Christian Institutions


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If you visit a Church of Christ on a Sunday, one of the first things you will notice is that they sing without the accompaniment of mechanical instruments.[1]

Why? Why do we sing without instruments?

Not long ago, someone began a thread on Facebook by asking this exact question. I responded with a condensed version of an essay I have written on the subject but the author immediately deleted the post. The author said that the discussion had turned into an emotional argument rather than a principled discussion.[2] The author was quite upset that someone had hijacked the thread. I hope these frustrations were not directed at my comments. I offered them there, as I do here, as one flawed human beings’ attempt to understand how this unusual practice came to be so important among Churches of Christ.

So, back to my question – Why do we in Churches of Christ sing without instruments?

My conclusion is that we sing without mechanical instruments because of the history of how God’s people have worshiped Him through the centuries.

If you are interested in reading the essay that explains my understanding, my reasoning, and my conclusions on the question, click here.


          [1] This is not universal across the country as there are many churches that use the name Church of Christ and do not follow the a cappella tradition. Furthermore, there are some Churches of Christ that are questioning the tradition, refusing to follow it, and allowing at least some worship with mechanical instruments; however, as a general rule, if it is a Church of Christ from within the Stone-Campbell Movement, also known as the American Restoration Movement, chances are good that if you visit you will experience worship in the a cappella tradition.

            [2] An Internet search will reveal that there are many who take this discussion very seriously. There are even some who take it to its logical extreme and claim: “If you do not worship a cappella as the first century church did then you are apostate, not Christian, and outside the grace of Christ.” I am not one of those people but they are out there – in droves.

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Twice in my preaching career I have presented a sermon series on the biblical view of baptism. Both times I covered the topic in four sermons.

Francis Chan says in 4 minutes, 40 seconds what I was trying to say in four sermons.

And he says it better.

Check it out here.

Chan was a keynote speaker at the Tulsa Workshop this year (2013). Several from within the Churches of Christ opposed Chan being asked to speak. Why? Because he is not “in fellowship with us.”

Hum. After listening to his presentation on how one gets “into Christ”–how one enters into fellowship with God, His Kingdom, and others who have so entered–my question to these opponents is this:

If this is not how one comes into fellowship with you–by hearing and believing the Good News, repenting of sin, confessing Jesus as Lord, and being immersed into Christ–then just how, pray tell, does one come into fellowship with you?

Just wondering.

There is a great tension within Christian discipleship. Eternal life is a free gift that costs us everything. Nothing we do can earn it; yet once we have freely received it, we ought to relinquish everything in reaction to it.

It is to revealing and clarifying this paradoxical balance that the gospel preacher must devote his energy. There are dangers on both sides of the equation:

  • Too much stress on the required human response and legalistic Pharisees are formed. Moralism, legalism, and sectarianism are just a few of the dangers.
  • Too much emphasis on divine grace and shallow, self-indulgent Christians are formed. Nominalism, cheap grace, and a fuzzy “we accept everyone and everything” attitude are often the result.

Perhaps no one navigated this delicate balance better than Martin Luther; perhaps no one experienced its absence as acutely as Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

How could the church of Martin Luther align itself with Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany? By forsaking the true gospel, that’s how. By allowing the mainstream church to become polarized on the extremes of legalism and cheap grace nominalism.

Eric Metaxas has written a profound biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Timothy Keller wrote the Foreword and it says some things worth repeating:

We are saved, not by anything we do, but by grace. Yet if we have truly understood and believed the gospel, it will change what we do and how we live.

[Many people understand] grace only as abstract acceptance—“God forgives; that’s his job.”  But we know that true grace comes to us by costly sacrifice. And if God was willing to go to the cross and endure such pain and absorb such a cost in order to save us, then we must live sacrificially as we serve others. Anyone who truly understands how God’s grace comes to us will have a changed life. That’s the gospel, not salvation by law, or by cheap grace, but by costly grace. Costly grace changes you from the inside out. Neither law nor cheap grace can do that.

We still have a lot of legalism and moralism in our churches. In reaction to that, many Christians want to talk only about God’s love and acceptance. They don’t like talking about Jesus’ death on the cross to satisfy divine wrath and justice. Some even call it “divine child abuse.” Yet if they are not careful, they run the risk of falling into the belief in “cheap grace”—a non-costly love from a non-holy God who just loves and accepts us where we are. That will never change anyone’s life.[1]

Of course the warning is to every generation: forsake the True Gospel and disaster is predictable. May God grant us the ability to see how we are allowing the true gospel to become out of balance in our generation. May God grant us the grace we need to navigate the paradoxical balance that is Christian discipleship.


[1] Timothy J. Keller, Foreword to Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2011).

The results from the 2010 Census confirmed the trend: Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States of America. There are over 50 million people living in this country who are of Hispanic origin. That means that Hispanics or Latinos constitute 16.3% of the total United States population. (See a full report here).

Obviously these figures have huge implications for the Lord’s people living within the United States. ‘The possibilities for starting new Hispanic or Latino churches in . . .  the United States is staggering,” says Geoff Giesemann, author of the book, Hispanic Ministry in the USA.

According to the 2009 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States there are 241 independent Hispanic congregations in the United States. Another 287 congregations offer Spanish-speaking Bible classes or worship assemblies. This latter group of churches—ones offering classes or services in Spanish—represents a 20% increase since 2006. A step in the right direction.

However, Abel Alvarez estimates that 90 percent of all Iglesias de Cristo have only 35 to 75 members. Even with 241 congregations nationwide there is still a huge need to reach out to the over 50 million Hispanics living among us!

The numbers for Virginia are as sobering as the national statistics: Hispanics are the second-largest and fastest-growing minority group in Virginia. The latest Census, conducted on April 1, 2010, counted more than 630,000 Hispanic residents in Virginia. With a total state population of just over 8 million, this means that 8 out of every 100 Virginians are Hispanic.

Even more sobering is this: the Hispanic population in Virginia has increased 92% since the 2000 census.

Something must be done-and quickly! But what? How can a small group of Christians meeting in Richmond, VA make a difference?

Beginning on Sunday, February 19, 2012, the Church with which I am affiliated began offering Bible study, worship assemblies, and Christian fellowship in Spanish to the community. Again, a step in the right direction.

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Just read this from the Christian Chronicle, “An international newspaper for Churches of Christ.”

According to their numbers, there are over 100,000 fewer “men, women and children in the pews of Churches of Christ in the U.S.” than there were just 9 years ago.

Tough stuff.

As a Preaching Minister for A Cappella Churches of Christ, it is even tougher, especially after reading through the comments to the Christian Chronicle piece and after sifting through yet another “church growth study,” not to feel guilty, depressed, responsible … something.

Bottom line seems to be: the church needs to do more, be more, do better, be better. And people in roles of leadership feel that immense responsibility very acutely even though the things that need to be done are not all that clear. There are as many solutions as there are those who would be solvers.

But, you know another bottom line? Our culture simply is not interested in traditional Christianity anymore. Been there, done that, tired of it. Grew up with it, memorized it, grew disillusioned with it, and now I hate it. (And, by the way, so does Jesus! Click here to see more).

One response is: that’s right, the Church is ridiculously out of touch with the culture. Therefore, the Church needs to change and give the culture what it wants.

Are we sure that is the right answer? Personally, I’m not so sure.

I agree, much would be better if we changed some things about the way we do Christianity. But, I run into very few people with the wisdom and insight to discern the difference between changing the form and changing the content.

There are some out there. I’m not saying there are not. All I am saying is that right now we need more of them to step forward and lead the way.

Unfortunately, as the situation becomes more and more chronic, fewer and fewer people are willing to step forward to lead us through the difficulty. In fact, some of our best and brightest are stepping down from positions of leadership, which only compounds the problem.

Jesus hates religion? Well, perhaps.

Then again, maybe not.

As in all complex conversations, it all depends on what we mean by the term, Religion.

On January 10, 2012, Jefferson Bethke uploaded a video clip on You Tube. Bethke says that the video is, “A poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion.”

The video has gone “viral.” As of today’s date (February 7, 2012) it has been viewed 18,483,750 times.

I watched the clip and found myself agreeing with much of it.Then I found myself questioning whether I really agreed with it. Then I wondered what I really think about the issues being raised.

I then read a response to the video from Kevin DeYoung. Once I thought through DeYoung’s response I found myself saying, “I wish I had said that.”

Then I read Bethke’s reply to DeYoung’s response, and so on and thought, “This is a very, very, very important conversation we are having.”

And so far, it has remained focused on the issues and has not become a character assassination.

I like that – a mature conversation about a subject that concerns all of us.

Does Jesus hate religion? Depends on what you mean by “religion.”

What do you think?

Where God is present there is joy. That’s why the shepherds were told, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people.” Joy is an integral part of who God is and He is trying to share Himself with the human family.

As a person comes to know God more intimately, he or she begins to take on more and more of God’s characteristics. Along with joyful celebration come the qualities of decency, uprightness, goodness, and compassion.

As a community of people begins to be transformed by faith certain things inevitably take place within that community. People who are normally marginalized by secular society participate in God’s community on an equal footing. The so-called powerless sense with boldness the empowerment granted to them by the compassionate community of God’s people. The “privileged” act in ways that promote the well-being of others. The innate worth of every human being is affirmed by all within the community.

This state of existence is described by the Hebrew word hesed. It is variously translated kindness, loving kindness, or loyalty. It speaks of a relationship of care, compassion, and unfailing provision that springs out of a character of impeccable integrity. God is saturated with hesed; He is trying to shape us into that kind of people as well.

At this Holiday Season many of our neighbors are considering Jesus Christ and the meaning of His life. Of course we know that He offers God’s joy (and hesed) to the world every day. We also try to celebrate that joy every day by the way in which we live, love, and interact with others. But at this time of the year, it seems to me, that even though we know His birthday is not December 25, we still have an exceptional opportunity to share His nature with this dying world.

Merry Christmas. May He grant you the opportunity to play your part in bringing Joy to the World in some way this Holiday Season.

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