God's Law of Exclusion

Churches of Christ are well known for our rejection of instrumental music in our worship to God. The basic reason is that the New Testament does not authorize its use, either generically or specifically. We have further learned that what God does not authorize is forbidden for us to introduce into our teaching and practice religiously. There are numerous examples and principles in the Bible that lead irresistibly to this conclusion. Nadab and Abihu lost their lives for using “unauthorized fire” (Lev. 10:1-3, NIV). Likewise, we read, “Do not add to His words, Lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar” (Prov. 30:6; cf. Gal. 1:8-9; Rev. 22:18-19). These and other passages teach what we call “the silence of the Scriptures” or what some brethren have called “God’s law of exclusion.”

Sometimes faithful and well-meaning brethren have misstated the law of exclusion and made a bad argument against instrumental music. I often hear preachers say that since God specified singing in the New Testament that automatically excludes any other form of music like instrumental music. Oftentimes, the example of Noah’s ark is used. They will say that because God specified gopher wood, that excluded any other form of wood, like pine or oak.

With all due respect, that argument is simply unsound and misrepresents God’s law of silence or exclusion. Suppose I were to say to you, “I heard the Charlie Daniels Band sing ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’ last night at the county fair.” Would anyone automatically conclude that excluded Charlie from playing his fiddle? I doubt it! Even so, defenders of the instrument will argue that sing does not therefore exclude playing an instrument. We hasten to add that neither does it automatically include it! You see, simply specifying one form of action does not automatically include or exclude any other actions in and of itself.

Let me give you a Scriptural example. In Psalm 149:1, Jehovah commanded Israel, “Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, and His praise in the congregation of the saints.” Did God’s specifying singing exclude instrumental music under the Old Testament? No, for two verses later He also authorized dancing, timbrels, and harps to accompany their singing. But remember that the only reason such was included was because God authorized them in verse three.

God’s true law of silence is this: what He does not authorize in His word is excluded (forbidden) in our doctrine and practice. What excluded pine from being used in Noah’s ark was not that God had specified gopher wood, but that He did not authorize pine! In other words, He authorized only gopher wood. In the New Testament, the Lord has only authorized a cappella music for the worship of the church. Since He is silent concerning instrumental music, it is excluded and we sin when we bring it in.

Consider Hebrews 7:14 as an example of the law of exclusion. In explaining why Jesus Christ could not be a Levitical priest, the writer said, “For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.” Now had Moses said, “Thou shalt not select priests from the tribe of Judah”? No, God had not specifically forbidden such. But the fact that He said nothing about it, that He was silent on it, that He had not authorized it, was sufficient to exclude the men of Judah from being priests. God had sanctioned only the men of the tribe of Levi as priests and thus all the other tribes were excluded. Notice that even the Son of God was bound by the silence of the Scriptures! How much more so are we bound by it?

But notice that the argument of Hebrews 7:14 is not that God specified Levi and therefore excluded Judah! What excluded Judah was that “Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” for the men of that tribe. What excludes a matter is God’s silence, the lack of Scriptural authorization. So it is with instrumental music. What excludes it for New Testament Christians is the lack of New Testament authority for its use in Christian worship.

Brethren, let us be sure we stand for the truth, but let us be sure we do so with sound logic. In the words of brother Wayne Jackson, let us be sure we are not “defending the faith with a broken sword.” Such hurts the cause of truth, no matter how good one’s intentions are.

by Travis Quertermous
From The Reminder, January 16, 2011

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