By Bill Cavender
A century and three decades ago, our brethren began discussing in earnest the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship to God. Most of the “reformers” of those days were brethren who had come out of denominationalism, especially the Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist denominations. Presbyterians had used mechanical instruments in their services throughout their early history in this new country, bringing the practice with them from Europe. The Methodists and Baptists had gradually incorporated the use of the mechanical instruments into their worship services as they grew in numbers and in congregations in the “new world.”
The pioneer preachers, editors and brethren in general who discussed this issue and left us a legacy of their discussions in print, mostly in religious papers of those times and in a few debates, were themselves newly converted from denominationalism or were the children of parents who had been. As they searched for truth, desiring to restore all things religious according to the pattern in the New Testament, wanting to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in “the old paths,” it was inevitable that there would be questions, problems and discussions. The nature of the problems and discussions of their times reflect their background.
Some of these problems were: the manner, subjects and design of baptism; whether people must be “re-baptized” when leaving denominationalism to join hands and hearts with the disciples in churches of our Lord; worship every Lord’s Day and especially the taking of the Lord’s Supper each Sunday; the Christian and his relationship to civil government and the bearing of arms in defense of one’s country (this problem being precipitated by the approach of the War Between The States, 1861-1865); the issue of “church cooperation” and how brethren and churches could cooperate to preach the gospel to the lost; and the use of mechanical instruments of music in the worship services of the church. These, and other vexing problems reflect the times, the people, and their religious history and background.
Mention of mechanical instruments of music in worship was made among the restorers even prior to 1851 but the subject began to be discussed in earnest in that year. The discussions continued until the beginning of the Civil War. Brethren who could publish papers in the war years were more intent upon trying to teach the disciples proper attitudes and relationships toward one another, to encourage brethren to continue to meet and worship, and to encourage brethren not to bear arms in the conflict (the majority of brethren then believed it wrong for Christians to engage in carnal warfare; there were some brethren who thought it was not wrong). In the years after the war, from about 1865 to 1890, congregations began to generally endorse the mechanical instruments in worship and bring them into their buildings. Mainly through the influence of David Lipscomb and his paper, The Gospel Advocate, and the men who wrote with him in the paper, churches in the south were slower to accept the instrument. The majority of churches did not do so in the south; the majority in the north did. Most of the churches, both north and south which embraced the instrument, were the larger city congregations at the first, then it was more gradually accepted by smaller, more rural churches.
By 1908, when the debate between brethren W.W. Otey and J.B. Briney on “Instrumental Music” and the “Missionary Societies” was held in Louisville, Kentucky, brethren generally were firmly established and divided in attitude and practice regarding the subject. Division among the brethren was about completed. Those practices of “missionary societies” and “mechanical instruments of music in worship” so propagated, pushed, endorsed and defended under the arguments of mere opinions, expedients, and later as the actual teaching of the scriptures, had, like the tidal wave, rolled over and engulfed the cause of Christ. It is not necessary here to detail the history of the “Disciples Movement,” called “The Christian Church,” and its continued departures from truth from those days until now. They have lost their identity as anything closely akin to the New Testament congregations of Christ. Their history is a continual one of doctrinal and organizational changes and innovations, into liberalism and complete denominationalism.
In brother Otey’s first speech in the Otey-Briney debate, he said;
The wedge of division began to be driven about the year 1849. From 1890 to 1900 the lines of separation were rapidly drawn. Today the lines are about as clearly drawn between the two bodies of disciples – one known as the Church of Christ and the other as the Christian Church – as the lines between any two Protestant bodies. The greatest brotherhood of believers in Christ since the apostolic days has been rent asunder. The heaven-born plea for unity has been rendered ineffective. The answer to the prayer of Jesus has been deferred.. Is this division well-pleasing to God? As certain as Paul was inspired when he wrote, “There is one body,” as certain as the Holy Spirit guided his pen when he condemned division and commanded unity, as certain as Jesus prayed the prayer recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John, just so certain it is that an awful sin has been, and still is, being committed in this division.
Who is responsible for this division? The Church of Christ? Or the Christian Church? The answer to that question is found in the answer to this question, “What has caused the division?” The answer is, “The use of instrumental music in the worship and the use of various religious organizations in the work and worship to supplant the church. ” These things constitute the wedge of division. Till they were introduced, unity prevailed. When this wedge was driven, the church was split. Who splits the log? The man who drives the wedge splits the log, and not the man who protests against its being driven.
Elder Briney and his brethren drove the wedge that split the church. Who did right in splitting the log, the man who drove the wedge or the man who protested? That depends upon whether or not the log ought to be split. If it was right to split the log, the wedge-driver did right. Follows it not, then, as clear as demonstration itself, that Elder Briney and his brethren have split the church? Till they drove the wedge the church was united. We protested against that wedge being driven, and warned them that it would split the church. Had they refrained from driving this wedge into the work and worship of the church, we would today be a united people. The hour that they will remove this wedge we will again be a united people.
But are they sinfully responsible for this division? That all depends upon by whose authority this wedge was driven. Who authorized the splitting of the log – the church? Was it right that it should be split? Did God want it split? By whose authority, then, are these things used in the work and worship of the church God’s or man’s? This is the pivotal point in this controversy. If God authorized the wedge to be driven and the log to be split, it must be done; it matters not who protests. But if God has not authorized the wedge to be driven, then those who protest against its being driven stand upon the side of God (Otey-Briney Debate, pp. 16-17).
Who drove the wedge of missionary societies and instrumental music in worship among our brethren? Those who advocated and defended them; those who fallaciously argued from and twisted the scriptures to try to make the scriptures uphold their innovations; and those who finally pushed the societies and instruments into congregations and meethinghouses over the protests, consciences and convictions of sincere and faithful brethren; these are the ones who drove the wedge, divided the body of Christ, alienated the brethren, and departed from the faith. Thus has it ever been true in religious innovations, whether in the firt century or in the nineteenth century, or in the twentieth century with our human institutional-centralized cooperation brethren. The infant steps of error and innovation, posing as opinions and expedients, become giant steps of destruction and departure from truth when the innovator and false teacher feels he has amassed the power and influence necessary to force the issue and to oust the faithful from their rightful place. Time and again those who love God and stand for His truth have had to begin again to build again that which error and humanism have swept away. I suppose it shall ever be this way. It is always, in every generation and place, that faithful “remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:4-5) who have not and will not “bow the knee to Baal,” whatever form Baal may take, who shall be eternally and everlastingly saved in that eternal kingdom of our God and Father.
It would do all of us good to read again such books as Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, by Robert Richardson; Lard’s Quarterly, by Moses E. Lard and other able writers of that day; The Search for the Ancient Order, and The Life and Times of David Lipscomb, by Earl Irvin West; Attitudes and Consequences in the Restoration Movement, by Homer Hailey; the Otey-Briney Debate, of 1908; and any or all of old books and papers written and published by our brethren in the years between 1800 and 1910. The above books should be in the library of every preacher, elder, teacher and brother in Christ, and should be used. Had brethren been acutely aware of these controversies, arguments and innovations of several generations ago, I personally believe the more immediate problems of our generation -centralized cooperation and oversight, church subsidization of human institutions, churchsponsored recreation and entertainment, and now the Ketcherside grace-faith-fellowshipping denominationalism theory – would not have been so readily embraced by so many. Incidentally, brother Bob Tuten of Huntsville, Ala., had three excellent, concise articles in Truth Magazine (Nov. 29, Dec. 6 and 13, 1979), entitled “Historical Study of Controversy Over Instrumental Music in Worship,” which would be well for all to read.
Who drove the wedge? Who always drives the wedge? Those who introduce into the worship, work and organization of the Lord’s churches in any generation that which is contrary to sound doctrine, that which is the doctrine and commandment of men, these are the wedge-drivers. Such ones are present in every generation and in most every congregation and place. Given the right circumstances and opportunities, they will teach their errors and divide the body of Christ. We should ever be on guard. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom in Christ and in the truth of God.
- What was the religious background of brethren who both endorsed and opposed instruments of music in worship?
- What were some of the many problems and con troversites our brethren discussed in the 1800’s
- What great event in the history of our country diminished this controversy over instrumental music for several years?
- What were the crucial years of debate and division among brethren?
- Who was a great preacher and editor in the south who firmly opposed instrumental music in worship?
- What was one of the great debates held on this subject after the division over the societies and the instrument was about complete?
- What were brother Otey’s words regarding who splits the log and who drives the wedge, and who brought division into the church?
- What are some of the innovations in our generation which have followed the same principles and practices of those of the 1800’s?
- What are some of the books which still should be read regarding the division over the societies and the instrument in worship?
- What should be our attitude today toward error and innovation? What is the price of freedom?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 22, pp. 362-363
May 29, 1980