Christian Unity?


Last evening I was reading some articles on the web and came across one by one of our “traditional” brothers whose subject was the danger of “Denominationalism”. His thesis is that denominations and denominational churches are unscriptural because they violate passages in the Bible that call for the unity of believers. How can denominational churches claim unity when their very existence is based on their differences? Up to this point the author was making a logical case. Then he disengaged his brain and exposed either his ignorance, (he is a bright, well educated man) or his bias.

After excoriating all denominational churches, and as a result all their people, he then made the case that the churchs of Christ alone are the undenominaitonal churches and are thus the only biblical ones. Any casual observer must admit that churches of Christ have their share of divisions. Here I will only consider the fractions of the churches of Christ, not the Restoration Movement churches as a whole which is a greater problem for anyone who subscribes to the notion that only the church of Christ has unity as discussed in the Bible.

Hmmm, church of Christ unity. In the very same paper by the very same author, there was a piece thrashing North Richland Hills church of Christ for having musical instruments in their worship services. Not only did the author disagree, not only does he not intend to fellowship with such people, he declares that they are not even saved. Some unity huh?

Lets see just how unified the beloved coC is. Institutional vs. non-institutional, once cuppers vs. multiple cuppers, Sunday school vs. non Sunday school, paid preacher, vs. mutual edification, just to name a few. I think you get my point. Then there are those who flagrantly lift their hands in worship, clap along in time with songs, sing during the Lord’s Supper, have a kitchen in the church, have women actually speak in an assembly, consider others outside of churches of Christ Christians, etc., etc.

Christian unity? I believe the denominational churches might have more unity than the coC. I have never heard a Baptist pastor brand a Methodist unsaved because they have different ideas about church government. I have never heard a Calvinist write off those in the “free will” camp as lost because they don’t agree with him on all 5 points of Calvinism. I admit that there is a sprinkling of those whose particular pet doctrine or myth defines in their mind who is saved and unsaved, but largely most denominations work fairly well together. Not so for our beloved churches of Christ.

I am glad to report that things are changing. There is a grace awakening happening across the Restoration Movement churches in spite of the viscous attacks of the most strict traditionalists and zealots. There will always be those few of every stripe who demand that everyone agree with them on every point or be damned to hell.

The sad truth is not obvious to most people but it is true none the less. Without exception those folks who believe someone else is lost because of what they either do or do not do on a given Lord’s day are also wrong on the doctrine of salvation. They put man in the drivers seat with God at his disposal in opposition to the biblical position of God being in control. Every person I have ever had communications with who teaches either a works based salvation or a supposed mixture of works and grace, to the last one, vehemently denies what he clearly teaches. Only one time in my 40 years of being a Christian have I had anyone admit that he believed we are saved by works.

There is only one unifying point that should bond believers of all brands, our common faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. All of the other practices and beliefs that divide God’s people pale in comparison to what we believe about Jesus Christ the son of God. We must first agree about who He is and what He has accomplished for sinners, and then how we receive the gracious gift He offers, which is eternal life. (Romans 6:23)

His peace,
Royce

 

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The effective (or ineffective) church of the 21st century


Over at http://www.kinneymabry.blogspot.com  (Preacherman’s blog) he recently posted under this title ”

“What does the church need to do to thrive in the 21st century?”

Several people left comments, some were pretty good, some were not. The common thread of thought coming from the commenters seemed to be “Today’s church must get our of our comfort zones, the confines of our comfy buildings, and actually impact the communities we are supposed to serve.” And I don’t disagree at all. I do believe the problems with many of our churches lie much deeper than how we choose to serve others or deliver our message. Yes, every congregation should be making a “salt and light” impact on their neighbors, there is no room for debate on this. And, we can all agree that we need to get our message out to the “unchurched” or “unsaved” (you choose the term..) and not expect them to come to us crying out “Sirs, what must we do?”.

I suggest that before we appoint another committee to study the matter of the most efficient way to minister that we set some things straight first.

1. The world needs Christ more than it needs the “Church”!   I will not claim that my research is “scientific” but I have done some observation on purpose. After looking at sermon topics, Bible study titles, resources offered, etc. on both church websites and personal websites (including blogs), and reading the stories that get the most response from “brotherhood” publications, I have concluded that churches of Christ preach “Church” more than “Christ”. This is a trend that must be reversed.

2. Our churches must stop preaching a “gospel system” in favor of preaching a gracious Saviour.  On many church websites you can find the “5 step plan of salvation”, but precious little about our Lord Jesus Christ. Not long ago I visited “Apologetics Press” and read item # 8 of the 9 items under the label “What we believe” and I was astonished to find this statement which I quote:
    “Salvation is by means of obedience to the Gospel system, involving faith in God and Christ,    repentance from sin, confession of faith, and immersion in water for remission of past sins, coupled with a life of growing consecration and dedication.” (emphasis mine)

 Far too many of our churches have the same flawed theology. One only has to pause and think for a moment to realize that the “Gospel System” that is so important that some suggest we should surrender obedience to it, rather than to Jesus Christ himself, was invented in the early 1800’s. Peter, Paul and their contemporaries did not have a copy of the New Testament from which they could lift convenient passages to fit their view of how a sinner is saved. If any honest observer will read the Acts and the remainder of the New Testament they will find that the gospel message was about a Person, not about a Plan, it was centered on a Saviour, not a System.

3. Our worship must be centered upon a unique Person, not upon a uniform Pattern.  Modern day Pharacees have disgraced and deluted true worship in Spirit and in Truth so that instead of being from the heart it is from the head, and instead of being a delight it has become a duty. What happens on Sunday morning in many of our congregations is predictable, and appears to be done by religeous robots, going through the motions, doing all the right things in an almost mechanical way.

I am sure some of you have heard about the man who said loudly “Praise the Lord” and “Amen” in response to the singing and the sermon. Some godly coC elders cornered the fellow after the invitation and inquired about his insulting outbursts. He replied “Well, I’ve got the Spirit and I’m happy in the Lord”. The good elder said in response, ” Will you didn’t get it here, so be quiet”. Could this story be true in your church? 

4. We must become a people who find their identity in Christ and not in how we “do church”.   When we can say honestly we are who we are because of what God has done in Christ on our behalf, rather than striving to become who we hope to be, we are only then ready to give our lost neighbor a valid message of the very good news about Jesus.

I believe with all my soul that the greatest need in our churches is teaching our people who they are in Christ, that they are complete in Him, have a living hope that cannot be taken away, and are hidden with Christ in God, not based on their performance but upon His.

One preacher asked a large Sunday school class are you “walking in the Spirit” and they to the last one had no idea what he was talking about. The Christian life is not about rules to follow but about righteousness by faith. It is not what have “I” done but about what “He” has done on my behalf. In view of what He has accomplished apart from my effort and yours, what is my response and yours in our day to day living before a watching world? To whom do we yield?

Paul was the most educated of all the apostles, he graduated from the best religeous schools, he had the right blood line, he had strictly followed the Law, he possessed knowledge and human wisdom beyond his fellows, but in view of all these facts Paul said “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8,9) Should we not be willing to put away our preferences, our human desires, our pride, perhaps some of our traditions, so that we “may gain Christ” too?

In my view, only after we have started to live out Romans chapter 12 are we credentialed to go out and change our world. Men and women are made fit for heaven one heart at a time by hearing the same message Phillip preached to the Ethopian eunich from the prophet Isiah, “Jesus” was the message. Our problem is we want to do the work of God using the resources and in the energy of human flesh. Perhaps it would be good for us to “go wait” in prayer to be endued with Power from on high so that our ministries and message might be confirmed in “the power and demonstration of the Holy Ghost”, (I Cor 2:4,5) rather than depending on human wisdom.

We must be a people on mission with God in His ministry of Reconciliation. Our task is not to “correct” everyone else in the world who claims Christ as Lord, but to publish the very good news about Jesus both with our lips and our lives. We must make known the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life because He is the only way to the Father. Only when you and I personally know the Resurrection can we save men from death.

Our challenge in 2008 is to try to really “restore” the ancient church’s way of doing business. We are only kidding ourselves if we think that “we” alone are right and that everything “New Testament” runs down hill from Resortation churches.

His peace,
Royce Ogle

 

 

“Churches of Christ in the Untied States”, 2006 Edition raises some questions


Today a copy of the book “Churches of Christ in the United States” 2006 Edition was placed into my hands for my review. This was quite an opportune time since my only productive function this week is to attend to my wife, who is ill, and help boost the stock of Kimberly-Clark, the makers of “Kleenex”. I have the mother of all allergic reactions, a condition I unintentionally succumb to at least twice each year. After an injection in my left hip today, beginning a “Z-Pack” and various and sundry other remedies my wife forced me to take, I am still a mucus fountain. Enough with my complaining, back to the book.As I thumbed through this volume I was impressed with the obvious time and effort spent to produce such a large book with well over 600 pages of facts, statistics, and detailed data. My hat is off to anyone who embarks on such a task. I think it is very well done. It did raise some questions though.

First, since we are a fellowship whose favorite text of the Bible is Acts 2:38, and since our teaching on baptism is one of the distinctives that separates us from the rest of the evangelical world, I thought it was curious that baptism only got a category in the stats along with “adherents””(both baptized and unbaptized individuals)”,  who regularly attend in a given location. “Members” include only those who are “baptized”.

Had I been gathering data for such a volume, one of the most important questions I would have asked would have been something like, “How many folks has your congregation baptized since we last surveyed?” If think the absence of a question such as I suggest is a glaring omission. Why would we not want to measure baptisms? It is interesting that Southern Baptists (the historical objects of our collective scorn) measure their churches effectiveness by “baptisms”. Although their numbers are in decline, in 2006 they reported 364,826 baptisms (world wide), down from 2005 by 7,024. They don’t measure their evangelistic efforts by how many “prayed the sinners prayer”, or “how many came forward” but by number of converts they baptized. I can’t imagine why we in churches of Christ would not want to know that about ourselves.

The second curiosity is that in the book, “mainstream” congregations include both what I would tag “traditional” and “progressive”. All of the other usual divisions result from different nuances of methodology and teaching about how a congregation “does” what it does on Sunday morning. I too find this interesting since the largest 1,000 congregations in the United States and its territories comprise only about 7.5 % of the total congregations, yet have about 35% of all members. It is comical to me that at the top of that list is North Richland Hills church in Texas, slowly inching its way toward being double the size of any other congregation in our fellowship. If I am to believe the “brotherhood” publications, blogs, and messages given in several lectureships, NRH is hardly “mainstream” to many, many of our brothers. I don’t have the information, but it would be interesting to know how many of those largest 1,000 congregations have been the objects of brotherhood wrath because they are not perceived to be “mainstream” in teaching and ministry?

Perhaps in the future, more and more congregations will lift high the blood drenched banner of a crucified and resurrected Christ, who alone is the only answer to man’s common evil enemies, sin and death. I pray that it is so.

His peace,
Royce Ogle

Singing off key using a pitch pipe made of gopher wood


Several months ago, I was assailed by a few brothers in response a letter I wrote that was published in the Christian Chronicle. In that letter I had not embraced the party line on the subject of singing and music in churches of Christ and Christian churches. After exhausting his other familiar arguments, one brother asked in an email the following question.

   “Could Noah have built the Ark out of Mesquite wood and been pleasing to God?  We follow God instructions and are accepted or we no not follow His instructions and are condemned.  Real simple

This was his last of a series of emails we exchanged. His view was that any person or congregation that is not acapella is not right with God and should not be the recipients of our fellowship. My reply to him follows.

My dear brother xxxx

May I appeal to your common sense? Taking your line of reasoning to its logical end, one could invent all sorts of sins, and thus reasons to not to “fellowship” lots of folks. The bible says nothing about making the human voice louder by using electronic equipment, but every acapella congregation I have ever visited had a public address system. The bible says nothing about a church building, water coolers, air conditioners, heaters, telephones, church buses, and the list is endless. None of them is sinful just because the bible never mentioned them and musical instruments are not either.

The bible says “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal 6:3) and, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 8:13) The Psalms encourages God’s people again and again to praise God using musical instruments. When did that change? How much more of the Psalms should we disregard today?

Should I fellowship you? Just because you worship in a church that adheres to the church of Christ tradition of acapella singing, is that enough of a reason? Should I also require that you are a “one cupper”? Should I add that you have no Sunday school? They are not mentioned in the bible! Should I check to see if you comply with every other rule that suits my taste?

Or should I fellowship someone who speaks against brothers who love Jesus as much as you do? Should I fellowship a man who is critical of everyone who is not like him? The first fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 is “love”. Paul talked at great length about the importance of love and the futility of serving God without it. He said even if he became a martyr for the faith without love, he would have failed. I think it is striking that immediately after the famous verses on the supremacy of love Paul said these words.  “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor 13:11) If I am required by my Lord to love my enemies I believe I can manage to love and have fellowship with those who have surrendered their lives to Him, even if they are not like me in some ways. I like Paul’s way better than your way brother. In his letter to the Philippians he said this, “ Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.”  But Paul, do you know they have a piano? Do you know they pool money together with other churches to preach the gospel on foreign soil? Are you aware they have some folks singing while others only listen? But what about the TBN TV network?

Paul would say again, “if Christ is preached I  rejoice, and will rejoice”. I believe I will too.

Royce

We restoration people have much larger fish to fry than what some congregation does on a Lord’s day in some distant city. Before we can hope to be people who embrace scriptural unity we must grow to the place where we can say with Alexander Campbell, “We are only Christians, but not the only Christians”.  And, have the same view of others who claim Jesus as Lord as Paul did.

His peace,
Royce