Ernie and I have had many discussions pertaining to Bible authority, expediency, and why the use of mechanical instruments in Christian worship is presumptuous and therefore dangerous. All of these areas of study are worthwhile, and we have addressed them before on AE. The interested reader is encouraged to consult the archived lessons for the following days for a host of foundational material on these important themes: 08/06/05, 08/13/05, 08/20/05, 11/26/05, 12/03/05, 12/10/05, and 09/22/07.
However, my purpose today is not to rehash the above arguments (though they are exceedingly important and worthy of our time) but to do something different. I have a strong desire, however unlikely its fulfillment may be, that one day Ernie will leave mechanical instruments of music in worship behind and serve a congregation that sings without accompaniment. The material above has not yet moved him to change, but perhaps this lesson will. It centers upon I Corinthians 8 and how he (or any member of the Christian church) should apply it to his life. There is a powerful teaching in this portion of Paul's epistle that devastates the notion of instrumental music in worship, when considered from the perspective of the Christian church. Let's first look at the text and then I will explain what I mean.
The context of I Corinthians 8 deals with idolatry, particularly food that had been offered to idols. Paul wrote:
"Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God this one is known by Him. Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world and there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (I Cor. 8:1-13).
What does this chapter have to do with musical instruments in worship? Bear with me and you'll see.
Paul is essentially saying to these Christians: "Just because your conscience is not defiled by eating meat that has been offered to idols doesn't mean that everyone else can say the same. If you love, you will consider your brother and act accordingly! I am willing to give up eating meat if it will help prevent my brother from stumbling spiritually." Paul here advocates the law of brotherly love. It's based on the principle that a brother's eternal soul is worth more than one's personal satisfaction! My brother's soul must mean more to me than food (or some other expedient)!
Now let it be clearly understood that this does not obligate Christians to give up things which are matters of faith; those are things which we must do to obey the Lord regardless of what others think about them (e.g., immersion for the remission of sins)! But, when it comes to eating meat, I should give preference to the conscience of my brother. I can admittedly go to heaven without eating meat, so I should be willing to give up the practice, if necessary. Although Paul does not command them to stop eating meat, he does tell them to beware or to take heed regarding the use of their liberties.
In America today we do not have any folks with conscience problems pertaining to eating food that has been offered to idols (since our culture does not have the same type of idolatry that was dominant in Corinth in the first century). That's not to say that I Corinthians 8 is irrelevant today, however. Remember, the New Testament is full of principles that are applicable for our time. There are many lessons that should be gleaned from this passage:
Yes, making that kind of change would involve sacrifice and some inconvenience. Certainly studying the matter openly would be worthwhile, but if their consciences are unchanged, the course that love would pursue is clear. Since we don't have to have fellowship meals inside the building in order to please God, I ought to be willing to give them up (or find an alternative location) out of love for the brethren whom I perceive to be weaker. If the apostle Paul was willing to give up meat for life, out of love for his brethren, shouldn't I be willing to give up potlucks on church property if it really offends someone?
From Ernie's perspective, as a member of the Christian church, there are many things that are expedient but not required. For example, he believes it is expedient for a congregation to use mechanical instruments of music in worship. Some (myself included) strongly disagree with this and cannot do so in good conscience since we believe their use is unauthorized for New Testament worship. What should Ernie's approach be toward me? Should he, with knowledge that he believes is superior, shake his head and look down on me? Should he tell me to get over it cause they're going to keep using these instruments in worship whether I like it or not? Or, would the correct approach be to stop using instruments to show love for my soul and others? To ask is to answer.
Yes, making that kind of change would involve sacrifice and some inconvenience (making changes like this always involves some inconvenience). Certainly studying the matter openly would be worthwhile, but if my conscience is unchanged, the course that love would pursue is clear. Since the Christian church admits they do not need to have these instruments in worship in order to please God, they ought to be willing to give them up out of love for those whom they consider to be weaker brethren (namely, me and other members of the church of Christ). If the apostle Paul was willing to give up meat for life, out of love for his brethren, shouldn't the Christian church be willing to give up their musical instruments since they really do offend a number of Christians?
In conclusion, there are many times in which Christians should voluntarily restrict their own liberty because of love for others! The Christian church has the power to make a sincere and significant effort toward reconciliation with those in the churches of Christ (whom they deem to be brethren). If they were willing to give up their instruments out of love (if for no other reason), I believe great things could happen. But, as long as they continue to use them, the division that began over 100 years ago will continue.
But it doesn't have to be that way! God calls us to unity. He desires no divisions (cf. I Cor. 1:10; John 17:20,21). I cannot worship with their instruments without searing my conscience, but they could give them up if they wanted to. It all really boils down to one question: Does the Christian church love their pianos and other instruments more than they love those in the church of Christ (whom they consider to be brethren)? Past history has shown tragically that they do, but I pray that the future will be different. From their perspective, the use of instrumental music in worship is a matter of indifference (I disagree with this, but that's not the point here). Thus, they, because of the principles found in I Corinthians 8, ought to be willing to give up their instruments for the sake of brotherly love. It won't be easy, as I'm sure giving up meat for life would not be easy either. But Paul was willing to make the sacrifice. Are they?
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will!