26 Apr 2006

History, Grace and Unity

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, Grace, Prayer, Restoration History, Spiritual Disciplines, Unity, Worship

Sometimes distance helps us see things more clearly. Often in the heat of the moment perspectives are skewed through rampant emotions. Having emerged through some difficult times I can testify that at times it takes years to see that many things and factors were going on. An example of this would be the shameful division that took place 100 years ago in 1906 between the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. Tempers flared. Feelings were hurt. Wounds were inflicted. People acted in un-christian ways.

For those immediately involved in that schism it boiled down to a split between those who believed Scripture and those who did not. In historical perspective we can see now more clearly what could not be seen then: the division was exceedingly complex. Yes, theology played a large role. But to say our division was simply between those who believed and those who did not is simply wrong.

Other factors, often so much a part of life, were simply unseen. The division was as messy as life. These hidden streams of stress became visible only with historical distance: the destruction of the Civil War; the ravages of Reconstruction; Sectionalism was often baptized into doctrine; Economic pressures were abundant; race and the “Lost Cause.” All of these played into division.

Another factor, perhaps just as important as any, is often overlooked and that is the human sin factor. By human sin factor I mean human agendas, human egos, human personalities. None of those involved would have (or could have) noticed this problem. They all believed they were simply reading Scripture. But they were not! They were reading Scripture through the complexities of human existence, the constraints of their social situations . . . and yes through their prejudices.

The truth of the matter is, however, we do the same thing. Reading history with eyes that can see and ears that can hear is a humbling experience. We encounter folks like Jonathan Edwards who spent 14 hours a day in prayer and study. We encounter men like Alexander Campbell who got at 4:30 am every morning to read his Greek and Hebrew Bibles. We learn of men and women of incredible faith and dedication. We read of people that we might, if honest, feel unworthy to even untie their shoelace. And yet we also see that many of these dedicated servants of God often mirrored their contemporary world. It should cause us to humbly ask: “Am I so strong, so resourceful and in tune with God that these common human failings do not apply to me?” History is a tool that God uses to reveal to us just how limited our ability to see really is.

Church history is a s\Spiritual discipline that helps cultivate a hermeneutic of suspicion. Not of God, mind you, but of ourselves. We should study and believe what we believe. History, however, cautions us to be less dogmatic. Indeed, history may just open up the window for God’s grace to penetrate into our minds and our hearts. If it helps us identify with common failure of all humanity to live up to the divine standard, then God is pleased.

Dear Father, help us become more and more like him. O may we be made partakers of the Divine Nature, escaping the corruption of the fallen age. We long for Christ to be formed within us, the hope of glory; for if we are like him here we will be like him hereafter.

“When we stand in the presence of the matchless Jesus, we feel keenly the sense of our unworthiness. Help us Father to crucify the ego and all the self-serving agendas that we are blind to. Help us Father to be gracious, to believe the best of your family, and to be instruments of peace. Forgive the division that we have and are causing. Amen.”

A modified prayer from J. H. Garrison in Alone with God, pp. 142-143

Bobby Valentine

17 Responses to “History, Grace and Unity”

  1. wtom Says:

    I think the problem is age old as it regards to the division you spoke of. The question in my mind continues to be- Where is the New Testament verse that would allow the instrument in Worship to God? Wth

  2. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    this is part of the problem. I do not have a solution to it, but I know it is part of the problem. this question you ask:

    “where is the nt verse that would allow the instrument in worship to God?”

    this same question is asked time and again for a wide variety of things: Where is the nt verse for

    1) church buildings
    2) cups
    3) song books
    4) sunday schools
    4) where is the nt verse for calling a set of books the ‘new testament’

    The reasoning is the same for each and every one of these items (except maybe the last) and for each item there have been and remain divisions in the CofCs.

    maybe we are asking the wrong question. but what ever the question . . . as my blog points out we need a heavy dose of God’s amazing grace for ourselves and for each other.

    bobby valentine

  3. Jason T. Carter Says:

    Knowing what you know now, where would you place yourself if you were alive in 1906? Would you side with those who claim the silence of the Scriptures is permissive or prohibitive? What is your view now, in 2006?

  4. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    Well, it would seem to me that

    1) church buildings
    2) cups
    3) song books
    4) sunday schools
    5) where is the nt verse for calling a set of books the ‘new testament’

    are all legitimate matters of expediency in our Christian life and not something that would be declared “scriptural” or “unscriptural” when it came to worship. Worship is solely a matter of scripture and command and as such must have God’s OK.
    The entire matter is simply condensed to this: Either the instrument is an item of expediency or it is a means – method – agency by which we worship God. If (and I believe it is) it is used as a means of worship then it is not authorized because only those created in the image of God can worship God. THINGS cannot worship the Living God.
    The only question to be asked in this matter is, “What constitutes true worship?”. Everything else is just fodder.

  5. Charles Says:

    Interestingly enough, as a fellow traveler in church history, I believe we are about to repeat much of what occurred between 1870 and 1906.

    And like Bobby, I agree this is a much more complex issue than meets the eye. For instance, I find it interesting that as movements reach a higher financial and social status, simpler forms of worship are often eschewed. The congregations who were by and large among the first to add instruments were those who were larger and considered higher status.

    Meanwhile, if a group is not highly educated or of a higher economic status an opposite effect often takes place. Many of the churches of Christ and those who came under the banner were of this group.

    What I would like to see is a healthy theology that includes a call for unity of all believers through the common ground of the teachings of Jesus Christ. This healthy theology would include a recognition of the discipline of simplicity and comprehension that we as men and women do not need the bells and whistles to please the Lord. We don’t need buildings; we don’t need cups; we don’t need Sunday School; we certainly do not need instruments. For that matter, we don’t even need four part or two part harmony.

    We simply need to sing…and to sing simply to God as our Creator, Sustainer, and Protector.

    I would argue a congregation that theologically values the Words of God would resist the use of instruments based on basic missional principles as well as the word psallo, lessons from church history, and the desire for true unity rather than a facade of unity in which we cannot worship with others.

    Unfortunately I am not certain theology (as Bobby noted) is going to play as large a role in this as will personal predispositions, opinion, and unrecognized socioeconomic factors. Unless I miss my guess, many of the larger, more affluent, better educated congregations will be among the first to revisit the issues.

    Unless we study and absorb the lessons of church history then we merely enslave ourselves to the mistakes of the past.

  6. Michele Says:


    Your points are well thought and I am grateful to read them fresh and anew this morning. I couldn’t agree more with your concept and frankly your insight into complex things. I learned way back in high school from some Shakespearian play, eveything is not as it appears…or seems. What we think we see, it’s always the truth. (I wish I could remember the play)


    History is a tool that God uses to reveal to us just how limited our ability to see really is.

    Ahhh….so humbling. To realize that alougth in this religious paradigm, choices were made, even as one tries to strip down all pretense, it remains. That is part of our human nature. All choices are not made in a vacuum and each is unique.

    I suspect we hold up patriachs at times as God himself, but what I find in reading and learning of our heritage, is that they are sinners just like me who are seeking the same God and wanting the same thing, relationship, growth and devotion to Him.

    Good post!

  7. Danny Says:

    I pray that instead of repeating the history Charles mentioned that we would repeat what happened between Stone and Campbell on Christmas day 1831.

    It has always amazed me that they could shake hands even with their vast differences in theology and worship.

    That is the spirit of restoration that we need to recapture. It is one based on faith and mutual respect.

    And that is something we can build on- not fight over.

  8. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Wow, several really good comments on this blog.

    Ancient Wanderer,

    the problem with what you are suggesting is that what one person claims as an “expedient,” the next will claim as an “addition” . . . and will use the exact same hermeneutic that rejects all the others. A quick survey of the polemical literature generated by CofCs will more than substantiate this point.


    Brother I am delighted to see you have discovered my blog. I have no desire to introduce IM. But I simply cannot make it a test of fellowship on biblical grounds. Would not a sound theology include a doctrine of creation? God loves beauty and creativity . . . it is everywhere. Do not humans “image” and bring honor to God when they create? Is not music one of those creations?

    I have to agree with Danny, why is it that something the Bible shows is acceptable in the Hebrew Bible and in heaven . . . IF WE CAN FELLOWSHIP PAUL (who offered animal sacrifices) THEN WHY CAN WE NOT EACH OTHER over something as obscure as IM?

    What can we learn from Stone and Campbell? Anything? The union of those two men was a miracle pure and simple . . . and it would not take place today. Most do not have the moral courage of Stone or Campbell to unite as they did.

    But I do agree Charles that the trend in CofCs is toward more fragmentation. We have yet to sacrifice our Idols of Opinion to the blood of the Lamb.


    Thanks for coming back. I am blessed by your blog. History should open us up to our need for grace. If you get my book let me know what you think of it.

    Bobby V

  9. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    Once again we are placing something, in this case “fellowship”, above God. God did not come to this world so that we can all just get along. He came to bring salvation to His fallen people. No one, no one has even begun to discuss the concept of “acceptable worship”.

    I agree with CHARLES in that this issue always falls under the “haves'” and the “have-nots'”. The difference in the case of this part of this blog is that we have decided to divide along the “philosophical” and the “common”.

    Yes, Paul indulged in some pracitices that not all of us would understand BUT not as part of his corporate – body worship to God.
    WORSHIP, WORSHIP, WORSHIP is the point. “IM” is not an obscure element of worship until we decide if it is worship or simply a {?whatever?} that is found as we worship. I will add that if it is worship then how can it ever be called ‘obscure’ and if it is truly ‘obscure’ then why did those who support it ever force the issue? The question is, “Is it acceptable worship according to God?”.

    I’m not sure about the polemical literature generated by CofCs but I am sure that both John 4 demands that I be a specific kind of worshiper that the Father seeks and that 1 Corinthians says that the how physically is as important as the how spiritually in our corporate worship.

    wtom, although (in my humble opinion) is seen as “simplistic” by most who have posted, is still asking that same basic question that we seem to have outgrown but that God asked Adam in the beginning- ‘Who said you could or could not do this thing?’ By what authority?

    Paradigms,polemics, blogs, blunders and esoteric banter that we don’t get to use every day aside- Who says the “IM” is or is not acceptable as worship?

    But inorder to do that we must define and refine WORSHIP and that requires us to concentrate on God rather than on ourselves and for me that is an everyday struggle.

    Words have meaning, ideas have power, and people have purpose.

  10. Charles Says:


    It is a joy to have found your blog though life has seemingly conspired against my ability to respond lately.

    While I would agree this is used in the Old Testament and the temple, it is clear instruments were not included in New Testament worship. There is no doubt about this fact.

    There are also a great many items that exist in Heaven and under the Law. Toss in the use of psallo, and there are clearly difficulties at the minimum with its inclusion and perhaps even more.

    In short, we live in a different reality and are called to a life other than that which we see under the Law, and we experience but are not yet in the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven. To expect a similar experience to either of the above in our worship right now is not accurate with the teachings of Scripture.

    Also, God has created a great many things and man has chosen to follow His lead and express creativity, but not all items created belong in worship or contribute to a healthy long term theology. For instance, NASCAR racing takes talent, but I’m not in favor of building a racetrack inside a building for use during worship.

    As for Stone/Campbell, I would argue neither of these two or their movements ever really truly unified. It wasn’t too long after their deaths and the deaths of the original reformers that the separation began, but the roots were there from the beginning.

  11. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    How I wish you were here. We need to read some books together and discuss.

    I will cut to the chase (and I think you and I can do that with each other). You have not provided a theological rational for rejecting IM while at the same time accepting other things into the work of the church that the NT is “silent” upon. If the truth were told there is not even a single example in the NT of “congregational” singing (Ephesians 5.19 does NOT qualify and I believe you know that . . . especially if context counts for anything).

    Unity is the NT is NOT based upon uniformity of practice. Unity in the NT is Christological pure and simple. Unity was decided on ones relationship to Jesus as the Christ. The Jews and the Gentile Christians has massively different worship styles. According to Acts the Jersalem church remained connected to the Temple. Now brother if the early church remained connected to the temple it is most certainly the case that they DID sing their psalms with instruments. That Paul would not have a problem with this is clearly evident with how freely he agreed to a Nazarite vow in which he would be offering up animal sacrifices . . . and paying for others to do the same (and contrary to Ancient Wanderer’s claim this IS an act of worship if the Hebrew Bible is to be believed).

    Paul is throwing us a major curve ball and I don’t think Churches of Christ are quite ready to deal with it. That is why J. W. McGarvey and R. L. Whiteside were so bold as to say that Paul was in error!!!! Here is an “apostolic example” that suddenly was judged wrong on the basis of a PRIOR theological commitment.

    Dispite the differences the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers were “in Christ” and therefore one. The NT knows nothing of marking folks because they use instruments.

    A note on the word “psallo.” In the LXX this word clearly means to play. That the word retained that meaning is clear from Josephus who uses the word to describe activity of the Levitical musicians in the temple. And the third edition of Danker-Baur-Arndt-Gingrich . . . lists “play” as a meaning for the term.

    Your definition of “worship” is (in my view) limited. Worship is not limited to the assembly (though the assembly is worship and JMH and I talk about this in our book). It is true that not all things are appropriate for the assembly but that does not prove that IM is not.

    Finally, beloved brother, the Reformers of AC and the Christians of Stone most certainly did unite. There were tensions to be sure but they did it. There were some in the NY area of the Christian Connection (Joseph Badger’s group) that refused to go along with it. Nevertheless the union took place. Stone moved to southern Ill. in the early 1840s and refused to join either the Reformer congregation or the “Christian” until the came together . . . which they did. The churches in KY united.

    The Reformers & Christians decided they had:

    1) a common savior
    2) a common truth
    3) a common gospel
    4) a common mission

    That my brother is called “koinonia” . . . we are in fact one in Christ. The problem one again is we have bowed to the Idol of Opinion and mocked the cross and prayer of Christ.

    Unity is Christological. It was in the NT and it remains so today. IM is clearly in the real of “disputable matters” and so each should decide on his or her own. But no one has a right (or authority) to divide the church over it.

    Sorry for being so long winded. You know I love you and respect your point of view a great deal.

    Bobby Valentien

  12. Michele Says:

    I can tell that I may learn much from dialogue here.

    Why’d you wait so long to start a blog? 🙂

  13. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    Worship is that which occurs in the assembly only…our reasonable service to God our crucified lives in Christ certainly are to the glory and honor of God but that is not (and we must stop calling everything we do “worship”) that which occurs in the assembly.
    “When you come together as the church” Paul says. There is a difference. Just because I can do something and do it well doesn’t mean it is acceptable to God in WORSHIP.
    Paul’s Nazarite IS NOT “worship”. Paul did not stand before the assembled body of believers on the Lord’s Day and “Nazarite to the glory of God”.
    Come on……push the instrument…pan the instrument but have the honesty to keep the biblical definition of worship clear.
    Paul is not in error for taking a Nazarite vow but he would have been if it had been used as part of his salvation in Christ or part of “body worship”. Otherwise Galatians becomes pure hypocrisy on Paul’s part (as do most of his other inspired writings).
    Why do we spend so much time quoting Luther, McGarvey, Whiteside, Hicks, Owens, Clarke, Rice, et. al.? I know, I know they are/were great thinkers and we are ‘eternally bound’ by the culture they have established….yadda-yadda-yadda.
    Jesus said you have heard it said…but I say. God gave us all each person in Christ in each generation a mind and His Spirit…think beyond Rabbi {} says that Rabbi [] says that Rabbi () says as he quotes Rabbi……….
    I am wondering if we will ever leave the stage of religion wearing the “masks of our fathers” and just come to meet God on His terms through His Word. We are in danger of becoming “postmodern hupokrisis”.

  14. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Ancient Wanderer,

    I have been away from a computer for a few days and am now at Pepperdine. You wrote:

    “Worship is that which occurs in the assembly only . . .”

    You ask why do we refer to Whiteside, Harding, etc . . . I ask why you make such a claim as you just did. What scripture says that worship takes place ONLY in the assembly. You cannot cite a single solitary scripture to support this view. If you think I am wrong please give it to me and lets take a look.

    Bobby Valentine

  15. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    Scripture #1-
    John 4:19-24 Jesus does not correct the woman as to worship being an act that occurs at a specific time or place. Jesus specifically says the Jews are worshipping correcting …Jerusalem ….Sabbath …according to the Law of Moses. “Worship”, as Jesus understood the word, was not going on right there at that well at that moment or verse 22 would not make sense.

    Scripture #2-
    Romans 9:4 When Paul describes an Israelite he includes a specific action and act of worship. Paul does not say simply being a ‘faithful’ Israelite puts one in a continuous state of worship or he would not have had to list the categories needed to seen as faithful- the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, the worship, the promises.

    Scripture #3
    1 Corinthians 14:19 Paul speaks directly about the use of tongues in worship and when speaking of ‘worship’ he says “in church”.

    Scripture #4
    1 Corinthians 11:18 Paul in speaking about the Holy Eucharist says “when you come together as a church”. Certainly we are always the church but when Paul uses church in that special way to designate the assembly for worship he is talking about a specific time for a specific purpose.

    Now, to your point. I also said we need to distinguish between our reasonable service or reasonable cultus or spiritual service as found in Romans 12:1 and that which occurs as the body of Christ gathered to worship God in spirit and truth.

    These scriptures show that there is a specific time and place as the body of Christ that we gather together for “worship”. Is my life in Christ a continual obeisance to God? Yes. But no one, in this blog, is arguing whether or not I can play an instrument on Thursday morning by myself and sing “Amazing Grace” to the glory of God.

    Again- either there is a time of specific corporate worship of God when the church comes together as a church for the special purpose of “worshiping” God or there isn’t.

    You see, I thought the discussion was about “IM” in Worship. Now, maybe we all misunderstood and we were talking about “IM” on my porch in TN this Saturday. Oh, then never mind.

    I’m not trying to be mean about this but if, as moderator, you are going to jump back and forth with a definition of worship then this is an execise in futility. (Which by the way is the only execise I seem to be getting lately.) But I think you and everyone else were talking about “IM” and the worship on the Lord’s Day.

  16. Jim Martin Says:

    A very good post! I know you are enjoying your time at Pepperdine.

  17. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Yes, Pepperdine was wonderful. Thank you for the very kind words. I pray all is well with you.

    Bobby V

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