I remember when I started to realize that one of the doctrines derived from binding New Testament examples, or binding examples of the absence of something (instrumental music), was ridiculous. I started to talk about it with my friends in the hard line Churches of Christ. They didn’t really have any arguments for me, except: “In the absence of an approved example, wouldn’t it be safer to not do it?”
Yes, it would definitely be safer, if I believed what they believed about God, the church, the New Testament, baptism and forgiveness. So it really comes back to the doctrine of God’s grace. “To be safe” implies some assumptions:
1. God has very specific rules for how the worship service must be.
2. God did not tell us the rules.
3. God, in His divine wisdom, decided to hint at the rules by giving us letters to first century churches.
4. We are to comb through the letters and figure out what these strict rules are.
5. If we are unsure of the rules, we better leave something out, rather than anger God.
6. This is the doctrine of the apostles that they were all united upon, and that we are expected to be united upon now.
7. There is not much forgiveness available if we are wrong on the worship rules.
None of these 7 assumptions are true. And they all seem to depend on number 7: There is not much forgiveness available from God.
In the Parable of the Lost Son, Jesus portrays two sons: the younger went off and spent his inheritance on wine, women and weed, while the older son faithfully attended every service of the Church of Christ, was baptized correctly and worshiped correctly, especially staying safe when he was unsure about a specific thing that was left out of the instructions, not wanting to be guilty of unauthorized worship. When the younger son trudges home broke, the Father runs to meet him. The son asks his father’s forgiveness. The Father calls his Hispanic farm-workers to get his son new clothes, and to fire up the barbecue pit for a party. When the older son comes home from Wednesday night Bible study and hears music and dancing(dancing?), he asks one of the farm-workers what is going on.
“Your brother came home.” This made the older son furious.
The Father goes out to try to bring the older son into the celebration. “You gave this son of yours who wasted all your money on prostitutes and instrumental music a party? You never gave me and my friends a party, and we have been faithful members all our lives!”
“Everything I have left is yours,” the Father replied. “But your brother was dead, now he is alive. Of course we have to celebrate.”
Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees who were angry that Jesus was welcoming sinners into the Kingdom, after they had worked so hard to make sure they were keeping all of the Law and all of the traditions. Jesus turned their paradigm on its head. God wants to party and celebrate with us? With music and dancing? God longs to be our father, enjoys being our father?
This picture of the Father is in stark contrast to the picture of the Father the Pharisees carried around in their cell phones, and the hard line Churches of Christ have today. What got the wasteful son into the party with the Father? Remorse, trudging back home, appreciating the Father with a new perspective. What prevented the older son from being in the party with the Father? An attitude of having earned his Father’s approval, that somehow the Father owed him because of how careful he had been and how hard he had worked.
I invite you to scroll back up and review the 7 assumptions in the light of this view of God’s attitude toward us. Can you see how the assumptions don’t fit the character of God, as Jesus has described Him in this parable? And that is why preachers in the hard line Churches of Christ go all attack-dog when faced with these teachings about God’s grace and forgiveness. They know instinctively that their entire raison-d’etre relies on a view of God as stingy, angry and unpredictable. Yes, if I viewed God as stingy, angry and unpredictable, I would probably not use instrumental music.