The other day, we elders were chatting about the possibility of canceling Wednesday night services for part of the summer.The volunteers in our children’s ministry are worn out, and the school year has gotten so long that the summer is filled with mission trips, VBS, and such. But it was just talk.
But word got out. Word always gets out. A retired elder grabbed me in the hall. He said he’d heard about our discussion. He had a look of sheer panic on his face.
“You know you can’t do that,” he said with the greatest of urgency.
“You mean politically? There’s nothing in the Bible on it, of course, and the church will support the decision, I’m sure,” I replied — naively as it now seems looking back on this fateful conversation.
“No, no,” he shook his head. “You forgot about the franchise agreement! How could you forget about the franchise??”
I assured him that I had no idea what he was talking about, and I thought sure he’d lost his mind. He was, after all, quite elderly.
It must have shown on my face, because he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I’m not crazy!” He looked deeply embarrassed. “When I retired, I guess I forgot to give a copy to the next guy. You see, in churches of Christ, the senior elder always keeps a copy of the secret franchise agreement. It has all the rules that you think ought to be in the Bible but aren’t.”
A few days later he drove to my house and handed me an ancient, dusty document, plainly labeled “Franchise Agreement.” And as old as it was, the lettering remained very clear.
The retired elder leaned close and whispered in my ear. “Now it will all make sense. All the gaps, and silences, and peculiarities — now you’ll understand.”
And now, you’ll understand.
cHURCH OF CHRIST FRANCHISE AGREEMENT
Agreement made by and between the Holy Trinity, acting through its agents on earth, the editors of the sound periodicals, (“Franchisor” or “Franchisors,” as the usual rules for pluralization don’t really apply) and ___________ church of Christ (“church”).
WHEREAS, Franchisors have made their will clear through the Holy Scriptures, such than anyone with common sense and an open heart may understand Franchisors’ commands contained therein; and
WHEREAS, it is nonetheless necessary to lay those commands out in terms that can be even more easily understood; and
WHEREAS, church desires to obtain a franchise so that its status as a sound and faithful congregation within the brotherhood of the saints is established and so that it will be listed in The Churches of Christ in the United States as such – and get all the mailings; and
WHEREAS, Franchisors are willing to grant such a franchise on very specific terms and will pull such franchise immediately if such terms are violated in any particular,
NOW, THEREFORE, the premises considered, the parties hereto do hereby agree as follows:
(a) Capitalization. The church shall not capitalize “church” even when used as a proper noun, as ordinary rules of English do not apply to the Franchisor’s elect. Besides, the denominations capitalize “church,” which makes it wrong because they are going to hell.
(b) Name: The church shall select a name based on a geographical location, either specifying the name of the town in which it is located or else the part of town in which it is located. It shall not be named after a saint, a major donor, a Christian virtue, or an ordinal number. Hence, “First church of Christ” or “Hope church of Christ” are strictly forbidden, as all churches of Christ mentioned in the New Testament bore a name such as “Ephesus Church of Christ” or “Central church of Christ” or “Eastside church of Christ.”
(c) Sanctuary. The meeting area is the “auditorium,” as the denominations say “sanctuary” and they are going to hell. “Auditorium” is more appropriate as that is the term used for areas where entertainment occurs.
(d) Minister. Every member is a “minister,” but the ministers are more so because that’s what we pay them to do.
(e) Brother/Sister. We don’t use “Mr.” or “Mrs.” because we are family. The members shall call each other “Brother” or “Sister,” as being on a first-name basis would be too familiar.
(f) Denomination. The church of Christ franchisees do not constitute a “denomination” and shall never refer to themselves as such, as denominations are subsets of the one true church. When churches of Christ form subsets of the one true church, they may not refer to such subset as a “denomination,” as denominations do that, and that makes it wrong because they are going to hell. Rather, they shall deny that the other churches outside their subset are true churches, thus eliminating any and all risk of thinking of themselves as a denomination.
(2) Location. The church building (the “church” is the people, not the bricks and mortar) shall not be located on Main Street or Church Street. Main Street is forbidden as the land is too expensive. Church Street is forbidden as that’s where the denominations are, and they are going to hell.
(3) Building standards.
(a) Kitchens/Fellowship halls. There shall be no kitchen or fellowship halls or anything that someone might even intentionally misconstrue as a kitchen, such as a communion preparation room with a sink. After all, the early church did not have kitchens in their church buildings, as they had no church buildings and met in homes instead.
(b) Exceptions. However, in some communities, a fellowship hall may be built and owned by the church if not physically connected to the building. Some communities require the land on which the building is situated to be separately subdivided from the land on which the church building is built and that there be no roads connecting the two. For further guidance, contact the nearest agent of the Holy Trinity. Although they frequently disagree with each other, they all know the Franchisor’s will better than you.
(c) Pews. All seating shall be in pews, arrayed in parallel lines, even though this means many within the church won’t be facing the preacher. This is not entertainment, so you don’t have to be able to see without getting a crick in your neck. Jesus suffered for you, and you shall suffer for Jesus.
(d) Number of pews. You shall install far more pews than you need, as the Franchisor will surely give us increase if we show faith through buying too many pews. The church shall rope off the back pews until the Franchisor gives the increase. The members shall sit in the roped off areas anyway.
(e) Padding. Pews shall not be padded. This is not an entertainment venue. Jesus didn’t have padding when he was hung on the cross. We are supposed to suffer with him at church.
(f) Baptistry. The church building shall contain a baptistry, which shall include a heater. If the preacher is aware that someone intends to be baptized on Sunday, he shall turn the heater on the Saturday night before, as it takes many hours to heat up that much water. However, if he in unaware of any such plans, he should leave the baptistery water cold, as it’s expensive to heat the water. Should someone come forward to be baptized unexpectedly, they’ll be baptized in a bone-chilling grave of water. Fortunately, this is rarely a problem.
(a) There shall be no windows in the auditorium.
(b) There may be a steeple provided it is of modest dimensions and has no cross. However, steeples are well known to be denominational, and the erection of such an icon may cause people to think of you as a denomination, and they are going to hell.
(c) There may be no stained or colored glass. There shall be a Jordan River scene behind the baptistery. Stained glass and crosses are forbidden because they are used by the denominations, and the denominations are going to hell. Moreover, the early church didn’t have stained glass and crosses. They used the symbol for a fish. There shall be no fish symbols as they are Pentecostal. And insurance salesmen put them on the back of their cars, and you wouldn’t want anyone to think that you sell insurance.
(d) Each church shall have two wooden placards behind the pulpit, one for today’s hymn numbers and one for last week’s attendance and contribution figures. The numbers shall be white on dark brown or black. If you run out of 7’s, you may use an upside down 2.
(e) There shall be a tract rack in the foyer. It shall contain at least one stack of tracts urging the continued use of Jacobean English when praying to God. It shall contain another tract wondering why people no longer pray as they should. And it shall have three stacks of tracts explaining why we are Christians only but not the only Christians. And a series of tracts explaining why the denominations are all going to hell.
(5) Services. There shall be three services per week, Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. It’s understood that the scriptures do not require the night services, but they’re still required.
(a) Churches with fewer than the requisite minimum number of services shall lose their franchises.
(b) Even though the evening services aren’t required, they shall not be canceled for Christmas, New Years, the Super Bowl, or bowl games, as the Franchisor uses these as tests of our faith, and we wouldn’t want the Franchisor to think we love football more than him.
(6) Sermon. Each sermon shall be followed by an invitation, as this is the First Century pattern.
(7) Music: All singing in the church building shall be a cappella. Instrumental accompaniment is allowed for weddings if prerecorded, as the Franchisor really only objects to the presence of instruments, except during the worship hour, when even recordings of the instrument are not allowed. And at any other time. Except weddings, as the elders have daughters.
(a) Special music. Solos, quartets, and other special music are strictly forbidden as the Franchisor has told us to sing to “one another.” However, alto leads are quite permissible, as churches of Christ sing traditional music and do not resort to entertainment.
(b) Entertaining. Music shall not be entertaining, as this is what the denominations do, and they are going to hell. Rather, song leading shall be at 30 beats per minute or less, to make certain that the music is devoid of entertainment value. Get your entertainment at home.
(c) Instruments. The singing of worshipful songs at home or in the car shall not be accompanied by instrumental music, as it’s worship whether it occurs during the assembly or outside the assembly.
(d) Exception. If the Freed Hardeman chorus passes through town, they may not sing apart from the congregation during the assembly, as this would be a choir, which is sinful form of worship used by the denominations, which are going to hell. However, they may sing after the closing prayer, as this is no longer worship but entertainment.
(8) Communion. Communion shall be served weekly. By “weekly” we mean, of course, twice weekly.
(a) The first serving shall be at the morning service.
(b) The second serving shall be at the Sunday night service. The second time is only for those Providentially hindered, not that we believe the Franchisor actually hinders people from attending church as the Franchisor cannot tempt and He hasn’t done anything since the First Century. Those who are self-hindered and call it Providentially hindered shall be served with the entire congregation, meaning the faithful who come back, which shall be no more than 75% of the church; but those who’ve already been served shall not partake of it a second time, but as we are family, we will watch while those who were Providentially hindered are served, even though this is really uncomfortable for everyone. Taking communion twice in one day would be sin because it’s just not done that way.
(c) “Bread” or “loaf” means unleavened bread, as this is what was served at Passover, and the first Lord’s Supper was a part of a Passover meal. “Fruit of the vine” means unfermented grape juice, as the Passover meal included multiple cups of wine, but the Franchisor didn’t mean for that to happen anymore, as the Old Covenant was hung on the cross.
(d) Communion shall be served from a table at the front of the building by male members of the congregation in good standing. The men shall walk in a straight line and otherwise treat the occasion with the same sobriety as a funeral. Smiling is impermissible during communion. Women may not pass the elements, as this would require them to stand, and standing parts are solely for men, as serving a meal is inappropriate for women and might cause them to think they may speak.
(e) Each offering shall be separated from the Lord’s Supper by the incantation “separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper.” This is because people might otherwise think that Jesus passed a collection plate at the original Lord’s Supper, but he did not, as the original Lord’s Supper was held on a Thursday night.
(f) The Lord’s Supper shall never be taken on a Thursday night, as there is no Biblical example authorizing the same.
(g) Each communion service shall be preceded by a brief talk. The talk shall include a statement that we are opposed to transubstantiation and consubstantiation, because if you don’t say so each week, someone will wonder if you’ve secretly converted to Catholicism or Lutheranism. Besides, any unbeliever in the crowd will surely be concerned to know our position on this issue.
(9) Sermons: The preacher shall preach twice on Sunday and teach on Sunday morning and Wednesday night, because that’s what we’re paying him for. Sermons on baptism, the five steps of salvation, or divorce shall be on Sunday night. That’s just the way it is.
(10) Contribution. The contribution shall be as each member is prospered, which shall be weekly. If a member is paid monthly, he is still prospered weekly, because it would look bad not to give a check every week.
(a) Funds given to the church treasury shall only be used for matters under the jurisdiction of the elders or overseen by another eldership. Except for an orphanage or college.
(b) Campus ministries shall be overseen by a board because ministries to students aren’t part of the jurisdiction of an eldership.
(c) Campus ministries shall not be overseen by a board because ministries to students are part of the jurisdiction of an eldership.
(d) Subparagraphs (b) and (c) are salvation issues, and a breach will trigger a loss of franchise.
(11) Prayer. There shall be an opening prayer, a main prayer, a prayer before each element of the communion, and a closing prayer. In each prayer the church shall pray for forgiveness of sins and that their worship has been done decently and in order, with the understanding that the Franchisor is a patient, compassionate God who forgives. However, it is understood that the prayers of other franchised churches will not be heard so that they will lose their franchises should they make any mistake at all in their worship.
(a) Posture for prayer. The Bible teaches that the Jews and early church sometimes prostrated themselves before the Franchisor or prayed looking into heaven with hands raised. Paul commands us to lift holy hands to the Franchisor. As these practices are Pentecostal, we will pray seated, with eyes closed and heads bowed. There shall be no variation.
(b) Words to be used. Each main prayer shall include a request that the Franchisor “give the preacher a ready recollection.” Each closing prayer shall include a request that the Franchisors “guide, guard, and direct us.” Of course, we mean that the Franchisors shall do these things in a Providential manner, without any miracle or violation of the laws of nature, meaning that we’re actually just hoping that the preacher remembers on his own and that we get through the week on our own. We are blessed to let the Franchisor know our desires even if we don’t expect him to do anything about it.
(c) Language. The Franchisor prefers 17th Century English to modern English. He/They shall be referred to as “Thee,” “Thou, etc. End verbs with “eth” when appropriate by the grammatical rules of Jacobean English. Otherwise, the Franchisor might not hear your prayers – or might even get angry at your lack of respect.
(12) Clothing. It’s understood that we must give our best to the Franchisor and so we will dress in coats and ties and formalwear, but not too formal, even if we have better. The Franchisor has relaxed this rule on Sunday nights and even more so on Wednesdays, because the Franchisor is a loving Franchisor who keeps up with the times – except on Sunday morning when we worship exactly like the First Century church. Women may not wear pants on Sunday morning, but the Franchisor has relented on this rule for other services. Culottes remain a question requiring further guidance, as we often can’t really tell a dress from culottes.
(a) Women are not required to wear a veil, hat, or other headcovering, except in some churches. This is not a fellowship issue, as it only involves worship, where the Franchisor tolerates some differences of opinion, but not always. For further guidance, check with the Franchisor’s agents on earth, who disagree with each other but have a direct pipeline to the Franchisor and so know the Franchisor’s will better than you do.
(b) No sandals. After all, that doesn’t fit the First Century pattern. Even if they’re your best sandals. Except for women, who have greater rights than men when it comes to fashion.
(13) Elders. The church shall have a plurality of elders. This is obvious from the fact that the scriptures always speak of elders in the plural. Therefore, if you have only one qualified man, you shall have no elders and shall instead by overseen by unqualified men.
(a) In the absence of elders, the church shall be governed by the men’s business meeting, as this is plainly taught in the scriptures. Women are not allowed to have authority over men, and therefore may not even be present, as men are easily intimidated by their wives. If women were allowed to speak, men might find their arguments persuasive, which would undercut male spiritual leadership. Better to make bad decisions than to accept input.
(b) Should a subject come up where the women have special knowledge or expertise, they should not be called, as this might appear weak. Rather, the men should make the best decision they can without talking to the women, as this is the essence of spiritual leadership. They can fix their mistakes at the next meeting after their wives straighten them out in private.
(c) The elders are charged by scripture with protecting the flock from false doctrine. This is done by requiring the preacher to teach only sound and faithful teachings. The preacher, having been to preacher school, knows more about what is sound and faithful than the elders. Therefore, whatever the preacher preaches is okay.
(14) Deacons. Deacons shall be appointed in all churches, or else the church will not be scripturally organized and it will lose its franchise.
(a) Deacons need not have jobs and there is no job that only a deacon can do. Therefore, only men may be deacons, and they must be married and have multiple children, as only such men have the life experience essential to the job.
(b) Even though the Bible does not tell us what deacons are to do, we shall insist that all programs be headed by a deacon, as that is required to be scripturally organized. However, a minister may head a program, so long as a token deacon is over him, even if the deacon has no experience or skills appropriate to the job.
(c) Women may lead programs involving children, provided the programs aren’t listed as such in the church directory.
(15) Membership. If someone converts a couple who has been unscripturally divorced and remarried, and they are baptized, the elders must either permit them to become members or not. Either way, the church will split. Therefore, such couples should not be converted or else should be encouraged to attend somewhere else.
(16) Smoking. Smoking is a sin, as our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, of course, no longer lives in our bodies other than through the word of the Franchisor, but the principle still applies. Smoking between class and worship shall be outdoors on the side porch. An ashtray is provided for your convenience.
(17) Priests. We believe in the priesthood of believers. Each member is empowered by the Franchisor to interpret scripture for himself. Those who interpret scripture differently from the elders shall be asked to leave. The elders shall interpret the scriptures as instructed by the preacher, as he’s been to preacher school. Even though anyone can understand the scriptures if they have common sense and an open heart, it really helps to have been to preacher school, as preachers learn things there we never would have figured out from just reading the Bible.
(18) Preparing to worship. When the worshippers enter the auditorium, they shall sit quietly, as this indicates true reverence. Talking shall take place in a less sanctified location. Even though the auditorium is not holy, being a mere expedient, it can be made unholy by talking too loudly, eating, drinking, or otherwise indulging the flesh. However, these behaviors are permitted in the foyer, as the Franchisor doesn’t mind that.
(19) Women. Women may not ask questions during the worship, which is public, as they should ask their husbands at home. They may, however, ask the preacher questions in the foyer afterwards.
(a) They may also ask questions and make comments in class, as classes are private.
(b) Women may teach men in private; however, they may not teach men in class, as classes are public.
(20) Salvation. We are Christians only but not the only Christians. We should express how insulted we feel when people say we think we’re the only ones going to heaven. It’s not true, and the jokes based on that premise are definitely not funny. But the denominations are all going to hell. Because they aren’t churches of Christ. They even capitalize “Church.”
(a) As salvation depends on how worship is conducted and how the church is organized, if this church violates any of these rules, the members must leave, even if it means taking communion alone at home and meeting in a building with a kitchen.
(b) If this church fellowships another church that violates any of these rules, it will lose its franchise, and the members must leave.
(c) If the preacher sits on a board with a man who is part of a church that violates any of these rules, or with a man who sits on another board with man who is part of a church that has lost its franchise, this church will lose its franchise. And all its members must leave.
(d) If anyone missed three services in a row, after being twice warned, the church shall withdraw fellowship. He probably won’t care anyway, so send him a card advising him he is no longer on the roll. There’s no need to visit in person or call.
(21) Silence. All silences in this contract shall be construed as prohibitions, except when the silence is regarding an aid or an expedient. But not when the aid or expedient is a separate act of worship. To determine what is and isn’t an “act of worship,” see the Franchisor’s agents on earth, latest issue. If they disagree on a point, remember that we are a priesthood of believers, all with the right to interpret the Franchisors’ will and that elders have no jurisdiction outside of their congregations to bind their will. But editors, as the Franchisor’s agents on earth, have no such limits and may condemn and damn as they see fit, as God’s agents on earth.
(22) Meetings. There shall be an annual week-long “gospel meeting.” This is for the purpose of saving the lost. Therefore it’s critical that other franchise churches in town attend your meeting, even though they aren’t lost. This is called “supporting the meeting,” which will need support because the lost won’t be there.
(23) Innovations. All innovations are wrong. All innovations requiring the expenditure of money are especially wrong, even requiring the church to split. Hence, the church shall divide over the introduction of fellowship halls, buses, support for missionaries through the church treasury, support for orphanages through the church treasury, etc. Certain innovations prior to 1950 are permissible, such as the Sunday school, multiple cups, sound systems, and the American Standard Version.
(24) Translations. The King James Version shall be used in all public and private reading of Franchisor’s holy word. The American Standard Version, being more than a 100 years old, is acceptable if you can find a copy. All other versions are liberal, being written by the denominations, which are going to hell.
(25) Identity. The church shall have a name found in scripture. Any of the many names for the church found in scripture are acceptable. If it’s “church of Christ.”
(a) We are the continuation of the church of Christ founded at Pentecost with the first gospel sermon preached by Peter. We have continually existed ever since, and the denominations are all digressions from the one, true church of Christ founded on that day.
(b) We are part of the Restoration Movement, so called because the great leaders of the 19th Century restored First Century Christianity. Even though it had never been lost and so didn’t really need restoring. Which is why we never talk about it.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the parties have hereunto set their hands and seals.