Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 14, 1955
NUMBER 10, PAGE 8-9a

McGarvey And The Organ Controversy

Robert H. Farish, Lexington, Kentucky

"McGarvey and the Organ Controversy" is the title of one of the chapters of the book, "Brother McGarvey" by W. C. Morro. In this chapter Morro tries to show that McGarvey's attitude of approving and enjoying instrumental music, in the realm of common things, in contrast to his strong opposition to such in the worship of God, is paradoxical. The writer also makes some comments on the "logical weakness in McGarvey's argument from silence." Thus the author seeks to indict McGarvey of being inconsistent and illogical, and not being satisfied to limit his efforts to McGarvey, he refers to others who carry "this paradoxical believe-it-or-not attitude" to even greater lengths. He attempts to present McGarvey's arguments and answer them, and thus argue the music question in his biography of Brother McGarvey.

My purpose in this paper is to show that (1) the "paradox" is imaginary; there is neither scriptural nor logical basis for charging McGarvey with a paradoxical attitude in the matter of music in the home versus music in worship. (There is a startling inconsistency between McGarvey's attitude toward the instrument in worship and the missionary society. Brief notice of this will also be given in this paper.) and (2) the advocates of instrumental music in the worship are the ones who have presumed upon the silence of the scriptures.

"Paradoxical" Attitude

In the chapter on "McGarvey and the Organ Controversy" the author of the book comments that, "McGarvey was a lover of music; he was a good singer: he understood adequately the principles of music .... yet he believed that the use of instrumental music in the worship of God was wrong because contrary to the divine will."

"At times, this paradoxical, believe-it-or-not attitude, has been carried to even greater lengths. Here in Texas, there is a preacher who on Sunday morning disapproves of the use of pianos, but who spends the time from Monday till Saturday tuning and selling them."

Such is taken by W. C. Morro as evidence of a "paradoxical" attitude. By the same process of reasoning our attitudes in many things must be judged "paradoxical." Is it "contrary to the divine will" to burn incense in worship to God? Do the principles which prohibit incense burning in worship also prohibit incense burning in the realm of common things? Are they to be judged as guilty of paradoxical attitudes who burn incense in their homes, yet who believe that its use in the worship of God is wrong? If we accept the Morro manner of reasoning, we must brand the attitude as paradoxical that would "make a distinction between the holy and the common." (Lev. 10:10.) Judged by the Morro standard, Nadab and Abihu would deserve the highest praise for their "consistency." They did in the worship of God what they did "from Monday till Saturday" etc. They did not make distinction between the worship of God (holy things) and their ordinary activities in the home etc. (realm of common things). According to the Morro type of reasoning, one who "makes distinction" is "paradoxical" in his attitude. I suggest, for all who reason in this way, a careful reading of Leviticus, the 10th chapter. But I must warn you that if you are amazed at attitudes such as manifested by that preacher in Texas, you had best brace yourself, for your amazement will know no bounds when you learn how God regarded their particular brand of "consistency." Their attitude of indifference toward distinguishing between things approved for worship and things acceptable in the home brought upon them a curse of God.

The design of such methods of reasoning is to render absurd the principle of making distinction between the common and the holy. Yet, if such is paradoxical, how do those who so regard it, relieve God of the guilt in the matter? God killed his priests, Nadab and Abihu for failing to make distinction between the holy and the common. Was God's action in allowing common fire to be used in the home "from Monday till Saturday" and yet killing these two for using it in the worship, "paradoxical"?

Even a casual student of the Bible recognizes that there are things allowed, yes, even required, in the home that art forbidden in the worship of God. A failure to make this distinction between the Holy and the common brings upon those so failing the condemnation of God. "If any man is hungry, let him eat at home; that your coming together be not unto judgment." (I Cor. 11:34.) In this eleventh chapter of First Corinthians, Paul is rebuking the church at Corinth for its sins with reference to the Lord's Supper. To them he writes, "what, have ye not houses to eat and drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not?" (I Cor. 11:22.) Here he clearly approves eating and drinking to satisfy hunger, in the home, while in the same passage he condemns such eating and drinking in the worship. To introduce common things (things not commanded) into the work or worship of the church is to "despise" "the church of God."

Certainly there are many activities in which the Christian may engage and many things which are proper for him to use in the realm of common things but their propriety in the common realm does not qualify them for use in the worship of God. Before a thing can qualify for use as a holy thing, it must be authorized by God for such use, otherwise, it is "strange fire before Jehovah, which he had not commanded."

Silence Of New Testament

"Silence of the scriptures" to some, means that a "thou shalt not" has not been spoken. They think that everything not expressly forbidden can be properly used in worship — that man is left free to do in worship everything which God has not listed with a "thou shalt not" attached to it. Such an attitude toward the scriptures is not Christian liberty but is presumptuous license. When God gave directions for building the ark, he did not deem it necessary to list all wood and before each kind say, "thou shalt not" use. It was sufficient to command the kind He willed to be used. He said, "gopher." He was as "silent as the tomb" about oak, pine, poplar, ash, hickory, cherry, cedar, etc., etc. Is His silence to be taken as permission to use any kind of wood Noah might decide to use? Many other illustrations could be given but this is sufficient for "any man that willeth to do his will."

Morro says, "McGarvey adroitly and skillfully parried the point of his critic, but he could not remove the fact that his argument is all founded upon silence. He did not make the attempt. He cast his argument in the form of a syllogism and the minor premise is, 'The use of instrumental music is an element of Jewish worship which was discontinued.' How does he know it was discontinued? Only through the silence of the New Testament and thus his elaborate argument has not succeeded in protecting this vulnerable point."

We can know that the instrument was not to be in the worship of the church in the same way we know that Noah was not to use pine wood in building the ark. God told Noah to build the ark of gopher wood thus by commanding a particular kind of wood, he excluded all other kinds. To the Christian God has said, "Singing and making melody with your heart unto the Lord." (Eph. 5:19.) "Singing with grace in your hearts unto God." (Col. 3:16.) All who respect the silence of the scriptures refrain from using a mechanical instrument.

God hath spoken Silence
Gen. 5:19 "Gopher wood" Pine, oak, etc
Eph. 5:19 Sing Play on harp, piano
Col. 3:16 Sing

Yes, with Dr. Morro we say, "Any argument based upon silence is precarious." Not a single argument can be made to support instrumental music in worship but is based on the silence of the scriptures. Why don't the advocates give us a "thus saith the Lord" upon which they base it?

The Real Paradox

Dr. Morro recognizes the contradictory positions held by McGarvey on the missionary society and the instrument of music and comments that "His opposition to the use in the worship of the church musical instruments might lead one to expect opposition to missionary organizations also. A negative attitude in respect to one is usually followed by a similar attitude in respect to the other. This was not true of McGarvey . . . ."

Herein lies the real paradox. How Brother McGarvey could reconcile his position of opposition to the instrument with his position of endorsement to the society is a thing which has never been satisfactorily explained. Consistency requires that if either be opposed so must the other. God has not authorized one any more than the other. When He specified singing, He excluded playing on an instrument. When He gave the local congregation and failed to give any other unit of action, that made the local congregation the exclusive unit of action. Any conception of worship which requires addition to the divine pattern is wrong. It is equally true that any conception of the church general functioning through a single unit is without scriptural authority and hence is wrong. The scriptures are just as silent on the matter of many congregations performing their work through a single agency as they are on the matter of worshipping with an instrument.

Today we have a number of congregations and preachers in the land who oppose the society but endorse and use the instrument. This is just as much a paradox as the other. But even more serious is the fact that one is just as unscriptural as the other. Neither practice is based on a "thus saith the Lord."