Why do Churches of Christ, who eschew tradition as authoritative, appeal to church tradition to prove the first day of every week, and no instrumental music?
When Churches of Christ try to prove that we must take the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week and only on the first day of the week, they first appeal to example: Acts 20:7 when the church at Ephesus met to hear Paul’s last sermon to them and to break bread. Then they point to Jesus’ words: “as often as you eat this bread“. So there must be a frequency if he said “often”. What is the frequency? Then I Cor. 16 is mentioned when the Corinthian Christians were instructed each one to “lay by himself in store every first day of the week, so that there be no collections when I come.” See? Every first day of the week.
Only one problem: that was the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem, not the Lord’s Supper. A more logical conclusion would be that the early Christians took the Lord’s Supper daily (Acts 2:46), or that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper every Passover (“This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.“). So the Churches of Christ needed a little more help. Aha! How about looking up the history of the early church after the New Testament was finished? Lo and behold: they ate the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week! TADAA! The rabbit has been pulled out of the hat and everyone is amazed.
Only one problem: they appealed to church tradition, and Churches of Christ are careful never to let church tradition dictate practice, otherwise we might look like the Roman Catholic Church! No, the Bible is complete and has everything a person needs for truth and righteousness:
2 Timothy 3:15-17 “and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Let’s ignore for the moment that this passage was talking about the scriptures that Timothy had known from infancy (the Old Testament Hebrew Bible), and let’s take it for how the Churches of Christ misuse it: that we can get all the authority we need for the work, worship and organization of the local congregation from the scriptures, and we never need to appeal to church tradition.
That gives us a problem. There is not enough detail in the New Testament historical accounts to indicate that the early Christians took the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and on no other days of the week. Well then, we can fall back on two ideas: either appeal to church tradition (really fast, so nobody notices) and then deny that we need to appeal to church tradition. And then play the “safe” card: In order to be safe, we need to take the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week and only every first day of the week, because that is all we have an indication of in Acts 20:7.
That provides a problem too:
Acts 2:42-47“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Sounds to me like they were taking the Lord’s Supper every day all over the place (kind of like when Jesus broke bread with the disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection).
The second item that Churches of Christ appeal to tradition for is acapella singing with no instruments of music. Because the verses in the epistles do not forbid instruments of music, and the New Testament writers often quoted from the Psalms, even Psalms that encouraged the use of musical instruments. (Eph. 4:8 “Thou has ascended on high, Thou has led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men…”is a quote from Psalm 68:18, but Psalm 68:24-25 said,
“Your procession, God, has come into view, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary. 25 In front are the singers, after them the musicians; with them are the young women playing the timbrels.”
Why would the apostle Paul quote from a Psalm to the Ephesians when that psalm clearly encouraged instrumental music, and then not say anything about not using instruments in the church in worship? (And this Psalm is quoted in the chapter just before our familiar verse to “sing and make melody in the heart” in Eph 5.)
So Church of Christ preachers felt a strong need to bolster their anti-instrument arguments with an appeal to church tradition: the Eastern Orthodox Church (which is as old as the Roman Catholic Church) has used acapella music in worship. Aha! Why? It must be because the apostles said to the churches: “Don’t use instruments of music.” They didn’t write it down, but church tradition must indicate that it was a command. Then the preacher using this example has to deny that he is appealing to church tradition, and move on to the verse about singing–“See? No instruments mentioned.”
What these two examples really prove is that Church of Christ theology, as practiced and taught by the hard line Churches of Christ in the United States, is a house of cards based on a flawed premise: that there is a blueprint hidden in the letters and history of the early church as recorded in the New Testament. And that the New Testament is complete in outlining the work, worship and organization of the local congregation. That is not why the New Testament was written. The New Testament was written to record the story of Jesus and the responses of the early Christians to Jesus. That’s all. We are free to respond to Jesus in different ways, with different worship, and different work, as long as our work and worship reflect a response to the life and teaching of Jesus. (And just as the early church’s work and worship were imperfect, so also will ours be.)