The Forum

The Forum

The following letter, dated October 18, 1929, was written by one of the ablest Bible teachers among the assemblies on this continent at that time. It was sent to a very capable evangelist. The gracious rebuke of the senior servant of Christ, and his weighty words of wisdom merit serious consideration. In them some may find help who have enquired as to the scriptural correctness or incorrectness of an instrument in the hall.

Musical Instruments

Dear Brother

Last night Mr. S — showed me your letter advising him of your desire to come amongst us for a few meetings. At the outset, let me say that I shall be glad to see you, and both my wife and myself join in the heartiest way in inviting you to the hospitality of our home while you are here.

But I am writing you now to let you know how disappointed I was to read the condition you proposed to the assembly as indispensable to your ministering among us. You put yourself in the position of demanding from them that they show you grace in setting aside their practice as to music, and I cannot but feel that it would be much more in keeping with your place as a servant of Christ, that you should offer to show grace to them and set aside your prejudice in the matter. It is not a vital matter or one that touches any foundation, and I am sure the Word is full of the demand on us for grace and forbearance in things of that kind The instrument is only used in the S. S. and Gospel meeting and hardly ever in any other meeting. No one here would complain of your not using the piano or organ in meetings you are in charge of, but here it is a matter of the assembly using it for which you are in no way responsible.

But I am going to say more to you about it. Let me ask you, on what passage of the Word do you base your opposition to the use of the musical instrument in our services? You say in your letter that you wish only congregational singing. May I ask you to tell me exactly where you find that in the Word of God? As a matter of fact, where is the Scripture for many things that are done in our meetings as to this? It has been always a trial to me to see what is done; namely, hymn books passed around to all and sundry and an invitation given to every one to join in singing, and then possibly a sermon delivered afterwards, part of which is directed at the practice of singing lies to God. It has become an established habit, but let me ask you, is it a Scriptural one? As a matter of fact, the Word is strangely silent as to those things, and we are remarkably inconsistent about them. We demand a “Thus saith the Lord” for all that we do, but again let me ask for ministry to saints. You pursue the conventional form, by beginning with a hymn or hymns and prayer, but let me ask you again, where is this form laid down in the Word either by precept or example? I take the Book of Acts, the history of the early days of Gospel preaching and the founding of the Church of God, and beginning with Pentecost, can you imagine hymn singing or prayer connected with that wonderful appeal made to Israel? The thought is grotesque, and, yet, if you follow the story right through, is there any suggestion of music, vocal or instrumental, solo or congregational, in connection with any of the ministry or of the Gospel? Did Peter, when he formally opened the door of the faith to the Gentiles in Acts 10, begin with a hymn or even a prayer on that memorable occasion? As a matter of fact, the only occasion we find in the Book of the Acts where there was singing was when the two men of God, Paul and Silas, were shut up in prison in the city of Phillipi.

When we turn to the epistles we find just as little evidence of instruction as to how to conduct Gospel meetings or meetings for believers as in the examples of Acts. Why then, should there be such a lack of forbearance with each other as to methods of preaching the Gospel or ministering to saints? What is your preference for congregational singing based on, when it is a question of scripture? I have known men who rang a bell up and down the streets of a town to gather in the people to hear the Gospel. Where is the Scripture for that? But who would take exception to it? The fact of the matter is, that while we have in a general way the command to preach the Gospel and to edify one another, the methods to be used in such meetings are not prescribed at all. In the Old Testament, where a nation was called out to be a testimony for God, every detail as to when and where and how was most carefully regulated when it came to the service of God. This dispensation is so wholly different in character that one can easily understand the lack of this exact rule or set of rules for service. As to the place of the Lord Himself, “Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” and as to the manner His words are, “In Spirit and in truth.”

There is more to be said on this question. It was right in Old Testament times to use all kinds of musical instruments. I suppose no one will contest that. Now the use of them in the service of God cannot be condemned as a wrong thing in itself because they were used by the authority of God in those past days. If there is any wrong in the use of them now, surely there would be some definite passage that would tell us it is. We find in Hebrews and other portions of the New Testament a distinct setting aside of many things belonging to the old economy, such as sacrifice and the priesthood, and ceremonies of various kinds, but no mention is made of the musical instruments. Surely this is significant. And what has always puzzled me in the case of those who opposed the use of an instrument to help us sing in the hall is the fact that they did not hesitate to use it in their homes in the praise of God. How can it be wrong in one place and right in another? I am quite fully aware of the sophistries used to make the distinction a justifiable one, I call them sophistries without compunction, for it is the praise of God in the one place and the praise of God in the other for which they are used as a help, and this dispensation refuses the thought of one place as more holy than another and I believe you do, too. I have sung with you in your own home while your wife played the piano to help us, and it was songs of praise to God we were singing. Why should this be right there and wrong in the hall is something beyond the power of my mind to fathom. I am sure that you do not pretend that when we are gathered for a Gospel meeting we are in the capacity of the Church of God, at least this has always been taught. We are simply met in a convenient place to preach the Gospel, that is all.

This letter is longer than I meant it should be when I started, but there is one point more I would call your attention to. We read in the Word of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. What is a psalm as distinguished from a hymn? Or from a spiritual song? Ask a Greek scholar and he will tell you that a psalm is a hymn or song sung with the accompaniment of an instrument. Or look up a Greek dictionary as to this or take any method you like to verify it. I have taken the utmost pains to inquire of those who are experts in the knowledge of the language, and without one dissenting voice, they all tell the same story. I do not press this except to point out that it is unseemly for any one to speak and write as if those using musical instruments are simply acting in defiance of the Word of God. I resent it myself as a very baseless accusation. I do not use this point much because it calls for more knowledge than many possess, that is, a little knowledge of Greek, but when men press their views as of authority I think they ought to be well enough taught to know that sometimes our translations can be amended to profit in the ways of clearness. As a general thing, I find it is enough to simply ask, was a Jew accustomed to the use of musical instruments in the service of God? The reply, of course, must be in the affirmative. Well, then, where are they forbidden to use them? The rites and ceremonies and sacrifices of Judaism are entirely ruled out in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and why no reference to this phase of their worship if it was to be abolished?

We read in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “How is it, brethren, when ye come together, every one of you bath a psalm.” What does this mean? Does it mean that a brother called on the assembly to turn to hymn 239 or 258 in the hymn book they all had? Of course not, for hymn books were utterly unknown in those days. It simply means that, in those primitive days, one of the saints composed a psalm and sang it on behalf of the whole church as his contribution to the worship of the saints. It was an individual matter just as the rest of the verse tells us that others had a doctrine, or a tongue, and so on. Many seem to think that the saints came to meetings in those days with their Bibles and hymn books under their arms. I am sure you know better.

The letter closes with personal salutations.