Bible Questions for the Church of Christ
Bible Questions section:
- Christian Unity
- True Church
- Instrumental Music
- Traditions of Men vs. the Word of God
- Justification: How We Are Saved
- God's Holiness vs. Man's Sin
- Holy Spirit
Note: In addition to this article, please see also our article on "Cults, Heresies, and Heterodoxies." In particular, please note the section on heterodoxy that discusses Six Critical Issues of Liberalism and Five Critical Issues of Legalism.
Top of page Introduction: Doctrine and History
This article is an inside look at the Church of Christ. Our sources are from writings of Church of Christ preachers and college professors. See the bibliography at the end.
Church of Christ members are among the most sincere students of the Bible. They are attempting to bring the church back to a pure biblical faith and obedient practice. This is most refreshing! They are a beacon of light in their effort to restore biblical Christianity. We, as evangelicals, unite with them on the view that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
However, many Christians believe that the Church of Christ is mistaken on some key issues. We should note that Church of Christ people are not monolithic in their views. For simplicity's sake, we can divide the group into two factions. One group is the traditional faction. This group is sometimes referred to by outsiders as "ultraconservative" or "legalistic" or "legalistic patternists." One distinguishing mark of the traditional group is that they believe that salvation is at least partly by the works of man. A second minority group has moved away from legalism to a more orthodox position consistent with other Protestants. This second group emphasizes, like most other Christians, that salvation is by grace.
We are primarily concerned with addressing the views of the legalistic patternists—the traditional norm within the Church of Christ. Below is a summary of the doctrines of the majority within the Churches of Christ. The list below of doctrines is believed by all within the legalistic patternist group and at least some of them are believed by most within the Church of Christ.
"Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (1 Cor 3:5-6)
DOCTRINAL SUMMARY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
They believe that their group has restored the New Testament church—"the ancient order." All other groups are in error, lost, and apostate.
They reject denominationalism and believe that they themselves are not a denomination. This is an unquestioned orthodoxy and they are careful not to use the term "other denominations" as that would include themselves in the denominational world.
They usually deny that there are true Christians in the denominational world. (Example from a CC website: http://www.mabelvalechurchofchrist.org/. Go to "Bulletin Articles" then "Are There Devout Christians in Denominations.")
They put very high emphasis on "wearing the right name," which means that any group that does not call itself the "church of Christ" cannot be part of the true church. (The word church in church of Christ often has a lower case c, implying that they themselves are the church universal.)
They shun the use of the historic creeds and confessions of Christendom and believe that they have no creed themselves, relying only on the Bible. Their views, however, are in print in journals and numerous tracts. And they are famous for the creed-like formula: "Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and Be Baptized."
The gospel is often defined in terms of what a person must do to be saved—"obey the gospel." This is distinctly different from other Christian groups who understand the gospel to be the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.
Baptism is only by immersion and it is an unstated inference that baptism can only be performed by another member of the Church of Christ. It is crucial that the one being baptized understand that his baptism is specifically for the remission of sins. Anyone not baptized by this formula is doomed to hell. (They even pronounce the word baptized differently by placing the accent on the second syllable.)
They believe that the New Testament is primarily a new legal code—the Law of Christ—that replaces the one of the Old Testament. One must follow rigidly the New Testament by their hermeneutic formula (Bible interpretation) of "Direct Command, Approved Example, and Necessary Inference"—although exactly what examples are "approved" and what inferences are "necessary" divide the various factions within the group. No faction, however, ever provides a list of exactly what things one must do to be saved.
They believe in patternism, that is, they attempt to copy what they think the earliest Christians did in their life and worship. They find patternism to be a necessary inference that must be rigidly followed in order to be pleasing to God (and thus saved).
This approach, they believe, leads to certain important conclusions such as the prohibition of instrumental music in worship.
They generally reject the Old Testament except in such instances that they find passages in the Old Testament that lend support to their doctrine.
According to historian Richard Hughes (see bibliography), grace is understood by the CC as something that God is obligated to give the believer who is obedient—though they would not phrase it this way. They will say that we are saved by grace, but . . . . It's what comes after the "but" that is important. What comes after the "but" is not consistent among them; here are some answers they may give: (a) God's grace provides a "way" to salvation, but it's up to us to save ourselves. (b) We are saved by grace up to the time of baptism and then is up to us to maintain our salvation by obedience. (c) Our response to God's grace is essential to receive the free gift of salvation, but that response involves "works of obedience" and not "works of merit." They do not see grace as the regeneration of our dead spirits, as a work of God apart from anything we do or can do.
They may also believe that grace is what God bestows to one who has done everything he can to be obedient. Again, while they may not state it in exactly these terms, we think that it is a necessary inference from their theology; thus grace is the small remaining step that remains toward salvation after one is correctly obedient. God fills the gap with his grace. (Interestingly, this is the same view of grace held by Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.)
When asked how they know that they are saved, they will probably say something like, "I have been obedient" or "I have been pleasing to God."
The role of Christ, and thus the atonement, was merely for the purpose of displaying God's love for man and giving him a law to obey that would bring life. Christ is said to save by furnishing man an example. He simply showed man how to save himself.
Their theology may be either semi-Pelagian (salvation by works plus God's grace) or full-Pelagian (God's grace and the righteousness of Christ may be nice to have, but are not necessary for salvation because one can save himself by obedience).
Despite their emphasis on patternism, works righteousness, the Law of Christ, and their view of grace that is similar to the pseudo-Christian cults, they deny that they are legalists.
The Holy Spirit is not well defined and is limited in his activities. The Holy Spirit is often said to be either not active today, or the Holy Spirit's activities may be limited to the words of the New Testament, or that the Spirit's activities are limited to helping us understand the Bible. In any case, they see the Holy Spirit's activities in a much more confined role than other Christians. So the Holy Spirit becomes, in a sense, the same as the Bible. There is little or no place for the Holy Spirit in regeneration or sanctification. Some even reject the notion that the Holy Spirit indwells a person, despite numerous mentions of this in the New Testament.
They deny (vehemently) the historic Christian doctrine of Original Sin, even though they may admit that (a) everyone sins, and (b) children have to be taught not to be sinful. Thus man sins, not because of any corruption in his nature, but because of his lack of understanding or simple stubbornness. This is a view they share with non-Christian groups: Muslims, communists, eastern religions, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses.
They refuse to fellowship with other Christians, even other conservative Christians.
Question for the Church of Christ: Have we summarized your views correctly?
The Church of Christ is convinced that they have the precisely correct understanding of the Bible. But critics say that they have strayed from their original purpose of Christian unity. They accuse the Church of Christ of having a different gospel, being divisive and sectarian, legalistic, and ignoring or explaining away passages of Scripture that do no fit their presuppositional interpretation. Church of Christ author K. C. Moser accused his brothers of preaching A PLAN instead of THE MAN. By this he meant that they belittle the finished work of Jesus while elevating man's role in salvation. Could any of these charges against such a biblically based group be at all true?
Here is an article by a Church of Christ insider offering a candid look at their exclusive thinking. See chapter 18 of Heritage.
It appears, however, that the legalistic patternist segment of the Church of Christ is dwindling, as indicated by this article: Epiphanies.
If you are a Church of Christ person reading this, let us describe a situation that might be revealing. Let's say that you are introduced to a preacher or elder of conservative denomination (not Church of Christ). How do you feel inside? Do you greet this person with love and a feeling of warmth to be with another believer and servant of the Lord? Or do you immediately feel a sense of distance, antagonism, uneasiness, or superiority?
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
Following is a brief history of the so-called Restoration Movement ("Stone-Campbell Movement") from which the Church of Christ arose.
The movement began in the early 1800's in Kentucky by Alexander Campbell, his father Thomas, and others—especially Barton Stone. Alexander Campbell, in 1809 while still living in Scotland, became concerned about the strict sectarianism of his Presbyterian group, which practiced a form of closed communion in which one had to have a token in order to participate. The whole idea repelled Alexander. He was convinced that no man had the right to determine the worthiness of another to receive God's forgiveness. When his turn came at one point, he returned his token to the elders and did not take communion.
In his heart he renounced allegiance to any church that proclaimed its path as the only way to the throne of God. Yet he insisted that the members of even these churches were true Christians. His concern was that the denominational structure imposed requirements that were not consistent with biblical unity.
Barton Stone, a Presbyterian minister on a similar tract, rejected sectism and started his own movement independent of Campbell. While the two groups had very different views on many issues, they agreed to accept one another as brothers in the faith and merged in 1832. Today, many people in the Restoration Movement refer to the movement as the Stone-Campbell Movement. However, the hypercon contingent resolutely refuses to acknowledge any association with these men. According to Richard Hughes, the reason is that to acknowledge any historical association would be to deny that they are direct descendants of the New Testament church. It would also be an admission that they are a denomination started by men.
Stone and Campbell became leaders of the idea that Christians should be able to spiritually unite on a few fundamental ideas. They held that insistence on matters of interpretation, denominationalism, credism, and ecclesiastical tyranny were not in the spirit of Christianity—given the many calls for peace and unity in the New Testament. Personal interpretation of Scripture should not be the basis for judging others or made the basis of Christian communion. Reflecting this noble idea, Stone and Campbell often said in slightly different variations,
Let us acknowledge all to be our brethren who believe in the Lord Jesus, repent of their sins, and humbly and honestly obey Him as far as they understand his will and their duty.
What a wonderful picture! If we may editorialize, this movement is perhaps the most underappreciated movement, at least in modern church history. These men had a passion for unity as fundamental to the Christian faith. They hailed with enthusiasm the least indications of a growing spirit of forbearance and brotherly love among the different denominations. They saw a spirit of unity among Christians as dethroning sin and Satan and converting the world.
We find much to admire in the original Restoration Movement. While today's members of the Church of Christ recoil at the term, based on the above statement of unity, many evangelicals today would indeed be honored to be called Cambellites!
Every Christian group has its own set of warts. Campbell noted the status of Christian division, "The constant insisting upon them [doctrinal opinions], as articles of faith and terms of salvation, have so beaten them into the minds of men, that, in many instances, they would as soon deny the Bible itself as give up one of those opinions." He believed that while we can debate doctrinal matters, they should not divide us.
However, reflecting the sinful and divisive tendencies of all of us humans, the Restoration Movement itself soon began dividing over differences. For most of the nineteenth century, the terms "Church of Christ," "Disciples of Christ," and "Christian Church" were used more or less interchangeably. But over time the terms became distinct and three groups emerged—the Church of Christ (conservative), the Christian Church (moderate/mainstream), and the Disciples of Christ (liberal). These have further divided so that today one can count over 2 dozen factions. Divisions came from every manner of opinion, including instrumental music, the manner of serving the Supper, millennial theories, missionary methods, orphan homes, cooperative programs with other Christian groups, whether to have Sunday School classes, etc. Those with opposing views were labeled "not sound in the faith" or "liberals" or "extremists" and were marked to be avoided, according to W. Carl Ketcherside in chapter 15 here: Totem.
We infer from Ketcherside and Garrett's inside look at the Church of Christ that this would be all but forgotten and forgiven history if a spirit of separation and condemnation were not still present today. There is adequate evidence for this claim, including a refusal to attend any non-approved church (except perhaps grudgingly at weddings and funerals)—and a special aversion to taking the Lord's Supper in any other church. CC churches seemingly spend a great deal of time studying other groups with the intent of condemning what they believe to be their many egregious errors. This has a tendency to bolster unity within their group. Sadly, the noble goal of uniting Christians ended up dividing us further. In our own tiny Texas town of a population of a few hundred souls, until just recently (2008) there were two Churches of Christ congregations who refused to fellowship with each other.
Here is a chart showing some of the Church of Christ divisions: Creed Rehearsal. The divisions are so severe among the ultra-conservative factions that there is one faction referred to as the "One Cup" group. They believe that a congregation must all partake of the Lord's Supper from a single cup, which apparently cannot be refilled if they run out. Another group, the "Non-Institutional" group doesn't believe in supporting colleges, orphan homes, etc. out of the budget. Most of these ultraconservative factions refuse to have a meal in the church building, and would condemn any other group that disagrees. Here is an interesting article about this ("Reflections" Issue Number 423): Search and Destroy. A book that details the various factions is Churches of Christ in the United States by Carl H. Royster.
What seems to have been both the glue that held the Churches of Christ together over the years, but have also been a force of theological battles are journals. The first and most important journal was Alexander Campbell's Christian Baptist. Campbell edited this journal from 1823 to 1830. Barton Stone edited his own journal from 1826 to 1844 called the Christian Messenger. A number of other journals, including a second one that Campbell himself edited later, have dominated Church of Christ thinking to this day. Hughes believes that the editors of these journals wielded so much authority that they functioned much like bishops!
Campbell postulated two key doctrines: (1) restoration (or primitivism), and (2) Christian unity. Hughes points out in his history of the group that Campbell never grasped that these two goals are irreconcilable and mutually exclusive. His followers tended to coalesce around one or the other of these themes. So splits and disagreements were inevitable. His goal of restoration tended to be sectarian and exclusivist. His goal of unity based on his own simplistic principles ironically had the unintended effect of division by refusing to acknowledge denominational distinctives.
Campbell himself shifted emphasis over his life. His early work through the Christian Baptist tended to be more restorationist and exclusivist, with stinging attacks on Protestant clergy. As he aged, he became more ecumenical, which could only have irritated the restorationist element within the movement.
Stone on the other hand began very ecumenical but became somewhat more sectarian later. The two men merged in the middle of their lives when their thinking was fairly similar. The ecumenical faction of the movement—The Disciples of Christ—is more in tune to Stone's early ecumenism. But the Church of Christ faction clung to a radicalized version of Campbell's Christian Baptist, never understanding Campbell's ecumenical intent.
Regarding the key issue of baptism for remission of sins, Campbell wavered, writing one way then another. He himself was never baptized for remission of sins. Stone came to believe in the doctrine, but never insisted on it as a test for Chrsitian fellowship—arguing over and over that, "To denounce all not immersed as lost, and to cut them off from salvation, however holy and pious they may be, appears to dethrone charity and forbearance from the breast." Were it otherwise, he declared, "countless millions of the fairest characters in the profession of Christianity for many centuries back, have been swept from joyful hope to gloomy despair."
The so-called "Plan of Salvation"—a term that does not appear in the Bible—but which is of utmost importance to the Church of Christ was developed by Walter Scott, an associate of Campbell. In trying to simplify the basic tenets of Christianity, Scott developed a short list of important concepts. The list actually had different configurations. An early configuration included: belief, repentance, immersion, forgiveness, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. But he finally settled on a formula of five human tasks that could literally be counted on the five fingers of one hand: Hear the Gospel (i.e. Jesus is the Messiah), Believe the Gospel, Repent of One's Sins, Confess the Name of Jesus, and Be Baptized for the Forgiveness of Sins. These became the "terms for admission" into the true Church of Christ. Alexander Campbell spoke of Scott as "the first successful proclaimer of this ancient gospel."
Scott himself later became disappointed in the movement he helped found. He believed that people had taken his ideas too far. He felt the movement had become too sectarian and complained that many had become "theoretical to a hair-breadth, and proclaimers of water rather than of Christ," who "talk of baptism for the remission of sins, until every body is sick of it." He said, "When you express your doubts of the matters connected with the recent Reformation, I sympathize with you, for the thing has not been what I hoped it would be by a thousand miles. We are indeed 'a sect' differing but little, of anything that is good, from the parties around us. Alas! my soul is grieved every day."
But the second and third generations of the Restoration movement became increasingly sectarian. Here are some quotes:
Moses Lard (1818-1880): "I mean to say distinctly and emphatically that Martin Luther, if not immersed, was not a Christian."
John F. Rowe : "next to crude and coarse infidelity, we regard the support and propagation of the various denominations as the greatest and basest moral evil upon the earth—in fact it is a species of infidelity itself...." Complaining that students of Church of Christ colleges were being taught wrong doctrine, Rowe railed that the graduates could "see no difference between a Methodist and a Christian."
Benjamin Franklin (1812-1878): "To be sincere and conscientious as a Romanist, a Methodist, or a Quaker, is one question; to be a sincere and conscientious follower of Jesus Christ is entirely another question."
B. F. Hall (1803-1873): "I believe that the Holy Spirit exerts no influence on the heart of sinners over and above the word: that his influences are in the facts he has revealed in the gospel, the evidences by which he has confirmed the facts, and in the motives to obedience presented in the Scriptures of Truth."
Fanning Yater Tant (1908-1997): "There is not a Christian on this earth who is not a member of the church of Christ. There has never been one. There will never be one....De [sic] we mean that denominational people are not true Christians? We mean exactly that....Do we contend that among all the millions of Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other denominational people on the earth there is not even one single, solitary faithful Christian? That is our contention."
By the latter part of the 1800's a wing of the Church of Christ—the radicalized Campbell faction—became so certain of their doctrinal interpretations as the only true way, that they began refusing fellowship with other professing Christians. The turning point of division came in 1889 with the Sand Creek Declaration. With this declaration, the elders of some Churches of Christ pronounced the sentence of "spiritual death" upon sister congregations over which they held not the slightest degree of jurisdiction (See chapter 12, Death of a Dream. Non-conformists were cut off without trial or appeal. People in the condemned congregations were given the "deep freeze" treatment by even former friends, and were branded as "traitor, heretic and apostate." Essentially, these people were disinherited from the family of God and were no longer recognized as his children. According to Ketcherside, the Sand Creek Declaration marked the beginning of the modern Church of Christ.
The doctrinal fights continued into the twentieth century. One major battle was over "millennial theories." The threat of premillennialism consumed the group during the first half of the century. This seems to have been an important issue because it threatened the notion that the Church of Christ was itself the restored church. This left no room for any possibility that Christ himself would come again to establish his reign—and thus the true church—on earth. (It had already been established by the Church of Christ.) Premillennialists have largely been purged from the Church of Christ.
Another huge issue has been the role of the Holy Spirit. Hughes relates in his book the story of how one scholar/preacher was essentially put on trial and driven from the pulpit. His trespass was to quote the New Testament that the Holy Spirit indwells the believer and is indeed active today. Even though the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is mentioned some 7 times in the New Testament, there was no room for debate on this issue.
Still another big issue is the one of instrumental music. This short biography of a figure in CC history is most fascinating and includes some of squabbles over this doctrine: Pinkerton.
Here are two sections of an interesting video series of lectures about the Church of Christ. These two clips last about 9 minutes each and discuss the history of the Restoration Movement. The speaker may go too far in his conclusions (and his style is unnecessarily strident), but the history of this movement is an important aspect to understanding the Church of Christ:
"I love your website. My background includes 25 years in the Church of Christ. Wish I could have had this info during my time with them." ----Bobby, a visitor to our website
BIBLE QUESTIONS FOR THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
If you are a Church of Christ member, would you be willing to explain your views on these various matters? Faith Facts ministry specializes in theology, Christian evidences, world religions, and cults. We are interested in the beliefs of different Christian groups in order to understand them better. We would like to get the opinion of Church of Christ folks on these matters in order to clarify your views, and if your views stand up to the Bible, to help put other Christians on the correct (narrow) way. Since you are so well versed in the Bible, would you be willing to give us answers for the hope that lies within you (1 Peter 3:15)? Frankly, there are some things we find hard to understand and perhaps you can enlighten us.
Below is a list of questions that would help many understand your views on the Bible better. If your views have not been correctly given, please set the record straight. These questions and comments are rather tough and dig very deeply into the Bible and Church of Christ theology. You may have some difficulty with these questions.
As mentioned, there is a very wide range of views within the Church of Christ. Some would be considered mainstream within Christianity. We are addressing these questions to those within the Church of Christ who refuse fellowship with non-Church of Christ groups. However, we are interested in the experience of anyone who may have knowledge of the Church of Christ and invite you to email us.
So we hope you will give us your views on these things. These matters are truly important to millions of people who call themselves Christians; their eternal life in heaven or hell depends on understanding these things properly. So let's wrestle with these issues together. Spiritual truth is more important than "your pride or my pride."
You will notice that each section is numbered. Each number may actually contain more than one question. If you will allow us to study with you, please take the questions in order, one number at a time. Please do not skip any questions and please read the links that are associated with the questions. The links are integral to the questions. Email them to email@example.com referring to the section and number. Thanks!
We are appreciative of a few Church of Christ folks, including preachers, who have taken the time to answer a few of our questions. Indeed, we have been satisfied with many of the answers and have removed those questions from the list. But we still have many more questions that no one has been able to answer. This has increased our concern that they are unanswerable by those in the Church of Christ.
May this dialogue be taken in love and not in scorn, that iron may sharpen iron. We claim no exclusive knowledge except as the Bible teaches. We always welcome our brothers' views.
Top of page What is the Gospel?
"I was raised in the Church of Christ and always assumed that the way the Christian faith was presented there was biblically sound. But a girlfriend in high school shared the gospel with me. I had never heard that the gospel was actually something that God did for me. I had been taught, or at least I inferred, that the gospel was something that I did for God." ----Susan
Please see our article What is the Gospel.
1. Doesn’t 1 Cor 15:1-11 give the clearest and principle definition of the gospel as being something to be believed about Christ dying for our sins? Doesn’t gospel mean “good news” in Greek (as the ancients used the word for events such as the birth of an emperor or a major military victory)? We fear that a non-believer visiting a Church of Christ and hearing that the "good news" is a list of things that they have to do, would not see it as good news. Is it not ultimately found in the grace of God (Acts 20:24 and Col 1:3-6)?
2. According to Rom 1:16 and 1 Cor 1:18, by whose power is the gospel—God's or man's? Don't these passages teach that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not the power of man?
3. Doesn't the Bible specifically separate baptism from the Gospel in 1 Cor 1:17?
4. While this will take a few minutes, would you mind reviewing these three articles: http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/moser/AWPTG.HTM, http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/moser/CVAP.HTM, and http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/moser/jmh_4.html? Our understanding is that a "gospel sermon" given by a Church of Christ preacher would be about the formula of what one must do to be saved: Hear/Believe/Repent/Confess/Be Baptized. If you reject the claim made by Church of Christ preacher K. C. Moser that the CC is guilty of preaching "The Plan" rather than "The Man"—why is he incorrect?
5. Please take a look at these articles by 3 Church of Christ preachers: Carl Ketcherside, chapter 28 Two Great Errors, Leroy Garrett, chapter 10 What is the Gospel also chapter 33 Is Doctrine Important, and Cecil Hook chapter 8 Gospel and Doctrine. Would you agree with the distinction between preaching and teaching, between gospel and doctrine, between fact and interpretation? Isn't the gospel simply a proclamation of good news that one accepts or rejects? Wouldn't you agree that, strictly speaking, the teachings of the apostles are not facts as the gospel is, but interpretations, implications, and edification (chapter 5 beginning page 13, Private Interpretation)? Didn't even the apostles have different opinions and emphases on doctrine; thus Peter said of Paul's teaching, "There are some things in them that are hard to understand."? Are you confusing law and gospel? (The point of this section is that the gospel is something to be believed and is to be preached to non-believers. Matters of obedience are taught to those who are already Christians.)
6. Leroy Garrett further clarifies what the gospel is: "Surely we can see that Jesus was referring to a specific message, a proclamation of certain heavenly facts to be believed. This is why Paul in 1 Cor 1:21 spoke of the gospel as 'the thing preached.' This is why he could speak of 'obeying the gospel,' for the gospel is one thing and obeying it is something else. This is why he could refer to 'the defense and confirmation of the gospel,' for the gospel is one thing, while to defend it and confirm it are something else." Isn't the gospel one thing, and obeying it something else?
7. Just what is the gospel that Paul preached (1 Cor 15:1-8; 1 Cor 2:2; 2 Cor 4:4-6; Rom 1:16-17)? Do you preach the gospel Paul preached? Are you resolved to focus on preaching Christ crucified as Paul did, or do you preach yourselves and your works and another gospel?
8. Isn't the gospel described in 1 Cor 15:1-38 as something that is past tense (Christ's dying for our sins) rather than a list of things that we must do now? Were you redeemed by your acts of obedience or by the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:18-19).
9. So what about the term obey the gospel (Rom 10:16; 2 Thes 1:8; 2 Pet 4:17)? The word for obey that Paul uses in the first two of these verses is the Greek word hupakouo, which is defined in Strong's Concordance as "to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. to listen attentively; by impl. to heed or conform to a command or authority—hearken, be obedient to, obey" (emphasis ours). Thus, the phrase is translated in some modern translations as "welcome the gospel" (or potentially harken the gospel or heed the gospel), or in the negative "refuse the gospel." In other words, what Paul is saying here is something like a parent would say to a child, "You better listen up buster!" While there are implications of obedience, that is not the force of his statement. The force of the statement is to "pay attention." Thus, we argue that this is yet another factor in favor of seeing obedience as a result of the gospel rather than the gospel itself. Does this new information change your thinking at all between the distinction between the gospel itself and obedience? Please read this short article and give us your response: Gospel.
10. Where in the Bible is "obeying the gospel" equated with being baptized?
11. Is it true that the CC teaches that the gospel was not preached before Pentecost? Do not these passages show that it was in fact preached before Pentecost: Mat 11:5, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 20:1, Rev 14:6?
This distinction between gospel and doctrine, between gospel and obedience, is crucial and seems clear to most Christians except certain modern CC parties. The founders of the Restoration Movement certainly understood the distinction. And the founders of the Protestant Reformation clearly understood the difference as they insisted on a distinction between, as they put it, gospel and law. This helps us understand why Alexander Campbell taught that we should consider as brothers even those new Christians who may not fully understand all of the details of Christian doctrine, or indeed even those who may have legitimate disagreements as to interpretation—and even those who err out of weakness or misunderstanding as we all do. Thus, the basis of unity should be gospel, rather than doctrine. Ketcherside said, "This [distinction] does havoc to what many of us have been calling 'gospel sermons.' Campbell said that a clear, scriptural sermon on faith, repentance and baptism is not gospel preaching. It may of course be truth, and even related to the gospel, and yet not be the gospel."
In the spirit of the Restoration Movement, the focus of the remaining questions below is to try to establish that there are valid differences of opinions among sincere Christians, even as to important doctrines. (Perhaps God wanted it to be that way in order to enrich our faith experience and learn to live together as believers.)
These questions will probably generate some strong reactions. Leroy Garrett says that in the days of his sectarian understanding of these things, he "never lost a debate" in his own mind. Garrett and others like him say that it was only after fully understanding God's love that he could truly put aside his party spirit to experience joy in the diverse opinions of his brothers —and with that a great burden was lifted from him. Even more than exploring what is the "best fit" interpretations of Scripture, we hope to demonstrate to all fellow believers in Christ that we ought naught to restrict our fellowship to those who are closest to us in doctrine.
For more detail from a Church of Christ source, see Maxey on Obeying the Gospel.
Top of page Christian Unity
"I knew within my heart that something was not right with the way we dealt with each other as Christians. Hostility, jealousy, judging, ostracizing, and the like abounded. All of these were being practiced [in the church of Christ]. Grace and love were very rare. As I began to read and study, I realized that for about thirty years I had been duped, misled and brainwashed. I could not believe the magnitude of this deception. As the scales began falling from my eyes, I began to see more and more clearly, and I grew more and more angry. I have harbored a lot of resentment in my heart since my eyes were opened. But lately, thanks be to God, I have been able to let it go." -----(testimony of a Church of Christ sister. For the rest of her testimony see Ashamed.)
Basis for Unity
1. Is it true that the CC believes that it alone is "the New Testament church?" Apparently only Churches of Christ—and only some of them (!)—qualify to be included in the "church of Christ." Is it correct that members of other Christian denominations cannot be saved if they remain in those groups (or that saved members of other denominations would surely leave those groups in time)? Yet is it also correct, as Cecil Hook says, that there is disagreement among CC members on some 100 issues: chapter 1, Issues Before Us? There are some important issues on this list, including matters of life and death—war, abortion, euthanasia. Is it fair to ask this question: How can one be sure of his salvation if there is disagreement about what one must believe and do?
2. Members of the CC ask, "How can we accept professing Christians who are in error?" Given the diversity of opinion within your own group, every one of the group must be in error on some things, right? Hook offers some interesting insights into the divisions within the Church of Christ: chapter 25 beginning on page 87, Can Our Churches Unite. Is unity to be defined as getting people into a non-instrumental congregation and wearing the revered name of Church of Christ? Is the message that you proclaim intending to promote unity itself divisive?
3. Stone and Campbell’s original concept was to foster unity within the church. They recognized that even the apostles had disagreements, but in love they could remain united. How do you respond to Leroy Garrett's charge that the CC has "rediscovered the horrid sin of partyism"—the pride of being right and exclusive and superior with an "arrogant demand for conformity." Isn't partyism such a horrible sin that it can prevent one from reaching the kingdom of God (Gal 5:20-21)?
4. Garrett says, (chapter 46, Separated) "We do not work for unity; we rather accept the Spirit's gift of unity to the church. We are already united with all those who are in Christ." If he is mistaken, what do the many passages on unity mean (Jn 17:20-23, Rom 15:5-7, 1 Cor 1:10-12, Eph 1:10, Eph 4:1-16, Php 1:27, Col 3:11-16)? Is it a sin to fail to be in spiritual unity with your Christian brothers on the gospel—one fact of Christ?
5. Ferguson says, "There is no place for a diversity born of party spirit. Division is a denial of salvation, since the goal of Ephesians 1:10 is uniting all in Christ. Saying that these things are not enough to unite people is a denial of the fundamentals of Christianity." He reminds his brothers in the CC "not to be too quick to draw lines of fellowship or division....as the church will never be perfect; otherwise there would be not need for the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and no need for human history."
6. The basis for unity for the CC are both (a) the New Testament, and (b) the New Testament church. That sounds like a reasonable thing for Christians. But Garrett makes an interesting point that perhaps these are, in fact, contradictory goals (chapter 44, Fallacy)! He points out that the New Testament church itself was not modeled after the New Testament! They did not have the New Testament!
7. So if we are to use a model of unity based on the New Testament church, shouldn't our unity be based on what theirs was—the fundamental facts of the gospel? Could Garrett be correct that there was no such thing among the early Christians as a formal union upon the "Bible alone?" In fact, isn't he correct that, "If unity is a matter of seeing the Bible eye-to-eye, then believers will never be united, for they never have and never will see the Bible alike (chapter 51, Unifying)."
8. Obviously, a line must be drawn somewhere since everyone is not a Christian. But we must not draw a line where the Bible does not draw a line. Wasn't the unity of the New Testament church what Paul says in 1 Cor 1, with "all those in who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?"
9. To what extent can we pass judgment on another? What does Paul mean in Romans 14:4: "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls."?
10. Is the CC ever a “stumbling block” to the gospel? Do those who hear this emphasis on law and guilt ever “perish of thirst beside what should have been a refreshing pool of the water of life (chapter 17, Mortality Rate)?"
11. Apparently the CC spends a good bit of time studying other groups' theology in order to condemn what they see as egregious errors. And labels are attached such as "sectarian," "liberal," "ultra-conservative," "heretic," "not sound in the faith," "not of us," "dishonest," or "institutional," or an "anti" or an "extremist." Such labels are put on denominational churches as well as sister Churches of Christ. Ketcherside insisted that the apostle Paul would vehemently reject such labels, and said, "Unless our brethren are transformed by the Spirit and renounce their false premise they are destined to become the most narrow and antagonistic sectarians of our age."
Let us emphatically assert that such sectarian feelings are not unique to the CC! We have enough experience with denominations to know that many in the denominational world see themselves as members of the denomination first and as Christians second. They are bound by inbred traditions and uninspired creeds which they feel a necessity to defend. Lengthy confessional statements are the way that many organizations put a straight jacket on pastors, teachers, and lay leaders. But, unlike the CC, most will allow fellowship and communion with those outside the denomination and certainly consider others as true Christians.
12. Some say that what the CC really means by “unity on the Bible” is to follow their particular view of things, including no instrumental music, gospel plan, Bible name, weekly communion, ruling elder church government, etc. Is it correct that your answer to division is for everyone else to line up with you, as Leroy Garrett claims? Isn't there a difference between unity and uniformity? In other words, can't we have unity without uniformity? We hear from CC people that they will fully accept anyone who "repents." But what seems to be meant by repent is to forsake non-CC views and come on over. What did Paul mean in Romans 14:18-19? Does it mean that whoever serves Christ in the way you think they should is "acceptable to God?" Or what did Jesus mean when in Mark 9:38-51:
“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.”
13. Jesus said "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35). Ketcherside says (chapter 50, Glory), "It is not by being baptized or by faithfully attending services that the world will be impressed, nor by being right or doctrinally sound. It is rather the magnificent Christian dynamic of love that will press the claims of Jesus upon men's conscience."
As an introduction, please watch this video from a CC preacher about divisions in the Restoration Movement: Divisions.
One respondent to our article said this: "Those erring members of the church who refuse to grow out of false teachings and grow into a knowledge of and submission to the Truth are to be rejected, not tolerated." Of course, what is meant here by Truth is truth as the Church of Christ understands it.
1. Is it correct that CC will not fellowship with Christians who are "in error?" Is there any other kind of Christian? In other words, since CC members both acknowledge their own sin and disagree on so many points among themselves, is it not correct that each member of the Church of Christ must be in error on at least some points?
2. Is it correct that in some cities there are as many as half a dozen different groups of Churches of Christ, none of which will fellowship with the others?
3. Isn't Ketcherside correct when he says "All of this talk about 'full fellowship' is sheer poppycock. It is wholly without scriptural warrant and has been conjured up...God has no stepchildren so we can have no half-brothers. If we are in his family we are in it wholly or not at all. The idea that you can be in partial fellowship is like loving the right side of your wife and hating the left side. You cannot parcel God out and you cannot carve up his spiritual offspring either (chapter 15, Authority)".
4. Ketcherside clarified that, "Harmony is not essential to fellowship, but is a goal of those who are in fellowship....There is no passage in the apostolic doctrine commanding harmony which was written to bring the saints into fellowship. Every such passage was written to those who were in the fellowship and because they were in it. Please consider (chapter 24, Fellowship)." Does fellowship require the endorsement of another's position or views? Are people in fellowship by being called by God through the Good News of Jesus Christ or some other means?
5. Garrett and Ketcherside challenge the usual CC interpretation of certain proof texts for disfellowship. For example, 2 Thes 3:6 says to "withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us." First of all, the verse implies that those so identified are still brothers. It does not say to disfellowship from them. Please read what Garrett has to say: chapter 26, Disorderly. He explains that the context of this passage is the urgent expectation of the expected Second Coming (mentioned regularly in 1st and 2nd Thes) in which some brothers were not bearing their load. Paul says that those who did not work should not eat (2 Thes 3:10), and that the church should discourage this freeloading by not being a party to it. As this is no doubt a different interpretation than you have been taught, your comments are welcome.
6. Another such proof text is Rom 16:17, which says to avoid those who cause division contrary to what they had been taught. Ketcherside is of the view that some have turned this passage into a meaning exactly opposite to its intent. What had they been taught? Hadn't they been taught to love one another, not to dispute over opinions, and to live in harmony? (See Rom 12, 13, and 14, etc). Ketcherside says that "Without realizing it, every partisan who has ever used Romans 16:17, to justify his pet division, and condone his unwritten creed, has pronounced his own condemnation by quoting this verse (chapter 27, Divisions)!"
7. What do you think of Leroy Garrett's statements regarding 1 John 1:1-4, "If we use fellowship to refer to anything less than the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church throughout the world, we are using it in a sectarian sense. There is no such thing as 'our fellowship' except in terms of a sect." And, "True, one may not approve or endorse what some denomination teaches or practices, but this has little or nothing to do with fellowship, which is a relationship that exists between a person and God and with other persons (chapter 42, Christian Church)."
8. Isn't it correct that even Alexander Campbell himself would not be accepted in many Churches of Christ today since he did not believe that baptism was absolutely essential for salvation, was not himself baptized for the remission of sins, believed that there were Christians in the sects, and served for some sixteen years as president of the first CC missionary society? And Thomas Campbell could not be fellowshipped for the most of the same reasons and also because he was a Calvinist in his theology?
9. Al Maxey has challenged CC members for decades to provide a specific list of fellowship/salvation issues (Fellowship). We too would like to see such a list. Please email it to us.
Top of page True Church
1. Based on the responses, this essay is one of Al Maxey's biggest hits. Please read Maxey on The Universal Body and offer your critique.
2. Are we saved by the Church of Christ, or the Christ of the church?
3. Walter Scott in the preface of his book, The Gospel Restored, said: "In 1827 the True Gospel was restored. For distinction's sake, it was styled the Ancient Gospel." In a more recent Church of Christ tract, the writer says: "She [the church] was HIDDEN for 1260 years, that she might be protected from the power of the Popes." Is it true that some within the CC still teach that the true church was really completely hidden for some 1260 years, so hidden in fact that Alexander Campbell had to find a Baptist preacher to baptize him?
4. Apparently not all CC people have this understanding of the 1260 year church gap. Some only say that the true church existed during those 1260 years, although believers had to worship in secret lest they be persecuted by the apostate Catholic church. But if you do hold to the gap view, what is the meaning of Mat 28:20 (“And lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the age.”)? And Ephesians 3:21 (“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”) If the church was in apostasy for centuries, why does Jesus say, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it”?
5. Is it correct that sometimes the CC considers Christians who "do not walk with you," as Ketcherside claims (chapter 22, Butting Brethren) to be "hobbyists, or dishonest, or insincere, or sectarians, or unworthy of notice?" Did Jesus die for a particular party within Christendom? Do you know precisely where God would draw the line to eliminate certain people from being considered Christians? How would you define "sect?" Would you define it differently than Cecil Hook (chapter 24 beginning on page 84, One Hundred)?
6. Hasn’t the church always been in need of reform and restoration—even from the beginning, as evidenced by Paul’ letters to his churches? If a man loses his leg, doesn’t he still have the essential nature of a man? If the church loses some correct practices, doesn’t it still have the essential nature of a church (chapter 19, Identity)?
7. The concept of the restoration of the true church is a view that the CC holds in common with Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. If the church only existed in “seed” (meaning the Word) as you say during this church gap period, wherein the “seed” does it prophecy that Alexander Campbell and his followers would restore the church? Or where in the “seed” does it authorize anyone to restore the church?
8. Is it fair to accuse other Christians groups of having been started by men, when history clearly shows that the Church of Christ was started by men—Thomas and Alexander Campbell on May 4, 1811?
9. How does the Bible differentiate between joining a local congregation and joining the universal church of Christ (chapter 22, Your Church)?
"Brother Al, I wanted to tell you how much my husband and I appreciate your efforts toward bringing unity among all believers through your preaching and teaching, and especially through your Reflections articles. We pray that God will bless you richly in this effort. We were raised up in the "conservative" church, and had been members of our local congregation for almost 30 years. After becoming frustrated with all the division, mean-spiritedness, bitterness and anger, we decided to start meeting in our home with other members of our immediate family. My husband and brother-in-law found several web sites that we began to visit regularly --- those maintained by Carl Ketcherside, Edward Fudge and Al Maxey. We have also been attending a "non-denominational church" here some, and we've heard excellent lessons on GRACE --- a subject that I had never, ever heard a sermon on!! My husband leaned over at one point during one of those lessons and said, "Why did I have to wait 45 years to hear this?!" It has been so refreshing to hear about our freedom in Christ. We have never been so happy in our Christian lives. I genuinely believe that we had been "brainwashed," in a sense, not having been exposed to anything but the dogmas of the Church of Christ. Brother Al, thank you so much for your help!!" ----a response to Al Maxey's Reflections email newsletter
Top of page Instrumental Music
A study of CC doctrine is, of course, not complete without a look at instrumental music! The non-instrumental music wing of the CC feels so strongly about this that they will not fellowship with churches who use instrumental music, saying "We don't fellowship the instrument."
A cappella singing is wonderful and most worshipful! The concern is why this issue would cause folks to break fellowship with other Christians.
1. Why is instrumental music not allowed in worship when the definition of psalm (which you do allow) is a hymn set to instrumental music (see Strong’s Dictionary of the Greek New Testament, as well as any English dictionary)? Since psalms are included in a proper worship (Ephesians 5:19), shouldn’t instrumental music necessarily be used in worship to be obedient to Scripture? Is it being disobedient to Paul’s instruction by not using psalms correctly in the worship service? In other words, given the definition of psalm, by your own rules of "inclusion and exclusion," doesn’t the Bible require instrumental music?
2. In fact, don't all three words used in Ephesians 5:19 (psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs) include musical instruments in their definition? Go to to the online Blue Letter Bible to Ephesians 5:19 and look up the meanings, including synonyms, of each word: Blue Letter Bible.
3. Aren’t there instruments of music in worship to God in heaven (Rev 5:8)? Aren’t there instruments of music in worship in the Old Testament? Is there any condemnation of instruments of music anywhere in the Bible (chapter 5, Silence Says Something)? While there are many Psalms quoted in the New Testament, why are there no statements of caution to make sure to not obey the musical instrument passages in the Psalms? Is this practice from the Word of God or is it a tradition of men? Is it really so important as to break fellowship with other Christians?
4. Is there a single solitary sentence anywhere in all of Scripture that even hints of God's disapproval of instrumental accompaniment to singing (Maxey on Pinkerton).
5. It seems to us that the Church of Christ is desperately inconsistent in interpreting the Bible. If necessary to prove a point, the CC calls on the Old Testament. Examples: In order to try to disprove Original Sin, you call on Ezekiel 18:19-32. If you want to support patternism, you call on Leviticus 10:1-2. Aside from both of the passages taken out of context to prove a point, why do you conveniently ignore the Old Testament passages about instrumental music?
"You cannot believe how comforting and informative your site has been to me. I was raised 3rd generation church of Christ, attended services 3 times a week, went to teen devotionals, youth rallies, etc.—and even attended a school supported by the churches of Christ. All my life I have loved the Lord and believed many of the things they teach. However, there were also things I questioned and remained confused over. Music in the church—why did God like us to worship Him that way in the O.T. and have it in heaven, but condemn it now? The Holy Spirit was something else that was never explained like I read in the Bible. I was always concerned with being good so I could get to heaven and tried my best to obey all the commands, but worried and lost sleep because I knew I wasn't doing everything right. I knew Jesus died for our sins, but didn't realize what justification and grace really were. Thank God, I met someone who took the time to speak with me patiently and show me truths from Scripture that I never understood. It was hard to get through to me in some things because of my complete immersion into the beliefs of the church of Christ. I cried tears of joy when I finally realized what the gospel really says and that it is all about HIM and that I cannot earn my way there, but have to believe in Christ and what He accomplished on the cross—and that he would help complete the work in me. Finally, I understood perfect love casts out fear." ----from Laura, a visitor to our website
Top of page Denomination
A Church of Christ website (www.lookinguntojesus.net/20070218.htm) makes the statement that, "One becomes a Catholic differently than one becomes a Christian. The two are not synonymous. Likewise, becoming a Baptist is incompatible with becoming a Christian. These and other denominational groups are not segments of Christianity; they are all different from Biblical Christianity."
1. The CC says that denominationalism is bad, should be shunned and abandoned —a goal which may be worthy as denominationalism does unnecessarily separate Christians. But Webster gives these definitions of a denomination: (1) act of denominating or naming, (2) a name, designation, or title, (3) a class, or society of individuals, called by the same name; a sect. Is not the CC a denomination on every one of these points? Has the CC, perhaps with good intention, added to the denominational problem by using the Church of Christ name exclusively (chapter 11, Denominate Ourselves)?
2. Is it true that if one is truly seeking to please God that he must wear a name "approved by God?" CC materials say that, “Investigate and be a member of no church but the one you can read about in the Bible.” Are we correct in inferring that this limits one to the Church of Christ? Does this mean that those who "wear a name" such as Methodist or Baptist should be condemned and disfellowshipped? Could the insistence on the name be a tradition of men rather than from God, as Cecil Hook suggests: chapter 12, Sectarianism?
3. Has the CC assumed a sectarian spirit with the exclusive use of this name? If it is important for the group to be titled biblically, while Church of Christ seems like a good name, why not sometimes use the following terms that the Bible says of the church—the “Churches of God in Christ Jesus” (2 Thes 14), or “Church of God” (Acts 20:28, 1 Cor 15:9), or “The Way” (Acts 9:2, 16:17, 18:25-26, 19:9,23, 22:4, 24:14, 22, 2 Peter 2:2), or “Bride” (John 3:29). Or—the “Pillar and the Ground,” “The Body,” “Temple,” “Building,” “Household Flock,” “City,” “Candlestick of Christ,” “Churches (plural) of Christ,” “Sheep,” “Elect,” “Living Stones”—all of which are used in the Bible for the church or for God’s people? Does the Bible in ANY place command to use a definite, specific name consistent for the church? Were the many churches in the New Testament that were not called by the name of Church of Christ saved or lost? Indeed, isn't it correct that no individual congregation is called Church of Christ in the New Testament?
4. The word translated church (Greek ekklesia) is used in the New Testament only in 1 Cor 11:20 and Rev 1:10, and it means “belonging to the Lord; pertaining to the Lord.” Cecil Hook asks several questions of his brethren in his book about this (chapter 11, Denominate Ourselves). For example, how could a word which has a limited counterpart in the New Testament be a part of an authorized title for God’s people?
5. The Bible (Acts 11:26) says that Christians were first called “Christians” in Antioch, eleven years after Pentecost when CC claims the church began. Were the followers of Christ truly Christian during these intervening eleven years? Were any of them saved before they got a name? Isn’t this a long time for a bride to take on her husband’s name? Why wasn’t the name “Church of Christ” used?
6. Have you become a nondenominated denomination?
Top of pageTraditions of Men vs. the Word of God
"I, like most in the churches of Christ, was raised up on the notion that we must "restore" the first century church to present day America. It was something I never questioned, and just assumed (like most) that it was a biblical concept and goal. However, some years back I began a personal quest to confirm my beliefs, and I soon learned that many of my cherished convictions came more from my forefathers in the faith than from my Faithful Father! This notion of restoration of the first century church is one of them, in my view." ----Al Maxey
We have been told by a CC preacher that what unites the Church of Christ is hermeneutics (method of biblical interpretation) more than anything else. The formula used is "specific commandments, approved apostolic examples, and necessary inferences." This is further clarified by the rule of "inclusions and exclusions." This means, as we understand, that anything that is included in the New Testament must be obeyed; and anything that is not in the New Testament must be avoided, except those things which are deemed to be required or avoided by necessary inference. When they see other groups who fail these tests as they define them, they accuse them of practicing things that are "traditions of men rather than the word of God." But are these formulas themselves traditions of men rather than the word of God?
1. Is there such a thing as Church of Christ doctrine? Here's a testimony of a Church of Christ preacher who, after for 40 years changed his mind on this: Church of Christ Doctrine.
2. How do you know that biblical silence is prohibitive rather than permissive? Maxey on Silence. In this article, Maxey discusses the three most used Bible passages that are used to prove the "Law of Silence." Your thoughts on this would be appreciated.
3. What about the so-called "Law of Silence" or the "Principle of Prohibitive Silence"—that is, not doing what the Bible is silent on? Isn't this actually a fallacious principle, as pointed out by Church of Christ preacher Al Maxey: http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx354.htm? Isn't Maxey on to something when he insists that in the areas in which God has said nothing, that this is NOT PROHIBITIVE? Where in the Bible is this "law of silence" enumerated? Could you give us a list of truths that God has revealed to his people by saying absolutely nothing about them?
4. Consider this example. Let's say that a father has prescribed list of things for his children to do and not to do to honor him. He is insistent that he is to receive a greeting card on his birthday. They are to kiss him good night each evening. They are never to speak ill of him. But let's say his daughter loves him so much that one day she picks a bouquet of wildflowers and gives it to him—an act that is not on the father's list. Is she to be condemned or chastised for this act of love? Aren't there innumerable ways to honor God out of our love which are not specifically mentioned in the Bible (chapter 15, Worship by Demand)? Maybe, just maybe, playing beautiful instrumental music in church might fit into this category! Did you know that there is in fact NO pattern to worship in the Bible (chapter 26 beginning on page 91, Sickness).
5. Isn't the Bible silent on many things which Churches of Christ do or use: church buildings, "placing membership," plan of salvation, shaped notes, four-part harmony, audio and visual equipment, "five acts of worship," worship leaders, located preachers, youth director, campus ministers, pitch pipes, tuning forks, Sunday school, greeters, ushers, collection plate, invitations song, church budget, pledge cards, "laying contributions at the elders' feet," prohibitions against helping community organizations, song leader, grape juice, auditorium, etc? Nothing wrong with these, for sure. But they are indeed traditions, no?
6. Cecil Hook documents in his books Free to Change (chapter 33 beginning on page 113, Hermeneutic) and Free as Sons (chapter 20 beginning on page 56, Pattern) that: "Let's Face It: None of us is willing to follow those three rules consistently. We accept what seems to fit our understanding, and we reject or overlook teachings of the same classification that do not fit our mental picture." How about taking a minute to read the articles on these links. So we ask, is the pattern you seek in church not there after all? Is Hook correct that patternism is evidence of legalism? Does such patternism subtract from the focus on Christ?
7. What is the vital factor which God sees to be known by him? Is it loving God (1 Cor 8:2-3 f) or the code of rules that you suppose to be the law of Christ? If patternism is so important, why do you limit your patterns to the book of Acts? Why not follow the pattern of Jesus, who consistently tended to the weak, sick, and needy?
8. What is the core message of the Bible? Is it, as Abilene Christian and Pepperdine professor Thomas Olbricht insists that it is: the "mighty acts of God" and "God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit?" Or is it rather "commands, examples, and necessary inferences?" Should it not be the faith, hope, and love realized in the lives of believers through the power and grace of God?
9. These formulas bring up a long list of questions that we might ask, especially regarding necessary inferences. It seems that what is a necessary inference varies even among CC folks. But suffice it to wonder whether a "necessary" inference becomes any doctrine or practice that someone in the Church of Christ deems necessary (or whether the formula is a necessary tool to exclude many other Christians and Christian practices). Since these formulas are not specific commands in the New Testament and since "necessary" seems to be merely an interpretation, shouldn't others necessarily infer that these formulas themselves are traditions of men rather than the word of God? See Al Maxey's comments on Necessary Inference.
10. Are examples and incidental details in the Bible binding? How does one answer the issues raised by Mr. Hook’s explanation on this: chapter 2, Law and Principle? Is it the detail or the purpose that is important, such as at the Lord's Table? Is it correct to assume that breaking bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7f) is binding? Remembering that the Jewish day was from sundown to sundown, and since this gathering in Acts 20:7 was at night, it had to be on what we know as Saturday night. Is the CC's insistence on a Sunday Communion therefore breaking this New Testament example? Since that was the only such instance in the New Testament, how can one be certain to the point of law that this was not an isolated example? How can you even be certain that this was Communion rather than a fellowship meal? Would Jesus pronounce a woe on such sacred cows?
11. And a bit more on the notion of "Patternism," that is, the idea that we MUST follow the pattern of the disciples as found in the book of Acts. Where in the Bible is this command found? Cecil Hook demonstrates that the proof text of Heb 8:5 is misplaced (chapter 20 beginning on page 56, Pattern). We would be interested in your comments on this reference and also from Al Maxey: Patternism.
Church of Christ folks love debates. Here is a great one, a debate on patternism: Maxey vs. Broking.
12. Do you really think that you are following the New Testament pattern? Well, let's just do a little check. Are you following all of these New Testament patterns? Or are you arbitrarily assigning reasons why some should not be followed?
- Do you allow speaking in tongues? (1 Cor 14:39)
- Do all who believe have all things in common? Do you sell your possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
- Do you greet one another with a holy kiss. (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thes 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14)
- Does every wife who prays or prophecies do so with her head covered? (1 Cor 11:5)
- Do you wash one another's feet. (John 13:14, et. al.) See Pedilavium.
- Do you have Deaconesses (Romans 16:1)
- Do you anoint with oil, lay on hands, etc, etc.?
- Do you in every place lift holy hands when you pray (1 Tim 2:8)?
13. On the other hand, do you show patterns that are not in Scripture, such as weddings, funerals, election of elders, business meetings, thrice weekly meetings at church, and so forth? Are elders given authority to ordain scruples and standards and to withdraw from those who do not comply? If so, isn't this contrary to the warning of Jesus, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you... " (Mat 20:25-26). See chapter 23 beginning on page 81, Route to Heaven.
14. What about methods of carrying on church business and of selecting of elders—are such laid out in the Bible (chapter 22, Organization, and chapter 23, Autonomous)? Are accepted practices really from the word of God, or are they traditions of men?
15. Edward Fudge argues that Hebrews 8:1-6 is not suggesting that Christians keep patterns, but in fact the writer of Hebrews is making a contrast with the Christian order (Fudge on Patternism). Indeed, Fudge further argues that patternism is a tradition of men rather than the word of God. Please offer your rebuttal.
16. The Church of Christ also teaches that tradition is to be avoided based on Mat 15:2-6 and Mk 7:3-13. But doesn't the Bible itself teach that there are verbal traditions to which one must hold (2 Thes 2:15)? If it is not okay to use tradition in the Christian faith, how do we even know who wrote the first book of the New Testament? While the Bible contains all truth, is all truth in the Bible? Isn't it reasonable to think that there are as many ways to honor God as his infinite nature would imply?
17. We would again suggest that you read Cecil Hook's comments in chapter 33 beginning on page 113, Hermeneutic. Is our sufficiency in a written code in the New Testament, or rather in the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6)? Do we have eternal life via the Scriptures or simply in Jesus (John 5:39)?
18. How does one answer the following charge made by Bob Ross in his book Campbellism; It’s Histories and Heresies: “Campbellism is salvation by works because it requires one to obey—in order to be saved—a ‘gospel plan’ that in order requires (a) faith, repentance, good confession, baptism, remission of sins, and the Holy Spirit—thus requires a sacramental ordinance, and (b) requires the assistance of another person [“priest”] and thus the obedience of the one assisting.” Is this construct a tradition of man rather a commandment of God?
Top of pageJustification: How We Are Saved
Works Righteousness and Legalism versus Imputed Righteousness
"I've tried my entire life to keep all the rules and was so deadened staring at a mean, vindictive God who handed out more rules for 'comfort'." ----a Church of Christ sister in Phoenix
"What started me questioning my church of Christ theology was when my uncle preached a sermon on 'the point of no return.' He told the entire youth group that you can sin so badly you can go to hell, and Jesus' blood doesn't cover you. Imagine hearing that at fifteen years old. For two years I would cry myself to sleep I was so scared. But Jesus has opened my eyes!" -----Andrea, a visitor to our website
First, some comments about this topic, then the questions.
The CC seems to think that other professing Christians are lax in obedience. That may be so. A true saving faith must be a living faith (James 2). There is little room in the Christian faith for "easy-believism" which could be defined as turning one's back on clearly understood biblical instruction. Certainly, the believer should seek to conform his life to the will of God as best as he understands it. Faith implies faithfulness. The New Testament speaks often of such concepts as the obedience of faith. The protestant reformers put it this way: Salvation is through faith alone, but not through a faith that is alone. So, we stand with you in attempting to overcome the shallow view of easy-believism in Christianity.
As we will point out below, we get conflicting opinions from Church of Christ folks that visit our website. Some insist that we are saved only by grace and then go on to explain that our obedience is required to earn God's grace. Others flatly say that we do not even need the righteousness of Christ at all to be saved.
So we conclude that the Church of Christ misunderstands the biblical concept of justification. Justification is the process by which God declares us righteous even though we are not! Put another way, justification is the authoritative declaration that a person's status is changed. As theologian Sinclair Ferguson says in his short but powerful book The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, "God does not justify us because of what we are or what we have done. The whole point of Paul's argument in Romans 1:18-3:20 is to demonstrate the sheer impossibility of such an event. Rather than justification, it is divine wrath which man has merited."
Ferguson continues: "The only basis for justification which the New Testament recognizes is the work of Christ....The love of God is the source of our justification, but the death of Christ is its grounds. We 'have now been justified by his blood' (Romans 5:9); the result of his obedient life and death is our justification (Romans 5:18); just as he was delivered over to death for our sins he was raised for our justification (Roman 4:25)....and 'through the obedience of the one man (Christ) the many will be made righteous' (Romans 5:19)....He [Jesus] came voluntarily under the curse of God, in order to set us at liberty from it (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13-14)."
Ferguson further reminds us that even the Old Testament saints were not justified by works of the law: "The law was introduced 430 years after Abraham had received God's promise and was justified by faith! In fact, the Law was 'added' (Galatians 3:19), it 'came in by the side door' Romans 5:20), and was given in order to make men see how necessary dependence on the promise of justification is!"
Indeed, Ferguson clarifies that indeed it is not even because of faith that we are justified—faith being merely the instrument or the channel (Romans 4:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). We are saved by grace. The conclusion must be that if a man is justified by grace, it is impossible that he be justified by works of any kind. Just as Abraham was not justified by any work of the Law, neither are we today justified by any "Law of Christ" which is a set of rules that replaces the Old Covenant.
In trying to explain the impossibility of adding works to grace for justification, it is argued that those accepting Church of Christ theology are not doing ENOUGH to satisfy God! How so? Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God explains how a legalist he knows came to understand the problem. He says that a certain young woman began attending his church who grew up in a church that taught that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message of the true gospel was scary. When asked why, she responded:
"If I was saved by my good works, then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with 'rights'—I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace—then there's nothing he cannot ask of me."
Yes, works are necessary for salvation; but not our works—rather the work of Christ! While our works are a test of our spiritual hearing, they are the result of our salvation not a cause of it. We will spend the rest of this section attempting to demonstrate this.
"The passage that convinced me that we in the Church of Christ were thinking wrongly towards the New Testament was the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). It was the tax collector who was justified rather the Pharisee (who was doing everything perfectly)!" ----Monty
1. What is meant by obedience within the CC seems to be different in the CC than in other parts of Christianity. How about reading this essay by Cecil Hook: (chapter 25, What God Requires) and then tell others as specifically as you can exactly what we must do to be saved? (We do not think you can possibly comply with this request.) What are the essentials for a Christian in order to be saved (chapter 13 beginning on page 44, Essentials)? Please consider this essay by Hook. Is Hook correct that God requires different things for different people?
2. Has obedience been so stressed so that the Church of Christ has crossed the line into legalism and fallen into the trap of the Pharisees? Does the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk 18:9-14) apply as Garrett suggests (chapter 34, Weightier Matters)? The word legalism is derived from the word law. Since you believe that the Mosaic Law has been replaced by a new law code (the Law of Christ), doesn't that make you legalists by definition?
3. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15)." What is the context of this command? Isn't it love? Have you subtly abstracted the law of God from its original context? Is your motivation for keeping Christ's commandments the law for its own sake and the supposed results that you get from law-keeping? Or is your motivation a deep and abiding love for Jesus! Has your insistence on carefully and mechanically keeping the law robbed the essence of the New Testament of its love, joy, and life (chapter 26 beginning on page 91, Sickness)!
4. Jesus warned the scribes and Pharisees: Woe to you! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law—justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23). If works are so important, why not emphasize the ones that Jesus emphasized—namely justice and mercy, as well as evangelism (the Great Commandment and the Great Commission)? If you will “know them by their fruit,” why not be known by these things rather than the things the CC is known for such as like a cappella singing, church attendance, separatism, water gospel, etc.? What message do you seek to send to non-Christians? Doesn't Jesus want us to be known as those who have a radical motivation to mercy and love?
5. Have you added legislation to God's law and treated it as if it were from God? If so, this is a perilous danger! Have you added regulations that seek to bind the conscience? Have you added prohibitions against card playing, lipstick, dancing, wine, etc. as external tests? Where are such prohibitions in the Bible? Have you moved subtly from Godly morality into moralism? If so, as theologian R. C. Sproul explains, THIS IS A DEADLY VIOLATION OF THE GOSPEL. (Regarding wine in particular, see How Should a Christian Think about Alcohol?).
6. The Church of Christ's view on justification seems confused and contradictory to us. It always seems to end up with obedience as the way one is justified. When we asked a dear CC friend—who is an elder in a Church of Christ—how he knows that he is saved, he responded, "Because I have been pleasing to God." Can one really be pleasing to God? Is there anyone who is righteous: Mk 10:18, Rom 3:10-11, 1 Jn 1:8-10? Isn't our justification imputed by the righteousness of Christ rather than from ourselves? As put by C. K. Moser, "If man pleads his own works, he ignores the blood of Christ. Whoever does that will most certainly be ignored by God. No insult could be greater to God than to ignore the gift of 'His only begotten Son.' Hence Paul wrote again and again, "Not of works.' See Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; Rom 4." See Moser.
If you don't read any other of Cecil Hook's essays, please read this one: chapter 12, Imputed Righteousness. It has to do with the Rich Young Ruler and imputed righteousness.
7. After reading this, what do you now think about the concept of imputed righteousness?
8. We cannot help but wonder whether the CC fails to appreciate the depth of our sin. The Bible says that "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). It also says that "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (Jas 2:10, Mat 5:48). So, if you believe the Bible, your heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. And assuming that you acknowledge at least some sin, you are guilty of breaking the whole law. Right? Thus, if you are guilty of breaking the whole law, are you really pleasing to God?
9. In fact, since each one of us is guilty of breaking the whole law, aren't we therefore guilty under the law and deserving of hell no matter how hard we try to keep the law? How can one possibly say that he is pleasing to God?! What seems most ironic is that in spite of its insistence on New Testament commands, the CC seems to have missed the New Testament purpose of the law—which is to show us our own sin Rom 3:20. If you have, in fact, missed the deeper penetrating spirit of the law rather than the external letter of the law, isn't it fair to say that God is not pleased?!
10. There are other examples of how CC theology seems to us to contradict itself. Here is what one CC teacher says: "The church of Christ does not teach salvation by works. We teach salvation by the grace of God, which is given to those whom God says will receive it: specifically, those who humbly submit to his will." When we asked, doesn't the Bible make it clear that it is one's inward character that is important (Titus 1:15), this same person responded: "Yes, and the inward character will result in humble obedience, which God requires in order for one to be saved."
11. We reviewed an audio tape of a lesson from the same Church of Christ gentleman. In explaining Ephesians 2:8-9 he said that “Well, this passage must mean that there are some works that do not save,” implying that there are some works that do. But in other contexts this man said, “This of course does not mean that works can earn salvation.” Isn't there a contradiction in these two apparently different statements? What then is a straight forward answer to how one is saved?
12. If a Christian can sin so as to lose one's salvation, just what sin or sins will place him in such danger? Is it possible to know at what point one has committed such a sin and become lost again? Please be specific and give clear Bible references.
13. To reiterate, the CC view on justification is contradictory. The first law of logic—The Law of Non-Contradiction—says that two distinctly different or opposite things cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. So, how is it reconcilable to say that we are saved by a free gift (Romans 5:15-17; 6:23) from God (grace) and at the same time imply that the gift is not free—that we are saved by our works after all? This method of interpretation makes the Bible contradict itself at every turn. Grace does not mean grace; a free gift is not free. Man is not hopelessly sinful; but then again he is. Christ is necessary; but then he isn't. The law does not save; but yes it does (and only a Church of Christ preacher can interpret all the details of which works save and which ones don't). This hermeneutic leaves the Bible in hopeless shambles. Is not this exactly what Paul is arguing in Romans 11:6 and Galatians 2:9?
14. Let us ask this question of biblical logic: Is grace necessary for salvation? If you say yes, then does it not follow that NOTHING one can do will be sufficient to save us? Thus, no matter how hard you labor to earn God's favor, there is still something missing, namely God's grace? If you say no, how do you deal with the over 100 passages in the New Testament that insists that we are saved by grace?
A young Church of Christ preacher emailed us that "We do not need the righteousness of Christ to be saved." This statement should horrify any Christian. How dare you minimize the finished work of of our Lord?!
15. In fact, doesn’t God despise the idea of works righteousness (Mat 23)?
We may be very wrong, as we often are. But those of us who look at the CC from the outside see such statements regarding justification as inherently contradictory and legalistic. It seems to us that the hermeneutic error that the CC makes is to make biblical statements about justification additive rather than reconciled. So, instead of making conflicting statements about, on the one hand, how we are saved by grace and elsewhere saying that we must be obedient to be saved—a contradictory construction—a better and non-contradictory construction would be to say that we are saved by grace through a type of faith which leads one to conform his life to the will of God. Does the Bible contradict itself? If so, it cannot be the Word of God. The distinction here may be subtle, but crucial.
The Galatian Heresy
"I went to a church of Christ congregation for awhile, but was surprised at what I found there. A friend sent me to your website and I was so enlightened about all of their doctrine. Thank you! One’s church or its doctrine will not save you---only Jesus can. It scares me. They proudly state that 'where the Bible is silent they are silent' and 'where it speaks they speak.' They are only fooling themselves. I have never seen people twist Scripture so much, or take what they want and omit the rest. I have heard them give long-winded, circled-around explanations of Scripture. My heart breaks for them. I truly believe in my heart that church is a cult." ----Jessica
J. Gresham Machen explained that, "Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical...order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God's law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified." So, correctly understood, sanctification follows justification as growth follows birth. (From Christian Reconstruction by Gary North and Gary DeMar.)
Here is where we think the Church of Christ misinterprets the Bible on a very important point. As phrased by North/DeMar, "A Judaizer is someone who believes that salvation is by grace through faith plus keeping the law....But no one can be saved by keeping the law. This is the Bible's point when Romans 6:14 says that the Christian is not under the law. This is far different from saying that the Christian is not obligated to obey the law as a standard of righteousness. Prior to regeneration, a person is unable to keep the law and is condemned for his 'lawlessness.' After a person comes to Christ the curse of the law is lifted." So it seems that the Church of Christ makes the same mistake as the Judaizers!
North/DeMar continue: "This question needs to be answered in a no/yes fashion. No! Christians are not sanctified by the law if one means that the law is added to faith to save someone (the Judaizing heresy). 'I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly' (Galatians 2:21). If there is anything that man can do to merit or retain his salvation, then there is room for boasting. The Bible says that rebellious sinners do not even add faith; it too is a 'gift of God' (Ephesians 2:8)....'We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law' (Romans 3:21-28)."
1. CC members have told us that they choose to “emphasize obedience” in faith and practice. Why would one choose to emphasize anything? Do some passages of Scripture have more authority than others? Is the message of the Bible slanted by arbitrarily emphasizing obedience over grace, when there are over 100 passages in the New Testament that emphasize grace or faith or election as the means to salvation? (If you would like to see a comprehensive list, you may email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).
2. Are we obedient in order to be saved or because we are saved? Doesn’t the Bible teach that people are obedient because God has already saved them (2 Cor 9:8, James 2:26, 1 Jn 2:29, 1 Jn 3:9, 1 Jn 4:7, 1 Jn 5:18)?
Take a new look at Ephesians 1:3-10. Next please watch this 9 minute video clip:
3. Did God choose us before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless? Or did He choose us because were are first holy and blameless? Further, did God choose us, or did we choose God?
4. Perhaps a more poignant question is—Are you now free (Gal 5:1)? Or do feel like you are in bondage? Is your burden easy or light (chapter 25, What God Requires)? What does God really require? While liberals think the Christian faith is a country club, does CC doctrine make it seem like a prison?
5. Is the message of the New Testament simply that one legal system replaced another? Please see these links from those within your own tradition and offer your comment on them: chapter 3, Law of Christ, and chapter 22, Butting the Brethren. Are these men possibly correct that legalism is indeed the "fatal error" of CC theology?
6. The CC seems to make a distinction between the "law of God" and the "law of Christ," as if there were two law systems operating in the Bible. But isn't it correct that the Bible teaches that "the law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul" (Psalm 19:7)? And isn't the law of Christ described as perfect (James 1:25)? What law is then perfect—both the "law of God" and the "law of Christ," because they are one and the same!
7. What source does Jesus quote when he declares, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"? Isn't it Leviticus 19:18? Aren't all Ten Commandments repeated or alluded to in the New Testament? What is the context of the law of Christ in Galatians 6? Isn't it bearing others' burdens with the glory only in the cross of Christ?
Please bear with us on some further thoughts on the Law of Christ. As Cecil Hook points out (chapter 7 beginning on page 20, Repentance Before Faith), an incorrect interpretation of this turns Jesus into a diabolical creature if we think of him giving us a law and then saving us from our transgressions of that law. It would be like someone pushing you down into a well, then throwing you a rope. Besides making Jesus into a nasty character, this idea is not biblical. John 3:17 says that "God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved by him." So, whatever Paul means by the law of Christ, it is not meant to be something that condemns us! It must therefore mean that the law of Christ is a phrase that merely emphasizes or gives certainty to what Paul preaches continuously in the New Testament—that we are saved by faith in Jesus. This fact (belief in Jesus for salvation), then, is so certain that it becomes a law, like a law of logic, or a law of physics—something given us by God rather than a set of commands to be obeyed.
8. We have heard Church of Christ people say that when Paul speaks of not being saved by "law" he is only saying he is not saved by the "Law of Moses." But please look at Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5 again. Here Paul does not use the term law or law of Moses. He uses the term "works." And please consider Romans 13:10 in Young's Literal Translation: "Love therefore is the fulness of law." Note that in the Greek there is no "the" in front of "law," making law a general term and not just a reference to Old Testament law. Isn't Paul making a general case that we are not saved by works of any kind?
9. Note Galatians 3:21, again in Young's Literal Translation. Doesn't Paul make it clear that no law can give life? And Galatians 3:25: doesn't Paul further clarify that we are not under any law ("guardian")?
10. Do you think that only those laws that are repeated in the New Testament from the Old Testament are valid? Where is such principle of interpretation found in the Bible? We think that the better method of interpretation is that there are some laws that are cancelled or their importance neutralized in the New Testament (specifically the Jewish ceremonial and civil laws); the rest remain in effect (the moral laws).
11. Is there any new law in the New Testament, or only new forgiveness and the fulfillment of the shadows of this forgiveness found in the Old Testament? (Here are all the scriptures in the New Testament about a “new covenant” or “new law”: Mt 26:28, Lk 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:8-13, Heb 9:15, Heb 12:24, Gal 6:2, James 2:8-13. Do you notice a theme?)
12. Cecil Hook in the preceding reference link also suggests that the CC formula HEAR/BELIEVE/REPENT/CONFESS/BE BAPTIZED may be flawed, at least in the order given. Hook points out that the 3 times in Scripture that belief and repentance are coupled together in the Bible, repentance actually precedes belief! How can that be? Read his explanation. Clue: It has to do with the New Testament view of the purpose of the law.
13. This brings up another point. In the New Testament, there is a difference between commands to non-believers and to believers. Non-believers are told to repent and believe (for example Acts 20:20-21). We argue that all other commands in the Bible, including baptism (!), are to people who are already Christians. Check out what Robert Morey says about this and then let us know what you think. Each of these video clips is about 9 minutes in length:
14. What specific work is required for salvation (John 6:27-29)? Faith, right?
15. Are we reconciled to God by what we do or by what God did to present us holy in his sight (Col 1:21-22)?
16. How does the CC respond to those who may accuse them of following the letter-of-the-law and not the spirit-of-the-law? For example, the Bible says we should care for widows and orphans (the letter of the law), and were astounded to hear a CC person tell us that charity should thus be limited to these groups. But Jesus gives the example of caring for the outcast and others who need help (example, the Good Samaritan) and commands us to be merciful (Mat 5:7). Is the CC attitude legalistic in this regard too, adding insult to injury to the Christian faith?
17. The CC has been known to define legalism as either (a) “putting human tradition above God’s commandments,” or (b) “taking one commandment out of context and twist it to make it contradict another.” Haven't we already shown that Church of Christ theology in fact is guilty of both definitions?
18. Is not faith very much alive before good works are performed, and not because of good works? Christians in the historic orthodox faith thus believe that we are saved by grace through faith and strongly agree that a faith without works is dead; that is, a true saving faith will be accompanied by works. Christians also believe that faith before it has a chance to work is a saving faith—for example, the thief on the cross. The CC would have others believe that faith is dead until one rises out of the water. Thus, someone on his way to be baptized could not be one whose faith is working by love. Isn’t this view therefore legalistic and contrary to Scripture?
Christians throughout the ages have pointed out that Christianity is uniquely different from all other religions and cults because salvation is through faith and not through works. Can you see that the view of salvation through works puts the CC in close company with false religions and cults? While we are not saying the Church of Christ is a cult, we cannot help pointing out the similarities between the Church of Christ and Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons:
- They were founded at about the same time (early 1800's) in reaction to Reformed theology.
- The refusal to read "apostate" literature. (If the Church of Christ reader has refused to read the links we have provided in this article, our point is proven.)
- God's grace through Christ's finished work on the cross only makes up the small portion left out by my man's own meritorious works toward salvation. (See Christian Grace vs. Mormon Grace. See also Mormon document Grace vs. Works. Note how craftily this Mormon document quotes the Bible as well as Christian thinkers.)
- Their group restored the true faith. (See Mormon document Restoration of the Gospel.)
- Their group is the only one saved.
19. Isn’t salvation not of him who willeth, nor him that runneth, but of God that calleth (Romans 9:11) and of God that showeth mercy (Romans 9:16) without regard to human will or exertion? Don't we become sons of God by the power of God and not by the will of man (John 1:12-13)? Does anyone really seek after God on his own (Romans 3:9-28)? Don't these verses clarify that it is the work of God, not of man, that saves us?
20. Are we dead in our sins, or just merely sick (Ephesians 2:5)? Can a dead man respond? Aren't we therefore made alive by the work of Christ alone, just as Larazus was raised from the dead?
21. Just as our physical birth is not something we earn nor have any control over, isn't our spiritual birth likewise something we do not earn nor have any control over (1 Peter 1:3-5)?
22. Is CC theology similar to that of Pelagius, who who in the 4th century taught that man by his own powers, without the imputation of the Holy Spirit, can turn himself to God, believe the Gospel, be obedient from the heart to God’s Law—and thus merit forgiveness of sins and eternal life? Wasn’t this theology declared a heresy even by the Catholic Church—which places a high importance on obedience—because it is contrary to Holy Scripture, being the same works righteousness theology as the Galatian heresy and the Pharasaic heresy?
23. Here is a single question that may quickly determine whether the CC is in fact legalistic: If it would bring more people to your church to hear the gospel, would you allow instrumental music?
The Relationship of Faith and Works in Justification
The Church of Christ is under the impression that evangelicals have no part for works in the salvation formula. This is incorrect. The evangelical understanding is that grace = salvation + works. Though the Church of Christ does not use such formulas, their interpretation is either grace + works = salvation (semi-Pelagian), or works = salvation + grace (full-Palagian). Note: The = sign in these formulas means "leads to" or "results in."
We have attempted above to show above that the Church of Christ hermeneutic of of legalistic patternism is flawed. So how should the Bible be interpreted? Because this is so crucial, we repeat. First and foremost the Bible must be interpreted in such a way as not to be contradictory. If the Bible is contradictory, it cannot be God's word. Let us examine a statement made to us by a Church of Christ preacher regarding justification (how we are saved):
"I completely teach, believe, and agree with this idea: No person who has ever lived, is living, or will live, can in and of himself do something by which he earns, merits, deserves, or is given salvation. Every person, however, who hears and does what God has said to do in the way that God has said to do it will be saved by the grace of God through the blood of Christ."
1. Is it not clear that this statement—which is typical of how CC folks state justification—is contradictory? If grace is a free gift (Rom 5:15, 16, 18; Rom 6:23), if it is unmerited favor—then God does not require ANY work in order to be saved. As Paul says in Rom 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace."
2. St. Paul clarifies what the Church of Christ is risking in its hermeneutic. He states, "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Gal 2:20)." This is serious. By its legalistic patternism hermeneutic, the Church of Christ is nullifying the grace of God! It is giving too much credit for sinful man and too little credit to God and Christ's finished work on the cross. As put by C. K. Moser, "If man must still work for salvation we have in Christ an atonement that does not atone!" See Moser.
3. We fully understand how difficult the concept—that our salvation is completely by Christ's work and none of our own—is. This is incomprehensible for our Church of Christ brothers and so too for Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Jews, and every other religion. Yet the Bible insists over and over again that we are saved by faith and specifically not by our works (Romans chapters 1-9, Galatians chapters 1-3, Ephesians chapter 2, Titus chapter 3, etc). In fact, we count over 100 instances in the New Testament when it is stated that we are saved by grace rather than works. Yet the Bible commands us to obey! So how do we reconcile faith and works?
4. We have asked the CC why they keep coming back to James 2 in an attempt to show that salvation is through works, and the answer has been, because others "keep denying what it clearly teaches." This answer implies that, in spite of insisting elsewhere that we are not saved by works, that in fact the CC really believes after all that we are. Is James contradicting the rest of the Bible? Perhaps we just can't get it, but it seems clear to us that James himself is teaching that works are merely evidence of a true saving faith—that is, explanatory of the kind of faith that saves us?
5. In James 2:14 in the Greek there is a modifying adjective in front of “faith” which is left out in the King James translation, but is translated in other versions as “the” or “that” or “such.” So James is asking here, “Can such a faith save? Or, “Can that faith save?” Notice also that James does not deny that faith justifies; he simply says, “and not by faith only.” So James acknowledges that it is indeed faith that justifies. Most theologians down through the ages have insisted that the way to reconcile the biblical message of faith and works is to explain that works describe a true saving faith but do not save unto themselves?
6. James gives us the clues we need. First of all, James makes it clear how futile it is to think that we can be saved by our works. He insists that even one single sin on our part is equivalent to breaking the entire law (James 2:10)! Then in verse 14 he asks an explanatory question whether a dead faith can save us? (Can that faith or such a faith save us?) Of course he means, no it cannot. Then in verse 18 he says that a living, saving faith is shown by our works. So James is not saying that we are saved by works, rather our obedience is evidence of a legitimate faith.
So, there is, then, a simple way to reconcile faith and works in a way that is faithful to Scripture without making Scripture contradict itself. We are saved by a living faith—that is, one which expresses itself in obedience. Note that this is very different from saying that we are saved by faith plus works or any such construction. We are saved by grace through faith, not of works can we boast.
7. C. K. Moser gives several biblical examples of how it is faith that saves, regardless of whether or not that faith is expressed in some sort of action. He cites the stories of Jesus healing the blind in John 9 and Matthew 9. In one case, the blind man did something—washed in the pool of Siloam. In the other case, nothing was done other than what Jesus did. Moser asks, "Were these blind men cured upon different principles? In both cases the blind received sight upon the principle of faith in Christ. In one case faith expressed by overt acts, in the other case it was not. After all it is faith that the Lord wants....Faith expressed remains faith." (See Moser.) Comment?
8. What about repentance—isn't that a work? Please see this link: Repentance. What is the relationship between repentance and salvation? What was Peter calling his hearers to do relative to repentance in Acts 2:38? Was this an action or a change of mind? Moser continues, "But salvation is by faith. Repentance, then, must in some way relate to faith. And it must relate to faith in such a way as not to oppose it." We argue that repentance is merely the flip side of faith. If you turn to Jesus you will by definition turn from your life of sin and selfishness. You will automatically repudiate your fleshly nature. This is the deep meaning of repentance. So, repentance is technically not a work per se. It is part of surrendering to Jesus that occurs at the point of a living faith. After we are saved by faith, we begin to show outward confirming acts such as confession and good works because of our gratitude for what God has done for us. Confession is faith expressed in words (Romans 10:9). Again, it is the faith that saves, not any expression of it. Comment?
9. What about baptism? Isn't it a work? Just as repentance is technically not a "work" of man, baptism is technically, according to Titus 3:4-7, not a work of man either! Baptism is a work of God! This leads us into the next section. But before that, one last word. If we are wrong in this, our error is putting too high a view on God and his work (and too low a view on our own work). If the Church of Christ is wrong on justification, your error is putting too low a view on Jesus (and too high a view on man's work)! Comment?
Top of page Baptism
"Being raised in the Church of Christ, I began a lifelong devotion to the Word of God. But there was an incident that began to shake my faith in the Church of Christ. When I was in college, a boy I knew was killed in a car accident on his way to being baptized. He had gone through an extensive process of learning the Christian faith at my church, had professed his deep and abiding faith in Christ, and had fulfilled every requirement to be a Christian—except being baptized. Most of my friends in the church believed that because he had not been baptized that this boy was in hell for eternity. This event started me questioning the teachings of the Church of Christ. In time, I studied my way out of this sect." ----Edward
Please see our article 101 Reason Why Water Baptism is Not Necessary to be Saved before proceeding. We also highly recommend this article Moser on Baptism for those who want to think deeply about the Bible.
1. Are we saved by water or by Christ's blood?
2. Next, if you are a Church of Christ person with an open mind, we ask you to read Leroy Garrett's article about "one baptism"— chapter 37, One Baptism. Among many other points in this article, Garrett says, "We as immersionists must rid ourselves of the ungracious notion that those who do not baptize the way we do have rebellious and disobedient hearts. They can be mistaken without being degenerate. And they can be mistaken and still be Christians who are pleasing God, just as we can still be Christians when we are mistaken." What is the difference, according to Garrett, in the etymology of a word and the meaning of a word?
The purpose of this section is not necessarily to try to show that the view of the Church of Christ—baptismal regenerational of mature believers by immersion—is wrong, but rather to attempt to show that such a view should not by itself be used to as a hatchet to separate from other Christian groups. CC theologian Everett Ferguson in his book instructs against such practice (page 403): "Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 protests against any view of baptism which would make it a badge of distinction among Christians instead of a unifying act."
3. Ferguson also warns (page 195): "Baptism provides an objective assurance of having received God's promised salvation in Christ. That may lead to the subtle temptation to trust in baptism for salvation instead of trusting in God, his act in Christ, and his word of promise." As it seems that many within the CC have yielded to this temptation, it is asked, is your faith in Christ or in baptism (chapter 13, Sectarian Baptism)? What is the difference, according to Hook, in baptism for remission of sins and baptism to receive the Holy Spirit?
4. First, just a point of logic. Physical life, we're sure you will agree, begins at conception rather than at birth. Similarly, we argue along with Cecil Hook that spiritual life begins with faith and not at baptism (chapter 27 beginning on page 98, When Life Begins). In the rest of this section we will attempt to prove this biblically. Comment?
5. Moser argues about baptism similarly as he does about repentance: "If baptism is a condition of salvation which is given on the condition of faith in Christ, it too must be related to faith, and so related that its meaning will not oppose the meaning of faith. Now, as confession is faith expressed by words, baptism is faith expressed by deed....This view of baptism sanctioned by scripture lifts baptism from a meaningless act of legalism to the high plane of salvation by faith in Christ." (See Moser.) What do you think?
6. Regarding Acts 10:44-48, were Cornelius and the other Gentiles (who had heard the gospel, had received the empowering Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and had spoken in tongues and praised God) children of the devil before they were baptized? Or were they children of God filled with the Holy Spirit and later got baptized? Doesn't the fact that they spoke in tongues prior to baptism prove that they were children of God and thus saved before they were baptized? Doesn't Peter in Acts 10:43 make it clear that it was the faith that produced remission of sins, and that water baptism came later as a symbol of their new life in Christ?
7. Doesn't Peter make it clear in Acts 10:48 that this experience was the same way the apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? Is there any record in the Bible that the apostles received water baptism?
8. Doesn't 1 Corinthians 12:13 show that baptism by the Holy Spirit is what places us in the body of Christ?
9. Your motto is, "Where the Bible speaks we speak; where the Bible is silent we are silent." But don't you break that rule all the time? For example, you say, "He that is baptized not shall be damned." But that phrase does not appear in the Bible, does it? What does appear in the Bible is, "He that believeth not shall be damned." So haven't you twisted Scripture?
10, What do you think about Carl Ketcherside's charge (please read chapter 9, Christians in Babylon) that,"To demand that one of God's children be forced to submit to re-baptism at the hands of one of 'our preachers' in order to be in 'our fellowship' is sectarianism pure and simple...Such Church-of-Christ-isms like all other 'isms' are an insult to the persons and dignity of the Holy Spirit by whom we 'are all baptized into one body.'"
11. Is Jesus Christ the head of the church of Christ? Since the head of the Church received ONLY John's baptism, is not John's baptism Christian baptism? What kind of baptism did the apostles receive? Were they saved or lost? What kind of baptism did the disciples, who who were baptized by the apostles on the authority of Christ during his personal ministry, receive (John 4:1-2)? Were they saved or lost? Was this before Pentecost?
12. In Mark 1:1-4, John's baptism was for "remission of sins." Were those who received John's baptism saved? If so, why were they re-baptized in Acts 19:1-5? If not, what does that say about your insistence on baptism for "remission of sins"?
13. Other things are listed in the Bible besides baptism for remission of sins—belief, confession, repentance. Why emphasize that a person must be baptized “purposely” for the remission of sins when not asking whether a person believes/confesses/repents “purposely” for remission of sins? If not done purposely for remission of sins, must a person re-believe/re-confess/re-repent?
"I've often used the idea of taking a gift check to the bank and endorsing it to explain baptism. The act of signing the gift check in no way earns it, or even merits it, nor does this action make it any less of a gift. Baptism is simply how we "endorse" and identify with what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Therefore, in baptism we express our faith that His check won't bounce; that His righteousness is credited to our account; that our name is entered on His ledger." ----Church of Christ preacher in Hawaii
14. What do you think of Cecil Hook's comparison to baptism/beginning of spiritual life and physical birth/conception: chapter 27 beginning on page 98, When Life Begins? Does baptism initiate life or was it initiated earlier—at the point of faith, or at the point of the work of the Holy Spirit, or even at the point of God's election?
15. What do you think of R. C. Sproul's strong conviction, based on Ephesians 2:1-10, that regeneration actually precedes faith (regeneration)? (By the way, Sproul is a man who has written over 70 books and is considered by many to be one of the top theologians of our age.)
16. It is recognized that the modern Church of Christ does not claim a heritage from the original Restoration Movement and will probably recoil at these next few questions. However, the modern CC undeniably traces its lineage to it, and so one would think that CC folk would have at least some respect for the views of the founders. Alexander Campbell was rebaptized as an adult upon a simple confession of his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. He never changed his views on this and was never baptized "for the remission of sins." So, what should one think of the fact that none of the 4 primary founders of the restoration movement—Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, nor Barton W. Stone—were ever immersed to “wash away sins?” Why did Mr. Scott and the Campbells never “obey” the “Ancient Gospel” which Mr. Scott “restored?”
17. Since Alexander Campbell was baptized by a Baptist preacher (Elder Luce) and was thus put into the Church of Christ, why will not Baptist Baptism do the same for people today? If Elder Luce did not baptize Campbell into Christ, when and where and how did Campbell ever get into Christ, since he died with Baptist Baptism and never repudiated it? If Campbell was baptized into Christ by Luce's act, then was not the Church of Christ in fact already here?
For the record, when the Campbells founded their first church, the Brush Run Church, they accepted "sprinkled" people as baptized, and the Campbells would not then rebaptize such ones. Included in the group who were baptized included a baby.
Also of note, Thomas Campbell immersed three people before he himself had been immersed. Alexander Campbell in fact taught that, “Baptism is an ordinance by which we formally profess Christianity….It confirms nothing…. The seal of the Holy Spirit requires no external ordinance to perfect it.”
18. Is it true that anyone who is not baptized according to the CC formula is considered an "unsaved child of the devil?" Were the founders of the Restoration Movement then unsaved children of the devil? Could they be "fellowshipped" by their congregations today?
19. Indeed, there is a more fundamental question about the CC teaching that a person who is to be baptized should profess to be an unsaved child of the devil. Is this not missing the point entirely—that it is a child of God who is to be baptized—one who is saved by grace?!
20, "If baptism were necessary for salvation, Ephesians 2:8 and many other verses should have been translated ‘ye are saved through faith and baptism.’…Baptism is a distinct act of obedience apart from salvation. This is clarified by the order in which the words ‘believe’ and ‘baptize’ occur in the text…” Don't you agree?
21. Again referring to our article 101 Reasons Why Water Baptism is Not Necessary for Salvation, does eis (for) mean "in order to" (be saved) or "because of" (being saved)? Please review each of these video clips before proceeding. These are from a 14 part series. Each part lasts about 9 minutes. In particular, notice the documentation from various scholars that eis does not necessarily mean "in order to obtain":
22. Isn't it true that faith and repentance always precede baptism in the New Testament, and never follow it?
"Growing up, I had a few very good friends who were Baptist, Bible Church, and Community Church. The fruit I saw in their lives had a huge impact on me. Over time, I began to question several of the CC doctrines because the answers they gave seemed lacking, incomplete, or just plain wrong Biblically. The real change came when I questioned the whole essence of salvation. Of course, they teach baptismal regeneration. I read that I was justified by faith. They told me I had to have faith before I was baptized, but that it was actually baptism that saved me. Why did I need to be saved if I was already justified by faith? The more I questioned this, the more I began to understand that my obedience could never satisfy an absolutely holy, righteous God who demands absolute perfection from me. I knew baptism wasn’t going to do it! That’s when I really began to appreciate that God has granted us justification through faith. But even this didn’t set well with me. How strong did my faith need to be to be acceptable to this perfect God? That’s when it really hit home that we are saved “by grace” through faith. I left the CC in 1996 (although they tried to publicly “disfellowship” me after I left) and have been growing in grace ever since then. What a comfort it is to know that I can stand before God judged not on my own merits, but on the merits of Jesus. So that’s my story in a nutshell. Praise God!" ----Brett
23. Lanny Tanton is a former Church of Christ preacher that changed his mind on Acts 2:38. For his detailed analysis see Change of Mind.
24. Regarding the conversion of Paul in Acts 22:16, wasn't Paul actually saved on the road to Damascus rather than when he was baptized later? See this detailed analysis by Lanny Tanton: The Gospel and Water Baptism.
25. Did Jesus know the plan of salvation (John 14:6)? Did Christ personally, at any time or place tell a sinner to be baptized FOR or IN ORDER to the Remission of Sin? If so, where and when? Why didn’t Jesus regularly practice baptism if it is so important?
26. Does the word water as used in John 3:5 mean baptism? Why didn't Christ say what he meant to say? If he really meant baptism—when he said water—by the same reasoning he evidently meant baptism in the next Chapter (John 4:7-15). Read again the story of the Woman at the Well and substitute the word baptism for water everywhere it is found in the story exactly as you substitute the word baptism for water in John 3:5, and see what a story you make. False doctrines always lead to muddy water. WHERE THE BIBLE SPEAKS, WE SPEAK.
27. Why did Paul say in 1 Cor 1:17 that he did not come to baptize?
28. If people fall away, is it possible to tell if they were really saved or not (Heb 6:4)? What if the person only appeared to fall away when in fact he was never truly a believer in the first place—but then later does in fact come to a saving faith? If he had been baptized previously, should he now be re-baptized? How does one know if they should be re-baptized?
29. Why use 1 Cor 6:11 (“ye are washed”) to support the CC view of baptismal salvation? Is there anything here that says washing means baptism? Isn’t washing just another word for cleansing? Don’t Rev 1:5 and Rev 7:14 make it clear that the washing is from Christ’s blood rather than water baptism?
30. Is it correct that the healing of Naaman in the Jordan River (2 Kgs 5) is used to support this water gospel doctrine? If so, isn’t this distorting the Bible in an attempt to prove a wrong doctrine? (Healing of leprosy is not evidence of salvation, is it? And Naaman did not even believe in God when he was healed, right?)
31. Is it even theoretically possible for someone to have met all the biblical requirements to be saved—but died en route to being baptized—and still go to heaven? If the answer is yes, doesn’t that show that the emphasis on baptism might be misplaced? If the answer is, “I cannot put myself on the judgment throne of God and pronounce him lost any more than you can put yourself on the judgment throne of God and pronounce him saved.”—isn’t this an admission that indeed baptism is not a necessary requirement to be saved (in every situation)? Thus, if it is not a necessary requirement to be saved in every situation, it is not a requirement at all?!
"There are those who have taught that baptism is necessary for salvation, as if baptism adds to the finished work of Christ. We have felt that baptism is necessary for obedience, but that baptism doesn't add to what Christ does for us in the cross, and doesn't add to what a person receives by faith....I came to a better understanding of grace that I didn't have before....There was some latent legalism in me—and there probably still is. So we started studying the Gospel, and I personally found out that I was kind of overlaying the Gospel with regulations and rules. And so I repented of that, and we began teaching the Gospel." ----Max Lucado, former Church of Christ preacher
1. Garrett says (chapter 38, Fellowship the Unimmersed), "An interesting book on the history of the dispute about baptism, entitled The Water That Divides, shows that the issue is not as simple as we have supposed. He notes that while there is universal agreement that baptism was often by immersion in the New Testament, it is not universally agreed that all baptisms were by immersion. And so throughout the history of the church, the author states, baptism has been administered by immersion, pouring, and sprinkling." What do you think?
2. Please see this definition of baptism, especially the section that says "Meaning of the Word in the New Testament." Wouldn't you agree that it has been shown conclusively that baptism does not always mean immersion in the New Testament?
3. Garrett also quotes Barton Stone in the same article: "Shall we make immersion the test of religion, and why is immersion emphasized more than the love of God, holiness, mercy, and self denial?" Stone argued that if God could accept Cornelius before he was immersed, those in the CC should be able to accept those who have not yet attained to your understanding.
4. Is immersion proved by example (chapter 34 beginning on page 120, Example)?
5. Doesn’t the Bible use the word baptism in ways other than immersion? For example, in 1 Cor 10:1-4 the Israelites were baptized by only getting their feet wet, while it was the Egyptians who got immersed. In Mark 7:4 baptism is described as washing of vessels, which is not necessarily immersion but could be pouring or scrubbing. Hebrews 9:10 speaks of “various ceremonial washings.” The word here is baptismos. The ceremonial washing, or baptisms, that follow are rites of purification in the Old Testament (cf. Heb 9:13-31). In all of these ceremonial washings, the method of application was sprinkling.
6. In fact, all Old Testament purifications or washings were by sprinkling (Num 8:7, 19:19, Lev 14:7, etc). Doesn't it stand to reason that New Testament Jewish Christians would have appreciated that method of baptism?
7. It just seems to many this is another example of the CC taking a legalistic stance to separate from other Christians. Doctrine allows (requires) interpretation. It is not appropriate to take everything in the Bible in a wooden literal sense. The CC would not say that one must literally eat Jesus' body to be saved —Jn 6:50-58 (as some Catholics believe). In the same way, when the Bible says we are baptized unto remission of sins, it is not a necessary inference that in order to be saved, we must perform a ritual baptism exactly as the Church of Christ does it!?
8. Finally, this observation about baptism. A faithful CC man responded to the above questions in great detail, arguing that these opposing views are wrong. But he also said, "Baptism does not procure [i.e. purchase] salvation. It is entirely the gift of God." This seems to contradict his other arguments for the necessity of water baptism for salvation. But anyway, his statement seems to be one we can all agree on! So, we ask, is baptism really so much of an issue over which you must draw the line of fellowship with the rest of us?
We have a friend who was formerly a CC preacher. He told us that when he used to baptize people, he would be sure that every inch of the person's body was underwater. If a knee was exposed, he would push it under, to be sure they were saved.
Top of pageGod’s Holiness vs. Man’s Sin
"Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved." ----G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 15.
1. The CC flatly and emphatically denies the historic biblical doctrine of Original Sin (as do, interestingly, every cult and all non-biblical world religions). Doesn't the Bible teach that man is born with a fleshly (sinful) nature that is in some way inherited from Adam (Rom 5:12-Rom 6:23)? Historic Christian theology has been insistent on this doctrine and it makes Christianity unique among world religions. It is this understanding that makes the work of Christ so important and makes Christianity so different from every other religion. What do you think?
2. Ferguson, in attempting to explain the CC view makes a distinction between the "human condition" of sin and the "human nature" of sin (pages 137-148). This seems to be a distinction without a difference, unless the CC is merely using this topic to try to separate from other Christians. Yet, Ferguson acknowledges the universality of sin as a consequence of the Fall. Agree?
3. By denying original sin, does the CC make Christianity similar to all other religions who teach that man is born good? Doesn’t this view minimize the work of Christ—his perfect life, his death and resurrection to atone for our sins? Wasn’t the intensity of Christ’s suffering on the cross necessary as payment for the intensity of man’s sin?
4. Even the apostle Paul could not always carry out what he knew to be right (Rom 7:15-24). Here we have St. Paul, the most diligent apostle in all of history crying out near the end of his glorious ministry "Wretched man that I am." Note that he is not saying this in the past tense but in the present tense! Why didn't Paul reform (chapter 14, Paul)?
5. For the record, here are important passages about our sin: Gen 6:5, 8:21, 1 Kgs 8:46, Job 14:1-4, 25:2-6, Ps 14, Ps 51:3-5, 53:1-3, 58:3-5, Prov 14:12, Ecc 7:20, Isaiah 53:6, 55:8-9, 59:2, 64:6, Jer17:9, Dan 9:1-11, Mk 7:20-23, Rom 3:9-23, Rom 5:12-21, 7:13-25, 8:5-8, 14:23, Gal 5:16-21, Eph 2:1-3, Js 2:10, 1 Jn 1:8-10? Is there even one person on earth who is righteous (Ecc 7:20)? Aren’t we sinful by our very nature (Eph 2:3)?
6. Doesn’t the CC view of sin ignore the obvious observable sin nature of little children—their selfishness and even hurtfulness that comes quite naturally at an early age? Don’t children have to be taught to be good? In fact, don't adults as well have to be taught to be good? (These are arguments we make to non-Christians, and it seems so surprising that we have to make these same arguments to those who profess the authority of the Bible.)
7. We wonder whether the CC has failed to fully grasp the enormity of God’s holiness (Ex 3:5, 15:11, 19:23, 1 Chr 16:29, 2 Chr 20:21, Ps 29:2, 93:5, 96:9, Isaiah 6:1-8, 29:23, 40:25, and Revelation 15:4)? The theological question then becomes: could it be that the CC view grossly fails to appreciate the enormity of the unbridgeable gap between man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness?
8. Are we dead in our sins, or merely sick (John 5:25; Romans 6:11)? Can a dead man respond? Isn't this like the difference between having cancer and a cold? So, isn't this why various passages point out that the gospel is the work and power of God and not the work of man in obedience (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18; 1 Cor 15:1-11, etc)?
"Christians down through the ages have come to realize how truly weak and sinful they are—beginning with St. Paul (Romans 7:18-20), and Isaiah before him (Isaiah 6:1-8). Sin, properly understood, creates such a chasm between man and God that the Bible says that all creation groans (Rom 8:22). Only when I really-and-truly realized this did I understand that I had been putting the emphasis in the wrong place. It is not at ALL about my ability to be obedient, but rather the incredible mercy God has shown us Romans 3:9-28)! Since then, I started preaching Christ rather than any so-called plan of salvation. I now preach the Gospel of the Glory of Christ, and not oursleves or any such legalism (2 Cor 4:4-6)!" ----Church of Christ evangelist
Top of pageThe Holy Spirit
1. Hughes in his book says that many young people within the church of Christ think their traditional view of the Holy Spirit is "Lashing the Spirit of God to an objective book of paper and ink—or, indeed, circumscribing the Spirit with any kind of rational constraints—ultimately impoverished the soul and drained life of its meaning." Does this charge concern you?
2. Have you arbitrarily put the Holy Spirit in a box by ignoring the work the work that He does: Holy Spirit?
3. Does the Holy Spirit indwell a person (John 14:17; Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 3:16-19; 2 Timothy 1:14; 1 John 4:13-17)?
4. Isn't the Holy Spirit's activity on a person so important that he cannot even receive spiritual reality without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3)? Isn't natural man so at enmity with God that without the Spirit he cannot do God's will (Romans 8:6-7)?
SOME IMPORTANT PASSAGES TO CONSIDER. When we asked former Church of Christ preacher Jerrel Kratt what passages he considers most important in helping people escape from legalism, he suggested these: (1.) Romans 4 and justification by faith for Abraham before he was circumcised. Paul refers to Genesis 15, where Abraham simply accepted the promise of God and hadn't acted on it yet for several years to come. (2.) Law cannot save, it can only condemn. It convicts the conscience. The spirit gives life, the new covenant is not a covenant of death (it doesn't convict sin). See 2 Corinthians 3; Romans 7:1-8:1; Galatians 3:11. Rather, the new covenant is a covenant of life! (3.) We are under grace not law (Romans 6:14). Salvation is by grace through faith, not works that no man boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
- A Call to Unity: A Critical Review of Patternism and the Command-Example-Inference-Silence Hermeneutic by Barry L. Perryman, Ph.D. (This short 84 page book is the first book we recommend for members of the Church of Christ to read. It's also a very good book for friends to give to members of the Church of Christ to begin a discussion. It's available at email@example.com.)
- Reviving the Ancient Faith; The Story of Churches of Christ in America by Richard T. Hughes (This is the authoritative history of the Restoration Movement. On online version can be viewed at Ancient Faith.)
- Free in Christ by Cecil Hook—an astoundingly honest book by a brave man willing to change his views and buck the system. An online version is available at Freedom's Ring)
- Free to Change by Cecil Hook (online version at Freedom's Ring)
- Our Heritage of Unity and Fellowship by W. Carl Ketcherside & Leroy Garrett—a book filled with revelations about the history and doctrine of the Churches of Christ that are certain to enlighten Christians everywhere (online version available at Freedom's Ring)
- The Church of Christ; A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today by Everett Ferguson
- The Way of Salvation by K. C. Moser (online version at The Way of Salvation)
- The Gist of Romans by K. C. Moser
- columns by Al Maxey, rated as the most popular Church of Christ blog site out of over 2 dozen sites (online at Maxey)
- various writings of John Marks Hicks (available online at Ministries and Hicks)
- writings of Al Maxey
Visitors to our website have also suggested these additional resources: