Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Anyone Still Remember 'A Christian Affirmation'?

Just curious.

If you never heard of it, this is where it's found these days:


(Its original domain name was evidently allowed to expire.)

A Christian Affirmation is coming up on its fifth anniversary. It was originally published as a paid advertisement in the May, 2005 Christian Chronicle, which thereafter instituted a policy to review the content of advertising before accepting it ... even full-page advertising.

It was seen by many as an attempt to draw a line in the sand, a line of fellowship among Churches of Christ, by those who saw the introduction of worship services featuring instrumentally-accompanied vocal music in worship in some sister congregations as a threat to the distinctiveness of Churches of Christ, a product of the Restoration Movement.

Soon after its publication in this journal, the Affirmation was also posted at an appropriately-named Web site. There, it was possible to send in comments and, eventually, to add one's name to the list of signatures on the document. This feature was abused in a very un-Christian way by immature detractors - and since identities of signers could not be easily verified, the feature was removed - but the dialogue had begun.

One thing nearly everyone could agree upon: the issue of a cappella-only / instrumentally-accompanied music in worship had been promoted by the Affirmation to the same level of importance as immersive baptism and the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week.

Discussion continued in church bulletins and blogs and discussion boards on the 'net. The discussion was often heated; sometimes cordial, sometimes acidic; but in the end, its effect was like that visited upon the hapless Ralph Mellish in the Monty Python sketch: suddenly, nothing happened.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I'm sure it depends on whom you ask. The body of Christ was not further subdivided and vivisected as a result, and I see that as a good thing. People talked about what really was essential in the life and worship of believers, and I see that as a good thing.

However, no councils were proposed to prayerfully discuss the matter and ask for the direction of the Holy Spirit together. No lectureships nor publications volunteered to air scholarly or even self-published works representing all points of view. No consensus was reached. No unity was restored.

In short, suddenly nothing happened.

And I see that as a bad thing.

The unresolved issue of a cappella-only / instrumentally-accompanied worship remains - not the unspoken elephant - but the great, gaping seismic fault line between two camps of God's people under the banner of the same tribe and the aegis of congregational autonomy and the comfort of pretending that everything has gone back to the way it was and should be.

And - just as is happening in politics, social association, and virtually every other aspect of life in the American nation - the chasm keeps growing wider as it becomes more and more effortless to associate only with those who share one's fondest preferences.

We have become segregated - not so much racially as philosophically - in spite of the fact that we proudly proclaim that we wear the designer label "Christian" (without the "Dior"), referring to a Christ who associated with the meek, poor and lowly as well as the wealthy, privileged and powerful.

It is almost beyond question that Jesus worshiped with the likely-a cappella cantor's songs of the small synagogues in Nazareth and Capernaum ... as well as with the instrumentally-embellished psalms of temple worship in Jerusalem.

He is a both/and Savior.

We are an either/or church.

There is nothing about that worth affirming.


Patrick Mead said...

Thanks, Keith. I am always fed when I visit here.

kingdomseeking said...

I wrote a paper for Early Christian History in gradschool that I tried unsucessfully to get published in an academic journal on that interacted with the Christian Affirmation 2005. The paper examined the Rule(s) of Faith mentioned by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen in the late 2nd to early 3rd century of Christianity. The paper demonstrated what beliefs were important to these the church leaders in a time when orthodox belief was facing serious challenges and showed that they were all trying to uphold an orthodox doctrine of God and Jesus. I then asked how the authors of the Christian Affirmation could be so concerned about baptism, Lord's Supper, and A Capella Singing without any concern regarding doctrines such as the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, especially considering that in Restoration and CoC history, there have been some less than orthodox views put forth on some of the issues that the Rule(s) of Faith would have condemned as heresy. My point was not to suggest that the subjects of Baptism, Lord's Supper, and Christian Worship/A Capella Singing were unimportant but to question how a movement can focus on those three issues to the neglect of other issues which historically and theologically have far more at stake in the upholding of orthodox faith.

Further, what we learn from Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen must raise the question of how essential some of our cherished beliefs about our three pet issues really are considering that, for example, the form of baptism was changing in the post-apostolic early Christian era and yet none of these three church leaders were botheed by that. Yet they were bothered by the unorthdox Gnostic/Marcion claims being made about God and Jesus. I am not saying there were right not to make the changing form of baptism an issue but the absense of their problem with this changing form ought to at least raise the question with us on just how important of an issue this is in comparrison with other issues they felt were important.

That being said, I have no idea how A Capella Sining/Christian Worship gets raised to the same level as Baptism and Lord'S Supper.

Grace and peace,

K. Rex Butts

Keith Brenton said...

Always delighted when you gents drop in! Thanks.