In this post, I want to bring the previous four posts together and conclude the four views on unity series. One friend recently read the first four posts and provided me some feedback. He said, “Garrett, reading the views of these great men is helpful and all, but I need you to make it relevant for me today. Tell me how these views play out in our churches today.” To do that, I intend to provide a case study and attempt to lay out how I think these four views on unity would respond. The situation proposed in this case study is not uncommon in Churches of Christ. Although we are predominantly an a capella fellowship, numerous churches have added instruments in their worship services in recent years. How do we respond when the other church in town adds them?
Case Study: There are two Churches of Christ in Doctrineville. Both congregations are very similar. They both are autonomous congregations governed by a group of elders. They each have a pulpit minister and a youth minister. On Sunday mornings, their worship services are very similar to one another. They both take the Lord’s Supper, have a sermon, sing songs and hymns, give a monetary offering, and pray together. Both congregations teach that a person is saved by grace through faith. In order to be in Christ, the Bible teaches one should believe that Jesus is the Son of God, repent of sin, and be baptized into Jesus Christ. Both congregations believe strongly that the Bible is the inspired word of God and is the rule for faith and practice. These two congregations have an amicable relationship with one another and even have teamed up in cooperation efforts to feed the hungry in Doctrineville. The teenagers from both congregations often get together and have worship times together. However, despite their similarities, there is one issue that has come to differentiate the two congregations. In Church A, the leaders believe that those things about which the Bible is silent, might be permissible depending on the particular issue. Because of this stance toward Scripture, Church A has decided to add an instrumental service at 1:00 PM on Sunday afternoon. They will still offer the traditional a capella service at 10:00 AM. Church B, on the other hand, believes that when the Scriptures are silent, they are silent for a reason. The silence of the Scriptures regarding instruments forbids their use in worship. Based on Church A’s decision to add an instrumental service, can/should Church B still have fellowship with them?
1. Unity in Truth– In David Lipscomb’s view of things, Church A’s decision to add an instrumental service would be viewed as a clear departure from Scripture. It is clear that Church A has decided that God’s plain instructions to “sing” were not enough for their church. Church A has decided that they know better what God’s will is than God Himself. God hates division and thus it is a terrible thing for Church B to have to withhold fellowship from Church A; however, Jesus said that his ministry would cause division. If a church that belongs to Christ has ceased to follow the instructions of Christ, then it no longer is a church of Christ. What is next for Church A?! Will they add a T-bone steak to the Lord’s Supper because the Scriptures are silent on steak? I wish this division did not have to happen, but it must. We cannot have fellowship with darkness. If we do not oppose the sin, then we are just as guilty as the sinners. Those who are conscientiously opposed to instrumental music should leave Church A and come over to worship with us at Church B. The one who knows it is wrong to worship with an instrument and continues to worship with instrumental music is a worse sinner than the one who thinks it right to worship with instruments. We, at Church B, should treat those at Church A kindly, but we cannot go along with their sin. If they want to be united with us again, they will have to discard their instrument. We will remain over here with the truth. If they decide to return to the truth, we will be where they left us. They have done the dividing here, not us. We can only have unity with them in truth. There can be no unity in heresy.
2. Unity in Diversity– If Isaac Errett commented on the situation, this is what I think he would say. First, let us at Church B recognize how much we have in common with Church A. We are agreed on all the essentials of the gospel and on most other important issues. Church A still teaches that faith in Jesus Christ requires obedience, repentance, and baptism. Thus, no matter what differences we may have with them, they are in Christ. Their status in Christ doesn’t change because of any opinion and thus, they are still my brothers and sisters. Since congregations are autonomous, it was within Church A’s right to decide to add an instrumental service if they so choose. The only things that can be made tests of fellowship are those things which are expressly taught in Scripture. Since instrumental music is not expressly taught in Scripture, it falls into the category of opinion and cannot be made into a test of fellowship. Although I do not think instruments are wrong biblically, I personally would not attend the 1:00 instrumental service. If I attended church there, I would attend the 10:00 AM traditional service. I have only worshipped a capella my whole life and intend to stay where I am at. I think the leaders of Church A believe the instruments will help the singing, but in my experience, instrumental music has usually overshadowed the singing. I wish Church A would’ve focused on improving the singing rather than resorting to instruments. I am mostly opposed to the decision because about 20% of the Church A is conscientiously opposed to instrumental music. What will they do because of the decision? Many of them will probably feel they need to leave and go to Church B. This is not what Paul would have wanted for the churches. If instruments are going to cause division in Doctrineville, it would be better to not have them. How will Church A and Church B be successful in uniting all Christians together if the two of us cannot even be united among our own congregations?!
3. Unity in Essentials– I believe J.H. Garrison would begin by deploring that we even have to talk about this. But, if he must comment on it, he might say something like this. The most essential element of the Christian faith is that the people at Church A believe in Jesus Christ, which they do. If one rejects anyone at Church A who believes in Jesus Christ for any other reason, then he or she has added another article of faith to the foundation. This would be the same as what the denominations have done. Rejecting them would fall under the condemnation of God. The Bible is not a law book and does not spell out everything we need to know about worship, church organization, and work. It was completely within Church A’s right to decide to add an instrumental service. No two first century churches looked the same yet they were all united in Christ. It is the person of Christ that unites us, not a system of doctrines or propositions. Instrumental music is certainly not considered an essential issue and thus it is a matter of opinion. Church B does not have the right to bind their opinion about instruments on Church A. I believe Church B should continue having worship times and activities with Church A. How else are we going to talk about the issues if we never see each other? If Church B decides to withdraw from Church A, then it shows that Church B does not understand the Restoration plea and has no place in our movement. One of the hallmarks of our movement is that Christians have liberty in matters of opinions and expedients. If we do not allow Church A to exercise their right as an autonomous church on this matter of opinion, what will be next?! What we should be really concerned about is not whether Church A looks exactly like Church B, but whether both churches are manifesting the spirit of Christ in their everyday lives. Christianity is not about propositions, but about Christ.
4. Unity at all Costs– First, I believe T.B. Larimore would refuse to comment on our case study. He would not want any of his views or comments to be used in such divisive discussions. We are Christians only and it is not our place to stand in judgement of Church A. I do not stand in the pro-instrument crowd or the anti-instrument crowd because I see no such crowds in the Bible. In the Bible, I see people who follow Jesus Christ. Period. I would be happy to worship at both Church A and Church B because they are both equally and unashamedly my brothers in Christ. If I were ever asked to preach at either congregation, I would. While preaching there, I would certainly not mention any of these divisive topics. You wouldn’t hear one sermon on instrumental music from me at either place. This whole argument and division is about something which the Bible never even talks about! Do we not see how crazy this is?! If these two churches would quit fighting over these untaught questions, they might be able to get together and do some good evangelistic work and see the people of Doctrineville converted to Christ! What is lacking in both congregations is a spirit of peace and deference. Church A has made a decision that has alienated a significant portion of their membership. There are many in Church B who are calling for open disfellowship from Church A. Both of those attitudes are not of Christ. People might criticize me for not taking a stand on this issue, but I will not criticize my critics in return. You will not rope me into the division. I will pray and work with all my strength for the unity of Christians for which Jesus prayed. I will do it in Doctrineville and anywhere else the Lord may call me. As long as I live, I hope to never see these two congregations divide.
These certainly aren’t all the views that could be presented on unity and fellowship. One thing to keep in mind as you think through these complicated issues is that I believe every single person presented in the above comments loves the Lord and respects His word as authoritative. Both Church A and Church B love God. Lipscomb, Errett, Garrison, and Larimore love God and the Bible. But, they all have different views on what kind of book the Bible is. They have different views on unity and that means they all look at the issue presented above differently. Dialogue between Church A and Church B is essential. Dialogue between people with different views on unity is essential. What can we learn from one another? Remember, they love the Lord too!