The churches of Christ contentment to sing without the accompaniment of musical instruments in our worship is not a matter of personal preference. However, it is reasonable to assume that many worshipers in the churches of Christ might prefer to employ instruments in supplement to our singing, if given a choice. But, if they are grounded well in truth, all of them recognize that the absence of mechanical devices of music in our meeting houses serves as a witness to our adherence to a respected principle of Bible interpretation, the prohibition of divine silence.
In almost any sectarian religious body, some instance could be found to show that this principle is applied to some peculiar practice. For example, the Baptist follow and extol the principle of local church autonomy. Baptists would not have adopted the hallowed practice of local church autonomy had it not been for the fact, that they respected (at least in this one instance) the silence of the Scriptures. The New Testament has never stated the prohibition of centralized government for the church. However, it does give an extensive set of examples implying local church government, and supplies only directives regarding the rule of local churches. Beyond this information, the Scripture is “silent.”
Catholics, likewise, steadfastly refuse to follow the lead of Protestants in attempting to legitimatize justifications for divorce and remarriage not mentioned in Scripture, because of this rule. Numerous other examples could be cited to show the occasional respect given to this principle in Denominationalism.
A problem arises among them from the fact that there is no consistent application of the rule of scriptural silence. Countless examples can be given to show that denominations apply the rule to only a few practices, while ignoring it in many others. The consequence follows that many man made innovations have been adopted by denominations that have absolutely no precedent in Scripture, with no recognition on their part of the inconsistent application of scriptural authority nor of the danger which such inconsistency has for their souls.
On the other hand, concerned and conscientious disciples of Christ are careful to apply the principle of respecting the silence of Scripture consistently to every aspect of the work and worship of the Christian and the church. This spirit of submissiveness to such a rule is governed by their knowledge of the consequence suffered by those in the Bible who failed to observe the rule. This they do despite many liberal minded churches of Christ who dare call such faithful members as ‘Legalists’ or ‘Pharisees’.
The Bible relates a number of incidents to carry this message to children of God. The classic case of Nadab and Abihu illustrates that when those early priests, in the absence of expressed prohibition, “offered strange fire before Jehovah, which He had not commanded them, ” the wrath of God devoured them in fire for their failure to “glorify” God and what He had commanded (Lev. 10:1-3). In spite of such lessons, the spirit of innovation practiced by Nadab and Abihu is widespread today, perhaps because so many innovations have been introduced since then with apparent impunity.
Innovators today do not expect to suffer instant physical death because of their presumptions (and seem unaware that their sin has brought them “spiritual death”), so they find it relatively easy to treat such introductions of unauthorized practices as inconsequential. However, it is true that swift and severe punishment is a deterrent to sinners, for God reveals this truth in such passages as Ecclesiastes 8:11, Deuteronomy 13:6-11, and Acts 5:1-11. By observing the suffering of those in the past who made mistakes, we can avoid the same kind of error. Also take note of how David learned to respect the silence of the Scripture in the same way when Uzzah touched the ark of the covenant in 1 Chronicles chapter 13
The matter of the use of instruments of music in the worship of the church is parallel to these examples in Bible history. If we respect the principle that we are confined to the New Testament for our source of authority regarding acceptable worship in the church, we learn that “singing” is exclusively commanded as the musical communication between the worshipers themselves and to God (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; James 5:13). Nothing is said in these passages, or in any examples of music among the saints, about the use of mechanical instruments of music. In addition, it is also to be admitted that the New Testament records no prohibition of their use. Yet, the principle applies that when God is silent beyond a specific command, we are not permitted to innovate upon His will. This applies in the gospel. This applies in worship. This applies in the doctrine of Christ.
The condemnation of such innovations implied in the terrible deaths of Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah leads us to the conclusion that liberties presumed by innovators are contrary to God’s will, and punishable. Only the sort of obedient spirit that was found in Moses and Aaron in the case of Nadab and Abihu, and in David in the case of Uzzah will be tolerated by God. Only by this means can God and His will be exalted above the will of man. The Christian who consistently exalts the will of God above man’s, through an application of this principle, will never worship God in music, except by singing. This is the true meaning of worshiping God in spirit and in truth. (Jn 4:23,24) This is the true meaning of honoring the silence of the scriptures! (1 Cor 4:6 f; 1 Pet 3:11)