GIFTED OR AUTHORIZED?
In the worship of the church the New Testament authorizes Christians to sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; et al). Singing was the specified kind of music to be offered in worship to God by Christians. It was over 600 years after the establishment of the church before instrumental music first began to appear in worship, and some historians say it was at least 1000 years after the church began before instrumental music appeared.
When the Protestant Reformation began, most, if not all, Protestants rejected the use of instrumental music in worship because they viewed it as a part of the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church. Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists early in their history opposed instrumental music in worship. David Benedict, in his book, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, published in 1859, stated: “Staunch old Baptists in former times would have as soon tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ in their galleries” (as cited by Alan E. Highers, editor, The Spiritual Sword, Volume 35, No. 2, January 2004).
The New Testament authorizes only men to serve as elders, deacons, and preachers in the church, and to take the leading roles in the worship of the church. Women are commanded to be silent in the assembly of the church (I Corinthians 14:34), and they are instructed to “learn in all silence with all submission” (I Timothy 2:11). By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul plainly declared, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (I Timothy 2:12-14).
Yet, in spite of these clear Bible instructions concerning the kind of music God desires in worship and concerning the role of women in the church, there are those who argue that there are those gifted to play instruments and their giftedness should not be denied them in the worship of the church. It is likewise argued that there are women who are gifted to preach and teach and lead the church in other ways and their giftedness should not be stymied.
What about it? Is “giftedness” the standard by which what we do in service to God is determined, or does His divinely inspired word serve as the standard? Consider the following.
Cain was a gifted farmer, but his sacrifice of the fruit of the ground was unacceptable to the Lord and rejected by Him (Genesis 4:3-5). Cain’s “giftedness” did not make his offering acceptable to God.
Nadab and Abihu were gifted priests, but their sacrifice was unacceptable because they did that which the Lord “had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1-2). Their “giftedness” did not make their offering acceptable to the Lord.
No one can possibly argue that Jesus was not gifted to serve as a high priest because when He ascended back to heaven he became for all Christians their great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). While on earth, however, He was not authorized to serve as a priest because He was not of the priestly tribe (Hebrews 7:14; Hebrews 8:4). His “giftedness” had nothing to do with it and His “giftedness” could not be substituted for what the law of the Lord did not allow.
The Judaizing teachers who caused so much trouble in the early church were no doubt gifted, but the apostles and elders of the church at Jerusalem said of them, “to whom we gave no such commandment” (Acts 15:1, 15). Their “giftedness” as teachers did not make what they taught right. They had no authority to teach what they taught.
Apollos was an extremely gifted preacher and is described as being “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24), but he was wrong about the baptism which he preached and had to be taught “the way of God more accurately” (verse 26). His “giftedness” did not make his doctrine right.
What we need to learn from these examples is that acceptable service to the Lord is not determined by one’s giftedness, but rather by the authority of God’s word.
Christ declared: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). He alone is the head of the church with the right to determine how His church functions (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). Paul wrote: “And whatever you do in word (what we teach and preach, hf) or deed (what we practice, hf), do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (by His divine authority, hf), giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
“Giftedness” does not determine what we do in our worship and service to God. What God in His word authorizes is the determining factor in all acceptable service and worship. As my friend Matthew Morine in a brilliant presentation at the 2019 Faulkner University Bible Lectures rhetorically asked, “Was Paul a cultural coward in not telling us how culture would change the role of women in the future? Did the Holy Spirit succumb to culture?” Good questions, Matthew. The answer is obvious. Matthew went on to quote Everett Ferguson who said, “The text itself is our authority, not our re-construction of the text.” He further noted: “The Bible changes culture, culture is not to change the Bible.”
Let us not succumb to and be governed in our service to God by a hermeneutics of culture, but by a respect for what God’s word clearly authorizes and plainly forbids. It is the authority of the Scriptures, not giftedness, that determines the acceptability of our service to the Lord.
July 23, 2019
- July 24: Nashville Road Church of Christ, Gallatin, TN
- July 28: Adams Avenue Church of Christ, Lebanon, TN