by Jefferson David Tant
In discussions about the Bible and various practices and beliefs of members of churches of Christ, sometimes, the question is asked, “Where does the Bible say that's wrong?” Various practices prompt the question, with it often being asked concerning the use of instrumental music in our worship. When it is pointed out that we do not use pianos and organs, etc., because we do not believe it is authorized, the question comes, “Where does the Bible say that's wrong?”
That's a legitimate question, and deserving of an answer. The truth is that there are many things that are unlawful or wrong, concerning which the Bible says nothing. So, if certain things are wrong, how do we know they are wrong if the Bible does not spell them out? This involved a principle known as “The Silence of the Scriptures.” It all has to do with the matter of authority.
Let's go back to a familiar story in the Old Testament, which is Noah and the flood. As Noah and his family were righteous in God's sight, he provided for their salvation from the flood. Obviously, God told Noah to build a boat. "Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch” (Genesis 6:14).
There is no way to misunderstand this simple command — make a boat out of gopher wood.
Now, suppose Noah and his sons decided that yes, they would make the outer shell out of gopher wood, but they wanted a little variety in the living quarters, so they used knotty pine in some of the rooms. Would it have floated? I don't think so. My father, Yater Tant, made the statement in a sermon one time that if Noah had used one stick of another wood, the ark would have sunk like a rock. Someone in the audience voiced a disagreement when talking with my father after the church service. My father insisted that the ark would have sunk, while the other person said, “No, it never would have floated in the first place.” Good point.
Now, according to the thinking of some, God would have told Noah to make the ark out of gopher wood, but do not use ash, birch, cedar, dogwood, elm, fir, gumtree, hickory, ice cream bean tree (Yes, there is such a tree), etc, etc. We could go on, but you get the point. The principle to recognize is that such matters are governed by the rule or principle of authority. Gopher wood was authorized, but pine wood was not authorized, therefore it was not to be used.
This principle is clearly stated in various passages in the Bible. One is Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” What we do in “word,” our teaching, and “deed,” our practice, is to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” which means “by the authority of.” If you walk down the street and encounter a policeman who tells you “Stop, in the name of the law,” he is claiming he had the authority to stop you, as the area was being investigated as a crime scene.
Christ deals with this in Matthew 7:21-23: "Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” ”
Here we have people claiming they had done things “in the name” or “by the authority,” but Christ said he never gave permission for whatever they were doing. The word “lawlessness” is from the Greek “anomia,” which is a compound of “a” (without) and “nomos” (law). Thus their actions were “without authority.”
Notice what happened to Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1-2: “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” What had these brothers done that got them in such serious trouble? They “offered strange fire" that God “had not commanded them.” God had given instructions as to the origin of the fire for the sacrifices, but evidently, the brothers reasoned that fire is fire, and one fire is as good as another, but it didn't work out that way.
The is the same principle referred to earlier -- “The Silence of the Scriptures.” An example is seen in Ezra 2:61-62: “Of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and he was called by their name. These searched among their ancestral registration, but they could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood.”
Israel has returned to their home after the 70 years of exile in Babylon, and now they are setting things in order concerning their worship of God. We know that the priests were only to come from the tribe of Levi, and the Jews kept very detailed records of who among them belonged to which of the twelve tribes of Israel. So, as they are restoring the temple worship and all that accompanied it, the men that were mentioned were wanting to be included in the priestly responsibilities. But their names could not be found in the records, thus they were denied.
Consider that nowhere in the Old Testament was it ever stated that no one could serve as a priest from the tribe of Dan, Judah, or Benjamin, etc. The point is that there was authority for those from Levi to serve, but the Scriptures were silent about anyone serving from another tribe. Note what is written about Christ in Hebrews 7:14: “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.”
There are various passages that emphasize this point. “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). “Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar” (Proverbs 30:6).
Then the New Testament closes with these words from John: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
Now, let's make some applications. First, the matter of instrumental music in worship. The argument is made that the Jews used instruments, and they were the people of God, so why can't we? Well, why did the Jews used instruments?
Notice II Chronicles 29:25, as things are being put in order concerning worship: “He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad the king's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the LORD through His prophets.”
Why did they use instruments? Because “the command was from the Lord.” Now, if a similar verse can be found in the New Testament, I'll move in a piano. But it's not there. Remember, we live under the New Testament laws, not the Old Testament. Consider also that the very first converts to Christianity were Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover feast. 3,000 were baptized into Christ on that first day of the proclamation of the gospel in Acts 2. And of course, the numbers grew by the thousands as the days, months and years went by. But there is no record of any instruments being used in their worship. There must be some reason for this, for the Jews had used instruments for generations previously. The reason for no more instruments? It was not authorized. There was no “thus saith the Lord” as we saw in II Chronicles.
Historians agree that there is no record of instruments used in Christian worship until centuries later. The evidence is that it was Pope Vitalian in the 7th century that the first instruments were introduced into worship. It is universally agreed that the music in the early church was acapella (vocal), as recorded in Ephesians 5:19: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (cf. Colossians 3:16).
This is why churches following the Bible do not use instruments. There is no authority for them!
Now, let's apply this same principle of authority to some other matters. Some years ago, I was having a Bible study with a young woman who was a Methodist. She mentioned that for their Communion they used potato chips and Coke, rather than the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread. That is not condemned in the Bible. So would that be OK? Then I heard of a church in Oklahoma that baptized by sprinkling rose petals on the subject's head. That is not condemned in the Bible. So would that be OK? If not, why not? Pianos are not condemned either.
Dear reader, I hope you see the point. God wants us to respect His authority, and one way we do that is not to go beyond what he has revealed to us. We have seen this clearly in the examples given. If God had to tell us everything he did not want as opposed to what he did want, we would need a wheelbarrow to carry the Bible around. How many different trees are there besides gopher?
How many foods are there besides unleavened bread and fruit of the vine?
Common sense tells us many things. Let's say I take my car to the shop to be painted. I tell the shop owner, “Now, I want the car to be painted silver.” Do I have to tell him that I do not want blue, black, red, orange, purple, brown, or pink, etc? obviously not. So, why can”t we use the same common sense with respect to the greatest matter that concerns us — our soul's eternity?
In various passages we see the phrase “But what does the Scripture say?” in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” (Isaiah 8:20) Consider II John 1:9: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” I maintain that potato chips and pianos have “gone too far.”
An example of questioning authority is in Matthew 21:24: “Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.”
So, dear reader, if you want to use potato chips and Coke and the piano, I'll listen to your arguments, but at the end, I'll ask “Where is the Scripture? By what authority?”