Over a century ago, many churches of Christ were swept into what was then called “the digression.” The use of musical instruments in worship was one of the divisive issues that caused the breach. History is now repeating itself.
This is entirely true. The a cappella Churches of Christ separated itself from the larger remaining parts of the Restoration Movement over, among other things, the instrument.
It’s important to know and learn from our history. But Miller learned the wrong lesson. You see, the list of “divisive issues” that we split over is much longer than just the fight over the instrument — and we should learn entirely different lessons from why we split.
The first formal split of the Restoration Movement was announced in the Sand Creek Address and Declaration (1889), written under the leadership of Daniel Sommer. The announced reasons for the division were —
that of the church holding festivals of various kinds in the house of the Lord or elsewhere, demanding sometimes that each participant shall pay a certain sum for an admittance fee; the select choir to the virtual, if not the real, abandonment of congregational singing; likewise the manmade society for missionary work, and the one man, imported preacher-pastor to take the oversight of the church.
Now, the so-called “one man, imported preacher-pastor” was a reference to hiring a preacher. The language seems to imply a “pastor” in the Baptist sense, but that’s not what they were really protesting. They were against hiring any preacher on staff. In fact, Sommer’s disciples were arguing that it’s unscriptural to hire a preacher as late as the 1950’s!
But that argument is long-forgotten, and the reason is simple: most of those congregations that refused to hire a preacher no longer exist. It’s not that the argument was won or lost so much as one side died out.
Nowadays, even the most conservative Churches of Christ hire a preacher if they can afford one. But they divided over that issue nearly 120 years ago. Indeed, the preacher issue was just as prominent in their teaching as the instrument. And the very same reasoning was used by Sommer —
In the entire Book of God there is not one fragment of TESTIMONY in favor of the imported, one-man, preacher-pastor as the feeder and watcher over the flock after it had been gathered and established. Therefore, there is no one on earth who BELIEVES that such an arrangement is according to the divine will. That arrangement originated with apostate Rome, and from Rome was borrowed by the Protestant denominations, and from them has been borrowed by a certain class of disciples who are determined to be like other folks and be in the fashion.
Did you notice? This is an argument from silence. And it’s an argument from history. It’s not an argument from scripture — and we no longer consider these arguments valid as applied to hiring a preacher.
And yet, when we make the identical arguments with regard to something else — such as the instrument — we claim that the argument is proven, and we’re so confident of our conclusions that we damn those who disagree.
History proves us fallible and inclined to confuse our distaste for change with doctrine. History proves our willingness to use the arguments from silence and from history to oppose perfectly legitimate practices. We do need to learn from history.
Surely the 20th Century Churches of Christ set some kind of record for divisions! You see, once Sommer demanded that we divide over questions of silence and uninspired church history, well, he’d opened Pandora’s Box. All manner of theories and speculations became grounds for separating and judging and damning. And it’s still true today.
Just recently, the Churches of Christ in Memphis have been torn up because one man believes it sin for elders to ask the congregation to periodically affirm them in office! See here. Oh, and it’ s not just wrong — it damns the entire congregation for elders to humbly step aside if the church no longer supports them. And it damns those who remain in fellowship with them!
I could list scores of issues over which we’ve damned each other — all justified by silence and some justified by uninspired history. It just goes on and on.
You see, the argument from silence is such a good argument that nearly anything can be shown damnable. I mean, suppose you’re upset that the church is going to buy a bus for the teen program. Can you make an argument from silence on this one? Sure.
- The Bible is entirely silent on vans. And the Bible describes countless examples of people traveling for church purposes — always at their own expense. Not once does the church pay passage for anyone or buy them a boat or a horse. And when they do travel on church business, it’s for missions — not to go roller skating.
- And the early church never did such a thing. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that Baptist Churches and other digressive denominations began catering to their children in this sinful way. Nearly 2,000 years of church history should surely teach us something!
That was easy. And an absurd abuse of God’s Holy Word.
The argument is false and flawed and yet can seemingly justify any teaching. This is why every dispute over methods, taste, or money quickly becomes a dispute over silence and authority and early church history.
History teaches that the argument is invalid because it has supported so many false teachings. Sound reasoning cannot prove error.
And so, yes, we should learn from our Restoration Movement history. We should learn to stop dividing brother from brother over matters like this. We should learn to stop squabbling over the idols of authority and silence.
And maybe we should learn a little humility. We’ve sure been wrong before. Maybe we’re wrong this time, too.