The Dumbing Down of Discipleship, Superficial Scholarship in the churches of Christ

In the last several months there have been several dozen blog posts and articles in coC journals about the decline both of the number of churches and membership. The Christian Chronicle has done a good job of examining the raw data available and raising some relevant questions as to why this trend is real.

I have read letters to the editor, blog posts, and listened to on line sermons, each with some suggestion about how to stop the downward spiral. Most of what I have read only touches upon symptoms and does not address the heart of the problem.

Last night I listened to a message preached by John McCord to his people at the El Campo church of Christ in El Campo, Texas. I invite you to listen to this young man’s sermon. John McCord is one example of a preacher who has decided to no longer facilitate the falsehood of legalistic teaching. This is an example of someone with the courage to bring ethics into the pulpit along with his Bible.

All of the hand wringing and ideas about how to be more relevant, develop better programs, and become more attractive to our communities are all exercises in futility unless the root of the problem is addressed. Shoddy and sometimes even dishonest Bible scholarship is our greatest problem.

The recent uproar about 21st Century Christian not including congregations in their directory that had one or more instrumental service on Sunday highlighted a shocking truth. Today, almost 25% of the members of churches of Christ in the United States attend a congregation which has at least one service on Sunday where singing is accompanied by musical instruments.(I am sure there are others the keepers of the gate to heaven have not discovered yet) This is not the problem. The awful truth is that many of the remaining 75% don’t believe the 25% is going to heaven because they have the dreaded “instrument”. This undeniable fact gets at the root of the decline of the numbers of congregations and members. Many educated, thinking people simply dismiss this sort of nonsense as silly and either move on to some other church of Christ or quietly leave the church tradition of their ancestors.

Why should we expect people to be drawn to or stay in a church that teaches you are in danger of hell fire if you don’t agree with what they teach, and what they teach can’t be supported by the Bible? Almost every member of our churches has a computer at home and within a few clicks of a mouse they can tap into the wisdom of trusted theologians on any given subject and quickly decide if a teaching is Biblical or a myth.

We must devote ourselves to honest interpretation of the scriptures and lay aside the traditions of men if they are not valid. Each of us will do so at great risk but it is worth the effort. Christian discipleship is not for the thin skinned and faint of heart. If you set out to be loyal only to Christ and the word of God you will become the target of zealots whose security is not in Christ but rather in what they do, the system they have endorsed, and the religion they are committed to.

To be what God wants us to be, without regard to the numbers or our critics, we must get back to the basics of the Christian faith. We must become a people of the Word whose lives have the flavor of an authentic, vibrant faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Every area of our lives should reflect our devotion to the Son of God and our unconditional surrender to His will. We must become known as people who love each other unconditionally, who hold each other accountable, who look out for the interests of others, and whose mission on earth is to make Christ known.

True disciples of Jesus are known by how they love. They are not known by how they worship, by what sign is over the door where they worship, or by what their church history is.They are known by loving each other and by loving even their enemies and by so doing loving God.

We must stop pretending we have it all right and everyone else is wrong. We must stop being church centered and become Christ centered. It is high time the Restoration Movement churches are restored to the faith of our fathers without all the trappings of man made religion. It is a life or death matter.


Blog Traffic to Grace Digest

I posted my first blog post on June 29, 2006. It was 4 paragraphs and received one comment. As of today, and 782 posts later, I have learned some things about by blogging.

  • For each post I publish I get about 5 comments. Some posts get no comments and some get many comments.
  • My readers come from most of the states and from about 20 foreign countries. I have regular readers who live in Australia, England, Germany, and Africa. I was most surprised that someone in China sometimes reads what I write.
  • The busiest day for traffic to Grace Digest was 222 page views. The average for ’07 was 21, for ’08 it was 30, and so far in ’09 the average is 55 views each day.
  • If high visitors numbers is what I want I know how to get those big numbers. Tags (key words) like “a cappella”, “instruments in worship”, “coC unity”, “restoration movement”, get large interest and blog hits. Words like “Jesus”, “Christ”, “grace”, “salvation”, “forgiveness”, and “peace of god” get far fewer hits.
  • I am very likely addicted to blogging!

In view of the above facts about my blogging on Grace Digest, what subjects should I choose? And, more importantly, why do it at all?

First, blogging is a purely selfesh outlet for a frustrated writer and preacher/teacher. I seem to learn more when I write as I learn from God’s book and the school of life. I would write much of the same content even if I could not share it. Writing is a personal need fulfilled.

Without regard for the big hit numbers, I intend to share my heart with my readers. My first desire is to encourage every reader to consider the claims of the good news about Jesus and to trust him alone as the only basis of their standing with God. 

I am always learning. I try to, on purpose, approach my open Bible with an open heart and mind, ready for it to shape my thinking and by it’s truth to shape my life. A constant pursuit of objective truth is a passion for me. And, sharing those truths with others is also a very high priority. I know of no better way to accomplish that end than blogging.

I would be lying if I said the big numbers don’t matter to me, they do. But I refuse to taylor what I write with a view of having a large number of readers. So, I will continue to share what moves me at the moment and let the numbers be only numbers.

Part of my desire to continue blogging (apart from selfeshness) is fueled by the wonderful reports from people who have been helped in some way by reading my stuff. Recently, over the span of about 20 days, I received emails and other communications from several people who had read someting here that helped them to understand a part of the Bible better, had some theological question answered, expressed a desire to trust Christ more completely and be more devoted to him. And, I had 3 requests to use something I had written as a part of a sermon, lesson, and in one case a communion meditation.

It is encouraging to be validated by others who are more learned, more experienced, and widely trusted as men and women of God. Two years ago I think, 5 of the presenters at the Pepperdine Lectureships and 3 or 4 presenters at the Tulsa Soulwinning Workshop had recently made kind, encouraging remarks concerning something I had written. I am humbled.

I have also had several odd, nasty, hateful comments that I chose not to publish. Religeous zealots are often furious when you point out their hypcocicy and unbelief. Some folks are offended by truth while others embrace it and are healed by it. That is just the way it is.

As I complete this post and publish it I will shamelessly use some of those traffic generating “tags”.

John 6:40

“….from the mouths of the Restoration fathers”

I first posted the following quotes in April of last year. As I read them again this morning I was compelled to publish them again. They represent the heart of good, godly men, and the heart of the foundation of the Restoration Movement. I can only imagine what angst these good men would know if they could see one group of church of Christ folks branding another group “lost” because of how they worship God. And just as dissapointing, the common teaching that only church of Christ folks are saved.

After carefully reading the following quotes, a few things come to mind. First, these men, like you and me, were not infallible. Each of them spoke for themselves, and none of them should be given the level of trust we give God’s word. However, these statements were made by good, proven men, who refelct lives given completely to God and to the good news about Jesus. The point of this post is not an attempt to make a case for a particular doctrine, or for or against a coC distinctive. My purpose is to remind by dear friends and brothers that when we appeal to the history and tradition of the Resotration Movement for some of what divides us we are sorely wrong.

The fathers speak:

THOMAS CAMPBELL wrote: “We speak to all our Christian brethren, however diversified by professional epithets, those accidental distinctions which have happily and unscripturally diversified the professing world. By our Christian brethren, then, we mean . . . ‘All that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, throughout the churches.’ ” (Millennial Harbinger, Series 1, May 1844, p. 199.)

ALEXANDER CAMPBELL wrote: “But who is a Christian? I answer, every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to his measure of knowledge of his will. . . . I cannot make any one duty the standard of Christian state or character, not even immersion into the name of Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and [cannot] in my heart regard all that have been sprinkled in infancy without their own knowledge and consent, as aliens from Christ and the well-grounded hope of heaven. Should I find a Pedobaptist [one baptized as an infant] more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually-minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving the preference of my heart to him that loveth most. Did I act otherwise, I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians.” (Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 411-412.)

Again, ALEXANDER CAMPBELL wrote: “The case is this: When I see a person who would die for Christ: whose brotherly kindness, sympathy, and active benevolence knows no bounds but his circumstances: whose seat in the Christian assembly is never empty; whose inward piety and devotion are attested by punctual obedience to every known duty; whose family is educated in the fear of the Lord; whose constant companion is the Bible; I say, when I see such a one ranked amongst heathen men and publicans, because he never happened to inquire, but always took it for granted that he had been scripturally baptized, and that [ranking] too, by one greatly destitute of all these public and private virtues, whose chief or exclusive recommendation is that he has been immersed, and that he holds a scriptural theory of the gospel, I feel no disposition to flatter such a one, but rather to disabuse him of his error. And while I would not lead the most excellent professor in any sect to disparage the least of all the commandments of Jesus, I would say to my immersed brother as Paul said to his Jewish brother who gloried in a system which he did not adorn: ‘Sir, will not his uncircumcision, or unbaptism, be counted to him for baptism? and will he not condemn you, who, though having the literal and true baptism, yet dost transgress or neglect the statues of your King?’” (Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 565.)

BARTON W. STONE wrote: “My opinion is that immersion is the only baptism. But shall I therefore make my opinion a term of Christian fellowship? If in this case I thus act, where shall I cease from making my opinions terms of fellowship? I confess I see no end. . . . Let us still acknowledge all to be brethren, who believe in the Lord Jesus, and humbly and honestly obey him, as far as they know his will, and their duty.” (Christian Messenger, 1831, p. 19, 21.)

WALTER SCOTT wrote: “Christians who have not been baptized for the remission of their sins! Strange! Whoever read of such Christians in God’s Word? But the times are peculiar, and as faith does purify the life of a man, and as the man of pure life and pure heart is accepted of God and may receive the Spirit, therefore we must allow, that there are now a days Christians in heart and life who have not been baptized for the remission of their sins. What evidences, then, have they for themselves and others, that they are possessed of the Spirit? None but the moral graces which have already been quoted, viz: love, joy etc.; they don’t need to depend upon an opinion; they feel within themselves and show to those without them by their fruits, that they have been made partakers of the Spirit of Christ.” (The Evangelist, No. 2, Vol. 2, Feb 4, 1833, p. 49.)

ISAAC ERRETT wrote: “There are myriads of godly people, who are in error on baptism, of whom, nevertheless, we are compelled to say, ‘They are not of the world.’ To urge against these a strict and literal application of passages which are meant to mark the distinction between the church and the world, and thus to attempt to thrust them out from our Christian love, among heathens and reprobates, is, in our view, a grievous wrong. As it is a question growing out of the times — a question not directly known in form in the Scriptures, it must be settled in the light of well-established Christian principles, and not by a severly literal construction of Scripture language, spoken with reference to other classes of persons, and another condition of things.
The saints were carried captive into Babylon and remained there a long time. The church lost her primitive purity and excellency. . . . Yet God had a people in Babylon. . . . Now our good brethren may be able to prove to their own satisfaction that all these people of God in Babylon were immersed believers; and they may point, here and there, to bands of religionists, who kept up a protest against the corruptions of Rome. But it strikes us that a people could not come out of Babylon who were not in Babylon; and immersed believers, walking in the light, would have been hard to find within Babylon’s limits! But there was a people of God in Babylon. We incline to the opinion that most of them were unimmersed. They were in many respects an erring people — in regard to baptism they certainly were in great error; but they ‘feared God and wrought righteousness’ and, — what seems as great a stumbling block to many good men now as it was to Peter, until the trammels of sectarianism were knocked off — ‘in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.’” (Millennial Harbinger, 1862, p.120.)

Why can’t you be exactly like me so we can have unity?

There are ongoing discussions in the blogisphere, in joint meetings, in Christian periodicals, and in individual congregations about “Unity”. What is “Unity” and on what basis can Christians have unity with other Christians? Is Christian unity based on theology or ideology? Are we to be unified based on central historic biblical truths or are we to be unified based on what we do “at church” or how we do it?

Church folk born of the rich heritage of the Restoration Movement, churches of Christ and Disciples/Christian churches, have had meetings specifically to address the lack of unity between the two groups who split many years ago primarily over the use of musical instruments to accompany singing in worship services.

Interestingly, both groups are almost identical twins except for how they choose to worship God. Both groups preach Christ’s sacrificial death, His burial, and His resurrection. Both preach water baptism for the remission of sins. Both groups tend toward the Amillennial view of eschatology, and both groups are largely Armenian, or “free will”. Both groups believe a person can loose their salvation, and then curiously be “restored” without the essential baptism for the remission of sins. Both celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s day and share a multiple eldership form of church government.

On the church of Christ side of the equation, there are factions and splits that are so numerous it is difficult to keep track of them. There are “One cuppers”, who will use only one common cup in serving the Lord’s Supper. There are “Non Sunday School” groups, groups against any sort of support for orphanages or missions out of the church purse (anti’s) , etc, etc. To my knowledge all of these smaller factions are solidly in the “a cappella” churches compared to the few “Liberal” churches that use instruments in worship.

On what basis is it possible for such diversity of belief and practice to achieve true unity?

First, what is biblical unity? Psalm 133:1 says “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Surely if people in civic organizations like the Lions Club or a bowling league can get along why is it that people who claim to be “only Christians” can’t get along with each other? You would think that people who have a mandate to love their enemies could get along rather well with brothers and sisters in Christ. Sadly, they don’t.

Other than the one I have mentioned in Psalm 133, the two passages in Ephesians about unity are the ones most of us are most familiar with. In Ephesians 4:3 when the word “unity” is used it is “the unity of the Spirit” and later in chapter 4 the word is used again and this time it is “the unity of the faith”, it is the same “unity” described in different ways. Of course there are many places in the Bible that show us clearly that we are to live in unity, or be together, or as “one”. Psalm 133:1; John 10:16; John 17:11; John 17:21-23; Romans 12:4; and Romans 12:5 all teach the same truth. The John 17 passages are from the high priestly prayer of Jesus when he prayed for “those who will believe because of their (the disciples) witness”. That includes each of us who are believers. Perhaps part of the question about the problems of “unity” among Restorationists is that Jesus was only praying for the saved. I am not implying that none of the Restoration Movement church folks are saved. What I am saying is that perhaps some aren’t.

The oneness that Jesus prayed for and the “unity” discussed in the two Ephesians passages are the same result and the only basis for true biblical unity.

Ephesians 4:1-3 “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.

Ephesians 4:11-16 “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

These two passages clearly show what the problems really are between the “a cappella” churches and the instrumental churches, the “one cuppers” and the multi cuppers, the Sunday school and the non-Sunday school, the ones who have a praise team and those who don’t, and on and on ad nauseam.


1. The “Unity of the Spirit” exists and we are to “keep” it. How? By walking worthy of our calling as God’s people, treating each other “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love. I have seen precious little “lowliness”, “gentleness”, “longsuffering”, and “bearing with one another in love” in the unity discussions have you? In fact, far too often the opposite is true, thus we can’t get along with each other. Carnal Christians, whose motives are fleshly, are going to fight.

2. The reason God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers is to build us up until we all come to “the unity of the faith” and of the knowledge of the Son of God and that we become mature so that we are like Christ. We must have each other! There is not an option. Verse 16, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

There is no doubt that if you and I are walking with the Lord we are going to be able to get along with each other and LIKE doing it.

The “Unity” problem exists for two main reasons. Well meaning people are trying to create a counterfeit unity, based not on our common faith in Christ but on our common, or uncommon, acts of worship and service. The former requires only that we walk in the Spirit and love each other. The later requires all sorts of conformity, selfish demands, changing of traditions, pseudo repentance, and catering to huge egos.

Why under heaven should I worry if you raise your hands in worship when you worship across town from me, 200 miles from me, or across the isle from me? Why should I become exercised and call you “liberal” if you have six song leaders and I only have one? I’m sure you get my point. The disagreements have nothing to do with theology, doctrine, or salvation, but are the fruit of immature men who are fearful of their precious identities. When “the way we have always done it” is challenged the person himself is threatened because that is his identity or who he is.

Most of this infighting is born of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of what someone might think, and fear of being wrong.

There will be no true biblical unity within Restoration Movement camps as long as we are only concerned about ourselves. I say this to the discredit of the majority on both sides. The test of “fellowship” should be on the truth about Christ and faith in Him, not based on a variety of less weighty issues as varied as the people who espouse them.

I have purposed in my heart to love every person who declares his faith in Christ and claims to be my brother. God sees the heart, I don’t. I doubt that I will be in serious jeopardy at the judgment seat of Christ because I have been kind, gentile, and otherwise loving to a person who claims Christ as Lord as I do. I promise you this; I am willing to take that chance.

Grace and Peace

Royce Ogle