What Will It Take to Be Together Again?

October 19, 2006

AT TENNESSEE FORUM, more than 1,500 hear speakers from a cappella, instrumental churches debate ‘What Will It Take to Be Together Again?” Christian Chronicle article

This past Saturday, Freed Hardeman University hosted a discussion about issues separating the a cappella churches of Christ and the instrumental Christian churches. This is a greatly needed and long overdue dialog that I hope will continue until it bears fruit. Speaking for the a cappella churches was Professor Ralph Gilmore of Freed Hardeman. Addressing the other side of the issue was David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University.

Not surprisingly, the issue seemed to boil down to how to interpret the silence of the scriptures. For Faust, instrumental music is not the focus of faith, and should not be an issue that divides the church. For Gilmore, “There can be no genuine unity without truth.” He sees things like four-part harmony as permissible expedients, but instruments amount to “swapping something in the category specified with something else” which he sees as prohibited.

Recently I have been involved in a constructive and respectful email conversation about this subject with another gentleman associated with Freed Hardeman, and the issues there are the same. I think the conversation needs to turn from which view is correct, toward something that seems to be more urgent at the moment: how can we get along while we disagree about this?

I would love to see the a cappella folks bear with the perceived failings of their instrumental brothers and sisters without passing judgment over instruments. I would love to see the instrumental folks offer to lay down their instruments in order to hold some worship services with their a cappella brothers and sisters. And I would love to hear both sides apologizing for a century of willful division. I think the following quote from Faust sums up the most important issue between the two:

“Often, we are like two lifeguards who get in a fistfight on the beach while a swimmer is drowning.”

Let’s call off the fight and help the poor swimmers. Let’s not wait until we agree on every point to stop fighting. And let’s not wait until the Lord returns to embrace one another as brothers.


  1. Alan,.Here is the link to order DVD’s from FHU on the recent discussion. http://www.fhu.edu/recording/index.aspI have not heard it yet, but mine is on the way. I look forward to further discussionBrett

  2. Hi Brett,I just ordered it. Thanks for the link.Alan

  3. Hi Alan, I read the article and have three comments on David’s view. First, Minimizing Instrumental Music because we want to focus on Christ, begs the question. If you believe it is a command issue, then “If you love me keep my commandments” is a Christ focused view of the question. Secondly, David’s comparison to one cupper’s and no Sunday School is a valid one. If the cause of Christ in a particular area is advanced through congregational consolidation, I would give those things up. I have personally done that for no eating in a building. Then, through increased dialogue and teaching, the problem was solved. Ralph’s point is still valid. If you really want to worship together (and that is how you describe unity) then give up the instrument. Third, David’s swimmer illustration has an emotional appeal. I have my own. If one lifeguard knows the other life guard can’t swim, perhaps he should restrain him for the moment.I can’t wait to watch the full dialogue.Thanks for listeningBrett

  4. Hi Brett,Your comments about one-cup, Sunday School, and eating in the building reflect exactly my attitudes about instruments. I would abandon them in a heartbeat in order to worship together with the a cappella groups. However I have a difficulty with doing that, because quite a few of the members of my congregation are not at that point, at least in terms of a permanent merger scenario. (I am not saying that unity implies we must merge). Anyway the choices facing me are to remain united in my own congregation, or to create division in my own congregation in order to resolve division with another congregation. Somehow I need to find a third way, which is to bring people to the point where we can have unity in both directions.Someone has written that it is much easier to be united with those “on your right” than with those “on your left”. I see the same difficulties on my left that you see on yours. And certainly there is a line we cannot fellowship across. But there is no biblical justification to draw that line on every question or issue. In fact we are commanded not to do that. I think we should not draw lines of fellowship where the scriptures do not instruct us to withhold fellowship over those specific issues. OTOH I think we should make every effort to accomodate the sincere consciences of the brothers and sisters in both directions.Alan

  5. I am a minister in a Christian church, and was raised in the churches of Christ (acappella). I decided that either I needed to abandon the motto “I speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent”, or live by it. When I ask myself the question, “What does the Bible say about instrumental music in Christian worship?” the only honest answer I am able to give is, “Nothing.” Therefore, I have decided that that is the only position I am willing to take on this issue.However, when our baptistry was out of service and we borrowed the baptistry at a church of Christ across town, we sang acappella as we gathered for a baptism.I understand that, for many of my brothers and sisters, participating in our instrumental assembly would be wrong, so I do not advocate permanent mergers. But I do want to be partners in service with the entire body. I disagree with many of my brothers and sisters on many subjects, but we don’t fight about them. Nor do we allow them to break our fellowship. I have chosen to treat this subject the same way I treat so many others.In Him,Carl

  6. Hi Carl,I am an elder in a an acapella church of Christ and opposed to instrumental music. However, I think your commens on “getting along” are good and frankly I believe this occurs in many places.I can’t help but ask on silence, are you also silent on sprinkling? Here in lies the discsussion. I hope we can all continue the dialogue while maintaining the good spirit you expressed and understanding why we can’t worship together with instruments.Your Brother,Brett

  7. I like what they are doing in Tulsa. A CoC and a Christian church have joined together for a meaningful project. They are building a Habitat House together. Last year’s workshop was on Unity. You need to unite in the community first.

  8. Hi! I am a former CoC minister who now worships with the Independent Christian Church. I have been following the dialog between the two groups for some time now, and I remain skeptical, but hopeful, that it will bear some spiritual fruit. The reason I say this is that it has been my experience that many of those in the CoC are unwilling to study further than what they have been taught and is accepted as “sound brotherhood doctrine.” That is one of the motivating factors that moved my family away from our CoC roots.As for the instrumental music question, I came to the conclusion that it is simply a matter of opinion that blossomed into a matter of faith after the sectional divide during the era of the American Civil War. Ths standard CoC position on this subject resulting from their application of silence of Scripture and Biblically authorized practices does not harmonize with the rest of their commonly accepted practices. If one take s the position that Instrumental music is not authorized because the NT in Ephesians and Colossians says “sing” then one must apply that reasoning across the board. For example, the collection/treasury is only authorized in the NT, by command and example, to meet the needs of the needy, primarily Christians. Yet, the standard practice is to use 75% + of the funds collected for everything but benevolence. Anyways, that is part of my thinking anyways. :)Raymond

  9. Alan,It will take forgiveness, sacrifice and love.Each side has to swallow their pride and and say the words, “I’m sorry brother. I am sorry that this issue has caused division. I’m sorry for the attitudes that we both have had.” I believe their must be sacrifice. I am going to give up whatever is causing the division. If it is the attitude of pride, arrogance, legalism. Love must be the center focus.

  10. From the article:“Gilmore said the Bible does allow “expedients,” such as songbooks, to help carry out specified actions, so long as the tool does not change the action or “involve swapping something in the category specified with something else.”The problem for me is singing with accompaniment, really what we are talking about not instrumental music, fits Gilmore’s definition of an expedient. No one is saying swap singing with playing an instrument without singing and singing with accompaniment certainly doesn’t change the action, I have done it both ways and at times during the same song.The entire use of the phrase instrumental music is used IMO to confuse the true issue. Do you sing with or without accompaniment? Both are still singing therefore both are still doing what was instructed so both are being obedient to what is actually said.I went to a former CoC that now has accompaniment. I was interviewing in Christian Churches because the hyper focus on this issue kept us from even looking for drowning souls.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: