By Associate Editor Joe May

Updated Jan. 29, 21:45 UTC

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla (BNc)- In an abrupt departure from the pratice of the Lord’s church throughout history, yet another large congregation has made the decision to add instrumental music to their services.

Mark Henderson, the pulpit minister for the Quail Springs congregation, which has for several years styled itself as the “Quail Springs Family of God,” has announced that the 900-member church, after about a year of consideration and prayer, will begin offering a 9:00 a.m. service each Sunday that features instrumental music.

At least 300 members have left the church after the decision was announced, Henderson told The Oklahoman newspaper in an interview that appeared on January 26.

The new service began on Jan. 27, 2008. The decision to begin offering the instrumental service was announced on March 7, 2007.

The group meeting at 14401 N. May Street in Oklahoma City made the move, Henderson said, to be able to reach out to a larger group of people. In a statement read to the congregation on Jan. 27, and posted on the congregation’s website, Henderson termed the move “Spirit-led.” He did not elaborate on that term.

Henderson told the newspaper that the church of Christ’s position on instruments in worship is primarily motivated by the fact that “there is no New Testament authority for using instruments in worship. You have a lot of Old Testament references to it, but when you look at references you might attribute to worship in the New Testament, you don’t see them mentioned and people interpreted that silence as intentional. Therefore, it was restrictive. So the historical position has been there’s no authority to use instruments in worship, therefore, we don’t do it, and those who do use instruments are sinning and really out of step with God and therefore we don’t fellowship with them.”

The announcement and subsequent change comes on the heels of Richland Hills’ addition of instrumental music in 2007, in North Richland Hills, Tex., north of Forth Worth. That congregation had been the largest a cappella church in the world when the decision was made, with over 6,000 members.

Asked about the congregation’s response to the elders’ decision to permit instruments in worship, Henderson told the newspaper, “it’s been difficult. I think just about any pastor will tell you that significant changes in a congregation is difficult. Some people have been very enthusiastic about it and other people … have been very resistant to it. It’s been a painful and difficult example of what we went through in 2007.”

When the decision was announced, Henderson said, “a certain percentage of the congregation broke out in applause and a number of people got mad, so it’s been like that.”

In actuality, Henderson admitted, this is not the first time the church has employed instruments in worship. On Saturday nights, the group has met before for what they termed “worship night.” During these meetings, a band has been used, he said.

In addition, he said, the congregation’s regular worship has always leaned toward the “contemporary.” “We weren’t really re-inventing the wheel; we were just further developing what we have done before. Our typical band is going to be a keyboard and usually two or three guitars,” he said.

Asked to explain his position on what has since the 1850s been a serious doctrinal issue within the church, Henderson stated, “We essentially said you are free to worship with instruments or worship without them. From just a doctrinal biblical standpoint, we, for a number of years, have treated this as a non-issue. And so we were giving our people the freedom to leave. We were saying, ‘You’re free to worship with instruments; just not here.’…The other thing we are trying to do is to reach some people that we’ve been missing.”

The congregation’s leadership, in announcing the change, said that they will not be getting rid of the traditional a cappella worship service.

Secular history has recorded that instruments of music were not introduced into worship services until the 1100s and did not become a staple of Catholic worship until the 1300s.

In early America, instruments of music during worship were not an issue in most places as the majority of denominations as well as the Lord’s church did not believe the use of instruments to be consistent with spirit and truth worship. As denominational churches in large cities began to employ the instrument, the issue soon spilled over into the churches of the Restoration Movement, known then as churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ or in some places, simply by the moniker the Christian Church.

In the days following the American Civil War, the issue became more divisive, with churches splitting over the instrument.

In 1906, the United States Census Bureau first recognized churches of Christ and the Christian Church as separate entities.

The elders at Quail Springs, in a statement read at the first instrumental service, denied allegations that they are considering dropping “church of Christ” from the congregation’s sign. They did, however, state that they had been approached about the matter but said they had “no burning desire” to make the change.

Responding to an email from Dave Dugan, preacher at the Lawton, Okla., congregation, who demonstrated his displeasure at Quail Springs’s move, Henderson wrote, “We are not likely to be moved by a barrage of mail from distant congregations.” The reply was also sent to the religion editor at The Oklahoman.