Now, all that being said, I have trouble seeing the Churches of Christ remaining a cappella for another 100 years. There are some very good reasons to seriously consider picking up a guitar or violin.
First, we live in a world where a cappella music is nearly unheard of. It’s always created a barrier to the unchurched, just because it’s so unusual, and the barrier is getting greater every year.
Teens and college students can’t go anywhere without their iPods. Kids burn their own CDs of downloaded music and swap them. The whole youth culture is centered on music, almost all of it instrumental.
While I’m very comfortable in an a cappella service, I can’t let my comfort–and preference–hurt my ability to seek and save the lost. It’s a small sacrifice, really, to ask. We’d think little of asking someone to give up years of his or her life to travel to China or Africa to seek the lost–how can we be unwilling to give up our taste in music to do the same?
Second, our continued insistence on a cappella music gives aid and comfort to a certain kind of legalism that we really need to overcome–not coddle. The hermeneutics and doctrine that demands a cappella music is wrong on so many levels that it impedes the church’s work in countless ways.
Finally, we’ve made the mistake of defining who we are by how we worship. Very significantly, in Rich Atchley’s sermons defending his congregation’s decision, he noted that some members objected to adding an instrumental service because it would contradict our identity. And it’s certainly true that many inside and outside the Churches of Christ identify us by our distinctive worship style. But I thought we are supposed to find our identity in Jesus.
When we come to realize that the scriptures don’t require us to be a cappella, then we have to accept that our choice of instrumental or a cappella music becomes one of taste–or of strategy–but not one of doctrine. And it would be a very odd thing for us to intentionally elect to be identified by our taste in worship styles.
Imagine a denomination wishing to be known as the people who worship in green buildings or who wear black, even though there is no doctrinal reason for that choice. How odd!
Now, a business might, for marketing reasons, elect to be known as the business with a red roof or golden arches, but a religion has no reason to try to “brand” itself. In fact, adding a distinctive characteristic that’s not Biblically dictated is surely a bad thing. It would enforce artificial separations among people meant to be united!
Indeed, as experience shows, it makes us treat something we know intellectually to be acceptable as emotionally wrong. We begin to bind our culture and traditions as law, and this soon becomes pure Pharisaism.
Worse yet, in our zeal to defend our insistence on this practice, we completely distort our theology and our hermeneutics. We read the Bible through a cappella-colored glasses. I’ve actually read articles stating that such-and-such a view of how to do hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible) must be wrong because it contradicts the “command” to sing a cappella! We start with a cappella and then make everything else fit that assumption.
The only solution is to swallow hard and not always be a cappella. Traditions are not wrong when not bound as law. And so, we don’t have to entirely surrender our traditions–we just have to be careful not to surrender to our traditions.
Therefore, the new willingness to break from the pack and use instruments without being disrespectful of our traditional style of worship (which I love!) is a good thing. It’s just not the cure all for saving a lost and dying world. Nor is the greatest need we face. But then, the false body of doctrine that teaches a cappella as a command of God is perhaps the greatest problem we face.
I just don’t think we can get fully shed of the doctrine without actually strumming a guitar here and there, now and then. It’s not enough just to say instruments are okay, as our actions define us much more than our teaching. Freedom in Christ is not worth much if we don’t ever take advantage of that freedom.
Yes, I know these might appear to contradict what I’ve earlier written, but it doesn’t, really. We can’t use an instrument until we’ve taught the true doctrines that permit it. And we won’t be successful in changing our worship, even just a little bit, until we learn better how to create community and inculcate the attitude that the needs of others are more important than my needs.
And so I’m both on and off the instrumental music band wagon. I’m excited about the fact that it may be the beginning of the end for our Pharisaism. And smart ways of using the instrument may well help us reach out to the lost. But if we view it as just a way to compete for the already churched people by having the best worship service in town, then we’ll have completely missed the point of Jesus’ death. You can’t grow a self-sacrificial church by appealing to people’s selfishness.
We should have great worship services, but we can’t build our Christianity around music. It has to be centered on emulating the self-sacrifice of Jesus.