by Al Maxey
Issue #822 -- June 21, 2021
After silence, that which comes nearest
to expressing the inexpressible is music.
Aldous Huxley [1894-1963]
From the earliest moments of human history something divinely placed within us has powerfully led us to find some form of expressing our emotions musically. The influential saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967) observed, "I think the main thing a musician would like to do is to give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe. That's what music is to me - it's just another way of saying this is a big, beautiful universe we live in, that's been given to us, and here's an example of just how magnificent and encompassing it is." He felt our music was a form of expressing our "closeness to the source of nature," and our "communion" with that creative source. Joseph Addison (1672-1719), a noted English poet, playwright, and politician, characterized music as "the greatest good that mortals know, and all of heaven we have below." Music may at times be both inspired and inspiring; it may flow through us as though from some other source as it expresses our deepest emotions and experiences. It may lift the weary soul, encourage the faint of heart, give voice to longings, hopes, and dreams. As Huxley rightly observed, music "comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible." One of our nation's leading transcendentalists, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), wrote, "In a world of peace and love, music would be the universal language." Without uttering a single spoken word, it becomes a part of our very being, forever embedded within our hearts and minds: a universal truth stated beautifully by William Wordsworth (1770-1850), "The music in my heart I bore, long after it was heard no more." Little wonder, then, that all through the Scriptures (both OT and NT) we find the Creator approving of, and even at times commanding, the use of music by the people He created to inhabit His planet we call Earth.
Few of us would likely disagree with the statement that music, in all of its many forms (both vocal and mechanical), is an expression of emotion. It provides a necessary outlet for our deepest feelings: an expression with which those around us can relate. On a spiritual level, music (which I firmly believe to be a gift from God to humanity) can be a form of expressing our devotion (both individually and collectively) to our God. When we express these feelings of love for Him, whether vocally or mechanically or a combination thereof, we worship, and we also lift the spirits and touch the hearts and minds of our fellow life-travelers. Without music, regardless of its form, we would be greatly hindered in the expression of our devotion to Him, and our worship would be greatly diminished. Yet, as we all know only too well, there are those within the Christian community who seek to limit, restrict, and regulate the musical aspects of our worshipful expression. Indeed, there are some who are intent upon eliminating altogether any use of a musical instrument in that expression, characterizing it as "grievous SIN," and contending (often contentiously) that our God will cast into the fires of hell any who dare to accompany their singing of praises unto Him with these "instruments of Satan."
There is a very vocal, though rather small, group within that branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as the "Church of Christ" (and this is true of other denominational groups as well) who believe that God only accepts singing during times of corporate worship. God hates the playing of any mechanical instrument or device during such assemblies (the "worship service" of the local church). Indeed, He hates such "theatrics" so much that those who choose to accompany their singing with playing will forfeit their salvation! Consider, for example, this statement by Garland M. Robinson, the minister for the Leoni Church of Christ in Woodbury, Tennessee, "Since mechanical instruments of music cannot be justified (supported) by God's Holy Scriptures to accompany the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, they are therefore wrong and sinful to use in worship to God! It violates every principle of faith, makes void the Word of God, violates God's specific command, and rejects the authority of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!" Wow!! Such a viewpoint may shock and surprise some of you who just read those words from this preacher, but having been a part of this denomination since birth, I have heard it time and time again over the years. It is a disgusting dogma and a deadly departure from ultimate Truth! That view is NOT taught within the writings of either the old or new covenants of God with mankind. I have written extensively over the years about this legalistic, patternistic perspective that elevates personal and party perceptions, practices, and preferences to the status of divine precepts (you will find 21 of my articles addressing this false teaching on my Topical Index page under the heading "Musical Instruments"). The proponents of this rigid religiosity are quite aggressive in their attempts to force this false teaching on the rest of Christendom, and they have no qualms at all about telling you to your face that you are headed straight for the fires of hell unless you repent and embrace their view on this matter! It sickens me to witness the damage these people are inflicting upon the universal One Body of our Lord Jesus! They embody the truth of the message I saw on a bumper sticker in Hawaii several years ago: "Often in Error - Never in Doubt."
The above quote from Garland M. Robinson comes from a chart he placed upon the Leoni Church of Christ web site, a chart which has also appeared on a number of church Facebook sites. It is titled "Mechanical Praise for God," and it may be seen by clicking on this link. If by some chance, you can't access it through that link to his congregation's web page, just let me know and I'll get a copy to you. It is only fair to Mr. Robinson, since I am reviewing his chart in this current issue of my Reflections, that you see this chart for yourself so that you may determine if my comments are valid. Don't blindly accept anything I say or write; check it out!! In the remarks at the bottom of Garland's chart he wrote, "How will you answer when you stand before Christ to be judged?" Well, if Matthew 25:31-46 is any indicator of the focus of our Lord at the time of final judgment (where the sheep are separated from the goats), the topic will never come up. The Lord makes no mention of what one does or does not do in a "worship service." Rather, the Lord is interested in how we treat one another; in whether or not we have shown genuine love, mercy, kindness, and compassion. However, to answer Garland's question about how I would respond, I would simply say, "Thank you, Lord, for the harp!!" After all, Revelation 15:2 informs us that the redeemed appear triumphantly before the throne "holding harps of God." So, I suppose saying, "Thank you, Lord, for the harp" might be a proper response. I believe Garland, and those like him, might benefit from a deeper study of this passage and the truths conveyed by it, which I have provided in Reflections #297 ("Holding Harps of God: Singers Singing / Harpers Harping Redemption's Sweet Song").
Garland can't imagine a scene in which the saved celebrate their salvation with any musical sound other than the human voice. The saved may celebrate by singing, but if the sound of an instrument is heard, then such persons will be cast headlong into hell. Or so they claim. Perhaps he should take another look at the Lord's parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). His displeasure seems to parallel that of the "elder brother" in the story (Reflections #110 - "The Elder Brother Syndrome: A Prodigal Son Who Stayed At Home"). The wayward son had returned home; he who was "dead" is "alive" again! This called for a celebration in the father's house! 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." I fear some today, like the elder brother, would stand outside in the darkness: cold, alone, and offended, while in the father's house was light and warmth and merriment ... and yes, 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]. For a more in-depth examination of the significance of this aspect of this parable of Jesus, I would invite the reader (and Garland specifically) to consider my article titled "Symphony for Salvaged Sinners: A Celebration with Music and Dancing within our Heavenly Father's House" (Reflections #567).
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 ... and He will hand each of them a harp!! 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; it is teachers teaching from their own tradition, rather than from Truth.
Garland's LEFT Column
Garland's chart is divided into three vertical columns. At the top of the column on the left is the question: "Is Mechanical Music Justified?" This, of course, begs the question: How does one establish whether an act is justified or not? Garland attempts to do this by asking seven questions, the answers to which he believes will establish clear lack of justification for the use of mechanical instruments "in worship." The first three questions reveal this man's hermeneutic: he is a proponent of CENI (a horribly failed methodology). He asks if the use of mechanical instruments in worship is justified by "a command? ... an example? ... an inference?" He says the answer to each of these is "No." The use of these instruments was a vital part of the tabernacle/temple worship of the people of God. Thus, there are countless examples of this use "in worship" settings; none of which He condemned. Indeed, we even find God commanding them of His people "in worship" in 2 Chronicles 29:25-30. They worshipped with singing, playing of instruments "in the house of the Lord," and they did so "according to the command of David and of Gad the king's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the Lord through His prophets" (vs. 25). We are even told in Psalm 81 that such singing and use of instruments in worship was "a statute ... and ordinance of God" (vs. 4). From these commands, statutes, ordinances, and examples we may infer God's approval, may we not?! Where, in all of the OT and/or NT inspired writings is there ever found even a HINT of displeasure on the part of God for such use "in worship"? Garland, please provide that passage where God declares His hatred for and displeasure at the use of mechanical instruments "in worship." No such passage exists. [NOTE: The CENI hermeneutic is a horrible methodology, which I have exposed time and again in my writings (all of which may be found at my Reflections Archive). However, if one rejects such a hermeneutic, he should be willing to propose a better one, and then justify why he thinks it to be such. This I have done, using the mechanical instruments issue as the operative example, in my study titled "Suggesting Another Hermeneutic: Inquiry into an Interpretive Methodology" - Reflections #126.]
In question seven of this column, Garland states the use of mechanical music is unjustified because it is "anti-scriptural." Really?! Please show us the specific passage of Scripture that such use stands against. A number of years ago a preacher in Arkansas accepted this challenge, and he wrote: "Al, here is one passage from the OT (Amos 6:4-6) that shows instruments of music were condemned by God. I believe that you could say that God at least hints at His disapproval of instrumental accompaniment. Right?!" Not even close, brother!! I refuted that argument quite easily in Reflections #410 ("God Hates Lamb Chops: An In-depth Study of Amos 6:4-6"). At least this guy tried. Most legalists and patternists just run and hide. As for the other three questions in the lefthand column of Garland's chart: "Is it scriptural? ... A good work? ... Pertain to life?", we can clearly declare it "scriptural" (in the sense that it is found in the Scriptures). Is it a good work? Well, if God commanded and approved its use, and the people employed it with His favor, then I suppose we can safely characterize it as "good." Does it pertain to life? That which is part of our worshipful expression during the course of our life journey with Him most definitely "pertains to life." Is mechanical music justified? Absolutely! Garland has failed to make his case!
Garland's CENTER Column
At the top of this center column, Garland M. Robinson states: "The Scriptures teach us to SING in worship!" When the legalistic patternists say "in worship" they are generally speaking of the "worship service" (a phrase never found in the Bible, by the way). They are speaking of the formal assembly of the local disciples on Sunday morning at the church building (although most will extend this to Sunday evening and Wednesday evening as well). Our "corporate worship assemblies" are too often the "field of battle" for our fratricidal feuding over tradition elevated to Truth. It is shameful, but a sad reality nonetheless. Those who base their interpretations of Scripture on the flawed CENI hermeneutic, with its accompanying "law of silence" and "law of expediency," will argue that when the Scriptures say "sing," then ALL ELSE is forever excluded. This is a deadly fallacy that is almost impossible for such people to grasp. Their CENI hermeneutic has blinded them to reason. On my Topical Index page I have dealt extensively with this problem, and would invite those interested to note the 31 Reflections articles listed under the heading "Law of Silence" ... the 40 Reflections articles listed under the heading "Patternism" ... and the 6 Reflections articles listed under the heading "Requesting Legalism's List." I would also very strongly urge Garland, and those who think as he does, to carefully consider my published debate on legalistic patternism in the church: The Maxey-Broking Debate. Some church leaders declared this debate the most important exchange within the church this past century. It deals with many of the underlying issues that have led people like Garland to form the conclusions he has about what God does or does not accept from His people.
In this center column, Garland has listed eight verses in the New Covenant writings in which one finds the evidence of the saints being encouraged to "sing." Some of these are very familiar to us; others probably less so. I have no problem whatsoever with the biblical concept of believers expressing themselves emotionally and spiritually through singing. Even babies "sing" and "coo." It is part of our nature; it is God-given. It is one of a number of outlets for the expressing of our devotion to our God and for encouraging and instructing our fellow disciples. It doesn't really even need to be commanded; it just comes naturally. Jesus and the apostles "sang a hymn" following the institution of the Lord's Supper (Matthew 26:30). James wrote, "Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises" (James 5:13). Hebrews 2:12, in a reference to Psalm 22:22, reads, "In the midst of the assembly I will sing Thy praise." In a cell in Philippi, the apostle Paul and his companion Silas "about midnight were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25). In Romans 15:9, Paul quoted a text that spoke of singing to God among the Gentiles. And then in 1 Corinthians 14:15 we find Paul making it clear that in both praying and singing it was important to engage in these activities not only in a heartfelt way, but also with an understanding about what one was praying and singing. Not a single one of these passages has anything to say either for or against the use of mechanical instruments in one's praise of God (either individually or corporately). Of course, the legalists would argue: since these texts are SILENT about instruments, they are therefore forbidden, and thus to use them constitutes SIN. I think I would be a bit more cautious about putting words in God's mouth, especially when there is absolutely ZERO evidence in the Scriptures that God is in any way displeased with the use of such mechanical instruments in a worshipful setting. There are two more verses listed in the center column: Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. We'll deal with them below, for they are also listed in the third column. These two are the "crown jewels" of the anti-instrument faction.
Garland's RIGHT Column
At the top of the right column, Garland Robinson makes this declaration: "Mechanical Music is Sinful." That is his primary premise for the entire chart. In the comment section at the bottom of the chart he points out that these mechanical instruments of music are "wrong and sinful to use in worship to God!" That's a rather bold assertion when one considers the fact that nowhere in Scripture, either OT or NT, does God ever declare the use of these instruments in worship to be either "wrong" or "sinful." Such is never, ever stated in the Bible. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. Yet, Garland is not to be deterred by such a fact. Instead, he continues to promote his opinion in this column by listing four reasons mechanical music is "sinful." FIRST: Garland claims that their use "violates the principle of faith." He cites Romans 14:3 as his proof: "The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him." Clearly Robinson didn't intend to use this verse, although it ironically serves as a powerful refutation of his misguided assumption. Robinson doesn't like the use of mechanical instruments of music. Okay, so don't use them! But, he has brethren who do like them and find them useful in expressing the devotion of their hearts to God and His people. Paul's message here is: God accepts both. Thus, who are we to judge our brother on such issues? The passage Garland undoubtedly intended to use was Romans 14:23 - "He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." In other words, if Garland believes that God disapproves of the use of such instruments (although God never, ever said any such thing), then Garland should not violate his conscience and conviction in the matter. If he thinks it is wrong to use them, then for him it would be, for he would be violating his own beliefs on the matter. This in no way, however, prevents a brother or sister in Christ, who believes just the opposite, from engaging in that practice, for God indicates He has accepted such a person's act of devotion.
In other words, you don't have to be my twin to be my brother. It is okay to be different, even in matters of faith/belief regarding the expectations of God for His people. "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God" (Romans 14:22). "Therefore, accept one another" (Romans 15:7), even if you differ on a number of points of belief/faith. The use of mechanical music in worship is only "sinful" for the person who believes it to be such and who goes ahead and uses it anyway. That is the "violation" of which Garland speaks. The act itself is neutral: it is neither right nor wrong in and of itself. The "sin" is when someone believes that act to be wrong, and he does it anyway. That is the violation of one's personal faith. The other man may embrace and engage in that same act and be accepted by God, for that man realized that there was no prohibition of such an act by God in His inspired Word. Just because some person, operating under the influence of a misguided hermeneutic (CENI + silence), declares something "sinful" does NOT make it such. It is only "sinful" if GOD declares it to be such ... and He never did.
SECOND: Garland claims in the righthand column that the use of mechanical music is sinful because it "makes void the word of God." Really? How does one "make void" God's Word when God in His written Word never said anything negative about the act and never uttered a single word prohibiting it? Indeed, His declarations, when He did voice an opinion, were positive in nature, never negative. Thus, it would seem, for me to declare something sinful, and thereby prohibited, would be to void God's word on the matter, for I put words in His mouth that He never uttered. Again, isn't it ironic (and, frankly, rather humorous) that Garland lists Matthew 15:3-9 and Mark 7:13 to "prove" his point. Both of those passages are strong indictments of anyone who elevates his/her personal or party perceptions, preferences, and practices to the status of divine precept. In other words, they violate and make void God's Word by conflating human tradition with divine truth. God never prohibited the use of mechanical music in worship. Not even one time; nor do the Scriptures anywhere even hint at divine disapproval in the matter. Thus, for Garland to seek to impose and enforce his own view as God's view is indeed an action that "makes void the word of God." Jesus said, "In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men!" (Matthew 15:9). To the Pharisees (the legalistic patternists of His day) Jesus said, "You invalidate the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that" (Mark 7:13). Garland might want to do a bit more reflecting on these two passages. They do nothing to support his view; indeed, they refute it.
THIRD: Garland further asserts that when men make use of mechanical music in worship to God that it "Rejects Christ's Authority!" Again, one has to wonder exactly how this "rejects" the authority of Jesus Christ, who never once made any clear declaration one way or the other about the use of such instruments in a worship setting. We do know, however, that both Jesus and the apostles, and even the Jerusalem disciples during the early days of the church, worshipped in the temple, which had music associated intimately with that worship. Yet, not a word by any of these, much less by Jesus, was ever uttered either for or against the use of mechanical instruments of music. Thus, where does the "rejection" come in?! Garland lists three Scriptures under this statement: (1) Matthew 7:29 - "Jesus was teaching the crowds as one having authority, and not as their scribes." Okay. The people viewed Jesus as being different than the scribes. Jesus taught as one having authority. We all agree on that. Yet, again, there is no "authoritative" utterance by Jesus here (or anywhere else) on either using or not using musical instruments in worship. Indeed, when He taught in the temple area, as He often did, these instruments were being employed in worship. Yet, He said nothing. (2) Matthew 28:18 - Prior to His ascension, Jesus gave the "Great Commission." At the beginning of that commission He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." He further said to make disciples and to "teach them to observe all that I commanded you" (vs. 20). So, where is HIS command regarding these mechanical instruments of music? HE, who had all authority, said NOTHING! So why do people like Garland feel the need to formulate LAW against something that the Lord never said anything against?! (3) John 12:48-50 - Here Jesus declares that He only spoke what the Father told Him to speak: "The things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me" (vs. 50). Again, where has Jesus "spoken" about this matter? Even more, where has GOD ever spoken about this matter, using the language that Garland feels he has the authority to use?: i.e., "mechanical music is sinful." Show me, brother, where in the Scriptures either God or Jesus spoke such words declaring their opposition to these musical devices in worship. Where have either of them even hinted at such? So again, Garland, I wonder how using these instruments in worship is a rejection of Christ's authority. It was HE who had/has the authority to speak on the matter, and He said nothing. So where is your authority, Garland, to make LAW for Him?!
FOURTH: And then we come to "the crown jewels." Using a mechanical instrument of music "violates God's specific command," says Garland. And precisely which "specific command" would that be, brother?! Garland's answer is: God said SING. To a legalistic patternist this means that anything and everything other than singing is forever forbidden by God, and those who violate this will be cast headlong into the fires of hell to be forever tortured by our merciful Father!! Wow ... I would say that borders on blasphemy!! It portrays God as a monster who is just waiting to pounce upon any poor soul that dares to sing His praises with mechanical accompaniment ... even though He had previously gone on record as both commanding it and approving it, and even though Jesus spoke in terms of such celebration in the Father's house in His parable of the returned prodigal, and even though the redeemed are given "harps of God" when they come rejoicing before Him. Yes, God is the ultimate fickle fiend. Garland, you need to do some serious reevaluation of your position.
And yet, this preacher presses on. He lists two passages that we have had beaten into us all our lives: Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 (actually, Garland got this wrong also, for he gave the second passage as Galatians 5:19; obviously he meant Ephesians). Along with Acts 2:38 and Acts 20:7, these other two "golden proof-texts" are the "weapons of choice" for legalistic patternists in their "good fight" against all of us "godless apostates" who dare to differ with their interpretations and practices. If these people would actually carefully examine these two passages, they would quickly perceive that they have nothing to do with a "worship service" of the "church." Nor do they say anything at all about the use of musical instruments. Which, of course, is their point. The fact that nothing is said about them in these two verses means they are forever forbidden for all people on planet Earth until the second coming of Christ. Silence = prohibition, they claim. I would plead with Garland to please read my study of what is being said in these two passages within their context. It will open his eyes!! That study is titled "Legalism's Twin Proof-Texts: Allowing Tradition to Trump Truth" (Reflections #454). May I also suggest the following for those who really care to see just how false this teaching is by Garland and his fellow legalistic patternists:
Within the ultra-conservative, legalistic, patternistic wing of the Church of Christ denomination, which is one of the factions that grew out of the Stone-Campbell Movement, there has long been a tradition of refusing to employ any instrumental accompaniment to singing in the "worship service" at the local "church building." That tradition, of course, is rapidly being set aside as non-binding as more and more disciples of Christ Jesus study the Scriptures for themselves and discover that what they have been taught is not found in the Bible, but was rather a hand-me-down "truth" formed from the opinions and preferences of our denomination's forefathers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a congregation choosing not to use mechanical instruments. There is also nothing wrong with those who do use them. If both groups are sincere in their conviction, and are convinced in their own minds that their practice is approved by God, and if said practice in no way violates specific, direct commands of God (rather than assumptions of men elevated to divine decree based on what is NOT found in the Scriptures), then both groups and both practices are pleasing in the sight of God. What is displeasing in His sight is when we turn our preferences into precepts, and then condemn those around us who differ with our understanding, refusing both fellowship and the hope of salvation to such "apostates."
Paul urges us to accept one another (just as the Lord does), and not judge one another based on differences in perceptions and practices. If God chose not to condemn something, then by what authority do we do so?! Authority is not established by human assumptions drawn from what is not said in the Scriptures. Fellowship in the Family of God should never be fractured over such matters of personal understanding or preference. I appreciate what Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) had to say about the use of musical instruments in a corporate worship setting: "We who do not believe these things to be expedient in worship, lest they should mar its simplicity, do not affirm them to be unlawful, and if any George Herbert or Martin Luther can worship God better by the aid of well-tuned instruments, who shall gainsay their right? We do not need them, they would hinder more than help our praise, but if others are otherwise minded, are they not living in gospel liberty?" [Treasury of David, from his exposition of Psalm 33:2]. Thomas Campbell (1763-1854), in the year 1809, stated this same principle quite eloquently in the two following propositions of his now famous Declaration and Address (for more on this important historical document, I would suggest reading Reflections #417 - "Campbell's Declaration and Address: Quintessential Quotes from a Defining Document"):
Proposition 5 -- "That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the Scriptures are silent, as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be; no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency, by making laws for the church; nor can anything more be required of Christians in such cases, but only that they so observe these commands and ordinances, as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined."
Proposition 6 -- "That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God's holy Word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God -- therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the church's confession."
I believe it is rather presumptuous of us, and rather arrogant as well, to boldly declare some act to be "sinful" when the Lord God Himself has nowhere done so! If a person wants to assume that is God's view, and order his own actions accordingly, that is fine. It is far from fine, however, for that person to condemn all others, withholding fellowship from all others, who do not agree with his inferences, assumptions, and deductions from what is NOT specified by God through His inspired Word. I applaud Garland for living by his convictions on this matter. I cannot applaud his public teaching that those who differ with him on this matter have embraced SIN and are thus in danger of losing their salvation. God has nowhere said this, or even hinted at it. If using a mechanical instrument is a SIN, it seems to me God Himself would have said something about this. He hasn't. Garland, I've never met you, and most likely won't this side of the parousia. However, I hope to see you in the new heavens and earth. I'd love to visit with you there. PS: bring your harp ... you know, the one God will give you. Perhaps we can learn to play it together and thus take part in the joyful symphony within the Father's house! That surely beats being the "grumpy elder brother" standing outside in the dark cursing the musical celebration!
From a Reader in Virginia:
Al, enclosed is my check for your CD "Law to Liberty: Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ." I have enjoyed your work for over 20 years! Praise God, and blessings to you!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Al, I saw the story in Christian Chronicle about the individual disposable Communion cups, and I wanted to get your input on it. Thanks.
The article to which this brother refers is "‘Rip And Sip’ Communion Cups May Be The New Normal." It is an interesting article in which the author, Cheryl Mann Bacon, discusses the impact of the pandemic on the Lord's Supper. There have been a lot of changes made to how we conduct various aspects of our assemblies: some probably for the better, some not so much. Because the Communion is so "hands on," it particularly necessitated, in the minds of many, some responsible changes. Are those changes here to stay? Will they become the "new normal"? Hard to say. I have to say, though, the "rip and sip" format ("a crumb and a swallow" - "a pinch and a sip"), though convenient, is far removed from the original format of this memorial meal. I dealt with this several years ago in my article titled, "Practicing Pared Patterns: The Lord's Supper and the 'Feast or Fragment' Feud" (Reflections #147). I personally don't like these prepackaged snack packs, but I wouldn't go so far as to declare them "sinful." The true meaning, significance, and worth of this memorial transcends the elements and externals of the act. As for the pandemic itself, and some of the craziness it has spawned, I did some reflecting on that in my article "Pastoral Pandemic Perspective: Reflecting on Reactions to a Rogue Virus" (Reflections #798). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Al, I just read your last article "The Proverbs and Prayer of Agur: A Reflective Examination of Proverbs 30" (Reflections #821). I had not thought of Agur's prayer in quite some time. I appreciate your refreshing of my memory on this most worthy passage from the Hebrew Scriptures. Your comments are both interesting and thought-provoking at the same time. Hearty spiritual fare, for sure! God bless you, Al.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I have always believed that at the resurrection we will know those we come face to face with. Do you think it is possible that, at this time, we will also know of those (perhaps family, friends, etc.) who are cast out and denied eternal life? You probably have a whole Reflections article on this that I need to go back and read, but as I get older I get more forgetful. Al, I really appreciate you and the inspiration I believe you are getting firsthand from the Father! May you be richly blessed in this new year because I believe God has told me just how much He appreciates your perseverance in making His will on earth as it is in heaven. Love ya, brother!
The whole "recognition" aspect of life in the new heavens and earth is problematic on a number of levels. How, for example, could we be happy if we look around and don't see some of our loved ones? I believe that when God wipes away our tears, He also wipes away that which prompted them. Exactly how this will all play out in this new reality following the resurrection and judgment is "above my pay grade," yet I have faith that God will handle it in such a way that we will be content. Even though this is rather challenging, and something that most of us have pondered on occasion, it still is worthy of reflection. Thus, I sought to tackle this aspect of the new heavens and earth, and our place therein, in an article titled "The Doctrine of Post-Resurrection Recognition: Will We Know Each Other in Heaven?" (Reflections #235). I hope this study will help address the questions posed by this brother in Texas. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Al, please send me your following studies on CD: (1) "A Reflective Study of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Jesus Christ Our Living Source of a Better Covenant and Greater Freedom" and (2) "A Reflective Study of the Epistle of James: Our Practical Guideline for Daily Christian Living." I sent my payment through your PayPal account. Thank you.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, thank you for your challenging articles! They are inspiring and challenging, especially for a member of the tradition-minded Church of Christ. My goal each year is to read your Reflections articles sent to my email inbox and all of your lessons posted on your web site. By the responses you share with us, it is obvious that many readers are as challenged as I am. God bless your ministry!
From a Reader in Pennsylvania:
I have been studying with some people in the conservative Church of Christ and we are covering a tremendous amount of ground on a variety of topics, including faith, grace, legalism, and the Holy Spirit, and your Reflections have been absolutely invaluable as I rely on them to help show them the way out of the patternistic, legalistic understanding they have been taught and into an understanding based on sound biblical interpretation grounded in grace. My heart's desire is for them to be set free from legalistic thinking and fear. They have a tremendous amount of fear surrounding issues pertaining to God and the church. I have been told that I am the only one who has ever spoken to them about the love of God, and my heart breaks for them. I long to see them embrace the truths of the Scriptures, and to be set free by them! I pray to God that He will continue to bless you, your family, and your wonderful, crucial Reflections ministry. Your teachings are excellent and are a powerful resource for us in our studies with others. You have a friend and brother in Pennsylvania.
If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, Contact Me and I'll immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may
all be obtained on a special CD. Check the Archives
for details and all past issues of these Reflections at: