Restoration Movement


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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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Hand me a photograph with 100 people in it and what do I immediately do? Look for my ugly mug!

The shiniest (most used) key on my keyboard is the letter “I.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Why don’t they think of me? Because they are just like me—they are thinking of themselves instead!

This tendency of our fallen nature carries over into our understanding of salvation. Allow me one example that has always bothered me:

  • We sing the song, Create in Me a Clean Heart, especially at youth events.
  • The song is based on Psalm 51 and was originally composed by Keith Green.
  • Following his premature death in an airplane crash in 1982, Green’s widow Melody pulled together several previously unpublished songs composed by Green and released them on the 1984 album, Jesus Commands Us to Go! This song was included in that release.
  • We do not sing Green’s version of the song, however. The version that we most often sing was arranged by Kenny Lewis. Although I mean no disrespect to Kenny Lewis, I must assume that it was Lewis who changed the wording.
  • When we sing the now-popular version of this gorgeous song, what do we say about salvation?
  • “Restore unto me the joy of MY salvation” (emphasis added).
  • That is my point – everything is about me, even salvation!
  • When Keith Green originally wrote the song, he followed the wording of the Hebrew Bible. Green had a Jewish background; his wife Melody was also Jewish and converted to Christianity.
  • What did Green’s song originally say about salvation?
  • Precisely what the Hebrew Scripture says about salvation: “Restore unto me the joy of THY salvation” (emphasis added).
  • That is the point of our sacred text – everything is about God, especially salvation!

For the last several weeks I have been preaching a series of sermons on human justification—how does a sinner become righteous? This debate goes way back. In its present form, it began in earnest with the Protestant Reformation:

  • The Roman Catholic Church taught (teaches?) that salvation does depend on me to a certain extent—on my “works” if you will (I realize this is a gross oversimplification but I am trying to make a point so please indulge me here for the sake of clarity).
  • The Protestant Reformation responded, as is often the case in these types of debates, by swinging the pendulum to the opposite extreme:  I am saved my faith and my faith ALONE. Works are completely irrelevant, including Christian baptism. (Allow me one more indulgence here please. Martin Luther DID NOT jettison baptism from the process of salvation. With the exception of his view of infant baptism, I dare say that most of us within the Restoration Movement agree with what Luther taught about Christian Baptism. If you are interested, see my sermon below entitled, “My Baptism – Christ’s Act” in which I quote Luther extensively on his view of baptism.)
  • The Restoration Movement, of which I am a part, tried to navigate some middle ground I suppose but still allows the emphasis to remain on the human side of the equation. In our tradition, “God’s Plan of Salvation” says very little about God at all! Instead, God’s plan of salvation is about me hearing, me believing, me repenting, me confessing, me being baptized, me doing church correctly for the rest of my days, etc.

In the last two series of sermons I have preached, I have tried to illuminate the emphasis that God’s word places on Salvation—how a sinner becomes righteous (is justified). Here is my summary in bullet points. I invite you to think about this and, if you have questions, to listen to my sermons on the subject.

  • I am NOT saved (justified, made righteous) by my works. This is an absolute no brainer. The only possible issue I face in adhering to this obvious biblical truth is knowing how to properly handle James 2:14-26.
  • I am NOT saved (justified, made righteous) by my faith.

This second statement is the sticking point for so many people. I have been studying this issue for over three decades and I am absolutely convinced that what the Bible is telling us, through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul, is that

  •  I AM saved (justified, made righteous) by the faith of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16, 3:22; Philippians 3:9).
  • To see the point I am making, you will need to read these passages either in the original Greek or in the King James Version. Most modern English translations obscure the subtle distinction being made in Paul’s theology of justification by faith. As I see it, there are two “kinds” of faith in Paul’s teaching: the faith of Jesus Christ and the faith of a penitent sinner.
  • Here is my summary of what Paul is teaching. I challenge you to study it for yourself and see if it makes sense:
  • The faith of Jesus Christ is what “reveals” God’s righteousness—makes it available to sinners, enables God to keep the promise He made to Abraham, to impute righteousness to rebellious human beings, etc.
  • My faith moves me “into Christ” where Christ’s faith makes me righteous.
  • Specifically, my faith moves me to repent, confess, and be immersed “into Christ” where God places my sins upon His cross, me into Him, and His righteousness into me.

Again, all of this is elaborated upon in two sermon series that I have preached in the last several weeks. Copies of these sermons are available on my church’s web page at http://www.3chopt.org – click on “messages” and look for the following sermons:

One Righteous Act:

  1. Love Me; Obey Me; May 5, 2013; John 14:23-24.
  2. My Baptism – Christ’s Act; May 12, 2013; Romans 5:18-19.
  3. The Exchanged Life (Part One); May 19, 2013; Romans 8:12-17.
  4. The Exchanged Life (Part Two); May 26, 2013; John 15:1-4.
  5. Moving From Head to Heart; June 2, 2013; Ephesians 1:15-23.

Freedom – Studies in Galatians:

  1. Freedom – An Urgent Plea; June 16, 2013; Galatians 1:1-10.
  2. Freedom – Ordained by God; June 30, 2013; Galatians 1:11 – 2:14.
  3. Freedom – The Grand Proposition; July 7, 2013; Galatians 2:15-21.*
  4. Freedom – It Comes Apart from Law; July 14, 2013; Galatians 3:1-18.
  5. Freedom – It is Lived Out in Christ; July 21, 2013; Galatians 3:19-21.
  6. Freedom – From Faith Unto Faith; July 28, 2013; Galatians 3:22-29.*

All of the sermons are addressing the question: how does a sinner become righteous. In other words, they are all addressing the issue of “justification” directly and only discussing “sanctification” secondarily. In all of them, I try to move the emphasis off of me and onto Christ.

In the two sermons marked with an asterisk (*), I deal specifically with Paul’s statement “the faith of Jesus Christ” and its implications for answering the question: how does a sinner become righteous?

In the sermons dealing with the faith of Christ, I mention an enormous body of literature on the subject. I have uploaded a Bibliography to this blog site that gives you the sources I have found that discuss and participate in this fascinating debate. You can find the link on the “Pages” section to the right.

I also refer to a “cheat sheet” that I created that quotes the eight Pauline passages that have this unique phrase. I have also uploaded this document for your use. You can find the link on the “Pages” section to the right.

Of course, I would love to discuss this further, as long as we can do that civilly and in a Christian way, either on this blog site or via email.

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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.

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.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” That is what is commonly referred to as Newton’s Third Law of Motion. It appears that this law applies to the area of theology as well!

In the waning years of the 19th century liberalism argued that Scripture could be reconciled with the intellectual advances of the day if one merely abandoned the need to interpret the biblical text literally. One day did not mean one day, virgin birth did not mean virgin birth, and so on.

Christian fundamentalists reacted to this liberal approach by demanding a literal interpretation of the Sacred Text. Every word was inspired and, therefore, every word was absolutely true in its most literal sense.

This reaction led to the resurrection of millenarianism, a doctrine that has been around since the second century AD; a doctrine that depends upon the literal interpretation of Scripture for its survival. As each side of the discussion pressed its case, the chasm between them became impassible. It was not long before one’s view on the Millennial Reign of Christ became a “test of fellowship.” It was not long before all those who believed in a literal 1,000 year reign were on the outside looking in.

Differences of viewpoint are nothing new. The chasms they create aren’t either. The question is, “Do these gaping holes in our relationships honor the God who created us?” T.B. Larimore (1843-1929) didn’t think so. He refused to involve himself in the wrangling of his day. Although he was deeply influenced by staunch participants in the fray, he refused to state his position on the issues publicly. He did not dabble in issues over which “the wisest and best of men disagreed.”

Partisans on both sides of the widening chasm criticized him harshly; each side demanded that he declare his values and decide his loyalty. Instead, he openly fellowshipped with both sides, preached wherever he was invited, was on the list of Preachers for the “opposing party” until 1925, and wrote for religious papers in both groups.

Larimore’s goal was, as was the goal of the first generation within the Stone-Campbell churches, Christian unity. His approach was to “concede to all, and accord to all, the same sincerity and courtesy I claim for myself, as the Golden Rule demands ….”

Chasms in human relationships will always exist. Clearly we must never be the cause of such phenomena. The challenge is to navigate our lives so as to not contribute to their expansion.

We often approach Scripture trying to “prove” something (often some relatively minor thing). For example, we “study” Romans 6:3-4 in order to prove that baptism is by immersion in water. We may be able to fashion such an argument and then prove it with Paul’s discussion in Romans 6; however, approaching Scripture in this manner deprives us in two fundamental ways:

  • First, it is most likely that we will never arrive at a final answer to our question because the biblical writer is not specifically addressing our question in the first place; and
  • More important (in my mind at least), in our obsession with the minutia we completely miss the penetrating, life-altering theological implications of what the biblical writer (Holy Spirit) is teaching in the larger passage of Scripture.

I must candidly confess that when I think about, teach about, or preach about Christian baptism I am doing exactly what the Bible does not do (and exactly what I try to avoid in my general approach to Scripture): quickly isolating individual places in the New Testament where baptism is mentioned, lopping them off from their larger context, and then extracting meaning from each one in order to “prove that we are right on this baptism thing.”

Nowhere do we find anything even closely resembling “Paul’s 13-Week Study on Baptism.” In order to understand Paul’s view of baptism, we must see baptism in its broader framework. In each of the sixteen places (Beasley-Murray, 127-209) Paul mentions baptism he does so within a broader, redemptive-historical framework. The purpose is to focus on the big picture rather than give us the externals of baptism.

But, if we back away and look at the big picture we see that

  • God has broken into our history and accomplished human redemption through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • This feat of God finds human expression in the act of Christian Baptism.
  • In redemption and in baptism God gives His People a new identity, a new ethic, and a new worldview.
  • My baptism marks the beginning of my participation in God’s redemptive act. Baptism serves as my initiation into God’s redemption in Christ.
  • As a baptized believer, my life is now a daily living out of God’s redemptive act.
  • Remembering what God did to me at baptism helps me fulfill that purpose.

As I said in my last post, this view of baptism as the initiation into Christ is BY FAR the majority view. And, it is the ancient view, going all the way back to Paul and continuing right up to today. This is the view we gain when we compare all the New Testament passages on the topic, the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament, the early church fathers, the early Creeds, and even most of the reformers.

One thing I need to correct about my previous post: in it I intimated that John Calvin would agree that water baptism has nothing to do with salvation. That is incorrect. Both Luther and Calvin opposed Zwingli’s innovations on Christian baptism (as well as many of his other innovations).

My sense is that the battle cry, Sola Fide (faith alone) was taken to an unhealthy extreme by some second and third generation reformers. Faith alone does not exclude human participation—it never has and it never will.

Many scholars within evangelicalism are beginning to see this overreaction and are saying some very healthy things about Christian baptism as part of the conversion process. For examples see Moo’s commentary on Romans and Schreiner’s commentary on Romans.

The sad reality is that while these scholars are moving toward affirming Christian baptism as an essential part of the conversion process, many preachers within our fellowship are jettisoning baptism. Funny how that works.

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