Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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A Capella Singing

ImageIn the July 3rd issue of The Christian Chronicle, coverage was given to a recent “international symposium of sacred a cappella music, involv[-ing] members of Churches of Christ as well as Mennonites, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics.”

The symposium was a sequel to a previous effort which took place in 2007. Concerning that event, the article notes “‘The Ascending Voice’ debuted at Pepperdine in 2007 — the brainchild of [Darryl] Tippens, who saw it as a way to celebrate and promote a cappella worship in a world of praise bands and recorded music.”

Tippens is the provost of the university. When asked what he expected to accomplish with the symposium, he said:

“I hope we’re planting a mustard seed here, and that by bringing in people literally from all over the United States and from around the world, we will create a rich new understanding of a cappella music. (I hope) there will be a new fervor about the importance of preserving it, taking it home to our local congregations, sharing what we’ve learned, and in a sense, renewing the tradition.”

While acknowledging there is a doctrinal aspect in play when discussing worship in song, he said:

“But let me also say, in many churches, we have turned a cappella singing into a barrier. It’s become a wall of separation between us and others. It doesn’t have to be a wall. I think this week the wall has fallen, and it’s become a bridge.”

“A cappella music should be a bridge to all sorts of people in our culture. And if we find it’s a barrier, we’re doing it wrong.”


While I am pleased whenever worshippers of God are encouraged to sing a capella, there is much in the above quotes that are disturbing to me.

First, it concerns me that praise bands and recorded music have made such inroads among churches of Christ. The very existence of these innovations clearly indicate that to many, worship is a form of entertainment. The idea that I can let other, more talented individuals worship God for me, (i.e. worship by proxy), is a concept foreign to scripture. Worship in song is designed by God to be mutual edification. Each and every one of us are to be “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

While denominations have long distorted true worship to God with choirs, concerts, plays and shows, it is disheartening to know that so many churches of Christ have digressed to this low point.

Second, while Tippens gives lip service to the idea of doctrine, he makes it clear that what the Bible teaches on the subject of musical worship should not be made a test of fellowship. He says if a capella music is a barrier to fellowship, “we’re doing it wrong.”

This appeal has a long history. In fact, it was the attitude taken by the digressives in the late 1800’s when the church first divided over this question. Those who advocated the use of mechanical instruments in worship did not want it to be a test of fellowship. They wanted their right to the innovation to be recognized despite the doctrinal objections. It is again disheartening to see churches of Christ advocating the same position on fellowship that was once opposed. In contrast, consider the following passage from the pen of John, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).

Finally, Tippens advocates the restoration of a capella music based upon its aesthetic, rather than upon its validity as a God ordained practice. Do it this way because it is pretty; not because it is a commandment of God!

We should remember that during certain times in her history, Israel’s worship, though correct in form, was nevertheless not pleasing to God. In Zechariah 7, the Lord asked His people, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me — for Me?” (vs. 5). The principle is simple. When we worship God, we are to do it in the way we do it because it is the way He said to do it, not because it is what we prefer. When we sing He asks, “Do you do it ‘for Me — for Me?’