Why Won't We Change?  

by Phil Sanders

In the recent book, The Transforming of a Tradition, Milton Jones compares the struggle over the use of musical instruments in worship to that over the Confederate flag. According to Jones, those who wish to remain a cappella are like those who wish to keep the Confederate flag regardless of how it hurts others.  He argues: "Why won't the ones who want a cappella music change?  It is more than heritage for many. It is conviction. Even if nearly all of Christendom doesn't agree, they must be faithful. To give up the cause is to lose all for which they have been fighting. They lose identity. How would they be recognized? What would our ancestors think?" (76-77).

At the beginning of the 20th century, members of churches of Christ had pretty much divided from their instrumental brethren. The a cappella group numbered only 159,000, while the instrumental group boasted of more than 600,000 members. The instrumental brethren had their way and kept most of the church buildings and almost all the schools. A cappella groups were left to fend for them-selves, to build their own church buildings, and to establish new schools.  But according to Jones, they were the aggressors who have beat up on their brethren.

Jones states that brethren have remained a cappella because they fear losing all that they have been fighting for - their identity. This is only partially true. If he suggests that churches of Christ have remained a cappella only because that is what distinguishes them from others, then I would object.

Jones states that some have remained a cappella because of their conviction more than their heritage. He is right. Some among us are so complacent that they do not see the need to stand strong for biblical truth. Indeed, many do not know or do not believe the truth about not using musical instruments in worship.

If, however, Jones is suggesting that true, biblical discipleship includes abiding in the words of Jesus (John 8:31-32) and New Testament teachings, then I would agree. That is what I am fighting for -- true, biblical Christianity. No war-rant exists in the New Testament for the use of musical instruments in worship. Their use is a human innovation that disrespects the will of God. I have no desire to maintain a human tradition or our heritage, but I have every desire to please God and do His will.

What "nearly all of Christendom" thinks is not the issue. God does not take opinion polls to determine truth. The New Testament church should consult Scripture, not men, to determine what God wills for the church's beliefs and practices.

What our ancestors think is not nearly as important as what God thinks. We will not be judged by our ancestors but by the words of Jesus (John 12:48).

While we have much respect for Campbell, Stone, McGarvey and Lipscomb, we have only one Lord. He alone is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23).

Our identification as true disciples of Jesus Christ includes a great deal more than merely refusing to use instruments of music in worship. Our identity is in living to do the will of God (John 4:34), in abiding in the words of Jesus (8:31-32), in keeping His commandments to show our love for God (John 14: 15), and in putting the Lord first in every respect (Col. 1 :10).  Our identity is derived from an overwhelming desire to please and to serve Him by doing exactly what He asks of us (John 14:31). We are His servants, saved by grace, living by faith, and under His authority. We belong to the Lord.

If the Lord had wanted us to use instruments, He surely would have told us.

For hundreds of years early Christians understood that a cappella music was the will of God -- a Divine tradition (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thes. 2:15; 3:6). We are willing to follow that tradition, not because men observed it but because God delivered it.