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Instrumental service at issue: Teachers quit over music document

COLUMBIA, Tenn. — A Christian school 45 miles south of Nashville recently asked five teachers to sign an agreement not to participate in instrumental worship, calling a Good Friday service with instruments at the teachers’ home congregation “inconsistent” with school policy.
The request followed weeks of effort by Columbia Academy leaders to work through controversy surrounding a Good Friday service at the Maury Hills church.
Soon after the service, board members and school President Barry England met with each of the five teachers to determine if the faculty member was in “breach of contract,” said Sandra McCarthy, kindergarten teacher at the academy and a member of the Maury Hills church.
McCarthy, who taught at the academy for 27 years, chose to retire rather than sign the “Memorandum of Understanding,” as the board called the agreement.
Alex Domkowski, a math and physics teacher and Maury Hills elder, resigned and is seeking a position elsewhere. Two teachers signed the agreement, England said, and will return. The fifth teacher has accepted a teaching job at another school, McCarthy said.
In a letter that England sent to parents the first week of June and gave to The Christian Chronicle, he explained the school’s wishes to respect its long-cherished practice concerning music.
“A point of distinction among Churches of Christ has been the use of a cappella or non-instrumental music in worship,” England wrote. “While it is not at all my desire or intent for Columbia Academy to force its beliefs and opinions on others, it is also my desire for CA to be able to maintain the beliefs that the founders of the school held as important.”
“I very much regret the divisive nature and the contention which has come as a result of this situation,” England told the Chronicle after the story made headlines statewide. “It is my desire for Columbia Academy to glorify God in every way.”
The Good Friday service featured a drama with pauses during which a musical group at the church performed with instruments, McCarthy said. She was the only one of the five teachers who was present at that service, she said.
Domkowski stressed that the congregation’s weekly practice is a cappella singing, explaining that instruments appear only during special events scheduled outside Sunday worship times.
“We don’t make instrumental music an issue,” Domkowski said.
A church Web page informing visitors what to expect specifies that worship at Maury Hills is non-instrumental.
“This is by choice, rather than doctrine,” the Web site explains. “We find nothing wrong with instrumental worship, but believe that the voice alone is a simple and beautiful way to worship God.”
Columbia Academy requires all faculty members to sign a contract “preamble” that includes references to worship. Declaring that the academy offers an education “grounded in core Christian values,” the preamble acknowledges belief in God as creator and Jesus as God’s son but then requires signers to affirm “a cappella singing in worship assemblies” and “the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper.”
McCarthy felt good about the initial meeting with the board members and England, who later told the teachers the board would draft a clarification statement for the entire faculty to sign, she said. But board members eventually asked only the five teachers associated with the Maury Hills church to sign the document.
“We five were singled out,” McCarthy said. “It would completely have been a non-issue if everybody on campus had been asked to sign the very same thing.”
In the board document, “The undersigned teacher agrees that he will not promote, participate in or place himself under the leadership of those who do promote or organize a worship assembly of the church which includes the use of musical instruments.”
Domkowski wondered if teachers would risk their jobs by accepting invitations to church activities from students who are not members of Churches of Christ, about 40 percent of the student body, according to the school Web site.
England said the school’s focus must return to its mission of education.
“For every child that Columbia Academy loses over this situation, we also lose the opportunity to teach that child the story of Jesus,” he said. “It is time for us to pull together to provide Christian education that will prepare our students to do well in life and to please God.”

  • Feedback
    The Restoration plea is highly misunderstood by many of its opponents as well as its proponents. Forget the slogan about silence. It is rather a plea to ground all of our common faith and practice in the New Testament. Incense, mechanical music and multiple other common public worship practices cannot be found there. We think excluding all of those aberrations is a good way to promote a unified public worship. If you accept one you may as well accept them all. So far as people going to hell over using instrumental music–not all unsound, unwholesome, or unscriptural practices will necessarily send one to hell (after all God is the final Judge)–but they remain unwholesome, unsound and unscriptural.
    September, 7 2008

    Just to clear up a tangential point: Early Christians did not only worship in homes. They worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem and in synagogues, until the Jews began to forbid them to do so. These were buildings. If Paul could have persuaded everyone in the synagogues where he traveled to accept Jesus as the Messiah, should we suppose that these Jews would all abandon the synagogue building for some reason? See Acts 2:46 (temple worhip). See Paul teaching in the synagogue on consecutive Sabbaths in Acts 13 to convert the Jes of Pisidian Antioch. etc;
    The synagogue arose centuries before Christ. Jesus worshiped and taught in synagogues, as did apostles, and none ever spoke against the idea of a dedicated building for worship while they made use of such buildings. Only their eviction from these buildings prevented early Christians from continuing to use them.
    These kind of arguments, as well as the tired old arguments about trumpets in heaven, have all been answered countless times, yet they continue to be raised as if we exist in a vacuum rather than in a community of faith that has already discussed these matters publicly.
    August, 17 2008

    It is refreshing for a school today to stand up for what is right. Being a Christian is about following Christ, not the world. Even though the world is saying something is okay, doesn’t make it okay. We live under New Testament Christianity, not Old Testament Mosaical law. Instrumental music was never approved by God, even though they did it. In Acts 17:30 it says that God overlooked their times of ignorance, but now He expects more out of us. I agree too that there should have been a concern over the fact of a “good friday” observance as well.
    August, 12 2008

    More power to the school for standing up for what is right – it would, of course have made sense to ask all staff to sign – but kudos to them for standing up for the truth. What really bugs me though is that no one seems to be questioning the whole idea of the “good friday” service itself. Since when is that a service mentioned in the Bible?
    July, 10 2008

    My immediate reaction/concern is that a quality, tenured teacher was asked to sign an agreement after the fact, not BEFORE her employment began. The University and the Board should thank their lucky stars that no one has brought suit against their institution. These targeted teachers certainly have a great case to pursue legal recourse.
    But let’s address the greater issue of worship, shall we? Will the C of C community continue to hold on to the (erroneous) understanding that personal worship is only possible within the confines of a “sanctuary”, “auditorium”, or “house of worship”? (Please quote NT scripture.) My point is, what do we do with the professional instrumentalist whose livelihood depends on his musical talent? Are we to say that this person is not worshiping when “working”? We are to worship with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. NT Scripture does not preclude venue/times or activities. It very simply states “ALL”. We were made to worship our Creator at every opportunity and to present our very best offering. Are you telling me that as a music lover, I can’t play the piano or blow a trumpet to His glory? Foolishness…
    June, 26 2008

    The DIVINELY INSPIRED Psalmist said, “It is GOOD to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp.” (Psalm 92:1-3).
    My question is, “When did praising God with the harp and lyre stop being good?”
    To believe instrumental music is wrong you have to believe that God changed his mind AND didn’t tell anyone.
    This belief portrays God in an EXTREMELY NEGATIVE LIGHT. The people who have created this belief slander God’s nature and make him into some brooding, mean spirited, traffic cop in the sky just waiting (and perhaps hoping) for you to make a mistake.
    God is quite capable of sharing his opinion on what matters and when he does we must pay attention. But when he says something is good and then DOES NOT EVER SAY ANYTHING TO THE CONTRARY you are on dangerous ground in presuming to speak for him.
    This whole question really comes down to the nature of God. Just who do you think God is? Will he tell you what he really wants or means or will he be cryptic and hope to catch you on a technicality–that’s NOT the God I read about in scripture.
    June, 26 2008

    When the bullies from school were chasing him, Jenny Curran said to Forrest Gump: “Run, Forrest! Run!” I think this quote applies to this article.
    “Bravo” to you – Sandra McCarthy, Alex Domkowski and the “fifth teacher” for choosing to retire or move on rather than signing the
    �Memorandum of Understanding.” You made the right decision.
    A twist on a familiar phrase: “We speak where the Bible speaks, we SCREAM where the Bible is silent.” Churches of Christ will continue to crumble until the screaming stops. When will this happen? When the fellowship truly decides to be SILENT where the Bible is silent – and accept one another based on our common belief of Christ as our Lord and Savior – PERIOD!
    Point, Set, Match.
    This is yet another reason why I heeded the call of Jenny Curran years ago. To this day, I’m still running.
    June, 24 2008

    It is ironical that we have made a big deal over what God has been silent about reguarding whether to use instruments or not in worship. Have we missed the point about worship? We are to sing from the heart! You can sing from the heart with or without an instrument in a church building for which you can find no authority in the New Testament. Didn’t the early church meet in homes? Have you ever thought we may be “adding to” by saying using instruments is adding to the Bible. God is silent about instruments as well as church buildings. But who has a problem with the authority for a building? I have never heard a sermon against it. Let’s stop being legalistic and start being evangelistic and praising God with or without instruments in or out of a man made building. Perhaps Satan is simply using this as a tool to keep us from joining hearts and hands and sharing the cross with the lost.
    June, 23 2008

    Well here we are demanding someone sign a creed, something the restoration fathers were committed NOT to do. Why? Because the result is exactly what we have here, DIVISION.
    I find it ironical that I have never read in God’s Word that using the instrument is going to send anyone to Hell. However, I do read in Gal. 5:21 that discord,… dissensions, factions…and the like are obviously acts of the sinful nature and those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
    We shouldn’t be speaking (demanding) where the Bible doesn’t. When we speak where the Bible doesn’t it needs to be first of all pure, peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. If we sow in peace we are peacemakers and the result is a harvest of righteousness.
    June, 23 2008

    While I’m incredulous over how CA handled this matter, the key issue is a principle of our faith: Do we offer God worship that He has not requested, let alone commanded? If so, is instrumental music an abomination, as some of my brethren believe, or does He essentially ‘filter it out?’ Or does He somehow accept it, despite resounding silence in the Christian covenant that He ever would? As the practice of instrumental music in worship is absent from Christian scriptures, so is the express condemnation of it. In contrast, many abominations are clearly stated, from homosexuality to lust to adultery to gossip and more. How many of us willfully place God’s temple – our bodies – in the presence of this vile filth daily visa vie our entertainment and even our conduct, yet are quick to heave condemnation on Christians who choose – on the basis of their personal interpretation of scripture – to use instrumental music in their gathering?
    Personally, I will offer to God what He has asked for. I won’t second-guess Him and presume that He desires the sound of lifeless, soulless devices that, in the hands of a trained performer, stir OUR thoughts and OUR emotions in amazing and meaningful ways. Just as Peter first refused to have Jesus wash his feet, only to go to the other extreme and ask that Jesus wash his heads and hands also, our Lord told Peter all he really wanted: His feet. He’s likewise told us what he wants in praise: Not so much ‘perfect 4-part harmony’ and certainly not mouths on autopilot. He wants our hearts, our attention, our affection; and he wants it all to resonate in honest, “in the moment” praise from our lips.
    So on the one hand, I challenge the instrumentally-inclined to set your instruments aside and just praise God with your heart, letting it resonate in your voice as song. And on the other, I challenge the instrumentally-abhorrent to direct your passions to the true matters of salvation, as Paul described in 1 Cor. 15. I’m quite confident the Lord will not be disappointed that you spent more time sharing the Good News – to the expense of fighting the a cappella argument. Jesus wanted his Kingdom to be simple and accessible, not straining over the meaning of “psallos” and plucking or the symbolism of trumpets and harps in heaven (Will we find other human innovations in heaven, if these are indeed literal?).
    Before we can ever hope to resolve these issues of secondary importance, we must master – and be mastered by – that which is and has been “of first importance.” Don’t our declining numbers suggest our priorities may indeed be out of place?
    June, 21 2008

    Legalism lives! Matters of opinion will never say the lost. The children are most precious to Christ. Shame on this school for making this a stumbling block for others.
    June, 20 2008

    I wonder what the Administration of Columbia Academy would have said to the reply, “I’ll sign the document provided you sign an equivalent document certifying that you will not answer the sound of the trumpet on the last day”.
    It fascinates me that as a denomination we are known to regularly preach that instrumental music is not mentioned in the New Testament. However, Revelation 8.2 says, “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” The angels that stand in God’s own presence have trumpets given to them!
    So sad!
    June, 20 2008

    We have moved so far from what was practiced by those first Christians and from what we refer to as The Restoration Movement that most of our pioneer preachers would not be allowed in our pulpits today. The millennial views held by Alexander Campbell and David Lipscomb during the early 1800s are not mainstream today within the churches of Christ. Yet, diversity allowed them to hold those views without the fear of being disfellowshipped.
    Today congregations consist of individuals who have a common belief on just about every point. No where does the Bible place that requirement on congregations.
    David Lipscomb
    �When I hear of a church setting out to build a fine building, I give that church up. Its usefulness as a church of Christ is at an end.�
    �Concerning preacher salaries: �The preacher will cater to his supporters.�
    John T. Johnson (In a letter to Alexander Campbell, 1849)
    �Were it not for preachers, Christians would unite upon the Bible alone in less than one year, in my judgment.�
    G. C. Brewer
    �Christians have made the gospel a system of divine laws for human beings to obey and thus save themselves sans grace, sans mercy, sans everything spiritual and divine-except the plan was in mercy given.�
    June, 20 2008

    By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
    June, 20 2008

    “For every child that Columbia Academy loses over this situation, we also lose the opportunity to teach that child the story of Jesus”. Barry England
    “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus in Mark 10:14
    June, 20 2008

    It is both odd and discouraging to read an entire news article, along with eight + comments, regarding the use of the instrument in worship and not one person has cited the Word of God. God�s Word is clear, linear and unambiguous. We cannot add the traditions and practices of men to the Holy Bible. �Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.� � Proverbs 30:6 (NIV) These matters have very little to do with the school, the teachers or the administrators. Rather, what is at stake here is the question we all must answer, �Is the silence of the Scriptures an accelerator to license or a brake to presumption?� The lessons learned the hard way by King Saul in I Sam. 15 clearly support the latter. Let us set aside the �reasoning� and the �philosophies� of men and once again be �more noble than the Thessalonians and search the Scriptures daily.� � Acts 17:11. James 1:5 tells us that God will give wisdom to the seeker. The truth is in the Word, let us seek it out!
    June, 20 2008

    The debate over whether it was in violation of the preamble is a fair debate on both sides. The part that has upset many of the people is the way it was handled. The article failed to mention that board voted the teachers in breach of contract BEFORE meeting with them. They met with the teachers to determine if they were in breach AFTER they had voted against them. The school President’s reference to “please God” has left many of the parents and alumni asking the question “please God in all things or just the few deemed necessary by the administration?”
    June, 19 2008

    Wow! I definitely agree this was totally ridiculous. I get a bit tired of hearing from many church’s about the instrumental “saga”. I truly don’t believe this decision will determine one’s salvation. You can have “Vege Tales” videos ” in the tiny tot bible study rooms, Christian rock band CD’s playing in the teen youth area, but lo and behold when it is heard in the actual worship area…shame on us. I’m sure the school has lost 2 very dedicated Christian teachers.
    June, 19 2008

    It is reasonable for the academy to expect moral conduct from their members, but this is not a moral issue. The use (or non-use) of instruments tells us about how a person interprets scripture (over a very grey issue in any case); it tells us nothing about a person’s commitment to the faith or their character.
    June, 19 2008

    It’s fascinating (and a little sad) that the same members of the Lord’s Body would have ALL attended an instrumental wedding or funeral .. or christian concert together on that Friday, but a few choose to draw lines in the dirt over this gathering. Is the “defining mark” of churches of Christ acapella music or the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? We will never win the lost while we fuss and fight over areas of opinion.
    June, 19 2008

    I read in aan article from Southwest Central Church of Christ that it took our denomination, yes it is a denomination until around 1970 to discover Grace and it’s powerful attributes.
    Unfortunately we have in many areas yet to discover the difference between tradition and doctrine.
    This misunderstanding is costing us many opprtunities to teach Christ to the world.
    June, 19 2008

    England stated:
    “…it is also my desire for CA to be able to maintain the beliefs that the founders of the school held as important.�
    �I very much regret the divisive nature and the contention which has come as a result of this situation,� England told the Chronicle…”
    So, let me get this straight. The divisive nature, as stated by England, is regrettable and this “divisive nature” is a result of “maintaining the beliefs the founders held important”? I guess that supersedes Jesus call that we all may be one.
    June, 19 2008

    I see nothing “ridiculous” about a church of Christ institute, such as Columbia Academy or any other having rules and regulations for their employees, hopefully based on New Testament guidelines. Recently I worked as counselor and music teacher at an interdenominational christian academy. Before employing me, I was required to sign a paper saying I wouldn’t drink alcohol, smoke, etc..while in their employment. The mistake I think Columbia Academy made (and I’m sure brother England and others realize it with hindsight) was not giving the document for all employees to sign. Another thought: a congregation that openly says instrumental music is ok should designate their church as “Instrumental Church of Christ” or “Christian Church”. There seems to be a lot of “sliding into” the use of an instrument other than the human voice by bringing into a Friday or Saturday night session (such as my former church when I lived in Texas) and this strikes me as not being real honest and above-board.
    June, 19 2008

    Sorry but this is ridiculous… I have high respect for McCarthy for not signing this document.
    June, 19 2008

Filed under: Partners Staff Reports

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