Maybe the Church of Christ Has It Right

College Avenue Baptist Church (San Diego) is doing something radical this coming spring. It is combining it’s two Sunday morning services into one. No longer will there be a traditional service featuring the pipe organ and Sanctuary choir followed by the contemporary service featuring electric guitars and two complete drum kits. College Avenue Baptist Church currently is a divided church. Old people go to the first service. Young people go to the second service. The pastor preaches the same sermon in each one, but these two worship services clearly serve two separate congregations-one made up of people with grey (or blue)hair who still dress up for church, the other made up made up of people in flip flops, blue jeans and fashionably bald heads (as opposed to unfashionably bald heads like mine).

organ1Everyone agrees that unity is a good thing, that an intergenerational church is desired. But the young people are afraid the worship services are going to turn dull and boring. The old people are afraid of the guitars and the loud volume. I was having a conversation between services last Sunday with one of the older members of the church and he expressed serious doubts that this effort to combine worship service would succeed, mainly because of the music. He likes the idea of bringing generations together but he doesn’t like the idea of having to give up singing hymns and hearing the pipe organ. “Churches are having to sell their pipe organs,” he lamented, “because nobody wants to hear them anymore. That’s a crying shame!”

I suppose he’s right. If you’re in the market for a pipe organ, there are probably some good deals to be had out there. I have no problem with pipe organs. I love to hear them when they are played well, just as I love to hear any kind of music when it is good. But I have never gone to church expecting to hear the style of music that I like best (which of course is bluegrass.) When I hear people complain about the style of music being played in their churches, I can usually relate to their disappointment because I have never yet found a church (in California, anyway) that features the style of music I prefer. But that’s not what I go to church for. I really don’t care whether I hear my favorite kind of music or not.

But I’m in the minority, I think. Most people choose the church they attend based on the  music they hear in the worship service. And because music styles change with each generation, churches today are predictably very age-segregated, which is shameful considering that the Lord’s only prayer for the church was that we would have unity (John 17).

While listening to this church elder lament the pending demise of the pipe organ, it occurred to me that maybe our Church of Christ friends had it right all along. The Church of Christ (denomination) has never allowed instruments of any kind in their worship services. They sing all their hymns and worship songs acapella. I’ve never quite understood why they do this (since the Scriptures actually encourage praising God with musical instruments) but I think I’m beginning to see the wisdom in it. My guess is that the worship wars we are all so familiar with are not so common in the Church of Christ.

What do you think?

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19 Responses to Maybe the Church of Christ Has It Right

  1. Deb says:

    Music is a gift from God that needs to be shared by all. No matter the age, the color of hair, the personal preference. Together we need to give back to God what he has given to us. Together we need to praise God with a pipe organ and a drum set. When generations worship together why does the pipe organ need to go? Why is the older generation expected to change. Shouldn’t the younger generation make some changes too? Compromise needs to be made by all. After all we are in church to be entertained, but to come together to give back to God. We need to be open to worship in the various styles with a variety of instruments including a pipe organ, banjo, drum set, oboe, saxophone, guitar (both acoustic and electric) etc. We should look forward to hearing something new and not expect the same worship style week after week. I would love to have some bluegrass one week, a Bach cantada, the next, a jazz trio, then a rock band, then a symphony orchestra. It would be so much fun to arrive to church not knowing what style of music to expect with the anticipation to praise God in a new way! I look forward to praising God as a unified congregation!

  2. Wayne says:

    Deb,
    I agree. But sadly most people today choose churches based on music styles and other personal preferences. All I’m saying is that the Church of Christ may have been wise to keep things simple and focus more on the worship of God than the presentation of music. Music seems to be a big deal these days but really it’s only one of many possible obstacles to true worship. The church’s location, the aesthetics of the room, the demographic profile of the congregation, the quality of the preaching … all these things can be distractions to true worship. So music isn’t the only reason why people jump from one church to another.
    Like you, I enjoy variety in music but that’s not why I go to church. I go to hear the gospel proclaimed, to celebrate the sacraments, to grow in faith, to obey God. And I try to do with a grateful heart and a good attitude whether I like it or not.

  3. Conley says:

    Wayne,
    As I read your message about church music, I relate it to my own church and the issues we are having. I belong to a Lutheran Church. We are in the process of moving to a new facility we recently completed in Otay Ranch. For some time now we have had two services very similar to your own. The older, more traditional members who attend the Heritage service don’t seem to like the music played at the Praise service and vice versa. We are scheduled to move to our new site in February. The Pastor has scheduled only one service to open our new church and it will be more along the lines of the Heritage service. It is creating some tension within the congregation, inlcuding my 22 year old daughter. She is considering changing to another church. She was baptised and confirmed in our church and attended all her life. Now, seemingly because of a potential change in music, as well as the way the message will be delivered by the Pastor, she is considering leaving. I’m not sure how to counsel her. She has scheduled a meeting with the Pastor to let him know her concerns. I think its interesting, and possibly tragic, how music can make such a differnce. I agree with you that music should not be the attaction. Somehow we need to make all of our members realize that its our connection to and realtionship to Christ, however that’s made, that should be our focus. Music is simply one of the ways we make it. BTW – love your bluegrass.

  4. In the Hebrew language (Old Testament) there are over 50 words that are related to worship and praise and many of them have nothing to do with music. One of my favorite is “zamar” which means literally, to strike the stings with the fingers. As a guitar picker I was happy to discover that one! I also love “tehillah”, to praise in an unrehearsed manner. There are also 4 or 5 different ways to shout in Hebrew. There is also “shiyr”, to sing a hymn or Psalm and “yadah”, to extend your hands (or throw a stone!).
    Churches in the west have gotten used to being entertained by either the “praise band” with smoke and bright lights and huge screens or the choir with pontifical robes and a sombre organ and there is often very little real involvement in the congregation.
    In reality, there is no congregation – we are all the worship team and there is only one in the audience,Abba Father, but so few places really understand this and develop this. I went to CABC for 25 years and sang under Pastor Robert Dow who did a spectacular job of developing both singers and participants. I am also reminded of Ray Hughes who very successfully leads almost anyone into the presence of God in worship using – bluegrass!

  5. Johnny Orsag says:

    Why chose between the two? Why not combine the old and the new for something better? Take the old songs and the organ and rock them a bit. This way the new generation learns from the old. The old generation get to experiences the freshness of a new perspective.

  6. Naomi says:

    Wayne, I love a mixture of the music. I love a little of the old and a little of the new, as long as the music is shared in reverance to the Lord. No matter if the music is old or new, the question is am I being drawn into my Father’s Arms and preparing my heart for Him to speak to me? Am I preparing my heart, mind, & soul to be chiseled away at as the music prepares my heart for the sermon which will be ministered directly to me.

    We get into a lot of expectations of what “we” want, and we often forget that God wants us to desire what “HE” has for us. I loved what Pastor Leonard DeWitt & Pastor John Struhbar asked of us when we were at Ventura Missionary, and what our Pastor, Andy, asks of us now. When we come to Church we are to open our hearts and be spoken to by the Holy Spirit. The Pastor feeds us, preparing us to take what we’ve heard out into our daily life with the world … and to be doers of the Word, NOT just hearers.

    All that I long for, is that whatever music that I hear … I apply it to my heart to open up and worship my Lord, that He will speak to me, refresh my heart, and give me the open doors to touch the lives of those around me throughout the week. I love all music, and when we step into Heaven’s doors, I’m sure that the one thing we will hear is Praise unto the One & Only Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

    May we hear His voice in the beautiful music He shares through the lives of His people! May we come before Him with holiness & reverance, and may His Holy Spirit minister to our hearts and in obedience to Him may we touch hearts with His Love!

  7. A. St James says:

    Dear Wayne,

    At this point I guess I should just ask; how did it turn out. I wanted to point out that though the O.T. makes reference to musical instruments in worship, the New Testament does not. Just as sacrifices and various forms of incense were required–and now they are not.

    This is why the church of Christ does not use musical instruments in worship.

    A Capella literally means “as in the chapel” or “as in the church”. Most Christian denominations up to even the 19th century opposed their use. In the N.T. Christians or only commanded to sing or to use our voices. Those who use them have reasoned that they can obey the commands AND use musical instruments as well.

    Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).

    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:16).

    God bless

    • Wayne says:

      How did it turn out? Well so far, the response to the unified service at College Avenue has been quite good. There is a real mix of musical styles each week, all of them appropriate for intergenerational worship. The organ is still there (it hasn’t been put on Craigslist yet) and everyone is learning to worship together as one church rather than a church divided by musical tastes and other preferences.
      I respect the Church of Christ’s tradition of no instruments, although I find it hard to make an argument based on omission. There are many other things in the NT which are not mentioned, but I’m not sure that they are prohibited. Neither do I think all OT worship practices are to be prohibited today. The NT tells us to speak to each other in Psalms, and unless you omit certain Psalms, they definitely encourage the use of instrumental music as a way to praise God.
      What I meant to convey in my original post was that perhaps the Church of Christ’s no-instrument policy had some practical as well as theological reasons behind it and in my opinion the practical reasons (elimination of controversy over music styles) seem to make the most sense.

  8. Nat says:

    I have attended a Church of Christ church (in Australia) since birth and I cannot remember ever attending a service where the worship was un-accompanied.

    Same for all the other Churches of Christ I have attended over the years.

    Although I agree with you over all point

  9. Bill Barrick says:

    Balance and mutual respect remain the key to intergenerational worship. No one ever said being a family would be easy. Our church is a family and it is sometimes very hard for this older guy to stand through the percussionist assault on my sensitive ears and try to sing songs whose tunes I can’t hear over the drums, yet whose beautiful words can stir me to tears (thank God I can still see them on the screen). My soul rejoices in the great harmonies and tried lyrics of the old hymns. We older people need to respect our younger brothers and sisters with their cherished music and they need to respect their elders for theirs. If we both do that, we manifest a spirit of mutual love, mutual appreciation, and a joyous give and take as we learn from each other and continue to worship together in one service. Oh, believe me, it’s not easy for either group, but oh how precious that mutual love can be when it is exercised with selfless commitment to others.

  10. Wayne says:

    Well put, Bill. Joyous give and take, indeed. Thanks for the post.

  11. Anne J. says:

    Dear Wayne,
    Speaking of music….and the Church of Christ…..each Sunday I hear those beautiful voices blended in harmony. If we visit a shut-in or meet in a home for a Bible study, or around a campfire, those voices praise the Lord and all we have is a praise or hymn book or just our memory. As one friend said, you guys can sing anywhere…no need for even a guitar….amazing! Occasionally we attend an “instrument church” and I can’t even hear the person next to me. They seem to be listening to the worship team/band, but not participating. It won’t surprise me to find instruments in heaven, but the voices will overpower all!
    I met you at an Oregon Christian camp on the coast one year where you spoke. Yes, there were the modern praise songs, but the best moment was when you played and had everyone on their feet with a great hymn, bluegrass style. Thanks for that memory. One time at that camp, I talked the worship leader into just one acapella song. He chose Blessed Assurance, and as 800 people sang, his face reflected surprise and then joy.
    I’m a little behind the times, but glad to see Brush Arbor has been revived….loved the concerts in the Salem/Albany area in the 90′s.
    God Bless the Rice ministries.

  12. Jimmy Simmons says:

    Mr. Rice,

    I am the preacher for the Glencoe Church of Christ in Glencoe, AL. I appreciate your article and I used it to write a article for our monthly church bulletin sent primarily to members of the Church of Christ. I included it below for your consideration.

    Thank you,

    Jimmy Simmons

    “Maybe The Church Of Christ Has It Right” by Jimmy Simmons

    I came across an article on the internet with the title above. It was written one year ago by Wayne Rice, a recognized author and leader in youth ministry among the Baptists and currently the Pastor to Generations for the College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego, CA, on his blog waynerice.com, and needless to say it grabbed my attention. Being intrigued with the title I read the article and came away convinced that the church of Christ needs to continue to do things the right way, especially in the realm of worship as Rice considered in his article. He wrote:
    …it occurred to me that maybe our Church of Christ friends had it right all along. The Church of Christ (denomination) has never allowed instruments of any kind in their worship services. They sing all their hymns and worship songs acapella. I’ve never quite understood why they do this (since the Scriptures actually encourage praising God with musical instruments) but I think I’m beginning to see the wisdom in it. My guess is that the worship wars we are all so familiar with are not so common in the Church of Christ.
    The church of Christ as we read about in the New Testament is not a denomination, and even as it overwhelmingly thought of as being a denomination, each congregation that wears the name church of Christ is autonomous. There is no governing body above the local church dictating to it as to how it is to conduct its worship services or any other matter of doctrine. As much as the majority of churches of Christ today do not worship with the accompaniment of the mechanical instrument, the war to keep it out of worship must continue to be fought and won, or that mark of our identity will not be as recognized as thankfully as it is now. Mr. Rice does not understand why the church of Christ worships without the mechanical instrument when he finds the Scriptures encouraging such practice. That encouragement can only be found in the Old Testament along with other such practices as animal sacrifice and the burning of incense that are not prescribed in worship by the New Testament. However, before we focus our attention to that, let us consider some other observations Mr. Rice made before he came to his conclusion “that maybe our Church of Christ friends had it right all along.”

    Mr. Rice introduced his article stating:
    College Avenue Baptist Church (San Diego) is doing something radical this coming spring. It is combining it’s two Sunday morning services into one. No longer will there be a traditional service featuring the pipe organ and Sanctuary choir followed by the contemporary service featuring electric guitars and two complete drum kits. College Avenue Baptist Church currently is a divided church. Old people go to the first service. Young people go to the second service. The pastor preaches the same sermon in each one, but these two worship services clearly serve two separate congregations-one made up of people with grey (or blue) hair who still dress up for church, the other made up of people in flip flops, blue jeans…
    Mr. Rice has recognized that having two morning worship services to cater to the interests of two separate groups (creating two separate congregations) has caused there to be a divided church. If the church of Christ is going to continue to “have it right,” then it must not follow the path of having divided assemblies during worship services and having separate times for separate groups to assemble to worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:20; 14:23). Mr. Rice continued:
    Everyone agrees that unity is a good thing, that an intergenerational church is desired. But the young people are afraid the worship services are going to turn dull and boring. The old people are afraid of the guitars and the loud volume. I was having a conversation between services last Sunday with one of the older members of the church and he expressed serious doubts that this effort to combine worship service would succeed, mainly because of the music. He likes the idea of brining generations together but he doesn’t like the idea of having to give up singing hymns and hearing the pipe organ. “Churches are having to sell their pipe organs, “ he lamented, “because nobody wants to hear them anymore. That’s a crying shame!”
    No, what is a crying shame is for there to be a belief that a combined worship service will not succeed, when the church is commanded to assemble together in one place to worship. Furthermore, it is a crying shame for there to ever be a divided assembly over the music. The older member that Mr. Rice referred to did not want to give up the divided assembly because he did not want to give up his desired form of music. Brethren, we are not to worship with our desired form of music, but with the music commanded by God. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). In order for the church of Christ to “have it right” it must worship only by the way God has prescribed (cf. John 4:24). And by doing so, which is to worship without the accompaniment of the mechanical instruments, we will not divide over our personal preference of instruments.

    After Mr. Rice commented on how he did not choose a church to attend based on the what kind of music he liked, he went on to make this glaring statement:
    But I’m in the minority, I think. Most people choose the church they attend based on the music they hear in the worship service. And because music styles change with each generation, churches today are predictably very age-segregated, which is shameful considering that the Lord’s only prayer for the church was that we would have unity (John 17).
    “Maybe the church of Christ has it right.” Mr. Rice is “beginning to see the wisdom” in the church of Christ singing “all their hymns and worship songs acapella.” Brethren, that is not because the church of Christ on its own came to that conclusion, that if we will assemble together to worship without the mechanical instrument we will have unity. We do this because Christ has commanded unity and doing what He commands us to do and only by the way He commands us to do allows us to have unity, and that is the only way we will “have it right” (John 17:20-21; Colossians 3:17).

    Mr. Rice does not quite understand why the church of Christ worships the way it does, but he is beginning to see that “it has it right.” If he is able to see that it is right because it is the way the Lord commands, maybe he will want to have it right as well.

  13. Wayne Rice says:

    Brother Simmons,
    I have no problem with your using my blog post as fuel for your article. Feel free. But the point I was trying to make was less about keeping musical instruments out of worship than it was keeping disunity out of the church. That’s what Jesus prayed for in John 17, not a particular worship style. Just as preferences regarding music styles can cause disunity in instrumental congregations, so can a host of other issues cause disunity in non-instrumental congregations as I’m sure you would agree. May every congregation find its unity in Christ Jesus, not in how the music sounds.

    • Jimmy Simmons says:

      Mr. Rice,

      I agree there are many issues that cause disunity. But focusing our attention to the music style: There is only one style authorized in the N.T. in worship to God and that is congregational singing as per Epheisans 5:19; Colossians 3:16; and the mechanical instrument is not authorized in accompaniment with that singing. If the church of Christ “has it right” in regards to this issue, then it is only because this is in accordance to the word of God (John 4:23-24). In general people are too consumed in worshipping only by their personal preferences as though they are the audience to appreciate a type of worship service. The only audience in the worship service is God, and He will only appreciate the worship that comes forth from us in worshipping Him when it is in accordance to what He desires.

      Thank you for your consideration. Think about the disunity that was having to be dealt with considering the different preferences of music styles with your church. That problem is resolved not in compromise that the congregation accept one style over another or to accept both styles desired, but to only offer the music style authorized by God regardless of the personal preferences among the congregation. In fact all issues of disunity are solved when the congregation accepts what God has authorized and not what man may or may not desire. There is to be no division in the church (1 Corinthians 1:10).

  14. Wayne Rice says:

    Brother Simmons,

    I have enjoyed worshiping in several non-instrumental Church of Christ congregations in the past and have been blessed by the music. I love acapella singing and I wish more churches would consider it, including the church where I serve. Just as an aside, I am a big fan of bluegrass music and acapella singing (“the old time singing in the old time way”) is a big part of the bluegrass music tradition. Artists like Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Dailey and Vincent (who got their start in the Church of Christ) often include acapella Gospel music in their performances.

    But one thing seems true in Scripture: there are many ways to worship the Lord. Divisions occur when one group declares their way to be the only way. I know you feel strongly about your particular way (and you should) but I believe that how we worship is less important than who we worship. Scripture doesn’t really have a lot to say about the particulars of corporate worship. Musical instruments are not expressly prohibited in the New Testament that I can see. Neither are melodies (or the absence of them), tempos, harmonies, vocal treatments, use of hymnals (vs. projected lyrics), new songs, old songs, good voices, bad voices, etc. Scripture doesn’t seem to specify where the singing should be done, whether indoors or outdoors, in a building or not, or what to wear or not, and so on. The Ephesians verse you cited specifies that we “make music with our hearts.” My heart makes music not only with my voice but with my hands and feet. I might clap my hands (a musical instrument?) or tap my feet. Sometimes I strum a guitar or even a banjo. The Colossians passage reminds us that “whatever we do,” do it all for the Glory of God. I like that idea which seems pretty inclusive to me.

    But I appreciate and respect your perspective on this subject as I’m sure you have studied and taught for many years. Many blessings to you and your church as you continue to worship together and proclaim the Good News about our risen Lord.

    • Jimmy Simmons says:

      Mr. Rice,

      Are there really many different ways to worship the Lord (meaning God does not have a prescribed way to worship Him)? I do not believe that Cain along with Nadab and Abihu would say so today, their experience seems to state otherwise (Genesis 4:1-7; Hebrews 11:4; Leviticus 10:1-2). “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). There are two things required for a true worshipper (John 4:23) to worship God. He must worship God in spirit (the right attitude) and in truth (which is the word of God John 17:17).
      I am now going to state something that may be shocking to you, as per reading my previous posts. We are commanded to sing and play an instrument in worship to God. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). First of all, the command to the church at Ephesus was that which requires congregational singing – they were all commanded to speak (no authorization for choirs, solos to perform while the congregation remains silent). Second of all they are told what they were to speak – not any kind of song is acceptable (only psalms, hymns, spiritual songs). Third of all they are told how to speak those kinds of songs – in singing. Fourth of all they are told to sing and play an instrument. What kind of instrument – not just any kind – only one prescribed, which is the heart. See we must all sing and play. Such things as a song leader, hymn books are expedients to help us worship decently and in order blending our voices together (1 Corinthians 14:40). If a mechanical instrument is authorized as the instrument to be played when we sing, we must all play a mechanical instrument just as we are all commanded to sing.
      Just as you have worshipped in non instrumental churches of Christ, I have worshipped in Baptist churches (in that I was raised a Baptist). When I was studying with the church of Christ, the pastor of the Baptist church I had been attending told me that I would miss the music, meaning the mechanical instruments, if I became a member of the church of Christ. I’ve not so missed it, because it was not my desire to have it the way I like it, my desire is to worship God by the way He will be pleased. In fact the worship that I offer to God is not without music. Singing in of itself is music, and there is no other type of music commanded to the church to offer in worship in the New Testament.
      Again I appreciate your article, your consideration of my article and posts as I have done my best to speak the truth to you in love (Ephesians 4:15).

      • Julie says:

        I am so thankful for coming across this article, but most of all the comments…I am a church of Christ member in Madison,MS and I was raised Baprist, have been a member of presbyterian church where they brought in bluegrass music. I am a big fan of musical instruments and always have been very fond of rythem and beats. However, when you come to the realization that the word of God does not authorize instruments to be used in the church, you make a decision to heed his word or choose to do it the way you think is fitting to you. Majority of my family are members of the Church of Christ, but I didnt see the imoportance of it, until I was 30. We are now members, God is our audience we are worshipping Him, not ourselves..not our own ears…If God says to do it one way dare we say buuuuttt…we like it this way!? The truth is the truth and you can try to refute it, but one day we will all be held accountable for what we understood and denied for our own comforts! I pray that more people will realize what our Father expects of His children and I thank God for showing me the truth.

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