Otter Creek is implementing something radical — at least, by Church of Christ standards: Allowing musical instruments into one of its Sunday services.
It’s such a switch for the 1,800-member, traditionally a cappella congregation in Brentwood that its leadership team spent months deciding a strategy and will take months more implementing it.
About 20 of 12,000 Churches of Christ congregations nationwide offer instrumental music, said Carl H. Royster, author of a survey published by Nashville-based 21st Century Christian.
The first handful started making the change about a decade ago — including popular megachurch leader Max Lucado’s Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas — some facing backlash from other congregations.
Even now, 13 years after The Branch — a multicampus Church of Christ congregation in Dallas — introduced instrumental music, Google searches on it and senior minister Chris Seidman yield scathing denunciations.
“A lot of churches from our heritage cut us off,” said Seidman, who Otter Creek leaders consulted leading up to this week’s announcement. “But the larger Churches of Christ — they were actually very firm in embracing us.”
Tennessee has the second-highest number of Churches of Christ congregations in the U.S., with nearly 150 in Davidson and Williamson counties alone.
The commitment to a cappella dates back to the faith’s emergence in the 1800s Restoration Movement. Churches of Christ don’t consider themselves a denomination since there’s no central hierarchy, but from the beginning, autonomous congregations shared a commitment to simplicity and mirroring first-century Christians. That included not purchasing organs or organizing bands.
Scriptural citations backing the a cappella tradition include a passage in Ephesians about singing hymns and making music in the heart, but Otter Creek’s preaching and teaching minister, Josh Graves, said church history is a stronger influence.
“A cappella is like Latin,” Graves said. “It is beautiful, it speaks to people at a certain level, but the problem is that a lot of people don’t speak Latin.
“What people in the Churches of Christ call instrumental music, other people just call music. It’s English.”
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