The church of Christ, Part 3: Constructive Criticism.

November 24, 2014.

As we come to part three of our study, we have discussed the fellowship of the churches of Christ, who they are, the movement that started the fellowship and the unifying beliefs that should hold Christianity together. If you are just landing on this page without seeing parts 1 and 2, I encourage you to go back and read them first, as this post is in the middle of a series of 5 about our fellowship and they really need to be taken as a whole to gather the full story. Today my task is somewhat difficult, as I will be addressing some of the things that we do that I believe we should reevaluate with scripture. We’ve talked about the good, and now we must discuss some of the bad.

We were a movement that started with a call for unity and biblical accuracy, and I believe that we should stay true to this idea. As I have said before, I have been taught all my life to not take any preacher’s word for it, but to check anything that is said with the bible. Over the past few years I have been doing that, and there are some areas that I think we come up lacking, biblically speaking. Do not take this post as me condemning our fellowship or anything like that, because I love our fellowship. I love the spirit that started it and I wholeheartedly believe in this spirit, or rather the Spirit, I should say. We are a people who seeks truth in a world of differing ideas. Let us examine ourselves, without bias, to see everything we are teaching is actually taught in the bible. Please consider my words as constructive criticism and in their biblical context before just writing me off as a heretic. These are a few things that I believe we need to work on if we are to continue to be a true light to the world.

1. Disunity.

“We are Christians only, but not the only Christians.”

As we discussed in part one, this was one of the early mottos of our movement. The idea was to call everyone in the body of Christ to drop their denominational ties and creeds to join hands in unity. However, the movement did not express the idea that they were the only Christians in the world. I fear that if one of the early reformers stepped into one of our congregations with this message today, however, he would be quickly shown the door to leave. Over the years, we seem to have ironically formed a strong sense of exclusiveness. It’s as if we believe that if you don’t go to a church with the name “church of Christ” on its sign, you are not actually in the church. This is a very sad thing to me, as this is the opposite of what the movement set out to be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do feels as though a church needs to teach biblically accurate doctrines, and I don’t believe that just because you go to church you are actually in the church. But I also believe that there are Christians all over the world, not just amongst the members of the “Church of Christ.” Note that I capitalized ‘Church’ for a reason. It is this line of thinking that has actually turned many of our congregations into a denomination. And this doesn’t just apply to the greater Christian community at large, but we have even divided to the point that we don’t fellowship with other churches of Christ in the area. The irony here is bitter. But this is nothing new according to human history I suppose.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
(I Corinthians 1:10-13)

Perhaps it was just a matter of time before we got to this point, but I think this needs some deeper consideration. I understand why we don’t fellowship with denominations, as there are differences in our core beliefs that separate us from fellowship. But I don’t think that is any reason to believe that any specific person in that denomination hasn’t read and come to the conclusions of biblical truth on their own. It is no reason to believe that every person that sits in one of those pews wasn’t baptized into Christ for the remission of sin. Perhaps that isn’t the prevailing teaching, but do you really believe that everyone agrees wholeheartedly with their congregation at large? That is a rather naive line of thinking.

What we don’t seem to understand anymore is that not everyone has to be exactly like us to be saved. There are some key points on which I think we should agree upon biblically (see part 2), but these points are foundational and relatively few in number. If you read through the New Testament, you will find that different churches operated in very different ways. Jewish churches (Messianic Jews) looked a lot different from Gentile churches. Don’t take my word for it, read Acts 21. The Jewish Christians were worried that Paul wasn’t keeping the law because they had heard him preaching so heavily against it to the Gentiles. So what did he do? The Christians in Jerusalem told him to purify himself with some men who were under vow to show that he did uphold the law. So he did.

Now, if you are of the impression that every Christian church must operate in the same way, then have you ever done this? Have you ever operated like the Jerusalem church did (more on this tomorrow)? You see, the argument is already lost, because we do not adhere to exactly what the church in Jerusalem did, and who are we to say that our way is more perfect than the first church?

Have we forgotten our cry for unity? Have we forgotten every passage about unity though not fighting over silly things?

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;”
(Romans 14:5-10)

Read Romans 14 in its entirety, along with I Corinthians 8 (or all of I Corinthians and Ephesians for that matter). Now, there is a time and place for rebuke, and even disfellowship (ref. I Cor. 5). But this needs to be strictly on clear biblical grounds, and nothing else. And I mean nothing. Even amongst our fellowship, however, we quarrel and divide at the drop of a hat. We divide over things that aren’t even remotely biblical. We also divide over things that we think are biblical, but really aren’t (more on this later). Brethren, these things ought not to be so. We are the body of Christ. We are a family. We are to be unified. Even though different churches had different styles in the New Testament, they were all one. Why? They all believed in Jesus. They all had been buried into His death and covered with His blood. Christ had come to make them one, and they were one. This is something the catholic church has over protestantism. At least they are unified (no, I’m not saying that unity makes every other teaching okay).

We tend to preach heavily on doctrine and false teaching, but then ignore the many, many passages about Christian unity. I believe this is unbalanced.

2. Dogma.

“Speak where the bible speaks, and be silent where it is silent.”

Another key point in our foundation that we seem to have changed over the years. I’ve actually heard it explicitly changed to “We will do nothing the bible does not authorize us to do.” Whereas I understand why we would want to believe this, the problem is we only apply this to very specific doctrines and are lax about it everywhere else (more on this later). But the reason this happens is because in practicality, you cannot hold to this idea. The bible simply doesn’t “authorize” everything. Actually, the New Testament doesn’t really “authorize” much of anything, at least in worship, where we apply this most to. The New Testament doesn’t authorize static, full time preachers. We have no problem with them. The New Testament doesn’t authorize church buildings. We have no problem with them. The New Testament doesn’t technically authorize any of the songs we sing (besides the psalms), and it certainly doesn’t authorize songbooks, four part harmony or projector screens. But all of this is okay. But since the New Testament doesn’t explicitly “authorize” mechanical instruments in worship, they must obviously be inherently sinful… okay. The argument is made that these things are “aids” and not “additions,” but I ask, where is that differentiated in scripture? No where that I have found.

It’s okay to have convictions. In fact, I believe you should definitely have convictions. It’s alright to not do worship a certain way because you don’t think it is the best or are unsure of it. That’s fine. You shouldn’t sin against your conscious. I personally love acapella singing (I believe the human voice is a thing of pure beauty), and I believe when you start adding in other things, an element of show and pride can more easily creep in. But the problem comes when you start to condemn others for not believing the same things you do (unless, of course, it is actually condemned in the bible, which instrumental music is not). I find it most interesting that our whole argument against instrumental music (well, the main argument from the majority at least) is that it isn’t authorized in the New Testament (in worship on earth), but then we turn right around and do something that we have absolutely no authorization to do in the New Testament. No where does the New Testament condemn instrumental music (I could actually make a decent case for it’s approval, but I’ll leave that for another day). So where do we get the authorization to do something that the bible never does? I believe this is a bit hypocritical.

It’s not just this, but anything that we hold as something a church “must do” to be saved that isn’t founded (or is very loosely founded) in scripture. Doctrine is not a bad word. Biblical doctrine needs to be the core of any church. But when our doctrine exceeds the doctrine in scripture, then we have erred. We need to speak where the bible speaks and be silent where the bible is silent. There are many doctrines that I believe we have correct, because they come straight from the word of God. We don’t have female preachers because the bible speaks explicitly on this (ref. I Tim. 2:12). We believe that baptism is for the remission of sins (ref. Acts 2:38, Rom. 6:1-11, Col. 2:8-15, Titus 3:5, ect.). We wear only the name of Christ (ref. Acts 4:12). These are good, as they have a biblical basis. But when our dogma gets in the way of proper teaching, we tend to have a negative effect on those we speak to as well as the world who is listening. We tend to focus and cause the most commotion about what we do three hours a week on Sundays and Wednesdays as opposed to the other 165 hours that we aren’t meeting at a “worship service.” We divide and draw lines most over these three hours! This needs to change.

3. Pride.

“Well, the church of Christ sure does know their bible.”

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
(I Corinthians 8:1-2)

One of our biggest problems, in my opinion, is a sin that we don’t often preach on (probably for this very reason). We have no problem calling out a multitude of sins from the pulpit. But I don’t really hear much about pride, or we just mention it in passing without evaluating whether or not we are caught up in pride. But pride is one of the worst sins in the bible (it is one of the seven “cardinal” sins found in Proverbs 6). I think pride has crept into our fellowship throughout the years, and I think it has been able to do so though our biblical scholarship. Trust me, I speak from experience. When I was younger, discussions with people of different fellowships weren’t done in the proper manner. I took the attitude “I’m right, you’re wrong, now let me prove it to you via the bible.” We would get around in a big circle and then just start throwing bible at each other. I promise, this did no good whatsoever.

Pride is a nasty thing. Let me make something clear. You can be completely right about something biblical, but still be wrong when you present it to someone. Take very close note to what Paul says in I Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
(I Corinthians 13:1-3)

We can be completely right about something, but if we don’t do it in love, we have failed. Period. I don’t care how many verses you point to. Paul says without love, he is nothing. Nothing. The same goes for us. Discussions with people should be what it sounds like. A discussion. Not an argument. Not a “let me show you how much I know about the bible” session. But a discussion, where we actually listen to the other person. Paul said he became all things to all men that he might win some. We would be wise to do the same.

4. Inconsistency.

This point is probably what frustrates me the most with our fellowship. We do things, but we don’t do them consistently. We teach certain ways to look at the bible to gleam truth, but then only do it that way sometimes. Most churches of Christ interpret the bible using the hermeneutic of command, example or necessary inference (CENI). Whereas I do think there is at least some truth in this hermeneutic, we don’t consistently apply it.

For example, we take Acts 20:7 where it says the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread and say that this is a command by example that we must adhere to. But then we only adhere to the beginning of that verse! The context implies (necessary inference) that the meeting was at night. We hold Sunday morning in more reverence. It may have indeed been on Saturday night, depending on how Luke was recording time (the Jewish first day of the week started on our Saturday night). Again, we meet on Sunday morning. Paul continued his speech to midnight. Our preacher might get 30 minutes if he’s lucky. So, why is it that only the “first day of the week” part of this verse that is binding on us? We are being inconsistent.

As another example, we don’t take Jesus’ example of washing the disciple’s feet as a literal example for us to follow. We say that His example was His humility, and I certainly believe this to be the case. However, if we are going to say that every example is binding, we must include this example if we are going to be consistent. This goes the same for other examples, like meeting in homes, not wearing fine clothing to worship (ref. James 2) and one of the most ignored examples of meeting together daily and eating with one another (ref. Acts 2:42-47). This last example I honestly believe would help us out tremendously.

I hope that you aren’t reading this in rage, and I hope that none of this has come off as prideful or “holier than thou.” I certainly don’t mean for it to be, as I have once done these very things, and I’m sure I still do to some extent. But I have been taught to study the bible and go with what the bible says over what I have been taught otherwise, and that is what I am trying to do. Consider the passages, consider the logic. I strongly believe in our movement, and I don’t in anyway wish to destroy it. But I do want it to go further and change the world, and I think we need to reconsider some things if we are going to be able to do that. May the Lord lead us in to His will.

Suggested Daily Reading: Romans 14, I Corinthians 6, 8-9.

The Lord bless you and keep you.

-Walter

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