Boswell-Hardeman Discussion, N. B. Hardeman
The use of mechanical instruments of music in worship is a topic that has been debated and discussed so frequently in years past that some have mistakenly thought the issue could be dropped from teaching in churches of Christ. Tragically, we are seeing the results of this mistake today. While attending a worship service in California this summer, we selected a congregation whose web site seemed satisfactory enough to attend. While this congregation stated they were committed to singing acapella (meaning “in the style of the chapel or church), they played a modern pop song that included instrumental accompaniment during the sermon. Did they not realize that this violated their claim? Did they mistakenly think the sermon is not part of worship and they could therefore do whatever they saw fit at that time?
In the early 1920s, the Christian Church was attempting to make inroads into Tennessee and other areas of the South. The Commission on Unity, an organization of the Christian Churches headquartered in Nashville, TN had been distributing O. E. Payne’s book "Instrumental Music is Scriptural" as a refutation to M. C. Kurfees classic book "Instrumental Music in Worship". The Commission was so sure of itself that they sent a copy to the editor of the Gospel Advocate, F. B. Srygley. When Srygley did not give Payne’s book notice, the Commission questioned him on the matter. Srygley suggested a debate between two individuals from both sides to discuss the matter publicly in Nashville. The Commission quickly agreed and selected Ira M. Boswell to represent them. N. B. Hardeman was selected to represent churches of Christ and Srygley moderated for Hardeman. N. B. Hardeman was not only preparing for this discussion but was to deliver the first of the Tabernacle Sermons in the famous Ryman Auditorium as well. So, N. B. Hardeman had two grand events to be engaged in at roughly the same time.
The discussion on instrumental music was also held at the Ryman Auditorium in , Nashville, TN from May 31 – June 5, 1923. Boswell’s primary “trump card” was the Greek word psallo. The psallo argument is still being parroted by those among us clamoring for instrumental music today even though it has been answered and defeated even before Hardeman’s discussion of the matter. N. B. Hardeman’s treatment of psallo needs to be read by every member of the church. The following is a portion of brother Hardeman’s treatment of the Christian Church’s misuse of psallo:
Now, the question between us is this, and can be reduced to a matter of the utmost simplicity: Brother Boswell, is the instrument the hair?…Is the instrument the bowstring? Is the instrument the strings of the heart? Let us allow the Bible to forever settle that. Paul, what do you say about that? It is not the plucking or the psalloing of the hair; it is not the twitching of a cord or the plucking of the carpenter’s line; it is not the twanging or the twitching of an instrument of artificial mechanism; but it is the touching or the twanging or psalloing of the heart, and that is the thing upon which the psalloing is done. But may I submit to you this idea: In the five times used in the New Testament, the word psallo not one single, solitary time, is ever translated by the King James or by the Revised Version “to play”. These translators, about one hundred and fifty in number, represented the scholarship of the world. They were selected and appointed because of their scholarship; and when they came to the rendition of the word psallo and to the translation thereof, without exception, without dissenting voice, they rendered it “to sing, to make melody”. Where? In the human heart. (pp. 44-45).
Hardeman’s response to the psallo argument was devastating to Boswell. The debate was a victory for the Truth and the advance by the Christian Church was turned back. Some 20 years after the debate, Hardeman met Boswell in Louisville, KY. Hardeman had heard the pastor of the Vine Street Christian Church in Nashville say that Boswell and his team was up all night trying to assemble an effective reply to Hardeman’s logic on psallo.
One stated, “Hardeman did for the Instrumental Music question with Boswell, what Alexander Campbell did with Rice on the baptism question.” Guy N. Woods stated it was the greatest debate on Instrumental Music ever conducted and it is still regarded as one of the finest to be read even to this day. I was recently discussing this topic with a coworker (who is a preacher for the Christian Church as well). He stated “I think the word psallo authorizes the instrument; although I know your response is the word refers to the plucking of the strings of the heart”. He could not contradict the point. The truth stands the test of time!
Originally printed West Virginia Christian, Vol. 13, No. 7, July 2006, Reprinted by permission.