing at the same time. Probably only certain preachers, and not the people in mechanical music churches, have abandoned that common ground of the heritage.
Shall we give up group singing in our assemblies, because some are denying that such singing is authorized by the word of God? Matthew 16.19 and 18:18 require having permission from heaven before doing a thing on earth. However, those denying that group singing in worship is authorized are not contending that we should give it up. To the contrary, they are contending unauthorized mechanical music may be used because we all agree that we can engage in group singing, which is according to their contention also is unauthorized.
The real issue is not whether or not mechanical music is authorized by the word of God. This has been made abundantly clear by DeWelt’s argumentation. He agrees that mechanical music is not authorized. That makes the real issue: can we or must we not employ in our worship things that are not authorized by the word of God. Even if DeWelt’s is right about group singing in our worship is authorized by the word of God. Because this is true, there exists a vast difference between those who accept mechanical music and those who reject mechanical music. The difference is in their attitudes regarding the need for biblical authorization for the things which they teach and practice.
DeWelt’s contention regarding the reciprocal nature of Ephesians 5:19 seems to me more an argument of necessity to his position than a requirement of the facts. However, rather than delving into that, there is another train of thought which I wish to pursue.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul wrote, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” In 1 Corinthians 14:15, when dealing with orderliness in an assembly of the church, he also wrote, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” Is he not here requiring the Corinthians to follow him as he would follow Christ? If not, what is his point? No doubt every one will admit that in singing any example Jesus set, which Paul could have followed, had to set before the Church was established. Did Jesus set such an example? If He did, what is that example?
Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 follow the institution of the Lord’s supper by Jesus. He was with His apostles. “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” The example Jesus left is an example of group singing in an assembly. By command Paul required following him as he followed Christ. We have full authorization to engage in group singing when we assemble to worship.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 6, p. 165
March 20, 1986