"Churches of Christ Today, Differences"


     All who are even casually conversant with the New Testament should be aware of the church therein mentioned and observed. Jesus promised to build his church and stated that death could not prevent him from his commitment (Matt. 16: 18, 19). The church, then, is an important part of pristine Christianity. Paul wrote thus to the Romans, "The churches of Christ salute you…." (Rom. 16: 16). A number of duties belonging to Christians are to be exercised and fulfilled in the milieu of the local church. It is apparent that Paul had the assembly in mind when he wrote, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…" (Eph. 5: 19). Forsaking the assembling together is forbidden and there are serious attendant consequences to doing so (Heb. 10: 25, 26).

     As we read the New Testament, we observe that the church belonging to Jesus was not a denomination, sect, or party. Such circumstances are cogently condemned (cp. I Cor. 1: 11-15). Each local church functioned independently and maintained its own self-governing status (cp. Acts 14: 24, I Pet. 5: 1-4). Even though autonomous in nature, these early churches (Christians meeting and organizing in difference geographic locations, I Cor. 1: 2) were to believe and practice the same doctrine or teaching. Consider the Spirit prompted Paul’s statement:

     "17: But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches" and, "17: For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church" (I Cor. 7: 17; 4: 17, respectively).

     Notwithstanding the ideal and the teaching of the scriptures, the reality is that there are many differences characteristic of churches of Christ today.

     The phrase or proper name, as it is often used, "Church of Christ" is used to designate every imaginable religious order. Catholics, Pentecostals, and such liberal groups as the far out "United Church of Christ" have employed the term. These are manifestly not of the order and type, if you will, as seen in, "…the churches of Christ salute you" (Rom. 16: 16). Where I preach and serve as one of the elders, there are many, divergent "churches of Christ," often having little resemblance to one another and to the teaching of the New Testament. The question for our exploration is, "What accounts for all the serious differences between ‘churches of Christ,’ even those more closely resembling the church in the New Testament?"

     Let me say from the negative that I do not believe the serious extant differences are the result simply of cultural and educational differences. The divergence, moreover, is not the product of gender, age, and race dissimilarities. Money, immediately viewed is not the precipitous factor. What then is behind these differences?

     How Bible authority is viewed, treated, and applied, this is the essential difference involving churches of Christ today. Many even in "churches of Christ" today seldom if ever are subjected to the reality and concept of Bible authority. Notwithstanding, the New Testament is replete with teaching regarding having a thus-saith-the-Lord for what we believe and practice (cp. Matt. 7: 21-29).

     Jesus’ teaching was so characterized by authority that the response to his most famous sermon was:

     "28: And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matt. 7).

     Jesus demands strict adherence to His teaching. Such is expressed in Jesus’ resounding question, "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6: 47). Jesus recognized the basic nature of authority and how the absence of such can be serious. Hear him:

     "24: And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25: The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?" (Matt. 21.)

     The four major divisions of churches of Christ, conservative, ultra conservative, liberal or progressive, and ultra liberal, all reflect different approaches and attitudes toward Bible authority.

     The right interpretive system to arrive at Bible authority. I think most would readily agree that a right and workable interpretive system is necessary to establishing authority. Many methods and various terminology have been suggested and used, but after all is said and done, I deem the following the most workable and accurate: Express command, approved example, and necessary inference.

     Command, approved example, and necessary inference are many times observed in the scriptures as Spirit led men taught, debated, and answered questions, all pertaining to and in harmony with authority in religion. When a matter is expressed as God’s universal will for man and his salvation, then it is to be observed as authoritative (cp. Acts 10: 48, 2: 38). Apostolic examples that are clearly seen as having no practical indigenous or limited in scope features are obviously in many teaching verses (cp. Acts 2: 42, Phili. 4: 9). Jesus himself used necessary inference to silence the Sadducees and their teaching of lifelessness after death (cp. Matt. 22: 32).

     Bible authority in application and practice among churches of Christ today. You name the subject, and you will find upon examination division and differences relative to the named subject, all of which is reflective of posture regarding perceived or the lack thereof Bible authority. It was about thirty-five years ago (latter sixties) when I began to really notice changes in churches of Christ as to the matter of the almost up until then generally accepted Bible authority and attendant interpretive system. Some began to attempt to de-emphasize necessary inference and before long, many preachers and churches of Christ dropped the necessary inference. Next, they focused on "approved example" and, again, within a few years, many omitted "approved example." Today, the movement is determined to do away with "command" and many "churches of Christ" are already being influenced to drop "command." As this final stage happens in the progressive process, the matter and concept of Bible authority is altogether removed. Now, those who mention Bible authority are labeled as, "Legalists" and Pharisees." Book, chapter, and verse in the pulpit is not wanted in these churches and among these preachers (cp. I Thes. 5: 21, I Pet. 4: 11). The flood gates are now open in these churches for every conceivable innovation and aberrant doctrine.

     When the concept and need for Bible authority is absent, changes are rapid in coming. In many "Churches of Christ" so characterized and influenced, they do not believe one must experience Bible baptism in order to be saved (rejection of express command, Acts 10: 48). They do not any longer see baptism as necessarily being immersion (rejection of approved examples, cp. Acts 8: 35-40). Also, they reject the fact of babies and children, those not capable of believing, repenting of sin they possess, and confessing Jesus’ deity, are not subjects of water baptism (rejection of necessary inference, Mark 16: 16). These "Churches of Christ" are presently pushing for a change in how women have been viewed in the church, as to their role and work. There was recently a move in the Denver area where I preach to install women as elders, clearly in violation of the teaching of the scriptures and the role of women (I Tim. 3, Tit. 1, I Tim. 2: 8-12).

     How Bible authority is perceived and functionally viewed determines practices and postures. Some are heard saying regarding the Lord’s Supper, "What is wrong with using other elements than unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine, after all, it does not say not to?" Yet, the scriptures show by example that unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine were used for Jesus’ body and blood (Matt. 26: 17-29). More are observed arguing from the silence of the scriptures. However, involved in a true interpretive system, such is not allowed, especially in the presence of command, approved example, and/or necessary inference (see Heb. 7: 14, see addendum 1). Others bind where there is no indication or scriptural stimulus to bind (ultra conservative). For instance, the scriptures do not place the emphasis on the container involving the fruit of the vine, but rather on the contained, the blood of Jesus (Matt. 26: 26f.). Yet, some bind one cup, thus, reflecting a flawed interpretive system and producing division and differences. These same "Churches of Christ" are usually also seen precluding full time preachers working with a local church and forbidding Bible classes, all of which are legitimate expedients. Many of the progressives (those who go beyond, cp. 2 John 9-11) are now insisting on mechanical instruments in worship. They reject express command, approved example, and necessary inference. The average "liberal Church of Christ" has become institutional in their working structure. They must band together and work through the Herald of Truth (a separate entity, having its own treasury), and function under the oversight of the Highland Church of Christ elders (clear refusal of command, I Peter 5: 1-4; approved example, Acts 14: 23). The out of the treasury support of colleges, orphanages, homes for the aged, unwed mothers and you name it are common. Yet, the scriptures limit the use of the church treasury (cp. I Tim. 5: 16).  (After completing this article, click on "I Timothy 5, Widows and Church Versus Individual Action" for a more detailed study of some of the differences.)

     Many influences and conditions are changing how many view Bible authority. The obsession in America today with the selfish philosophy, "If it feels good, do it" is certainly motivational in changing how we view authority. Lawlessness in general and the popularity of the rejection of authority is playing a major role. We are, indeed, in the "me generation" and we are seeing the results everywhere, even in too many churches of Christ. As the "New World Order" continues to move more toward an appreciable degree of reality, tolerance is strongly being put in place and tolerance is antithetical to authority. Sloppy and extremely casual life styles of Americans are also exerting tremendous influence, the "come as you are" mind-set. Along with this "Come as you are" is also the "Believe what you want to" and "You should not be required to make any change in belief and/or practice, but be unconditionally accepted as you are!" Yes, the time is ripe for more digression, apostasy, and loss of identity as the people of God, as we merge into our multi-cultural society (cp. 2 Cor. 6: 14-18).

     I concede that Bible authority can require mental acumen and effort. Determining what are incidentals and not binding in examples, for instance, is part of the process. However, Bible authority, how perceived and applied, is behind differences in churches of Christ today, regarding this, I have no doubt. As I close, let us keep in mind the words of Paul:

     "17: And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him" (Col. 3).

     Recognition and respect for Bible authority should not be onerous and considered a necessary evil. Such respect does not preclude the general attitude of thanksgiving, according to Paul. Yes, there can be and some times is the presence of true legalism that attempts to merit salvation and performs a mechanical protocol they call Bible authority, I do not promote this (cp. Matt. 15: 1f., Eph. 2: 8-10). However, true, biblical love by virtue of its essential nature respects God’s laws and desires (I John 5: 3, 2 John 6).

     Addendum: Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and there was no written provision for those of Judah serving as High Priest, only Levi. However, one does not read in the Hebrew scriptures regulating the Levitical Priesthood, "Thou shall not be High Priest if of the tribe of Judah, etc." Since Levi is specified, it was understood that all other tribes were excluded.