by Al Maxey
Issue #823 -- July 7, 2021
John came fasting and they called him crazy. I
came feasting and they called Me a boozer, a friend
of the misfits. Opinion polls donít count for much,
do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Jesus - Matthew 11:18-19 [The Message]
Some of you, after reading the above title and subtitle of this article, are almost certainly thinking to yourselves, "You have got to be kidding, right?! Nobody could possibly be that ignorant!" Well, sadly, you would be mistaken. Believe it or not, there are some so rigid in their legalistic, patternistic perceptions and practices that they truly believe a person will be eternally damned if they assemble for worship inside a church building that has a kitchen in it. And God help the poor soul who dares to defy deity by actually eating something inside of that church building! Apparently, according to their teaching, there is a special place in hell for such "apostates." During the six years I preached in Hawaii for the Honolulu Church of Christ (1992-1998) there was a time when a leader in one of the Non-Institutional Church of Christ congregations in one of the southern states on the mainland flew over to "check me out," for it had been "reported" that "godlessness" abounded in our congregation (even though we were not part of their faction within this denomination). He "came and saw," and then reported back to the Internet group of which he was a member that my lesson was biblically "sound" and the congregation was very friendly. However, he was "saddened to have to report" that after our evening assembly we all went downstairs, and there he personally witnessed several of us "eating cookies and drinking punch in the church building." His conclusion? - Yes, with a heavy heart, he was forced to acknowledge that we were all "apostates" and clearly "bound for hell." Why? Because we had "defiled" the "sacred place" by satisfying our carnal appetites within its "holy precincts." Just this past week I got a call from someone out of state who said they would be traveling to our area and wanted to contact me ahead of time to ask me a question about our beliefs. He said he wanted to determine our "soundness" before he ever came to our building. I told him I would be glad to answer any questions he had. He said, "Do you have a kitchen, and do you have potlucks in your building?" I said that we do. There was a moment of silence, then CLICK. We failed the test!
Such "thinking" is not all that uncommon, unfortunately; it can be found in almost all religious movements and denominations. Legalism takes many forms, and it can get really ugly really quickly when its "watchdogs" are unleashed upon those they deem to be "unsound." The primary focus of such persons is on the church building and what happens within it. Kitchens and Fellowship Halls are especially "anathema" to them. I have sought to address these "weighty theological matters" in past issues of my Reflections, and the reader might find the following two to be of interest: "Faithless Fellowship Halls: Does Satan Smile When Saints Socialize?" (Reflections #118) and "Hallowed Halls of Worship: Are Our Church Buildings Holy?" (Reflections #398). It is "sinful," for example, according to these sectarians, to have a place within the "holy edifice" to prepare food for the saints to ingest on site, although, strangely enough, it is NOT considered "sinful" by them to have a place within this same "holy edifice" for saints to excrete that which was previously ingested (i.e., a restroom). Thus, it is a sin to masticate in a church building, but it is NOT a sin to defecate in that same structure. I guess God is okay with pee and poop but cannot abide a potluck. How Satan must rejoice when such lunacy is evidenced within the Family of God.
Let me share a few quotes from various sources I found on this issue. On a web site called Thy Word Is Truth I found a response to the question, "Is it wrong to eat in the church building?" The following is a small excerpt from that response: "No, which are the first two letters of 'nonsense.' I donít intend to be disrespectful, but such a position is silly. There was no such thing as a 'church building' in the days of the New Testament. ... Many who believe that it is sinful to eat in the church house drink in the church house (water fountains). Babies are fed in the building. Those who will not eat in the building make arrangements to rid themselves of what they have eaten or drunk (restrooms). Some even use the building for a 'bedroom' (sleeping through worship). The building is not sacred." In an article by Bubba Garner from the Westside Church of Christ in Irving, Texas, Bubba wrote, "The big deal about eating in the building is not just the unauthorized expenditure of money from the church treasury, funds that could be used for spreading the gospel or helping needy saints (Philippians 4:15-16). It is the irreverent attitude toward the Scriptures, an attitude that allows many to speak where the Bible is silent and to act when no approved example is given." As seen here, many will say they have no real argument with the act of eating in a church building itself, but instead have a problem with the "lack of authority" to use money from the "church treasury" to fund such a "social event." Of course, the NT writings are also silent about "church buildings" and "church treasuries" and "song books" and on and on and on! Thank God for "the law of expediency," right?! It lets us slip in those things we like but allows us to condemn to hell those people who engage in things we don't like.
The primary proof-text passage used by those who oppose disciples of Jesus eating a meal together inside a church building is found in 1 Corinthians 11. It is believed that the apostle Paul gave a direct command that forbids this practice. Why, they argue, would true believers "circumvent a direct commandment from the inspired apostle Paul and eat when the church is gathered together?" [from an article on the Biblical Proof web site]. They quote Paul, "What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God?" (vs. 22a - KJV) ... "And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation" (vs. 34a - KJV). Most translations read very similarly, although a good many of them phrase the thought in language a bit more familiar to us today:
Contemporary English Version - "Donít you have homes where you can eat and drink? Do you hate Godís church? ... If you really are hungry, you can eat at home. Then you wonít condemn yourselves when you meet together."
The Living Bible - "What? Is this really true? Canít you do your eating and drinking at home to avoid disgracing the church? ... If anyone is really hungry, he should eat at home so that he wonít bring punishment upon himself when you meet together."
The Message - "I canít believe it! Donít you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating Godís church? ... If youíre so hungry that you canít wait to be served, go home and get a sandwich. But by no means risk turning this Meal into an eating and drinking binge or a family squabble. It is a spiritual mealóa love feast."
New American Standard Bible - "What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God? ... If anyone is hungry, have him eat at home, so that you do not come together for judgment."
New International Version - "Donít you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God? ... Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment."
New Living Translation - "What? Donít you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace Godís church? ... If you are really hungry, eat at home so you wonít bring judgment upon yourselves when you meet together."
According to the view of these persons who oppose the practice of having a meal inside a church building, Paul is telling the people to eat in their homes rather than in the church building. The problem, of course, is that the early church did not meet at a "church building" (those edifices wouldn't come along for quite some time). They met in homes; usually the homes of those members who were financially able to provide sufficient space in their homes for a group of disciples. They would share meals together on these occasions, and at a point in the meal would take some of the bread and wine and use them to remember their Lord who had brought them together as One Body. Paul was not condemning the eating of a meal together, nor the place in which it was being eaten; rather, he was condemning the manner in which they were doing so. This is a perfect example of why context, both historical and textual, is so important to correct interpretation. Paul is speaking of the failure of the disciples in Corinth to properly discern the true nature of their unity as One Body in Christ Jesus. They were divided over a number of issues, with each member so focused on themselves that when they assembled together, they were far from being united. Thus, their celebration of the Lord's Supper, which in the early church was eaten within the context of a larger meal, was a mockery. Paul even told them that they were NOT truly observing the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20), for their concern was only for themselves, not for one another. They were observing a unity meal while divided.
The meal itself, within which the Lord's Supper was typically taken in those early years, was becoming an occasion to fill their stomachs. Greed and gluttony and drunkenness were the norm for many in this group. The whole event had deteriorated to something carnal rather than spiritual. If all they were interested in was stuffing themselves with food and drink, then Paul tells them to do it in their own homes, apart from the gathering of the saints. Paul is not forbidding this meal when they are together, he is forbidding the way in which they were observing it. In fact, he anticipates that they will heed his advice and change their attitude! "Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another" (vs. 33). Paul speaks of this coming together to eat a meal as something he expected them to keep on doing!! The command to them was to do it with the proper spiritual attitude. They were a spiritual Family in Christ, and they needed to start acting like it. To suggest Paul is forbidding the eating of a meal together (in which the Lord's Supper was a part) in a place where they were gathered is a gross misinterpretation of the text in light of the context. Paul is actually doing just the opposite. He tells them to keep on eating together in this place where they assemble as the Family of God, BUT to do it with a better awareness of who and Whose they are!! Stop the abuse of this practice; don't stop the practice itself.
For a good many years in the early church, the "Agape" was a meal the disciples shared together that emphasized their unity and oneness; it was a celebration "around a table" of the fellowship they had with one another through their common bond of union with Christ. Later in history, due to continued abuses (some of which Paul addressed in this passage), that meal, during which the Lord's Supper was observed, was discontinued, and only the Communion continued on. These "love feasts" were designed to be a spiritual celebration, and the Jews (and even the Gentiles) had a rich history of eating together as a spiritual event. The Corinthians, however, had lost sight of this, and their eating only highlighted their lack of unity with one another. This is why Paul wrote, "Therefore when you meet together, it is NOT to eat the Lord's Supper" (1 Corinthians 11:20). How can people genuinely partake of a "union meal" while divided from one another? They were making a mockery of it. "The object of the Agape was something higher than the mere gratification of appetite. Though not a sacrament, it was an accompaniment of the Lord's Supper, and was itself intended to be a symbolical and sacred meal" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 364]. Paul, in this passage, was reminding the Corinthian brethren "of the sacred character of the Agape as a symbol of Christian love and union" [ibid, p. 366]. Paul was in no way suggesting that this meal, during which the Lord's Supper was observed, should be removed, but rather that their observance of it was in need of being reformed. There was nothing "sinful" about these brethren eating together, regardless of the physical location in which that gathering occurred; the sin was in their abuse of this sacred event. Paul urged its continuance, but with a renewed appreciation for its original spiritual purpose. If one was unwilling to do this, however, then the assembled saints would be better served if that person stayed away from the group and stuffed his own face in his own home!
"The Christian common meal or Agape feast apparently followed the pattern of public sacred feasting among the Jews and Greeks. Following Greek custom, the food was brought together for all to share (cf. the modern church's 'potluck' or 'bring-and-share' supper), with the rich bringing more and the poor less. As Paul described it, however, cliques were established, and the food was divided inequitably. The rich took their 'lion's share' and became gluttons and the poor remained empty. So, they were despising or bringing contempt on the church of God and humiliating the poor" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 259]. "Our holy duties, through our own abuse, may prove to be a matter of condemnation. Christians may keep Sabbaths, hear sermons, attend at sacraments, and only aggravate guilt and bring on a heavier doom. A sad but serous truth! ... Holy things are to be used in a holy manner, or else they are profaned" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. The "Agape" was a special spiritual event during which the brethren fellowshipped with one another "at table" and remembered the One (Jesus) who had shed His blood to make such a joyous occasion a blessed reality. How sad that such a special time should be shattered by selfishness! "Paul's message is both strong and plain: If you want to eat or drink selfishly, do it at home!" [David Guzik, The Enduring Word Commentary, e-Sword]. To put it in today's language: "If you are coming to the church potluck to pig out, we'd prefer that you do it at your own trough in your own pen."
"Paul says, 'If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home - staying his appetite before he comes to the meeting. The Church Supper is for good-fellowship, not for bodily need; to eat there like a famished man, absorbed in one's food, is to exclude Christian and religious thoughts" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 884]. In 1 Corinthians 11:33-34, the apostle Paul "deals positively with the 'Agape' meal. In eating it, the Corinthians should show respect for their brothers' physical as well as spiritual needs by waiting for each other and eating together. If they come only to satisfy their physical craving and not for communion with the Lord and His people, then they should eat their meal at home" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 260]. Properly understood, this passage has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with forbidding Christians from "eating in a church building," or having a kitchen in the building, or having a fellowship hall, or any other such thing. Indeed, Paul urges the practice of eating together when they assemble to continue. It was not this event itself that was wrong, it was the manner in which these disciples in Corinth were observing it. They had lost sight of its holy purpose, and as a result they were abusing it and one another; they were making a mockery of something that should have been spiritually meaningful.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Thank you, Brother Al, for your study titled "'Thank You, Lord, for the Harp': Response to a Misguided Minister's Chart" (Reflections #822). You are indeed a spiritual leader for so many of us. Please keep up the good fight against legalism and pride-based religion. You are making a difference! That chart by Garland M. Robinson, the minister for the Leoni Church of Christ in Woodbury, Tennessee, which you mentioned in your article, has so many disturbing aspects to it, including the very spirit in which it was written by this man. What made me cringe the most, however, was the caption at the top of that chart: "Why Churches of Christ Do Not Use Mechanical Instruments of Music - #14." Number fourteen. Really? FOURTEEN?! Dear Lord above us, you mean there are thirteen more of these??!! I can't decide if I never want to see the others, or if, out of morbid curiosity, I want to see them all.
From a Minister in California:
Al, worship isn't something we are in, but rather something we do. And instruments don't and can't worship!
One may be "in" a worshipful frame of mind/heart, which may at times even be an inner feeling or emotion that never displays itself visibly or audibly. Yes, those who have such a worshipful frame of mind or heart will more often than not express it in some way (which is the "doing"), but worship is no less "worship" just because it may not on occasion be expressed outwardly for others to see and/or hear. True worship, that which is "seen/heard" by God, is what happens within. Thus, one may genuinely and acceptably worship the Lord with no outward manifestation at all. Our various expressions of the devotion of our hearts most certainly have their place, but the worship God seeks transcends any and all such visible and audible manifestations. I agree with this preacher that mechanical instruments of music "don't and can't worship," but those believers who may choose to use such instruments "can and do." To my knowledge, neither my guitar nor my piano has ever spontaneously burst into audible praise of deity. If they have, I haven't been around to see/hear it (LOL). Yet, there are times when you and I may be "in" a worshipful state of mind, and if we employ any such mechanical instrument as an aid or accompaniment to our own outward expression of our inner devotion, or to help facilitate that worshipful frame of mind/heart in some way, then I find absolutely nothing within the pages of the inspired writings that even hints that such usage in any way voids, negates, or hinders my own heartfelt worship of my God. If such a passage exists anywhere in the Scriptures, please provide it. I've been pleading for decades for this passage in which God's disfavor is clearly stated, yet thus far not a single person has provided it. Perhaps this preacher in California will be the first. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Al Maxey, you are a false teacher, and you have been for years. You need to repent before it is too late. Your problem is that you love to be the one that says, "Look! I have discovered something new that none of you idiots have discovered. I am smart and you are dumb!"
From a Reader in California:
I recall a few years back that I wanted to do a "deep dive" into why the CENI crowd was so against instrumental music in worship (and some would even say outside of worship). My first area of inquiry was how they got around the use of the word "psalms," which are by definition songs sung with a plucked instrument. The English word "psalm" was based on the word "psallo," which is, once again, singing with a plucked instrument. If I recall correctly, a psalm could be any song sung with a plucked instrument, religious or not. If they were truly concerned about following the Scriptures to the letter, then they needed to "get plucking." What I found was that their position is: by the time of the writing of Ephesians, the word "psallo" no longer meant to sing with a plucked instrument, but now meant "to sing." Of course, I then had to figure out how they came to that conclusion. Apparently, some brother who was a professor at Florida College (a college run by the Non-Institutional Church of Christ) posited this position. This is where it totally goes off the rails. Bottom line: their position is based on - drum roll, please - man's teaching! Our dear brother Paul, who wrote Ephesians, was by anyone's account a scholar of the first order. He would no doubt have been familiar with word origins and usage. He would never have used a word that, if misunderstood, would throw someone into hell. Abraham Lincoln once described Stephen Douglas's arguments as being about "as rich as a broth made from the shadow of a quail that had starved to death." That's pretty much the substance of the arguments of the non-instrument crowd.
From an Elder in New Mexico:
When we were first converted, the missionary couple who worked with us in Berlin, Germany said nothing about "five acts of worship," or the right day of the week to assemble for worship, or when to take the Communion, or whether one should use one cup or many cups; nor did they caution us against the use of mechanical instruments in worship. Their focus was on Christ and Him crucified, the remission of sin, and the grace of God who calls us home to the Father's house to the wedding feast. When we got back to the states and went to our first worship assembly, we were "soundly" instructed on the SIN of using musical instruments. Wow, what a let down! The missionaries in Berlin were from the Christian Church, and the question of music never came up. We were devastated for a while. So, if you'll permit a bit of sarcasm here: when we are urged to sing and make melody in our hearts, are we no longer singing if someone plays a guitar or harp while we sing? What about singing in four-part harmony? Nothing is said (silence) about four-part harmony, so is this wrong also? Thanks for listening, Al, and thanks for your excellent scholarship with God's Word.
These legalistic patternists at a point become the victims of their own absurdities. Their CENI hermeneutic fails them time and again, which is precisely why they had to add the "laws" of silence and expediency. When one has to make laws to get around laws, you know that something is amiss with their interpretive approach to the Scriptures. Silence and expediency thus become tools for allowing the practice of what they like, while allowing them to condemn others for doing what they themselves don't like. God said nothing about accompanied singing (so they contend), so it is a sin. God said nothing about four-part harmony, but it is not a sin, because it is "expedient." And just who gets to decide what is or isn't a sin, or what is or isn't expedient? You guessed it - they do! Take a look at my study titled "The Law of Expediency: A Reflective Examination of Legalistic Patternism's Loophole" (Reflections #261). Also, go to my Topical Index for my Reflections and take a look at the 31 articles I have done on the so-called "Law of Silence." It will be quite enlightening for those who have fallen for the highly subjective and deceptive CENI method of biblical interpretation. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Kansas:
Thanks, Al, for your article "'Thank You, Lord, for the Harp': Response to a Misguided Minister's Chart." I always appreciate your thoroughness, and your critical eye, even on those occasions when we aren't in full agreement.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, I don't always agree with you, but I do agree with you on this topic of instrumental music in worship. Stay the course!
From a Reader in South Carolina:
Thank you, Al, for this message. I have been with the Church of Christ for over 70 years, and I have never found in the Bible where it is sinful to have instrumental music in worship. I have heard all the arguments against their use, but those arguments don't stand up under careful scrutiny of the Scriptures. Thanks for all you do!
From a Reader in Texas:
Considering that the phrase "in worship" (or "worship service") is not found in either the Ephesians 5 or Colossians 3 texts, these passages are therefore more general in their intent and application. Thus, would those who use these passages to infer that IM is sinful, also consider their use to be sinful outside of a "church assembly"? Then ask them: "Did God do away with ceremonial sin?" And then follow that up with: "Where does singing fall as a type: moral, judicial, or ceremonial?" The fact is: worship is never included in any list of sinful acts in the NT writings. Our sin falls within moral issues, and usually with regard to how we treat others. It is ironic that one must go back to the OT to get any example of a sin done in a worship setting. Ceremonial sins have been done away with, for ceremonial laws no longer apply.
This is the very point I sought to make in my adult class a few years back. Most of what we tend to fuss, fight, and fragment over these days are the various aspects of religious ceremony within the context of a "worship service" (a phrase never found in the Bible, by the way), whereas the sins our Lord indicates will be focused on in judgment (both now and at His coming) are those in the "moral" category (i.e., how we behave and how we treat one another). That class, which I believe is one of the most important I have ever taught in all my decades of ministry, is contained on a CD (MP-3 audio files), and is available for anyone who might like to purchase a copy: "Law to Liberty: Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in West Virginia:
Al, I would like to order "Four Books by Al Maxey." I know they come on a CD, but I would like to have them emailed to me. Payment has been sent to your PayPal account. I have been receiving your Reflections for some time now without fully realizing just how much you have shrugged off all the traditionalism of the Church of Christ church. I had previously been just skimming your articles, rather than delving into them. We appear to be of kindred spirit. I have been with this denomination for nearly 50 years. I would say, in the words of Dr. Leroy Garrett, it has been a love/hate relationship! It gets lonely out in the cold, and so it is good to receive comfort in the writings of brothers and sisters that know where I have been and am still trying to be. What can I say? I still love God's people no matter where they are found. No matter which denomination I would attach myself to, I would have differences of interpretation, so I just stay here and try to effect change. As Carl Ketcherside said, the only unity is unity in diversity. I seek to unite people in Jesus, not in some particular understanding inferred from His Word. Let me end by saying: if you will keep sharing your writings and encouraging us through them, I will keep passing them on to others! Take care, my friend. I appreciate all that you are doing in the name of our blessed Savior Jesus.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, I am glad to see you back at the keyboard fighting the good fight for Truth. I hope your wife continues to heal following her surgery, and that she will soon be back to her normal activities. I just want you to know that I appreciate your work, and especially your response to the misguided person whose chart against mechanical instruments in worship you reviewed in your article. In my view, the reader from Pennsylvania (the last email in your Readers' Response section) sums up the heart of the problem. Horrible teaching over many years, void of grace and love, has produced a people of FEAR -- that is: rather than revere God, they are instead afraid of Him, for they assume that their very salvation does not depend on Him, but on their own personal performance. It is my conviction that almost all problems with false teaching, and fearful students, are "gospel" problems. A right understanding of the Good News about the worth and work of Jesus for sinners frees the sinner and the saint from being afraid of God to a loving trust of God, and to a humble obedience to His command for us to love Him and to love others. My observations over the last 20 plus years have led me to conclude that all of the fuss about what happens on Sunday morning is offensive and an affront to the God who loves sinners and decided to call the ungodly to Himself. Much love and respect to you, brother!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Thanks for this article on instruments, Al. I love acapella music, but we inherited it from the Jewish synagogue system. They hung up their harps in Babylon because they were away from Jerusalem.
From Dr. Dallas Burdette:
Al, I thank you for your essay titled "'Thank You, Lord, for the Harp'." My own essay on this topic, which is titled "God is a Lover of Music," has changed several preachers within the Churches of Christ. If you think this essay will help others, please alert your readers to this essay of mine. Thanks. Al, I consider you one of God's great ambassadors. God is still using you in a mighty way to proclaim the very heart of His Gospel. Love you, brother!
Dallas is a very dear friend, and also an excellent biblical scholar. I highly respect him and greatly value his insights into God's Word. I was honored to have him write the Foreword for my book "One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism." I highly recommend his work to anyone who takes seriously the study of God's Word. His work is very scholarly and well documented. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
It's difficult to believe, especially after all this time, that this topic (instrumental music in the worship of the church) is still being seriously debated. Al, you did a good job of pointing out the glaring inconsistencies in the arguments of those who are against the use of instruments, as well as pointing out the lack of understanding they have of what is actually being taught in God's Word. I read a quote the other day that reminded me of some of these people and their debates: "Tradition is peer-pressure from the dead." I can see how that pressure was developed and maintained prior to the Internet, but these days with easy access to information there's really no excuse for a person not to educate themselves better on what the Bible actually says. Love ya, brother, and we're so glad the Mrs. is healing!!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
In scanning over your recent Reflections article concerning instrumental music in worship, here are some of my thoughts. We know that instruments of music in the OT were commanded by God (2 Chronicles 29:25), so we know God approved of their use. Do you have any thoughts as to why there seems to be universal agreement that the early Christians, who were Jews, did not use instruments of music in their worship? Instruments were mentioned at various times in the OT (as per God's command), and it would seem likely that if they were authorized to be used in the new era, they would naturally accompany their singing. But silence. If we are to do all "in the name of the Lord" (Colossians 3:17), can you point me to the Scripture that authorizes musical instruments in worship in the NT?
One of the great fallacies that has plagued Christendom for centuries (especially in those sects that have
sought to perpetuate the view that the NT writings constitute some kind of law book), is that our salvation is tied to successfully composing and
fully complying with a list of
rules and regulations governing our worship assemblies and the various public expressions of our corporate worship. Jesus did not come to form
a rigid religious system; He came and lived and died to reestablish a relationship between fallen men and their God. The ceremonial law served a
purpose, but those rules and regulations were never intended to be permanent. We today, as the people of a new covenant, are no longer under
ceremonial law. We are under moral law, to be sure, but in Christ Jesus the regulatory aspects of worship are removed. We are now governed by
love, not by law. We are free to express that love in any manner that glorifies God and uplifts those around us. This leaves ample room
for us to be creative, and yet, as a people governed by love, we are also sensitive to what brings the greatest good to others and the greatest glory
to God. Hebrews 9:1-10 points this change out beautifully. In this new era, God no longer dictates precise parameters governing every aspect of our
worshipful expression. We are free, and with that freedom comes the obligation to interact responsibly with those around us. We are to be loving,
gracious, kind, compassionate, merciful, benevolent, etc. When we are joyful, we laugh and sing and dance; when we are sorrowful, we grieve and
seek the comfort of our loved ones. There is no long list of rules and regulations telling us precisely HOW we will sing. Can we use song books?
Can we use four-part harmony when singing with others? Can we accompany our singing with mechanical instruments? May I sing a solo? God is
silent about them all. Why? Because these various ways of expressing the devotion of our hearts, and hundreds more like them, are left to the
discretion and sound judgment of a people who are now FREE IN CHRIST from ceremonial law and religious regulation. The very question that this
brother asks in his final sentence betrays his lack of understanding of what God has accomplished for us in Christ - "Can you point me to the Scripture
that authorizes musical instruments in worship in the NT?" No, I can't. Just as you can't point me to the Scripture in the NT that FORBIDS musical
instruments in worship. Neither exists because neither is relevant to the reality that in Jesus we have been set free from ceremonial law and a regulatory
system. Why ask for the particulars of a system that is no longer there?!!
Did many of the early disciples sing without instrumental accompaniment? Yes, many did. The practice was not universal; some
did, some didn't. Those who worshipped in the temple precincts certainly had music playing in the background at times. Jesus spoke, in one of His
parables, of music and dancing in the father's house when the prodigal came home (and the elder brother refused to enter the father's house). John,
in the book of Revelation, even speaks of "harps of God" that the redeemed will be holding as they sing redemption's sweet song in the presence of
the Father. Yes, God approved of their use in the OT, and there is ample evidence He hasn't changed His mind. If He has, and if His abhorrence of
their use in the present era is sufficient to send one to hell, then where in all the NT writings is there even a HINT of this drastic change in His
expectation? Some point to Colossians 3:17, as the above writer did, to try and steer us to that mindset. That is NOT what that passage is teaching,
however, as I have sought to show in Reflections #325 ("An Attitude of
Gratitude: A Reflective Study of Colossians 3:17"), which I would urge the reader to examine carefully.
It is true that we find many early disciples did not use instruments. My response is two-fold: Why didn't they? and
What difference does it make if they did or didn't? The behavior or understanding or practice of early disciples is not THE STANDARD
for all Christians for all time in all places until the second coming of Jesus!! To suggest that you and I MUST follow precisely the same methodologies
of worshipful expression as those men and women in the first century church is not only an absurdity, but also an impossibility. We don't have that
much detail, for one thing. For another, to even suggest such rigid regulation, much less impose it, runs counter to the fact of our freedom
in Christ and the very nature of our
new covenant with the Father. Worshipful regulation is gone; we are under grace, not law; we are bound by a moral code, not a ceremonial one. It's
all about love, not law. Jesus came to reestablish faith, not form. Love, mercy, kindness, compassion, grace, etc. can be practiced by any group of
people anywhere at any time, for each and all of these can be expressed in various cultures, primitive or modern, in a culturally relevant way that
glorifies God and provides a source of encouragement and enlightenment to our fellow man. To regulate such expression is to limit it. Thus, it is
only regulated by LOVE. I have no problem with some early disciples NOT using instruments (nor does it bother me to learn that some DID).
There could be, and indeed were (as some scholars have shown), a variety of rational reasons to explain why some didn't (and why some
did), none of which really has anything to do with an eternal standard from which there was to be NO deviation upon penalty of a forever death in the
fires of hell. Their practice doesn't equate to divine precept, any more than our human traditions equate to eternal Truth.
Did many of the early disciples sing without instrumental accompaniment? Yes, many did. The practice was not universal; some did, some didn't. Those who worshipped in the temple precincts certainly had music playing in the background at times. Jesus spoke, in one of His parables, of music and dancing in the father's house when the prodigal came home (and the elder brother refused to enter the father's house). John, in the book of Revelation, even speaks of "harps of God" that the redeemed will be holding as they sing redemption's sweet song in the presence of the Father. Yes, God approved of their use in the OT, and there is ample evidence He hasn't changed His mind. If He has, and if His abhorrence of their use in the present era is sufficient to send one to hell, then where in all the NT writings is there even a HINT of this drastic change in His expectation? Some point to Colossians 3:17, as the above writer did, to try and steer us to that mindset. That is NOT what that passage is teaching, however, as I have sought to show in Reflections #325 ("An Attitude of Gratitude: A Reflective Study of Colossians 3:17"), which I would urge the reader to examine carefully.
It is true that we find many early disciples did not use instruments. My response is two-fold: Why didn't they? and What difference does it make if they did or didn't? The behavior or understanding or practice of early disciples is not THE STANDARD for all Christians for all time in all places until the second coming of Jesus!! To suggest that you and I MUST follow precisely the same methodologies of worshipful expression as those men and women in the first century church is not only an absurdity, but also an impossibility. We don't have that much detail, for one thing. For another, to even suggest such rigid regulation, much less impose it, runs counter to the fact of our freedom in Christ and the very nature of our new covenant with the Father. Worshipful regulation is gone; we are under grace, not law; we are bound by a moral code, not a ceremonial one. It's all about love, not law. Jesus came to reestablish faith, not form. Love, mercy, kindness, compassion, grace, etc. can be practiced by any group of people anywhere at any time, for each and all of these can be expressed in various cultures, primitive or modern, in a culturally relevant way that glorifies God and provides a source of encouragement and enlightenment to our fellow man. To regulate such expression is to limit it. Thus, it is only regulated by LOVE. I have no problem with some early disciples NOT using instruments (nor does it bother me to learn that some DID). There could be, and indeed were (as some scholars have shown), a variety of rational reasons to explain why some didn't (and why some did), none of which really has anything to do with an eternal standard from which there was to be NO deviation upon penalty of a forever death in the fires of hell. Their practice doesn't equate to divine precept, any more than our human traditions equate to eternal Truth.
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, I just finished your latest article, and I certainly appreciate your perspective. My wife and I have just moved into the First Christian Church tradition, and we love the music and singing associated with it. I especially like the music played during otherwise quiet times in the service. I pray for those who refuse the gift of music, and I wonder, just as you do, how they will feel in God's presence one day with heavenly music surrounding them! Thanks again for your study and willingness to share. Blessings!
From a Reader in Florida:
First, let me say that I enjoy reading your articles. I learn things! Thank you. Here is my thought: If people are attending a non-instrument Church of Christ, and they want instrumental music in the worship, then they should find them a church that uses them. I see no point in trying to get non-IM churches to change to IM. The end game of this is a church split.
I would tend to agree. Dividing a congregation over some personal or party preference, perception, or practice is wrong. Nobody wins when this happens. Romans 14 speaks to this, even noting certain "issues" that some were holding as matters of faith and strong conviction. The truth they were missing in their factional feuding is that God was okay with both persons, even though they had opposing convictions. The challenge for disciples of Christ has always been accepting one another, even when we differ. This brother wrote, "I see no point in trying to get non-IM churches to change to IM." I agree, and I would again point to Paul's advice in Romans 14. I would expand this brother's statement, however: I also see no benefit to non-IM congregations condemning and refusing fellowship to those disciples of Christ who prefer IM. There is room for growth in love, grace, and acceptance on both sides! One of my favorite expressions is: You don't have to be my twin in order to be my brother. There is ample room in our Father's house for wide diversity of worshipful expression. It is when a person or group feels that they, and they alone, are the "favored child" that conflict and division are never far behind. My goal in my ministry has never been to force my own convictions upon others, and to condemn them to hell if they refuse to submit. I simply want people to see that God's Family is about spiritual unity, not sectarian uniformity. When our focus is LOVE, rather than LAW, we can embrace those who differ with us. It is when we elevate law over love, legislation over liberty, faction over Family, that we open our gates to Satan, and he never misses a chance to enter and destroy! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Hello Al, I really enjoyed reading your "'Thank You, Lord, for the Harp'" article. I have many family members and spiritual brothers and sisters who are still caught up in this "tradition." While some have expressed their doubts to me about musical instruments in the "corporate worship service" being sinful, they are nevertheless not yet in a place of faith and conviction where they could joyfully/faithfully take part in a "corporate worship service" with musical instruments. So, when they visit me here in NC, I take them to a local Church of Christ for Sunday morning worship. That way we can all joyfully and faithfully worship together without anyone's conscience being hurt. I am simply not willing to make it a fellowship issue. However, when they are gone, I go back to attending my home church family, a community church, which uses a full band during our singing. I can faithfully and joyfully worship with those brethren too, for the instrument is not, in God's eyes, a fellowship or salvation issue (only men have made it such). May God continue to bless you and your ministry of sharing the freedom we have in Christ.
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: