100 years after split, unity events bring praise, concern
But in Truitt Adair’s view, any attempt at unity that does not include an “honest discussion of the things that divide us” risks creating more division than reconciliation.
Such are the disparate views among church leaders 100 years after a 1906 federal religious census first reported the a cappella and instrumental churches as separate bodies.
Today, the a cappella churches report about1.3 million baptized members in the United States, slightly more thanthe instrumental churches’ 1.2 million. Both groups believe that Jesus Christis Lord, baptize for remission of sins and offer the Lord’s Supper each Sunday.
To mark thecentennial, the Abilene Christian University Lectureship in Texasand the Tulsa International Soul-Winning Workshop in Oklahoma both plan tag-team keynoteaddresses featuring university presidents or ministers from both groups.
In addition, about 40ministers from a cappella churches of Christ will speak at the largest annualgathering of instrumental Christian Churches -— the North American ChristianConvention in Louisville, Ky.
The ministers of thelargest congregations in each fellowship — Rick Atchley of Richland HillsChurch of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, and Bob Russell of Southeast ChristianChurch in Louisville — will appear at all three events.
“We’re notsoft-pedaling the differences. We think they’re real and significant,” saidMark Love, director of the ACU Lectureship, set for Feb. 19-22. “But theyshouldn’t stop us from loving each other and talking together and celebratingthe things we do agree on.”
Hodges, director ofthe Tulsa Workshop, which is March 23-25, said he would like to see both groupswork together on service projects.
“I don’t expect tosee a bunch of mergers occur, and I’m not encouraging it,” said Hodges,preaching minister at the Garnett Church of Christ in Tulsa. “But I do think it would be reallycool if a church of Christ and a Christian Church built a Habitat forHumanity house together … or worked to do something about the AIDS crisis in Africa.”
However, two majorministries that usually operate booths at the Tulsa Workshop — SunsetInternational Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas, and World Bible School inCedar Park, Texas — won’t this year.
Adair, Sunset’sexecutive director, said in a letter to supporters that the workshop’s “shiftaway from a soul-winning emphasis” sparked the decision.
Likewise, John Reese,a vice president with World Bible School,cited the workshop’s “move away from the titled purpose of ‘soul winning.’”
“We are not at allhostile toward any effort to bring brethren together,” Adair told theChronicle. “However, we believe that these ideals must be achieved in theatmosphere of open and honest discussion of the things that divide us as wellas those things we share in common.”
Hodges said the TulsaWorkshop remains an a cappella event, and he has no desire to change that. Asfor differences with instrumental churches, he said “there is a realizationamong a growing number from both tribes that we’re still part of the samefamily.”
“We may worshipdifferently, but we worship the same God,” Hodges said. “Our congregations maynot be cookie-cutter replications of each other, but we are still committed tothe same mission.”
Both fellowships grewout of the Restoration Movement of the 1800s.
Disagreements overinstruments in worship, missionary societies and what it means when the Bibleis silent on an issue caused a split shortly after the Civil War, according tohistorians.
But until 1906,religious almanacs included both groupsunder one heading: “Christian Churches.” That changedwhen the editors of the Gospel Advocate, unofficially representing the acappella churches, and the Christian Standard, on behalf of the instrumentalchurches, asked for separate census figures.
In the 1920s, aseparate split occurred among the instrumental Christian Churchesover issues such as open membership, the ecumenical movement, liberal theologyand denominational hierarchy.
The people in favorof those changes formed a third group: the Christian Church (Disciples ofChrist), which has about 770,000 members in the U.S.
ConservativeChristian Church members started the North American Christian Convention in1927 to provide a national gathering for fellowship and sound preaching, saidVictor Knowles, a Christian Church member and founder of Peace on EarthMinistries in Joplin, Mo.
The convention, whichwill be June 27-30, is not a delegate meeting, and nobody votes on social ortheological issues, said David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University, which isaffiliated with the instrumental churches.
“It’s just a bigannual gathering of Christians who come together for Bible teaching, fellowshipand encouragement,” Faust said. Among the scheduled speakers from a cappella churchesare Prentice Meador, Jerry Taylor, Jeff Walling, Carl Brecheen, Paul Faulkner,Carroll Osburn, Don McLaughlin, Albert Lemmons, Calvin Warpula, Ron Rose andMike Cope.
Knowles, who hasorganized unity forums for more than 20 years, said the two groups share “thesame spiritual DNA.”
“In the essentials,we are one. In non-essentials, we need to allow liberty,” Knowles said. “In allthings, we need to have more love.”
Both groups believein the inspiration of Scriptures, elder-led congregations and world evangelism,church leaders say.
But Jack Evans Sr., president of church of Christ-affiliated Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas,said he sees the unity events as “just another ploy of Satan to help change thetotal identity of the New Testament church.”
“As it proceeds, Isee a complete abandonment by some churches of Christ of the basic principlesof the New Testament within the next few years,” Evans said.
On the other hand,some a cappella church leaders who view instrumental music as doctrinally wrongsay they nonetheless consider instrumental church members “their brethren.”Flavil Yeakley, director of the HardingCenter for Church Growth in Searcy, Ark.,said he would not teach that an instrumental church member coming to an a cappellachurch would need to be re-baptized.
“However,I could not in good conscience be a part of a congregation that usedinstrumental music in the worship assembly,” Yeakley said. “I believe that theinstrumental brethren are ‘brethren-in-error’ — but brethren-in-error are theonly kind of brethren we have.”