Give Me that Good ODD Religion!
by Steve Klein
Churches of Christ are typically viewed as "odd" by denominational folk. Two of the main reasons for this view are that churches of Christ don't use instruments of music in worship and they don't celebrate December 25th as the birth of Christ. While these things seem odd to members of modern denominations, they would have to look no further than their own denominational histories to find that these things were once considered normal even in their denominations.
A recent Associated Press news article highlighted a book by Bruce Forbes entitled Christmas: A Candid History. Forbes, a professor of religious studies at Morningside College, documents how that "major American denominations – Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Methodists and Congregationalists – ignored the holiday or discouraged it until late in the 19th century." Through much of the 19th century, schools and business actually remained open on Christmas. Some churches even closed their doors, not in an effort to encourage members to celebrate Christmas at home, but to discourage "errant worshippers" from trying to celebrate Christmas in churches.
The AP article goes on to say that the rejection of Christmas by Protestant denominations "was rooted in the lack of Biblical sanction for December 25 as the date of Jesus' birth, as well as suspicion of traditions that developed after the earliest days of Christianity. In colonial New England, this disapproval extended to making the holiday illegal, with celebration punishable by a fine."
If that was the attitude of many American denominations 200 years ago, why have they changed? Did somebody suddenly discover Bible verses that set the birth of Jesus at December 25th and authorized churches to observe the day? No. They slowly drifted into doing something that pleased them instead of focusing on obeying God and pleasing Him.
Many American denominations have drifted in a similar way when it comes to using instrumental music in worship. Two hundred years ago and more, few Protestant leaders would have approved of it, and many denominational leaders specifically condemned it. Note the following quotations:
- John Calvin (1509-1564), founder of the Presbyterian Church: "Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the [Mosaic] law . . . Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us . . . is far more pleasing to Him" (Comments on Psalm 23).
- John Girardeau, a Presbyterian scholar, said, "The church, although lapsing more and more into defection from the truth and into a corruption of apostolic practice, had no instrumental music for 1,200 years (that is it was not in general use before this time); the Calvinistic Reformed Church ejected it from its services as an element of popery, even the Church of England having come very nigh to its extrusion from her worship. It is heresy in the sphere of worship" (Instrumental Music, page 179).
- John Wesley (1703-1791), an Episcopal and a founder of Methodism: "I have no objection to the instruments in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen" (Quoted by Adam Clark).
- Adam Clark (1762-1832), Methodist scholar and commentator: "I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them [musical instruments] productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity" (Commentary, IV, 686, on Amos 6:5).
- Robert J. Breckinridge, a Presbyterian scholar, wrote an article dated December 30th, 1851 and entitled, "Protest Against The Use Of Instrumental Music In The Stated Worship Of God On The Lord's Day." In it, Breckinridge said, "…the grand objection to the use of instrumental music, in the manner herein objected to, is that it is contrary to the express will of God, as shown by his positive institutions for his own praise."
- Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) preached to 20,000 people every Sunday for 20 years in the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle where mechanical instruments of music were never used in the services. When asked why, Spurgeon quoted I Corinthians 14:15: "I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." He declared: "I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery."
Obviously, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and many other denominational groups have drifted far from the truth that their founders and early leaders taught concerning instrumental music. What is the lesson for us? "Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away" (Hebrews 2:1). Let us "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
Give me the religion of the New Testament! If the religious world considers it odd, give it to me anyway. Give me that good odd religion!