HEAVEN OR HELL ISSUE #9

Hopefully in all the previous posted I’ve laid the foundation strong enough for it to be absolutely clear that some things are of such a vital nature that to be wrong on them would lead to a person being lost.  Many things that trouble people tremendously are matters of expediency that are good things but not the only way of doing a thing that is right.  You may not like the change or difference made on something but it not be a matter of right or wrong at all.

What does it take for a thing to really be a heaven or hell issue?  When Peter looked at Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 and declared that by their selling their property and pretending to give the whole profit to God, while really holding back part of it for themselves was lying to the Holy Spirit, thus lying to God and both fell dead before him with a few hours between the times, it was a heaven and hell issue.  Obviously, lying to the Holy Spirit by pretending to be or do one thing while doing something entirely different as though God’s Spirit wouldn’t know the difference is a heaven and hell issue.  My question would be to all of us is how often have we been guilty of pretending something was one way when the truth is that it is a whole different way, thus lying to God’s Spirit?

A second such time was in Acts 8 when Simon the Sorcerer had been converted to Christ through the preaching of Philip.  When Peter and John came down from Jerusalem they were laying their hands on people giving them the Holy Spirit and the miraculous powers that went with the gift, Simon was very moved.  He came to Peter and John to ask if he could purchase that same power that he might lay his hands on people and give them the Holy Spirit.  Peter declared, “Your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!  You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.  For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”  Simon’s sin was a heaven and hell issue.  He tried to buy the gift God had given to the apostles for money.  He was in danger of perishing.  He needed to repent and pray for forgiveness.

Notice that in each of these issues, the real problem was that their heart wasn’t right with God.  It led to their actions being completely wrong.  Because Peter was inspired by God he had the ability to read the hearts of such men and determine the nature of the sin and give the verdict of what would happen to them.  With Ananias and Sapphira there was no opportunity for repentance.  There was only perishing.  With Simon there was the chance to repent and be forgiven.  What if Peter hadn’t been there and there wasn’t anyone there who was an inspired apostle to have God reveal to him what was in their hearts, would anyone have known what was in their hearts?  Would anyone have known that Ananias and wife were lying?  We would likely have known that Simon’s actions were wrong but we wouldn’t have known if it were an honest mistake or an evil heart that was behind it.  Only God can know what is in the heart of another person and in Peter’s case, the one to whom God reveals the knowledge.

Heaven and Hell issues are concerned with things that are clearly revealed in Scripture that everyone should be able to read and understand the right way.  They aren’t concerning things that are obscure and that need someone to tell us exactly how to read a passage so we can get that out of it.  The mere fact a thing is done in a particular way in the New Testament doesn’t mean that is the one right way of doing it, even if there aren’t any exceptions in the other examples of that action being revealed.  The apostles and other disciples that went out preaching the word always went by foot or boat as far as what is revealed.  We have no example of anyone driving in a car or taking an airplane.  We have one example of Philip riding in a chariot but it wasn’t his.  But God’s command is “Go”.  It sanctions every means of going you can imagine.  His command is “Make disciples.” But he didn’t give some exact way of doing it.  Instead, he authorized any means of teaching, preaching or sharing that leads to making disciples.  It even authorizes using a blog to do so.  His command is to “Baptize them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  But he didn’t say where, when or who should do the baptizing.  Any place works, any time is fine and whoever can baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit is fine.  It also says nothing about what anyone should say when doing the baptizing and certainly nothing about raising your right hand.  His command is to “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  Nothing is said of how to teach or what kind of curriculum to use.  It doesn’t matter if it is a classroom, a living room or around the kitchen table.  It is simply a matter of continuing to teach one the gospel so they too can share that good news with others.

Every command of God is like that.  Every command is both inclusive and exclusive.  The command to sing includes every way of singing we can think of.  But it excludes not singing at all.  The command to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs authorizes any hymn or song of praise to God and any song that guides in spiritual life.  But it excludes every kind of worldly, godless song that one might consider.  It authorizes songs that are new or old, ones where a song book is used or a power point screen.  It authorizes a song leader or a praise team.  One might say, “But Leon, there were no praise teams in the Bible.”  I’m not sure that is correct to begin with since there were many kinds of choirs mentioned in the Old Testament, such as in Nehemiah.  So the scope should likely be narrowed to the New Testament if you make such a point.  But there doesn’t need to be an example.  Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is the command.  In giving any command it includes everything that is either incidental or expedient to carrying out that command.

I know the next question is, “But what about the use of instruments in worship?”  There is no question that instruments were used commonly in worship in the Old Testament both in the temple and in private worship.  But when the synagogue came along, for whatever reason the instruments were not used in the worship.  In the church there is no mention of the instruments ever being used.  According to church history the instruments were not used in the church until the 8th century after the church was established and when it came in it led to the split between the Roman Catholic church and the Greek Orthodox church, which still doesn’t use the instrument in their worship.  I don’t doubt the reality of any of this.

But here is the question that must be answered before determining if the use of the instrument is a heaven and hell issue, “Why did the early church not use the instrument?”  Was it a matter of faith or a matter of convenience because of the places the church met and the situations they often faced.  Remember it was a long time before there were church buildings.  Most churches were meeting in homes or something similar.  Did they not use the instrument because they were used to the worship in the synagogue and they copied that worship rather than the elaborate worship of the temple?  Was it a matter of faith or a matter of expediency?

Until those questions are answered the truth is we are arguing over something that we don’t have the right information about to argue.  “But what about the silence of the Scriptures?”  The fact the Bible is silent about something doesn’t make it wrong.  The Bible is silent about having a church building, a staff, or a single paid preacher.  It is silent about the use of Bible classes for all ages, about youth ministers, campus ministers and children’s ministers.  But does that make those things wrong?  Of course not, they are expedient ways of carrying out God’s commands to worship and teach the gospel to others.  When God has given a command that excludes another way of doing a thing then silence matters.  So, does the command to sing, exclude using any other kind of music or the use of an instrument?  The argument I’ve made lots of times comes from Ephesians 5:19 “Speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  While the Old Testament often mentioned singing and playing the harp, this verse says to sing and play your heart to the Lord.  I’ve said that since God names our heart as the instrument it excludes every other instrument we could bring in.  It always sounded reasonable to me.  But I question whether or not it is really a sound argument.

Can a person sing and make music in their hearts to the Lord when there is another instrument being used along with it as an aid?  I think you could.

So, is the use of the instrument a heaven or hell issue?  I don’t think so.  I honestly can’t imagine God saying to anyone “You are going to hell because you sang praise to me along with a guitar.”  When a thing is fundamental to the gospel it is stated clearly so anyone can understand it that wants to.  If any matter requires someone to explain tons of material about it for me to see it, it is probably wrong.  God meant for his word to be so clear that a person could on his own pick up a Bible and read it and come to know Him and his will for them to be saved.  I’m not for bringing in an instrument in our worship but I’m not convinced it is a heaven and hell issue either.

About leoninlittlerock

Preaching minister for Central church of Christ in Little Rock. Author of over 20 books including: When a Loved one Dies, Spiritual Development, Skid Marks on the Family Drive, Challenges in the church, To Know Christ and A Drink of Living Water.
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