By Mike Willis
The nod few Issues of Guardian of Truth will contain editorials examining the question of whether or not the church is authorized by God to use mechanical instruments of music in worship. Someone will surely ask, I ‘Why are you devoting so much space to a discussion of this issue which has long been settled among our brethren?” And the question may be justifiable considering I am aware of only a few liberal churches which have changed their practice to include using mechanical Instruments of music in worship over a period of twenty years. Most members of the church are opposed to using mechanical instruments of music, by reason of what the Scriptures teach; unfortunately some only oppose it because of tradition (i.e., “we’ve never used them before”). Returning to the original question, why have I chosen to devote space to this subject? This article of introduction will give evidences that indicate a shift in the thinking of our liberal brethren regarding using mechanical instruments of music in worship has occurred.
In recent years, liberal brethren have been participating in unity forums with members of the independent Christian Churches, much like the unity forums arranged by Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett several years ago. In the unity forums that generally have been arranged, the most liberal preachers among the church of Christ are invited to participate with the Christian Church preachers.
Such a unity meeting was held in Joplin, MO in August 1984. The reports of that meeting by those associated with the Christian Church were Slowing. The Christian Standard stated:
Not all of the reactions to these meetings have been positive, however. Some church of Christ periodicals have denounced the gatherings, or at least questioned whether they can accomplish anything. Some Christian church people are also reluctant to become involved. But among the mainstream of both groups, there is undoubtedly a grassroots unity movement going on, despite the reservations of some (Christian Standard [5 May 1985], p. 3).
The Joplin meeting was followed up by a meeting at the Garnett Road church in Tulsa, OK on 18-20 March 1985. Approximately 100 representatives from the liberal churches of Christ and the independent Christian Churches met. Here are some of the comments about the meeting:
If I had to summarize the results of the Tulsa Forum in a nutshell, I would say that we became convinced that whenever we disagreed on these issues, we would maintain fellowship as brothers, and refrain from binding our opinions or positions on these issues on each other. No user of instrumental music even hinted that a capella congregations should install a piano, and no a capella congregation asked instrumental congregations to remove the instruments. Once that degree of acceptance is achieved throughout the world, the future for fellowship is bright. At the grass roots, I’m convinced that such a degree of acceptance has existed for some time (William Pile, Christian Church, Good News [May 19851, p. 6).
Where will it lead? . . . From a better perspective my guess is that it will lead to a recognition among us that we do not have a clear and express statement from the Lord on it and thus may not make it a test of discipleship, and a recognition among instrumental brethren that we do have a case against its use that is substantial enough to justify its rejection by all who accept our “law of exclusion.” This is understanding and will result in a more united front on behalf of the many basic truths on which we do agree, more cooperation in projects that are worthy, and more carefulness in both camps that we be considerate of the other’s viewpoint (Olan Hicks, “Unity Conference In Tulsa,” News & Notes [5 April 1985], pp. 4-5).
That brother Hicks’ assessment was accurate regarding joint participation in projects was soon evident. In the 3 February 1985 issue of Christian Standard, an editorial appeared in which Christian Churches were urged to send funds for famine relief in Ethiopia through the Whites Ferry church in West Monroe, LA. The Christian Churches and churches of Christ joined hands in this benevolent work. What could work in Ethiopia in the realm of benevolence could work as well in the United States in any other area of common work.
Shortly after the Tulsa meeting, the Christian Standard carried an announcement of Reuel Lemmon’s new paper Image. Its managing editor, Denny Boultinghouse, was quoted as describing the paper as follows: “We do see Image as being a magazine designed to build bridges among brethren” (Christian Standard [12 May 1985], p. 3). Image reports that 80 writers will be contributing articles for publication. The next issue of Christian Standard announced another unity forum was held on the campus of Pepperdine University 16-19 April 1985 (Christian Standard [19 May 1985], p. 3). The following week, the Christian Standard published a glowing report of the Tulsa, OK meeting (Ibid., [26 May 19851, pp. 4-6). A fair assessment of the report seems to be that the conservative Christian Churches are ecstatic about what they see occurring among the liberal churches of Christ.
On the other hand, the liberal churches are beginning to manifest signs of division. The Spiritual Sword, Contending For The Faith, Firm Foundation, The Defender, The Restorer and several other journals are alarmed that those brethren who have participated in these unity forums seem willing to accept unity in diversity with reference to the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship. They are writing about the compromisers among them.
The problem has extended to the editorial leadership of the Gospel Advocate. Brother Guy N. Woods expressed his dissatisfaction with the unity forums and reprinted brother H. Leo Boles’ speech which he delivered in the midst of the Witty-Murch unity meetings of the 1930-1940s. Shortly thereafter, there was an announcement that brother Woods was being replaced as editor of the Gospel Advocate by Furman Kearley (Gospel Advocate [6 June 19851, p. 3). Brother Kearley opened his editorial work by trying to convince the liberal brethren that he was “sound.” In doing so, he had to reply to the following taped conversation from his participation in the Joplin unity forum:
Kearley: The aspect of the isolation is lack of knowledge of our history. If we could start in our congregations doing some more studies in Restoration History outside of our own branch and look at the distinctions between the conservative instrumentalists and the Christian Church . . . (sentence unfinished).
Kilpatrick: I wonder, too, if bringing Christian Church preachers in for a class like this might be good. Let them come in and tell their history in a class situation. I think you could ease from the class to the pulpit.
Kearley: Right! And you could get by with telling history.
Kearley: . . . whereas if they were telling doctrine-heh, heh, heh.
Kilpatrick: And while they are telling history, they could tell enough doctrine to let us know that, hey, we believe alike so much of it. So that may be a beginning point: in the classroom (F. Furman Kearley, Gospel Advocate [18 July 1985], p. 432).
His explanation of this “misunderstood dialogue” leaves many unanswered questions and will likely prove unsatisfactory to the “conservative” members of the liberal churches. The affirmation that we are divided simply because we do not understand the differences between the “conservative Christian Church” and the “Disciples of Christ” is inaccurate. We divided from each other before there was a distinction between the “conservative Christian Church” and “Disciples of Christ.” Those who imply our division exists because we were not aware of these differences may accurately depict their ignorance of those in the Christian Church but should not imply that all of us share that ignorance. I for one have been aware of the distinctive groups within the Christian Church for years and stand opposed to each fellowship of them because of their departures from sound doctrine. Knowing that the “conservative Christian Churches” are opposed to the “Disciples of Christ” is not news or a reason for “tending to them the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9).
I have been able to detect absolutely no movement among the Christian Churches to give up the instrument. Hence, any unity which can be attained and maintained with them must be one which tolerates the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship. This is the disposition which has developed among our liberal brethren and might develop among us. I think that we are generally agreed that using mechanical instruments of music in worship is sinful. However, some have begun to waver in their belief that those who use them in their worship will be eternally lost for using them. Some have said that so long as those who use them are good, honest, and sincere that they are “continually cleansed by the blood of Christ” and are in fellowship with God. If these brethren can maintain fellowship with God while continuing the practice of their sin, defending it as an act of righteousness, and encouraging others to join with them in the practice of their sin, surely they can also be fellowshipped by God’s children. When this kind of tolerance is embraced, we will be in the same sad condition as our liberal brethren.
With the hope that we can be reminded of the seriousness of all sin, and especially the sin of introducing unauthorized items into our worship, I have written a series of articles concerning the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship which begins with the next issue. We need to be reminded that a new generation not grounded in these matters has been raised. Brethren, let us not fail to teach them what the Bible says on this and other fundamental Bible subjects.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 17, pp. 514, 533, 535
September 5, 1985