Instrumental Worship, the Churches of Christ, and Reason

With the last e-magazine issue of New Wineskins basically advocating and encouraging the use of instruments in Christian worship, it is natural to expect those who disagree to speak out.  I am not one of those.

The Gospel Advocate is one of those magazines whose writer’s are opposed to instrumental music in Christian worship and have devoted certain articles in two recent issues to their cause (no surprise).  Admittedly, I rarely read the GA anymore unless I see an article from someone I know.  And so that happened with the Novemenber 2010 issue.

I am writing this blog post because of the article titled “Expectations of Those Assembled” (p. 13-14) by Dr. Duane Warden.  The thrust of his article is to make an appeal for reason alongside of emotion in the practice of the assembled church.  I have no argument against that.  Finding the correct mix between heart and mind may be difficult, but both are necessary for loving God.

What I disagree with is the subtle, perhaps unintended, hint that those who are not opposed to instrumental worship in the Christian assembly have abandoned reason.  Dr. Warden writes, “Reason is a necessary component of faith.  It is faith’s fuel box.  That baptism is for the remission of sins is not less spiritually significant because it evokes controversy.  It matters whether or not the church sings to the accompaniment of instruments of music” (p. 14).

I have no doubt that there are some in the Churches of Christ and the larger Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement who have made their mind up in favor of instrumental worship without ever considering the reasons for the case of a capella worship.  I am not one of them.  I was raised in an a capella congregation and received most of my college education from a university that taught a capella worship.

The point of this post is not to make a case for instrumental worship nor deconstruct the case for a capella worship.  But I do want to briefly say that I have heard all of the arguments for a capella worship, I’ve learned a few things about the hermeneutics which the arguments rest upon, I’ve learned a few things about the way the arguments have developed within the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, and I’ve even learned a few things about the specific passages traditionally used to build the case for a capella worship… but as I have thought (reason) through everything, I have come to disagree with the conclusion that instrumental music in Christian worship is wrong.  And I know other preachers, teachers, and leaders in the Churches of Christ who have reached the same or similar conclusion by way of reason too.

The fact is that when I began to answer God’s call for ministry, I believed that instrumental music in Christian worship was absolutely wrong and I would have defended that belief as vigorous as my capabilities would allow.  Then I started thinking for myself and reading scripture for myself, rather than just assuming what I had always been taught.  I started giving consideration to viewpoints from others that were different from my own at the time.  And that is what has led me to change my mind on this issue…and I know I am not alone either.

My point is not to encourage or discourage the instrumentalist and a capella practitioners from their practice of worship.  My point is simple:  As the question of instrumental vs. a capella worship seems to have a rekindled fire in Churches of Christ, I want to point out that believing the use of instrumental music in Christian worship is not an unbiblical practice is a conclusion reached by reasoning in the scriptures, with theology, and so forth.

Feel free to leave any comments or questions.  But please remember, I am not arguing for or against instrumental worship here.  I am simply pointing out that acceptance of instrumental worship is not without reason.


I want to state that my disagreement with Dr. Duane Warden is in no way a judgment on Dr. Warden’s faith.  I am actually a former student of Dr. Warden’s, having had him for a undergraduate class in the General Epistles (James,;1 & 2 Peter; 1, 2, & 3 John; and Jude) at Harding University.  He always struck me as an open-minded professor who is both a New Testament Scholar and a lover of God and his scripture.

16 responses to “Instrumental Worship, the Churches of Christ, and Reason

  1. I’ll just keep saying it: I’m glad to be away from that entire conversation. I was baptized into Christ through the ministry of independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (instrumental) and am now part of a congregation with ICOC connections. I love my sisters and brothers in the a cappella churches, but if any position was ever futile and derived from poor hermeneutics, this is it.

  2. I can make a good argument for a cappella worship from history (it was the practice of the church for at least 1500 years, and continues to be the practice in the Orthodox tradition), from tradition, and from community (a cappella worship invites everyone to participate and so pictures the community of God through the unity of the music). But I can’t make a reasoned argument for or against a cappella worship from Scripture. It’s just not there.

    I would much rather have the conversation based on history, tradition, and community. There’s a wealth of reasons for us to worship in a particular way, but there aren’t very many requirements in Scripture put on the manner in which we worship.

    • Of the various arguments in favor of a capella worship, the historical argument is the one I believe has the greatest credibility. However, for a fellowship that demands biblical authority for everything is does and does not do, the historical argument will not stand on it’s own and I simply do not think the argument can be theologically sustained from scripture (at least not without incorporating what I believe to be a very erroneous hermeneutic).

      Also, while I believe the historical argument against instrumental music has some credibility. I also believe there are credible missiological arguments for using instruments in worship but that discussion is for another time.

      Grace and Peace,


  3. I hope you’ll reconsider, and use reason for both sides rather than reason for one and tradition for the other.

    I find singing and words essential to the heart of meaningful worship and additions to be a great disregard for the complete perfection of worship established by Christ’s Spirit. An alteration to God’s Truth deprives all missional efforts of some of Christ’s words and leaves us short of what Jesus instructed, which is that we can and must observe all that He has commanded. Yet, I do not doubt that our foundations of faith are essentially different and this is what concerns me the most. If we cannot unite in Jesus’ words given to us through His apostles and prophets, then further discussion is fruitless. Take care.

    • Scott,

      Thank you for leaving your comment and doing so in a gentle manner, even while disagreeing.

      Any ways, without laying out exactly why I do not believe instrumental music to be wrong, I tried to be clear that I came to my conclusions in spite of reason but with reason. Your comment reveals some hermeneutical assumptions that I just don’t believe can be biblically sustained but that is another discussion for some other time. Regardless, of whether we agree on this issue or not, it has nothing to do with our regard for scripture…we just disagree on what scripture teaches. The problem is more hermeneutical…how scripture should be read and understood. And I suspect that there will be little agreement on this issue as long as there are different understandings of how scripture should be interpreted.

      Nevertheless, the foundation of my faith is still Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and resurrected.

      Grace and Peace,


  4. So encouraged (and surprised) that a CoC minister is saying this. When i was a member of the CoC, I always disagreed with this futile and unbiblical tradition. Even more so with the arguments and division it causes. PS id pay to hear you preach on this on Sunday morning just to see the faces 😉

    God bless Rex,


    • Jen,

      Thanks for your comment. You might be surprised, there are actually many other CoC ministers who have the same or similar view as me (some of them are still in hiding).

      I have no plans on preaching this where I serve because it really isn’t the issue we are dealing with (or need to deal with at this moment). I suspect however that there would be a variety of reactions. Some might be upset and some would be elated. As for others, some might feel some chains of legalism be unbound while others wouldn’t understand because they’ve never really been taught that instrumental worship is inherently wrong for Christians.

      Grace and Peace,


  5. Well, speaking of the historical argument. I grew up in a non-instrumental church of Christ, graduated from Abilene Christian, and thirty years later found myself Eastern Orthodox.
    We worship a capella. There is no debate. We worship a capella. However, we have Western Rite congregations, that have usually come to us through the conversions of Anglicans and they have in their tradition the use of organs. And that is fine with us. An aspect of the Orthodox argument is that we preserve the Tradition without adding or subtracting, and we do not have the temptation to attempt to exegete Scipture ‘better’than those before us, or to use reason with more ‘skill’. The shape of the worship is the domain of the Bishop.

    One argument besides the historical is the mystical. In Eastern Orthodoxy the nous (Eph 1:18) , aka the ‘eye of the heart’, or the ‘mind’, is estranged from its proper focus, gazing upon the vision of God in the heart. It is ‘out there’ flitting towards various passions, or feelings, or thoughts, the ontological basis of idolatry. Part of the process of ‘sanctification’ is for the nous, in the process of the pursuit of a spirit of ‘unceasing prayer’ to descend into the heart and find again its ancient paradisical focus. This occurence is most often recorded in monastic literature but there is also a 19th Century Russian Classic, the Way of the Pilgrim that shares this pilgrimage, and the descent of the nous into the heart is a quite decisive event in the growth in the Divine Nature.

    Well, acapella music is the best medium to assist in the descent of the nous into the heart. Instrumental music enriches the sensual experience to such an extent that it is a great distraction for the descent of the nous. In earlier Christian experience, the energies of God may be felt powerfully in such settings, but it is a Divine condescension, and if growth is to take place, the believer must be weaned of the distractions of the senses and even good things, to move on and receive the best. There is a necessary outward weaning, an outer hesychasm, to use the Orthodox word for stillness, as the nous withdraws from its distractions; eventually the nous is led by the Spirit into the heart, into the Inner Stillness of the Father. Instrumental music in worship is hostile to such progress and so for the sake of sanctification, I must weigh in on the side of a capella, not only theoretically but also from my experience. (ssee my blog listed). My blog, The Stillness Must Win Out addresses with some specificity this issue.

    Another matter that has to do with the preference for a capella music has to do with the use of the Psalms in worship. You all know the Scripture “Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord”…. Psalms do not lend themselves to metered music very well which is somewhat required for instrumental accompaniment. Psalms must be chanted with melody. That is why all the ancient Churches chant the Psalms. Really the only way to be obedient. When you process through perhaps 25 Psalms in Matins before Divine Liturgy. and half a dozen in Divine Liturgy, you must have a way to do that that suits the Psalster, and that is a capella chanting. Conservative Reformed who originally chanted the Psalms, trace the demise of Christian music, back to the first step away from chanted, to metrical Psalms. The curious effect of failing to chant Psalms a capella is the unscriptural result that Psalms fall out of usage in worship in all churches. (How many Psalms did your congregation do last week?))

    When one reads the early church, one recognizes that they were both Scriptural and Traditional, and the two were not antipodes, but in symphony. For us, it is still that way; we are not having to re-invent or re-think the wheel because the one we received from the Apostles through the Fathers is up to the job. The Church , after all, is not something to be reconstituted from texts, but joined by baptism, under whose tutelage, via lex credendi lex orandi, we sit. Lord have mercy on me a sinner, and grant blessings to all who love His appearing. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

    • Ben,

      Thanks for sharing your view. Most people in Churches of Christ have never heard the Eastern Orthodox reasons for a capella worship. If the Churches of Christ reason for a capella can be categorized as an argument from scripture, then I think it would be fair to categorize the Eastern Orthodox reason as an argument from theology (perhaps historical theology).

      I do believe the mystical argument has much merit to it. However, per your explanation that “the ‘eye of the heart’, or the ‘mind’, is estranged from its proper focus, gazing upon the vision of God in the heart.” fails to show me how instrumental worship would inherently impede this goal. It never seemed to in the Old Testament. I’m not arguing for the necessity of instruments here. I simply believe that it is more of a matter with the worshipers…whether in a capella or instrumental worship, do the worshiper come to offer God worship or just be passive recipients.

      Also, while I think the church community ought to be cautious in how they deal with tradition, I don’t think the church community is restricted from saying yes or no to tradition.

      Any ways, I hope people will jump over to your blog and look around. Thanks for your thoughts.

      Grace and Peace,


  6. Interestingly, we had a brief discussion about this in our leaders meeting last night (elders and ministers). Young minister wants to take youth group to do VBS at an instrumental church and wanted to run it by the leadership to make sure it was cool. It was unanimous that instrumental worship is not a problem and that we prefer a capella by tradition. Surprisingly simple, but a real testament to the fact that organizations have to be intentional in their efforts to overcome groupthink and redefine theology/tradition as time goes on.

    • Brad,

      Thanks for your comment. It reflects exactly where I am at from a practically speaking. I am quite fine serving in my a capella congregation and see no reason at this point for why that should change. I do however want to help set people free from the legalistic chains that confine them to a capella only so that, as in your case, they have an opportunity for their faith to be encouraged and challenged by being a part of an event that includes instrumental worship, they will have the freedom that gives them the confidence to do so.

      Grace and Peace,


    • Wise of the minister to check with congregational leadership first, and very glad there was no objection. The real test would come if he asked and was given a divided response. “No” would be the way to go, but could it be accepted without resentment on any part? Not easy.

      Was the instrumental church in question a Christian Church/Church of Christ?

  7. Thanks for your kind mention of New Wineskins … I’m frequently intrigued by how a reasonable discussion of a cappella or accompanied worship can become very impassioned, sometimes leaving reason behind altogether! Sometimes the reasoning of one party has bases with which the other cannot agree, and the conversation becomes very frustrating. And sometimes the logic used can be torturous, even erroneous.

    All that to say that worship is not simply a matter of reason, but should involve large doses of passion fully infused with clear-minded research, reasoning – and love for all the participants involved.

    • Amen to your comment. I actually liked the issue of NW as I thought it was a welcomed need that few, if any, other publications affiliated with the CoC would be willing to take on. But the comments…they just began to turn my stomach some. I don’t understand why this issue brings out so much heated passion, but living the life of Jesus seems to cause barely a muscle twitch sometimes.

      Grace and Peace,


  8. I came to your website after reading your comments at another website discussing this matter! You made the following comment
    ” I think much of this discussion hinges on the hermeneutics with which every Christian reads scripture through. If one person sees the OT having no value beyond historical significance and the NT as a flat, constititional like law that lays out a firm and fixed pattern for church, then it is very possible to defend a capella worship and believe their use of the scriptures is done so in a correct manner. One the other hand, if someone believes that the OT and NT is one complete canon of scripture that lays out God plan of redemption fulfilled in Jesus and the NT are occasional writting containing no fixed pattern//law but localized expressions of how God’s people lived out the redemptive life in Jesus, then it is very doubtful that such an individual (like myself) will have any problem with instrumental worship.”

    I agree with the second view which is not an original but one that the Apostle Paul held. Very easily discernible by reading 2nd Timothy 3:14-17

    14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them,

    15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

    16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

    17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

    This is obviously referring back to the what man has called the OT since what we call the New Testament was not as of yet completed. From my statement there are those that are going to automatically think that this reasoning puts us under the Old Law again and of course there are several passages through out the NT that speak against this. Let me be clear, we are not under the old law and it is clear that we are not justified, made holy or forgiven by anything other than Jesus blood. We can’t do anything to merit our salvation.

    Your last sentence in your comment above “I don’t understand why this issue brings out so much heated passion, but living the life of Jesus seems to cause barely a muscle twitch sometimes.”
    speaks volumes about the error made by most calling that hour on Sunday between 11:00 and 12:00 the worship service. Living the life of Jesus is our worship service, nothing more and nothing less. God has always wanted man to worship him 24-7 be it in the OT or the NT (man’s division)! Christians are making the same mistake as the Jews did if we think otherwise.
    And calling something a worship service which the NT has never called or inferred has caused numerous divisions in the C of C over stupid petty things (instrument included). It is sad that Christians divide over one hour in the week where we are to gather and encourage one another in the LORD to continue to live our lives of worship!

    Grace and Peace to you thru Christ Jesus our LORD and Saviour!


    • Rich,

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I believe you are target with your view of scripture and how disciples are to live in response to scripture.

      Grace and Peace,


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