A cappella Singing For All The Wrong Reasons?

Explaining the exclusive practice of a cappella praise in worship to someone else can be tricky. Nearly everyone who has tried to do it can recall both positive and frustrating experiences. It’s tough, because not everyone has the same background as you. For instance, your next-door neighbor might have sung in the church choir all of her life. But the Bible pattern is congregational singing. Or, perhaps your co-worker runs the sound-mixer for the praise band on Sundays. They will question things that you take as a given. Their religious beliefs might be very different, and there can be tension when those differences come up. But such discussions are important kingdom work, and while it might be difficult, each one is a precious opportunity.

 Since the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), it is her task to promote and educate – to explain Christianity to others. It is nearly automatic that when you bring a guest to worship, you will be asked to explain the unaccompanied congregational singing. It is vital we have a good explanation for our commitment to a cappella praise.

 While the question is inevitable, some brethren today seem wholly unprepared to explain their practice. When reading or listening to their reasoning for a cappella praise in worship, it appears they either aren’t convicted about it, or they honestly don’t know why they practice as they do. In short, they give bad reasons.

 For several years now, preachers and professors who should know better have been giving brethren (and non-Christians) all the wrong reasons for a cappella singing in worship. The effect has been a rise in the number of congregations willing to adopt instrumental music in worship, as they see no good reason to continue abstaining. Bad arguments and erroneous reasoning are easily answered by Instrumentalists among churches of Christ. The impression made is that brethren in the past had no good reason, no solid ground upon which to stand when they opposed the intrusion of instrumental music in worship. Today, some preachers are even calling brethren to repentance for their commitment to a cappella praise.[1] Others publicly apologize to Instrumentalists in Christian Churches and the denominational world for the stand on church music taken by members of churches of Christ in the past.[2]

 Let’s consider three common “wrong” reasons given for a cappella singing in worship.

 Bad explanation: Brethren sing a cappella because it is the Church of Christ doctrine on music.

 With a thoroughly denominational view of the Lord’s body, some contend that the Church of Christ doctrine on church music requires a cappella singing. They see churches of Christ as just another denomination whose peculiar reading of the Bible by church leaders in the late nineteenth century “banned musical instruments from all worship services.”[3]

 However, there is no earthly headquarters, council, or creed book one appeals to for the “Church of Christ” position on any matter – including church music. The church of Christ has no synod, nor catechism, nor convention, nor pope. There is no “Church of Christ” denomination, so how can there be a “Church of Christ” doctrine establishing or “banning” anything?

 Does that mean churches of Christ submit to no authority? Of course not. Churches of Christ do hold to doctrine – New Testament teaching – the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 1:3; 4:16). These inspired preachers set forth the pattern of pleasing worship to God that all Christians need to follow. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostles had perfect remembrance of all Jesus taught (John 14:26), and they never mentioned or practiced instrumental music in worship. The apostles were guided into all truth (John 16:13), and they never commanded any music besides vocal. They consistently taught the church to sing together (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Any kind of music other than vocal cannot be Jesus’ wishes or of theTruth, because the apostles are silent about it.

 A cappella singing in worship assemblies is practiced because it is the apostles’ doctrine (found in the Bible) on the matter – not because it is a “Church of Christ” doctrine. If there were a “Church of Christ” doctrine, it might change as the leadership changes (like the Episcopalian and Presbyterian Churches changed positions on the sin of homosexuality), but the Bible does not change.

 Bad explanation: Brethren sing a cappella because it is their tradition.

 A cappella singing is more than a tradition, though Instrumentalist preachers among brethren won’t admit it. One preacher for a local church of Christ went on record saying,

 “We view the a cappella practices of the Churches of Christ as a tradition….We don’t find there is anything wrong with instrumental worship, but we do respect the tradition of our forefathers. We think the voice alone is a very beautiful way to worship God.”[4]

 It’s true that brethren have sung together in worship for thousands of years. But a practice is not biblically authorized or unauthorized simply because it is the current practice or even a long-standing one. If tradition is the rule, then a long tradition of accompanied singing is as valid as a long tradition of unaccompanied singing. The question is, which one does God want? Tradition alone is not a good criterion to determine the worship God deems beautiful.

 Following the New Testament pattern is a good explanation for vocal music (2 Tim. 1:13; 2 Thess. 3:6). Early Christians sang in their assemblies, so Christians should sing in worship today (1 Cor. 14:15, 26; Col. 3:16). There is no example of Jesus, the apostles, or any of the early Christians ever practicing any kind of music other than singing.

 A cappella singing in worship assemblies is practiced because it follows the New Testament pattern, not for the sake of tradition. The traditions of men cannot substitute or supersede the word of God.

 Bad explanation: Brethren sing a cappella because it is their preference.

 Some brethren purport that a cappella praise is not a doctrinal issue at all; it’s just a personal choice. It’s all about your preference and taste. One congregation describes worship assemblies on their website thusly:

 Our worship consists of singing, prayers, communion (Lord’s Supper), and a message from the Bible. The singing is a cappella, meaning that we worship without instruments. This is by choice, rather than doctrine. We find nothing wrong with instrumental worship, but believe that the voice alone is a simple & beautiful way to worship God.[5]

 Sonny Childs chronicles his “journey on…instrumental music in worship” in the book The Music Made Me Do It! and concludes that church music is a Romans 14 disputable matter. He sees the real error as drawing lines of fellowship over it. However, he will continue to sing a cappella, because he’s used to it and he likes it. Childs writes, “Today, I am a minister for a conservative acappella church of Christ deep in the heart of the buckle of the Bible belt. As an author and evangelist, I spend much time each year traveling among and holding Gospel meetings for conservative, acappella churches of Christ. I prefer acappella music and I love to sing bass during our worship services.”[6]

 Worship should not be dictated by the tastes of humanity rather than God’s preference (John 4:23-24). God alone determines the worship that pleases Him; no man can do it (Matt. 15:8-9). Mankind’s religious preference is mere presumption before almighty God. God sent Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2), who in turn sent the apostles (Hebrews 2:1-4), who taught and declared the New Covenant (Hebrews 7:11-16) and the worship that God desires. The worship of God in His church is a doctrinal matter and not left to personal preferences and tastes.

 A cappella singing in worship assemblies is practiced because God has revealed His pleasure in church music – He directed vocal praise in the scriptures. The Bible is the only source to learn God’s preferences.

Conclusion

Singing praise to God is what the New Testament directs and exemplifies for Christian worship. Vocal music is the authorized music of the assembly; instrumental music is not. Playing instrumental music in worship – or as worship – is going beyond what is written, thus adding to the word of God. God is never pleased when men innovate His prescribed ways. Mankind lacks the ability to improve upon God’s ordained worship, but unfortunately does possess a long and storied history of profaning it.


[1] See Corbitt, Danny. Missing More Than Music. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2008. See also, Young, Ken. “The Blending of Acappella & Instrumental Worship.” A study prepared for the Fourth Avenue church of Christ in Franklin, TN. Presented on April 27, 2008. p.5

[2] See  Atchley, Rick and Bob Russell. Together Again: Renewing Unity in Christ after a Century of Separation. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2006.  See also Ross, Jr. Bobby. “Ministers Exchange Bibles at Convention.” The Christian Chronicle. 1 August 2006.

[3] See Smietana, Bob. “Churches of Christ drop isolationist view, work with other faiths.” The Tennessean. Nashville, TN: 31 January 2010.

[4] Swisher, Skyler. “CA Teacher’s Jobs Threatened Over Church Attendance.” The Daily Herald Columbia, TN: 21 May 2008: 3A

[6] Childs, Sonny. The Music Made Me Do It! Childs Family Publications, 2006. p.23

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Posted on July 27, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on A cappella Singing For All The Wrong Reasons?.

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