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January 24, 2004

Baptist Standard

The raging debate over worship music has surfaced in a most unlikely place--within the Churches of Christ, which bear the historical distinction of shunning all musical instruments in worship. Over the past two years, at least five major congregations associated with the Churches of Christ have added instruments to some worship services, according to the Christian Chronicle, a 60-year-old Church of Christ newspaper.

The highest-profile case involves Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, a 3,800-member congregation led by pastor and best-selling author Max Lucado. No one is willing to predict whether these breaks from tradition signal the start of a sweeping change or are "isolated tragedies"--the description favored by Hardin University professor Flavil Yeakley. But they do illustrate the ages-old tension between making the gospel message "user friendly" and defending the purity of "the truth once delivered to the saints."

The absence of instruments in the early church may have been influenced, ironically, by Greek philosophy. The Greeks argued that emotions stirred by music could be dangerous. In later centuries, Richardson said, instruments became part of the Roman Catholic Church "about the same time as instruments became widely accepted by society at large." During the Reformation, clear divisions began to emerge. Some groups influenced by Martin Luther retained the instruments. Those influenced by John Calvin placed strict limits on music in worship. Still others, influenced by Ulrich Zwingli, disallowed music of any sort.

Calvin's influence was greatest among Baptists and later the Churches of Christ. He placed three restrictions on music in worship: scriptural songs only (mostly the psalms), human voices only, and unison singing only."Most Churches of Christ and Primitive Baptists long ago gave up the restrictions on text and part-singing but cling to the one against instruments," Richardson pointed out. Baptist groups traveled differing routes. For example, Seventh-day Baptists, strict sabbatarians who know a thing or two about defending a minority position against steep odds, were early promoters of hymn singing, despite criticism from other Baptists.

At various times in Baptist history, instrumental worship was rejected because it was practiced by the Church of England, which persecuted the free-church followers like the Baptists. Organs often were rejected--and later violins--because they were used to provide worldly entertainment. All those historical precedents support one of Richardson's theories: "We are all Amish. We all have some idealized culture that we find more faithful to the living of the gospel as we understand it," he elaborated. "That culture is typically one in which we never lived, though we have sought to preserve it in some way to 'protect' the faith." More

Posted by acapnews at January 24, 2004 12:57 AM


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