Solving The Instrumental Music Question

By Sam E. Stone

Over the past year we have published several essays and news reports growing out of current efforts to develop a sense of unity with our brethren in the non-instrumental churches of Christ. These articles have brought mixed reactions from our readers.

A brother wrote from Northern Ireland:

I first came into contact with the brotherhood’s musical instrument problem when a loving Christian couple in the U.S.A. lent me Murch’s Christians Only. I have since been reading the articles which have appeared in the Standard. When I first read about the problem the answer to it was so obvious to me that I wondered why it still existed. I still think the same.

It is obvious to all that it is the instrument itself which is the reason for the disunity, bitterness, and hatred shown by both sides. There is no reason whatever why a congregation should not worship without an instrument. All are agreed on that point. The obvious answer then is, “Give up the instrument!” Would that be too big a sacrifice to make for the sake of the one who sacrificed everything for His church? Surely not!

We share our brother’s grief at the division that exists among those committed to the restoration of New Testament Christianity. We are not so sure that following his suggestion would solve the problem, however.

Certainly no congregation should insist that everyone must worship with an instrument. 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.

Further, solving the instrument question cannot by itself bring about unity. The acappella, 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, pre-millennialism, etc.).

This problem was addressed by Leroy Garrett in a letter to H.A. (Buster) Dobbs, editor of Firm Foundation. Brother Garrett wrote:

Your editorial in the 11 June Firm Foundation about instrumental music, particularly in reference to claims recently made by some of our brothers in the Christian Church, reminds me of how long we have discussed that issue without resolving it. . . . It is the same with other issues of a similar nature, and we all seem to be on both the pro and anti side, depending on the issue. Our good brother… G.B. Shelburne, would make the same argument from the silence of the Scriptures in reference to the Sunday School that you make on instrumental music. As you said in your recent editorial, “We do not use mechanical means of making music in the worship of the church because the Bible is silent with reference to the practice!” He would say the same thing, inserting “the Sunday School” where you have “instrumental music.” That makes you the pro or liberal and he the anti.

But then brother Shelbourne becomes the liberal when it comes to a plurality of cups for Communion, for the anti-cups brethren will take your same proposition and argue that since the Bible is silent about cups they do not use them. On and on it goes. . . . (Restoration Review, September, 1985, p. 131).

Brother Garrett has put his finger on the sensitive center f the problem. The solution will not be found by simply removing all of the pianos from a of the Christian churches. The difficulty of a questionable hermeneutic remains. We feel it is impossible to hold the exclusion-by-silence principle with consistency.

While we oppose anyone’s legislating where the Lord has not, we strongly encourage consideration for the feelings of our non-instrument brethren. Believers who choose to worship with the accompaniment of a musical instrument must not insist that all others follow their preference.

We agree with Leroy Garrett: “That the Scriptures are silent on any given subject means only that the Scriptures are silent on that subject, and no other conclusion can be drawn. Silence neither proves nor disproves anything. . . . Do we not have to conclude that since no law can be imposed when the Bible is silent, we must leave it to each one or to each church to decide what disposition to make on such matters?”

Guardian of Truth XXX: 2, pp. 35-36
January 16, 1986