Sounding Brass and Clanging Cymbals: The History and Significance of Instrumental Music in the Restoration Movement (1827-1968), J.E. Choate and William Woodson
Once I was listening to some discussion following a sermon on the subject of instrumental music. A comment was made that they were weary of hearing lessons on the sin of using instrumental music in worship since they had heard many lessons on the subject. What this person failed to realize (at the time) was the lesson was not just about what type of music we are to use in worship but by what authority are we going to govern our lives in religion—the teachings of the New Testament or of men. Several years followed and this writer was able to see the same evangelist deliver another lesson on the same subject. The same person commented “I am so thankful that you have delivered such an important lesson.” What had changed? In my opinion the change was the listener had seen the wider lesson to be learned—the authority of the Scriptures. The person has seen the effects of the change agents and the agenda they are pushing with success in large part because people are ignorant of Bible authority. The person again realized one of the great principles of hermeneutics that is often ignored—the silence of the scriptures. Instrumental music is a great illustration of what happens to the church when it ignores Bible authority. This is the subject of the book.
The book begins with a valuable record of early hymns among churches of Christ. There is not much material in existence on this subject. One point that I learned from the book was why Alexander Campbell did not speak out more against instrumental music in worship. The reason was because it was not an issue during his day. It was not until the last five years of Campbell’s life did the instrument become a source of controversy. Alexander Campbell published a very popular hymnbook of his own and refused to print the music notes in the book, considering it wrong. He preferred to have just the words with his hymns to be sung to a few familiar melodies.
This book takes the reader on a journey through history of the departure of the Christian Church from churches of Christ over the issues of the instrument and missionary societies. It discusses key historical people and events over the past as it relates to these two groups. It shows the ugliness of division that occurred because people were more concerned for their pleasure rather than the pleasure of God.
An illustration of how ugly the instrument issue became was the treatment toward J. W. McGarvey. In 1902, the church where McGarvey was an elder voted to have the organ brought in over his clear objections. McGarvey and his wife promptly left and removed their membership. At his funeral the instrument was brought in and played for three hymns. Was this a sign of ignorance or disrespect toward the man? Possibly this was a consequence of his continued practice to preach at congregations which used the instrument even though he himself was opposed to it. This was a mistake he realized and stated as such; c.f., Burl Curtis, “McGarvey’s Mistake,” Gospel Advocate, September 2002, pp. 28-29.
The book chronicles several efforts to reunite the two groups that had divided. The result would always be the same. As long as those who craved the innovations would not relinquish them, then there would not be a reunification. One effort was a Murch-Witty Unity Session in 1939 in Indianapolis, IN. H. Leo Boles spoke forcefully about the real crux of the matter:
Brethren, this is where the churches of Christ stand today; it is where unity may be found now; it is where you left the New Testament; it is where you left the churches of Christ, and it is where you can find them when you come back. On this ground and teaching, and only on this, can scriptural unity be had now; on these basic principles of the New Testament Christian unity may always be had… Brethren put away the organ and you will be where the pioneers stood when the unity of God’s people was enjoyed. The churches of Christ are stand on this item just where the pioneers stood before its introduction in 1859; there was unity then on this point and there can be unity now at this point when the organ is pushed aside.
The words of Moses Lard recorded in the book are shown to be true: “The day on which a church sets up an organ in its house is the day on which it reaches the first station on the road to apostasy. From this it would proceed to other innovations; and the work of innovation once fairly commenced, no stop can be put to it till ruin ensues.” We should all read this history and remain committed to stand where the pioneers stood—solely on authority of the Scriptures.
Originally printed West Virginia Christian, Vol. 10, No. 7, July 2003, p. 8. Reprinted by permission.