Someone was asked why she always cut the end of her roast off before cooking it, and was told, “That’s the way my mother cooks it.” When the mother was asked she said, “That’s the way your grandmother cooked it.” The grandmother said, “The stove was too small, so I had to cut the end off to get it in.”
So goes Church of Christ theology. When the Churches of Christ began, farmers were living in log cabins across the frontier of the United States. There was often only one hymnbook per congregation and the leader read out each line as the congregation sang. There was often no church building and definitely no organ or piano. Three or four generations later during the Gilded Age, every living room (parlor) had a huge upright piano, and the Restoration Movement split over introducing the piano into church services (1849-1907).
Preachers scrambled to find doctrinal reasons why instrumental music was wrong, even going so far as to cite the Eastern Orthodox religion that has never used instrumental music as far back as they can remember. A generation earlier traveling evangelists (called Circuit Riders) came up with Bible verses against the practice of having a located preacher, something that is accepted in almost all Churches of Christ now. (The located preacher often functions exactly like a Baptist pastor does, being in charge of the congregation, even though Church of Christ doctrine dictates that the elders are in charge.)
Interestingly enough John in his gospel described Jesus as coming to earth and tenting among us as one of us. He dressed and acted exactly like a Jewish man of his day, except that he showed us how a Jew of his day would reflect heaven. Just so if Jesus came today he would not worship with outmoded music or traditions that were started because Grandma’s oven was too small, he would worship in the genre and manner of the general public. Yet somehow he would show heaven to us, teaching us about forgiveness, love and dedication. The core message would remain the same, the trappings would be immaterial to Jesus.
When the denominations round about started Sunday schools (and Sunday school literature became a big money maker) a faithful remnant of Churches of Christ objected to dividing the church. When multiple cups for communion came along, a remnant of faithful Churches of Christ broke off and maintained one cup, just as Jesus served it, and as the scriptures clearly mention (and as the Eastern Orthodox Church has done it as far back as they can remember). When Sunday night services came along during World War II some Churches remained faithful to the way their grandparents had always done it. When kitchens in church buildings came along the faithful objected, as they did to basketball hoops in the parking lot. When orphans homes with sponsoring churches and fundraisers for a national radio broadcast came along in the 1940s, like the denominations did it, a faithful remnant split off.
Have you ever wondered why our song books are so different from other Christian groups? The song book I grew up with was Sacred Selections (written in 7 shaped notes). It had some old hymns from the 1500s (A Mighty Fortress, Fairest Lord Jesus) through 1700s (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Jesus Lover of My Soul), as well as frontier songs from the 1800s (I am Thine, O Lord), but our favorites were the Jubilee Gospel songs from 1890 to 1940 that sounded like barbershop quartet songs (Beulah Land,
When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, Farther Along, I’ll Fly Away, Jesus Hold My Hand). This is another example of cutting off the end of the roast: when outsiders visit a hard line Church of Christ service, not only do they experience acapella music from the United States frontier often written in shaped notes, they also experience barbershop music from a hundred years ago.
This is like us visiting an Old Order Amish or Mennonite church and being distracted by the fact that all the women sit on one side and the men on the other, and all the men wear the same beards, and all the women wear the same style of dresses from a hundred years ago. The customs are so different that we would not be able to focus on the teaching of the sermon.