1906 – 2006: 100 years later, can we converse across the keyboard?
Representatives of the a cappella and instrumental churches that share roots in the Stone-Campbell Movement (also called the Restoration Movement) will speak at each other’s events in an effort to increase understanding after years of limited communication. Some call for increased cooperation among a cappella churches of Christ and the group known today as Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (instrumental), also known as Independent Christian Churches. Others warn that such efforts could lead to another split within the a cappella fellowship.
The Chronicle asked ministers and academics from both religious groups questions about the background of the separation and how this year’s meetings and discussions likely will affect churches in years to come.
The Christian Chronicle
February 1, 2006
Instructor, BearValley Bible Institute
BACKGROUND: Raised inan a cappella church, Burger has preached for more than 40 years. He hasparticipated in several unity meetings with Christian Church ministers andteaches Restoration History at the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver.
A TYPICAL SERVICE ATMY CONGREGATION: We sing several songs without the use of mechanicalinstruments of music. The service today doesn’t differ in style or activitiesfrom the services in which I grew up.
ISSUES FACING THECHURCH IN 2006: The church as a whole is struggling with individuals andcongregations departing from basic biblical truths in such areas as: with whomwe may have spiritual fellowship, what one must do to be saved, women’s rolesand what is acceptable worship. Determining one’s views on these issues alsodetermines how evangelistic an individual or congregation is.
Bible professor, Lipscomb University
BACKGROUND: Hollowayhas taught Bible in schools and universities associated with a cappellachurches for 28 years. He has published books with authors from Christian Churchesand is a member of the Stone-Campbell Dialogue, an annual gathering of membersof churches of Christ, Christian Churches and Disciples ofChrist for discussion and prayer.
A TYPICAL SERVICE ATMY CONGREGATION: Our worship is very similar to what I experienced in my youth.We use a few more contemporary songs, place more emphasis on the Lord’s Supperand have a different style of preaching.
ISSUES FACING THECHURCH in 2006: Responsible change. How do we live and speak the good news toour
culture? How can wemake the changes necessary to do that while still holding on to our identity?
Minister, Naperville Church of Christ
BACKGROUND:Christened in the Australian Episcopal church, Little attended Catholic schoolfrom fifth through 12th grade. After studying the Bible with his father’sbusiness partner, he was baptized as a teen in an a cappella church in Australia. Heattended college in the United Statesand ministers for the Naperville, Ill., church.
A TYPICAL SERVICE ATMY CONGREGATION: Our worship services tend to be upbeat and positive, usinghumor and warmth in the messages and announcements. I will often use videos(typically with background music) to illustrate a point.
ISSUES FACING THECHURCH IN 2006: I believe churches of Christ as a whole are facing a crisis ofidentity unless they are able to have a kingdom view that is consistent withScripture and they become less sectarian in their view of “the Lord’s church.”
Minister, Concord Road Churchof Christ
BACKGROUND: Baptizedin an a cappella church in Oklahoma, Sandershas preached for more than 35 years and currently serves the Concord Road church, Brentwood, Tenn.His 1989 book, Let All the Earth Keep Silence, discusses the silence of theScriptures and “lays out some old and new arguments surrounding thehermeneutics of silence.” Sanders recently launched a television ministry.
A TYPICAL SERVICE ATMY CONGREGATION: We sing a cappella, commune in a meaningful Lord’s Supper,pray fervently, give generously and listen to God’s Word. We use the Internetto live stream our worship.
ISSUES FACING THECHURCH IN 2006: Postmodern thinking has influenced some Nashville congregations to
accommodate andembrace religious pluralism, just as it has nationwide. Most congregationshere, however, have chosen not to participate in that compromise.
Editor, publisher, Christian Standard
BACKGROUND: Taylor has attended instrumental Christian Churchesand Churches of Christ his entire life. He was educated at Cincinnati BibleSeminary, and for nearly 30 years has worked for Standard Publishing, a chiefsupplier of materials for Christian Churches.
A TYPICAL SERVICE ATMY CONGREGATION: There are four services each weekend. The Saturday nightservice is somewhat informal, with a worship band. Two services on Sundaymornings happen simultaneously. One is labeled contemporary, and the other islabeled traditional. An earlier service is in a “blended” format.
ISSUES FACING THECHURCH IN 2006: We need to penetrate our culture with the gospel and not justbe a place to reach churched folks disenchanted with other congregations orchurch dropouts who are attracted to our programs.
What is yourunderstanding of the reasons for the separation of 1906?
Wayne Burger: The root of the problem ran much deeper than theestablishment of the Missionary Society and the use of instrumental music inworship. The problem was the way brethren viewed Scripture.
There were a growingnumber of preachers who accepted the Documentary Hypothesis and thereforedenied the inspiration of Scripture. When this attitude toward Scripturedeveloped, the necessity of baptism by immersion was denied as well asaccepting denominational baptism and extending fellowship with denominationalchurches.
Gary Holloway: Themost important “issues” at the time were the Missionary Society, instrumentalmusic in worship and having local preachers. What made these issues divisivewas the ill feelings created by the Civil War.
Earlier, many of thefollowers of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell could unite in spite of moresevere differences of opinion on other issues. Unfortunately, the Civil Warforced both sides into uncompromising positions.
Rich Little: There ismuch to be said of the regional (North/South), historical (CivilWar/Reconstruction) and socio-economic influences that exacerbated and perhapshastened a separation that is ultimately more complex than any single doctrinaldifference.
Phil Sanders: Twomindsets led to this division. One mindset, in the pursuit of freedom andprogress, introduced a visible element into the worship not found in Scripture,which those of the other mindset considered unauthorized and sinful. Those whowanted the instrument were the majority and were determined to keep it. Thosewho opposed it as sinful had little choice but to worship elsewhere.
What are the chiefdoctrinal differences between the two groups today?
Wayne Burger: The basic difference between the twogroups today is the same difference that existed in 1906 — how does Godauthorize? Christian Churches teach that ifGod has not condemned an action, it is acceptable.
Those who do notbelieve that there can be fellowship between churches of Christ and Christian Churches believe that we must have authorizationfrom God before something can be practiced (Colossians 3:17).
Phil Sanders: Thechief difference is how they understand the silence of the Scripture. TheChristian Church sees silence as permissive, since there is an absence of aprohibition. Churches of Christ see silence as prohibitive, since theScriptures lack any instruction from an all-sufficient and complete teaching.
Mark Taylor: Ibelieve there are far more points of similarity than difference. We agree onthe authority of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, the need to accept him asLord and Savior and then to obey his command to go into all the world,immersing new disciples.
I understand thatsome members of churches of Christ believe that using instrumental music inworship is a sin, a position held by no leader in Christian Churches.
I also understandthat many in churches of Christ see the silence of Scripture about a practiceto indicate that it is forbidden; members of Christian Churchesusually believe that silence indicates permission.
How do churches ofChrist perceive independent Christian Churches today?
Gary Holloway: Ithink most in churches of Christ do not realize our historic ties andsimilarities to the Christian Churches. We just do notknow them nor do they know us.
Rich Little: Mostchurches of Christ have lumped the Christian Church with every otherdenomination. I find most people are not aware of the historical similaritiesand are generally passive in their desire to learn or educate themselves on ourrelationship.
In reality, mostchurch members are so consumed with their own churches, lives, children,families, careers and schooling, they are doing good just to visit the other church of Christ across town once a year, letalone articulate their belief on fellowshipping the Christian church.
Phil Sanders: I canonly speak for myself here. I believe baptized believers in the IndependentChristian Church are my brethren, since everyone who is scripturally born ofwater and the Spirit is a child of God.
I love my brethren,but I grieve that they have clung to an unscriptural practice. I wish we couldfind biblical and hermeneutical unity once again.
How do Christian Churches perceive a cappella churches ofChrist today?
Mark Taylor: Manyrank-and-file members of Christian Churches know very littleabout the separate identity of the a cappella churches of Christ. Some havebeen blistered by church of Christ members whohave refused fellowship with them.
Most, however, areeager to enjoy fellowship, service and evangelistic outreach with folks whomthey perceive to have the same commitment to Christ and his word that they holddear.
Do you plan toparticipate in any events recognizing the 100th anniversary of the 1906separation?
Wayne Burger: No. Idon’t think that a split in our brotherhood is an event that should becelebrated or commemorated.
Gary Holloway: I planto attend the North American Christian Convention, the Restoration Forum andthe Stone-Campbell Dialogue.
Rich Little: Yes. Weare working to create a joint fellowship event with our church and local Christian Churches in the area and willparticipate in a pulpit exchange with a neighboring Christian Church. We wouldalso support and affirm such efforts nationally and internationally while focusingour best efforts on our closest Christian Church neighbors.
Mark Taylor: I amlooking forward to attending every minute of the North American ChristianConvention, which will meet in Louisville, Ky., June 27-30.
What are yourthoughts about the wisdom of increased cooperation between the two groups? Isthis a positive or negative development in your view?
Wayne Burger: I do not think it is wise for the two groups tocooperate in spiritual activities. For those who believe that spiritualactivities must have authorization from God, it forces them to violate theirconscience or give up their conviction that all activities must haveauthorization from God.
Gary Holloway: Anyvisible expressions of unity among the people of God is a good thing. Christprayed for our unity.
Rich Little: It istremendously positive and a first step in the right direction. My personalprayer is that this will help to break down the sectarian orientation we havein being a “non-denominational” denomination. Jesus’ prayer for unity of allbelievers should compel us to move forward and we should use this time toremind ourselves of the true non-sectarian Christianity to which Stone andCampbell were calling us.
If, however, webelieve we have restored fellowship in the church by simply acknowledging andaccepting Christian Churches, then we havesimply broadened our sectarianism to also include the Christian Church.
My hope is that wewill move beyond this first step to a place where we can embrace, fellowshipand welcome all children of God as God sees them, not as our currenttheological or ecclesiological limits allow.
Phil Sanders: Shouldthose who worship with instruments forsake them, I would gladly seek somerelationship with them. At this point, how can I do anything but speak outagainst a practice that goes beyond the authority of Scripture?
My first loyalty isto the will of God. To cooperate with those who continue to act outside thatwill is to send a mixed signal.
Mark Taylor: Ourweary, secularized world needs Jesus, and it needs to see models of the unityand joy that can exist among people who have given their lives to him. Workingtogether toward this end couldn’t be more positive.
If this cooperationproceeds, where do you see churches going in the next five to 10 years?
Wayne Burger: I see some churches who once believed that allactivities had to have authorization from God giving up that position andeither beginning to practice unauthorized activities or at least giving uptheir conviction and accepting into full fellowship those who do not believethat churches must have authorization for what they do.
Gary Holloway: Ithink we will work together in many areas of service — evangelism, missions,compassion ministries, youth work and education.
Rich Little: Inreality, it will be divided. Decisions take place at the congregational leveland therefore any advancement in this area will only happen throughout thecooperative efforts of like-minded congregations and leaders, while churchesthat oppose such efforts will retrench and fight them.
I believe we will seea third branch in churches of Christ growing in the next 10 years (as occurredin the early Restoration Movement). The third branch will be comprised ofchurches that openly fellowship and cooperate with other believers, while thelarger middle portion will proceed more cautiously or skeptically, with themore conservative branch, including our non-institutional churches, probablyopposing any such efforts or even entertaining the thoughts of such efforts.
Phil Sanders: Thereare some in churches of Christ who are cooperating already, because they do notany longer hold that the use of the instrument is wrong. I suspect others willfollow that course. Postmodern thinking frowns upon conviction and exclusivity;and just as they did more than a century ago, many will broaden their thinkingto permit what God never instructed.
Mark Taylor: Ibelieve we will continue to cooperate “across the keyboard” with less and lessattention to that issue. We have already seen non-instrumental and instrumentalchurches working together in missions and benevolence efforts; and some haveeven cooperated in the planting of churches. I believe this will increase.
Can churches ofChrist and Christian Churches have a closerrelationship without losing their doctrinal integrity?
Wayne Burger: No,because churches of Christ who fellowship Christian Churches must eitherviolate their conscience with regard to believing that all things that are donemust be authorized by God, or give up that conviction.
Gary Holloway: No onein the Christian Churches is demanding that churches ofChrist use instruments. Those in churches of Christ should not force a cappellaworship on the Christian Churches.
We are all congregational.Congregations do not all have to look the same to work together in Christianunity.
Rich Little: Ofcourse. The “slippery slope” argument has been exploited to prevent movement inany direction for fear of losing our distinctives. If one looks at thelandscape of the denominational world, one will see hundreds of doctrinallydistinct groups that cooperate and fellowship all the time.
Moreover, we shouldbe challenging the notion that “doctrinal distinctives” are what give us ouridentity. I certainly hope not. Unless of course by “doctrine” we arereferring, as we should, to the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiahand the grace that comes through his gift.
Many churches willcontinue to be held captive by the tyranny of the easily offended and theseones will sadly never look beyond their walls for what God might teach themthrough his church-at-large.
Phil Sanders: Thereare likely some societal and moral efforts where estranged brethren can findsome common ground. We could fight against the dangers of immoral behavior orthe secularizing of Americatogether. There may be some relief and charitable efforts comprised of peoplefrom many faiths working together.
Mark Taylor: Absolutely. Members of Christian Churches will respect the decisions of members in thechurches of Christ not to use instruments in worship or to avoid any of theseveral other practices that some church of Christ members havedecided are wrong.
It does not requirecompromise for us to agree together to go, baptize, and teach. In many cases,we can do this more effectively together than we can apart.
How important is thisissue to members in the pews, and how important should it be? How important isthis issue to church leaders?
Wayne Burger: Ibelieve that many members do not see the seriousness of these issues becausethey have not been taught basic fundamental truths nor how those truths havebeen reached.
Unfortunately, wehave taught people what to think rather than how to think and therefore many donot know why they believe what they believe or which issues are matters offaith and which issues are matters of opinion.
Rich Little: Unfortunately, for the average member this issue does not rank high on theirpriority list. At Naperville over 50 percent ofour members do not come from a Church of Christ background,hence our members are already open to fellowshipping other believers, not justbelievers in the Christian Church.
Churches that havetended to stagnate or regress will be less likely to concern themselves withthis issue than churches that are connected to their community, fellow churchesand the lives of seekers. While this issue should be of importance to churchleaders, I hope and pray we don’t end 2006 thinking we have “restored” fellowship,even tacitly, without moving beyond the “Restoration Movement” to see God’schurch as he sees it, those called to surrender their lives in obedience tohim.
Phil Sanders: Acentury of disruption in fellowship means many members of both groups knowlittle about the other. It has not been important to them, because they areunaware. Leaders and members need to know their history and heritage, the goodand the bad.
They also need to whythe disruption happened and what can be done, if anything, to heal the problem.
Mark Taylor: In ourself-centered age, many of those in the pews are first concerned about theirown family, their own careers, and their own experience of church. Those at abit more mature level are concerned about Christian unity and impatient withwhat they would consider to be doctrinal splinters that have become a wedgeamong believers.
I believe manyChristian Church members want to experience unity and fellowship with membersof a cappella churches of Christ. Church leaders are already taking theinitiative to reach out to each other, talk with each other, eat with eachother and find ways to serve with each other.
We must do this, as awitness to the world.
Any final thoughts onthis issue?
Wayne Burger: It breaks my heart that the brotherhood split in1906, but it breaks my heart to a greater degree because of the reason for thesplit — departure from truth.
It breaks my hearttoday to see a portion of our brotherhood departing from those same truths. Itseems that we have not learned from God’s word or from history. The saddestpart is that because we are divided we greatly weaken our influence in theworld.
Phil Sanders: How dowe win our brothers back (Prov. 18:19)? We will not do this by ignoring eachother. We will win some brothers back the way we lost them, one at a time. Wemust talk at some point and pray at some point. This is not the time forname-calling but rather for calling on his name. We treat our brothers asbrothers, even when there is a disruption in fellowship (2 Thess. 3:14-15).
One sister in theChristian Church I taught about musical instruments had never heard the reasonswhy we don’t use them. Once she learned the reasons, she gladly embraced thetruth. We didn’t re-baptize her. We embraced her on her repentance.
Manyof our own do not know why we oppose instruments, because we have not taughtthem. Teaching with love is always the answer. If after we have taught we findlittle change, let us try again. Perhaps we can find reconciliation. We pray wecan. Yet, with great regret at some point we have to accept that we may neverwin our brother.
Mark Taylor: We have everything to gain and nothing to lose, exceptself-centered, standoffish pride, by continuing to discover, love andfind ways to serve with each other. We worship the same Lord, obey the same Word, and are motivated by thesame Great Commission. As I have learned more about the dynamic workfor Christ being accomplished by so many in the churches of Christ, Ihave been motivated to serve him better. May that happen in thousandsof lives as we work to experience the unity Christ desires!
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