Can instrumental, a cappella churches cooperate in missions?
TULSA, OKLA. — “Are you with the Christian Church?”
Dan Snider heard thequestion more than once as he stood by his small booth in the Tulsa Expo Center.
The cavernousstructure, once used to show off drilling equipment during Tulsa’s oil boom, has served for 30 years asa showplace for a cappella ministries during the annual Tulsa InternationalSoul Winning Workshop.
But last week, the Expo Center’slandscape was different. Among the usual displays for ministries — includingMissions Resource Network and Healing Hands International — were a host ofdisplays unfamiliar to the members of a cappella churches strolling the aisles.
“I haven’t felt anyicicles,” said Snider, who came to Tulsa topromote the Waray-Waray Project, a ministry in the Philippines supported byinstrumental churches.
In 1906, the U.S.Census Bureau recognized a split between the a cappella and instrumental branchesof the Restoration Movement. One hundred years later, some church leaders fromboth groups are calling for increased cooperation.
At the TulsaWorkshop, keynote addresses featured speakers from a cappella and instrumentalchurches. Two major a cappella ministries that usually operate booths in Tulsa— Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas, and World BibleSchool in Cedar Park, Texas — did not this time, citing what they characterized as the workshop’s move away from a soul-winning emphasis. Organizers denied the claim.
Bob Russell, seniorminister for the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky.,addressed a full pavilion March 24, calling for members of a cappella andinstrumental churches to forget the divisions of the past and focus on areaswhere they can cooperate.
Missionaries fromboth groups have cooperated on the field for many years, Russell said. Even ifthe two groups disagree on the issue of instruments in worship, “we can joinforces in serving a needy world,” he said.
But some workers witha cappella churches outside the United States said it’s not that simple.
“Ifpeople cannot worship God together — a fundamental act of fellowship — howcould there be any cooperation in mission work?” asked Brett Christensen of theSouth East Church of Christ in Melbourne, Australia.
David Dirrim, alongtime missionary to Haiticurrently living in the U.S.,asked a similar question: “If we can’t work together in this country, whyshould we think that we can do so in some other one — where the daily stressesof life generally tend to be greater than at home?”
Martin Brooks, whoattends a Christian Church in Louisville, hasworked in Africa with missionaries from acappella churches. He came to Tulsa with TeamExpansion, a Kentucky-based, church-planting ministry supported by Christian Churches that has helped 275missionaries in more than 35 countries since 1978.
“We’re happy to behere,” Brooks said, “and we’re looking forward to rebuilding bridges that nevershould have been destroyed.”
AFRICA: COOPERATION OR CONFUSION?
In some parts of Africa, it’s hard to tell missionaries from the twogroups apart.
In Kenya, ChristianChurches and churches of Christ have shared legal registration with thegovernment, said Ken Beckloff, missions ministry director for the a cappellaMemorial Road church, Oklahoma City. Several Christian Church missionarieschose to conduct a cappella worship services because of strong cultural tiesbetween instruments — especially drums — and animistic, ancestor-worshippingfaiths.
“Whensurrounded by animism, Islam, Hindus and all sorts of denominations … ChristianChurch missionaries who did not use instrumental music in their churches seemedmuch like our own brethren,” Beckloff said.
From 1986to 1994 two missionary families supported by ChristianChurches and two families supported bychurches of Christ worked together in Kitale, Kenya. Theyplanted 120 congregations and baptized more than 7,000 people, said MikeSchrage, a former missionary to Africa whoworks with Good News Productions International, a Christian Church ministry.
Missionariesfrom both groups also work together in Mbale, Uganda, and plan joint efforts for southern Sudan, Schragesaid.
Thewillingness of churches to cooperate depends on the heritage “inherited” frompast missionaries, Schrage said. If the missionaries believed in cooperation,they birthed congregations that are likely to cooperate.
“If they started churches that were unfamiliar withcooperation, then it is hard for them today to begin cooperative efforts,” Schragesaid.
Thatdichotomy has created confusion among many African churches, said Grace Nyanga,a Ugandan minister who works with a cappella churches.
Missionaries from acappella churches seldom address the issue of music in worship, he said. Whenthe missionaries leave, some churches adopt instruments and lose financial andmoral support from churches in the U.S. The young congregations witheror join charismatic religious movements in Uganda.
“All thatI can do, as a national leader, is to advise my Ugandan friends eagerly wantingto minister in their churches to totally forget about all instruments … andignore the silence of the missionaries on the issue,” Nyanga said.
JerryD’Alton, a missionary to Namibiasupported by a cappella churches, said he’s tried twice in the past 10 years tocooperate with Christian Church missionaries. Both attempts resulted in churchsplits and hurt feelings, he said.
Thoughboth groups have common roots, “I do believe that the rift between us haswidened over the years, and only those who are prepared to compromise oncertain doctrinal issues will find enough common ground to fellowship,” said D’Alton,who was converted by a Christian Church missionary.
“Ibelieve that we are marching to different drummers,” D’Alton said, “and I amconvinced that we will suffer serious setbacks on the mission field if we donot maintain our identity.”
Whencontacted by The Christian Chronicle about cooperation inthe mission field, several missionaries voiced concerns that such discussionscould lead to a decline in financial support. Raising mission dollars is hardenough, one said, and expanding discussion of a controversial issue in the U.S. tointernational missions could deter potential contributors.
Regardlessof their stance on instrumental music, missionaries seem to agree on at leastone principle — problems arise in the mission field when churches in the United States“export” their divisions and use money to influence churches abroad to adopttheir views.
“If missionariescannot work out their differences, they should keep them over in America,”Nyanga said.
Roger Dickson,missionary in Cape Town, South Africa, said U.S. Christiansneed to spend less time discussing the issue and more time ministering to thedowntrodden. “Only then will they understand what their priorities should be,”he said.
“When you are dodging Muslim bullets, cradling starving babies,comforting a malaria-ridden brother, all the nonsense over plucking on a pianoseems to pale in comparison,” Dickson said.
March 29, 2006