Instrumental worship focus of discussion at FHU
February 11, 2005
That question drew hundreds of church members to Freed-Hardeman University’s Loyd Auditorium at 8 a.m. Feb. 11.
A mix of ministers, elders, longtime church members and university students filled the large lecture hall and most of its balcony as two church leaders discussed the issue — an issue that has generated strong opinions within churches of Christ for more than 100 years.
“I’m not at odds with making peace, but I can’t ignore certain things for the purpose of peace,” said Marlin Connelly, former minister for the Hillsboro Church of Christ and longtime professor at Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tenn. Connelly represented the view that instrumental music should be considered a barrier to fellowship with others, including Christian Churches.
Churches of Christ and Christian Churches have a common heritage, but differing views on instrumental music’s role in worship was one of several issues that led to division, first recognized by the U.S. religious census in 1906.
But the differences between the two groups’ worship shouldn’t keep them from considering each other as brothers, said Phillip Morrison, who represented the opposing view to Connelly in the discussion.
Within churches of Christ, members have differing views on capital punishment, abortion and warfare, but these are not barriers to fellowship, said Morrison, former minister for churches in South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Virginia and Tennessee. Morrison currently serves as an elder for the Woodmont Hills church, Nashville.
“I just think it’s time that we look for ways to celebrate our likenesses instead of our differences,” Morrison said.
The goal of the session, titled “Contemporary Discussion,” was to “generate light, not heat,” said a university moderator.
Recent meetings between members of Christian churches and churches of Christ, and talk of a joint forum in 2006 to begin healing the division of 1906 prompted the addition of the discussion to the school’s 69th Annual Bible Lectureship. University officials also said that they scheduled the event for Friday morning to bolster attendance on the lectureship’s final day.
The moderator asked the audience to refrain from clapping, cheering or saying “amen” during the discussion so that neither side would feel alienated. Audience members complied, and sat in near silence as Connelly and Morrison, who are longtime friends, argued their positions in 20-minute intervals for 80 minutes.
A question-and-answer period followed. Church members lined up behind two microphones to ask the presenters questions including, “If instrumental music is the only barrier to fellowship with Christian churches, why don’t Christian churches give it up?” and “If instrumental music is not a reason to break fellowship, what is?” At least eight men were unable to ask questions due to time constraints.
The discussion did little to change minds on the issue, several church members said. Some said that they would have argued their own position differently, and that they wished the presenters had defined “fellowship” more clearly.
But several said they considered the forum a good — and necessary — dialogue.
“I think debates are helpful,” said Paul Helton, minister for the West Dyersburg, Tenn., church. Talking about divisive issues encourages “intensified study on both sides,” he said, and he appreciated the “Christ-like spirit” on both sides of the discussion.
The discussion benefited the Freed-Hardeman students in the audience, said Nathan Lewis, West Dyersburg’s youth minister and a graduate student at the school. “Young people need to understand (that) everybody doesn’t agree on everything.”
Focusing “on the issues — not on personalities” is necessary for increased understanding of difficult issues, said Jonathan Jones, minister for the Spring Hill, Tenn., church.
“We need to have more of this open discussion,” Jones said.
FOR IN-DEPTH COVERAGE see the March edition of the Christian Chronicle.