What shall we teach about Jesus’ birth? by Doy Moyer

PictureAt this time of year, some people, who may rarely otherwise do so, will think a little bit about Jesus. There are many errors that float around concerning Jesus at this time, but Christians should seize upon the opportunities to teach the truth. If people take this time to think a little about Jesus’ birth, then let’s teach the truth about it. While it is unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25th, the truth is that He was born at some time, and the implications of His birth are far greater than any particular time of the year. If they are willing to do so during this season, why not take people to the Scriptures and let them see the truth of what His birth means? Truth in its purest form will always debunk the errors that find their way into culture.

Yet our goal is not just to debunk errors. Our goal is to get people to understand what really happened so that they can appreciate what it means for their salvation. Here are some biblical points we need to be reminded of:
1. The birth of Jesus was the fruition of God’s plan from the beginning. Isaiah prophesied His birth (7:14; 9:6), and Micah named the place (5:2). The Chief Priests and Scribes understood that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Matt 2:4-5). This was no accident. Paul said it all happened “when the fullness of the time came” (Gal 4:4).

2. The birth of Jesus was necessary as God carried out His plan for redemption. Paul wrote that Jesus was born “so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:5). He was born in order to redeem. Joseph was told not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because the Holy Spirit had caused her to conceive. She would bear a Son, “and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). God’s actions were planned and deliberate, and this plan included entering this world so that He might redeem and save the lost.

A few days after the birth, when presented at the Temple, Simeon held Jesus, and he recognized what this meant: “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32). Then Anna, a prophetess, “came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

If we speak of Jesus’ birth, we ought to think of redemption, salvation, and glory. These are continual themes of the Christian regardless of the season.

3. The birth of Jesus created very different reactions. Simeon told Mary, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

To the shepherds, angels spoke of glory to God and peace among men (Luke 2:14). The shepherds made their way to where Jesus was born. Their reaction was to praise and glorify God (vs. 20). The magi, who came from the east a bit later, sought for the Messiah, the King of the Jews (think about the implications of gentile wise men doing this). Their reaction was one of great joy, and they worshiped Him and presented gifts (Matt 2:10-11). Herod, on the other hand, sought to kill Him, initiating a terrible slaughter.

The reactions toward Jesus are similar today. People love Him or hate Him, but they cannot be neutral about Him. We can choose to glorify God, praise Him, and worship, or we can seek to destroy His influence. People still fall and rise because of Jesus. What shall it be for us?

Now here is what people need to know at this time of year: Jesus is not seasonal. Once done, we cannot pack Him back away in a box until next year. If we seek Him now, we must seek Him always. If we worship Him now, we must continue our worship through every season.

Salvation is not seasonal. Jesus was born to redeem us from sin. This is not about a cute little baby. This is about the God of heaven and earth becoming flesh so that we might be saved from our sins. Unless that message is stressed, we have merely turned Jesus into a seasonal commodity.

Let us never forget these true messages of the incarnation: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Doy Moyer

via: http://www.mindyourfaith.com/doys-blog/what-shall-we-teach-about-jesus-birth

Please Don’t Steal Hymns!, by Matthew Bassford

If you copy or distribute a copyrighted hymn without the copyright holder’s permission, you are breaking the law.  ALWAYS ask permission before copying or distributing!

New hymns and praise songs are exciting.  Nearly all of us who love the worship of God love the opportunity to “sing a new song”, and we are eager to introduce these new songs in our own assemblies and other devotional settings.  This eagerness is commendable.  However, we must make sure that our eagerness does not lead us to violate the law.

 

At the bottom of most modern hymns, there appears a notice that looks something like the following:

© Copyright 2014 by John Smith, Owner.  All Rights Reserved.

It indicates that the author has chosen to copyright the hymn.  Legally speaking, such a copyright notice is unnecessary.  Since 1989, United States law has provided that any creative work is automatically copyrighted, whether the creator includes a notice or not.  However, most hymnists include the notice anyway, to preclude the possibility of someone unintentionally infringing their copyrights.  As a practical matter, it is safe to assume that any work copyrighted 1923 or later is still under copyright.

Under Sec. 106 of Title 17 of the United States Code, the copyright owner has the exclusive rights to do the following:

  1. “Reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords.”  In other words, if you make a copy of a copyrighted hymn without the owner’s permission (whether by transcription or scanning, photocopying, etc.), you are breaking the law.  If you make a recording of a copyrighted hymn without the owner’s permission, you are breaking the law.
  2. “Prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work.”  In other words, if you change the words of a copyrighted hymn without the owner’s permission, you are breaking the law.  If you rearrange the harmony of a copyrighted hymn without the owner’s permission, you are breaking the law.
  3. “Distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership.”  In other words, if you photocopy a copyrighted hymn and pass it out at a singing without the owner’s permission, you are breaking the law.   If you e-mail a PowerPoint or PDF of a copyrighted hymn to a friend without the owner’s permission, you are breaking the law.
  4. “Perform the copyrighted work publicly.”  In other words, if you sing a copyrighted hymn in an assembly without the owner’s permission (which is presumed to be granted when the owner grants permission to copy), you are breaking the law.
  5. “Display the copyrighted work publicly.”  In other words, if you make a PowerPoint of a copyrighted hymn without the author’s permission, you are breaking the law.

Copyright law is civil rather than criminal, so there is no prison time attached to any of these offenses.  However, any of these actions gives the copyright owner grounds for a lawsuit.  According to 17 U.S.C. §§ 504-505, statutory damages may be as high as $150,000, in addition to court costs and attorney’s fees.

Now, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, neither I nor any other hymnist I know would sue a brother in Christ for copyright infringement, but it is certainly ungodly to treat our forbearance as license to violate the law!  According to Romans 13:1, God commands Christians to obey the law.  Copyright violators, then, engage in activity that is not merely illegal but also sinful.

The cure for the disease is simple.  Before copying or distributing a copyrighted hymn, always ask the owner’s permission!  In our digitally connected age, this is much less onerous than it has ever been before.  All the hymnists I know have e-mail addresses or Facebook accounts.

I have never yet refused permission to someone who wanted to copy or even to record one of my hymns, and (even though hymnists do have the Scriptural right to ask compensation), I have never asked a penny in return.   I also make the effort to reply to permission requests in as timely a fashion as possible.  Once again, this is generally true of the writers with whom I am familiar.  Alternatively, websites such as songsofthechurch.org have secured the relevant permissions from copyright owners and offer the opportunity to download clean copies for a nominal fee.

All hymnists write because we want our hymns to be sung.  However, we also want our work protected, from everything from innocent transcription errors to would-be editors who think they can improve our hymns by rewriting them.  Copyright is the legal means we have to make sure that the integrity of our work is preserved.  It is ethical, legal, and godly for all who want to use our hymns to honor those copyrights, and ignorance of the law is no excuse.  All of us should want to glorify God with new hymns, but we must make sure that we glorify Him with our actions too, by obeying the law of the land.

find more of Matt’s good work at: http://hisexcellentword.blogspot.com

2 Short Articles inclined to improve worship through singing to one another, (by Matthew Bassford) and an invite

The Performer-Audience Model of Worship

“In 1964, Marshal McLuhan famously opined, “The medium is the message.”  In other words, the content of a given communication is influenced by the context in which it is presented.  A news story in an evening newspaper is different than the same story on the 6-o’clock news is different than the same story read on a website.

This is familiar ground to every communications major for the past 50 years, but rarely do we consider its impact in the realm of the sacred.  In particular, the context in which a given hymn or spiritual song is used will shape that hymn’s very nature.”

Read More Here:

The Congregation-Participant Model of Worship

“Conversely, hymns used in the congregation-participant model will be like this:

  1. SIMPLE.  Performers may be skilled musicians, but the ordinary members of the congregation emphatically are not.  Indeed, every congregation contains those who do not enjoy singing, do not sing well, and only sing in the assembly because they believe God has commanded them to do so.  Most congregants are not able to read music.  They do not gather weekly for rehearsal; instead, they show up on the first day of the week and sing without preparation.  In a setting like this, only simple songs survive. A band can navigate a praise song with inconsistent meter and tricky rhythm; a congregation will train-wreck every time.  When the congregation has to actually sing interesting music, its love of interesting music diminishes greatly.”

Read More Here:

if you live near Cookeville, TN come join us for the 3rd Annual Summer Singing @ Jere Whitson Road

https://www.facebook.com/events/1431746897065404/

We’ve Come a Long Way, by John R. Gibson

About two years ago the Athens News Courier contained a quarter page advertisement inviting all to a “Free Community Cookout.” The ad went on to say, “Join us as we say, ‘Happy Birthday America’ on Saturday, June 30th. We will begin serving hamburgers, hotdogs, chips and drinks at 6:00 pm and will serve until we run out. There will also be sno-cones, cotton candy, face painting and games. You will have the best view in town of the City of Athens’ fireworks display.”  [The ad is quoted word for word, but capitalization and punctuation have been changed to a normal paragraph style. JRG]

Don’t get me wrong about this. I’m a patriotic American who likes hamburgers, chips, and fireworks, so if this had been sponsored by the Lions Club or some other civic organization I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. However, this Free Community Cookout was sponsored by a local church and that raises a lot of questions in my mind.

  • Is there anything in the New Testament that would suggest church sponsorship of such events is the will of God? Matt. 7:21
  • Are there any examples of New Testament churches, under the guidance of the apostles (1 Cor. 4:17), hosting community events with free leg of lamb, pita bread, chariot races, and such?
  • Can a church rightfully claim to abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9) and engage in practices never found in the New Testament?
  • When did the Lord tell us to change our approach from simply preaching the gospel as his power to save (Romans 1:16) to attempting to draw people with entertainment and food for their stomachs? See 1 Thes. 1:8 where it was said of the church in Thessalonica that “from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth.”
  • Should our conduct be any different than that of Paul when he refused to give either the Jews or the Gentiles what they wanted, but insisted on giving them what they needed, viz. the message of the cross? 1 Cor. 1:21-23

We’ve come a long way from the New Testament pattern when it was the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who were equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12, 13). Now, most churches feel they need a director of basketball operations, a grill master, a face painter, and a host of other things never even hinted at in the New Testament. Yes, many churches, including those calling themselves “of Christ,” have come a long way, but the question remains—who gave the instructions to move?

We’ve come a long way from the New Testament pattern when it was the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who were equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1213). Now, most churches feel they need a director of basketball operations, a grill master, a face painter, and a host of other things never even hinted at in the New Testament. Yes, many churches, including those calling themselves “of Christ,” have come a long way, but the question remains—who gave the instructions to move?

“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” 2 John 9

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Matt. 7:21

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.’” Matt. 28:18

“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Rev. 22:1819

Unless noted, all quotations from the New King James Version, copyright 1994 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Public Worship Of God, by Robert Turner

Early in this century some preachers in the midwest advocated an “order of worship” based upon Acts 2:42. Public worship had to begin with “the apostles’ doctrine” followed in strict order by “fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers.” Perhaps they got “Singing” into that order, by considering it a part of “apostles’ doctrine.” I remember “fellowship” was said to cover the giving of our means, by virtue of koinoneo in Philippians 4:15. Although they probably did not think of it this way, they advocated a liturgical concept of worship – as Webster puts it, “a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship,” something unknown in the New Testament.

This strict order of worship is not common among brethren, although traditional patterns (three songs and a prayer) may seem to have gained the status of law. Perhaps worse, some seem to regard public worship (with its “five items”) as the exclusive means and place for worship. We can believe (as does this writer) that brethren are directed by divine precept and example to assemble; and when assembled to sing, pray, edify, lay by in store, and partake of the memorial supper. But we should not conclude that this is the whole of “worship.” We must praise and give glory to God in every aspect of our life. W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says, “The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture. A consideration of the above verbs shows that it is not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment of God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deeds done in such acknowledgment.”

Ever so often some “reformer” or iconoclast uses such definitions to ridicule our practice of orderly public worship. It is said there is no indication in Scripture that saints “gathered to worship.” There are therefore no “acts of worship.” One writer argued such acts as breaking bread or reading Scripture are worship only in the sense that talking, feeding the dog, and all the rest of daily activities are worship. No doubt some have a limited concept of worship, but this does not warrant “throwing out the baby with the wash water.” If we must live a “worshipful life” (and I believe it), our public worship is a part of the whole. A general life does not negate its parts. Further, as a funeral service is a part of general mourning, a special period of worship and praise has its place in a life of service to God.

Abuses in conduct do not negate the practice of public worship. The iconoclast pounces upon any indication of “perfunctory” singing, prayer, etc., as reason to question our very concept of worship. We certainly are less than perfect in our praise of God, and our failures furnish ammunition for the malcontents, but there are much higher motives for changing our conduct. We want to improve our service to God because it is “to God,” and we want to be acceptable in his sight. The Lord said some draw nigh, and honor him with their mouth and lips, “but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them” (Isa. 29:13). The A.S. footnote says, “learned by rote.” Our reverence for God must be more than quietness in an assembly, learned as a courtesy. We must truly bow our hearts before God when we engage in public worship. Our spirits must “fall at his feet.”

Tainted lives may also invalidate our worship. Israel’s multitude of sacrifices were “vain oblations” before Jehovah because “your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean . . . seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:11- 17). Jesus said, “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; Leave there thy gift . . . first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). If our Monday-Saturday life is corrupt, our Sunday life will not be acceptable to God.

The very mechanics of a large number of assembled saints pose certain problems. Two families assembled in a living room may feel closer ties in their worship than four hundred assembled in an auditorium, but the problems are not insurmountable. One critic wrote, “We must look at the backs of each other’s heads because our facilities are set up for a ceremonial performance.” It seems to me any large number of attentive worshipers might face in the same direction, but this does not warrant a “ceremonial performance.” The saints who come for the purpose of truly worshiping will do so, regardless of externals. I have seen brethren so wrapped in their prayers they were unmindful of their surroundings. But carpers may be too busy looking for faults to worship God.

We are told “the primary focus of our assembly should be horizontal, not vertical.” Public worship does indeed have a saint-to-saint aspect (Heb. 10:24-25), and the saints are benefited by all things done (Col. 3:16); but the throne of grace is in heaven (Heb. 4,16) and the prayers of saints are “golden vials full of odors” presented before the throne of God (Rev. 5:8). If we are truly worshipping God the “primary focus” must be upon God (Heb. 13:15).

There are genuine problems in public worship, but they need something more than artificial corrections. We do not help the situation by ridicule or by denying “public worship.” When “unstructured” service becomes spontaneous breaking forth with song, prayer, or exhortation the “decently and in order” of 1 Corinthians 14:40 gives way to emotional disorder. In a few years the unstructured service becomes a “structured unstructured” arrangement, with emotional opinions taking the place of authorized praise (Matt. 15:9). Scriptural “mutual edification” can be practiced without expecting ever male saint to be a qualified public teacher. Walter Scott once characterized a church which tried to practice this as “all mouth.” Traditional procedure is neither right nor wrong of itself. Sometimes experience teaches us a good and useful way of doing things. Finally, “mere formality” in worship can not be corrected by the equally artificial dim lights, holding hands, mood music, and the like.

There are a growing number of attacks being made on public worship as taught and practiced by the church, and this article is only a brief notice and reply to such. We have cited excerpts from many sources rather than review one critic, but be assured the attacks are genuine. We know that our teaching and practice is not the standard of right (2 Cor. 10:12f), and we have tried to avoid “taking a stand” for our traditions. Far better, we believe, to acknowledge that some brethren have wrong concepts of public worship. False concepts and attitudes toward worship need correction; and we should not try to answer even ridiculous charges with anything less than Bible truth. But “three songs and a prayer” are not wrong because of a long history, and the public worship of God must continue if we are to follow Bible precedent.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 16, pp. 487, 490
August 18, 1988
via: http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume32/GOT032230.html

THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE ORGANIZED CONGREGATION, by Doy Moyer

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The twin fallacies of composition and division assume that what is true of the parts is true of the whole (composition), and what is true of the whole is true of the individual parts (division). Composition would take the basic form, “Individual pieces of x have characteristics Y and Z; therefore all of X has characteristics Y and Z.” This is not always fallacious, but it cannot be assumed to be true without proper warrant. For example, one might reason that since particular players are the best at their position, then putting all the players together necessarily makes the best team (though they might not play so well as a team). Division would reverse composition. For example, since this is the best team in the league, then all the individual players are the best players at their position. (These are common illustrations.)

These fallacies can be instructive when thinking about the relationship of the individual to the congregation. It would be fallacious, for example, to say that what is true of the individual Christian is true of the congregation of which he is a part. Likewise, it is fallacious to say that whatever is true of the congregation as a whole is true of each individual Christian who is part of the group.

Once again we should be able to see how these fallacies might be committed. For example:

“These Christians are hypocrites; therefore the whole church is hypocritical.”
“The church is evangelistic; therefore each Christian is evangelistic.”

Both of these statements are fallacious. Hypocrites within a congregation do not make the entire group hypocritical, and a congregation that is overall actively evangelistic does not mean each individual is actively participating very well.

It is not uncommon to hear the argument, “Because the church is made up of individuals, then whatever the individual can do (or is doing), the church can do (or is doing).” This is the fallacy of composition. We can understand how the fallacy is made. The church is comprised of Christians, but individual Christians acting is not identical to the organized group as a whole acting. This is seen in passages like 1 Timothy 5, where believers are told to care for their own needy first (widows) so that the church is not burdened: “If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (vs. 16). This would make no sense at all if there is no distinction to be made between individual action and organized group action. Individuals act in their capacity as business associates, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, citizens, neighbors, etc. These actions are independent of the organized group. No one would reasonably argue that since a husband and wife, both of whom are Christians, share an intimate relationship, this means the entire church shares that same relationship. Clearly, individuals can act on their own without their actions being that of the group. In matters of money, Peter told Ananias, who had just lied, that his land and money were under his (Ananias’) control. We can understand that an individual maintains control of his own possessions and finances until relinquished to the group.

The church (group) is not an institution separate from people (as we have previously argued), but the group still does exist with organization and authorized actions; in this sense the church is an organization (i.e., a group of people organized for a particular goal or work). This organization need not be complicated, and we aren’t using the term here to imply some massive business model. Organization means that there is order to what is going on, under leadership, and has a goal and purpose to which all are attending. Is there biblical evidence for this?

1. The evidence for local congregations is found throughout the New Testament documents, particularly from Acts on. When congregations are addressed, these epistles take on more than simply the idea of Christians who all happen to live in the same city. The epistles were intended to be read in assemblies, implying that they met in order to hear God’s word read and taught. The church at Corinth, for example, came together as a group (or were supposed to) with the intention of edifying, teaching, and participation in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:18ff; 14) . Instead of chaos, and since God is not the God of confusion (14:33), order and organization within the assembly itself was required.

2. The evidence for elders and deacons shows God’s desire for local organization (Acts 20; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3; Titus 1). If we are to put ourselves under the “leaders” (Heb 13:17), who keep watch for our souls, this cannot be done without some level of organization. They cannot do this if they do not know who it is that they are supposed to watching for. This implies some kind of record, knowledge, roll, or something of which they would be aware. People often shy away from “membership” terms, but the idea is simply that the Christians know who is part of their group so they can help encourage and share their activities.

3. The evidence for organized, congregational action is strong. The very fact of assembling together for edification, hearing God’s word, participating in the Lord’s Supper, etc., is evidence of specified group action. Paul wrote of the “churches of Macedonia” acting by collecting funds to send back to needy saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:1ff; note that the plural form of ekklesia here implies local groups acting; if all Paul was doing was talking about Christians generally in the area, why would he use the plural form?). He directed the “churches of Galatia,” and then the church at Corinth, to collect funds for needy saints (1 Cor 16:1-4). Any actions like these require some organization.

Authorization for individual action is not identical to authorization for congregational action. If the church is not to be burdened with some matters that the individual has an obligation toward, then this is proof enough of the point. The congregation exists for a purpose, and God has provided for particular activities within a congregational setting—Christians coming together for His purposes, and in which all are expected to participate in organized action.

The point is that we should not conflate individual action and authority with congregational action and authority. We understand this principle in other matters. If we gave funds to a hospital with an expectation that these funds are used for helping the sick, and they take these funds and form a softball team with it, we would likely be fairly upset with such a misuse. Does this mean we wouldn’t support a softball team in another context? Of course not. This is simply recognizing the context and purpose for which a particular group or organization exists.

God wants Christians banding together in a congregational setting to worship Him and encourage one another in the things of Christ. We don’t find congregations in Scripture acting in any and every way that individuals might act separately, though they are sometimes chastised for the way certain individuals act (e.g, 1 Corinthians; Revelation 2-3). “When you come together as a church” is instructive (1 Cor 11:18), and they were limited by God’s orders as to what they were to do in such a setting (1 Cor 14:37). If no distinction is to be made between church and individual settings, then there would be no context in which the women could speak up (vs. 34).

Everyone participates in various organizations and relationships with different contexts and purposes. Christians might join together to form a business in one context (e.g., a donut shop), but this does not mean the “church” as a whole (congregational or universal) is in the donut business (composition fallacy). Christians working in conjunction with each other in education generally does not put the church in the education business. Context and purpose are everything (as in biblical interpretation, so in life application). In the capacity of a local congregation, there is a context and purpose that differs from other actions that may involve multiple Christians. Again, we recognize this principle in other areas of life. Players on the Giants going to the movies together does not mean the “Giants” are going to the movies (this would imply a more official, organized context and purpose). There is a reason people speak about government abuses, where they recognize that there are limits to what a government ought to be able to do in relation to the individuals of the state. Again, organizations exist for different purposes and in different contexts. Why would this be any different when it comes to local congregations that exist on God’s authority?

Though the congregation is comprised of individuals, the congregation as an organized group is not identical to the individual (division) and the individual is not identical to the congregation (composition). We do well to remember this in discussions about both individual and congregational activities.

Doy Moyer

Via: http://www.mindyourfaith.com/1/post/2013/12/the-individual-and-the-organized-congregation.html

ON INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN WORSHIP, by Doy Moyer

My Friend Doy Moyer has written an interesting piece on the subject of how we approach God with the music from our hearts, maybe with your spare time today you could sit down and give it a bit of consideration. -PWM

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[A few disclaimers: 1) I represent no one but myself here. I do not speak for the “brotherhood,” the “Church of Christ,” a college, or anyone else. These are my conclusions. The reader is free to take them or leave them. 2) The intent here is not to cover every single facet of whatever touches on the question. I am making particular observations regarding the question of instruments in congregational worship. 3) I realize this can be an emotionally charged issue. I also know that many disagree with me and that I am in the minority today (though not historically). I do not claim to solve every question by some authoritative declaration. All I ask is for careful consideration of these issues. Please refrain from responses that would insult intelligence or call into question a desire to please God, for I know this much: we can please God without ever picking up an instrument in an assembly. 4) I’m not expecting to provide some all new groundbreaking argument. However, there are some points for consideration that some may not have thought much about, particularly in the latter section.]

The question of the use of instruments in congregational worship has continued to be one of the more emotionally charged issues of today. Some will argue that it just doesn’t matter, and some will charge those who oppose their use with being legalists. While emotions can run high on both sides of this issue, it is yet fair to explain why some of us continue to oppose their use in worship. This is not so much out of a desire to debate the subject as much as to provide reasons for a more well-informed discussion. Here, then, is a synopsis providing a few basic reasons why there are those who still argue against the use of mechanical instruments in the congregational worship of God. The arguments typically fit within the following:

1. While the Old Testament shows their use by God’s authority, the New Testament documents give no indication of God desiring instruments in congregational worship now. With no such indication of God’s desire for instruments under the New Covenant, we are without warrant in using them, and those who do use them have the burden of proof to show such a warrant. The issue then revolves around how to understand God’s silence on an issue. Some argue that silence is permissive, while others argue that silence gives no authority to act. There are many layers to these arguments, of course. The bottom line is that those who argue against instruments do so on the basis of authority. He is in charge of His worship, not us. God is particular about singing (e.g., Eph 5:19), which is one type of music, but gives no indication that He wants instruments, another type of music, added to the singing. Since God was so specific about them under the Old Covenant, His silence on the matter under the New Covenant is so conspicuous that we should be very careful about putting something into His worship that He gives no indication of desiring. Presumption is to be avoided.

2. Historically, the evidence that early Christians used instruments in their worship is lacking. The documented use of instruments does not occur for centuries later, within a Roman Catholic context, and even many of the reformers, like John Calvin, were solidly against their use. For example, Calvin, in his commentary on Psalm 33, argued in the context of speaking about bringing in instruments under the New Covenant, “To proceed beyond what we are there warranted by him [Paul] is not only, I must say, unadvised zeal, but wicked and perverse obstinacy.” It is not just a modern “Church of Christ” issue, as if only churches of Christ began opposing instruments (see, for example, Old Light on New Worship,by John Price, a Baptist pastor who opposes instruments in worship). The use of instruments outside of the Roman Catholic context is, historically speaking, relatively new. The weight against the use of instrumental music in worship is historically strong and not to be lightly discarded.

3. It is sometimes argued that assemblies of Christians were modeled after the Jewish synagogues, yet Jewish worship in the synagogues did not entail the use of instruments, for the Jews saw instruments as connected to the Temple. After the Temple was destroyed, they refrained from recreating those instruments outside of that context. Even many modern synagogues still refrain from instrumental music (though they are divided on the issue). A simple search will show varying perspectives on this. Jewish Rabbi David Auerbach, who defends instruments if they enhance “the mitzvah of public worship,” writes,

“There are those who claim that musical instruments should not be used in the synagogue service because it is an imitation of gentile (i.e. non-Jewish) practice. In its early years, the Church also prohibited instrumental music because it was considered secular and might lead to licentiousness. The Syrian, Jacobite and Nestorian churches still prohibit instrumental music.” (http://www.jewishperspectives.com/music.asp)

4. While everyone can agree that singing is desired by God under the New Covenant Scriptures, not everyone will agree on the use of instruments in public worship. Therefore, instrumental music is divisive in a congregational setting. Many, though not all, will concede that those who want to use instruments in their own private setting are free to do so as they live with their own consciences, but bringing it into the public setting will force it upon others and thus create a divisive situation. Others will respond that if the whole congregation agrees on their use, then no division has occurred and this objection is nullified. It is likely that this objection will not be quite as persuasive now as it might have been when instruments were initially being introduced and causing obvious splits. Yet, should unity not still be a consideration in what a group decides about a practice that will involve everyone? Pushing a practice out of self-will should never be an option for a Christian, especially when admitting that such a practice is unnecessary, if not wrong.

Instruments Under the Old Law

Here we will elaborate on the point about instruments being part of the old Law.

First, God was not silent about instruments in the Hebrew Scriptures, so their use was not presumptuous. They were commanded during the time of David in preparation for the Temple, and God was particular about them — what they were, who would play them, when and where they would be played, etc. In other words, their use of instruments was not a matter of self-appointed talent and desire that they expected God to rubber-stamp, but rather it was an issue of God’s authority: “for the command was from the Lord through His prophets” (2 Chron 29:25). Contextually, the playing of the instruments in Hezekiah’s reforms worked in conjunction with the burnt offerings (see 2 Chron 29-30 where all of this was re-established under Hezekiah as being what God wanted).

The same Law system that had them offering the burnt offerings also had them playing the instruments at the Temple. Let that sink in for a moment. This is the Law system that has been fulfilled in Christ. To take one part of that system as a justification for modern practice, but not take the other part, is to be guilty of proof-texting and misappropriating the passages to favor one’s desired position.

What if we used the same arguments to justify modern day animal sacrifices or a separate priesthood? Why are we not hearing those arguments for these practices? They are part of the same system. If the arguments work for one, they work for the other.

Is it not odd, then, that those who argue so strongly against a Law-keeping mentality (what they call “legalism”) will argue for a practice that is grounded in the Law system, then call those who oppose it the “legalists”? How is not wanting to be presumptuous being legalistic? If the argument for the practice is founded upon a Law system that they stringently believe is not a part of our system of grace, then why appeal to it as justification for modern practice under a New Covenant?

Aren’t there principles that we carry across? Of course there are (cf. Rom 15:4, and see below). What has changed are not the principles or the character of God, but the stipulations. The stipulations included the Laws, commandments, and expectations. Included in these commands, from the time of David, were God’s instructions on the use of instruments for His worship.

If people wish to find justification for the use of musical instruments in corporate worship today, they won’t find it based on appealing to the Law without also justifying continued ritual burnt offerings, circumcision (as a sign of the covenant), the Aaronic Priesthood, and the host of other Laws that went together. Those who would be offended at the suggestion that we bring back animal sacrifices based on the Law should also be offended at the suggestion that we bring back the instruments based on the Law. Why? Because they represent the same Law system we all agree cannot justify us, not the new covenant system of grace. If authority for the instruments is to be found, it will not be in the stipulations of the Law. Justification for the practice needs to be found another way or abandoned.

How, then, should we view instruments under that system? Rather than arguing that these have been “done away with,” I argue that they need to be thought of as being fulfilled in Christ, just as the sacrifices, priesthood, and other items under the Law.

How are Instruments of Music Fulfilled in Christ?

The more I study the Scriptures as a whole, the more impressive is the idea of Christ fulfilling the Law. The concept runs deep and wide. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17). We see this working in so many ways even in statements and events that are not necessarily “law”:

He fulfills the image of God perfectly (Heb 1:3).
He fulfills the Exodus by providing the greatest exodus of all out of the slavery of sin (John 8:31ff).
He is the Prophet like Moses (Acts 3).
He is the Lawgiver (James 2).
He fulfills the Passover as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (1 Cor 5:7; John 1:29).
He fulfills the role of High Priest (Heb 5-8).
He fulfills the Davidic promise of the King who built the House of God in the greatest sense (Acts 2, 13, Matt 16:18).
He fulfills the Temple as God dwelling among His people in the flesh (John 1:14).
He fulfills all the sacrifices (Heb 9-10).
He fulfills the seed promise to Abraham (Gal 3:16-17).

The list can go on, but it doesn’t stop with Jesus. His body (His people, His church), also, fulfills very specific aspects of what the Law represented:

We are the completion of the nation promise (1 Pet 2:9).
We are the fulfillment of the levitical priesthood as a kingdom of priests (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1).
We are, with Christ, the fulfillment of the Temple (1 Cor 3).
We are, with Christ, the fulfillment of the sacrifices (Rom 12:1-2; Heb 13).
As the priests were to wear garments that represented holiness, so we put on Christ and are to live our lives adorned with holiness (Rom 13:14).
We are the fulfillment of the true circumcision, “who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).
We partake of the Lord’s Supper as fulfillment of the Passover and feast of Unleavened Bread — feasts that showed the end of slavery and beginning of a new life.

I don’t want to overdo it, but it seems pretty clear that God intended for specific actions under the Old Covenant to represent spiritual qualities for fulfillment in the New Covenant. God didn’t do anything without meaning, and it is this very point that I want to explore with reference to the instruments of music, by asking this question:

How are instruments fulfilled in Christ? I believe that the instruments are fulfilled in Christ through His people. Like other aspects of the Law and promises, instruments have a typological significance in terms of praise. Just as there was a special priesthood under the Law, there were also special singers and instrumental players under the Law. While Solomon was still trying to serve God, we find this: “Now according to the ordinance of his father David, he appointed the divisions of the priests for their service, and the Levites for their duties of praise and ministering before the priests according to the daily rule, and the gatekeepers by their divisions at every gate; for David the man of God had so commanded. And they did not depart from the commandment of the king to the priests and Levites in any manner or concerning the storehouses.” (2 Chron 8:14-15) Though instruments are not specifically mentioned here, they were part of the very same order (2 Chron 29:25). Notice again the stress on all of this being by God’s command. The Levites had duties of praise.

Now all of God’s people fulfill this purpose of praising God and proclaiming His excellencies (1 Pet 2:9). Under Christ, all of us form a kingdom of priests and all share in the duties of praise equally. God’s specified form of praise is through vocal singing, and the instruments are our hearts: “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). Here the instrument accompanying the singing is the heart. All of us are the priests, all of us are the singers, and all of us are the instruments of praise–and this would extend beyond the assemblies into one’s life of holiness. Yet, as Calvin, again, wrote in his commentary on Psalm 33, when they “frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law.” The argument here is against resurrecting the shadows of the Law, of which instruments were a part.

We should clarify that our reason for refraining from an activity is not just because that activity is found under the Law. Those in Israel taught and sang, too. Yet God has specifically told us how to praise Him through song as we psalm in our hearts to the Lord. The fulfillment of these activities is found in the way that we tune our hearts to His glory. “I will put My Laws in their hearts,” God said through Jeremiah. This doesn’t mean that He didn’t want it in their hearts before, but it does show an emphasis that God intends. It is not through the outward ways by which He had Israel express themselves — a visible priesthood, animal sacrifices, instruments of music, specific clothing, etc. All of these are fulfilled in the hearts of God’s people as they offer up themselves as living sacrifices. Our clothing is Christ. We are His instruments for praise. We are His priesthood. So why do we still sing and teach? Because that’s what God has expressed as His desire. The bottom line is still that it is an issue of His authority. He has the right to tell us what praises Him.

Do I, then, believe in instruments of music today? In fulfillment, yes. I believe that we, His people, are the fulfillment of the shadow cast by the mechanical instruments under the old system. They were given for a reason in connection with the Temple. So we, in connection with being God’s Temple, are also the holy priesthood in holy array, offering ourselves as the spiritual sacrifices, presenting ourselves as the instruments for praise, and offering up prayers as incense. What began in the Temple is fulfilled in us and will find its ultimate completion before God in heaven (see Rev 15 where that imagery is carried forward).

My assessment, then, is this: when we focus on physical, mechanical instruments, we are missing the bigger picture. It wasn’t the physical Temple God was ultimately interested in. It wasn’t the animal sacrifices, the incense, the levitical priesthood or the instruments He ultimately wanted. All these were shadows of the greater fulfillment found in Christ. Instead, let us focus on how we, as God’s people, ought to be a holy Temple, a royal priesthood, and instruments of praise for Him now. Don’t focus on the shadow. Focus on the substance.

Doy Moyer