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/