Letters to the editor: March 2006
Responses toconversations with Christian Church
Thank you for thewonderful February edition. Heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement, after over100 years of needless separation, appear to be more and more concerned aboutBarton W. Stone’s call of letting unity be our polar star.
There was a time inthe movement when congregations may have worshipped separately due todifferences in interpretation, but still accepted one another and fellowshippedeach other as Disciples, despite their differences. What a message that wouldbe now to the world.
Our differences havelargely come over the silence of the Scripture and how to deal with that. Ihave often wondered if we, and the world, would be better served to unite onspecificity of Scripture, relegating all else to matter of opinion, and inmatters of opinion, grant one another liberty.
CANON CITY, COLO.
I am deeply grievedto see the Chronicle, Tulsa Workshopand Abilene Christian Universitypromoting “Unity Meetings.” These so- called “Unity Meetings” have been goingon for many years. Nothing productive has emerged from them because what theinstrumental churches seek from us is that we will cease to speak about theirunscriptural practice. They want us to go along as if nothing separates us.However, Christian unity means “being of the same mind and speaking the samethings.”
The Christian Churchand Disciples of Christ have no intention to make any changes to return toScriptural practice of a capella singing. They are our brothers! But they haveintroduced error and need to repent so that we can have unity.
Pray for peace — notvictory
Thank you forprinting Perry Cotham’s thoughtful review of the Craig Watts book on the“pacificism” of Alexander Campbell (Page 32, February). These matters certainlywarrant sober consideration. I speak not as a war-protesting Democrat but as aconscientiously politically non-aligned, essentially apolitical citizen.
I encourage churchleaders to recommend that public prayers regarding the war be limited toexpressions of desire for peace (I Timothy 2:2) and for the safety of all thoseconcerned. Prayers for victory or for prevalence over Iraqi insurgents tend toidentify us more with Old Covenant theocracy than with the ways of Jesus.
Even moresignificant, any relating of current-day soldiers’ willingness to “putthemselves in harm’s way” to Jesus’ laying down his life sacrificially isentirely inappropriate.
Dying for countries —even relatively good and pleasant ones — is in one ballpark, and the Son ofGod’s dying for eternal souls is in another.
The Azle,TX Church of Christ decided after much agonizing wait, to help a whole churchin Orange, TX rather than others in Katrina whom we didnot really know. Our brethren came first, and we poured out the help in oneSunday’s collection for several thousand dollars help to one of our churchesdamaged heavily after Rita struck. We felt many governmental agencies helpedKatrina, as many came to DFW metroplex area and were taken in by many churchesand organizations, and lots of our area workers of various skilled crafts wentto try to rebuild their city. We like the slogan for Home Depot-“You cando it, and we can help.” Many do not wish to go rebuild where their homewas, and should not. Life will never get back to normal there for many years,and we should help the displaced ones regain some of their normalcy as soon aswe can. That is the Christian way.
It seems the instrument question is surfacing again. There seems to be no biblical command one wayor the other concerning instrumental use. What was practiced? In Acts 20:7in their first day of the week service they seemingly omitted even thesinging. So, why even sing? Practices by people in the early church? I Cor. 5:1 even speaks of fornication in thechurch!
On the other hand, in Col. 3:16 isthe command to admonish one another in songs. Not much admonishing can be done if the words are drowned out by theaccompaniment. Is the use of an instrument biblical? The word “sing” in the original language“psallo” seemingly had it correct – an accompaniment by the instrument, likethe soft notes of the harp which was apparently in use at that time, not an organ,or a band, – loud instruments drowning out the words.
Beulah W. Wall
OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLA.
I was amissionary in Japanwith the conservative Christian Church when I was first introduced to The Christian Chronicle. I havebeen a loyal reader now for over 20 years.
Some of myreally good friends on the field were Church of Christ.
We had nointention of making one church out of two and I see no reason to do so.
We had camptogether, singing services together, and youth meetings together.
I am nowretired and living in Iowa and still havecontact with those I met in Japanand even here enjoy fellowshipping with those of the Church of Christ.
I lookforward to reading of my brethren of the Churches of Christ in yourpublication.
Ernest D. Faber
Iappreciate your article ?100 years after split, unity events bring praise,concern in the February 2006 edition of The Christian Chronicle. I believe youhave been fair and balanced. I have a few comments on the topic of unity.
First, who defines unity? We say the Bible teaches congregational autonomy sowho are these leaders leading and for whom are they speaking? If they thinkthemselves speaking for the church Jesus established on Pentecost, they havemuch too great opinion of themselves.
Second, we make too much of THE Restoration. What was the Restoration Movement?Did it restore New Testament Christianity? I think not. What it did was showpeople to the Bible and not other sources. As soon as we mark history with atime other than that recorded by Luke, such as the Restoration, we insert itbetween us and the time when the church began on that Day of Pentecost manyyears ago and that makes us just another denomination. When we use early churchhistorians as a reason to justify a practice, we are using something other thanthe Bible as our source. This is a trap into which we have fallen because, asGeorge Barna’s research shows, most Christians continue to follow instead ofstudy.
Our style of worship while much different than that of the early Christians isjustified with claims of cultural differences. We get our auditorium style ofsit and listen worship from our friends the Catholics, the Presbyterians andthe Pagans. Our “Lord’s Supper” has little in similarity to the practices ofthe church of the New Testament. We pray differently than the early Christiansas recorded in the Bible by concentrating on ourselves instead of on God. Wemight do better if we followed the example of Jesus, or Paul, or Ezra orNehemiah or even the early Christians. Instead of being primarily concernedwith our own safety, financial security, health and not being bothered byoutsiders we should seek more faith and wisdom, courage to continue to speakfor Jesus despite hardship, opportunities to serve, etc. We believe in churchautonomy as long as the other group does things exactly the way we do them. AsGospel Advocate Editor Furley said years ago, “if we want people to respect ourautonomy we must respect their autonomy.”
Following the adoption of the Constitution of the United States a major disagreement arose between AlexanderHamilton, Secretary of the Treasury and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary State.Alexander Hamilton insisted the government establish a national bank. ThomasJefferson objected.
Jefferson said the Constitution is the supremelaw of the land and it says nothing about establishing a national bank.Alexander Hamilton contended there was nothing in the Constitution prohibitingthe establishment of a national bank.
The discussion became: Are we to be governed by what the Constitution says oris the government at liberty to provide any measure, establish any system, andengage in any kind of business the Constitution does not specifically prohibit?
We have the Bible that claims to be and we believe to be inspired by God.Unlike the Constitution of the United States of America, the Bible is infallibleand is not subject to amendments that take from or add to.
Do we look at the Bible as granting us the liberty to do anything notspecifically forbidden? Are we governed by what it says or by what it does notsay?
It was never a question with Hamilton and Jefferson as to whether there wasanything wrong in a national bank. To Thomas Jefferson, that was not the issue.His question was: Are we going to respect the Constitution or not? Thatwas and is the issue. The issue is not instrumental music in worship but will Ibe governed by what God says or am I privileged to do anything just so God, inso many words, does not declare ‘thou shalt not?”
Since the Bible has been, there have been two groups. One group asks, “Whatdoes the Bible have to say?” and limit their practices within theirunderstanding of the Bible. The other group asks, “Is it forbidden orprohibited?” and what is not forbidden or prohibited is free to bepracticed.
In the 1530s Martin Luther was asked about infant baptism. He asked, “Where isit forbidden?” And because it was not forbidden he retained it. He taught thatany religious activity is permissible unless God has specifically forbidden itin the Bible and using that logic, infant baptism is not even mentioned in thescriptures; hence, infant baptism is permissible. Later, others responded “‘ifinfant baptism is not found in scripture we can have nothing to do with it.”,and they left it out. That is the reason why mottoes such as “Where theBible speaks; we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent” began tobe uniformly heard and became the battle cry of the Restoration.
Around the year 1539, Martin Luther was asked to consent to the bigamousmarriage of Phillip of Hesse, a German nobleman, who was very much involved inthe Reformation. With that request came enormous political and social pressure.He advised Phillip that bigamy is allowed because it is not specificallyprohibited.. Martin Luther’s position was I cannot forbid a person to marryseveral wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture.
The intent is not to pick on Martin Luther but to illustrate how the way oneinterprets the Bible is extremely important to the decisions one will make as to what is acceptable and what is not. Realizing that what manthinks is irrelevant unless it coincides with what God thinks.
Over time, some have forgotten that our emphasis should be on what pleases God,not on what pleases us. Some have concluded that whatever makes us happy shouldbe alright with God. The events around the golden calf in Exodus 32 must havebeen exciting, but it was not pleasing to God.
Erroneous teaching and erroneous doctrine can be identified only one way. Wemust know what the Bible teaches well enough that when we hear some strangeteaching we can compare what is said with what the Bible says.
Our obligation toward the Bible is the obligation Thomas Jefferson felt towardthe Constitution, It is the supreme law of the land?I must do what theConstitution says and not presume to go beyond it.
The Bible is the supreme law of the land and we must do what the Bible says andnot presume to go beyond it.
Unity is only possible if the Bible is the foundation. Without the Bible as theunifying factor, one or more of the parties to the supposed unity are giving upone or more of their principles and that is not being unified that is switchingsides.
Abilene ChristianUniversity’s Lectureship as well asTulsa International Soul Winning Workshop and the North American Christian Conventionwill be “Church of Christ” or “ChristianChurch” they cannot be both.
How theChristian Church and the Church of Christ view thesilence of scripture will always be a divisive issue between us. Since weare so much alike, unity could still be achieved on this issue (if not bythought, at least by action) by following the principles in Romans 14 (if theyare to be heeded for problems other than meat, vegetables, and feastdays). Although the Christian Church, in its own understanding, believesthat use of the instrument in worship is not sinful, I suspect that they don’tfind the non-use of it to be sinful. In other words, they could give itup without sinning (they just don’t want to). However, the Church of Christ could not use instruments withoutviolating its conscience! Therefore, the Christian Church has to askitself if the unity that Jesus prayed about in John 17 is more important thantheir selfish desire to use an instrument.
Robert Q. Argo, Jr.
Unity ofinstrumental and a cappella churches
I agreewith Jack Evans Sr. statement concerning the unity of churches. Satan sneaks in trying to convince no harm ismeant. Has everyone forgotten the versesin Revelation chapter 22:18 & 19.
About the leadingarticle focusing on unity meetings. No group can decide for others.
An agedfriend, and long-time preacher in the Christian church told me how they teachit. One, do everything the Bible says to do. Two, leave undoneeverything it says to leave undone. Three, do anything else you please.There, you have the problem. The issue is not the instrument. Thisis only a fruit of poor logic. Our experience has been,graduates from our preaching schools know and understand the differencesbetween our two fellowships. I say this kindly. About the unity meeting,having read the names of the participants for the “unity meetings,” wecan readily predict the results. Jack Evans sufficiently warned us.
Thank youfor including your editorial. I know some may see it as inflammatory, but wesimply cannot bury our heads in the sand over the matter of Christian unitybetween churches of Christ and Christian Churches.
What I see is that some are interested in celebrating the unity that alreadyexists between churches of Christ and Christian Churches.I celebrate this as well. I also see that some believe that the road to unitylies in real discussions about the hermeneutical differences that separate us.I also agree with this.
Someone once asked me why there were so many churches around. My fundamentalstatement was this: One reason there are so many churches is because churchleaders are often simply not willing to approach one another with humility andlove with a desire to restore unity when and were it can be restored. As 2006begins and the discussion progresses, my hope and prayer is that the groups cancome together to celebrate an already extant unity and at the same time, come witha great desire to reach agreement on hermeneutical differences that have solong divided us.
My proposal may stand in opposition to some, and most likely will. But if it istrue that Christian churches see scriptural silence as permissive and churchesof Christ see scriptural silence as prohibitive, I would like to propose athird alternative that is actually already in practice in many ways.
My proposal is that we see the silence of Scripture as neither permissive norprohibitive. What God does NOT have to say about any given subject forces us toweigh the matter on more important principles such as prudence and Christianunity and deference. Churches of christ have long practiced this hermeneutic inother areas of public and private living. We have long believed and pracitcedthat we may do some things on principle even though the Scripture is silent andwithholds express authority on these matters.
Should a church remain non-instrumental, it should choose to do so based onreal principles and not simply the fact that the Bible is silent about it.Should a church choose to adopt instrumental music, it should do so based onreal principles and not merely on the fact that the Bible is silent about it.
In short, I have a hard time understanding how the silence of Scripture caneither be permissive or prohibitive. There are principles that guide us inthese matters and we should determine what they are through a well-guided studyof what the Scriptures actually say.
What is probably realistic is the assumption that there will be some who willnot abandon the notion that scriptural silence is tacitly prohibitive andothers that will not abandon the notion that scirptural silence is tacitlypermissive. But I think we my find ourselves getting closer to the mark if wecan at least find a forum for discussing these things with love, humility, anopen mind, and a true desire to see God glorified in his church. If there isanything I can do to help facilitate or take part in such a discussion, I willgladly do so.
EAST PEORIA, ILL.
In youreditorial in the February 2006 issue, you encouraged churches to embrace theprayer of Jesus found in John 17 for the unity of believers.
Mark Taylorsays that many in the Christian Church are ready and willing to extend theirfellowship to those who do not use musical instruments in worship, since itdoes not compromise their faith. On theother hand, Wayne Burger says that members of the church of Christmust violate their conscience if they accept into fellowship those who do useintruments, since they consider this practice to be sinful.
Let’s putthe shoe on the other foot. Wouldmembers of the Christian Church be willing to extend their fellowship to agroup that practices something they consider sinful, such as those who openlyengage in homosexual activity?
Take a lookat 2 John, verses 9 through 11. If wereceive them, then we participate in their sin.
Iappreciate your article on Christian unity in your most recent issue. Iam serving with a brand new church plant in Lexington, Kentuckythat we hope will be an inspiration for unity. In the spirit of Christianunity and of simple non-sectarian Christianity we are planting this church totake the gospel to our neighbors.
As heirs of the American Restoration Movement which caught fire here in centralKentucky 200years ago, we want to be simply Christians only, taking the gospel only to thelost. We believe that genuine Christian unity itself is inherentlyevangelistic and it obeys Jesus’ explicit command that we be united.
When asked if we are a Church of Christ, we answer”Yes.” When asked if we are a Christian church, we answer”Yes,” because we are of Christ and that makes us Christian. Welove our heritage and what it stands for and are determined to be true to theoriginal plea.
So we are following the message of the Last Will and Testament of theSpringfield Presbytery and are sinking “into union with the body of Christat large.”
We pray God’s blessings on all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Thank you for your good work for the kingdom.
Both sidesin the debate over instrumental worship admit that the New Testament does notspecifically speak to the issue. But Paul is explicit in addressing what ourattitude should be toward brothers and sisters with whom we disagree…
“Accept himwhose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters….” “Each ofus will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passingjudgment on each other.”
Self-righteousarrogance and spiritual snobbery, not the presence or absence of a piano, haskept our fellowship divided for 100 years. When we act in love and strive forpeace, we’ll see unity restored.
Sunset won’t go to the Tulsa. Influential people will go Louisville. The combined attendance at bothevents will be less than one percent of the membership of bothdenominations. Gestures of unity will melt like an ice sculpture at a Fourth ofJuly barbeque when confronted with the huge investments both denominations havein maintaining their distinctive identities. Publishing houses, educationalinstitutions and other para-church ministries all pitch themselves to a nichemarket, namely, the 99% of the people who won’t be at either event. Considerthe camps, youth rallies, regional leadership conferences, assorted”Mother/Daughter” or “Father/Son” days, teacher trainingworkshops and various Men’s & Women’s Retreats. Such events serve to solidifythe social connections of each denomination.
These are the ties, large andsmall, that bind members to eachother within our denomination. When people defend theirdenominational distinctives they defend the people who hold to thosedistinctives. It feels and looks valorous to be seen raising the flag for”theological principle”. Yet our theological principles have everbeen the weakest argument for our continued existence. Our strongest argumentsfor continued existence have always been sectional, reactive andultimately, merely pragmatic in that it would upset too many people to admitmistakes were made and now its time to quit.
Itis not enough to offer hopeful gestures so that trust might be built. Then what? Will we go back yetanother hundred years in time and admit our penchant for division did not stop at the boundaries ofStone-Campbell Movement? Will we admit we plundered other Christian communitiesof their members, and did this under the banner of “unity”? Will weadmit we gained our reputation for hard-edged sectarianism not because we weresadly misunderstood but because we were understood only too well?
Maxand Bob at Tulsa, or Rick and Victor at Louisville:its nice, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters?
- Repentance voiced beyond our denomination for sowing division among the larger church.
- Hiring and promoting educators from beyond our denomination to teach Bible at our universities and graduate schools.
While thesetwo steps would not be the ultimate answer for our dying denomination, theywould be enough for now.
I commendyour Feb.2006 issue showcasing the news about Unity meetingsscheduled throughout this 100th anniversary of the official split betweenChurches of Christ and Christian Churches. Unfortunately it doesn’t acknowledge the divisiveness thatcontinuously occurs among various segments within Churches of Christthemselves, which exhibits a similar lack of love and fellowship as with Christian Churches. There is a statement buriedat the end of the article on p.29 (Sunset, World Bible School to skipWorkshop) that is profound, if not paradoxical. Flavil Yeakley is quotedas saying, “I believe that the instrument brethren are’brethren-in-error’—but brethren-in-error are the only kind of brethrenwe have”. If we could just get our minds around that, most ofthese fragmentations of the Lord’s body would disappear intoinsignificance, and differences would evolve into family discussions instead of divisionsand debates between adversaries.
Congratulationson the good coverage of the Christian Church unity activity.
It may not happen in my lifetime, but it is a shame we can’t reunite these twogroups.
Why can’t we just say, “it’s OK if you want to have a piano?” Thatseems like the way Jesus would act.
It’s just not right to say, “If you don’t agree with me on everything, youmust be lost.” … Who knows? I may have something a littlemisinterpreted, too. I don’t want to stake my salvation on being correct,interpreting every little wiggle of scripture exactly right.
The brother who was quoted in your story as describing unity efforts assomething born of “Satan”, is way out of line. As scriptureshows, people who misidentify action of the Spirit as the work of Beelezbub canget into trouble.
May peace, gentleness and unity reign – and may further references toSatan be extinguished – as we walk together toward the unity desired by theLord.
I can’t help but want to sing the song “Yes, They’ll Know We areChristians By Our Love.”
In yourFeb., 2006 issue on page 3 there is an article stating there are less membersin our fellowship than previously. It would be very interesting to knowwhy. We have the greatest Message the world has ever received.
We can’tblame the Message for members dropping out. It is not beneficial to blamethe drop-outs. The only conclusion I can arrive at is – it must be ourfault. We must face realities. We must be doing something wrong, orfailing to do something we should. We sing the song: Revive us again,Fill each heart with they love, May each soul be rekindled with fire fromabove….Do we practice what we preach? Are we as dedicated as we shouldbe? Who suffers today for the cause of Christ? Are we acting morelike the world than acting like our Lord and Savior?
Back in1951, I did a survey of dear people who went AWOL from our membership in the Oklahoma City area. The Firm Foundation published my findings.
The Mormonsmust “sell” the story about a fifteen-year-old boy finding some goldtablets. I cannot understand how any intelligent person can believe thatstory. Yet, they are growing faster then any other religious group in America ofperhaps the world. How do they do it?
We preachmostly to ourselves. We can not convert the world when 95% ofour teaching is to our brothers and sisters. We must get out from behindour pulpits.
I purposewe make a genuine, dedicated study as to why we are losing members. Weare told “Go preach the gospel…” instead of inviting friends,neighbos and strangers to “come,” and we’ll preach to you. That method has not work, and I doubt if it ever will.
Leslie Eugene (Gene) Fooks
March 1, 2006