Why Can’t We Tell Right from Wrong? Part 1 (Midway)

Rerun: The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Midway Christian Church

[This is a rerun from 2011, and now the first of a brief series.]

I’m posting one more history lesson on the congregational infighting that led to the split of the Restoration Movement over, among other things, the instrument. The first Restoration Movement church to have an instrument is the Midway Christian Church.

This is excerpted from this longer article.

What initially caused the problem was that the singing was deplorable. Pinkerton said that the singing would, “scare even the rats from worship.” At first they met in the home of some brethren on Saturday night for practice. To get the right pitch, they used a little melodeon. Before long one of the sisters was accompanying the singing with the playing of the little instrument. The group noted how the accompaniment helped the singing, and so they decided the use of it would greatly enhance their worship services. They asked L.L. Pinkerton, their preacher, what he thought of bringing it into the assembly. His response was that he saw no problem with it. So, the next Sunday, a melodeon was brought in for worship.

The Restoration Movement was not founded to deal either way with the instrument. It was simply a non-issue for the first 50 years. Most members of the Movement came from Calvinistic churchs — Presbyterians, certain Baptist branches — and the Calvinists had opposed instruments going back to John Calvin. Moreover, in the American frontier, few could afford a piano or other instrument.

But over time, the old Calvinistic roots eroded and the frontier became the heartland — and instruments became affordable. And there’d been very little teaching on the subject, because it was simply not a controversy — yet.

One who was strongly against the instrument was Adam Hibler, one of the elders. Late one night he, along with his slave Reuben, went to the church building. While Hibler held a window open, Reuben entered the building and passed the small instrument through to Hibler. They took an axe and chopped the melodeon to pieces there on the front lawn of the church building. Amidst much anger, a new melodeon was placed in the building, again with stiff opposition. So, Adam Hibler again, with the aid of Reuben, removed the new melodeon from the building, this time storing it in his barn. A third was purchased and placed in the building. To this, the acts of “righteous indignation” ceased.

An elder — clearly unable to persuade a majority of the remaining elders — stole and vandalized the melodeon twice.

Around here, these actions are called “felonies.” How is rebellion against an eldership, breaking and entering, theft, and vandalism viewed today in the Churches of Christ?

The Hickory Ridge Church of Christ defends the elder —

The Adam Hibler who has reported to have removed the melodeon from the church in the interest of congregational harmony was the descendant of a Mason County family, but spent much of his life near Midway in Woodford County and Cane Ridge in Bourbon County.

Plain Bible Teaching calls the introduction of the melodeon “apostasy,” but the crimes against the church were “ardent opposition … of error,”concluding,

Yet it often becomes easy for our opposition to false teachers and those who practice error to become soft. We get tired of fighting the battles, so we stop dealing with the issues, and eventually we become willing to have fellowship with those who were previously marked (Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6). We must not allow ourselves to do this.

Yep. The elder should have stolen that melodeon one more time!

Marvin Howard, however, takes an approach that comes closer to the Scriptures —

I wonder, where would the church be today if all those involved had obeyed the command to “First go and be reconciled to your brother” (Matt. 5:24). What if all had followed Paul’s example, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path” (2 Cor. 6:3). Did anyone heed Ephesians 4:26-7, which warns, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” God is the judge, but I wonder, what if Adam Hibler had, in love and humility, approached the other elders and expressed his disagreement, rather than chopping the melodeon to pieces with an ax on the church lawn (after the sun had gone down)? What if, instead of purchasing another, and then another, in disregard of this elder’s opposition, the church had, for the sake of Jesus Christ and His church, been “like-minded, having the same love [as Christ], being one in spirit and purpose”? What if the “fans” of the melodeon had “consider[ed] others [such as Hibler] better than [them]selves” and looked “to the interests of others?” (Phil 2:2-4) When half of the church walked out during a Sunday service, why on earth did the other half not chase them down and plead for reconciliation?

I only wish that Br. Howard has also asked, “What if the ‘enemies’ of the melodeon had ‘consider[ed] others [such as Hibler] better than [them]selves’ and looked ‘to the interests of others?'” Submission has to be a two-way street, and it’s wrong for one group to demand submission without being willing to submit themselves. But he is at least approaching the topic with actual scripture! He is headed toward where we always should have been — the heart of Jesus.

I mean, when crimes are treated as heroic opposition to error, we’ve gone far, far astray from the Scriptures and from the heart of Jesus. Rather, those who oppose the instrument should mourn that their viewpoint has been blackened by such sins. Do we really intend that when one elder disagrees with the rest of the elders, his proper recourse is criminal theft under the cover of darkness?

There are better ways to work out our differences — and few worse. The instrument, even if wrong, wasn’t the biggest sin found in the Midway church — and yet some are so zealous for their doctrines that they’ll condone rebellion against the elders and even crimes to defend their practices.

And if any readers have read the criticism heaped on Pinkerton in the linked articles for allowing the melodeon, I recommend that you also read this defense of the man by Al Maxey.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to Why Can’t We Tell Right from Wrong? Part 1 (Midway)

  1. Price Futrell says:

    Disagree and Divide…. seems the rule of thumb derived from it’s beginning… in the body, constant division of cells is referred to as cancer…smh

  2. Dwight says:

    IT kind of depends on how you look at it. Cells divide to become more of them, thus this constant division and addition of the wrong cells is called cancer, which is why a little leaven leavens the whole lump. But divide and grow good heart cells and you have Christianity.
    Even the apostles disagreed on some things, but not the important things and this is what kept them unified, but we focus on the lines of division and the small matters.

  3. Mark says:

    When one man becomes judge, jury, and executioner literally or figuratively, the outcome usually isn’t good. Popes, cardinals, church elders, etc. have all acted unilaterally in cases such as Luther, Galileo, many others, and the aforementioned one. Forbidding discussion of an issue and resolving it with an edict tends to cause an irreversible split. Instead of being allowed to present an argument, people jump right to voting with their feet.

  4. Dwight says:

    in regards to the instruments some church fathers and restorationist had issues with instruments, but this had to do with what they considered to be a drunken pagan revelries and some a Jewish practice to which they were against. No scripture is given as to why the instrument was wrong. But we today if we are against the instruments mine the words of the early saints and accept them without scripture as well. And then there is silence, no scripture, then it is wrong, but then again we could do this with a lot of other thing as well.

  5. Ray Downen says:

    If the apostles required congregational singing without a musical instrument, there might be some justification for an anti-instrument law. They didn’t. Singing in assemblies is not required. Love of brethren IS required. Unity is required. Assembling is required. Accepting the dislikes of some and allowing those dislikes to form our assemblies is hardly sensible in any way. But if for any reason, a majority of a congregation prefers no instruments, then the minority should accept having no instruments used in the congregational assemblies. The same logic should prevail on any matter where there is a difference of opinion. Separating is not loving the body. But it’s surely understandable that when a sizable group want an instrument used and it isn’t possible in that congregation, a new congregation might be formed.

  6. laymond says:

    God wants those who worship him, to worship him in spirit. I have never seen spirits playing instruments. I do believe emotional singing praises are controlled by your spirit.

  7. Dwight says:

    Laymond, I have used this “spirit and in truth” argument used agaisnt instruments, but this then means that David, who was a man after God’s own heart and was very spritual in his psalms, didn’t worship God in spirit and in truth, because he used and encouraged instruments. We often make a statement, but don’t carry the statement to the next logical argument. This would mean we would need to extract the whole Book of Psalms from our Bible,because since they were used with instrments, they are in fact not spiritual.
    In this regard I have never seen spirits singing either and if we are to “make melody in our heart”, then can we prederive a melody before we sing or must the melody be spontaneous at the moment of singing for it to be accepted?
    But I do believe that the spirit cries out emotionally as you suggest, but we express this technically by using our mouth as an instrument. This was pointed out to me by a musician when I told him I didn’t play an instrument, but I could sing. He said, “the mouth is an instrument of a vocal nature.”

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