“Judaizing” in the church

Paul warned the Galatian church against judaizing (Gal. 2:14), that is, the adopting of Old Testament Jewish practices, whether willingly or by force. This was not a racist warning, as Paul himself was an Israelite. The truth of the Gospel was at stake. Those Old Testament practices were suitable for the time before the coming of Christ. They acted as a tutor to a church under age (Gal. 3:24), and they pointed to the Saviour to come. But, when Christ finished his work of redemption, these practices were abolished. The issue with the Galatians was primarily circumcision. Paul said that if they adopted circumcision, they were bound to keep the whole ceremonial law (Gal. 5:3). Paul said, ‘Don’t do it!’  Christ has come and fulfilled those shadows.

Well, you might say, we don’t do circumcision as a religious thing in our Christian Churches. That’s fine, but how does this sound? For its first 18 centuries, the western church – with one significant exception – had seen the use of musical instruments in public worship as judaizing.

This is the Biblical picture. God established the use of musical instruments in temple worship in King David’s day (1 Chron. 16:4-5, 23:5, 25:1-7). The Levites alone were appointed to do this temple work (2 Chron. 8:14-15, 29:25, 30:21 & 35:15). After the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the temple worship was abolished. The letter to the Hebrews explains why the Levitical service had to end (Hebrews 7:12-16). There is now no valid use for a Levitical priesthood or its services in the Christian Church. When the Levitical priesthood was abolished, so was the use of musical instruments in public worship.

This is why there is no evidence for the use of musical instruments in the New Testament church. Read the apostles’ letters to the churches. There is no mention of instrumental music in association with church gatherings. The singing of Psalms is to be accompanied by melody made in the heart (Eph. 5:19). The only mention of musical accompaniment to worship is in the Book of Revelation (5:8), but its apocalyptic language and its temple imagery are no safe guides to New Testament church practice. The absence of any mention of musicians in respect of church worship – while administrators as well as pastors and teachers are spoken of (1 Cor. 12:28) – strongly suggests that musicians had no role in New Testament worship.

A further thing to consider is that western church history gives no instance of musical instruments in public worship until about AD 800 (a singular case), and the wide use of them is only attested from about AD 1300 (1). Before the 14th century, the western church had consistently regarded the use of musical instruments in public worship as judaizing. Furthermore, it appears that Greek Orthodox Church never has used musical instruments in worship (2).

Clement of Alexandria (3rd century) wrote that ‘the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord’ and ‘we no longer use the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel and flute’ (3). Basil (4th century) had no time for musical instruments. Commenting on Ps 33:2, Basil interpreted the lyre as the Christian’s body, by which the Lord is to be praised, and the ten-stringed harp as representing the Ten Commandments, which Christians are to obey in the newness of the Spirit (4). Again, writing on Isaiah 5:12, Basil referred disparagingly of musical instruments, and noted that the end of such things is destruction (5). Chrysostom (4th century) commented on Ps. 149 and 143, saying that ‘musical instruments were only permitted to the Jews’, like the sacrifices, but ‘now, instead of organs, Christians must use the body [e.g. their good deeds] to praise God.’ He explicitly said that musical instruments were suitable only for the ‘child’ phase of the church (6). Augustine (4th century) also said that the instruments had only symbolic meaning for the Christian church. The church was not to use a literal ten-stringed harp as if it were a theatre, but was rather to show its love for the Saviour by keeping the Ten Commandments (7).

Thomas Aquinas (13th century) wrote that ‘the church does not use musical instruments to praise God, lest she should seem to judaize’ (8). In the early 16th century, Erasmus wrote of the babble of musical instruments that intruded upon the church services in his day, making the church look and sound like a theatre (9). At the reformation, musical instruments were removed from the reformed churches for biblical reasons. John Calvin regarded the use of musical instruments as wholly an Old Testament thing. It would, he argued, ‘bury the light of the Gospel, should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation’. (10). Even the Church of England, during the 16th century, ceased to employ musical instruments in worship and published a homily to explain why this was a blessing (11). John Willison, a Scottish Presbyterian, wrote in 1744 that the church was committed — among other things — to resisting the ‘Popish’ practice of using musical instruments in the public worship of God (12).

I offer this historical meander simply to show that the biblical teaching — that using instrumental music in public worship is judaizing — is not merely the result of post-reformation protestant prejudice.  Clement, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine and Aquinas all wrote before the Reformation, and Erasmus was certainly not a rabid reformer.

The biblical teaching had been recognised in the west for about 18 centuries. The change that occurred in protestantism during the 19th century was not the result of faithful Bible teaching. It came at a time when the church’s confidence in the Scriptures was in decline. After the introduction of musical instruments, generations of Christians have grown up with the practice, and now even people with real confidence in the Bible accept this practice without question.

Paul said that the Christian church is not to judaize. The church to which I belong says plainly in its Confession of Faith that nothing is to be introduced into the worship of God except that which God has prescribed in the Bible (WCF 21:1). We most certainly are not to do what God forbids. The use of instrumental music was a Levitical and thus temporary feature of temple worship. It is now abolished along with circumcision and animal sacrifices. To continue to use these Old Testament shadows is to cloud the fact that Christ has come to bring salvation. That was part of Paul’s burden when he wrote to the Galatians urging them not to judaize (Gal. 2:14 and Gal. 3:23-25). Christ has come, and we have no further use for a school-master. I suggest, therefore, that the modern Church needs to reconsider its ways.

Notes:

  1. http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/when-did-churches-start-using-instrumental-music.html (accessed 1 June 2016)
  2. https://oca.org/questions/parishlife/musical-instruments (accessed 3 June 2016)
  3. Clement https://archive.org/details/writingsofclemen01clem p. 216.
  4. Basil, https://archive.org/details/p1operaomniaquae01basiuoft, pp. 285-287.
  5. Basil, https://archive.org/details/operaselecta01basi pp. 534 & 536.
  6. Chrysostom, https://archive.org/details/operaomniaquaeex05johnuoft pp. 601, 604 & 560.
  7. Augustine, https://archive.org/details/expositionsonboo01auguuoft pp. 311-313.
  8. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, [II-II, Q. 91, Art. 2]. See Objection 4 and Reply. https://ia600200.us.archive.org/34/items/summatheologicap18755gut/18755.txt
  9. Erasmus, Opus Omnia Tom V. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=VwnU9rhV3sMC&pg=PR58&lpg=PR58&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false pp. 731-732.
  10. See Calvin on Psalm 92:3, The Ages Digital Library Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 2, p. 179.
  11. Homilies (Oxford, 1802), pp. 293-294. https://archive.org/stream/sermonsorhomilie0a0chur#page/292/mode/2up
  12. John Wilison, https://archive.org/details/fairimpartialtes00will p.189.

Introduction to Galatians Chapter 1

Paul was not a boastful person. Not when he was writing his letter to the Churches of Galatia. Not boastful any more, at least.

There had been a time when Paul was very proud and boastful.

  • born an Israelite,
  • of the family group of Benjamin,
  • a Hebrew of Hebrews. A son of Father Abraham.
  • trained as a Pharisee by a famous teacher, Gamaliel.
  • one of the religious elite.

He believed in an Almighty God who was holy and just.

He believed this God would raise the dead and bring the World to judgment.

He believed that he had kept the law and was legally blameless.

He thought that he would escape the condemnation of hell.

All this Paul once believed and was proud of it all.

Until he was confronted by Jesus Christ.

In this Paul has been very like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit everlasting life – the young man probably wasn’t asking for advice, but expecting congratulations. Jesus shook the young man to his core by showing him that he didn’t qualify for everlasting life, and that he couldn’t qualify – he was too much in love with himself and his sin.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that the 10th commandment – by God’s grace – finally convinced him that he was a law breaker, a sinner, an enemy of the God who made him.

He had thought that because he could not recall murdering anyone, that he was not a murderer, and that if he hadn’t stolen any thing, then he was not a thief.

But yet he discovered that he was a law breaker – because he was covetous – that is, his thoughts and desires were not right – in fact they were utterly twisted. He envied his neighbour. He wanted what they had and was not content with what God had given him.

From that point he understood that the law was spiritual as well as physical, that in his heart and mind he had broken God’s law continually from his youngest days.

If he were ever to have life instead of death, he would need to be rescued by someone other than himself.

To his initial horror, Paul discovered that the only one who could rescue him was the very one against whom he had been fighting so ferociously.  It was Jesus Christ, whose followers he had arrested and thrown in prison and testified against so they might be killed.

Yet Paul found that this Jesus, the one whom he had hated and wronged with great passion, had rescued him from a just condemnation and everlasting punishment. Then this same Jesus made him a messenger of grace and mercy to other people who themselves were proud rebels.

This is where the letter to the Galatians starts. Not with a boast about Paul’s greatness, but an assertion of the greatness of the one who sent him to bring Good News to them.

Continued in part 2.

Galatians Chapter 1 part 2

Continued from part 1.

This is how Paul’s letter to the Galatians starts. Not with a boast about his own greatness, but an assertion of the greatness of the one who sent him to bring Good News.

Paul made this point directly to oppose other messengers who had been sent by people in Jerusalem.

These came with another message. And that other message was not good news.

These men had a message, too. It was that trusting Jesus was a good thing to do, but you non-Jewish Galatians needed to become Jews as well as trust Jesus.

In this way they added to the Good News of Jesus.

For these men, the Good News was not simply a message of who Jesus Is, and what Jesus had done.

The sinner, according to these people, had to do things too, in order to complete that rescue that Jesus had begun: –

If the sinner was a male, he had to trust Jesus AND be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to be sure of salvation and freedom from judgment.

If the sinner was female, she had to trust Jesus AND keep the law of Moses to be sure that she was right with God.

Paul had no sympathy with these men or their message – their message was wrong.

Versus 1-4

An apostle – one who is sent to deliver a message for someone else.

Both Paul and these men were, in one sense at least, apostles – they had both been sent by someone else.

These men had been sent by people in Jerusalem who wanted the non-Jewish Christians to become Jews as well as Christians, so they could become ‘proper’ Christians. Paul himself had once been sent by men in Jerusalem to arrest Christians and hand them over to be condemned. But Paul’s trip was cut short.  The risen Lord Jesus gave him a completely different mission.  Jesus sent him out with Good News of how he, Jesus, rescues bad people like us. His news was not bad news of how bad people must somehow rescue themselves.

So Paul was no longer proud; rather he was profoundly and happily humbled.  The Lord Jesus had rescued him from sin and the death he deserved, and his job was to tell others that they too can enjoy the benefits of this same rescue, which comes simply and only by trusting Jesus Christ.

But, if Paul was now so humble, why did he insist on his being sent by Jesus, and not by mere men, or by means of men, but by the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead?

Well, it wasn’t to impress the Galatians with his own importance, but to impress upon the Galatians that the authority for his message did not came from impressive people in Jerusalem.

His authority to speak came from the eternal God whom we all have offended.

God’s message is about Jesus Christ, about what God has done in order for people to be saved from their sin and death we deserve.

God’s message is not at all about what we must do to save ourselves.

So Paul puts this reality right up front in his letters.

Grace (which is the love of God) and peace (which replaces our continuing war against God and creator) comes by Jesus Christ. How? Jesus Christ acted for us. He gave himself for our sins – that is, he took our place in the judgment of the cross. He became our sin bearer.

We deserved to die, but the eternal Son of God became a human being, and as God and Man became our substitute – the condemnation of Jesus and his death on the cross for our sins is regarded by God as the final condemnation and death of all those who trust him.

The death and curse that all people deserve was removed at the cross for God’s people – for those who come to trust Jesus Christ.

This is God’s will for our salvation.

There is no other way to be safe from God’s judgment except the way God has provided.  Because God has acted in Jesus, there is nothing more to be done. Jesus Christ did it all for his people.

So, there is no more judgment for those who trust Jesus, nothing more to achieve.

All glory goes to our God for his mercy to us.

Continued in part 3.

Galatians Chapter 1 part 3

(Continued from part 2)

Though Paul was no longer proud, he was greatly distressed and amazed.

The Galatians had messed up big time.

For example, in contrast to the Galatian church, the church at Corinth had Christian people who were involved in all sorts of wrong doing.

  • The church was splitting into rival tribes over who was the best minister.
  • Some of them were in incestuous relationships.
  • Others were suing one another and dragging each others dirty linen through the pagan court system (The ancient Greek legal system was at heart Character assassination – “This is my brother in Christ — the dirty rotten fink”)
  • Others were hanging out at the local pagan temples and getting too much involved with the seamy side of things there.

But Paul managed to write a letter to the Corinthians that began with assurances of his prayers for them and his thanks to God every time he remembered them. But you see, as wrong and as bad as their behaviour was, and as much as Paul would tell the Corinthians to stop doing these bad things, Paul understood that they had not abandoned the Gospel message. The church was just not living the right way in response to it.  The situation was wholly different in the Churches of Galatia.

The Galatians church people  were most likely very moral. To the observer, they were probably regarded as model citizens, but they had abandoned the good news of Jesus Christ for another gospel, which is not another of the same kind, but a false kind of gospel.

Those men from Jerusalem had got it into their heads that, as good as the work of Jesus Christ was, it just wasn’t enough to make them proper Christians.

These men told them that after trusting Jesus, there was still something for them to do in order to  complete the job.

The Galatians might not even have seen it that way, but Paul correctly characterised the Galatians’ acceptance of this false message as an abandonment of Jesus Christ.

“How have you so quickly abandoned Jesus Christ, the one who has called you by grace?”

You have left your own safety for another Gospel, which is not another.

Two different Greek words are used here for ‘another’. One is ‘allos’, another of the same kind, the other word is ‘heteros’, which means another of a different kind.

The men from Jerusalem had told the Galatians that adding a bit of their own efforts to complete the saving work of Jesus was the same type of gospel as the one Paul had brought.

It was, they said, another of the same type – allos – it was just a different way of expressing it.

But Paul knew it to be another of a completely different type – heteros.

In fact, their message was not good news at all – it was bad news.

  • What Jesus did was not good enough (very bad because completely wrong)
  • What you do MIGHT be good enough if you try hard enough (very bad because completely wrong –  it leaves non-Christians in their lostness, and it puts unbearable and unnecessary burdens on people who are Christians.

This is a very serious matter – one of life and death.

This is way Paul said, “If anyone [we or an angel from heaven] should bring a gospel to you beside the one you had received, let that one be accursed”; that is, be utterly condemned by God.

The good news is that God was in Christ, reconciling sinners like us to himself. Trust Jesus alone – his good life, his death in the place of sinners, and his rising from the dead – as all you need to be accepted by God to have everlasting life. That is the Gospel.

As far as our salvation is concerned, what we do is irrelevant – doesn’t make a fig of difference. The reality of who Jesus is and what he has done gives life to those who trust him. Living thankful lives in the light of this mercy is true freedom in this wicked world.