Unity discussion takes center stage at Freed-Hardeman
But the purpose this time was not to tout the common beliefs and heritage of two groups that split 100 years ago.
Instead, organizers of a “Contemporary Discussion” on unity at Freed-Hardeman University made it clear their focus would be on what still divides the Restoration Movement churches.
Part debate, part Bible study, the discussion featured Ralph Gilmore, a Bible professor at Freed-Hardeman, and David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University, which is associated with independent Christian Churches. The program theme: “What Will It Take to Be Together Again?”
Faust said he came not to quarrel but to speak from the heart.
“I have no desire to drag you across the keyboard and make you conform to my opinions,” he told the crowd. “I am not here to tell you why you are wrong. In some ways, we have all been wrong because we have perpetuated division in the Lord’s church.”
Gilmore praised Faust as a devout man and lauded his courage in coming to Freed-Hardeman. It’s a university that declined to support the recent World Mission Workshop at Lubbock Christian University in Texas, in part because the workshop featured a Christian Church member as a keynote speaker.
While the nearly four hours of speeches and audience questions were pointed and emotional, the interaction almost always was cordial and respectful.
Afterward, Gilmore, Faust and others from Freed-Hardeman and Cincinnati Christian enjoyed a lunch of steak and baked potatoes, at which they joked and discussed topics such as church-planting methods and the status of the International Churches of Christ.
AN ISSUE OF FELLOWSHIP?
While describing Faust as his brother in Christ, Gilmore told the crowd, “We are not in fellowship because of one big, obvious thing.”
That one, big obvious thing — the use of instrumental music in worship — dominated the discussion.
But Faust rejected the idea of dividing fellowship over music.
“I may not agree on some points, but because we’re brothers and sisters in Christ, we do have fellowship,” he said.
Gilmore begged Faust to “lay aside the instrument” for the sake of unity.
But Faust said that would require Christian Church members to give up convictions and freedom in Christ. He likened the request to asking a cappella churches to give up multiple communion cups or Sunday school classes because some congregations object to them.
Faust highlighted similarities between the two groups that a 1906 federal census first reported as separate bodies.
Both groups — with a combined 2.5 million baptized members in the U.S. — believe that Jesus is Lord, baptize for remission of sins and offer the Lord’s Supper each Sunday.
“Instrumental music is not the focus of my faith,” Faust said. “Christ is.”
Appealing for unity and a deeper love for lost people, he said, “Often, we are like two lifeguards who get in a fistfight on the beach while a swimmer is drowning.”
Gilmore agreed that the Bible requires Christian unity. But he said, “There can be no genuine unity without truth.”
The issue boils down to how one understands God when he’s silent about something, Gilmore said. Ephesians 5:19 calls for “singing and making melody in one’s heart to the Lord.”
That verse “tells you where you’re supposed to pluck the string — in your heart,” Gilmore said. “It’s a purely vocal reference.”
The same logic that allows a piano in worship could lead to doughnuts and coffee in the Lord’s Supper, he said.
Gilmore said the Bible does allow “expedients,” such as songbooks, to help carry out specified actions, so long as the tool does not change the action or “involve swapping something in the category specified with something else.”
Using what he called the “desert island principle,” Faust suggested that a person reading the Bible with no presuppositions would learn God commanded and blessed the use of instrumental music in the Old Testament.
“Since I read this in the Old Testament, where would I find in the New Testament that God now frowns on this?” Faust asked.
Gilmore responded: “If you’re on that desert island, chances are you’re not going to have an organ or piano with you. But you’re going to have your voice, and you can always worship God.”
If the New Testament is silent on instrumental music, it’s equally silent on four-part harmony and pitch pipes, Faust said. “If it’s permissible to use a pitch pipe to get the song started on the right key, why is a guitar or a piano not allowed to keep it on the right key?” he asked.
Gilmore countered that a pitch pipe “just tells you where you’re going to start your singing. It is not your first note.” As for four-part harmony, Gilmore asked, “Where does that expedient change the idea of a cappella singing?”
Freed-Hardeman President Milton Sewell said the university hosted the discussion as an educational opportunity for church members. “I would love to see us all back together again,” Sewell told The Christian Chronicle, “but we’re not going to worship with the instrument, and we’re not going to promote it here.”
Two Freed-Hardeman students interviewed after the forum offered differing perspectives.
David Easlon, a 20-year-old Bible major from Odessa, Texas, said his position had not changed.
“I would say, as long as you worship God’s way, there’s unity,” Easlon said, maintaining that God’s way precludes instrumental music.
But Chad Landman, a 25-year-old Bible and media arts major from Huntsville, Ala., said the discussion made him rethink the issue.
“I came in here bullheaded and thinking that we’re going to tell them,” Landman said. “That’s not how I feel now. I feel that it’s kind of sad. I feel bad that we can’t get together with them.”