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Danny Corbitt in New Wineskins on Instrumental Music

October 27th, 2010 · No Comments · Christianity, Church of Christ, Worship

The latest issue of New Wineskins magazine highlights the issue of instrumental music. Danny Corbitt brought my attention to his article and I wanted to provide a link to it here. There are several other articles in this issue that are worth reading. Thanks to Mark, however, for pointing out how one-sided this issue of New Wineskins is. I don’t think you always have to give equal airtime to both sides of an issue but it is at least important to present it fairly. I was a little disappointed by how Jay framed the topic in his article On Salvation, Galatians and the Instrument,

“It’s really about who God is and his eternal plan for his people. Did God send Jesus to save us to worship a cappella? Or did he have entirely different purposes in mind? That’s the question.”

As I pointed out in the comments here, I don’t think that is really what the question boils down to. Reducing it to those two options really isn’t fair to what the debate is really all about, that either 1) God sent Jesus for the sole purpose of us worshipping a cappella or 2) God sent Jesus for something other than having us worship a cappella. Is our answer to that question really supposed to be the end of the discussion based on a false dichotomy? I respect Jay an awful lot but that one missed the mark in my opinion. As for the rest of his article, he does a solid job expounding on the implications of what Paul taught in Galatians regarding circumcision and salvation in relation to who we do and do not fellowship.

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  • Preacherman

    Thanks Matt.

  • Mark

    He sure quotes extensively from James McKinnon, doesn’t he? I was looking at the table of contents for the issue, and I found it unfortunately one-sided. It appears they only represent views from congregations who’ve brought in instruments, or those who are sympathetic to them.

    I think there is a lot to be said for the fact that instrumental worship would have been normative and expected in the culture of the early church, yet Christians didn’t use them. I’m not sure the reasons he gives are completely adequate in answering the question, “Why would we have not used them?”

    It would be really interesting to see E. Ferguson or J. Lewis respond to his article. Did you see that Tom Alexander from Harding has a new book out on this subject, specifically geared toward answering Rich Atchley’s “Both/And Church” lessons? It’s pretty well done.

    • mattdabbs

      I didn’t realize the whole issue was on that. I just followed a link to Danny’s article. I think a false dichotomy is being set up here. In Jay’s introductory piece he wrote,

      “It’s really about who God is and his eternal plan for his people. Did God send Jesus to save us to worship a cappella? Or did he have entirely different purposes in mind? That’s the question.”

      I don’t think that is really what the question boils down to. Reducing it to those two options really isn’t fair to what the debate is really all about, that either 1) God sent Jesus for the sole purpose of us worshipping a cappella or 2) God sent Jesus for something other than having us worship a cappella. Then that answer is supposed to be the end of the story based on a false dichotomy? I respect Jay an awful lot but that one missed the mark in my opinion.

      I am going to edit my original post. Thanks for pointing that out, Mark.

      • Mark

        Thanks for the original link. It really is an interesting article. I am a pretty open-minded person, but I resent having my position represented as a straw man argument without anyone to provide a substantive response. It doesn’t all come down to a cappella worship, but you are correct: it is a false dichotomy to say we must choose either a cappella worship or healthy soteriology.

        As always, I enjoy your blog and your well-conceived insights.

    • K. Rex Butts

      While it may have been nice to present both sides, in all fairness I don’t see the Gospel Advocate, Spiritual Sword, etc…publishing both sides of the issue either.

      Grace and Peace,


      • mattdabbs

        I would certainly not expect them to fully present both sides. That is not what they were setting out to do and that is an unreasonable expectation. I appreciate them articulating their side well. I do expect them to frame the debate fairly and not construct straw men. I have to read more of these articles and I am in no way condemning what they are trying to do. I could spend far more time critiquing the poor attitude of the conservative side of this debate than I could critiquing the attitude of NW on this.

      • K. Rex Butts

        Danny Corbitt’s article is the only article I’ve read in entirety so I don’t have much to critique on but I can tell you that I too do not like straw man arguments.

        Grace and Peace,


    • Danny C

      Hey, Mark, it is interesting that you ask about Ferguson. I asked him if he thought that the Christian Clement of Alexandria was influenced to allegorize by the 1st century Jew Philo of Alexandria. Ferguson answered yes, and added that Philo was influenced by the Greeks before him. He suggested some articles that he had written, so I read those, along with the scholars he had cited and other scholars as well. I came away with the same conclusion as they and Ferguson… and McKinnon. There’s really no debate about a lot of this, but perhaps only on what we make of Christians influenced in this way to allegorize away even the instruments of the Old Testament, or what we take away from Christian ascetics who opposed musical instruments in every setting of any kind. Anyway, Ferguson is a really nice man, so if you’d like his opinion, I can vouch that wouldn’t bite if you asked. He’s never bit me. : )

  • nick gill

    I’m a bigger fan of solutions than complaints, Matt… so how would you frame the question that Jay messed up?

    Mark, why do you assume that IM would have been normative in either Palestinian, Asian, Greek, or Roman home worship?

    finally, I love how only NW is “unfortunately one-sided.” I didn’t see any blogs being written blowing up the GA for being one-sided on the Emerging Church.

    • mattdabbs


      Who here has said ONLY NW is one sided? Toss a quote at me for that. There was plenty written about GA’s very poor write up of Emerging Church back in 2008. The biggest discussion was over on the now defunct Emerging Church of Christ Facebook group. I thought I had something like that on the blog but I didn’t. I did at that time post links to both sides of the issue here on this blog –

      So you didn’t see any but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

      I try to be fair. I agree we have to be more about solutions than complaining. I am willing to be part of that discussion. We don’t frame any other debate like that. Did God send Jesus to the earth so we could take the Lord’s Supper every week? Of course not. How about the flip side. Did God send Jesus to the earth so we wouldn’t ever have to take the Lord’s Supper? Of course not. You see, that question doesn’t take us anywhere because you can point it from either side of an issue. Why not ask the flip side to be fair, “Did God send Jesus in order to worship with instruments?” See how that works?

      The question of instrumental music does not have to be proven or dis-proven by God’s motivation in sending Jesus Christ. Instead there are several framing questions that get more to the point than that question. For instance:

      – Does scripture itself explicitly make IM a salvation issue?
      – Does an issue have to be a salvation issue to be negotiable/non-negotiable?
      – Scripturally speaking which is better, to divide over a negotiable or to unite in spite of a negotiable?
      – Which is more displeasing to God, worship with instruments or disunity in his church?
      – How do you respectfully handle those in the church who will never in good conscience worship with an instrument or in an instrumental service?

      To me, those are better framing questions than if IM was the one explicit issue over which Jesus came to the earth. I hope that is helpful.

      • nick gill

        I guess my main point was that conservative rags do this all the time with absolutely no explanation. The whole point of Jay’s opening article, Introduction: The Instrumental Issue was to explain why the content was shaped this way. It wasn’t like he just did it – at least he explained why. When the conservative editor-bishops start explaining why they NEVER offer differing viewpoints, I think your critique would be valid.

        To be honest, I agreed with you when I first read the article… I thought that was Jay’s frustration coming through rather than effective writing. But go over to Piney, try to read a bit of that, and tell me if Jay is as far off as it seems by framing the question that way – or just read the comments following the article on NW.

        Also, I think we have to remember that one of the major questions Jay (and Todd) posed in the Grace Conversation series had to do with why most conservative Churches of Christ consider the baptized believers in the Christian Church damned. If it isn’t because God sent Jesus to establish a cappella worship, what would it be?

        But the question made me uncomfortable as well – I’m just not sure that discomfort was because, in context, the question is wrong.

      • nick gill

        Matt, I also realized that I came off like a tool in my initial response. I’m really sorry… I’m not having a great day, but for some reason I thought I needed to respond. I’ll try to do better, and I really appreciate your friendship and honesty.

    • mattdabbs

      Definitely no harm done. I assume the best as often as I can. A couple of things in response to your points. You can’t call your work good just by comparing it to piney. It has to be good of its own merit. You can build lots of straw men to make yourself look good. Also, I am definitely not in disagreement with everything in this issue. I even tried to point out that I thought in many ways Jay did a good job. I just didn’t think he framed it very well in that one paragraph. Last, I don’t think we should short change anything we should be doing just because we are waiting for the other guy to be fair first. We should go the extra mile ourselves and if they never do at least we did our best.

    • mattdabbs

      Oh and one last thing…I will accept your apology if you agree to send Mike Murdock $1,000 🙂


  • Wesley Walker

    Appreciate you pointing that out Matt. I had the same thoughts. I look forward to reading the rest of the articles.

  • K. Rex Butts

    In a sense, I am so past this issue. I thought most reader’s of New Wineskins would be too but perhaps not. Personally, I don’t think its a biblical issue and find most of the traditional arguments, including Dr. Tom Alexander’s recent article in the Gospel Advocate, to be forcing a conclusion upon scripture by way of some vey speculative philosophical rules. Though I don’t oppose instruments in worship, my agenda and priority in not to include them either. But what get’s me is that I think those who oppose instruments continue to impose a set of rules that turns what God has accomplished in Christ into a second-law. Behind it all is, what I believe, to be the false restoration premise that our objective as Christians is to be followers of a church-model erected by decontextualizing the New Testament into a flat constitutional-like law. And yet, nowhere in scripture are we called to be followers of any historical period of the church but we are called to be followers of Jesus.

    Grace and Peace,


    • mattdabbs

      Yes, yes, yes and a bunch more yes’es.

      • Danny Corbitt

        I hear plenty of folks say they are “so past this issue.”
        What I’ve seen is families divided. I’ve seen parents concerned that their children will be lost over instrumental music. While the parents ask for answers to their questions, too often we dismiss them, saying, “We’re so past this issue.” It’s a shame, I think.
        In the past, maybe folks wouldn’t read material that didn’t agree with their conclusions about IM. In the current environment, people are opening up.
        I believe that people make bad decisions when they have bad information. I wrote my book and I wrote articles for New Wineskins with the conviction that if we can give good information, if we can answer people’s questions with respect, then they will hear it, and we can be one.
        The feedback I’ve received from my book confirms this is true. I’ve heard powerful stories. I am perhaps remiss not to have told you before now. Answering is not a waste of time. It is a new day. There is hope.
        Let us show compassion to those who yet only dream of being so past this issue.

      • K. Rex Butts


        Since I said that I was so past this issue…let me clarify a bit. For me personally, that is true. I have for the last ten years as both a part-time and full-time minister with a cappella congregations within Churches of Christ. While all congregations have been a cappella, there are very few in the northeast where I have served who would object to attending an instrumental worship and they certainly would not condemn anyone for such worship. The only congregations where I have found a bunch of people who believed IM worship to actually be sinful was in Arkansas and Tennessee. That is why I made the comment I did. I do, however, still believe people in the North to be trapped in the sort of patternistic hermeneutic that has sown the seeds of legalism (a hermeneutic I am trying to lead people out of). Any ways…I have been reading your book and I am enjoying it very much.

        Grace and Peace,


  • One In Jesus » In Reply To Matt Dabbs re My “New Wineskins” Post

    […] Dabbs recently posted an article as his blog “Kingdom Living” stating, Thanks to Mark, however, for pointing out how one-sided this issue of New Wineskins is. I […]

  • Jay Guin


    I’ve posted a response to your comments re my article at

    As always, I deeply respect you and your work.


  • Michael Ward

    I’m new here but wanted to comment on this.

    I think the question should be “Is IM wrong?” not “Will IM damn?”, and it’s the latter that I think “New Winskins” is focusing on.

    The reason for the distinction is that when we ask “Will IM damn?” we digress into a discussion of grace/works which is a very good topic (probably a better one than IM), but not the one that a magazine issue dedicated to IM should be talking about. Now in a grace/works discussion you might very well say, “take for example IM” because that discussion impacts everything. But the reverse is not true.

    If IM is wrong then we should not be doing it even if we believe that God will forgive us because we are in Christ. That would be an abuse of our liberty.

    I think traditional CoC base opposition to IM on 3 fundamental opinions:

    1) There is a law of silence
    2) The OT is of no effect in this dispensation
    3) There is no approved example of IM in the NT

    If any one of these premises is wrong then opposition to IM falls. If they are all true then IM should be opposed the same as any other sin. Even from a faith-only perspective sin should be opposed.

    • nick gill

      Michael, I think you’ve summarized the situation very neatly.

      The correctness of all three premises would prove that IM was inherently wrong under the New Covenant.

      I also believe all three premises are fundamentally flawed.

      This month’s NW editor, Jay Guin, does a great job addressing the Regulative Principle (silence is prohibitive) here

      Paul makes it quite clear to Timothy that the OT is useful for doctrine (2 Tim 3:16).

      The earliest baptized believers met and worshiped at the Temple (Acts 2:46, et al). Paul worshiped at the Temple (Acts 21:20-26).

      I believe any one of these statements (much more, then, all three together) would prove that IM was not forbidden in the early church. I believe there are good and sufficient reasons to explain why it wasn’t commonly practiced, and we know from personal experience that it barely takes a generation for a tradition to become a law – thus by the time of the ECF, the tradition had calcified into law.

      I believe there are important missional concerns to be addressed on both sides of the instrumental divide. “All things are lawful, but not all are profitable.” But saying that Scripture teaches that IM is wrong is going beyond what the Word teaches.

  • Michael Ward


    I agree with you that (1) is false. The other two I think are less clear, but I lean toward 2 being true.

    But I want to steer back to my main point.

    Suppose that all three are clearly true and that therefore IM is a sin just like murder, adultery, and lying are sins.

    Now suppose that we are all staunchly “faith-only”. As a result of our faith-only doctrine do we accept IM? Of course not. We no more accept it than we accept murder, adultery, and lying.

  • Keith Brenton

    Matt, I share in Jay’s great respect for you and your work – as well as in the responsibility for the decision to present new material from only one side of the issue. My feeling was that the other side had enjoyed more exposure in books and articles than perhaps the issue deserves.

    And New Wineskins does provide a comments platform for feedback on this issue, open to anyone to post, with only the restrictions you would expect of any responsible site.

    And I must agree with my Guest Editor’s phrasing of the framing question, because too many proponents of a cappella-only worship have elevated this matter of conscience to a matter of salvational law, spending far more time, money, energy, effort and emphasis on it than the primary mission of the body of Christ.

    In a way, I’m rather glad that there has been some negative reaction to NW presenting only one side of this contentious issue. That tells me the e-zine has been perceived as being fair in the past on coverage of what most consider more mission-specific issues. I hope that, as the rest of the edition’s articles go live, readers will understand why this issue should also be considered mission-specific to the ministry of reconciliation.

    Your brother,

    Sent from my iPhone

  • Bruce Morton

    Given the recent discussion in New Wineskins, One in Jesus, and here, believe I should “surface” a little more and introduce myself. I am a brother living in Katy, Texas. Would be glad to discuss Ephesians 5:18-21 further with you — and specifically the subject of Paul’s parallels, contrasts, and word backgrounds in Ephesians 4:17-5:21, if an interest. Please message me at the below email address, if an interest.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

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