By Irven Lee
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1). This is a clear statement of fact, for it is a very pleasant thing for brethren to work where unity and good will abound. David was not, and we are not, speaking of some sort of peace that is based on a lack of conviction that would allow for any type of innovation because none cares what is done or not done. We are referring to a group which is definitely dedicated to the effort of walking by faith so that each can find authority in the Scriptures for the things that are done.
Brethren who seek to please God in their worship and service to Him can work together in unity, and it will be both good and pleasant for all concerned in such cases. It is also possible for people to teach for doctrine the precepts of men and to have a type of pleasant fellowship in their activities. Having a “thus saith the Lord” for each and everything they do is not essential to their peace of mind. Some do many things for which they have no scripture and they freely admit that such is true in their worship.
Those who seek for a commandment, an approved apostolic- example, or a necessary inference for each doctrine or practice among them are restricted to much more narrow limits than are those who would direct their own steps. People who choose to limit themselves to things which clearly have heaven’s approval are those who are impressed by our Lord’s statement about the narrow way which leads to life and the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13, 14). Those who are thus impressed are eager to walk in the way that leads to the proper destination. They are afraid to take liberties which would lead them out into the realm of God’s silence. (Please read Heb. 7:11-14 carefully. Also 2 John 9-11.)
Man is capable of many inconsistencies of his life. He can profess with his mouth that he walks by faith when, in reality, he is more impressed by the popular practices of religious people about him than he is by the limits of God’s plan. In a few decades a congregation of people can make several changes in their practices while they still claim special regard for Bible authority. It is a matter of drifting much like the contented fisherman in his little boat which has no anchor on a quiet afternoon when he is watching for the cork on his line to indicate that a fish has taken the bait. He may be surprised after a while when he notices how far he is from the place where he left his car. If he would fish near the car he must have a good anchor that will hold, or he will have to row back into position often.
Those who constantly examine themselves to see that they are in the faith constantly renew their minds by a careful study of the Bible (2 Cor. 13:5). They are aware of the tendency in man to conform to outside pressures so they “give diligence to make their calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10; Heb. 2:1; Phil. 2:12; 2 Tim. 2:15). They are very different in attitude from those who are contented to drift and who assume that if a thing is a common practice it must be right (see Rom. 12:2). If the strict and the careless meet as one body in the same house regularly, it would not take much to bring their differences into the light.
Many times churches have been started after the pattern that is clearly revealed in the New Testament. All members believe and teach the same thing concerning the terms of entrance into the church, acceptable worship, proper church government, work of the church, and the standard of life by which the members should live. As the years pass the church grows, gets a larger building on a bigger lot, and comes to be respected by more people who have observed their dedicated lives and their respect for the Bible. By this time some who are not converted to the idea of walking by faith may literally “join” the church. Children of church members may not have been grounded in the truth, so they are influenced by the denomination about them and they are not so careful to contend for the faith. The situation becomes ripe for division even though things may be quiet and orderly and the danger may not be realized.
When a church comes to have a sizeable number of lukewarm members as well as a solid group of devout members, the devil can strike the match that will bring an explosion that will divide the church and cause some to blaspheme the holy name of God. Insistence upon using an instrument of music can be that match. Each member immediately takes his place with those who would abide in the narrow way or with those who would like to be more acceptable to the religious community about them.
The instrument of music in worship is condemned by the silence of the Scriptures. The Lord said nothing about it, so it is unscriptural or unauthorized. The master Teacher said nothing about using holy water, or the counting of beads in worship, neither did He say anything about sprinkling babies (please read Heb. 7:11-14). All of these things were left out of God’s perfect law of liberty and can be added only by human wisdom. Man is not to go beyond that which is written (Rev. 22:18, 19; 2 John 9; 2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
It is amazing how bitter former friends and brethren can become in a short time after something for which there is no scriptural authority is suggested and accepted by a large element in the church. Those who had been rather lukewarm now become very zealous for the innovation. They now see a vision of a very great church which will be free of the influence of the “anti’s,” the “mossback’s,” the “non-progressives,” who they say are “legalistic fanatics.” The strict and those who would take liberties in going beyond the doctrine of Christ accuse each other of bringing about the division. It would be a new thing under the sun for those who bring in the innovative practice to admit that they caused the division. Those who continue in the old paths, where is the safe way, could not with a clear conscience admit the guilt.
If an instrument of music is added where the devout and the lukewarm have been meeting together there will be two groups meeting. If some outsider in the community should ask what the difference is, he would be told that one group favors the instrument and the other does not. That answer would not be complete. There is a fundamental difference in attitude toward the Bible and the absolute authority of Christ. The one group would be ready to put the church into the field of recreation and other “good works,” as well as accept various inter-church and intra-church organizations. The other body would continue in the scriptural path which was diligently sought out by those who started the work years before the division.
When the instrument of music is added, causing a division in the church, the group with the instrument will be more acceptable to the denominations in the community. It will follow as night the day that a truce will be called and the preachers of the new group will no longer contend earnestly for the faith but will fraternize with the “clergy” in ministerial associations, Easter services, etc. This will not happen the day the instrument is added, but it will come in due process of time.
I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I can read history and observe current events. The instrument was added in the last hundred years in almost every county in America where the church which is described in the New Testament existed and, in each such community, there came to be two groups. The group with the instrument added the kitchen and other facilities for recreation and entertainment as well as the unscriptural local and area wide church organizations. The church without the instrument added no such unscriptural practices, but it grew from the smaller group to become the larger and to multiply the number of such churches. This growing conservative group finally reached the point when it came to have an influential number among its members who wanted to copy the denominational practices that appealed to them most. This time the church supported institutions and sponsoring churches came before the instrument. Recreation at church expense and church support of colleges, camps, the bus ministry, etc., followed. If I may be allowed to get out of my field and act as a prophet, I will say that the more liberal churches in the recent division between the liberal and conservative elements in the church will add the instrument before the end of the century. It belongs among people that freely admit that they do many things for which there is no scripture.
The instrument was definitely involved in the division that came more or less one hundred years ago. In many localities the separation came the day the instrument was brought into the building. It was the key in those days that opened the flood gap for the flood of innovations that came in rapid succession. It was the thermometer that indicated that the church was too sick and weak to discern between the scriptural and the unscriptural.
Individuals will cross the line of separation in each direction, but the two groups will remain and the differences will become more conspicuous over the decades. There could be a sort of unity if the faithful brethren would give up their convictions and join in copying the churches based on human wisdom. There could be precious unity of the Spirit if those who have gone beyond scriptural authority would give up all the unauthorized practices and come back to the narrow way that leads unto life. The instrument and other items that have been borrowed from decadent Protestantism would have to be returned to those who teach for doctrines the precepts of men for the unity of the Spirit to return.
- Mention and discuss two words that may be used to describe unity among brethren.
- Is it possible for a pleasant unity to prevail among those whose doctrine and practice are unscriptural?
- List three ways the Lord may indicate His approval of a practice so that we may be confident in accepting the things under consideration.
- Moses said nothing in the law about one of the tribes of Judah serving as priest. Did that mean that one of the tribes of Judah could or could not be a priest?
- Christ said nothing about the use of an instrument of music in worship to God. Does that mean that we may or may not use the instrument with the approval of Christ?
- The instrument was added in a great number of churches of Christ in the last half of the last century bringing division when it was added. Describe further changes that came and identify the group that mode these changes.
- Did the group that added the instrument cause the division or was it caused by those who refused it? Which will bear the guilt before God?
- Does the division over the bringing in of unscriptural innovations tend soon to be healed and unity restored, or do the differences between the two groups tend to become more pronounced as time passes?
- What will be the results in the lives of the children and grandchildren when a family decides to “go along” with some innovation rather than face the social pressure from those who promote it?
- Is it fair to charge those who add church support of recreation, the instrument, the inter-church and intro-church organizations of copying the denominations about them rather than walking by faith?
- Who among church people have used the word “anti”? What did they mean and to whom did they refer?
- Is “anti” a prefix for a word or is it a word in itself? Explain.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 22, pp. 360-361
May 29, 1980