by Al Maxey

Issue #567 ------- February 28, 2013
When large numbers of people share their joy
in common, the happiness of each is greater
because each adds fuel to the other's flame.

St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

Symphony for Salvaged Sinners
A Celebration with Music and Dancing
within our Heavenly Father's House

Jesus declared, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). His mission was to rescue the perishing, to seek out those sheep who had gone astray, to lift up the fallen. By extension, and through the equipping, indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit, the disciples of Christ today have much the same mission. Wherever and whenever this mission is accomplished successfully, and the lost are found, there is rejoicing not only in the presence of God and His angels (Luke 15:7, 10), but also among the redeemed here on earth. There is an atmosphere of celebration: an inner joy that overflows into outward visible and audible expression. Indeed, it cannot be contained; when genuinely experienced, it must be expressed. The father of the returned prodigal son stated, in response to the elder brother's criticism of the celebration taking place in the father's house, "But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found" (Luke 15:32). The word "had" comes from a Greek term signifying "it is binding, it is necessary, it behooveth, it is proper; it is inevitable" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon of the NT, p. 89]. Such a celebration in the father's house was not only inevitable, but it was both necessary and proper.

Most disciples would agree that there is nothing wrong or improper about the children of God celebrating within the house of their Father. Although some regard our "church time" (i.e., inside a church building during "worship services") to be "solemn" occasions, where only certain acts may be performed -- and performed precisely "according to the pattern" -- and where there must never be any "entertainment" or "improper" celebratory expressions, nevertheless this is far from the reality portrayed in both OT and NT writings with regard to the assemblies of the people of God. Yes, in many ways these assemblies will be worshipful and reverent, but they will also quite often (if not more often) be celebratory, with spontaneous outpourings of great joy and gratitude for God's grace. To suggest the latter in some way either negates or disrespects the former is fallacious, and it shows a complete failure to perceive what our Father seeks from His children as they gather together in His house (or even outside it, for that matter). For example, I've heard of congregations being viciously attacked and condemned because the members applauded when someone confessed Christ and was immersed. Such a visible display of rejoicing was deemed "improper" within "the Father's house." It seems we have some "elder brothers" who may be in need of a frank "talking to" by the Father! I dealt with this a number of years ago, by the way, in Reflections #110 -- "The Elder Brother Syndrome," which I would encourage the reader to examine.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), which I think might be better characterized as the Parable of a Father's Love, Jesus describes the dynamics of a family in which one brother remains dutifully at home, while the other departs and descends into the depths of depravity and despair. At the end, as we all know, the latter son returns to a warm embrace from the father and a cold shoulder from his brother; to criticism inflicted by his brother, and to celebration initiated by his father. From one he received restoration; from the other only rebuke. Quite a mixed homecoming for one who had been lost, but who was now found; who was dead, but now alive (figuratively speaking). With respect to the father's welcome, we read the following: "The father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate" (Luke 15:22-24). The word "celebrate" appears four times in this parable. It is the Greek word "euphraino," which means "to be happy, glad; make merry." It generally had reference to "the merriment of a feast," and was even employed in the Septuagint on occasion for the Hebrew word meaning "to sing" [Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 263]. Linked with this "merriment" in verse 32 of this parable is the Greek word "chairo," meaning "to rejoice, be glad, be full of joy." In that statement the father tells his eldest son, "But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." What was happening in the father's house, and which the elder brother wanted no part of, was a celebration -- an occasion where the family was assembled to express visibly and audibly their great joy. Should not such a spirit be found in our assemblies today as well? I believe so, although some "elder brothers" still seem to be offended by such celebration that "smacks of entertainment."

Such "elder brothers" today might be surprised by what the father in our Lord's parable deems appropriate behavior among the people who are assembled within his house! His perception of "decently and in order" is certainly dissimilar to what we often hear proclaimed by the rigidly religious today, who insist the "house of the Lord" must be entered with hushed tones and reverential postures. I can't help but think of the Puritans, during the early days of our nation, who would actually have members put in stocks or flogged (or both) for daring to "laugh in church." Some disciples, sadly, are not too far removed from that mindset today. I fear that they, like the elder brother in the parable of Jesus, would refuse to enter "the father's house" if such "merriment" were taking place. They would be repelled by it, and would stand outside in the darkness: cold, alone and offended. Yet, in the father's house was light and warmth and merriment ... and more! When the elder brother "came near the house, he heard music and dancing" (Luke 15:25). Music ... dancing ... in the father's house!! Oh, my goodness!! Seriously?! What is the world coming to?! Surely Satan has been unleashed and has found his way "into the church." Apostasy!!

Let's notice these two terms utilized in this parable. Both words, by the way, appear only here in the entire New Covenant writings. The first is "music." Although most versions of the Bible use the English word "music" in their translation, the Greek word is actually much richer in meaning. It is the term "sumphonia," and is the word from which we get the English "symphony." It is a combination of two Greek words which represent the idea of "sounds or voices" which appear "together." A symphony, therefore, as we understand the word in English, would be "a harmony of sounds, especially of instruments" [Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, p. 1478]. Dr. A. T. Robertson, in his classic work "Word Pictures in the NT," says that this term refers to the harmony and concord of musical expression found in "a band of musicians." Dr. James Strong defines the word as: "unison of sound, i.e.: a concert of instruments" [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1390]. "Literally, a symphony, or concert, implying voices as well as instruments" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 317]. It was this that the elder brother was hearing coming from the father's house. "The sound of the musical instruments which accompanied the choirs of singers could be heard for some distance" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The NT, vol. 1, p. 352]. Thus, the father, in his celebration of the return of his son, permitted in his house "music produced by several instruments; a band, orchestra" [Drs. Arndt, Gingrich & Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 781].

There are those within Christendom who suggest that our heavenly Father abhors the use of instruments "in His house." They emphatically declare (in the spirit of the elder brother) that any building that employs instruments in any manner in praise of God or His grace is a building "we will never enter." Thus, like the elder brother in our Lord's parable, many sons of the Father are left standing outside in the darkness criticizing while the celebration takes place among those assembled in the Father's presence and with the Father's blessing! One day, when the redeemed assemble together after their earthly journey is ended, the Father will welcome them into His eternal abode for the everlasting celebration He has planned. John was allowed to view (in a vision) this upcoming day of rejoicing, and he informs us that "they held harps given to them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb" (Rev. 15:2-3 -- see my study of this in Reflections #297 -- "Holding Harps of God"). Odd, is it not, that our Father (who, according to a few of his professed disciples, hates musical instruments) will personally hand such an instrument to the redeemed as they enter His house for the eternal celebration! Odd, is it not, that He commanded their use in the temple (His house) and expressed His approval of such, but finds it abominable in the church, and then personally provides it in heaven!! Can't He make up His mind?!! Yes, it is odd, is it not, that He would "send to hell" those who use such instruments here, but will provide said instruments hereafter. Nonsense!! Such teaching merely reflects a woeful lack of understanding of the Father. It is a theology based on sectarian scruples, not on Scripture; teachers teaching from their own tradition, rather than from Truth.

The second word we find in the phrase from Luke 15:25 is "dancing." The elder brother "heard music and dancing." It is the Greek word "choros." It denoted primarily "an enclosure for dancing," but later (from Homer on down) came to refer to "a band of dancers and singers" [Dr. Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 670]. In time, the term evolved to mean simply a group of singers, and is the word from which we get the English term "chorus." We think of a choir of singers enclosed in a section of the church building, which enclosure this term originally denoted. Within that enclosure would be both singing and dancing. If anyone has ever experienced a choir in a black church, one will have somewhat of an idea of how both can be incorporated into one: the singers move as they sing, and it is an awesome experience; one filled with visible and audible expressions of great joy. W. E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, defined this word this way: "primarily denotes an enclosure for dancing; hence, a company of dancers and singers" [p. 266]. H. Leo Boles (1874-1946), a well-known leader in Churches of Christ, and also quite conservative in his views (see Reflections #247 -- "The Boles Manifesto: A Reflective Review of a Sectarian Speech Delivered by H. Leo Boles on May 3, 1939"), nevertheless correctly stated the following: "The music which the elder son heard was of that kind which he knew to be accompanied with a dance; hence both music and dancing are joined to the verb 'heard'" [A Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke, p. 305]. I would also encourage the reader to examine my own study of this aspect of acceptable spiritual expression in Reflections #403 -- "Praise Him With Dancing: What is God's View of Dancing?"

"Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly. ... Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and lyre" (Psalm 149:1, 3). "Hallelujah! Praise God in His sanctuary. ... Praise Him with trumpet blast; praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with tambourine and dance; praise Him with flute and strings. Praise Him with resounding cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Hallelujah!" (Psalm 150:1, 3-6). Some would love to cast these inspired words from Scripture. Others insist, "God has changed His mind on this!" -- or, at least, has done so with respect to the church (although He will go back to the former position in heaven). Oh, the games we play when we try to make God and His Word support our sectarian silliness. In the Father's abode there has always been, and always will be, room for "music and dancing," both of which are God's gifts to our nature to express our emotions. Perhaps Dr. Ellicott summed it all up best in his comments on the music and dancing of Luke 15:25 -- "Spiritually, these outward signs of gladness answer to the overflowing demonstrative joy which thrills through the hearts of those whose sympathies with God's work in the souls of men are keen and strong, and to which those who live only in the colder religionism of outward service are so insensible that they cannot understand it. They ask now, as the elder son asked, as the Pharisees were in their hearts asking, 'What does it mean?'" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 318].

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Readers' Reflections

From a Missionary in Nicaragua:

I just finished listening to the CDs which contained your 19 week adult Bible class on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. I enjoyed it very much! Thank you, brother!

From a Minister in Hawaii:

Aloha, Al. In your article "Fashions for the Fallen: From Fig Leaves to Animal Skins" (Reflections #565) you made this statement (in the 4th paragraph): "Thus, Adam and Eve did not hide from God because their physical bodies were unclothed (arom), but because their sinful action had exposed and laid bare their imperfection before Almighty God." This could be read, though not necessarily, as if the "imperfection" was a pre-existing condition, now laid bare by their sinful action. Did you mean it that way? If so, could you expand on that idea? Otherwise, I will assume you meant that the imperfection was a result of, as well as exposed by, the sinful action. My appreciation for you is ongoing and ever-increasing, brother! Mahalo!!

From a Reader in California:

I had to laugh after reading some of the comments in your "Readers' Reflections" section about Adam and Eve being provided with animal skin garments, instead of being clothed with fig leaves. The first thing that came to my mind was: God is SO much more practical. Imagine those poor fig trees without leaves, since Adam and Eve would have to use so many of them (since their clothes would fall apart from simple deterioration). Fortunately, there were no PC (political correctness) issues at that time with regard to the use of animal skins!!

From a Reader in Alabama:

In Alabama we were taught that "naked" meant having no clothes on. "Nekkid" meant having no clothes on and being up to no good!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

I just read your biography of Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (Reflections #566). His hymn "Jesus, Rose of Sharon" is one of my favorites. I really do enjoy your articles on the men and women who have shaped our lives with their music. Thank you.

From a Reader in Georgia:

"Send the Light" by Charles H. Gabriel. WOW! What a great song. It may have been the first "foot stomper," for sure. Which, obviously, leads us down the slippery slope to clapping and raising hands! (LOL) While reading your article I was struck by the talent God gives some, who then use it to glorify His Name. Thanks for sharing this biography.

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