In Defense of the Churches of Christ

coc.jpgI am an elder in a Church of Christ. I’m a third generation elder at that. Sometimes I criticize my brothers in the Churches, but it’s worth taking a little internet space to state why it is I’m identified with the Churches of Christ and not any of the many other denominations.

I should add that I realize that there are others who advocate and practice these things. The Churches are not alone in a single doctrine or practice. (And I could point out many flaws as well. But that’s already been done by me and others in many places.)

* I think the Churches are right that baptism is for believers and is properly by immersion. Scripture and history are clear. Now I’m a bit to the left of some who insist that a mistake in this realm is beyond God’s willingness to forgive. I disagree. But I still think we’re right and that the church universal would be better off if it adopted this practice.

* The opposition of the Churches to denominationalism is also correct. Denominationalism is a direct assault on Christian unity and harms the witness of the church to the world. Of course, the Churches have at times been far worse sectarians than those we’ve criticized, but the message remains correct. It concerns me when denominational leaders assert that denominations provide needed fellowship and mutual support among congregations. Maybe so–but it would be better to find that fellowship among sister congregations in the same locality. How will we bring good news to our community acting separately?

* Weekly communion is also true to the historical witness and is, I think, the better practice. The mistake of the Churches is (a) to make it a test of salvation (it isn’t) and (b) to make too little of the communion. We take it weekly but we don’t really celebrate it. We should make a bigger deal of it, I think.

* A cappella praise is again true to the historical witness and has its merits. It shouldn’t be a salvation issue, but I wouldn’t trade our practice for any instrumental service I’ve heard anywhere–Saddleback, St. Paul’s, or St. Peter’s. I’m glad someone is keeping this tradition alive.

* The Restoration Movement’s original conception of how to be united is, I think, pretty much right. Make the sole test of fellowship faith in Jesus and submission to baptism as well as it’s understood by the convert. Don’t make an issue of incidentals. Keep quiet about millennial, trinitarian, and other speculations. Work at what’s most important. It’s a shame that this got lost in the shuffle somewhere in our history.

* The Churches have had a strong emphasis on missions since the 1850’s, which is very important. We’ve also at times been big on church planting. Many others share the missionary impulse, but it’s not nearly as strong in Christendom overall as it should be.

* You have to be proud to be part of a Movement that says “We’re Christians only but not the only Christians” and “In faith, unity; in opinions, liberty; and in all things, charity.” We’ve not always been true to our own heritage, but it’s a great heritage.

* I think churches run better when led by an eldership. Again, it’s not only Biblical but very practical. We don’t always get it right, but I’m increasingly seeing evangelical churches follow this Biblical teaching. It’s not a salvation issue, but it’s wise and God-given.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to In Defense of the Churches of Christ

  1. Reed Merino says:

    Hello again, Jay,

    I have only posted twice to this site, and both are to you! 🙂

    As a youthful member of the local “mildly liberal” Methodist church, my first challenge to examine the Scriptures thoroughly came from the members of a newly planted Church of Christ, whose founding members came to our (then) little town of Commack, Long Island, N.Y. back around 1956 from Texas.

    Over the decades I have always appreciated the Restoration movment’s basic instinct to “speak where the Scriptures speak and remain silent where they are silent.” It creates the gut instinct that always starts with “what does the text SAY?” I have crossed over many theological and ecclesiastical boundaries since then, and was even an Episcopal priest for 7 years. And every boundary has been occasioned with “what does the text actually SAY?”

    What disappoints me about the Restoration movement is the same as that which disappoints me with the Anabaptist movement (where we have spent perhaps 15 years in some sort of fellowship). They got started long before you did, applying the same exact literalistic instinct to the Sermon on the Mount, as well as to those passages that pertain to church discipline. Three-plus centuries later, you came along and applied the instinct to baptism and to some issues of church worship and nomenclature.

    What disappoints me is how you and they and virtually all of Christendom seem to remain blind to the idea that you can treat ALL of the New Testament that way.

    You take literally the Scripture that describes the WHEN of the Lord’s Supper. But when it comes to the MEANING of the supper, you hem and haw just like the Mennonites and most of Protestantism. Surely we can’t take the texts literally for THAT!

    And, despite what Jesus & Paul clearly teach about celibacy, you filter that clarity out and wind up having virtually none of the celibate ministry that was such a power house in the first centuries of the Church’s history.

    And, despite what we are told with amazing clarity regarding the personal experience awaiting us in our own Pentecost, and subsequent gifts of the Spirit, you and most of Christendom come up with all kinds of clever ways to turning that simplicity into a complexity that only the denominally programmed can seem to grasp. This results in movements, most of whose citizens do not know from the inside what Jesus, Luke, Paul and ancient Christians were talking about.

    I could go on and on, but will stop with one very important issue where that direct and literal manner of Scriptural reading would help to break the stranglehold that this world has upon Christendom. This is the area where the original Christians and original Anabaptists surely “had it right”: living by the obvious consequences of turning the other cheek, overcoming evil with good and refusing to live by the sword. Once I made the vow to quit playing games with what the text says, it took no time at all to see that Christendom’s instinct of “patriotic duty” is a form of cowardice, invented in order to keep us from suffering the fearful consequences that the original Christendom and Anabaptists were willing to endure.

    Why not just tweak “We speak where Scripture speaks” to mean “We speak EVERYwhere that Scripture speaks”?

    In Christ,

    Reed Merino

  2. Jay Guin says:

    You are right that we in the Churches of Christ sometimes fail to apply all the scriptures. We can be unconsciously selective at times. Sadly, though, I think the problem is much, much broader.
    One of the biggest mistakes made by most denominations (Churches of Christ included) is a failure to see the gospel as involving both teaching personal salvation through Jesus (evangelism) and proactively working with the needy in society to improve their lives here on earth (a personally involved benevolence). This is one area in which nearly all of us fall sadly short of Jesus' example.
    The mainlines often push for big government programs or even privately funded charity, but fall short on personal evangelism. The evangelicals push evangelism heavily but often fail to help the needy. Both fall short in terms of getting personally involved. Around here, the Catholics probably do more work with the needy than anyone else.
    Therefore, I see the most need Spiritual gifts being the gifts of service and love, closely followed by leadership, encouragement, and faith, as these are what will be most needed to change the world in a way that shows the love of God in a practical way.
    PS – it's hard to tell from your post where you are now. Sounds sort of like a Pentecostal Catholic approach to Christianity.

  3. Gary Cummings says:

    Dear Jay,
    I really appreciate your site on the web here to deepen the Restoration Movement.
    Honestly, I have ti disagree in love about "What is Right with the Churches of Christ".

    I agree that Baptism is for believers- Baptists and many others believe that as well. The interpretation the COC has for ACts 2:38 is wrong.

    Acapella music is fine and I love it, my wife and I attend Mennonite Churches from time to time and their sometime acapella singing is great. The Church of Christ is wrong that it is mandatory.

    The COC rant against denominatiolism is wrong, as the COC has become a denomination (editors as Bishops), the official line to be towed or whole churches or individuals can be disfellowshipped on the Regulative Principle.

    The original plea of the restoration move, as I understand it is: Unity and Restorationism. The Unity in Christ by faith is great and fine and needed, but Sommer's insistence on Restorationism as the norm is the fatal flaw of the Churches of Christ.

    Weekly communion was not commanded in the New Testament. It may or may not have been done. "Breaking of Bread" does not always mean communion. This emphasis on weekly communion is highly selective, as it leaves out footwashing, the holy kiss, women's head covering and so much more. Then the COC has divided HOW TIMES over the method and kind of bread for communion.

    My conclusion after being in and out of the COC, being educated at ACU and Brite Divinity School and other seminaries as well, is that none of this matters. We are free in Christ to choose how many times to observe communion, how to relate to other believers in faith and love, what kind of music to use, and so much more.
    Of course it is not wrong to receive believer's baptism, to sing acapella, to have independent congregations, to have unity through faith in Christ alone. I believe in a local church led by elders. So we can agree that all of these things are great and helpful, but mandatory to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

  4. Gary Cummings says:

    Jay,
    Should be ” HOW MANY TIMES “.

  5. Chris O'Brien says:

    I would like to give my two cents and reply to the concept that "none of this matters", as Gary wrote.

    To be unified in one mind and one faith, we "need" to follow the examples of the New Testament.

    What happens when we stop doing what was ordained by Jesus and the apostle's teachings we can read of in God's Word? Apostacy, and a multiplicity of denominations teaching everything under the sun.

    God has set forth a five-fold plan for unity in First Corinthians 1:10
    1) We all speak the same thing,
    2) Have no divisions among us,
    3) Be perfectly joined together,
    4) Have the same mind,
    5) Have the same judgment.

    Philippians 3:16 joins in by saying, “…let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.”

    If first century Christians didn't use instruments in their Sunday services, I find it absurd to think one would want to after considering and understanding the last verses. Having musical instruments as part of a service is only one step further in distancing ourselves from God's plea for unity.

    Musical instruments in no way satisfy any requirement to please God from what we can read of in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 14:15, Hebrews 2:12, Hebrews 13:15).

    Once again, we "need" to follow the examples of the New Testament to stop apostacy and to be unified as Christ commanded. Should we therefore be hyphenated-Christians and attach non-biblical names to ourselves such as baptists, methodists, lutheran…??? No!

    If we want to do the best we can in obeying God's will, we will worship in spirit and in truth, following the pattern laid out for us in God's word. (The Bible has a firm stance on 'luke-warm' christians).

    Therefor, I believe a true Christian can boldly preach (as did the the apostles) the truth of the matter, and point out that anything less leads to apostacy and sin.

    Regarding some of the other things you mentioned, footwashing in particular, one must look at the principle behind it (love for another), and not need to heed to actually washing other's feet as if a necessary commandment, unlike communion which should be observed on the first day of the week.

    You mentioned, Gary, that the "church of Christs" have become a denomination themselves. While some congregations may fail to teach the whole truth… consider the following:

    What is the standard of unity?
    John 17:17 "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."
    If a congregation obeys the truth, it is in no way a denomination (denominating the one true church into man-made churchs).

    [email protected]
    I welcome any comments…

  6. Gary Cummings says:

    Dear Chris,
    One way or another, all churches are denominations or representatives of the universal Body of Christ.
    the old claim "We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent" really means "We will tell you where the Bible speaks and where the Bible is silent- do it our way or be damned to hell!"

    The standard of unity is not the Bible, it is salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit. If the Bible is the standard for unity, then the Restoration Movement and the churches of Christ in particular have failed. There are a dozen or so sub-sects within the church of Christ cult.

    Those who are saved and belong to the Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Church of God, Roman Catholic Church, and any other church are my brothers and sisters. We are saved by faith alone without any work of any kind.

    The only way to have a denominational free society is is have a state church backed by force or political approval. H. R. Niebuhr wrote a great book called THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN AMERICA. He talks about all of this, and his conclusion is that denominationalism is a better norm than a state church. I think we should all recognize that and quit trying to convert Christians from other churches to "our point of view". Back in the 1960's the COC had a "missionary to the denominations" . I think that is the worst idea ever. Let's leave them alone and let them trust in Christ in the way they are led, and concentrate on the unbelievers in out society. There are plenty of pagans to go around to whom we can witness.

  7. Jay Guin says:

    Chris,

    You make a couple of critical mistakes in your comment. Please prayerfully consider these.

    1. Not all error is apostacy (damning). The Bible simply doesn't say this. Indeed, Rom 14-15 plainly teaches that we can disagree on some doctrinal matters and still be brothers.

    2. The New Testament does not use "truth" to refer to all that the scriptures say is true, that is, any propositional truth found in scripture. I work through all the relevant passages at http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/t…. The short answer is that "truth" is almost always used in the New Testament to refer to the truth about Jesus, the good news of the kingdom of God.

    Read the linked posts and pull out a concordance and check me on this one.

    3. You read too much into 1 Cor 1:10. Yes, we should be all those things. That doesn't mean we must divide if we have differing minds or judgments on anything at all. Surely some disagreements are tolerated! I guarantee you that all the members of your own congregation don't agree about every single Bible teaching.

    Obviously, Paul is speaking of an essential core body of teaching. He says as part of the same discussion —

    (1 Cor 2:1-2) When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

    Why didn't Paul teach a systematic theology covering all possible points of disagreement? Why did the greatest missionary in history only teach something so very simple and rudimentary?

    (1 Cor 1:22-23) Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

    Paul said it twice — to make clear that the path to unity is not found in demanding agreement on every possible point. Rather, the "mind" and "judgment" the Corinthians must have is "the mind of Christ" (2:16) and "Christ Jesus — who has become for us the wisdom from God" (1:30).

    Indeed, Paul later defines "gospel" consistently with "Christ crucified" —

    (1 Cor 15:1-8) Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

    The thing that saves us is the gospel (15:2). This gospel consists of what we confess before we are baptized. "Christ died for our sins" (15:3).

    Paul's argument in 1 Cor 1 – 4 is not at all that we must agree on all truths or on all scriptural propositions. His argument is that we must agree on Jesus — we must have the same mind, being the mind of Christ. We must have a single judgment, being the wisdom that is Jesus. After all, we're saved by the gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus — not which preacher or professor we follow or which school of preaching we studied at.

    (1 Cor 1:21-23) For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

    What must we believe to be saved? Paul says, "Christ crucified."

    Now, many want to say that Jesus gets us into salvation but perfect theology keeps us in salvation. Paul disagrees.

    (1 Cor 1:19) For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

    Jesus saves. And if we would agree on this simple truth, we'd be united. We divide when we add to God's requirements.

    Now, "faith" in the New Testament includes "repent" —

    (Rom 10:9) That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

    "Jesus is Lord" means submitting to Jesus as Lord. Indeed, the word translated "faith" also includes the meaning of "faithfulness." But God does not demand perfect repentance or perfect faithfulness. Rather, he requires a heart submitted to him. But even profoundly penitent hearts can disagree over some things.

    We therefore seriously err when we add such things as a cappella singing as part of "faith" or "gospel" or "truth." That is not how the Apostles use those words, and doing that leads to the very sin we are called to oppose: division.

  8. Kyle says:

    Thanks for this post Jay. Sometimes I get so lost in the hem and haw of what we do wrong, I forget about the things we do well.

  9. Gary Cummings says:

    Jay,

    Thanks for the note good note. I do not think all COC’s are cults, but the mainline traditional COC certainly is cultlike in its faith and practice. That was my experience in the 60’s and 70’s. Since then ,some of the churches 0f Christ have been on a trajectory to become a decent denomination. If I have to choose between a cult, state-church, or denomination. I will go for the denomination any day. Have you read HR Niebuhr’s book. It is excellent. I read it at Brite Divinity School in 1972 and it made a lot of since then.

    Amen to all you have written in your response to Chris.
    Actually, many times I prefer Acapella singing. I would rather have good acapella singing than poor singing with bad instrumental music. I have heard a lot of that.
    We went to an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and aethetically, I felt right at home. It brought back a lot of memories from my COC days. The service was a lot like what I heard in the COC, and the topic was familiar: “You can’t have God as Father, unless you have the Church as your mother.” They had a great pianist, who was highly trained so the music did not sound like it came from a honky tonk.
    At times we attend a Mennonite Church, and some of the worship in acapella, and it is GOOD acapella. Now we are worshipping at the church of my childhood-the United Methodist Church (at least for a while).

  10. Kyle says:

    Can someone clarify a point that was made earlier…what does Jesus teach about celibacy? I'm not familiar with a Jesus quote on celibacy.

  11. Jerry Starling says:

    Kyle,
    This reply is a month later, but the disciples said that if what Jesus said about marriage/divorce was the way it is, it would be better not to marry. Jesus responded to say that not everyone could accept this – that some are eunuchs by men, some make themselves eunuchs, and some are eunuchs for the kingdom’s sake (Matt 19:11f).

    This could refer to castration (and in some instances, it does), but it could also refer to celibacy, especially the later instance of those who are eunuchs for the kingdom’s sake.

    Jerry Starling

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