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ACU lectures promote ‘spirit of fellowship’

ABILENE, Texas — A call for unity between “estranged brothers and sisters” highlighted the recent Abilene Christian University Lectureship, which focused on the 100-year-old division between a cappella and instrumental churches.
Several speakers urged church members to put instrumental music into the category of disputable matters, likening it to disagreements over Sunday school and individual communion cups.
The presidents of ACU, a 5,000-student university associated with a cappella churches of Christ, and Milligan College, a 1,000-student liberal arts college associated with instrumental Christian Churches, opened the Lectureship with a joint theme lecture.

ACUPresident Royce Money noted that the university was founded in 1906, the sameyear — coincidentally — that a federal religious census first reported the acappella and instrumental churches as separate bodies.
“Theoriginal purpose of our movement was to be nondenominational Christians only,”Money said in a message on truth, grace and unity from the Gospel of John.
“Aftera period of an unprecedented spirit of unity and mutual acceptance in the firsthalf of the 19th century, we certainly have had our share of conflicts anddivisions … especially in the decades following the Civil War,” the ACUpresident said.
Headded: “But in this dawning of the 21st century, there is a renewed spirit ofunity among us — not for merging or for giving up long-held religiousconvictions that historically have divided us. Rather, it is a spirit offellowship, of conversation, of reconciliation between estranged brothers andsisters.”
Whilechurch scholars disagree on whether the Bible allows only a cappella singing,the Lectureship underscored the fact that many members are re-evaluating theissue. Even steadfast opponents of instrumental music acknowledge that.
“Thereis, of course, no question that many in churches of Christ no longer believethat instrumental music is in any real sense wrong,” said Cecil May, dean ofthe Bible college at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala. “Of course, thatgreatly changes all of the perceptions about the division at the turn of thelast century. Those differing perspectives, I have found, make meaningfulcommunication difficult.”


Today,the a cappella churches report about 1.3 million baptized members in the U.S., slightlymore than the instrumental churches’ 1.2 million. Both groups believe thatJesus is Lord, baptize for remission of sins and offer the Lord’s Supper eachSunday. Money suggested that fellowships sharing those traits must heed Jesus’prayer for unity.
“Iwould humbly suggest that those of us who claim to be heirs of the glory ofGod, who claim to know a little bit about restoring New Testament Christianityin a fallen world, begin by asking God and asking each other for forgivenessfor the messes we have made,” Money said. “Then we need to open the Scripturestogether and let the one who is full of grace and truth teach us again the truespirit of unity.”
MilliganCollege President Don Jeanes addressed the split of 1906 less directly.

Buthe said: “You and I are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, and we share thistruth and this grace. And in turn, we share a common purpose, and as God’speople, we need to live it, we need to share it, and we need to show it. Weneed to take it to an unsaved world because that’s the light that has come intothe world.”
Moneyexpressed doubt that many people have looked at Restoration Movement churchesover the last 100 years and said, “Behold, how they love one another.”

“Butwe’re going to do better in the next 100 years, and we’re going to do betterbeginning right now,” he said to cheers.
Alongwith the joint theme lecture by Money and Jeanes, the Lectureship hosted athree-day Restoration Forum featuring eight panelists from a cappella andinstrumental churches. Among the panelists were the ministers of eachfellowship’s largest congregation: Rick Atchley of the 6,400-member RichlandHills Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, and Bob Russell of the 18,000-member SoutheastChristian Church in Louisville, Ky.
Differingviews on how to handle the silence of Scripture on certain issues havecontributed to the division, Atchley said.
“Wherethe Bible speaks, we speak,” he said, referring to a cappella churches. “Andwhere the Bible is silent, we have even more to say.”
Aperson in a primitive hut in Africa could readthe New Testament and determine that baptism is necessary for remission of sinsand that God’s people should sing praises, Atchley said. “And they’ll probablyget out their drums and beat them when they sing, and they’ll never for amoment think they’re wrong,” he said.
Russellstressed that independent Christian Churches parted from the“increasingly liberal” Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the mid-1920s.
“Wewant you to understand that the leaders in the independent Christian Churcheshave a high view of Scripture as the infallible word of God,” Russell said.
Allthe panelists supported stronger ties between the two groups. That concernsHoward Norton, a Bible professor and assistant dean for church relations at Harding Universityin Searcy, Ark.
Focusingon unity without substantive discussion of instrumental music represents adoctrinal compromise, said Norton, who was honored the second night of the ACULectureship -— along with his teammates — for mission work in Brazil in the1960s and 1970s.
“Ithink there is a very strong movement within our fellowship — the a cappellachurch of Christ — to completely join up with the Christian Church and say thatwhat they are doing by introducing instrumental music, that there’s nothingwrong with that,” Norton said.
WayneNewland, a member of the Greater Portland Church of Christ in Maine, said he appreciated several of theChristian Church speakers complimenting a cappella singing.

“Indiscussing unity, there was no attempt to encourage us to use accompaniment,”Newland said. “All speakers focused on just accepting one another ‘across thekeyboard.’”

April 1, 2006

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