BNc EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
BNc: Dr. Miller, why a book directed toward Richland Hill’s decision to use the instrument? Do you see their decision as a watershed event?
MILLER: Well, yes and no. Since RH claims to be the numerically largest church of Christ in the U.S., it naturally receives more notice than the average congregation. As they chose to be the ones to step out on this issue, it follows that they should receive a direct response. On the other hand, they generally have influence only with those individuals and churches that share their desire to restructure the Lord’s church by relaxing foundational doctrines and accommodating the cultural craving for change and self-stimulation. They have zero influence with elderships and churches that are determined to maintain their love for Jesus by conforming to his will (John 14:15; 15:14; 1 John 5:3).
BNc: The subtitle of the book Richland Hills and Instrumental Music is A Plea to Reconsider. Are you hopeful that Richland Hills would actually decide to give up the instrument?
MILLER: Certainly, I possess a deep desire that the powers at RH that have orchestrated this innovation would reconsider and repent. God’s truth is powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and can melt hearts or, to change the metaphor, like a hammer, God’s Word can break a rock in pieces (Jeremiah 23:29). It could happen. At the very least, I hope that some of the members at RH will read the book, see the error of their way (James 5:20), and decide to extricate themselves and align with a faithful congregation of the Lord’s people. Whether or not either of these two hopes materializes, I hope that others who read the book will be strengthened in their commitment to scriptural worship, and encouraged by the realization that liberal ploys can be refuted biblically.
BNc: What is really at stake in their decision?
MILLER: The eternal destiny of souls is at stake, for the simple reason that how a person worships has always been important to God. Bible history literally is littered with instances of those who, though religious, though religiously sincere, and though worshiping the right God, nevertheless were rejected for their deviant worship. No doubt Cain’s attitude was not what it should have been, but the explicit reason God gives for rejecting Cain’s worship is that his actions were out of harmony with divine protocol (examine the word “well” in Genesis 4:7, the allusion to Abel’s “faith” in Hebrews 11:4—which only comes by hearing God’s Word/directives, and also the declaration in 1 John 3:12 that Cain’s actions [“works/deeds”] were evil). According to the NIV rendering of Hebrews 12:28, we must “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” “Reverence and awe” refers to attitude. “Acceptably” refers to specific actions—such as the use or nonuse of an instrument. King Uzziah was rejected because his pride led him to offer worship (incense) to God that he had no right to offer (2 Chronicles 26:16ff.). Moses’ two nephews were burned to death by God, though they were the right persons, at the right place, at the right time, with the right censers, and the right incense. The text specifically declares that their mistake was they used the wrong fire to ignite the incense—what the NIV rightly labels “unauthorized fire” (Leviticus 10:2). Instrumental music is precisely parallel to that historical circumstance in that it is strange/unauthorized music. Based on verse 3 of that text, it is evident that introducing foreign features into the worship of God (such as I.M.) constitutes a failure to show God to be holy and to honor Him. Many other passages teach the same principle (e.g., Matthew 15:8-9; John 4:24) .
BNc: What’s the main thesis of your book?
MILLER: That the best “arguments” that can be put forth in an attempt to justify instrumental music in worship to God are false. In fact, sitting down and really studying the assertions made by the pro-instrumentalists will create tremendous certainty and confidence regarding the fact that instrumental music is sinful. The truth is that clear, obvious and faith-building.
BNc: You made the book available as a free PDF download. What’s behind that move?
MILLER: From the very beginning, it has been my intention to keep this project completely nonprofit. Paul Sain and Sain Publications graciously agreed to take on the task of printing and distributing the book, using funding solely from freewill contributions. No one has made any profit. We are sending a free copy to every church of Christ in the country (some 13,000), and we printed enough to distribute additional copies of the book to whoever desires them. We printed about 22,000 copies. When that printing is depleted (and it nearly is), we will have to make a decision about reprinting. We still need contributions to cover the remaining postage costs for mailing the book to churches. Our only objective has been to give people the opportunity to hear the other side—to give the truth equal time. Placing a PDF of the book on the site allows people all over the world to access the contents of the book without cost.
BNc: Why do you believe the time and effort spent battling this issue to be worth it?
MILLER: Despite the fact that Richland Hills has been moving down the road to apostasy for many years (from introducing praise teams to supporting Promise Keepers), in many people’s mind, instrumental music is a sort of key indicator, a test criterion, that shows a church to have removed itself from the brotherhood, abandoning loyalty to Christ and siding with the denominations. When the church in America experienced major division over a century ago, though there were deeper issues involved, instrumental music and missionary societies were the issues around which the “digressives” rallied. In every period of history, those who desire to “draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30) orchestrate their efforts using a specific doctrinal issue which becomes the cover criterion for conceptualizing the separation/division that they instigate. In the first-century church, Satan used the Jew-Gentile controversy, with circumcision as the crystallizing factor, to create division. Through the centuries that followed, central issues surfaced to wreak havoc, beginning with the organizational structure of the church in the second century, moving to the deity of Christ, and during the Reformation period, the meaning of faith and works for salvation. In the last century or so, the controversy over the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible has plagued Christendom, even affecting churches of Christ as manifested by the new hermeneutic discussion, the intellectuals of the Christian Scholars Conference, and the significant role that our liberal Christian universities are playing in subverting young people. The move to introduce instrumental music can be seen against the larger backdrop of a decreased respect for the authority of the Word of God, even as American culture since the 1960’s has been largely defined by its rebellion against authority and aversion to law. The pro-instrumentalists are the very ones who mischaracterize obedience to God’s laws as “legalism.”
BNc: Is our brotherhood defined by the rejection of the musical instrument for worship?
MILLER: Only by those who approve of the instrument or fail to recognize the significance of the issue. Their claim is erroneous and unfair. It would be closer to the truth to say that those who approve of the instrument have defined themselves by their approval. The church of the New Testament is defined by many God-given doctrines, beliefs, and practices. Certainly, the central thrust of New Testament Christianity is Christ and what He has done for us—the grace of the Bible. But He has enjoined many concerns on us—including worship in spirit and truth—concerns that we must heed even at the risk of being mischaracterized by those who dismiss those concerns as unimportant or peripheral. Rejecting instrumental music in worship is no more or less important than any other teaching of Christ—from feeding the poor, to loving our neighbor, to rearing children in the Lord. The “one faith” of Ephesians 4 includes the totality of Christian doctrine dispensed by the Holy Spirit and recorded in the New Testament. The righteous are always vulnerable to being accused of “majoring in minors” and “defining themselves” by whatever issue plagues society and the church at a particular moment in history. That tactic is simply a ploy to minimize opposition. What men consider minor is often major in God’s sight, and vice-versa (Luke 16:15). The faithful will ignore such ungracious jabs and concentrate on urging people to obey God on every issue that arises.
BNc: Is it realistic today to make the instrument an issue of fellowship?
MILLER: It always is realistic and relevant to “make an issue” of any Bible doctrine that is being flagrantly ignored, rejected or altered. While the Bible speaks of “weightier matters” (e.g., Matthew 23:23), even the less weighty matters are important to God—or he would not have enjoined them. (Just ask Adam and Eve about the seemingly minor action of taking one bite from one piece of fruit from one tree!) Circumcision is a non-issue in the church today, yet it was a critical issue in the first-century church that constantly asserted itself, jeopardized souls and occupied considerable space on the pages of inspired writ for all time. Issues such as eating things sacrificed to idols, and whether Christ came in the flesh or merely as a phantom spirit, give us no real problem today. Yet, when people in the church make an issue out of such things, causing division and perpetrating false views regarding them, the faithful will stand up and challenge them. Churches of Christ in America, like those in the New Testament, have been worshiping for years in accordance with God’s instructions by excluding the instrument. Richland Hills is guilty not only of promoting corrupt worship, they are guilty of disrupting the peace of the brotherhood by their unbiblical addition (Romans 16:17-18; Proverbs 30:6). Ironically, they accuse those who oppose them of being the divisive disrupters—just as Ahab accused Elijah (1 Kings 18:17). But the reverse is true. May God bring them to their senses that they may be forgiven for the monumental damage they are inflicting on the precious body of Christ.