Friday, February 01, 2008

Quail Springs Church Adds Instrumental Music

Last Saturday's issue of "The Oklahoman" (easily the biggest newspaper in the state) contained an article about the recent decision by the Quail Springs Church of Christ in Oklahoma City to add a Sunday service that includes instrumental music. You can read the article, which is mostly a Q&A with with Quail Springs' preacher, Mark Henderson, here.

In response, Dr. Glover Shipp, a long-time missionary, teacher, and writer among the Churches of Christ, has reportedly written a letter to the editor of "The Oklahoman." I don't know if the paper has published the letter, but you can read it here.

Something I noticed about Shipp's remarks: Although he does cite, in a positive way, a handful of New Testament passages that mention singing, he does not resort to the exclusionary principle of the silence of the Scriptures. Instead, he immediately turns to the historical side of the argument: instrumental music was unknown in Christian worship for centuries, and was rare for many centuries even after it was introduced. He quotes Roman Catholic sources to make his point, and also mentions the a cappella tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. Finally, he notes ;-) the loud instruments heard in many worship assemblies these days, and the fact that many of the people at those assemblies simply don't sing.

I find all of this intriguing at many different levels. Here's one. In recent memory, the silence of the Scriptures was one of the first points our people would make in an argument about the use of instrumental music. In fact, in his fairly-recent and congenial book, Sing His Praise: A Case for a Cappella Music as Worship Today (1987), Rubel Shelley includes the exclusionary principle in his array of arguments for a cappella worship. (This book is one of my favorites on the subject, by the way). But it seems as though the problem associated with this argument--namely, the kind of book you have to assume the Bible is--has had the effect of discrediting this one aspect of the non-instrumental position. Am I right about that?

Either way, as I read Glover Shipp's letter, I was reminded of what Darryl Tippens says in his recent booklet, That's Why We Sing: Many of us reared in Churches of Christ have heard a number of arguments for a cappella singing that seem to carry far less weight than they once did. (p. 19). I think he's right.


Arlene Kasselman said...

Frank isn't this amazing that it appears in a large city newspaper when there is genocide in Darfur, the Invisible Children, children being sold into the sex trade, Americans losing their homes, millions without healthcare.....war, poverty, education crisis....let me stop.

When will it be okay for cofc people who favor acapella singing just to say that it is their preference based on the tradition of our heritage. Period. Why do we try to squeeze meaning out of scripture to support an argument where there is none. Or worse, how arrogant it appears when the argument is based on historical sources but voiced with the authority of scripture as the source.

I saw a book this past week that has been published attacking Richland Hills for their decision. It makes my stomach turn.

We preach autonomy yet hate it when a congregation chooses to practice it.

Bob Bliss said...

Frank, two thoughts. First thought, I was raised in the Episcopal church with a single organ. The organ was loud and you couldn't really hear the singing. The choir sang but not too many of the members. I love our a cappella practice and tradition. I would never worship with an instrument just because of the contrast I have experienced between the two. Even though I have come to the point where I don't believe that the instrument is a salvation issue, I would never worship with it.

Second thought, I wonder if the argument from silence is valid if one thinks from a "modern" mind set. Modernism thinks in terms of absolutes, universals, and detailed logic. People today are swayed less by logical arguments. It seems to me that we do need to find a way to justify our a cappella position that is understandable in the current philosophical mind set.

I don't mind if our sister congregations come out making arguments that the instrument isn't a salvation issue or that we should fellowship the instrumental sections of the restoration movement. But I don't like it when they jump ship completely and actually add an instrumental service.

Thanks for the link to Brother Shipp's article. I thought it was a good one as well.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Arlene, it seems that instrumental music is going to be a biggie for us and our neighbors because it has BEEN a biggie for us and our neighbors. As you're pointing out, the danger in this is that we would major in minors and minor in majors.

Bob, thanks for your comments, too. I tend to agree with the position you give voice to here.

However, as a follow up to the post, especially the part about the exclusionary principle: If Churches of Christ no longer accept the hermeneutic leading to the conclusion that instrumental music in Christian worship is outside the will of God, then we really have no choice but to say that it's neither here nor there if a congregation does or doesn't.

In a recent issue of the Christian Chronicle, an American church demographer said that Churches of Christ wouldn't have an easy time growing in an environment filled with instrumental music, including contemporary Christian music. If that's the case, then why the hesitancy? Because Churches of Christ care a lot about history and aesthetics? Since when? If insistence on a cappella only is going to continue, it will have to have a rationale that fits with our Back-to-the-Bible genetics. Otherwise, we have to admit that we're sentimental sticks in the mud.

Bob Bliss said...

Frank, I'm not sure I understand the last paragraph of your last comment. Did you say that someone said churches of Christ will not be able to grow if we stick with a cappella instead of switching to instruments? In other words many churches in our fellowship are switching because they feel that is the only way to grow?

Frank Bellizzi said...

Bob, I'll try to unpack my last paragraph.

The church demographer I'm talking about is Scott Thumma (sp?) of Hartford Seminary. In a recently-published interview that appeared in the Chronicle, Thumma mentioned that Churches of Christ are located in a culture that is immersed in instrumental music. He seems to hint that an a cappella-only stance could have the effect of inhibiting growth. Don't know if that's true or not.

I haven't read their literature on change, but I can only imagine that Richland Hills and, now, Quail Springs would say that they weren't making this choice simply because they thought they could. Instead, it had to do with future mission and outreach, not setting up an unnecessary barrier, etc. I suspect that they both still offer a non-instrumental worship service (?) in which case, a cappella would still be an option.

Darin L. Hamm said...

Dr. Shipp also quotes that it was monodic which means four part harmony would be out.

I’m not sure anyone in Churches of Christ would be happy if you truly returned to what the first century church did. It would be interesting to hear the arguments though.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Darin, from what I've heard about church music through the centuries, I get the impression that Gregorian chant was, at one point, new-fangled and high-tech.


Frank, I enjoyed your post. It was very well written and very thought provolking, as well as all the comments.


Anonymous said...

Great review of the Quail Springs Family at

Check it out!

Bro. Disciple said...

A cappella is not a preference. It is the only form of music authorized in the NT. It is about tradition, not the tradition of uninspired men, but apostolic tradition.

If by heritage you mean the plea to be simply Christian restoring NT Christianity, then fine. But know this, that to accept the instrument is to give up the concept of restoration. As Glover Shipp acknowledged from his history argument, there is no NT or historical precedent for instruments in Christian worship in its earliest days.

History is not authoritative, but it is illustrative of the FACT the NT church was a cappella. Instruments were and still are a departure from the original way.

While we do have autonomy, it is not an excuse to be rogue. We are to love the brotherhood, not thumb our noses at it.

If they want to add instruments, then at least admit that you have joined the Christian Church. You have join the departure of 100 years ago.

Bringing division into a body of believers for nothing more than preference is sinful. One should note the warning of 1 Cor. 3 toward the one who would defile the temple.... God will destroy him.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Bro. Disciple,

I have to say that, in sentiment and in fact, I differ with you on several points. For one thing, I disagree with you when you say that to worship with an instrument is give up on the concept of restoration.

If you visit many Independent Christian Churches, you find that some of them have retained much more of our historic restorationist spirit than have congregations of the Churches of Christ, many of which no longer talk about "restoring New Testament Chrisitianity."

Not to mention that a restorationist vision has many different possibilites. For example, the Mennonite tradition includes restorationist rhetoric. But in their case, it wasn't forms of worship and leadership structure they were trying to recover. Rather, they wanted to restore the spirit, attitude, and ethics of Jesus Christ, who didn't have a lot to say about forms of musical worship.

Falantedios said...

Bro. Disciple,

The only passages which refer to a capella music in the NT are specifically teaching about the whole of a disciple's life.

For your position to be consistent, you must not listen to instrumental music on the radio, on television, in movies, PERIOD.

Only if your practice is wholly consistent (rather than just 4 hours a week) with your literal interpretation of Paul's words in Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16, only then does your position maintain integrity. Otherwise it falls apart because you are adding "in the assembly only" to both passages, neither of which is specifically discussing an assembly of believers.

Nick Gill
Frankfort, KY

Jeff Martin said...

Speaking for myself, I don't - I think it's important to only offer worship that is acceptable to God, and so anytime I sing to him it is without instruments - whether that be at church or at home.

As for the "spirit of restoration" I would not hesitate to agree that there are in fact some churches of Christ that no longer follow this principle, and that there are groups of people who have some sort of restoration plea without including forms of worship - but I would suggest that what is and what should be are sometimes different. A true restoration of Christianity should not only have the kind of attitude and spirit that the Bible prescribes, but the organization and practices that it speaks of as well. I think that Bro disciple is pointing out that by rejecting one aspect of a "Bible only" or "restoration" mentality, those who do such are rejecting the notion that they should be wholly governed by what the Bible *does* say, and not add their own ideas to it.

Discipler said...

Nick Gill,

Those passages are not about the "whole" of a person's life. They are about worship and edification of the church. If in the "whole" of your life you mean that you worship God daily, that's fine. But when you worship, do it according to Scripture.

I have a problem with people asserting that he or we can do something that is not contained in Scripture. This is done without being presumptuous. If God says to sing, it is presumptuous to add another kind of music. The smallest or least indication that God might possibly accept worship that is not defined in the New Testament is risky, presumptuous, and is not being faithful.

Some of the readers have difficulty in knowing the difference between an expedient and an addition. It is not an easy subject, but it must be tackled given the implications. With worship, an expedient is the unwritten, but necessary, practice or thing (song books, pitch pipes, buildings, pews, cups and trays for the Lord's Supper, Gregorian Chant or four part) to complete the command (sing, assemble, etc). A musical instrument is not a way to expedite the command. No one ever said, "Well, God said to sing Psalms, hymns,....Therefore, do we have a musician present to get us started?" A musical instrument is an addition. To call a musical instrument an expedient in worship is weak sophistry. The church can sing without adding instruments. But to get everyone singing the same song, on the same note, is not as easy and requires some management. The historical case for singing is incredibly strong as it reveals how instruments were not viewed as a means to expedite the command to "sing".

The hermeneutic, science of interpretation, must not be tampered with. To throw out the exclusionary principle of silence is to swing the doors wide open to all sorts of error. Those who love the instrument might say they are happy to allow only this one thing through the door, but other things would follow because the chief protection has been discarded.

Instruments are sensual noise that appeals to the unspiritual. For such people, you take away the instrument and the singing is boring to them. The spiritual thoughts do not lift them up. So they pick up their things to attend a place that will give them the "spiritual" lift they need.

Growth is important, but not at any price. The article referred to from the Christian Chronicle apparently says (haven't seen it) that growth will be more difficult in our music immersed society. Maybe so. But spiritual people do not get hung up on that. Spiritual people are looking for the truth and they are happy to find a place where the Word of God is respected.

Matthew 19 shows that entering the Kingdom is not easy. There must be sacrifice. So a church that bends to the lusty wishes of our society are taking a step back, not forward, to helping people move to the spiritual place they need to be. The Quail Springs minister who urged the congregation to "embrace discomfort" should instead of directed that to the instrument lovers. The church would be intact and the whole group would be more spiritual.

Anonymous said...

Scripture and history testify to the fact that early Christians sang without instruments for hundreds of years and nobody denies this fact. The debate comes when someone wants to add an instrument -. Instruments were not used in the worship of God for thousands of years before He authorized them for Temple use. You see them in daily life and festivals, but not a formal worship. He was very specific when they were to be added, even down to how to make them, who to play them, and when to play them. Then, in a world & culture full of instrumental use by Jews & Pagans, Churches lead by the Apostles (taught by Christ) universally sang without instruments once again. Given the cultural surroundings, much like today, either acapella is a coincidence or every local church was directed by the Apostles no to use them. When considering the total time span of both the OT and NT as a whole, instruments were used for a very, very, short time in God’s prescribed worship.

Many seem to argue over silence, specifics, Greek words, the place of history in the argument, OT & NT passages, and even the exegesis of various passages. It is sad to press the point so far as to remove Eph 5 & Col 3 from having any fulfillment in the assembly. There are many aspects of daily Christian life that would not be performed in the formal worship of God. Claiming inconsistency is nothing more than an empty claim which stands in opposition to scripture & history. We have historical accounts (which are not authoritative) of Christians using instruments in daily life, but not in worship (search Google). Books such as Eph & Col and many more contain both daily devotion and assembly aspects. Strangely, no one ever challenges 1 Cor 14… I guess because it so very clear they were singing in the assembly. Shall we return to carnal temple worship? What allows instruments, but denies the use the other items of the same era of worship? I believe Baptists and other Protestants would fall over their pew if incense were brought into their worship.

I have heard that “liberals are becoming legalist” while searching for a loop hole to get the instrument into formal worship… Why? Acapella singing is not just a church of Christ argument or tradition. Yet, they are always in the middle of the debates. True, it is very sad to see people spend so much money on newspaper ads. A phone call or email would have worked and done less damage to the public eye. After all, only a christian cares about Christian worship. Even then, many so called Christians don't understand worship at all.

Leave your rich American soil and visit other parts of the world and you will find Instrumental Music in the minority for a very historic and Apostolic reason. Yes, it thrives in areas that have been affected by American missionaries, but it is still a minority way of worship. Even more disturbing is that wherever the instrument appears, division occurs. This is not just a Protestant fight. At least the Catholic Church will tell you they have divine authority to set worship practices, which is why they CHANGED from some having acapella to some having instrumental services. Yet the Greek Church denies such claims. God has spoken… he said Sing. Is it of salvation, a test, a formality, a ritual, an old custom not for universal practice? I don’t have all the answers, but I know God commands us to sing, and instruments were specifically left out in the days of the Apostles, so faith demands us to act upon that. Everything that I have said is verifiable by searching Google for church history documents, scripture, etc.

Peace be with you.

Anonymous said...

I read the article the comments with apprehension, i.e. waiting for the less-than-brotherly (or sisterly) rant. Never found it! Thanks to all for thoughtful, respectful engagement. My thoughtful respectful feelings on this "issue" has always been,I wish it would go away! Smart, eh? I love "our style". I love old hymns (the less exciting ones mostly---the elegant harmonies). But i hate that it's our style that so divides us and is such a wall between us and other believers. I wonder what God is doing in all this! I know he's at work for our good. And I'm confident most "among us" love Him.