Dialogue: A conversation with Royce Money
His grandfather, W.G. Whitlow, attended the instrumental First Christian Church, while his grandmother never missed services at the a cappella 7th and Avenue G Church of Christ.
“I didn’t understand why that had to be then, and I still don’t understand now,” said Money, president of Abilene Christian University, a 5,000-student university associated with a capella Churches of Christ for 100 years.
An ACU graduate, Money became presidentof his alma mater in 1991. He has served as a pulpit minister and worked as amarriage and family therapist.
He and Pam, his wife of 41 years, havetwo married daughters and five grandchildren.
Thisyear marks both the centennial of ACU’s founding and, coincidentally, the100-year anniversary of the split between a cappella and instrumental churches.Why did ACU think it was important to focus on unity at the Lectureship?
We have so many things in common. Weare people with a common heritage. As I said in the joint theme lecture withDr. Jeanes, I think people who are taught the same gospel, baptized with thesame baptism and gather around the same Lord’s table every Sunday -ought to be,minimally, more aware and supportive of what’s going on in our respectivebranches of the family.
And we wanted to do whatever we couldas an institution to help that along.
Obviously, in a movement like ours,everybody has to speak for themselves and as individual congregations. We speakfor no one, and we make no attempt to do that. But I do speak for thisinstitution. And I have deep convictions along these lines.
Haveyou received any criticism over the Lectureship’s focus?
There has been surprisingly littlecriticism up to this point. I’ve received solid support from my board oftrustees. I made them aware of what we were planning in August last year andreceived nothing but encouragement. And I let them know again the weekend ofthe Lectureship what we were going to do.
Again, I received nothing butencouragement.
Whereare churches of Christ on the issue of instrumental music? Are most membersbeyond the point of dividing fellowship over instruments, or does this remain acontentious issue?
I think it’s a potentially divisiveissue. However, here’s what I see changing: I see more and more people inchurches of Christ that are tired of sectarian bickering and turning our energyinside to the intramural squabbles, to the neglect of the greater mission ofthe gospel.
It’s really interesting. You take that,then you combine it with another element that I see. That is, I have been in alot of these unity meetings with Christian Church leaders at various times.Never once has anybody ever come close to suggesting that the agenda ought tobe that a cappella churches of Christ ought to have instruments. In fact, theysay the opposite: “Stay where you are. Celebrate that tradition.”
What I think is changing is that more of us inthe a cappella tradition are not willing to make the use of instrumental musica test of fellowship, and certainly not a test of salvation.
Doesit matter to you if a church uses instruments in worship?
I would fight vigorously ifinstrumental music were attempted to be introduced into my home congregation. Iam firmly within the a cappella tradition. But I have a tolerance for those whomake other choices, and I don’t see that it needs to constitute a completesevering of fellowship or alienation. I just don’t see the need for that.
Inyour Lectureship address, you suggested that Christians ought to show a littlehumility. You said, “After all, we could be wrong or off a little bit on athing or two.” Could you elaborate on what you meant?
I think somewhere along the way, someof us have picked up the idea that the concept of truth, or the concept ofsound doctrine, means adherence to a defined set of propositional truths. Forone thing, when Paul uses the term sound doctrine, it’s healthy teaching, it’snot a litmus test, it’s not an orthodoxy test. And the Gospel of John basicallysays that Jesus is the truth. So it’s not a proposition to be adhered to; it isin whom you believe rather than what you believe. What you believe is very,very important. The Bible is very clear on that. But if you do not have Jesusas the central focus, then what you believe really doesn’t matter all thatmuch.
So,we don’t have to be perfect in our doctrinal understanding?
If I have to be doctrinally correct inevery aspect in order to be pleasing to God, then it does not allow forspiritual growth, spiritual formation, changing my mind, seeing things from adifferent perspective. In our fellowship, if you went back and did some readingon the work of the Holy Spirit 40 or 50 years ago and compared it to what isbeing said now pretty openly, there is a decided shift.
Well, it would seem to me that we haveto build into our concept of spiritual growth and maturing that ability to makethose kinds of change. What cannot change, and what doesn’t change, is thebasic acceptance of Jesus as the son of God and a response to that confession.
And even with that, it means so muchmore to me than it did when I was baptized on May 5, 1955, in Temple.
Onething you hear a lot today is that many people, particularly the youngergeneration, are leaving the church of Christ because they don’t have “brandloyalty.” How would you respond to that?
I am an ardent Restorationist at heart.I believe the plea is as valid today, if not more so, than it ever was. And theinteresting thing is, much of the conservative Christian world — sometimesknown as the evangelical Christian world — is heading in our direction. I meanthat in the sense that there is more and more in common belief that we canfind.
I lose patience with congregations andindividuals who feel that they need to drop the “church of Christ” name inorder to be more appealing. I don’t buy that. I don’t like the sectarian isolationistpart of our past. But instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water,let’s preserve the best and the finest, which I think is imbedded in Jesus’prayer for unity.
It does bother me that there is a leak,so to speak, where we have a generation of young people who aren’t even awareof the past. I’m an eternal optimist. I believe if they knew the story, theywould embrace the story. What they’re rejecting is a perversion of the story,of being Christians only. The irony is, that’s where they’re trying to go. Christians only. That’swhat I’m trying to go to also. But I’m staying. I’m not leaving.
(Photo caption: Abilene Christian University President Royce Money speaks at the university’s Lectureship. Milligan College President Don Jeanes, seated, helped deliver the opening lecture.)
April 1, 2006