This is a very long post, but Robert advocates for his position thoughtfully and he deserves an answer.
I appreciate you taking the time and giving the response that you did to my comments. Please know that I have tremendous respect for you and your views. In part, my response was probably more on the “defensive” side (I guess of the traditional “Church of Christ” view you’d probably say) and not spoken with the best words of kindness and gentleness. But, I do feel very strongly about this issue and greatly as a preacher of the gospel and having grown up in Churches of Christ, I fear we are standing at a vital crossroads like maybe no other time, especially concerning the issue of instrumental music and unity. So it is with great sincerely and humility of heart I respond once again.
Thanks. I very much appreciate your thoughts, and I agree that we in the Churches of Christ are at a critical crossroads, although I imagine we disagree as to which fork in the road we should follow. The importance of the decisions we need to make require that disagreeing parties take the time to talk about their disagreements. There is no other way to resolve the conflict that so pervades the Churches.
There are two primary reasons why I don’t encourage “inter-congregational” fellowship between Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The first is my matter of conviction on this issue that using instrumental music in worship is an unauthorized practice and has resulted in division within the body of Christ. Jay, the history on this couldn’t be any clearer than it is.
As a matter of history, certainly a division resulted. However, I would disagree that the instrument is the true origin of the division. Rather, my reading of history traces the division to a change in doctrine from that of the Campbells and Stone. The next generation invented the idea of “positive commands,” arguing that grace does not extend to commands that aren’t rooted in morality.
Alexander Campbell himself made it clear that he didn’t consider the pattern of worship that he taught a salvation issue, as noted recently by John Mark Hicks.
The interesting question, however, is whether [Campbell] thought the “order” he discerned within the New Testament was a test of fellowship among believers. Did he believe that conformity to this order was necessary to salvation? Was it his intent to identify the marks of the church that defined the true church so that every other body of believers who did not conform to those marks was apostate and thus outside the fellowship of God?
This was implicitly raised in the Christian Baptist by one of Campbell’s critics. Spencer Clack, the editor of the Baptist Recorder, wondered whether Campbell’s “ancient order” functioned similarly to the written creeds to which Campbell mightily objected (CB 5 [6 August 1827] 359-360). Campbell’s response is illuminating. He maintained that his “ancient order” was no creed precisely because he had “never made them, hinted that they should be, or used them as a test of christian character or terms of christian communion” (CB 5 [3 September 1827] 369-370,
The Restoration Movement was a unity effort. The plea was to limit teaching and practices to just what all could agree was a God-given directive and be silent about (not teach or practice) those things that were without direct evidence. For example, individuals may have an opinion that instrumental music would be accepted by God, but for the sake of unity would limit their practice to just doing what God clearly asked for–singing. And this seemed to work for the most part until some began to push their opinion and division resulted. (And I know about the Historical argument of the context of the Civil War during the mid/late 1800’s between the North and South that has to be factored into this discussion)
First, what you say is only partly true. Campbell particularly wanted to create a uniform order of worship. He most definitely did not intend for it to be a test of Christian communion.
Second, Thomas Campbell was just as clear. This is from one of the founding documents of the Movement, the “Declaration and Address” —
6. That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God — therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs’s confession.
7. That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient; and the more full and explicit they be, for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of christian communion: unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.
Repeatedly, the founders of the Movement insisted that their desire to return to First Century worship practices should not be terms of communion. After all, the logic by which we reach those conclusions is inferential — and we may not damn each other over inferences.
Now, obviously enough, if someone considers a given worship practice sinful — say, multiple cups — he cannot worship with that church when that practice is followed. However, “fellowship” in this context refers to recognition of someone as a brother or sister in Christ, which is very different. We may have to worship separately, but that doesn’t mean we must damn one another.
In fact, the Churches of Christ have always recognized this. The multi-cup churches are quite willing to consider the one-cup churches as sister congregations. It’s just that many one-cup churches won’t extend the multi-cup churches the same fellowship. You see, we are quite willing to fellowship certain errors, so long as those errors are more restrictive than we are. Of course, this means that, in practice, there is precious little fellowship across doctrinal lines.
Second, I believe intercongregational fellowship with congregations (either Church of Christ (i.e., Richland Hills or Christian Churches) would most certainly encourage them to continue to practice what I believe to be an unscriptural practice and secondly, more importantly, would eventually, be a discouragement for anyone to oppose it. When churches of Christ and preachers fellowship those who use the instrumental, will there not be over the long term, pressure to begin to use it themselves in certain congregations, thus creating more disruption and division??? (Gal. 5:20)
When we treat one-cup congregations as saved, do we encourage them to continue in their error? Do we encourage the multi-cup churches to go one cup?
My home congregation was the only institutional church in town. The several other Churches of Christ in the area were all non-institutional. And yet my church considered the non-institutional churches as sister congregations. Some of the non-institutional churches actually returned the favor. And no one was tempted to become like the other. The tolerance didn’t lead to increased error — regardless of which side of the divide you’re on.
Rom 14, of course, plainly addresses exactly this question. Those who considered the eating of certain meat sinful were commanded to accept those who did not, and vice versa. Those who insisted on treating some days as special holy days were required to accept those who do not as saved, and vice versa.
Either side could have objected that tolerating the error of the other side would encourage further error, but Paul understood how very divisive and destructive to God’s church such an approach would be. He therefore commanded tolerance despite error. Of course, he wasn’t urging them to treat as saved the impenitent or faithless.
Jay, it’s already happening within Churches of Christ. Didn’t you read last month’s Christian Chronicle about the 28 Churches of Christ being excluded (mostly notably Richland Hills) for using instrumental music? Do you honestly think they will be the last ones? Don’t you think their example and even encouragement (don’t tell me some of them aren’t encouraging other Churches of Christ to consider using IM) will cause others to follow their example?
Let’s do take Richland Hills as an example. They declared in that same article that they consider themselves to still be a part of the Churches of Christ. They still cooperate with the a cappella churches. They have made no division.
However, some among the a cappella churches have refused fellowship with them. It was these a cappella churches that caused the division. These churches will tolerate countless disagreements — as thoroughly documented by Todd Deaver in Facing Our Failure. They just decided that instrumental music — an inference — is a salvation issue while tolerating disagreement on many other things. (And they won’t share with us how they happened to draw the line on that issue.)
Jay, quite simply, for those of us who believe that spiritual activities must have authorization from God, our fellowship is going too hindered. Because I cannot violate my conscience or give up my conviction that all activities in the worship assembly must have authorization from God.
Why instrumental music and not, say, women wearing hats? Or do you draw fellowship lines over hat wearing? How about elder re-affirmation? Or praise teams? Or children’s church? Or fellowship halls?
No one is asking you to worship contrary to your conscience. No is asking you to give up your convictions. The plea is simply to stop arbitrarily imposing your conscience on others. It’s simply not enough to argue that this practice or that is error. You must show where in the Bible the errors you tolerate don’t damn and the ones you break fellowship over do. Otherwise, you are imposing “rules taught by men.”
Now, if you think the fellowship issue only concerns the Christian Church and the use of instrumental music, than you are greatly naïve. (which I don’t think you are) This “ecumenical” road that so many on the far left in Churches of Christ are seemingly dead set on going down has been put into motion. Where will it all end? Who “won’t be fellowshipped?” How much false doctrine does a person or religious body have to teach and practice before they are not fellowshipped and brought into the mix? Who will ever be “excluded” and not “recognized as a brother in Christ?” Disciples of Christ? Southern Baptist? Lutheran’s? Methodist’s? Yes, even Catholics???
Long before we talk about whether there will be Methodists in heaven, we need to sort out what the Bible says.Then we go wherever the scriptures direct, without precondition.
I think the rules are pretty clear. To be saved, one must —
- Hear the gospel of salvation by grace through faith by the power of the death, burial, and resurrection Jesus, the Christ (not trying to completely define the gospel so much as to put some meat on the bones).
- Believe the gospel
- Repent by submitting to Jesus as Lord
- Confess the gospel
- Be baptized
Now, that works regardless of who does the teaching or baptizing. We can talk about what makes a baptism efficacious some other time, as we’re now talking about apostasy. But there are plenty of Baptists who’ve been baptized by immersion for the remission of sin. I know several personally. All among the Christian Churches meet this standard. Most among the Disciples do. And many among the Churches of God do. There are others. We have no monopoly on this teaching.
So they’re all saved by the most traditional, conservative teaching in the Churches of Christ — unless they fall away.
Unlike the conservative Churches, I actually think the Bible contains a doctrine that specifies who falls away. It’s simple, too: Undo any of those things that brought you to salvation in the first place. In other words,
- No longer believe (1 John 4:2-3)
- No longer repent (Heb 10:26)
- No longer rely on faith to save, and instead try to be justified by works (Gal 5:4).
It’s simple, Biblical, easy to teach and understand, and parallel to what places us into salvation in the first place.
Being a member of the church and being in fellowship with God are two different things. One may by error lose fellowship with the Lord and His church. (2 John 9-11 [yes I know “liberals” hate the use of this passage and only limit the “doctrine” mentioned to the doctrine of Jesus Christ coming in the flesh, but I do think a general principle if still found there, see also 2 John 4; 3 John 3-4)
If my “member of the church” you mean on the roll of a congregation, I agree. I you mean “member of the church universal,” I would have to disagree.
The problem with 2 John 9-11 as interpreted by the conservatives is it proves too much. In other words, if the verse really says “all error damns,” then all error damns. And I doubt you actually teach that. If that’s not what it says, then what does it say? I mean, you can’t just pick out the “error damns” verses for errors that bother you a lot and pull out the “grace covers error” verses for the errors that don’t bother you. Do you believe that all error damns? You should, because that’s what you think 2 John 9-11 says.
I do think there is a principle found in the New Testament that one who willfully and persistently adds to the teaching of God and leads other men to do, can sin in such a way against God and fellowship with faithful Christians may be limited. (Rom. 16:17-18; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:14)
I entirely agree, as I’ve said before. Who are you accusing of willfully adding to the teaching of God? You see, I think many among the conservative add to the word of God by arbitrarily picking certain doctrines to be fellowship issues and just as arbitrarily declaring other doctrines to not be. But I wouldn’t accuse them of doing so willfully. I think most have been deceived — which is very different, I think.
When J.W. McGarvey left the Broadway congregation in Lexington, he did not leave because he no longer considered them brethren. He left because they introduced an error, which he could not participate in or approve or fellowship.
Exactly. McGarvey treated instrumental congregations are brethren — even preaching for them. He just refused to violate his own conscience by singing with an instrument. He’s a great example of what I’m arguing for.
When people leave the Word to practice unauthorized forms of worship, they can separate themselves from the will of God. They may think they are disciples, but they are not truly disciples (John 8:31).
But McGarvey didn’t reach this conclusion. He considered the instrumental churches still saved. He left because he couldn’t worship with them. Nonetheless, he considered them saved and remained in full fellowship.
Yes, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about the “slippery slope” argument. Take The Disciples of Christ denomination. They have now become one of the more theologically liberal denominations in America. They will not say with certainty that Jesus is the only way to heaven that the Bible is the final authority, or that homosexuality and abortion is a sin.
I grant that the Disciples have become quite liberal. Have all instrumental denominations become theologically liberal? Are all Baptist Churches liberal? All Churches of God? It’s really hard to argue from history that the instrument is the cause of the Disciples’ liberalism. Maybe it was the fact that we lost our influence over them when we withdrew fellowship. (Not saying it’s true. I don’t know why they went liberal. But losing the influence of more conservative churches surely didn’t help.)
Isn’t it more logical to argue that our insistence on dividing over whatever we feel strongly about has led to a severely divided Churches of Christ and that this doctrine continues to injure our reputation, has led to the birth of cults (such as the original ICOC and some of the extreme congregations recently mentioned here), and is now triggering a decline in our numbers? Those are the real fruits of our doctrine.
Charles Spurgeon was a reformed Baptist preacher as you know who took doctrine seriously. He also understood how lacking it was in his time. His words remind us of the need for doctrinal emphasis in our own generation. “Remember, too, that error in doctrine is not only a sin, but a sin which has a great tendency to increase. When a man once in his life believes a wrong thing, it is [incredible] how quickly he believes another wrong thing. Once open the door to a false doctrine – Satan says it is but a little one – yes, but he only puts the little one in like the small end of the wedge, and he means to drive in a larger one; and he will say it is only a little more, and a little more, and a little more…….take care, Christians, if you commit one error, you cannot tell how many more you will commit. (Spurgeon sermons, “The Form of Sounds Words”, May 11, 1856)
I entirely agree. This is why I blog as I do — to refute doctrinal error that is destroying souls in the Churches of Christ — and costing us our ability to effectively seek and save the lost. Once we divided over the instrument, we came up with scores of other doctrines to divide over — and we’re creating more even today.
I mean, we started as a unity movement built on a unifying doctrine — and we then made just one mistake: we decided some doctrines beyond faith, penitence, grace, and baptism are essential to salvation. Daniel Sommer split the Movement over located preachers, societies, fund raisers, and instruments. And we spent the next 100 years finding more and more doctrines to split over.
And so we live in fear for our salvation, wondering if we’ve found all the hidden commands amongst the silences, rarely certain of our salvation. I can’t tell you how many people have come to me in tears because for the first time in their lives they discovered through my work that they are actually saved. And I won’t sit idly by while our preachers deny the members the joy of their salvation.
Jay, I just strongly feel that we in Churches of Christ need to continue to faithfully proclaim and encourage all people to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thess. 2:15) To remind people that said Jesus that the Word he spoke will judge them in the last day. (John 12:48) And you and I both know and believe that Jesus continued to give His “Word”and pattern for the church through His inspired apostles and other N.T. writers—1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 3:15. I fully admit that this is a fine line in pressing this truth and yes even withholding fellwoship from others without personally condemning them to hell. Again, I’ll let God do the eternal juding. But it is a fine line that am trying to walk because I believe it is the most Biblical approach.
We have no right to withhold fellowship from those whom God fellowships. We can be no less inclusive than God himself, because we certainly aren’t wiser or better than God.
The one exception, found in 1 Cor 5, among other places, is a withdrawal to warn a member of our congregation against impenitence. The goal isn’t to separate from him because he’s damned but because we want to keep him from falling away by bringing him to repentance. I find no authority for withdrawing from entire congregations that are within God’s grace despite their error.
In conclusion, I leave you with the words of Everett Ferguson’s conclusion he wrote concerning a Cappella Music. “We are on good historical and theological grounds to engage in a cappella music in our public worship. This is safe, ecumenical ground that all can agree is acceptable. Instrumental music cannot be confirmed as authorized in the text of the New Testament. It did not exist in worship until centuries after the New Testament was written. Vocal music is more consistent with the nature of Christian worship. Neither side of the instrumental music controversy has had a monopoly on Christian love and humility, and neither side has reason for pride. My hope is that we can go beyond our recent history of bitterness and unite on the original undivided ground of the Restoration Plea. This should not be done out of the spirit “one side is right and the other wrong.” But let us be New Testament churches – in practice and in attitude, in loyalty to the Bible, and in the exercise of Christian freedom.” (A Cappella Music in Public Worship)
May God help us to work to this end,
The “Restoration Plea” does not involve withdrawing fellowship over issues such as instrumental music.
Nor does Ferguson seem to argue for division. It’s fine for him and for you to argue for a cappella music. That’s not the point of this discussion. The point is simply that if someone wants to contend that instrumental music damns, they need to be prepared to defend their position with scripture. And it’s woefully inadequate — and tiresome — to argue that error damns while not damning over all error. And if you won’t damn over all error, please share with us where the Bible singles out instrumental music as a salvation issue.
I’m tired of seeing articles damn brothers and sisters over this and that without the least effort to explain why this and that damn. And my heart goes out to those who read such articles and hear such sermons and wonder how they’ll ever be saved, as the preacher sure seems to be saying that any error damns. The result is to leave countless saved people in mortal terror for their souls — which is cruel and wrong.
I just want somebody to stand up and actually fill in the gap: where in the Bible does it tell us which errors damn and which ones don’t?
I’ve offered my reading. I’ve explained my thinking in great detail. As you seem not to agree, what do you see in the scriptures? What’s the rule? And if you don’t know what the rule is, how on earth did you conclude that instrumental music is an error than damns?