Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 16, 1964

The Needham---Crawford Debate

Paul K. Williams

November 25-26 at Beaver Dam, Kentucky, bro. James P. Needham, preacher for the Expressway church in Louisville, Kentucky, met Mr. Charles Crawford, preacher for the First Christian Church in Beaver Dam on the subject of instrumental music in worship. Mr. Crawford affirmed the first night that instrumental music in worship to God is scriptural. Bro. Needham affirmed Tuesday night that instrumental music in worship to God is sinful. Each man had two 30 minute speeches each night. The debate was held in the building of the Beaver Dam church of Christ.

The debate was well attended, although there were few from the Christian Church present. Well over 20 gospel preachers were present each night. There was a notable lack of preachers from the Christian Church to give support to Mr. Crawford. The first night he did not even have a moderator. The conduct of both disputants was above reproach, and the tone of the debate was the highest. The audience was exceptionally orderly.

Mr. Crawford had debated on this question at least once before. He impressed the audience with his kindness and earnestness. His argument turned entirely on the meaning of the Greek verb "psallo" (translated "sing" and "make melody") and of the Greek noun "psalmos" (translated "psalm"). He contended that the use of psalmos and psallo in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 authorizes the use of instrumental music to accompany singing in worship. He contended that the use of the instrument inheres in psallo and psalmos. The second night he put a chart on the board in which he alleged that hymns and spiritual songs can be sung without instrumental accompaniment but that psalms are always sung to the accompaniment of a man-made instrument. His argument demanded, therefore, that Christians must use instrumental music in singing psalms if Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 are to be obeyed.

In order to give substance to his contention, Mr. Crawford read a long list of quotations from various Greek Lexicons, "Church Fathers," and historians. Many of his quotations did not pertain directly to his argument. Many of the others were lifted out of context or were written by theologically biased authors. He misused Thayer's definition of "psallo," making no distinction between what Thayer says is the Old Testament meaning of the word and what is the New Testament meaning. This was ably pointed out by bro. Needham.

Bro. Needham contended that "what you can't prove in the English, you can't prove in the Greek." He cited the fact that 148 of the "ripest Greek scholars" translated the King James and American Standard versions of the New Testament, and they translated the word "psallo" to mean "sing." (In Eph. 5:19 it is translated "make melody" in the heart.) He emphasized that Thayer's, the authority Mr. Crawford was trying to use to prove that psallo means to play, was on the committee which translated the American Standard Version. Further, no English translation translates "psallo" to mean "sing and play." Bro. Needham contended that if we can't trust the translations of these able men who were the finest Greek scholars in the English speaking world, then millions will be doomed to die in ignorance of the word of God because they don't know Greek.

Then Bro. Needham pointed out that if "psallo" and "psalmos" demand the instrument, the apostles and early church did not know it. He quoted several authorties to show that for over 600 years the church used no instrumental music in its worship, the organ having been introduced about 666 A. D. by Pope Vitalian. It was not used generally till after the thirteenth century. Mr. Crawford did not successfully contradict these authorities, merely insisting that, since psallo and psalmos include the instrument (according to his definition), the early church must have used it. He cited no unbiased authority to substantiate his claim.

One telling point brought out by bro. Needham was that of all the Greek Lexicons, only three define "psallo" to include instrumental music in its New Testament usage. These three also define "baptizo" ( I baptize) to include sprinkling or pouring. He showed that these authorities were very evidently theologically biased and that their testimony, therefore, was suspect. Mr. Crawford was silent on this point.

Bro. Needham asked Mr. Crawford the first night to answer whether those of us who sang in worship without the instrument will be lost because we do not use the instrument. Mr. Crawford answered the second night by stating that we can be wholly pleasing to God without ever using the instrument. This put him in the position of maintaining that something God commanded Christians to do is not necessary for salvation, for he had maintained that the instrument is commanded in the words "psallo" and "psalmos."

During the interval between speeches the second night, the audience stood and sang, "The Lord's My Shepherd." Bro. Needham pointed out that we had sung, without instrumental accompaniment, a psalm, and that Mr. Crawford and his moderator had joined in. This was a practical demonstration that it is possible to sing a psalm without a man-made instrument accompanying, a thing which Mr. Crawford says is not possible. Mr. Crawford made no reply to this.

Bro. Needham ably defended the truth in this discussion. Those attending were certainly strengthened. Bro. Needham will send copies of the tapes he made of the debate to those who will send him tapes and postage. His address is: 3004 Radiance Rd., Louisville, Kentucky, 40220. Bro. Grover Stevens of the Park Blvd. church in Louisville moderated for bro. Needham and did a good job of setting the tone of the discussion on a high plane. Bro. Bill James is the preacher for the Beaver Dam church and is thought of highly by the brethren there.

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