Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Not All Things Edify

pillars, leaders, teachers and preachers
There are various decisions in recent decades which the church has made, or conversely, has not made with no particular reason, understanding or guidance and authority from the scriptures. Sometimes the decision to do something or to go in a particular direction is nothing more than the carnal stubborn mindedness of those who are reputed to be pillars, as Paul referred to some in the church at Jerusalem. (As an aside, but one not unrelated, the standard, not for pillars or leaders, but for those in the church in Jerusalem who were to carry out the menial task of serving on tables was that they be full of the Spirit and of wisdom. How much more so those who lead, teach and preach
before the body of believers in Christ! I anticipate the charge that the title of the article as it is used (properly) here is taken out of context. This much touted call and cry for context and book, chapter and verse is, if we look at Jesus, seriously overrated and mistaken.) A carnal decision, that is, one devoid of wisdom with little regard for the body of believers raises serious questions for those who discern these matters according to the Spirit and wisdom in themselves. Even as there are others who cry out in protest that such a decision is wrong no one thinks to ask the question as to whether or not the implementation of that decision edifies the saints and whether this decision is the wise thing to do.

mechanical instruments of music
Among some of the decisions which leaders and preachers have imposed, and that is the correct term, on the church are included women in the teaching and preaching ministry and the embrace of homosexuality and others. The single decision in discussion in this article involves the implementation of the use of mechanical instruments of music in the worship assembly. This may not be an issue among various fellowships of the saints who have followed and embraced that practice for decades or centuries. However, this is not to say, and it ought not be assumed, that there is any understanding of the scriptures among those saints.

Among the fellowship of the saints in the churches of Christ the decision to adamantly refrain from and reject the use of mechanical instruments has been a source of mockery and even aspersions from some saints.

These saints seem baffled by a doctrinal stand in that fellowship of believers on a biblical understanding of the scriptures.

a study subject
The topic involving the use of mechanical instruments has had more than its share of scholarly study subject and debates with attention to Ephesians 5:15-21 and Colossians 3:16. Both of these resources have examined any given word or passage pertaining the subject of mechanical instruments in the Greek and English. Interestingly, they still arrive at various and different conclusions. So much for the saints holding their breath for a word of clarification and edification to emerge from the exchanges of such debates.

to retain and to attract
What is worth noting is what often characterizes the decision by a church such as when the decision is made to introduce the use of mechanical instruments into their worship praise assembly. Invariably, those decisions, as noted earlier, it that it has nothing to do with the scriptures or an understanding of those scriptures. More often than not it is introduced as another tactic by the leadership to slow, prevent or reverse the declining attendance numbers and members in the congregation. The decision to include these things into the worship of the saints represents a desperate measure to be or to sound more contemporary and to retain and to attract youth.

As much as there are older members who may take offense at such a decision there are just as many other older members who, while not excited or convinced about the decision, acquiesce because they really do not have any understanding or conviction concerning that decision. Like those those who are reputed as pillars sometimes leaders, teachers and preachers themselves reveal no more understanding or conviction whether they oppose or support the decision to introduce mechanical instruments of worship. It is a heartfelt burden of those saints who make the needless but understandable hard decision to part ways with their home congregation.

right or wrong
Certainly, there were instances in Paul’s ministry where there was no need for a principle. When the church in Corinth found herself in a situation to do what was right there was no ambiguity. Adultery is wrong. It is a sin. Drunkenness is wrong. It is a sin. There is no ambiguity. It is too easy to make the call concerning those sins. It may be quite a different matter as to whether the church actually follows Paul’s instruction in I Corinthians 5 concerning the so-called brother who was caught up in immorality.

Yet, the apostle Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did appeal to a principle. This principle goes unheeded. Instead, the question concerning whether or not mechanical instruments are right or wrong remains unsettled after countless debates and scholarly exercises over the Greek language. The reason it remains unsettled is because knowing and understanding how a word is defined in the New Testament, as the church has learned from those debates, does not result in a similar conclusion in those debates. There are always different explanations which emerge among scholars and other students after a study and discussion of the scriptures. The result is that there is little enlightenment and even less edification for the saints. One conclusion may be a summary of why something, such as mechanical instruments, is wrong. Another conclusion may be a summary of why something, such as mechanical instruments, is right, or at the very least permissible.

not all things edify
This is the phrase from the principle which was taught by the apostle Paul. It may be readily recognized. It is from I Corinthians 10:23 with a similar complementary verse in I Corinthians 14:26. What has long been taken from the chapters in which these verses are found is about what is right and what is wrong, but this is not the apostle Paul’s instruction. Paul definitely had much to say about what is right and what is wrong, but the principle that not all things edify and that all things are to be done for edification cuts through the party spirit of choosing or of accusing others of being right or being wrong.

Furthermore, understanding Paul’s principle is not as easy as it is to rush to be the first to pontificate that something does not edify.

Unless one is prepared to explain and substantiate their teaching as to why something does not edify the church their own words may well fall under the apostle’s admonition of those things which do not edify.

pianos and beat boxes
I once stated to a group of men that I could (not that I would) sooner accept a piano in the assembly than a beat box, that is, voice sounds which may imitate a drum or other instrument or machine. I noted that I know I ought not to expect edification from a piano, but I do know to expect words of edification out of the mouth of anyone who presumes to lead the assembly of the saints in a song of praise to the Lord.

does it edify
The answer to the question then, concerning the use of mechanical instruments of worship in the assembly, is not going to come from the decades old wheel-spinning debates or judgments on others as to whether they are right or whether they are wrong.

This is the question to answer: Does it edify the saints?

Quite simply, the rational that the inclusion of mechanical instruments is done to retain or attract youth does not measure up to the principle taught by the apostle Paul.

The reason it does not measure up is because a mechanical instrument can not and does not edify. Edification comes through written or spoken words.

Today, the absence of this principle among the saints would do nothing to help them to make determinations concerning a variety of things such as the eating of foods or when multiple speakers want to speak all at once (see I Corinthians 10 & 14) let alone discern and respond to the use of mechanical instruments in the saints’ worship to the Father. Whatever it is, if it does not edify the saints it has no place in the assembly of the saints. It ought not be imposed on the saints under the guise of love of the saints and the word of God, the retention of youth or outreach to the lost.

So much of what those who are reputed as pillars and who lead, teach and preach propose for the church is in often similar to that of our nation’s leaders. No, the point here is not about politics, but that just like our nation’s leaders have lost sight of the written authority for our nation so too the leadership of the church often seems to have lost its desire and ability to consult and discern the teaching of the scriptures. The church is sometimes shepherded along paths and into fields even as they hunger for understanding of what they are being fed.

The decision to introduce mechanical instruments in worship is not as easy or as ambiguous as it might seem. The greater challenge for the leadership is not whether it is right or whether it is wrong, but to heed and put to the test the apostle Paul’s principle: does it edify the saints in Christ. There is no less of a challenge in Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians and Colossians than for the saints to be wise today. Wisdom speaks out over the clattering of the piano which is no more edifying than the nonsensical vocal sounds of a human beat box and as such Paul’s words echo: Let all things be done for edification.

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