Instrumental Music: A Question About Transitions

Divided churchIn a recent Christian Chronicle article, it was noted that Churches of Christ in the United States had elected to omit 21 congregations that have added an instrumental worship service, but several other congregations with instrumental services had been included by accident.

I figure this means we have at least 25 congregations with an instrumental service, and yet I’ve only heard about Richland Hills and Quail Springs. Richland Hills’ decision became well known, I’m sure, because it’s the largest of our congregations (not to mentioned Dave Miller’s book declaring them damned), and Quail Spring became famous because of the ads run in the Daily Oklahoma declaring them apostate.

The method Richland Hills used to make the transition is pretty well known, due to the now-famous series of sermons by Rich Atchley called “Both/And” in which the decision was announced. Quail Springs chose to announce their decision one year before putting it into effect, and yet despite the substantial lead time lost many of their members.

Now, instrumental music is hardly the only controversial decision an eldership might make. Even very conservative congregations lose members or split when, for example, some within the church disagree with a decision to allow a divorced and remarried couple to place membership. Churches have lost members over a decision to allow a man to serve as elder after his wife has died, among countless other issues.

And so I’m wondering what approaches to presenting a controversial decision to the congregation have worked to preserve congregational unity — and which have not? I’m not interested, at this point, in how to preserve unity with other congregations in town — just how to hold a congregation together when the elders feel compelled — or have no choice but — to make a hard decision. What experiences do we have from which others can learn?

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8 Responses

  1. I don’t know if there is a perfect answer — if there is, I don’t have it. But here is what we’ve done.

    In our case the controversial decision was on the topic of women speaking publicly in the worship service (a topic you and I have debated in the past!) We taught the congregation what we believe the scriptures teach. (For those who may have missed our previous exchanges, the leaders of our congregation believe women should not address the congregation publicly). We also taught that our members would encounter other congregations that disagree, and allow women to address their congregations. We called on them to practice Romans 14, to accept those who disagree without passing judgment, and to keep what they believe on the matter between themselves and God rather than dispute with the members of that congregation. Leaders of each congregation are obligated to follow their consciences on the subject, and we need to leave room for thoses differences.

    This was not the first time we’ve publicly made allowance for differences among Christians. Other topics include the creation / age-of-the-earth question, signing of affiliation agreements with other congregations (we didn’t sign), some aspects of marriage and divorce, and head coverings, to name a few. (We’re currently in the midst of a difference over church-sponsored events with Easter egg hunts and the Easter bunny…) We’ve attempted to establish a pattern of acceptance despite disagreements on disputable matters, so it’s not such a big issue when we don’t all agree on something. Leaders sometimes have to make a choice, and we try to do so without passing judgment on the other point of view. It has worked reasonably well up to this point.

  2. Jay,
    I did not know that there was such a thing as a non-controversial decision in the churches of Christ. LOL. I would begin with study Jay. Have all the Sunday morning adult classes study the potential decision. Have the elders teach the classes. The eldership must be unified about it or the congregation will split almost for sure. The eldership must be willing to accept and be prepared that some maybe even a large number of members may leave even with much study and teaching. How this decision rolls up in the mission, values and theology held by the elders is important to bring to light constantly. Assure the people that this doesn’t mean that everything is going to be questioned and changed overnight as this will cause even the most sincere impressionable people to reject even the smallest change. Open the gate for private meetings between elders and members to discuss any concerns. After introducing the topic set a date for the study to end and the decision to be made as this will relieve concerns that the study may be drawn out until the elders wear down and change their minds. Re-emphasize biblical guidelines for resolving disputes such speaking to the person in persons first and then taking a friend and so on. The elders must practice and enforce this or there will be Chaos. Identify any potential threats such a historic problem makers in the congregation and attempt to mitigate and neutralize them pre-emptive. Be prepared to be persecuted by the critics and the powers that be in the larger brotherhood. It is rumored that Rick Atchley received personal threats. Pray that God would work in the hearts of all!

  3. Hm, we simply started it. We had used instruments in the youth service and then we (i.e. the youth) started to use them in the Sunday service at well. Nobody objected. I know that that sounds rare, but it happends. =)

  4. I totally see why Jay was saying churches become more moderate or more conservative. I don’t believe any moderate or progressive churches of Christ will be around much longer. Progressives will change their name to reflect independent Bible churches, moderates will swing one way or the other and consevative churches ultimately become ineffective.

    I believe the real issue we should be looking at is eschatology, not music or women’s roles. I already know I’m right about music and women’s roles (tongue in cheek), but eschatology has been the greatest struggle for me as I cut away my preterist/replacement theology roots. This is where we are all wrong for the most part.

  5. I think Joe’s suggesstion sounds pretty good. I know of one church that has been very effective in instituting change in a very graceful manner, similar to what Joe describes.

    The church I’m working with now doesn’t make changes….ugh.

  6. We have carefully worked our way through the idea of letting our women and children more actively participate in our worship assemblies. Our people have been encouraged to follow, roughly, the approach below in finding understanding about an “issue”.

    First, what does Scripture literally say (or not)? This is the gold standard. Second, what examples in Scripture might be used to further understand (and how/can they apply) the situation? This is the silver standard. Third, can we all agree that the unity of Spirit motivation that Jesus talks about in John 14-17 be held in higher regard than any divisive singular issue? And fourth, is the “issue” held as a “sin” or a “preference” in the eye of a beholder? At this point, a family/individual has to decide what stance and action they will take – the issue being a “sin” or a “preference”.

    We are making a very proactive effort to inform our members and especially any potentially new members about who we are, what we stand for, where we have been and where we are going, and how they can fit in. We want full disclosure up front for all with regard to our thinking and motivation. No surprises!

    We have tried very hard not to allow the Romans 14 “I am a victim” card to be played by anyone. Romans 14 is clearly about “preference” therefore we can’t let preferences destroy the unity of the Spirit. Invoking Romans 14 is much like, in many cases, the tail wagging the dog. This takes much discernment.

    Our leaders must make decisions! We can’t be all things to all people. On the other hand, if our love and grace is uniformly and sincerely applied across all lines, people will be drawn to Jesus and not to a “standard worship”.

    God has routinely always given us breathing space, room to think and pray, patience. It has been amazing how God has taken our hand and led us through what, we think, could have never been done by ourselves.

  7. We have tried very hard not to allow the Romans 14 “I am a victim” card to be played by anyone.

    Romans 14 isn’t designed to be used to tell the other side how they should treat me. Instead, it is designed to tell each individual how to treat the other side. So, there is no Romans 14 “I am a victim” card to be played. Instead, I should accept the other person and not make an issue over the difference.

    Romans 14 is clearly about “preference”

    Not really. Jesus declared all foods clean. 1 Tim 4 says that requiring people to abstain from certain foods is the teaching of demons. How many churches of Christ would consider it a matter of preference if the church down the street started observing the Sabbath — or moved the weekly assembly to Saturday? Romans 14 is not talking about matters of preference, but matters of sincere difference of opinion about doctrine, on matters outside the basic facts of the gospel — the deity, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and his Lordship.

  8. I was not a member of a Church of Christ until about 8 yrs ago when I married my husband and instead of going to 2 different churches I chose to go with him. I love the fact of the new services with the instruments. Our children were leaving to go to churches where there is musical instruments and soon when all the children are gone there will be no more church. I can’t understand why all of the people left if they disagreed that is one thing but in a democracy where a vote is put before the people and they voted in this then why do they cry and run and built there own church so they can ridicule others? Seems to me they are not very christian at all. Mark Henderson and his family are wonderful people and if you get a kick out of talking about them then you better sweep off your own back porch first. This is not the christian way. First you guys got mad like little children that didn’t get their way now you have to gossip. I am one that is glad you are not there anymore to cause problems.

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