I love a cappella worship – that is singing without the accompaniment of musical instruments. I was born and raised in a fellowship of churches (Churches of Christ) that practiced this form of musical worship. I appreciate my experience and heritage in that practice. It has been a rich and fulfilling way that I have connected with God and been encouraged in the faith. However, for the past several years I have struggled to find convincing ways to encourage this practice in the lives of others around me.
My earliest memories of why we practice a cappella music in the Churches of Christ has been because it was the only form of musical worship sanctioned in the New Testament. This was primarily based on one passage of scripture from Ephesians (Eph. 5:19) and another from Colossians (Col. 3:16) that talk about singing to one another and to the Lord. The hinge of the argument is based on the Greek word translated “sing.” The ancient meaning of this word evidently shifted over time. At one point its connotation conveyed singing with instruments while later on it shifted to mean singing without instruments. My tribe of churches were generally convinced of the use of that word should understood with the latter meaning. There are other arguments that were made as well, but in my mind that was the one that carried the most authority. I, however, never found that argument to be persuasive. I think it belongs in the conversation but to stand on it as a foundation to condemn all other forms of musical worship seems like a foundation made of sand.
My experience in church planting has also shaped my views on this practice. Sunrise was going to be an a cappella church plant from the start. Though I did not have a theological conviction for this practice, I was concerned about our relationship with other Churches of Christ and family members who believed more strongly in the importance of a cappella music in worship. However, practicing a cappella music exclusively proved to be somewhat of a stumbling block as we tried to connect with unchurched people. I found that most of the new people we made initial connection with did not have a problem with a cappella music, but they were bothered by its exclusivity. If/when we get to plant again, I don’t want to make it difficult for people to come to the Lord because of tradition. I don’t want to choose between a cappella and instrumental worship. I want to be open to both. I want to be free to use whatever gifts God has given the church to bless and encourage others in worship.
So the question I have been asking is “How can I be for a cappella music in a way that encourages others to dive into the practice of this tradition without being against other forms of musical worship?” Based on North America culture, if a cappella music is simply one option among several that we can choose from, I think its tradition will probably die because North America is not a singing culture – despite the success of American Idol.
A couple of weeks ago as I was leading a group of 75 teenagers in a time of a cappella singing I had a revelation. Perhaps a cappella singing can be considered a spiritual practice that is useful for connecting people with God and others in the same way that practices like lectio devina, prayer walks, praying the psalms, or memorizing scripture have been. Perhaps a cappella worship can be thought of in a similar way to the monastic orders who have a prescibed way of life that over time has proven to be good and meaningful ways to walk with God. I think I can get back on board teaching others to practice a cappella worship if we think of it that way, because I know the blessing of the tradition. I have experienced the presence of God there. I have witnessed the Holy Spirit at work there. It is a good tradition. Its not the only tradition, but it is one that the church will be worse for losing.
If we are really free to use whatever gifts God has given the church for our blessing, then at least some of my gifts will be used for a cappella worship. Let’s stand and sing!