I was reading a book on church history recently and I came across a phrase I had not heard before. The writer was differentiating between practices of congregations known as Christian churches and churches of Christ and he used the phrase “acapella tradition” to describe churches of Christ. At the time, I didn’t think much of it but I think the phrase is worthy of discussion for two reasons. Churches are using it as a way to introduce mechanical instruments into worship. And it betrays the real reasons we sing without mechanical accompaniment in the first place.
An Open Door to Change
If a congregation has a tradition of singing two songs before the Lord’s Supper, does it matter if the song leader sings three? Of course not! Singing is authorized in the New Testament and so is taking the Lord’s Supper. The number of songs and when they are sung usually represent the tradition of the local church. Changing that tradition is something a local congregation may do by choice. By using the phrase “acapella tradition” modern church leaders have made our method of worship nothing more than a choice that can be made one way or the other.
It is one thing to say you are going to defy scriptural precedent and the authority of God’s word by introducing mechanical instruments of worship. But to simply change something done because it is tradition? That doesn’t seem so bad. And therein lies the deception.
If I can convince you that, “we choose to sing acapella” or “it is just part of our heritage.” Than I can convince you it is something we need to change like outdated carpet. Is it factual to say congregations known as churches of Christ have historically worshipped with acapella singing? Yes. But has that been the worship practice of the church because of history or because we believe it to be the only authorized musical worship for Christ’s church? It is not truth because it is historical. It has become historical because it is truth.
Bad Doctrinal Basis
If I tell a visitor or new member of the church we don’t have a piano because, “we are part of an acapella tradition” that places our worship practice on sinking sand. Is, “we have always done it that way” a good reason for doing anything in the church? The church belongs to Christ (Ephesians 5:23). He alone has the authority to determine what we should do in teaching or worship (Matthew 28:18, II John 9). We worship in ways we see authorized in the Bible. To do anything else is to “go beyond what is written.”-I Corinthians 4:6.
Jesus is our example in worship. On the night he was betrayed, he instituted the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus and the apostles left the upper room, the bible tells us, “when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”-Matthew 26:30. Were mechanical instruments available to our Savior? Certainly (Matthew 9:23, Luke 15:25). But in his time of greatest distress, no guitar, piano, or flute was needed for Jesus to express his heart to God. He simply sung a hymn.
We certainly see the use of singing in Christian worship in our New Testaments: “Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm,”-I Corinthians 14:26. We are even commanded to sing: “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”-Ephesians 5:19. What we do not see is an example to use any instrument but the human voice in our worship as a church.
Beware of any church leader who says he “prefers acapella singing” or sees it as belonging to a rich “acapella tradition.” We do not follow “the tradition of men” we hold on to “the commandment of God,”-Mark 7:8.
It is important we give good answers to honest questions. Why do we preach Jesus and him crucified, baptize those that believe, or sing with our voices alone? Because God’s word tells us, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,”-Colossians 3:17.