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What Is The Church Of Christ?
August 7, 2001
These studies examine the traditional doctrines held by the Church of Christ to see if they are actually taught in the scriptures. This is not an "anti-Church of Christ" site. I was reared in the Church of Christ and have been preaching since 1968 in the Church of Christ. My desire is that we walk righteously before God, not according to traditions of men. Bernie Parsons
What Is The Church Of Christ?
By Bernie Parsons - August 8, 2001
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18 KJV
Hello, Family & Friends,
There is the Church of Christ, and there is the church of Christ. I use a capital "C" on Church to denote the result of the Stone-Campbell "Restoration Movement", and a lower-case "c" when speaking of the church that Christ established, as described in the Bible.
The church of Christ--the body of Christ--began with Jesus. This church of Christ is described throughout the New Testament. It is found through the ages wherever and whenever godly men and women follow the teachings of Christ and His apostles and disciples.
When I was a child in the Church of Christ, most preachers and many members knew something about our history. They knew the names of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott, and "Raccoon" John Smith. They knew of the combined history with the Disciples of Christ and the Christian Church, and the point of breakaway into the modern "Church of Christ". They understood Campbell's attempts to refute the erroneous Calvinist doctrines.
The Church of Christ was formally established during the 1906 U.S. Census (1916 Census record), when David Lipscomb submitted to the U.S. Census takers that the Churches of Christ had indeed separated themselves from the Disciples of Christ. It's history is sprinkled throughout the Church of Christ magazines such as the Gospel Advocate, and is remembered in the Church of Christ colleges, like the one in Nashville, Tennessee, named after Lipscomb. Many of the Church of Christ groups today behave like a denomination, although they bristle when this is suggested.
I have heard two untrue and dangerous declarations in recent years: (1) The Church of Christ was formed in A.D. 33, was persecuted by the Catholic church, went into hiding for over a millenium, then re-emerged with the help of Alexander Campbell and his contemporaries. (Or, as some prefer, David Lipscomb and his contemporaries.); or, (2) The Church of Christ has been in existence since A.D. 33, with all of its present practices and doctrines in place for the past 2,000 years. Both of these depictions deny our own history, and are lies that have been put into place to legitimize the Church of Christ as a quasi-denominational organization, head off questions among our membership about our true history, and prevent having to deal with the accusations of our detractors. This is dangerous because it allows us to keep in place Catholic and Protestant doctrines, or variations thereof, under the pretense that this is what the church has always believed, taught, and practiced from the time of the Apostles. It is also dangerous because these are outright lies and the Bible declares that all liars go into eternal damnation.
The Churches of Christ came to be as a result of Protestants attempting to "Reform" the Catholic Church. The "Restoration" of Thomas and Alexander Campbell and associates was their attempt to work with Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists to move these Protestant bodies into a restored church with Biblical roots by using the "science" of logic to ascertain the true Bible "pattern" for the church. Campbell urged them to abandon church names and be "Christians only", or "disciples only". Out of this "Restoration Movement" came the Disciples of Christ. In 1906, David Lipscomb submitted to the U.S. Census bureau that the Churches of Christ had parted company with the Disciples of Christ, primarily over the Disciples' use of instrumental music in the "worship service" (read "Church Assembly" and "Five Items Of Worship"), and their formation of a missionary society to spread the gospel. Prior to this, they were all considered part and parcel of the same church.
Understanding our church roots is crucial to continuing the "restoration spirit" of our forebears in bringing the masses to Christ. This is not done through factions, sects, and cults that result from the splintering of religious bodies. Quite the opposite, it is accomplished through unity in spirit and truth. The warring that takes place between denominations is often because of a commonly shared history. Harsh and bitter feelings from centuries ago often drive current disputes and attacks. Sadly, most of the people involved in these religious battles don't even understand why they are fighting. It has been reduced to "I defend my side, because we are always right, and you are wrong".
The Church of Christ purports to "speak where the Bible speaks, and is silent where the Bible is silent". I wish that this were so. I have dealt with many factions and sects within the Church of Christ, many of whom will not affiliate with other groups of the Church of Christ because some man, or group of men, have developed a new doctrine. When they are unable to persuade their "brethren" to come over to this newly devised doctrine, war is declared, and the new group shuns the old group in a move called "disfellowshipping". This is akin to Catholic excommunication, or Amish shunning.
Yet, as an entity known as the "Church of Christ", they tenaciously cling to certain assumed doctrines that bind them together. Some say that this is because those doctrines are scriptural, and that a thorough study of the Bible yields the same teachings and commandments. This sounds good on the surface, but is not always true. There are ideas and concepts taught in the church that one would be hard-pressed to substantiate with book, chapter, and verse. They are simply passed down verbally from one generation of preachers to the next. Yet, anyone who questions these widely accepted teachings is found to be persona non grata, subject not only to "disfellowship", but is viciously attacked for raising legitimate questions. I speak from personal experience. (By the way, show me the word "disfellowship" in the Bible. It is a rather loose concept that allows any group or individual to abuse their relationship with other Christians, and with the church of our Lord. It is itself one of those man-made, but widely accepted, doctrines.)
Through the often-abused force of "disfellowshipping", not only is dissent not tolerated, but larger questions relating to the salvation of our souls are swept away in favor of heated discussions over hermeneutics--adopted by religionists as the "science" of Bible study.
The truth is that we still carry with us some trappings of the Catholic church, and many of the Protestant beliefs. To truly become the church of Christ that is patterned after the church described in the scriptures, we must understand our heritage, strip away the Catholic/Protestant concepts, and strive mightily to understand how the early church operated according to the will of God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. To do so, we must carefully examine every practice, concept, and "code phrase" that the Church of Christ uses, and see if the church in the Bible truly embraced it.
The early "restorers" had a couple of interesting mottoes that should still drive the Church of Christ. One is "We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent". Another is, "In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; and in all things, charity (love)". The first statement is ostensibly a rendering of 1 Peter 4:11 "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
The second statement is often purported to be based upon Romans 14, although I see it as a condensation of various scriptural principles. The unity in the faith seems aptly described in:
Ephesians 4:11-16 "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
Regarding opinions and liberty, Romans 14 is indeed a good study of the subject, but I include 1 Corinthians 8:9 "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of your's become a stumblingblock to them that are weak." (Read the surrounding verses--the context is similar to Romans 14.) Also consider, 1 Corinthians 10:29 "Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?" (Again, read to know the context.)
2 Corinthians 3:17 "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
Galatians 5:13 "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."
James 2:12 "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty."
Charity (read "That Which Is Perfect"), perhaps, is best described in I Corinthians 13, and in 1 Corinthians 16:14 "Let all your things be done with charity."
Regrettably, in the Church of Christ today there is often a spirit of partisanship, of contention, and of bondage to the opinions and musings of men. We forget the Apostle Paul's admonition in :
Ephesians 4:1-6 "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
And our Lord's words in:
John 17:20-23 "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me."
The Apostle Paul decried such contention as we see in the modern church in his writings.
1 Corinthians 1:10-13 "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"
1 Corinthians 11:16 "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."
Romans 2:8-9 "But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;"
The modern Church of Christ began with two mottoes: "We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent"; and, "In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; and in all things, charity". If we truly followed these guiding principles of the early Restoration Movement, there would be little contention and no factions. What has driven us to the point that the Churches of Christ are in rapid decline, splintered to the point that few will have anything to do with others of the same name and shared history?
The problem lies with the very methodology that Alexander Campbell employed in his attempts to establish the church based upon Bible truths. The Campbells drew heavily from the works of John Locke, and the school of Scottish Common Sense Realism. Alexander Campbell attempted to apply science and logical deduction to the Bible, following the concepts of Francis Bacon. From his attempts are derived our present dogma of "command, example, or necessary inference".
Our current lack of cohesion in the churches of Christ lies with the use of hermeneutics to find "inferred commands" in the scriptures. Unfortunately, each person being schooled differently, coming from various cultures and environments, and at different stages of spiritual development, brings his or her own opinions into play when ferreting out these "inferred commands".
Contrary to what the Bible teaches, many present students and teachers of the Bible in the Church of Christ allow for no opinion whatsoever, no leeway on matters of conscience. To them, everything is a matter of faith, and if we cannot agree with them, then there can be no unity of faith--therefore, they "withdraw fellowship" from us. While these people abhor the apostasy of Catholicism, and renounce the incomplete results of the Protestant Reformation, they become apostate themselves in that they reject many of the teachings of the Bible. Most of them are stuck in the incomplete teachings of Alexander Campbell and his associates and students.
The answer is to recapture the spirit of the reformers without becoming disciples of men. Campbell was so appalled by the Calvinists--for good reason--that he overreacted, and placed too much emphasis on theology as a science. (The application of "science" to almost everything in those days was a fad.) The presence of the Holy Spirit within the individual Christian is an idea that is often rejected, although scriptural, because the Calvinists abused the scriptures in regards to the Spirit. Campbell, in resisting this abuse, leaned upon logic instead. However, the Bible itself tells us that God's truth does not always conform to the reasoning and logic of man.
1 Corinthians 2:4-7 "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:"
1 Corinthians 2:12-14 "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
Romans 8:9 "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
Using "science" and logical reasoning to find the commands of the Bible substitutes the devices of men for the Spirit of God. Man's wisdom does not override the guidance of God's Spirit.
1 Corinthians 1:18-21 "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."
The truth is not found in the Calvinistic search for a sign, nor is it in the Campbellite quest for scientific discovery, but rather is found in Jesus Christ, and the wisdom of God:
1 Corinthians 1:22-24 "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God."
The use of science to discover the truth has fostered a blind search for "hidden truths", with the result that the movement has ground to a halt, and the remnants of the movement are falling apart. Each little faction thinks that it is the "one true church" and all else are hell-bent hypocrites. Unfortunately, these factions continue to splinter even further under the "scientific" inquiry method that continues to produce strange, new doctrines.
1 Corinthians 2:4-10 "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."
I propose the abandonment of the so-called science of hermeneutics and a return to a spiritual assessment of ourselves against the scriptures, measuring ourselves comparative to the will of God, not by the measures of men. (Read "Spirit & Truth".)
2 Corinthians 10:12 "For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."
Instead of turning to science, and man's wisdom (logic) for the answers, why not turn to God?
James 1:5-7 "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord."
Christ established His church, which is rightly called the church of Christ--because it is His, (read "What's In A Name")--almost 2,000 years ago. The Bible plainly describes many of their practices and undergirding principles.
We are not a Protestant denomination, unless we behave like one. Let us understand that the Restoration Movement, though a laudable event and a move in the right direction, was built upon the Protestant Reformation, which was itself a rework of the Catholic Church. We can only be the true church of our Lord when we learn the teachings of Jesus, become a follower of Him, and worship God in spirit and in truth. Let's not call the trappings of Catholicism-cum-Protestantism the teachings of Jesus Christ. Let's look past Campbell, past Luther, past Catholicism, and learn the ways of God as presented to us by His Son Jesus, and the Apostles of Jesus.
God bless all!
Love, in Christ,