Edify or Amplify?

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The Case for Rejecting Instruments in the Assembly

Churches of Christ (the a cappella segment) seem to be becoming very different very quickly.  Several larger congregations and a number of smaller ones (I have no idea of the actual numbers) have opted for adding mechanical (as opposed to vocal) instruments to their assemblies (I absolutely refuse to call them “worship services” as that description of assemblies of the saints is nowhere to be found in Scripture – and, when you think about it, it betrays an ignorance of the meanings of both “worship” and “service”).  For over a century, one of the distinguishing marks of churches of Christ was strong opposition to the use of instruments in assemblies.  Countless debates, articles and divisions occurred with both sides remaining unconvinced.

It will not be my purpose here to pile more verbiage on the tons of arguments by taking one side or the other.  I’m not sure it would serve any purpose except to put me in one opposing camp or another.  No, my point will be something different.  I want us to take an honest look at our motives.  WHY are we ditching our a cappella tradition?

The most common reason given is some variation on the desire to attract a younger, hipper crowd into our buildings.  One group is currently remodeling their auditorium to add a stage for the musicians.  If we build it, they reason, they will come.  Sound familiar?  Put simply, it is an attempt to increase attendance at their “worship services.”

At this point let me ask a question that seldom seems asked: what are assemblies for?  No…not what do you WANT them for but what are they REALLY for?  By that I mean what does Scripture say they are for?

·         Are they for “seekers?”  Can you show me a passage for that?

·         Are they for the entertainment of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the excitement of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the encouragement of the members?  Bingo!

·         Are they for the edification of the members?  Score!

Our purpose for assemblies and our conduct during them seems to be the focus of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapters eleven and fourteen.  He deals with several subjects but his emphasis; especially in chapter fourteen is edification.  Edification has absolutely nothing to do with attracting a crowd and blowing them away with sanctified rock (make no mistake, I like to rock as much as anyone).  To edify is to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge…promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example.  Look it up.  Paul goes so far as to say, “…let all things be done for edification” (I Corinthians 14:26).

So.  How do we instruct and promote each other’s spiritual growth?  One of the most important and effective ways is by singing to one another (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).  Notice that our singing is for teaching and admonishing one another.  Sorry folks, well-choreographed and orchestrated performances accomplish nothing assembly is designed for.  In truth, they hinder the process.  Inevitably, the volume gets louder and louder.  How can we edify one another if we can’t hear the singing of the one standing next to us?  Read lips? Not likely!

Could this be the reason we are commanded to sing to one another?  Singing with thankfulness is not assisted by a groovy drummer, hot guitarist, deft keyboardist and a soloist who’s been listening to a lot of contemporary Christian radio.  Save all that for a concert.

Are there exceptions?  Of course.  Some of the new contemporary music conveys wonderful spiritual, edifying truths.  Even a cappella churches have adapted and incorporated some of these songs in our assemblies.  In my experience, however, the mechanical instruments overwhelm the potential edification as they play louder and louder.

Here is the crux of the problem as I see it: we have turned our assemblies into something they were never intended to be.  They are times of encouragement and edification.  When this is not accomplished, our assemblies are failures no matter how well choreographed they are.  When we leave behind principles and purposes taught by Scripture; when we replace them with innovations never envisioned by the Spirit; when edification and encouragement are no longer the focus of our assemblies; when synthetic externals take precedence over spiritual internals — we can expect to fail.  In the words of Hosea (8:7), we have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.

Here are a couple of articles that, while I don’t agree with everything they say, help make my point: http://churchformen.com/uncategorized/have-christians-stopped-singing/  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/afewgrownmen/2013/05/why-men-have-stopped-singing-in-church/

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5 Comments

Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, church, Church Buildings, Churches, discipleship, Edification, Ekklesia, Encouragement, History, Holy Spirit, Ignorance, Music, Restoration, Singing, Songs, Thankfulness

5 responses to “Edify or Amplify?

  1. Nelma Scoggins

    We are not told in the Scriptures to entertain, but as you say, to edify. I am so sorry the younger generation must have entertainment over anything else, including thinking for themselves. I pray God will enlighten them before it is way too late and He turns His back on all of us as he did so often in the past when His people refused to obey Him. The saying, “I’m O.K., you’re O.K. is found no where in the Bible. We are not all O.K. We are only O.K if we follow His word and to do that we must know it and to know it we must be edified.

  2. Terry

    In the Old Testament when God’s people became so corrupted that all there was to do is start over God started over, that is where we are now.Dwight its to late we cannot fix this mess! The church is going through a sifting and what we can do is take those that fall through the sifter and start over. I have seen this coming for years and have tried to slow it down but in turn all I got from it was getting thrown under the bus. We cannot fix this mess so there is no reason to try, what we can do is start over. One of the biggest problems I see is we really do not know God. we have redefind the function of the assembly by calling it worship which goes againts Romans12:1-2. Once we have redefinded the function or purpose of the assemble then the next step away becomes even easier until the purpose of the assembly is completly lost. My wife and I make a comittment five years ago to no longer be a part of this mess. Jesus sure wouldn’t and neither will we.

  3. jerry burgess

    Under the old law, priests were directed by God to direct and perform many of the worship ceremonies and rituals. For the most part, the people were spectators. They certainly did not enter the Holy of Holies,seldom lead the prayers, performed the ritual sacrifices. etc. By God’s design for that time, priests ran the show. Christ changed that. We are now considered priests and able to worship on our own without intervention from anyone else. The beauty and simplicity of it is that we have direct access to God with our worship..Instrumental music does not fit that pattern. When it is introduced, it takes over. Only a few worshippers actually play music. Eventually people begin to sit there and watch someone else handle the music part. It becomes a spectator sport. It makes me sick to hear people say that we need instrumental music to draw a crowd (which you pointed out is not a valid goal of worship).I could list many things that would be entertaining, humorus, and even illegal or immoral that would draw a crowd . We have become a brotherhood infected by the world’s standard that if I want it, I deserve it and will find a way to get it even if I have to ignore God’s commands and examples.

  4. dwhitsett

    Terry, I am not ready to give up yet. Some of our folks are still thinking and want to be pleasing to God but are caught up in the system. They need help (and so do I) in thinking their way out of “the mess.” We may not be able to “fix this mess” but we can help people to find their way out of it. You and I have the unique experience of having worked from the inside and suffered because of it. God has granted me a lot of insight from working in missions and “ministry” but most of our brothers and sisters have not had this exposure. Let’s not burn our bridges and, in the process, destroy our opportunities to provoke and challenge and let God use us to influence those who still want to restore the simplicity and purity of Christ.

  5. dwhitsett

    Thanks to all who have commented. Comments are extremely important be they pro or con. It gives us a chance to think more deeply.

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