Wednesday, October 03, 2007


People who really know me will tell you that I hate being called arrogant! I will snap your head off! I am confident, bold, opinionated, headstrong, perhaps stubborn, but not arrogant. I grew up in a culture of arrogance. Apartheid era South Africa was ruled by the worst kind of self-righteous arrogance. The "blacks," "Afs," "kaffirs," "terrorists," and "commies" would NEVER take over "our country." And then before we could say "Botha who?" Nelson Mandela was out of prison and being sworn in as president.

My religious upbringing was seasoned with the same kind of absolute certainty. We Church of Christ folks had ALL the answers and ALL the right doctrine. I had a sense of both implied and explicit superiority that only certainty can bring. Ever since I can remember, I have known we were the only ones going to heaven. I was never proud about it, but I knew it. I was a member of the "Lord's church." What a burden to be so chosen. I, like the zenophobic Jews of old, actually thanked God that I was born into a Church of Christ family!

I don't want this post to turn into a forum to debate instrumental worship, but it is the hinge on which my comments swivel. In the October issue of the Christian Chronicle, a group of Church of Christ preachers calling themselves "" took out an ad called "A TIME TO SPEAK." It is a statement opposing instrumental worship signed by over 300 preachers. Listen to these excerpts: "We are for a cappella singing because we are CERTAIN it pleases God." "We are for a cappella singing because we are CERTAIN that this was the practice of the early church." "It is right to use a cappella singing in worship. No one questions the practice of a cappella singing. The same CERTAINTY cannot be applied to the use of musical instruments. A cappella music is safe." "We refuse to move from a position of CERTAINTY to a position of UNCERTAINTY."

Here's a parable. (This is a true story) The Godfrey brothers grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. They loved the ocean. The sea was in their blood. They loved to go out in the bay to fish. They knew EVERYTHING about the sea. They knew the tides, the river mouths, the sand banks, the rock shoals, the currents, the way around bird island - these guys had certainty when it came to the sea. They knew it all. You couldn't tell them anything. Well, one day the cod were running out in the bay. So they rushed down to the docks, loaded their boat and took off - not knowing their fate had been sealed! They forgot to put in the 2 small rubber plugs at the back of the boat. While they were cruising, the water couldn't come in, but as soon as they stopped that boat and cut off the motor water poured through those holes and started flooding the boat. Before they knew it, the back was flooded and the motor went under, flipping the boat upright. Not being able to hold on, the 2 brothers decided to swim for shore. No one ever saw them again! Later the police found the tip of their boat bobbing on the ocean, and once it was towed in they soon discovered that a very small and seemingly insignificant oversight had killed these men who KNEW EVERYTHING about boats and fishing and the sea!

The lesson is a biblical one - pride always comes before the fall. Do not trust absolute certainty. Question your religious and political and military leaders who make hubris boasts. Rome would never fall, the Titanic could not sink, America will never lose a war, and we are the only ones going to heaven!


Dr Bill said...

Charles, your post impresses me most as about arrogance. You say one way to identify it is through certainty, another form of an absolute. I do believe there are few absolutes in this world and probably more in the afterlife.

I use the image of a pedastle when I think about arrogance. Arrogant people put themselves and others on a pedastle. This is a form of idolatry. They idolize people, etc. When there is not enough reality to support the arrogance, there is no place to go, but to fall off the pedastle. I call this demonizing others. For arrogant people, they just fall down to their pity pot. Humility is the mid-ground or stable place to be. Don't treat me like I'm special or like I'm a noboby. I'm neither, just nobody special, like all of God's children.

I imagine preachers get idolized and demonized often by their congregants. It's also called scapegoating. This is another refelection of arrogance; being sensitive to looking at oneself critically and projecting shortcomings on to others. When a client wants to sing my praises (a copella, of course), I remind them that nothing I do as a therapist is any good unless they apply it. Being a Christian is the same, it's an applied faith and an applied religion. To know better and not do better just makes one a know it all, another way of expressing arrogance.

I would like to hear more thoughts and comments on the subject....

Brian England said...

Interesting take on this type of behavior Charles. I've never thought about it being arrogance that was driving the behavior. I think at its root it has more to do with insecurity then arrogance. I've always looked at it as a classic example of why theology matters. One's view of God (and sin) is going to form one's belief on issues such as what form worship should take. If you have adopted the metaphor of God as a dictating King and elevated it above the metaphor of God as father, then it is easy to understand the logic--"we do this because we are certain this pleases God and to do anything else is taking the risk of displeasing him and inviting his wrath upon us." Its a way of hedging our bets. It is also idolatry. Our security lies in what we do (the form our worship takes) and not in an authentic trust in God.

My favorite OT story is Mt. Carmel--Elijah's challenge to the the prophets of Baal. He asked the question, "how long will you go on limping between two opinions?" The Israelites had experienced Yahweh as the warrior, conquering God. Once the land was conquered they had to begin farming. What experience did Yahweh have in farming? For them, none. But, when they took the land, there was already a God of fertility working there--Baal. Baal could help them farm. But, you never know when you need to fight a war, so they tried to please Yahweh as well. They were hedging their bets. In the OT, the Israelites never stopped worshipping Yahweh, they just often chose to elevate other gods to His level. This is the nature of idolatry and we do the same thing today, in our attempts to feel more secure. If we are honest with ourselves, God's promises are not enough for us. We do not fully trust him with whole areas of our life that we refuse to turn over to him. Ironically, that has included areas such as worship. We do it a certain way because if we dont we will suffer the wrath of a conquering warrior God. It is better to be safe then sorry. If we don't use musical instruments, then we can be safe and it also requires absolutely no trust in God's promises.

Brian England said...

I should probably not leave it with that last sentence above. I'm not saying that there are not good reasons to sing acapella in worship. I'm merely saying that "the better safe then sorry" reason is not one of them.

Bill Jordan said...

Arrogance? Insecurity? Maybe.

Jesus ran into a bunch just like this and he called them, "BLIND GUIDES."

Kerrie said...

I’m reminded of a game on the school playground that I participated in around the age of 5th grade. What started as the simple joy of sliding down a slide and kicking a ball that someone rolled up the bottom of the slide, turned into a mass of rules, criteria, arguments, and hurt feelings. Here is what happened…

As other children saw us having fun and enjoying our recess time they joined in the activity…and they had their opinions about how the ball could be rolled up. You couldn’t just slide and kick the ball on your way down, but you had to wait a certain number of seconds… and the ball had to go so far…and then someone else decided you had to race around back to the ladder…without getting caught...and on and on it went with each passing day. The line to kick the ball became longer and the rules so complicated that what started out as a fun activity became the major “event of the day” and a source of contention among those involved. It got so difficult to follow and remember the rules, and the time involved became so hurtful, that I left…

We were created to worship the Lord our God with pure hearts and to love him deeply enough to bring others to him. The church, the body of Christ, was not started as a complicated organization full of rules to follow, but as a group of committed people who were willing to lay down their lives in service to Christ whom they believed was their savior. They made a decision to follow him, to love him, to honor him with their lives, and to sacrifice their desires in order to bring others to him. God’s greatest commands were to love the Lord your God with all you heart soul mind and strength and to love others as yourself. How simple is that.

The issue with styles of worship, in my mind comes down to this…are we worshiping him with a pure heart because we love him and desire to please him? Are we offering ourselves up to Him and to our brothers in Christ in a sacrificial way with a sincere desire to honor the God who is above all else? Does our gratefulness for his love compel us to fall too our knees or dance with joy, or to sing out a love song to him? From what I read about the attitude of the first Christians and their responses toward this man Jesus that they followed, I would say they didn’t subscribe to lists of rules, patterns, or orders of worship. They simply came together to break bread, honor the father, teach those who wanted to know him and encourage each other.

I’ve been in many different types of formal worship services and they have run the gamete of praise teams, upbeat bands, guitar playing heart provoking ballads, and beautiful a cappella voices. My experiences have shown me that where the Spirit of the Lord rested, and the hearts of those worshiping were sincere and eager to praise our Father…the style didn’t matter. I’ve been in stale, uninspiring services with plenty of instruments and praise teams and I’ve felt God’s presence in a mighty way in the midst of our simple living room Sunday night devotionals with only our family and one single woman, our weak voices, and pure sincere hearts.

Maybe we as a church can get back to the joy of serving our God, worshiping out of love and desire to honor, and bringing others to do the same. I for one…just want to kick the ball down the slide…

Kate said...

Just some quotes to add to the thinking (non Church of Christ quotes):

"In the Bible, arrogance is claiming to be wiser than God. Humility means submitting to Him. In the new order of things, arrogance means claiming to know anything with certainty. Humility means acknowledging that you 'might be wrong about this.' Or that."
Douglas Wilson

"Find if you can, beloved, one occasion in which Jesus inculcated doubt or bade men dwell in uncertainty. The apostles of unbelief are everywhere today, and they imagine they are doing God service by spreading what they call “honest doubt.” This is death to all joy! Poison to all peace!
The Savior did not so. He would have them take extraordinary measures to get rid of their doubt. Jesus appeals tenderly saying, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:31) He would have you believe in the substantial reality of His religion, and handle Him and see; trust Him largely and simply, as a child trusts its mother and knows no fear." Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

"The glorious charity of the present day is such, that it believes lies to be as good as truth; and lies and truth have met together and kissed each other; and he that telleth truth is called a bigot, and truth has ceased to be honourable in the world!" --Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Dubito ergo vagio. "I doubt, therefore I whine."

Charles North said...

Those are wonderful quotes - but I'm sure they have a specific context - very different than the context of my post. When it comes to the certain hope of salvation, or faith in Christ himself, certainty is good. When it comes to minor, petty doctrinal squabbles over style of worship, etc., doubt leads to humility, love for one another, and a greater faith.

Kate said...

OK, let's assume that the things you call minor petty doctrinal squabbles really are minor petty doctrinal squabbles. You seem very certain about it. That means you are the strong brother. You cannot doubt that the majority of those who disagree with you do so out of their firm convictions. It is a matter of conscience for them. They truly do desire to please the Lord. So:

"Be careful, however that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is DESTROYED by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall." (1 Cor. 8:9-13)

"As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it IS unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love." (Romans 14: 13-15)

Remember, you are the strong one. Please try to act like it.

Charles North said...

I'm glad you capitalized the word "destroyed" in the 1st Cor 8 quote. That's key. Most of the whining and subsequent divisiveness I have experienced has come from people who are mature Christians, with heads full of knowledge, who have been members of the church for many years. These people sell themselves as pillars of the faith. It is ironic that these people are usually labeled as the "weak" in the church today. I see more Pharisee qualities in them than anything else, and I have recently decided that I'm done coddling the very type of people who tried to kill Jesus. Besides, if someone praising God with an instrument causes your faith to be "destroyed," you aren't "weak" in the biblical sense, you're pathetic and really confused with regards to values!!!

A few months ago I wrote about this very issue. Here's what I said:

"I have always wondered about Paul’s references to “weaker brothers” in the New Testament, and how those arguments apply to the modern church. After a lot of reading, studying, and exegesis of 1st Corinthians and Romans 14 I am convinced that Paul is not talking about people who’d be upset that their narrow understandings were being violated. He isn’t speaking about them being offended. He’s addressing a very real possibility of falling away. They had come out of paganism. They remembered those pagan temples; they could recall the thrill of the meals; they still had memories of the way moral restraint was lifted in that environment. One smell of that meat might lead them down a road to their old lives. That's why he talks about their faith being "destroyed." The “strong Christians” might know that it isn’t a package deal; but these weaker brothers and sisters might be caught up into idolatry. It’s important to know what he’s saying. And it’s equally important to know what he’s not saying. These “weaker brother” passages have been used too many times to endorse the position of the person with the most narrow way. It has nothing to do with that."

Here is a very insightful comment from my favorite New Testament Scholar, N.T. Wright:
“Sometimes people from a very narrow background, full of rules and restrictions which have nothing to do with the gospel itself and everything to do with a particular social subculture, try to insist that all other good Christians should join them in their tight little world. But in a case like that the rule-bound Christians are in no danger of having their consciences damaged. They are not being ‘led astray.’ They are quite sure of their own correctness. Paul is dealing with a very different case.”

Steve said...

It saddens me how hatefull God's children have become towards oneanother. Your blog on arrogance has lead to arrogance itself. "and the second is this, 'love your nieghbor as yourself.'" It does not say love your nieghbor upto the point that he disagrees with you, it certainly does not say love those that agree with you and call the rest "pathetic." We were all saved the moment we believed the Gospel, Christ and Him crusified and resurected for the salvation of the world. Upon that moment His Holy Spirit was placed on us, it is my opinion that our conscience is a work of the Holy Spirit, for our conscience either convicts us or guids us. God says that He wrote His laws upon our hearts. If we are not certain of the things God Himself has placed in us what can we be certain of? We most certainly must be carefull in the process of "working out our salvation" once we are in Christ as not to be lead astray by false teaching or by requiring laws inorder to secure our salvation by our own means. If a man does anything that is against his conscience it is sin, for even the pagans know what is right and wrong and they chose between the two.

Romans 14:4Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Who are we to say what God has placed in one man's heart is wrong. It is not my place to say if you are right or wrong in the matters of instrumental music, but I do know what God has written upon my heart as acceptable worship to Him from me. It does not include any instrument, it includes a heart focused on my God in service to Him through love. This love does not include fighting with my brother. For in a fight only one can be declared the winner, but Christ came so that "all may be saved." I believe that both sides of this arguement are exactly wrong. For all I see is a bunch of brothers and sisters that are being exactly the opposite of loving, and that is selfish.

For this whole arguement is based out of what the arguers want. For the ones on the side of using instruments, what style of music will you play - country, pop, jazz? If one brother does not like country are you going to have a special service just for him? Are you going to give everyone an instrument so they can be a part of the worship? What about those who can hardly even play the radio, where does that leave them?

For those that believe a cappella music is the only way to worship? What other laws are there we have to abide by? If we abide by one law than we must keep them all and it no longer is salvation by faith. And noone is good enough to be saved by the law for we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Noone can keep every law.

You did not want this to be a forum for instrumental arguments. I respect that. I only use this argument to prove my opinion; and that is arrogance permiates both sides of the fence. The left demands their new way, while the right demands their old way. Worship was meant for two reasons: 1)to give rightfull glory to the one True God and 2)Build up and edify the body of Christ. I see none of that in self-righteous a cappella demanders or in the self-centered my way seeker or in this blog.

Charles North said...

Steve. Nice try. Your "It saddens me how hatefull God's children have become towards one another" comment almost had me. And then you called me arrogant!!! Here's the thing - ALL the hate and division in the church for the past 150 years has come from the anti-instrument position. Furthermore, it is heresy! I agree with you on matters of conscience. I agree on Romans 14. You seem to dole out equal criticism, but I think you have missed the point of this blog. It is a tribute to Jefferson's comment made during the 1800 election when the theocrats (the religious right of his day) were opposing him. "I have sworn, upon the altar of God, eternal hostility toward every form of tyranny over the mind of man." So have I.

Steve said...

It doesn't feel good being called names, does it? Then Don't call others names. My duaghter called another girl in her class at school pathetic one day and my duaghter got grounded for it, even though in my mind I agreed with my daughters assesment. I ask forgiveness if I offended you. It was meant to show a point. It still begs to differ that in your swearing "upon the Alter" that you place great bias in your statements and put down those that do not agree with your point of view. And bias gives way to tyranny, what you call tyranny some call service to God. Also, I would rather a preacher in the church make tribute to God rather than man. On your statement about the past 150 years, it take two to argue and statements that you are making on this blog are not helping the issue, rather they feed the flames.

Steve said...

Just an added point to ponder. In the original letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush Monticello from Mr. Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson uses a lower case g when he writes "upon the alter of god." Yes, I looked it up to see if we were speaking in context. Mr. Jefferson used this statement to fend off those that wished to push their religion as the national religion, "especially the Episcopalians and the Congrogationalists." Who of course saw that their beliefs were the only ones that needed to be taught. It does go to your point that the right in todays church also sees that their views are the ones that need to be taught. I'm not agaist you on that point.

Back to the letter from Mr. Jefferson though. Is this a rare occasion that he was caught up in his writing that he did not capitalize God's name or is it an irreverance to someone elses God. It is interesting that "Positive Atheism" also uses this same quote you have used to defend their position.

Charles North said...

I stick with my previous comments!

Holly (his wife) said...

Steve, thank you for your eloquent statement. You have stated exactly what I have struggled so long to say to Charles. Sure, he's grumbling about it...but he'll get over it. I rarely read his blog or post since I get to hear it from his own mouth and have the opportunity to spout back. He's been rumbling about your comment for days now, and I just had to see what it was all about.

I still stick to one of my previous posts..if the Churches of Christ are "nondenominational" then they need to stay that way. Each congregation has their own elders that should be seeking the guidance of God in such matters, and working to lead the members in a Holy and Worshipful manner. If these men are moved by the Spirit to add instruments then it is a matter of that congregation. And vice versa to those that choose to stay a cappella.

Steve said...

Holly, you are exactly right. The elders have been given that position to do what is best for the portion of the body that meets in a certian location (congregation). It is their responsibility to do what is best for the congregation through their decision making. Are they infalible, NO! But they make the best decisions they can as humans and theirs is a double portion. From my view point the move to go in different directions lately stems from a true reality of the declining numbers that attend congregations nation wide. I heard a very disturbing report on the radio two weeks ago that stated Christians in China will be sending missionaries to America due to its decline in moral standards and the lack of people willing to be evangelical. So I wonder if the push to change things is viewed as the majic pill that will solve our numbers problem. My belief is that the only change needed is a change of heart. We are called to faith in Christ, His death, His burial, and His resurection for our salvation. Through that faith we can, as Christ stated, sum up the law in love toward others. If we truely love our brothers and the lost as Christ loved us, and as God so loved us; then we will make oppertunities to preach the gosple, put away petty argument and look different than this world. We are told that "they will know we are Christians by our love." Not by our instruments, not by how many women we let serve during assembly, not by how many rules we can keep, and especially not by how closely we look like the culture around us. Out of love we do what is right for the body. If that means putting away our pet projects and our personal agendas then we put them away. I Cor. 10:23 "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive.