A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Musical Worship, "Church Style"


Before I write anything else here, I want to familiarize (or re-familiarize) you with the term, a cappella. Just check out Webster's at m-w.com for the definition. We know in secular use it means vocal music without instrumental accompaniment, but it's originally a Latin term meaning, "in chapel style," or as the title of this post suggests, "church style." Now why would vocal only music be called church style?

Well, looking around at common practice in churches of today, it doesn't make any sense, but if you dip into church history you'll find out that church music was strictly vocal-only until well into the Middle Ages. Even then its introduction into Catholic Churches was a matter of great contention. When the Protestant Reformation began, the leaders quickly repudiated any kind of music other than the human voice in church, and this stance persisted throughout protestant denominations until the 19th Century. Again, it found its way into Protestantism with a great deal of controversy and division.

The vast majority of Churches of Christ do not allow any kind of music in worship other than the human voice. Why? I'll give you three reasons, and let you decide where you stand.

First, I see nothing in the Scriptures to lead me to believe God (now) wants instrumental music in worship. In key passages like Ephesians 5, and Colossians 3, there is only mention of singing. In disagreement, some immediately point to Psalm 150, and other passages relating to the animal-sacrificial worship system of pre-Christian Israel. I believe in the authority of the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures, but only as fulfilled and properly interpreted through Christ (Colossians 2:17). While its principles about worship are eternal and fully applicable to Christian life, its precepts, especially regarding Tabernacle and Temple worship are not (Ephesians 2:14-15; Hebrews 10:1-10). Without going into sermon-like or scholarly detail, the instrumental music in worship passages in the OT fall under this category, and do not authorize the use of instruments in Christian churches. Folks make several other arguments related to Ephesians 5 and Revelation, but it's not my purpose to delve into these in detail in this "short" post.

Second, instrumental music (IM) in worship is less purely spiritual that a cappella, and is less inclusive, or unified as far as joint-participation in worship is concerned. I say it's less purely spiritual, because it employs sounds that don't edify the hearers, but rather serve to stir them up emotionally, or entertain them. As such it borders on self-worship in that it makes the worship experience more about what suits my senses than about what pleases God and teaches my fellow man (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; consider also portions of 1Corinthains 14). I say it is less inclusive in that it unnecessarily singles out those with "special" talents and exalts them in the worship. There are even those in Protestant churches long known to use IM who have recently been shifting away from it for these, and other, more significant reasons, and several groups, other than churches of Christ have never used them (see this article).

Finally, the term a cappella means "church style" for a reason. It was so well known and accepted that Christian worship in song was vocal-only that the ancients named the style of music after it. The early church under apostolic guidance, and during the centuries closest to the lifetimes of the apostles rejected instrumental music in worship. It wasn't that they just happened not to use instruments, or that they couldn't afford to. Do some homework in the writings of the Early Church Fathers before Nicaea and you'll see they actually opposed the use of them. For whatever the reason, if the apostles and those personally taught by them saw no need for instrumental music in worship, I see no need for it either.

God will judge those who worship with instruments, not me. As for me and my house, we'll worship without them, and I would urge every disciple of Jesus to make the same choice. I'm convinced it's the best and right choice!

Grace and peace,
---JLP

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Plan of Salvation


It's been a while coming now, but I'm finally getting to address this important subject. The term, Plan of Salvation is not new, and is used by many as an easy way to describe to someone how to be saved. It isn't just a term we use in churches of Christ. After preaching my first funeral, years ago, in which I'd done a pretty poor job, an old Baptist preacher kindly pulled me aside and told me to always remember to give the simple, gospel plan of salvation in a funeral. It was good advice.

However, some reject the term as legalistic at best, at worst as missing the main point that the plan is actually the man, Jesus Christ. Well, I don't think I'm missing the point (so help me God). Jesus is the plan of salvation, but that deserves an explanation (more, really, than I'm going to offer here). Jesus being the "man" of salvation, doesn't mean everyone in the world is saved. That's where the "plan" of salvation comes in. To say it simply, so people can get salvation in Jesus, God offers us the good news (gospel) in which we can put our faith. Saving faith lives through acts of faith. You don't have saving faith unless it is a working faith, and there are some acts of obedience that a genuine believer will simply do as he comes to faith. These together I call the faith response to God's extended hand of grace. This faith response is what I mean when I say the plan of salvation.

The plan is basically stated in Ephesians 2:8-10, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV). The means of salvation from sin and all its consequences is the grace of God made possible by the blood of the cross. There can be no salvation apart from the grace of the One God through faith in his Son, Jesus the Christ! So, the means of salvation is God's grace. The vehicle of grace is faith. God graciously saves those who put their faith in Jesus. One with genuine faith will take the steps of faith God commands as recorded in the Scriptures (see below). I include verse 10 in the above quote, because it explains that salvation thrusts us into a certain kind of life. It's not my purpose to comment any further on that at present.

Faith begins at hearing the good news of Jesus and deciding to believe it (Romans 10:17). However, mere belief in the sense of accepting the testimony about Jesus as true does not qualify as saving faith (James 2:17-24).There are several acts of faith God commands, and which the Scriptures present as essential to salvation. First is faith itself (John 3:16, et al.). We also read of the need to make public confession of faith (Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:10; 1Timothy 6:12). We're commanded to repent (which means to turn away) of sins, and both Jesus and Paul made it abundantly clear that it isn't optional (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30-31).

Next comes baptism. Baptism is something believers are commanded to do. It's an act that symbolizes death to sinful worldly living and resurrection into holy new creation with the resurrected Lord. It is the point God washes the faithful one's sins away, and gives the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Peter says it saves us. Pronouncing seekers saved upon uttering a "sinner's prayer," or in some other way "asking the Lord into their hearts," is unbiblical. In every Biblical example, believer's baptism (i.e. only those who personally believe are proper subjects of baptism) by immersion was done immediately upon one's coming to faith. Putting off one's baptism until a collective baptismal service is also unbiblical, and betrays some churches' unscriptural views. Make up your own mind about this; read from the following passages: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; John 3:5-8; Acts 2:37-39, 8:38, 16:33; 22:16; Romans 6:1-4; 1Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27; 1Peter 3:20-21.

Baptism isn't any more important than another part of the faith response to God's offer of grace. I stress it here merely due to the fact that its essentiality is contradicted by many who mistakenly see it as a work in the sense Ephesians 2:8 rules out. Read the verses and decide for yourself. You can copy and paste each one in the search box here if you like.

Since we're talking about salvation, I might add that all God requires of the penitent, confessing, baptized believer is committed faithfulness until death, or the Lord's return. Some include this as a last step in the plan of salvation, which is fine. That's all for now. May God bless you in your search and/or service to him!
---JLP