(405) 425-5070

Interview with Cecil May

Cecil May, Dean of the V. P. Black College of Biblical Studies at Faulkner University, discusses recent unity talks between a cappella Churches of Christ and instrumental Christian Churches in this online exclusive, which adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Magnolia Messenger.
QUESTION: What is your reaction to the current discussions between Churches of Christ and Christian Churches aimed toward restoration of fellowship? Isn’t it ironic that the restoration movement, designed to produce unity, has instead produced so many splinter sects. Wouldn’t this be a good time to heal some of that division by restoring fellowship with our instrumental brothers?
RESPONSE: This year, 2006, is the one-hundredth anniversary of the first United States Census to recognize the existence of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches as separate religious bodies. They had previously been listed as one. This centennial year has brought about much discussion concerning that division and what might be done to remedy it.
Do Those Discussing It Recognize the Issue?
A major concern with the current discussions is that many of the participants from non-instrumental congregations do not have biblical convictions against the use of instrumental music in worship themselves. So they cannot represent those of us who conscientiously consider musical instruments in worship to be unauthorized by Scripture and therefore contrary to the will of God.
Here are two cases in point among many that could be cited:
In Lexington, Kentucky the Southside Church of Christ and the Broadway Christian Church partnered in beginning a Spanish language congregation which varies its worship style, alternating between a cappella and instrumental services (Christian Chronicle, 8/04, p. 8).
In the state of Washington the Northwest Church of Christ in Seattle and the Shoreline Christian Church merged, but before the merger Northwest was already having both a cappella and instrumental Sunday services (Christian Chronicle, 12/04, p. 29).
Some of my preacher friends in progressive congregations (I think that is the way they would style themselves) tell me they consider our a cappella services to be a nice tradition which they do not intend to abandon, but they do not believe instrumental music as worship is wrong and they vigorously reject every biblical argument used against it. Many of them promote instrumental “praise and worship services” at times other than Sunday morning.
Obviously their approach to unity and fellowship with our instrumental brothers will be different from those of us who believe instrumental music is an unauthorized addition to what God has indicated he wants to receive in worship.

What Does the Bible Say?

The biblical basis for rejecting pianos, organs, guitars and trumpets in New Testament worship can be put simply. There is no Scripture for them.
One who wishes to use instrumental music in worship must either believe they are authorized by Scripture or else that scriptural authorization is not needed for what we do as worship. Both approaches have been used in the past, sometimes by the same people, though it should be noted that the approaches are mutually exclusive. That no authorization is needed seems to be more frequently assumed today.
An observation made by Alexander Campbell is difficult to successfully dispute: “Those who contend that there is no divinely authorized order of christian worship in christian assemblies, do at the same time, and must inevitably, maintain that there is no disorder, no error, no innovation, no transgression in the worship of the christian church—no, nor ever can be” (“A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things—V,” Christian Baptist, Vol. 2, 240-241).
Past columns in this space have sought to establish biblically that we need to offer to God in worship only what he has indicated in his word that he desires, and that singing, vocal music, is what he has authorized for New Testament assemblies.
What is Fellowship?
To consider the questions being presently considered, it is necessary to determine, “What exactly would be the result of the ‘restoration of fellowship’ that is sought?”
Fellowship, by definition, is joint participation. When the issue that separates is the use of the instrument in the assembly, “fellowship” seems to suggest assembling together, jointly using instruments in worship.
While some advocating increased fellowship say specifically they are not advocating compromise on the part of those opposed to instrumental music, in some instances compromise obviously does result, as the instances cited earlier demonstrate.
The Wedge of Division
From the biblical beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection, up until the tenth century, singing in the public worship of the church was a cappella, which, by the way, means “in the style of the church.” Introduction of the organ in the tenth century was confined to the Western or Roman Church. The Eastern or Orthodox churches, for the most part, still do not use instruments to this day (A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church, Everett Ferguson, ACU Press, pp. 73-75).
Protestant denominations brought instruments into their services as they followed Roman Catholic practice, though strong opposition to their use by many Protestant leaders, including John Calvin, John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon, has been well-documented.
In the beginning of the restoration movement in the United States, instruments were universally absent and almost unanimously opposed. The 1840’s saw some of those who began with the plea to be Christians only becoming more and more denominational in their terminology and practice. During the early 1850’s, as new imposing buildings were built, the melodeon and organ first began to be used, generally against bitter opposition (Earl West, The Instrumental Music Issue, Gospel Advocate Co., pp. 63-77).
In Mississippi the instrument was first introduced in Jackson in 1870. A report by Andrew Perry to the Gospel Advocate in 1885 stated that several congregations in the Corinth and Guntown area had adopted the instrument. Perry said, “If they would only drop the organ I think they would be in the apostolic order” (Don Jackson, The Churches of Christ in Mississippi, J. C. Choate Publications, p. 18).
The point of this brief survey of history is to demonstrate that the wedge that produced the division was the introduction of the instrument into the assemblies of the church. Prior to its introduction there was unity.
When it was introduced, those who had conscientious convictions opposing its use had only two options: remain and violate their consciences even as they worshipped, or leave and begin a new congregation. To this day, where those convictions remain, there are still no other options. To “have fellowship” or “jointly participate” in instrumental services because they are balanced out by also having a cappella services is a compromise of conscience, if one has any conscience against the instrument.
Is Restoration a Failure?
The tension between unity and restoration as goals of the pioneer restoration preachers has been often discussed. The restoration movement has sometimes been ridiculed and pronounced a failure because universal unity did not result and the movement itself has suffered division.
The early pioneers, however, were not seeking unity and restoration as two unrelated goals with one to be weighed against the other in priority. They were seeking unity through restoration of the ancient order. They urged the abandonment of authoritative creeds and human names and the acceptance of the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice as the means by which unity could be obtained.
The fact that unity was not universally obtained is not necessarily an indictment of the goal or the method. No other method has attained it either, certainly not the Ecumenical Movement’s attempt to find common ground in a kind of least common denominator of theology or doctrine.
Sin is part of the universal human condition. The gospel has not heard and believed by everyone. Baptism has not produced newness of life in everyone. It is likewise unlikely that all professed Christians will be brought fully into the unity for which Christ prayed.
“Where the Bible Is Silent”
The division over musical instruments in worship is a difference over proper biblical hermeneutics, or how the Bible is to be correctly understood. The admonition, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11, NKJV), is expressed in restoration terminology as “Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.”
Advocates for instrumental music read that as saying, “If the Bible is silent about it, then we have nothing to say against it either.” The silence of the Bible is regarded as permissive. “Whatever is not explicitly condemned we can do if we want to.”
Some whose roots are in a cappella congregations but who are urging greater fellowship with those who use instruments are now saying the same. One preacher prominently featured in the effort toward unity said, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak, and where the Bible is silent, we have even more to say” (Christian Chronicle, April, 2006, p. 22).
Early restoration leaders did not understand the principle, “where the Bible is silent we are silent,” as permitting whatever is not expressly forbidden.
In 1809 Thomas Campbell enunciated in his Declaration and Address, “Where the Scriptures speak we speak and where the Scriptures are silent we are silent.” He went on to plead for a return to the “simple original form of Christianity” by “the rejection of everything for which a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ cannot be produced.” Andrew Munro objected that if they followed that principle they could not sprinkle infants (Bill Humble, The Story of the Restoration, pp. 13, 17, 25).
Truly, neither Campbell nor his listeners understood at that time where all the application of that principle would lead them, but ultimately Munro’s prediction prevailed. The Campbells themselves were immersed. The principle has been consistently applied to disallow what is not expressly taught in Scripture.
The Bible also shows that the silence of Scripture is prohibitive in cases where things in the same category are specified.
The New Testament makes the point that when Scripture specified that Levites were to function as priests, people from other tribes were prohibited from such service (Heb. 7:12-14). King Saul (1 Sam. 13:8-14) and King Uzziah (2 Chron. 26:16-19) both violated that implicit prohibition and were severely punished.
God specified a certain fire to be used at the altar but Nadab and Abihu used “unauthorized fire” and were consumed by the Lord (Lev. 10:1-2, NIV).
Christian Churches themselves correctly follow the same principle by rejecting hierarchical church government and peanut butter and jelly as elements for the Lord’s Supper. It is not that popes, archbishops and peanut butter and jelly are explicitly forbidden. It is that other things of the same category are commanded: namely, elders within the congregation, and bread and fruit of the vine as communion elements.
Difference Among Brothers
A Bible College president affiliated with Independent Christian Churches voiced his objection to participating in “unity forums” with the Disciples of Christ. He said, “They keep wanting to discuss, ‘What are we going to do with our unimmersed brethren?’ Brother May,” he said, “I don’t have any unimmersed brethren.”
I have a closer kinship with him and others like him in independent Christian churches than with those in some churches of Christ who are now denying the implications of that plain statement of biblical truth.
The same gospel and the same call for gospel obedience as the Apostle Peter called for in Acts 2 results in the people who respond to that call being redeemed and added by the same Lord to the same church to which I have been added. They are my brothers and sisters in the Lord.
The Difference Matters
That does not render significant biblical differences between us unimportant. Such differences need to be discussed and where possible settled.
We should converse on a brotherly and friendly basis. We can cooperate, for example, in confronting and attempting to change immoral practices in our communities. But until unauthorized organs, guitars and drum sets are foregone, we who are conscientiously opposed to their use in worship cannot participate in their assemblies and cannot, therefore, encourage membership in their congregations.
Let us appreciate the important doctrinal truths we share in common with them that are widely denied by most other religious groups, namely the necessity for immersion into Christ for salvation and the weekly observance of the Lord’s supper. To the extent that we differ on what Scripture teaches us, let us kindly and respectfully work to correct each other in love. But let us realize that our differences cannot be just ignored, except by those who believe they do not matter.

  • Feedback
    Dear Cecil May: Certainly anjoyed and appreciated your article.Plan a trip to US March 20 through April 15.Internet Mission is beinig blessed by the Lord: Check: www.oldpaths.com -Audio Sermons-Biographical Information Gottfried Reichel
    Gottfried Reichel
    church of Christ Augsburg
    D-82284 Grafrath, Bavaria
    March, 7 2013

Filed under: Dialogue Staff Reports

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time