A weird boomerang (2 of 3)


The outline of my life with congregational instrumental music, using a boomerang metaphor:

Phase One:  Boomerang in hand — completely sure of my stance, my grip, “knowing” that instrumental music was an unauthorized “addition” (see more in the first post)

Phase Two:  Boomerang flung — completely sure that I had been completely wrong, often worshipping privately and publicly while aided by instruments (see more in the first post)

Phase Three:  Boomerang on a sort-of altered, return-arc trajectory — still sure that my initial hold on the boomerang was not particularly smart, yet acknowledging, with a quizzical-dog tilt of the head, that the launching of my particular, weirdly shaped boomerang hadn’t been very intelligent, either . . . and seeing, now, that the boomerang is not returning to the point from which it was winged (yet I think it’s heading for a landing that can be seen from the point of origin, if you look hard enough)

In this second autobiographical post, I’m picking up toward the end of explaining Phase Two and moving into Phase Three, where I currently find myself.  These get shorter as they go, so I hope you’ll stay with me. . . .


Continued Explanation of Phase Two.  After realizing I’d been in an untenable stance for years, I went on a walkabout, so to speak.  Or I flung the boomerang.  (Take your pick.)

As evidence of the energy of my thinking at the time, here’s some more material from a late-1990s internet-based discussion group (composed mostly of people within the American Restoration Movement).  These words were exchanged with a good man named Phil who appears earnestly to believe he is right in towing the party line.  Phil was articulate and kind, yet unoriginal and unconvincing to me.  Here are other segments of our conversation, pasted in:

Phil to Brian:
>Instruments (which are unnecessary to the worship of the church have caused
>great division) point people toward entertainment not worship. You may not
>be hindered by it, but what if others are hindered?

Brian to Phil:
Your first statement (commenting only on the non-parenthetical portion) is a blanket generalization — one I cannot agree with without qualification.  I cannot agree because my experience teaches me that there are exceptions although I admit there is a great tendency to overdo and to “hype” the techno-glitz of sound.

The hindering of others should be considered, but if I had a nickel for every time somebody hindered my worship (because I let them, really) by doing something that no one would deny is an inherently OK thing to do. . . .  The hindrance factor is not, in itself, a valid criterion upon which to judge the merits of an expedient or a tool or an addition.

Phil to Brian:
>Instruments cannot speak, teach or admonish. People use them not to fulfill the instruction, but because they want to.

Brian to Phil:
I don’t know about all people, but I do know that I use them with a purpose in mind . . . not whimsically or without thought.  *When* I use them, I use them in order to aid something I believe God wants.  Instruments cannot speak or teach, but they can help me and others do just those things.  Phil, my studied freedom allows their use, but I respect that yours does not.

Brian to Phil, cont.:
I cannot draw such a sharp line of distinction between the voice and other instruments.  I love to sing and do it regularly.  I lead a group of a cappella musicians who sing for regional special events.  I also play F horn in a local orchestra.  I play piano and a few other things for personal enjoyment as well as in some of my worship.  A good instrumentalist sees his instrument as an extension of himself, just like a baseball player feels the glove is a mere extension of his catching hand.  My voice, while obviously a physiological part of me, is not totally under my control. (Remember Peter Brady on “The Brady Bunch” when his voice was changing?)  My throat is sore right now, for instance, and so my voice will not act as I want it to at the moment.

Likewise, when I play horn later this evening, my horn will be, to a degree proportional to my ability, an extension of myself and of my soul. It will not be totally under my control, either, and I will grant that it is *less* “me” than my voice is, of course.  But the line you suggest is between a human-tissue instrument and other, manufactured instruments made from other materials.  That line is not so sharp to me, for I have felt the piano truly speak for me at times — past the ends of my fingers — more than I’ve felt my weaker voice communicate what my soul feels.  Can you accept from me that I have worshipped by and through my playing of the piano?  No, it is not animate, and it cannot speak. B ut it helps the inner part of *me* speak, and as it does, the marriage of the piano’s mechanics, its acoustical properties, its wave forms can say, in combination with my will to express, some profound things.

In a private conversation a year or so later, I wrote this to another brother:

I don’t know if it goes without saying or not, but I personally feel completely free to use instruments, and I do so regularly.  I would not introduce one in a typical Church of Christ setting, given the way things are now in our denomination.  I do think instruments can quickly and easily take control of a person’s thoughts during an assembly; I would tend to use more acoustic, “low-key” instrumentation such as a single piano and/or guitar, adding perhaps a flute or something like that from time to time.  Full, amplified bands with drums and the works have their place in larger settings, and I get into all that when I experience it, but my ideal church is a smaller, more intimate group, and it seems to me that the application for large instrumental groups is limited in small groups.

It doesn’t matter much whether I would emphasize the same things  in the same ways now, 15 years later.  The point here is that I knew had been wrong, and I was moving.  Or being flung?  Like a weird boomerang, I was never to return to the precise point of origin (i.e., the conscientious aversion to instruments in worship).

It almost surprised me that I would say things about the same way as I said them to Phil and to Dave, above.  (Sometimes I think  I’m less stable than I turn out to have been, if that makes any sense.)

In part 3 — which will be more brief, I’ll describe where I am currently on this topic.

Now would be a great time to hear from others of you.  Describing whether you feel the same as you did a decade or two ago would be interesting, as well as your current position, if you’re willing to go on record.  Feel free to write me privately, if you prefer to remain anonymous.

Non-CofC readers, please know that this instrumental music thing can still be a touchy issue for some.  As with other, historically based concerns, the effects can be felt several generations down the road.  (Instrumental music was one chief cause of a major denominational division more than 100 years ago.)  Few, if any, of my own readers are likely to harbor heightened emotions about this topic personally, but many siblings they associate with on Sunday mornings might.  (Thus, the above offer to keep comments anonymous if necessary.)

(To be continued in 3-4 days . . . )

3 thoughts on “A weird boomerang (2 of 3)

  1. Steve Kell 10/15/2014 / 1:57 pm

    I’m following your boomerang reflections with interest–sounds awful familiar for my own journey of understanding/practice concerning a cappella vs instruments. I recall thinking that there had to be some explanation as to why there was a dramatic, apparently almost immediate shift away from the use of mechanical instruments by the newly established church (as “evidenced” by the absent mention of them in Acts/letters)–and then I remembered that typically synagogues did not use instruments (as opposed to the temple services), so the church seemed to reflect this type of public worship setting based on the changes that were made out of necessity from the exilic experience several hundred years earlier.

    But whether that change was a theological shift (the old vs new covenant thing) or just a sociological shift, I struggled with the law of silence/exclusion (based on Heb 7:14, and elsewhere) and the whole psallo argument, but then I took a few steps back as I reflected on the nature and purpose of the canon itself and how I was using–or perhaps better–misusing its intended purpose: more a story of God’s people and purposes in history than a constructed constitution that I had to decipher and apply all the rules and regulations correctly. So my approach to Biblical interpretation needed to shift.

    Then…I decided that my whole orientation needed to change–from basing my salvation on knowledge and the application of my interpretations, to a relational salvation that certainly involved obedience, but was based more on trust and love than getting it all figured out–and telling others what I had figured out so that they had to do faith exactly like I did also. Does that make sense? It doesn’t lessen the demands of righteousness and holiness; it just shifts the foundation from what I know to Who I know–and that seems to makes a significant difference for me.

    I prefer a cappella most of the time–just raised that way, but I’ve been richly blessed and my worship heart enlarged by listening to and participating in songs with instruments (Michael W Smith being one of the first for me). I obtained Rick Atchley’s DVDS from The Hills that explains why they moved toward an acceptance of instruments, and I have yet to purchase and read Tom Alexander’s rejoinder to Rick’s presentation in book form, but plan to do that at some point.

    So…sorry to make this comment so long, but I appreciate your faith trip on this issue, one that has caused such a harmful schism in our heritage–and indeed, with much of our faith neighbors.


    • Brian Casey 10/19/2014 / 2:27 pm


      Thanks for this. So many of your comments lead to further thought! I’ve decided to insert another post in this series — #2.5 — based on some of the matters you bring up here. If there’s anything you want to add, please let me know — it’s likely to be something I should add in #2.5, too! I really appreciate your sharing.

      On Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 1:57 PM, NT Christianity wrote:



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