The Ancient Faith
INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN CHURCHES
In settling any question, whether theoretic or practical, the first thing to be agreed upon is the standard of final appeal. Without this our discussions are mere endless wranglings, and our arguments little else than mere circular talk. Neither error in thought nor error in practice is corrected. Strife is engendered and issue joined, but neither that not this ever finds an end. Positions are taken which are untenable, and replies are made which are illogical and gratuitous; while parties are formed seemingly without the hope of remedy; and all this for the want of some standard to which appeal can be at once and decisively made. Now that we as a people have agreed to accept the New Testament as that standard is a fact too notorious to admit of question. To this we have consented to bring the smallest point of doctrine, and the most trivial feature in practice. And furthermore, we have solemnly covenanted that whatever cannot be clearly shown to have the sanction of this standard shall be held as not doctrine, and shall not be practiced. We say shown to have the sanction; for it is not enough to warrant a practice that this standard does not sanction it. No practice can be defended on this ground. To warrant the holding of a doctrine or practice it must be shown that it has the affirmative or positive sanction of this standard, and not merely that it is not condemned by it. Either it must be actually asserted or necessarily implied, or it must be positively backed by some divinely approved precedent, otherwise it is not even an item in Christianity, and is therefore, when it is attempted to be made a part of it, criminal and wrong. Right in itself, and when standing apart from Christianity it may be, but when the effort is made to constitute it either a part of the Christian doctrine or of the Christian worship then both the act to do so and the thing itself become marked with the deepest stains of sin. In itself as a mere act we think it perfectly innocent to sprinkle water on the face of an infant; but when the attempt is made to foist it into and incorporate it with Christianity, then the frown and anathema of Heaven lie on it. To all of which we as members of the body of Christ have bound ourselves in solemn acts and covenants. The simple fact that we claim to hold a place in the family of God is proof of this. As a people we have from the first and continually to the present proclaimed that the New Testament and that alone is our only full and perfect rule of faith and practice. We have declared a thousand times and more that whatever it does not teach we must not hold, and whatever it does not sanction we must not practice. He who ignores or repudiates these principles, whether he be preacher or layman, has by the act become an apostate from our ranks; and the sooner he lifts his hand high, avows the fact, and goes out from amongst us the better, yes, verily, the better for us.
Now in the light of the foregoing principles what defense can be urged for the introduction into some of our congregations of instrumental music? The answer which thunders into my ear from every page of the New Testament is, none. Did Christ ever appoint it? did the apostles ever sanction it? or did any one of the primitive churches ever use it? Never. In what light then must we view him who attempts to introduce it into the churches of Christ of the present day? I answer, as an insulter of the authority of Christ, and as a defiant and impious innovator on the simplicity and purity of the ancient worship. In no other light can we view him, in no other light should he be viewed.
NO HARM IN IT?
But we are told that there is no harm in instrumental music, and that therefore it may be innocently introduced into the churches of Christ. I shall certainly attempt no grave reply to this shallow thing; for argument I will not call it.
Grant, then, for a moment that there is no harm in instrumental music. The question arises what kind of instrument shall be used? An organ, shouts the sickly puling of Rome. An organ indeed! and shall we have only an organ? Is there no good music in anything else than an organ? We know there is. Why then have only an organ? This is arbitrary and tyrannical. But what must signify arbitrariness and tyranny in a church which has consented to be disgraced by an organ? Simply nothing. These are now its spirit and law, and of course, no offense to it.
But despite of even these, for now we care nothing for strife, nothing for the feelings of the brethren, we shall insist on the right both for self and others to introduce each for himself the instrument with which he can best conduct his worship. For the son of Mars, then, we claim the right to introduce the fife and the drum; and for the self the right to introduce, for I could never make music on anything else, but am capital on these, the Jews-harp, the tin-pan, and the barrel-head. I even go farther, and with all the pluck of a Lacedemonian contend for the right of the Caledonian to have his bagpipes, and the ancient Israelite his ram’s horns. To all of which let us still add a few fiddles, a tamborine, and a gong. Vive la music made on instruments! This is about as like pandemonium as anything we can well imagine, and about as near that place as we can well get unless we could get between that place and the church that has adopted instrumental music, and we think there is left little room between the two on which to stand. Soberly and candidly we are pained at these symptoms of degeneracy in a few of our churches.
The day on which a church sets an organ in its house, is the day on which it reaches the first station on the road to apostasy. From this it will soon proceed to other innovations; and the work of innovating once fairly commenced, no stop can be put to it till ruin ensues. And then the spirit which precedes and fosters these innovations is a most dangerous spirit—dangerous because cruel, intractable, and unreasonable. It is cruel because it is ready to immolate everything that in the least stands in the way of its wicked work; intractable, because it will not yield on even one tittle of its innovations; and unreasonable, because it will heed neither the voice of God nor that of man. Indeed, when a church has once introduced an organ, we believe it to be true, as a general rule, of those members who take the lead in the work, that they will suffer its Bible to be torn into shreds before they will part from their pet. No matter how unanimous or how kind the voice of remonstrance may be, the spirit of innovation never retraces its steps. When once it sets in to accomplish a certain object, accomplish that object it will, though ruin marks every step in its advance. Church history teems with proofs of what is here said.
Let now, as further evidence of this, any set of brethren, no matter how pious and true, set about inducing a church which has introduced an organ, to put it away, and these brethren will soon fall under its proscriptions and it will absolutely go to the length of putting them away before it will put away its organ. It will part from everything and anything rather than its infamous box.
WHAT SHALL BE DONE WITH SUCH CHURCHES?
But what shall be done with such churches? Of course nothing. If they see fit to mortify the feelings of their brethren, to forsake the example of the primitive churches, to contemn the authority of Christ by resorting to will worship, to excite dissension, and give rise to general scandal, they must do it. As a body we can do nothing. Still we have three partial remedies left us to which we should at once resort.
- Let every preacher in our ranks resolve at once that he will never, under any circumstances or on any account, enter a meeting house belonging to our brethren in which an organ stands. We beg and entreat our preaching brethren to adopt this an unalterable rule of conduct. This and like evils must be checked, and the very speediest way to effect is the one here suggested.
- Let no brother who takes a letter from one church ever unite with another using an organ. Rather let him live out of church rather than go into such a den.
- Let those brethren who oppose the introduction of an organ first remonstrate in gentle, kind, but decided terms. If their remonstrance is unheeded, and the organ is brought in, then let them at once, and without even the formality of asking for a letter, abandon the church so acting; and let all such members unite elsewhere. Thus these organ-grinding churches will in the lapse of time be broken down, or wholly apostatize, and the sooner they are in fragments the better for the cause of Christ. I have no sympathy with them, no fellowship with them, and so help me God never intend knowingly to put my foot into one of them. As a people we claim to be engaged in an effort to return to the purity, simplicity, freedom from ostentation and pride, of the ancient apostolic churches. Let us, then, neither wink at any thing standing in the way, nor compromise aught essential to this end. The moment we do so our unity is at an end, and our hopes are in the dust.
[This is taken from Lard’s Quarterly 1 (March 1864):330-336].