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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.

God is real. He is alive. And he is constantly speaking to the human family. In fact, God reveals himself—his power, compassion, and nature—in various ways:

  • Through nature
  • Through powerful works (miracles)
  • Through Scripture
  • Through the church

But each of these manifestations of God is not the “main event.” Take the case of Peter and John in Acts 3 as an example. The miraculous healing of the man born lame was not an end in and of itself. The miracle got the crowd’s attention (3:9-10) but it was the story of salvation history that convicted their hearts (3:11-26) and, in the end, it was God who saved them and added them to his church.

There are many manifestations of God within our experience. But these manifestations must be kept in perspective, lest they become idols. The channels of revelation must not become the focus of our attention. These avenues of communication all point to something higher, something larger, something beyond themselves. They all point to God.

Within churches claiming to follow “nothing but the Bible,” perhaps the greatest threat in this regard is Scripture itself. While the text is normative to our existence, we must always remember that the words written on the pages of the Bible were never intended to take the place of the spiritual realities that they reveal. The Bible was written as a permanent record (a testimony to every generation) so that our faith might reach forward to something else—to something that is NOT recorded in writing, indeed, to something that CANNOT be recorded on the pages of any book.

In other words, our trust, our obedience, and our worship must be directed toward God, not the book that teaches us about him nor anything else that points us to him.

The same is true of the church. As the church of God on earth, we are both a sign and a foretaste of God’s sovereignty. As a sign, we point to a supernatural presence in a natural world. As a foretaste we offer a small sample of what is yet to come. Oh, we admit that the sample we offer is inadequate perhaps and often imperfect. But what happens in our midst is a sample of something much more supernaturally glorious than anything this natural world has to offer. Our existence points to a reality that is far above anything seen with natural eyes.

God is real. He is alive. He is speaking to the human family. The question is, “are we listening?”

For the last ten years I have been a graduate student in theology. Very academic, very rigorous, very challenging. My preaching has reflected that. Over the past decade, the feedback I have received from elders and members has had a common theme:

  • Good sermons but sometimes too complicated to follow.
  • Good preaching but sometimes gets off track, too many details, hard to grasp all of the information.
  • Great teacher but sometimes I have a hard time knowing what I am supposed to do as a disciple.

You get the idea.

About a year ago I completed my grad school training for ministry and started dabbling in some more popular books in sermon preparation. How to preach a parable, how to preach so people will listen, how to preach better sermons. The list is extensive.

I even joined a newly-formed group that promises to help me preach better sermons. It is a one-year program that offers coaching, resources, feedback, and other help. I am eager to learn from them.

One thing continues to jump out at me as I reassess my preaching. Whereas the academic world laid a huge emphasis on information, details, nuances, and intellectual rigor, the resources I am now considering recommend things such as:

  • Keep it simple: make sure the message is appropriate for 9th graders.
  • Keep it portable: make sure the main idea is memorable (can I put my entire sermon into a tweet?)
  • Keep it visual: tell a good story, use a vivid object lesson.
  • Keep it compelling: never simply give information. There must be a compelling reason that your hearers need to know the information. Tell them why they need to know what you are telling them, what they need to do in response, and how they can go about doing it.
  • Keep it focused: have only one main point to the message (a sword only has one point).

What is funny is that my sermon preparation is no less rigorous using this paradigm. If anything, it is more intense for a stuffy lug head like me. Creativity is not my strong suit.

But, what is a joy is the fact that preaching this way is a whole lot more fun. A simple sermon is much less complex and so I am less tied to my notes. Being less tied to my notes makes me look at the people more. Looking at the people more gives me immediate feedback on whether they are with me or not. And when they are with me they actually respond once in a while (I love to hear a good “Amen” now and then, don’t you?)

So, you can teach an old dog new tricks. The church deserves some kind of award for enduring preachers the way they do!

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A few weeks ago I received an email from a group calling themselves Preaching Rocket. I thought it was some kind of joke. I almost deleted the email.

Instead, I opened it and read their offer. They were extending an invitation for me to participate in a free, online seminar (webinar) entitled, “Preach Better Sermons.”

The seminar was yesterday. It lasted 3 1/2 hours and was as inspiring and as helpful as anything I have ever experienced. I was impressed and very pleasantly surprised.

Dr. Charles Stanley is not someone I pay much attention to, until now. I have always associated him with those other televangelists. After his presentation I had only one thing to say: Dr. Charles Stanley is the real deal. A true man of God and a preacher’s preacher.

Louie Giglio was spot on. His preparation method? Study hard, study long, research to the max, then go for a bike ride and let it percolate. He does bicycles; I walk. The process is the same: the word of God gets in there–into the subconscious or somewhere–and becomes more than the notes on a page.

Dr. Stanley nailed it with this: meditate on the Word early in the process and then pray for the Lord to give you what to say. He almost always shows up and when he does, you cannot contain what he gives you. AMEN.

Anyway, I’ve decided to join their program. It is a one-year system designed to help guys like me–lonely, single-staff member preachers–do a better job at proclaiming the word of life. I am looking forward to learning from the best.

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.

After landing in the New World, the Pilgrims experienced nothing but hard times. Starting their new lives from scratch, they had to work hard just to satisfy their basic needs. Simple shelter and food came to these families only after strenuous toil and back-breaking labor. Many men, women, and especially children died of starvation. Their difficulties were real and their losses were many.

Yet, with an abundance of reasons to complain, they gathered together in thanksgiving. In the midst of almost unbearable hardship they maintained the ability to be thankful. That is precisely what God is asking us to do—be thankful. And being thankful is a choice—a choice we make in the midst of our human hardships; a choice we make in spite of the difficulties presented to us by our human experience.

Many of us have been through tough times and painful tragedies in our lives. We’ve lost family members, been wracked with health problems, and faced financial stress. Some of us have allowed these experiences to turn us bitter and resentful. When we speak we reveal the denial that resides in our souls; when we interact with others the resentment within us becomes apparent. As our approach to life is examined our feeble attempts at manipulation become clear.

Others of us exude warmth and love. We laugh often and have kind words to give to anyone willing to receive them. The joy that finds a home deep within our being percolates there and radiates a gentleness, kindness, and depth of character that speaks volumes about our relationship to God.

Every living human being has heart aches about which we can elaborate. The difference between a complainer and a thankful person is one of attitude. Some of us speak of the tragedy of life as if it alone defines who we are. Others of us choose to stay focused on God, His goodness, His beauty, and His gracious nature. These latter saints are those who have learned the secret of being thankful: it is a lifestyle that we choose to pursue rather than a state of being shaped by our circumstances.

What about us? Are we victims or victors? Are we focusing on the difficulties of a fallen life or are we keeping our eyes on the beauty and nature of a gracious God? Choose to rejoice and be thankful!

How should we understand faith? Faith can be, and often is, understood as a mental assent to a certain finite set of facts about Jesus Christ. This definition of faith is more than inadequate—it is a radical and dangerous distortion of biblical faith.

If faith is nothing more than a mental assent to a finite set of facts then that faith quickly stagnates and is in danger of dying altogether. If the exclusive means of “increasing our faith” is obtaining more biblical facts then our task is doomed from the start. Why? Because our faith may increase in its extent by our obtaining more facts but it CANNOT increase in degree. The mere acquisition of more facts, without an obedient reliance upon and inner transformation by the One who gives us the facts, makes us more knowledgeable (and possibly more spiritually arrogant) but it does not necessarily make us more faithful—more like Jesus Christ.

How does the Bible relate to personal faith? The words written on the pages of the Bible were never intended to take the place of the spiritual realities that they reveal. The Bible was written as a permanent record (a testimony to every generation) of the trustworthiness of God. The text was written so that our faith in God might reach forward to something else—to something that is NOT recorded in writing. Indeed, to something that CANNOT be recorded on the pages of any book.

How does Bible study relate to faith? If true faith is to be realized in our lives then our Bible study must catapult us into a living, thriving, growing, changing, adjusting relationship with the Blessed God who inspired the Bible. And that personal relationship is significantly realized by us subjectively within the quiet, humble, and peaceful affections of our souls—not exclusively in the cerebral machinations of our thought processes.

How do we grow in our faith? In order to grow in faith we must begin with an increase in knowledge, there is no argument there; however, growing in faithfulness toward God—being transformed into the image of His Son—depends primarily upon the deepening of the heart’s affections for God. Thus, the most important act of faith is not mentally assenting to the veracity of certain proclaimed facts but, rather, the most important act of faith is entering into and clearly exhibiting a trusting relationship with God.

Of course, the challenge of this approach to faith is that it involves not a finite set of facts to know but, rather, a mysterious and unknowable life to enter—by faith.