Authority is the power or right to act. We acknowledge it every time we tap on our brakes when suddenly approaching a police car. We recognize higher levels of authority when we appeal court cases to the Supreme Court. Our lives enjoy order because of authority. Imagine the chaos and carnage that would occur if all began to ignore the authority that lies behind the red and green colors of a traffic light. Since we recognize and appeal to authority in our secular lives, surely, we must do the same when considering how we are to worship God. By whose authority are we to acknowledge in establishing practices of worship? Jesus offers for our consideration two sources of authority when He asks, "The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” (Matthew 21:25). Jesus points out the grave consequences when we choose to follow the teachings authorized by men, instead of that of heaven: "In vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:9).
God has the authority or right to rule our lives because He is our Creator (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, man has no right to complain against the will of God. “O man, who are thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus?” (Romans 9:20). Jesus said, "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). The apostles of Christ exercised the authority the Lord gave them in order to build up the body of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:8). Therefore, when Christians appeal to the words and the letters of the apostles for how we are to worship, God’s people are seeking to establish their practice in the traditions authorized by God (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Such an appeal is essential to guard against vain worship.
The authoritative word of God has instructed us in how we are to use it. We are not to go beyond the things which are written (1 Corinthians 4:6). We cannot add to, nor subtract from God’s word with impunity (Revelation 22:18-19). When we go beyond the teachings of Christ, we have not God (2 John 9).
Jesus commands that all who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Our spirit is involved in worship according to truth when we are speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19) The character of music God wants in worship is psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and He wants such material sung. We do not have God’s authority to add to the kind of music authorized by singing and playing on mechanical instruments of music any more than we have the right to sing secular music in worship unto God.
We have a sobering example in Nadab and Abihu of God’s reaction to unauthorized worship. These two priests offered strange fire before Jehovah, which He had not commanded them. Suddenly, fire came forth from Jehovah and devoured them, and they died before Jehovah (Leviticus 10:1-2). Jehovah does not look with favor upon men when they offer worship that God has not commanded. He punishes presumptuousness!
We must go to the scriptures for our authority in how to worship God, not the consensus of a local church. One Baptist writer recently stated, "Whether you use mechanical instruments or not is a local church issue. In the mind of this Baptist, using instruments of music matters not to God, and each local church can determine to use or not use them." However, local church autonomy does not determine truth, the Scriptures do. One does not go to the business meeting notes of the local church for authority on how God is to be worshiped. It is to the law and the testimonies!
Will there come a day when some local churches of Christ decide to use mechanical instruments of music in worship? Will men react, as they have to other doctrinal issues, by viewing the diversity as healthy, for it indicates we are not following a brotherhood norm or becoming sectarian, but are studying on our own? Will faithful brethren who speak out against the unauthorized use of the instrument be labeled as vicious watchdogs? In times of turbulent transition, we must remind ourselves that the local church does not have the autonomy or right to do what it does not have the authority of God’s word to do. Further, preaching the truth never violates any church’s autonomy.
Appealing to God’s authority is the basis for scriptural unity. Jesus prayed that those who would believe on Him through the Word would "all be one: even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee" (John 17:21). How was this to be achieved? "Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are" (John 17:11). When we respect the name or the authority of the Lord by doing only that which he authorizes, we have unity. We do not have religious division over the issue whether we should sing or not sing in worship. However, when men have introduced a different kind of music into worship, which the New Testament has not authorized, division has occurred.
Dear reader, it’s not the lack of funds nor the absence of talented musicians that keeps mechanical instruments of music out of our worship. The problem is that God has not authorized them by command, approved apostolic example or by a necessary inference. Without such divine approval, no individual or church has the authority to introduce them into the worship of God. “Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).