March 14, 2003
I had wondered how long it would take before someone dragged out this tired old argument. As expected, it wasn't long! The above question comes to me from the editor of a noted conservative Christian publication; a man who has a good, honest heart and genuinely loves his Lord, in my estimation. However, this dear brother, who has always been kind and respectful in his questioning and challenging of my teachings, makes the same mistakes in hermeneutical reasoning that generations have made before him. I will try to respond to his concerns in this special edition of Reflections.
It is important to note some key words in this brother's statement. He spoke of "acts of disobedience to God's revealed will." That is a critical distinction. When God has spoken, we dare not fail to comply fully. Obedience to the specified will of the Father is essential to a right relationship. Even Jesus Christ submitted His own will to that of the Father. We dare do no less.
The problem, of course, arises when mere men seek to prescribe and proscribe in areas where God has chosen to say nothing at all. Few will argue against the necessity of obedience when God has spoken. The difficulty lies in some seeking to speak for Him where He has not. Surely my esteemed brother would agree with this assessment.
This editor speaks of "those who would tamper with the order and nature of divine worship that God has prescribed for His church." In those areas of our worshipful expression where God has indeed prescribed, I would not hesitate to proclaim the need for immediate and full compliance. It is rather in those areas where God has NOT prescribed that I would have serious reservations in compelling fellow disciples to bow to the whims of others. Again, I have no doubt that my friend who has penned these questions would agree with this. Jesus pointed out that some actually worshiped in vain because they were "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:9). In short, if God prescribes some aspect of worshipful expression, then we are to comply; if, on the other hand, mere men prescribe or proscribe some aspect of worshipful expression, we are not under obligation to comply. Instead, we should examine carefully that which has been put forward by men in light of our best understanding of God's overall will for our lives, and then determine, each man or each congregation for themselves, whether compliance would bring glory to God, edification to the Body, and furtherance of the cause of Christ.
The example of "the kind of music He has ordained" was given by this brother in Christ. Apparently he alludes to the statements of Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 which speak of "singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." The traditional argument, for which the case of Uzzah is dragged out as the ever-present "fear factor," is that God has "prescribed" singing, thus anything else is akin to touching the ark of the covenant and will draw the same outpouring of God's wrath. Specifically, if one uses instruments of music as accompaniment to one's singing of praises unto God, such a one is "just as dead as Uzzah!"
This is an "apples and oranges" argument, however, and it is here that my friend's argument breaks down completely. In one instance we have the command obeyed, in the other we have it disobeyed. David and his men, which would have included Uzzah and his brother, did not even remotely comply with the command of God. God specified who was to transport the ark; they got someone else. God specified it was to be carried by these specified persons; they put it on an ox cart instead. This is not even remotely similar to the situation with singing and instrumental accompaniment.
Let's assume that the Ephesian and Colossian passages refer contextually to a so-called "worship assembly." Let's assume that the instruction to "sing" has a "public worship assembly of the church" in view in this context. I suggest, by the way, that we should "assume" this because in point of fact the context of these two passages does NOT have such a public assembly as its focus. That is yet another hermeneutical error of those who advocate the position my brother has assumed. Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let's assume Paul is speaking about what is prescribed in a "public worship assembly of the church." That which is "prescribed" is to SING. Guess what? WE SING. Those who sing a cappella ... SING. Those who sing with instrumental accompaniment ... SING. Both Sing! The command is obeyed.
For this to be a true parallel to the Uzzah situation, one would have to REPLACE singing with something entirely different. Singing would have to be done away with and something else substituted in its place. Remember, the Levites were REPLACED with those who were not Levites. The ark being carried by men was REPLACED by hauling it on an ox cart. This was a NEGATION of the command, an INVALIDATION of it due to a total replacement and substitution. To make this transgression applicable to the "prescribed order of worship" argument, one would have to REPLACE singing with something entirely different. Thus, instead of SINGING with thankfulness in our hearts to the Lord, why not REMOVE singing and REPLACE it with DANCING? Now we have a parallel to the Uzzah incident (assuming, of course, that the two passages by Paul really DO pertain to a "public worship assembly," which I do not believe they do).
Yes, when God prescribes singing, then we should sing. AND WE DO. Singing has NOT been replaced, removed, invalidated, or negated. The use of instruments are NOT a substitution, they are merely an aid or an accompaniment, neither of which God has ever condemned in Scripture. NOT ONCE has God ever even hinted at disapproval of such. Indeed, in the past God even commanded instrumental accompaniment to singing (2 Chron. 29:25). Has God changed His mind on this matter? If He has, He has nowhere declared it. Thus, by what authority do MEN declare His disapproval?
No, the use of instruments as either an aid or an accompaniment to singing in our worshipful expressions to our God do not even remotely relate to the Uzzah incident. Just the opposite. In one case, what God had specified was REPLACED with something else; in the other case, what God has specified IS OBEYED. Thus, it is inappropriate to try and use the case of Uzzah to suggest God's disapproval with those who violate the TRADITION of a cappella singing. Singing, whether accompanied or not, IS STILL SINGING. Thus, whether accompanied or not, those who sing are complying with what is "prescribed." They sing!
This editor continued, "To tamper with the Lord's Supper, as some of the 'change agents' are proposing, is of the same nature." I'm not sure what this brother had in view when he spoke of tampering with the Lord's Supper, and he didn't specify. Was he referring to singing a hymn during the observance of the Lord's Supper? Some regard that as an "Uzzah-like" transgression. Was he talking about using multiple cups instead of one cup? We all know there are those who think this is another "Uzzah-like" sin. Was he talking about observing it on some day other than Sunday? I will deal with this in future issues of Reflections. I'm not sure what he had in mind, but I can almost guarantee the reader that it will be yet another "apples and oranges" misapplication of hermeneutical principles.
I personally don't know of any efforts to "tamper with" the Lord's Supper, either by so-called "change agents" or anyone else. I am aware of differing traditions associated with the observance of this unique memorial feast, but "tampering with" it in similar fashion to the Uzzah incident? Not to my knowledge; not in any congregation with which I am personally familiar. Perhaps he can enlighten us on this point and I will incorporate a response to those concerns in future issues of Reflections in which I deal with the Lord's Supper.
This brother has asked me to "explain why that same principle" (as seen in the Uzzah incident) "is not applicable" to those specifics prescribed by our God today. I believe I have done that in my above response. Although I am under no illusion that this will forever alter my brother's thinking on the matter, I pray that it will provide some food for thought to some of our readers who may be hovering between two perceptions of the matter. May God's blessing be upon each of us as we continue to study His Word and seek to better appreciate and apply His Will for our lives.
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