Progressive Churches of Christ: Resolving the Tension, Part 3.1

progressiveThe sad truth is that Churches of Christ have certain inherent disadvantages when it comes to evangelism in today’s world.

First, we’ve been trained to “convert” the lost from among our denominational neighbors. When we realize that many of our neighbors are actually as saved as we are, we have to throw our old notes and tracts away.

Second, in many parts of the country, the Church of Christ denomination has a dreadful reputation as considering everyone else damned and being generally cantankerous and judgmental. Therefore, the name of the congregation makes evangelism more difficult.

Third, we live in an age in which music is a vital part of culture, and our music is out of step with the culture. In fact, we get upset when anyone attempts to bring in current musical styles. I’m sorry: the “lack of authority” argument does not fly and leaves potential converts questioning our rationality.

Fourth, even when the church leadership disagrees with all of this and really wants to follow Jesus by being as evangelistically effective as they know how to be, they realize that a significant segment of the church, even a very progressive church that has been well taught for decades, will be unwilling to give up our denominational identifiers — the name, the music — for the sake of evangelism. To them, even if we’re not the only saved people, there is something about our music and culture that must be preserved.

Also in the way is a fear of what becomes of us if we’re no longer our grandparents’ Church of Christ. Do we become Baptist? Christian Church? Who will we be? How will we know how to act? What will become of us when we are no longer “us”?

And these are not trivial questions at all. In fact, the wise congregational leadership will think long and hard about all of this. Leading a congregation through such a transition is no easy task.

In some cities, it’s easier than in others because the first Church of Christ to make the change will draw plenty of new members excited at the new possibilities to replace the old members who leave in frustration. But most Churches of Christ are in towns that don’t offer an enormous pool of replacement members. The members they lose will likely not be replaced from the other Churches of Christ in town — meaning that they have to hope for true evangelistic growth. And that requires learning entirely new evangelistic methods.

So how does a leadership team work through such a transition? Well, I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. I’ll share what I know and hope that the readers will fill in the many gaps.

1. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 – 10 are not repealed by a desire for evangelism and growth. Every single step taken must be taken with the greatest of sensitivity for those who cannot join in for reasons of conscience.

It seems that our universities seemingly produce crop after crop of young preachers who are impatient for change and willing to throw out the older members who stand in the way, but this is not the way of the gospel. You cannot be unloving in your zeal to teach the world about the love of Jesus. We will be judged by how compassionately we deal with our own.

Hence, the church has to continue to offer an a cappella service for those who cannot worship in good conscience with instruments. It’s not negotiable. And the service cannot be second rate or looked down on. The leadership staff cannot make jokes about those who attend the a cappella service, even in private. These people are entitled to the respect of the leadership team.

2. On the other hand, scruples are not weapons to be used to coerce submission. The same passages require the “weak” to tolerate the “strong.” That is, those with scruples must be willing to put up with those who have no scruples — all in the same congregation.

The lesson Paul teaches is not that the “weak” get to have their way. Rather, the strong may not tempt the weak to sin against their consciences due to peer pressure. You can’t leave the weak with no option other than to sin against their conscience, nor may you pressure the weak to act like the strong before they are ready.

Rarely are does a church actually tempt the weak to violate their conscience. Rather, most typically, the weak are upset that the church didn’t submit to their scruples — and yet they have no right to require this. They are entitled to be allowed to continue to worship and practice consistent with their consciences. Two services solves the problem.

3. Moreover, the elders are charged with teaching sound doctrine, not convenient sound doctrine. The fact that some members disagree and even get upset over contrary teaching is all the more reason to teach the truth — lovingly, patiently, and with kindness. The leaders cannot fail to teach what needs to be taught.

Even Paul didn’t hesitate to teach his own understanding on controversial topics, but he understood that it takes more than an epistle (or a great sermon series) to persuade people to change how they feel on issues tied to culture, family, and friends. And he understood that a ten-lesson series on the importance of evangelism doesn’t suddenly change someone’s conscience on instrumental music.

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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26 Responses to Progressive Churches of Christ: Resolving the Tension, Part 3.1

  1. Nathan says:

    What is it about newer music that makes it more attractive to you? I have nothing against a song just because it is new, but that is not an automatic argument in its favor either (not that you say that it is). Many of the songs are not written so a congregation can participate in singing together (which, I guess, is very much a non-progressive concern of mine). Moreover, I find many new songs to have very shallow lyrics (not necessarily unscriptural, just vapid). To put it another way, the songs are heavily dependent on pathos, but they don’t offer much else. They might appeal to the touchy-feely types, but they are off-putting to another segment of the church. Musically, the High Church tradition is far more appealing to me.

    On a separate note, it seems that many of the issues progressive churches face are the same issues that progressives of all types have always faced. I think it would be instructive to look outside of the typical religious literature for some answers. Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is fairly standard. For a much more modern critique, I’d recommend Eric Voegelin. You can get the two essays “Science, Politics, and Gnosticism” and “Ersatz Religion” in a single volume for under $10 on Amazon.

  2. Gary says:

    The impressive numerical growth of Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (instrumental) shows that it is possible for congregations of our broader heritage to grow. Real union between Churches of Christ of the a Capella tradition with the “independent” Christian Churches, however, just doesn’t seem to me that it will ever happen. Even progressive Churches of Christ that have instrumental services don’t seem to be able to readily identify with Christian Churches. The allegiances to different Christian colleges, camps and parachurch ministries is a significant reason I suspect. Also progressive Churches of Christ are often more theologically liberal or at least moderate than many Christian Churches. Paradoxically, however, Churches of Christ also have so many members who are iconoclasts on one issue or another. These members often erupt over one issue or another and keep even many progressive Churches of Christ from being able to grow and move forward in a positive way. I was a church leader for a quarter of a century in a congregation that became progressive over time. Progressive teaching was fine and rarely caused any problems. Actual changes, however, were a different matter. Some who were open to instrumental music were adamantly against a wider role for women in the assembly. Others who could at least live with changes in the role of women could not abide instrumental music. Surprisingly, cooperation and fellowship with other denominations was not an issue for most. But, overall, the energy expended on issues of change sucked the life force out of the congregation and left no ability to grow numerically. I’m pessimistic about the future of Churches of Christ. I love the moderate and progressive Church of Christ tradition. But between the legalistic and iconoclastic dna on the one hand and societal changes on the other hand that are a bridge too far for most in Churches of Christ it’s hard to realistically see any future that does not feature continued numerical decline.

  3. Alan says:

    The solution is Matt 28:18-20. Make disciples of Jesus. And do it like he did it, and like the first century church did it — not with “seeker friendly” attractive services, but with personal evangelism and a strong message that runs counter to the surrounding culture. …not with technical arguments about doctrine, but by preaching righteous living and giving a call to repentance. You don’t convert hearts with entertainment. Change people’s lives and your church will grow.

  4. Dwight says:

    Most of the churches are built with a closed loop system…own publications, own college allegiance, own set rules, own camps, and so forth, not that they own those things, but that they are heavily associated with them.
    Has anyone sung “The New Song” pretty and exhilerating, but also confusing in the chorus area, so as not easily to be followed. It is true that many new songs are emotional, but has anyone read Psalms…talk about thick with emotion.
    Many of the old, old songs that we think are high thinking were written for organ music, so IM doesn’t change much, but styles change. The IM, if any, shouldn’t swamp the words, but then again sometimes the melody is so melodius that it does the same. If we want purity in words, then just speaking is the only way, but one interesting note is that people find it easier to remember things that have melodies and are song driven. In fact I can remember a melody more than the words, but the words and melody very good, but just the words not as easy. There must be some logic to the fact that Peter and Silus were able to sing songs while in prison without notes in front of them. Just saying.

  5. Matt says:

    In the 2.0 article you contend that a progressive church is not going to be truly evangelistic by just changing the narrative. Leaving acapella music and other traditions will mean growth will becoming from the progressive thinking CoC members of the community and not necessarily attracking new Christians. The 3.0 artice is suggesting for a seperate acapella service to keep the members from violating their conscience. Why would a leadership that feels an acapella service is less evangalistic allow its traditional members to be less evengalistic in their worship service? The logical conclusion from the 2.0 article is that members who feel worshipping with instruments would sin against their conscience would need to leave the congregation. A leadership cannot say we want only the progressive members to be involved in a evangelistic worship service right? I also think this divides a congregation. Dividing a congregation in this manner will absolutely cause people in both services to (at least privately) make jokes about the other thinking it will not is unrealistic. Can you see where I view these 2 articles are at odds with each other?

    Seperate Question,
    At University do ya’ll have offer an instrumental and an acapella service?

  6. Dwight says:

    The answer to splitting between IM and non-IM services is to teach that it is a choice for the person, but this might not be true of the congregation in such a way as to keep unity, but the teaching should be in such a way as to not cement the lack of as the only right way either and going to another congregation that does it should not be considered sinful.
    Now I grew up with non-IM, so that is what I am accustomed to, but if I visitied an area where the church was IM, then it would be a choice- fellowship with others of IM persuasion or not fellowship at all. Which is more of an issue? .
    What has been done in the past is to recognized IM as a matter of sin and not a matter of choice, much like the early saints did in regards to the eating of meats offered to idols. In Acts some congregations were told not to eat meat offered to idols, but this wasn’t taught as a matter of sin or faith or righteousness, but rather to do things that many others around them had issues with.
    And still it was taught that eating of meats offered to idols was not sinful in the letters.

  7. As to what is not negotiable, in Jay’s view, I did not notice the multi-cup churches maintaining a single-cup observance of the Lord’s Supper for those members who at that time considered it a matter of conscience. Should progressive congregations also provide a “women-free” service, once women are allowed to read scripture during a service? Acapella music is nothing more nor less than an American tradition. To insist that it must be maintained is to hobble a congregation for no other purpose than to maintain Granddad’s tradition and our own personal preferences. If Granddad really does not want the kids to grow past his own limitations, that is sad. Every generation does it anyway, with or without his permission.. Making the presence of an acapella service our “hill to die on” is rather odd considering the other, far more substantive doctrinal changes we are already making.

    Love does NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry. It often has to say, “I am sorry that this practice– or prohibition– has turned out to be more important to you than we are. We love you anyway, even if we will no longer let you control our choices.”

  8. Royce Ogle says:

    Hanging on to any tradition with a death grip wI’ll cause that tradition to become as authoritative as Scripture. A “Church of Christ” where Christ is not more important than anything else is likely “of Christ” in name only. Can we be in fellowship with Jesus and reject other believers based on our traditions?

  9. John says:

    Charles said “Acapella music is nothing more nor less than an American tradition”.

    May I suggest you do a bit more research before making such a conclusion. .

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Charles and John,

    A cappella singing is a Swiss tradition. It traces back to John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, the great Swiss reformers. Of course, they point to the early church fathers before them.

    The Presbyterians and other Reformed denominations brought to the US the Regulative Principle and the notion that IM is sinful — which was disputed by the Anglicans and Lutherans (which is why we have the Lutheran J. S. Bach but no great Swiss composers).

  11. Jay Guin says:


    The teaching of Rom 14 and 1 Cor 8 – 10 is that we must not tempt a brother or sister to sin against his or her conscience. In 1 Cor Paul goes so far as to suggest that we should become vegetarians if necessary to avoid tempting someone to eat meat against his or her conscience.

    (1Co 8:13 ESV) 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

    Now, we have to realize that he likely had the Love Feast in mind, that is, an assembly of believers in a private home at which a meal was shared and the Eucharist was taken. It was the First Century equivalent of our Sunday morning assembly — although it likely took place in the evening. And I’m sure this is the event where visitors were able to meet church members and experience the community life of the church — like our assembly.

    And Paul said to go meatless if necessary to keep from tempting a member to sin against his or her conscience. And I fail to see how skipping the meat course in a common meal is less burdensome than having two church services. Surely refusing to serve meat to satisfy the scruples of the legalists of the day was a burden on evangelism. The common meal was the heart and soul of the congregation. To only serve parsnips and lentils hardly pictured the great banquet of Isaiah 25:6, but bringing a sister or brother to sin would not either.

    I grant that there are circumstances where meeting the needs of the legalists could be very difficult. The one-cup controversy is a similar example. Practical limits do come up. I mean, we have people who will object to nearly anything — but rarely do we actually tempt them to sin against their consciences, even when we worship contrary to their scruples. The fact that someone complains or even claims to be the “weaker” brother hardly means they get their way.

    But if we put a brother or sister in a position where they must sin against their conscience or else leave the congregation altogether, we are being heartless and we won’t appear loving to those outside the church.

    I mean, why didn’t Paul just tell the “weak” brothers and sister to either grow up or leave? Why impose the burden of making them happy on the strong? That’s hardly fair to the strong! But that is exactly Paul’s point: God never promised anyone that he’d be fair. He is always at least fair, but often much more than fair.

  12. alanrouse says:

    I think most discussions I’ve heard of the weak brother in Rom 14 miss the point. Typically the debate is over the weak brother is the one whose scruples are more strict, or the one whose scruples are more liberal. I don’t think that’s the point at all. There are generally weak and strong examples in both camps. A weak brother is one who is more subject to yield to temptation. So regardless of which side of an argument you are on, you have a responsibility toward those who are weak — those who might be tempted to go along with you despite what their consciences tell them is right. That applies in all kinds of subject areas, including IM and the women’s role. And it applies to those who believe they are condoning your actions when they participate in a type of worship that goes against their beliefs. It’s a hard teaching, but that’s what I think the scriptures are calling us to do. As Paul said, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.”

  13. Jay Guin says:


    I’m using Paul’s own categories from Rom 14 and 1 Cor 8 – 10.

    By ‘weak in faith’ he doesn’t mean that the religious devotion of this group is thin and watery. Nor does he mean to imply that they have a shaky grasp on the basic points of Christian faith, or a wavering belief in them. His point, rather, is that they have not worked out, or not as fully as he and some others have done, the consequences of believing in God as creator and Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord. For Paul, believing this meant that all foods were now ‘clean’ (as Mark 7:19 points out that Jesus had implied) and that, though keeping holy days might help devotion, a Christian was free to observe special days or not, provided this was done with a desire to honour the Lord.

    Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 2: Chapters 9-16, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 98.

    In the text, the one who was overly scrupulous probably believed that he was strong in faith because he did not eat anything apart from vegetables; he thought that he was being more righteous than his stronger brother. Paul sees this excessive scrupulosity not as a virtue, not as a mark of maturity, but as a mark of immaturity and of weakness of faith. It is a weakness in understanding the content of the faith.

    R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans, (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 233.

  14. Jay Guin says:


    If a leadership of a church in transition offers only an instrumental service, the a cappella members won’t be magically compelled to have a better gospel and be more evangelistically effective. They’ll either leave or else worship contrary to their consciences. Nearly all will leave.

    If the leaders instead offer an alternative service, no one has to leave — but to stay, everyone has to accept the salvation of the other. The a cappella worshipers will be in the same congregation, under the same elders, who attend the instrumental service. Thus, the notion that instruments damn or must be a barrier to fellowship is not tolerated at all — as Galatians insists we must do — and the scruples become scruples, not tests of salvation or fellowship. Hence, the gospel is preserved and a false gospel is not condoned.

    And, yes, we have both an a cappella and an instrumental service.

  15. Jay Guin says:


    I couldn’t agree more.

  16. Jay Guin says:

    Nathan asked,

    “What is it about newer music that makes it more attractive to you?”

    Actually, I rather enjoy Baroque music myself. But my taste is irrelevant. My concern is music that speaks to the hearts of those we wish to convert or to mature.

    When my two-year old grandson visits, we don’t play what I like. We play Mickey Mouse. I could argue that, well, it’s really my house and my TV and my stereo and I should get to listen to the Bartok string quartets or Shostakovich or even a little Bach. Or maybe Tom Petty? But it’s always Disney tunes for some reason.

    So the mature submit to the immature, the strong to the weak, the old to the young. And last shall be first.

  17. 1. One man’s “practical limits” appears to be another man’s lack of love and grace. 2. As for the idea of “sinning against one’s conscience”, I don’t think substituting our own personal preconceptions of right and wrong for the leading of the Holy Spirit was intended to be a long-term manner of living in Christ. That’s a bad usage of Paul’s teaching here. When people who continue in this immature level of development, we do not “kick them out” when we finally decide not to continue to follow their self imposed limits. It is as if we lack love and grace if one day we decide NOT to have Chicken McNuggets for dinner, with those who never eat anything else and who won’t stand for our doing so. I wonder if such “grace” would be expected if a group arose in our fellowship who insisted that IM was not only allowed, but required!

  18. John says:

    EVERYONE knows that Chicken McNuggets are only eaten by immature children who do not know any better, served to them by uniformed parents who themselves are satisfied with the mediocre. I refuse (justly so since I have KNOWLEDGE) to be so entrapped :).

    It is not that I have an attitude problem, but perhaps an appetite problem.
    Perhaps Charles, we could meet for some brisket or pulled pork (apologies to our Jewish cultural heritage holding brothers).

  19. Price says:

    I’ve heard plenty of sermons on “dying to self”…. didn’t realize until later than it was a sermon on dying to YOURself and not MYself… The first to let go wins… IMO

  20. Oh, as to acapella, please allow me to clarify. My reference is within the context of the CoC. The fact that acapella singing has existed since time immemorial is entirely irrelevant to how the CoC came to its current doctrinal requirement of “acapella ONLY”. (Please note the disambiguation.) The split over “acapella only” did not come from one side of the clan wanting to remain loyal to Zwingli or to the traditions of the early church fathers. That is a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument. No offense intended, but the majority of the CoC folks who consider this a matter of salvation would not know Zwingli from Zeppelin and could not name any two of the ECF. Today’s CoC did not intentionally adopt “acapella only” from the Swiss Reformers or anyone else. We did not inherit it from the Orthodox nor the Seceder Presbyterians. Our contemporaneous doctrinal traditions put all those people on the road to hell, so how could we ever claim them as the foundation of our most precious distinctive? We couldn’t intentionally follow those people any more than we would fellowship the descendants of Campbell’s Baptists. No, whatever common historical ingredients we might have gleaned from the stock of dead men’s opinions, this particular CoC doctrine as practiced today is a homegrown American tradition which does not go back in time far enough to cross an ocean. It’s our own 19th-century American creation, and its lineage is no more ancient and noble than that. Tying our “acapella ONLY” tradition to the Swiss Reformers is no more real than tying my beard to the beards of Aaron’s sons.

    Acapella singing itself has great staying power due to its beauty and accessibility to the worshiper. But the fact that “acapella ONLY” has exhibited such staying power is, IMO, a mystery worthy of discussion. It is not just the aesthetic beauty of acapella singing. No, #728b in four strong parts does not hold a candle to Handel’s “Messiah” or Bach’s Passion of St. Matthew, in a musical sense. Never have I heard a single acapella song that would convince me to deny to the church either Bach or Handel.

    “Acapella ONLY” has never been a unifying force in the American church, only a divisive one. Never has it been constructive, but only destructive. It is not needful to practice “acapella ONLY” in order to preserve acapella music. No, there is a clear distinction between the enjoyment of a rich musical tradition and the exclusion of musical instruments from the church’s public life. Even when the latter masquerades as the former. One is a traditional musical expression of worship and praise, the other is a divider between those who are with us and those who are against us. And of what spirit is such a division?

  21. Dwight says:

    The music of today is not the music of tomorrow, but it definitely isn’t the music of yesterday. The music of yesterday, in the time of the Israel nation, was built not upon rhyme, but upon structure of the verses, but to hear it would be very foreign to us. the pslams are very foreign to us in form and structure, which was done with IM. Now we today hold up our non-IM music as the music that is Godly, but what we do is to deny the past and the other based on that it is not OUR music. We would be sadly dissatisfied with the music that David sang, even though God wasn’t.
    While I agree that some music turns God’s word into a secondary item and goes against the very nature of having reverence, by being irreverent ( i.e. acid rock), some music enhances it as well and we have a tendency to lump it all into the same category.
    The great thing about acapella music is that everyone can do it while not everyone can play an instrument, but not everyone can preach either, so we have to not refuse our gifts, but use our gifts to God’s glory.
    But then again I have seen where even in the acapella world people are not allowed to lead singing because they are not good enough or haven’t had the training. It is not enough to start the song, but we have to lead it to maximum affect, which crosses over into our issues many have with IM, making it performance based. The fact is that song leaders are not a have to thing and people can sing without one just as well, but they are a staple of the church structure.
    My point those things that we use against others can also be used against us and we are not immune to the arguments made.

  22. Price says:

    singing must be reverent ? How about joyful ? celebratory ? Why does IM have to be equated with acid rock ? LOL.. Just can’t help but get in the digs.. it’s coC genetics I suppose… Why not just be happy with your choice and not have to compare yourselves to others ? Let it go.. Worry about the spec in your own eye..

  23. John says:

    My point is that music in the church (ACor IM) should direct us toward our spiritual nature, not the fleshly nature. Music has great power in speaking to the soul >> it is there that our attention should be directed.

  24. Alabama John says:

    There are two books I like to read and study and they are by Robert J. Morgan Then sings my soul.
    On one side of the opening, the left page is the song and its music. On the right side is the date written and all about it and its author.

    These are150 of the world’s greatest hymn stories.

    Many we, the old timers know by heart

    How wonderful it would be to have someone at each service read all about one and then all sing it.

    Just imagine how many times and all the places it has been sung and in many places and times brought people to the Lord and Church.

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