"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.IV No.IV Pg.8-9
November 1941

James Deforest Murch's "Views On Instrumental Music

Cecil B. Douthitt

In a recent number of the Christian Standard Brother Murch states his "views on instrumental music in worship." He is advertised as the "literary editor" of the Standard Publishing Company. Also he is Brother Witty's co-worker in the Unity Movement.

This is the reason he gave for writing the article because "some writers in our brotherhood papers have intimated that I have neither convictions on the use of musical instruments in worship, nor regard for the authority of the Holy Scriptures." Therefore he wrote in selfdefense to let the readers of "our brotherhood papers" know he is not yielding one inch of ground to Witty and his crowd. It must be rather embarrassing to Brother Witty for Murch to come out so boldly on this matter, while Witty is trying so hard to convince the brethren that he is making progress in his collaboration with Murch in the Unity Movement, unless he has passed the embarrassment stage.

Since the use of mechanical instruments is a matter of conviction with Murch, and since he has undertaken to defend his practice by argument, it seems to me that Brother Witty ought to ask for space in the Standard to reply to him. If the Standard will not give him the space, he should reply to Murch in the next unity meeting. Witty is half-owner of those unity meetings, and the brethren know he could reply to Murch if he wanted to. Why does he not do it? Are his views on instrumental music the same as Murch's? How can he expect any cooperation from his brethren while he lets Murch argue his side of the question and Witty says nothing in reply?

Brother Murch's "views" as written in the Standard are not arranged as systematically as one would expect a "literary editor" to arrange them, but I shall consider them in the order he gave.

In the Old Testament

1. He says that instrumental music in the tabernacle and temple was acceptable unto God. If that proves that such music is acceptable in Christian worship, it also proves that animal sacrifices and burning incense are acceptable in Christian worship, for both of these were in the tabernacle and temple worship.

2. He quotes a part of I Chron. 16:42 and II Chron. 7:6 to prove that the mechanical instruments in the Mosaic worship were "of the Lord." Under the old covenant they were "of the Lord" in the same sense that divorce and re-marriage (Deut. 24:1-3), polygamy (II Sam. 12:8), and the kingly government (I Sam. 8:22) were "of the Lord." God tolerated all these things under the law of Moses because of his great mercy and their hardness of heart, but he was never pleased with any of them and registered a protest against them all. That protest against the introduction of mechanical music under the law is recorded in Amos 6:5. In the very passage that Murch quotes to show that the instruments of music were "of the Lord" (II Chron. 7:6), God gave the reason why he tolerated such: "because his mercy endureth forever." -not because he was pleased with them any more than he was pleased with the kingly government and polygamy.

3. Again he says reference is made in the Psalms to instruments of music in the worship. The Psalms make reference to burning incensed and dancing. Why exclude that?

4. After his discussion of the instruments in the Old Testament, he concludes: "Thus, so far, as the Old Testament is concerned, we can say that the use of instrumental music in worship is scriptural and acceptable to God." Would it not be a little more "literary" for a "literary editor" to say in that sentence, that "the use of instrumental music in worship was scriptural and acceptable to God," rather than is? Does the "literary editor" see any difference between is and was?

If all agreed (which I do not) that God had authorized specifically mechanical music under the law, that still would not be scriptural authority for its use in Christian worship; for as Murch says, `In the New Testament, we will readily agree, a new order was set up."

In the New Testament

In making his approach to a few passages in the New Testament, Brother Murch has this to say: "There are five outstanding Scriptures in the New Testament which definitely mention the use of music in worship-Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; I Cor. 14:7-9; Rev. 14:1-5, and Rev. 15:1-4." These five passages are no more "outstanding" than some others which mention vocal "music in worship," but since he bases his contention for the use of mechanical instruments in worship on these, passages, I shall examine them one by one.

Eph. 5:19-"Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."

Of course the reader can see that the English translation of this verse does not make even the remotest reference to mechanical instrumentation. But Brother Murch says that the Greek word psallo which appears in this verse means "sing plucking the strings"; that is, mechanical music inheres in the word psallo. Well, let's see about that.

1. About 150 men who represented the cream of the scholarship of their generations gave us the King James and Revised versions of the New Testament. There is nothing in either of these translations to indicate that the idea of mechanical instrumentation inheres in the word psallo. If playing on a mechanical instrument had been any part of the New Testament meaning of this word, these scholars would have so translated it in at least one of its five New Testament appearances, or would have merely Anglicized it. In all five passages where it occurs they translated it so as to carry no idea of mechanical instrumentation. Does the "literary editor" of the Standard think he knows more about the New Testament meaning of this Greek word than the 150 scholars mentioned?

2. No commandment of the New Testament can be obeyed short of any and every act that the meaning of that commandment requires. If instrumental music inheres in the word psallo, we cannot psallein without such music. But Brother Murch admitted in the outset of his article that one could worship God acceptably without mechanical instrumentation. Even a tyro in logic, much less a "literary editor," ought to be able to see the in-consistency between his admission that he can worship "without" the instruments and his claim that such instruments inhere in the term "psallo."

3. That the word "psallo" as used by the apostle, primarily means to pluck, or cause to vibrate, is admitted by all. But the point of the controversy is: What is to be plucked or caused to vibrate? and how is the melody to be made? The verse under consideration plainly says that the "heart" is the instrument to be plucked or caused to vibrate; that the "heart" is the instrument of melody. This verse also says that the vibration or melody is to be created in the heart by speaking in songs, or singing. Therefore by God's law of exclusion this melody cannot be made in the human heart, except by singing. Every kind of music, except singing, in which the heart is plucked or caused to vibrate, is excluded from the worship by the same law. God said psallo-make that melody by speaking in song. Read the verse again, Brother Murch, please.

Col. 3:16. He quotes this verse and says that all he said about Eph. 5:19 is also applicable here. Well, I hardly think so, because the verb "psallo" does not appear in this verse. The noun "psalmos," meaning psalm, appears, but not "psallo." I wonder if the "literary editor" knows the difference. If Murch will read this verse carefully, I think he will be able to see that the purpose of this music is to teach and admonish one another in the word of Christ. Just how a man could do that on a fiddle would be difficult to explain. What fact or warning or command or promised of the gospel can any man learn on a fiddle or horn or organ? I can understand how a man can be taught and admonished by the words of a song, but I do not understand how anyone can be taught the word of Christ by the tones of a pipe organ. And that is exactly what Paul emphasizes in the next "outstanding Scripture"; notice it:

I Cor. 14:7-9. "And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction on the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air."

It would not be charitable for me to express my opinion of a "literary editor" who does not know any better than to try to use this passage in defense of mechanical music in worship. How on earth did Murch get that job as "literary editor" of the Standard Publishing Company? In this passage Paul is forbidding their speaking words in a tongue or language that could not be understood, and he uses the sound of pipe and harp as an illustration to show how silly and useless it is to speak in a tongue when nobody knows what is spoken. He opposed "tongues" at Corinth on the ground that the "words" could not be understood; he would not even sing in a language in which the words could not be understood) (v. 15). Can a "pipe or harp" speak "words easy to be understood"? The same objection that Paul' raised against "tongues" can be raised against "pipe or harp"; neither could utter "words easy to be understood." The Scriptures demand that there be "teaching" in the music authorized for the church (Col. 3:16). When Murch becomes able to teach the plan of salvation or any other gospel truth on a "pipe or harp," or when he can make a fiddle talk and speak "words easy to be understood," then there will be some sense in his "pipe or harp" argument. I wish he would name one gospel truth that he or anyone else ever learned on a "pipe or harp."

Rev. 14:1-5; 15:1-4. Murch concludes from these passages in Revelation that there are harps in heaven, and his point is that it is right to use them in worship today because heaven contains "the ultimate in church worship."

In the symbolic expressions of the book of Revelation several things are said to be in heaven, which Brother March would hardly indorse in church worship: Seven lamps of fire burning (Rev. 4:5). Is that a "heavenly picture of the ultimate in church worship"? Should we return to the lighting of lamps and burning of candles? Golden bowls full of incense (Rev. 5:8). Should we burn incense in church worship? Bowls of wrath poured out on the earth (Rev. 15:7). Does Brother Murch advocate pouring a few of these bowls of wrath out of the church on to the earth now?

Murch closes his article with this statement: "My mind is open to any Bible proof that the use of instrumental music in worship is sinful. If I were thus convinced that it is sinful I would unhesitatingly give up my present practice." If Brother Witty believes it is sinful, and if he believes Murch is sincere in the statement, it is his duty at the next opportunity to try his dead level best to show Murch that it is sinful. Will he do it in the next unity meeting? Will he ever reply to Murch's article? We shall wait and see. If he does not believe that Murch is sincere in the statement, then he has no business hobnobbing with him any longer.

I cannot understand why a man as open-minded to any Bible proof, as Murch claims to be, is unwilling to discuss the issue in public and orderly debate with an opponent present to show him the mistakes in his reasoning. He will debate the question when ho opponent is present, but he will not debate the same question when there is anybody around with an opportunity to reply to him; and yet he claims that his "mind is open." That is strange.