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H. E. Phillips

When driven from the Law of Moses and from the scenes of heavenly worship pictured in Revelation, the promoters of the musical instrument begin to ask, what is wrong with it?


The main and foremost objection is, God did not command it, therefore, it is not of faith, hence sinful. “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God : he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son,” (2 John 9-11). To go onward is to go beyond the teaching of Christ, to do something that Christ has not commanded. The limits of Christianity are bound by His word, and to go beyond those limits is to abide not in His word. Those who go onward to practice instrumental music in worship where Christ has not instructed are not abiding in His word, thus have not God. This is vain worship ‘teaching for doctrines the   commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9).

As a final course the arguments begin something like this: “There is no specific command for church buildings, carpets, pews, pulpits, baptisteries, lights, and such like, and if it is not wrong to have these, neither is it wrong to have an organ.” If this is stated in sincerity it manifests a state of confusion. There is no parallel in any sense in this comparison. But we must examine it.


There are three ways we derive authority for service to God from the Bible: by direct command, by divine examples, and by necessary inference. We all know what a command is. Likewise, we know what an example is. But what do, we mean by “necessary inference?” An inference is when a thing is inferred or understood by the circumstances surrounding the teaching. A “necessary” inference, then, is an inference or understanding that necessarily follows from the teaching. An example is in the great commission of Christ. Jesus said: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” We must “go” to obey this command of Christ, but He did not tell us how to go. The way of going is “necessarily inferred” in this command. It simply means that the command of Christ necessarily demands a way of going. Now by one of these ways let us see if we can get the instrument of music in.

First, is it commanded? Not one verse in the New Testament offers the slightest command for such. Second, is there a single – example where it was used in the New Testament in worship? Not one example can be found. Third, is it necessarily implied in the command to sing? That is the only possible place where the arguments for the instrument rest, but is “playing” implied at all when one “sings?” Certainly not, then how can the command to sing imply playing on an instrument? It was centuries after the Lord’s church was established before the instrument was brought in. If it had been necessary, how could they have worshipped without it so long? Now let us try some of the other things mentioned and see if they apply to this rule.


When the gospel was commanded to be preached, it necessitated a place to preach, thus the place to preach is inferred. When public worship was commanded, a place of assembly was inferred. Buildings were used by the apostles and early Christians to do their preaching and worshipping in, so by necessary inference and by example we have church buildings today. The building has nothing to do with the worship. That cannot be said for the instrument. It is singing without the instrument, but singing and playing with the instrument, a thing not commanded by the Lord. The carpets are a part of the building and have no part in the worship, but the instrument takes part in the worship when used. Lights and pews are likewise a part of the building and take no part in the worship.


As to baptisteries, the command to be baptized implies water: enough water must be provided to bury the subject. This water must be collected in some place, whether in a river, pond, or man-made container. The act of obedience is exactly the same in either place. The apostles did some of their baptizing in public pools, similar to baptisteries used today. Worship is an action of the mind and body. The baptistery does not act or move when one is baptized. But the musical instrument is active and takes part in the worship, which changes the command of God to sing. Now is the organ in any sense a parallel to these things? There would be no objection to the organ or any other musical instrument if they were as silent as the building or baptisteries. The objection comes when the organ is made a part of the worship; when it takes part in that worship. When the organ plays, the act is not according to the command of God, for He said to sing, and the organ does not sing, it plays. In plain words it makes a class of music in the worship that God did not require, hence it is not done by faith.


It is argued by some that the instrument is on par with tuning forks, songbooks and such like. Again, the application of each is misused. As we are commanded to sing, it is necessary to have a pitch. That is the full office of the tuning fork. It does nothing more. It has no part in the worship. If the organ were used for this purpose only there would be no objection, but why use an Organ when the tuning fork does the work, and is so much less expensive? Some do not seem to be able to distinguish between getting the pitch before the song begins, and playing the song through. Getting the pitch is neither singing nor playing, and not worship. It takes more than one note to play or sing. Two different kinds of music are used in the worship when playing accompanies the singing, and God only commanded one. The tuning fork does not take part in the singing, but only gets the pitch before the worship begins. The note or pitch is “necessarily implied” in the command to sing, but instrumental accompaniment is not implied at all.


Now to the songbooks: Paul said concerning Christians, “That ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (I Cor. 1:10). “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (I Cor. 14:40). In order to obey this command we must have some way to speak the same thing and to do it decently and in order. Songbooks do this in the singing. They do not take part in the worship; that is, there is nothing but singing whether they are used or not, but that cannot be said for the instrument of music. The songbooks have no part in the worship, but instruments do. God commanded us to sing, nothing else. When we use songbooks we do nothing more or less than God commanded. There are other arguments advanced by the “users,” but I believe these are the most outstanding. I have heard some say that “the instrumental music is so pleasing to the ear that it draws one nearer to Christ.” That is no sign that God is pleased with it. I imagine that to most people, ice cream and cake on the Lord’s Table would be so good and pleasing to the taste that it would draw more to the Lord’s Table, but we cannot use it because God did not command it.


To show how disobedience displeases God, let us refer to an incident that happened in the days of King Saul, the first king of Israel. God commanded him to utterly destroy a king and his people. (I Sam. 15:3). Saul went on his journey to obey God. He killed almost everything in this land, but he brought back some of the best cattle and also the king, of that land. This seemed good to Saul, but God refused him to be king for his disobedience. Here are the words of Samuel: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to harken than the fat of rams.” It is better to do as God instructs than to devise our own plan of worship. God said to sing. When we play on an instrument of our own device we are not doing what He told us to do. We appeal to return to the ancient order of worship and cease to offer our own plan of worship to an idol. Sing as Christ and His apostles taught and practiced and there will be no division among the people of God, at least in this part of the worship. Why contend for that which is questionable when it is safe to sing? No man can prove the practice of instrumental music by the word of God.

[This article is from H. E. Phillips, in Gospel Broadcast, May 18, 1950.]


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Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”