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Unity Discussion at FHU

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

On October 14, Freed-Hardeman University hosted a “contemporary discussion” regarding the differences between the churches of Christ and the Christian Churches, two groups sharing common roots in what is commonly referred to as the “Stone-Campbell Movement.” This being 2006, the 100-year anniversary of the census recognizing the split that resulted in these two groups, it was a fitting time for such a discussion. The speakers involved were Dr. Ralph Gilmore, professor at Freed-Hardeman University and a member of the a capella church of Christ, and Dr. David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University and a member of the Christian Church.

The Christian Chronicle reports,

In a year of high-profile events advocating closer ties between a cappella Churches of Christ and instrumental Christian Churches, speakers from both fellowships again shared the stage Oct. 14.

But the purpose this time was not to tout the common beliefs and heritage of two groups that split 100 years ago. Instead, organizers of a “Contemporary Discussion” on unity at Freed-Hardeman University made it clear their focus would be on what still divides the Restoration Movement churches.

“Now, some have seemed to think, and sincerely so, that it takes nothing but exchanging Bibles and embracing one another” to create unity, moderator Earl Edwards told more than 1,500 people who attended the forum. “It has been, and is, the position of this university that it will take more than that.”

Part debate, part Bible study, the discussion featured Ralph Gilmore, a Bible professor at Freed-Hardeman, and David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University, which is associated with independent Christian Churches. The program theme: “What Will It Take to Be Together Again?”

Read the Christian Chronicle article in its entirety. Of particular interest are the points it articulates from both sides.

Many discussions have already been held commemorating the split between the Christian Church and the churches of Christ. However, this one is unique in that it is the only one in which a representative from both sides expresses his views on the crucial subject of instrumental music in worship. Why has this debate been avoided at Abilene Christian University and the Tulsa Workshop? Anybody even remotely familiar with the history of this division knows that instruments of music in worship were the main source of discord.

Freed-Hardeman is to be commended for having the courage to hold this discussion. Will Faust’s school, the Cincinnati Christian University, invite Dr. Gilmore for a similar debate? We’ll wait and see.

Brothers in Error

Monday, October 16th, 2006

The year 1906 marks the official split between the churches of Christ and the Christian Church. To be precise, the division actually began in the middle nineteenth century and gradually progressed into the twentieth century. The date “1906” is being used as the banner year because it was on this year that the United States census reported a distinction between these two groups.

The split occurred over a difference in attitude toward biblical authority. The churches of Christ believe we should “speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent.” In other words, where the Bible authorizes, we should act; where there is no authorization, we should refrain from acting. This principle has governed the way Christians have used their New Testaments since the church’s inception in the first century.

The Christian Churches have much in common with the churches of Christ. However, they do not feel they need biblical authority for every practice relating to salvation, worship and Christian living. Therefore, they are comfortable with instruments of music in worship and other innovations not expressed or implied by the inspired record.

This being the 100-year anniversary of the division, certain leaders are seeking to foster unity between these two groups. It is important that Christians learn what was really behind the division in the first place. This will allow us to weigh with true balances the actions of those who would like to see the churches of Christ and the Christian Churches join hands in a display of what is being styled as “brotherly love and a real-life commitment to what was important to Jesus.”

Last summer several of these Christian leaders met at the North American Christian Convention, an annual, lectureship-style meeting affiliated with the Christian Church, in Louisville, Kentucky. Jeff Walling, who preaches for the Providence Road Church of Christ in Charlotte, N.C., was one of the keynote speakers at the convention. Near the close of his address, he skillfully invoked a somber mood using a symbolic gesture: He exchanged his worn, personal Bible — the one his 89-year-old mother gave him in memory of his late father — to Dave Stone, minister of the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, who in turn presented his Bible to Walling.

As Stone handed his Bible to Walling, he said, “The great thing about these Bibles is that they are exactly the same. They are the same translation. They are God’s word.”

Walling then turned to his emotionally-charged crowd and said, “…if somebody says, ‘Well, he’s a brother in error,’ you tell him, ‘Do we have any other kind?’

“We are all in error,” Walling added. “That’s why we come every Sunday to say, ‘God, forgive us.’”

So here’s the unity platform for the liberal side of the churches of Christ. Concede that you are in error, that the Christian Church is in error, and deny there is any real problem on either side–that’s what Sundays are for.

The New Testament takes brothers in error a little more seriously. Read God’s Word carefully. The Lord does not want us to be in error. He does not resign himself to the fact that the church is always going to be in error. Instead he recommends that faithful brethren jerk the wayward members of their spiritual family out of the fires of error before it’s too late.

James wrote, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders [“errs,” KJV] from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20, NKJV, emphasis mine). The word translated “error” is plane, a word indicating the faltering of an individual who has been led astray by deceit. “Error,” as it is used in the New Testament, is more than sin. It is sin that has been programmed into the mind of a sinner by a false teacher. James taught that, if we should see a brother or sister caught in the error of a false teacher, we have a responsibility to “save” him or her from their error.

Similarly, John warned that we should not “believe every spirit” but rather “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). Elaborating on this the apostle continued, “Whoever knows God listens to us [i.e., the apostles]; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 Jn. 4:6, emphasis mine). In retelling the speeches of the North American Christian Convention, nobody mentions a plea towards Scriptural authority. Nobody “tests the spirits.” My question is, how else are we going to know who has the Spirit of truth and who has the spirit of error? A tear-soaked exchange of family heirlooms will not do it. Instead of exchanging their Bibles, these men should have been reading them and turning to them for guidance!

Those who preach against instrumental music in worship are mocked for their “narrow-mindedness.” “Why don’t you get to the heart of Christianity,” our critics might ask, “and concentrate on bringing people to Christ? Why don’t you stop quibbling over things that do not matter and work towards bringing spiritual stability to the church?” All I can say in response to these objections is that there can be no stability in the church as long as error is condoned. Peter said, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability” (2 Pet. 3:17, emphasis mine).

Many of us are not fooled by the emotional theatrics that characterize the 2006 unity movement. We are not ready to give up the fight against error.