We are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.
We’re now getting to even more picayune peculiarities of the conservative Churches of Christ. (I’m starting to get really embarrassed by this. I mean, I attend a Church of Christ myself.)
“My friend, don’t ever call a man reverend,” Randall said. He wasn’t criticizing, nor was his tone harsh. He was simply instructing. “What’s wrong with that?” I laughed. “The only place you’ll find the word reverend in the Bible is in Psalms 111: 9:
(Kindle Locations 5900-5905).
In the King James Version, the psalm reads —
(Psa 111:9 KJV) He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.
But more recent translations read differently —
ESV Psalm 111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!
NASB Psalm 111:9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name.
NET Psalm 111:9 He delivered his people; he ordained that his covenant be observed forever. His name is holy and awesome.
NIV Psalm 111:9 He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever — holy and awesome is his name.
Most modern translations say “awesome” rather than reverend. Got that?
Now, the argument is that, because the Bible calls God and only God “reverend,” it’s wrong to call a preacher by the same title. By that logic, it would be equally wrong to call your preacher — or anyone else — “awesome”!
This is an example of a distasteful trait of some of my brothers in the conservative Churches of Christ — showing off their supposedly superior Bible knowledge by picking at trivial mistakes (which sometimes aren’t even mistakes at all).
For example, we delight in proving that the Bible doesn’t say the infant Jesus was visited by three wise men, just that they brought three gifts. See how ignorant everyone else is and how smart we are? — all about something that matters not one whit.
Randall next asserts,
“Denominational preachers seem to love and crave the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God. They prove this by their actions and attitudes.”
“The glory of men?” I asked.
“Yeah Mr. Mike. The glory that they receive, in part, by the prestige that comes with their title of Reverend,” Randall explained. “And denominational preachers today can be likened to the Pharisees in the first century who loved the praise of men and loved their titles. I understand that some of today’s preachers will even get angry if you won’t address them by their religious title!”
(Kindle Locations 5932-5938). This is a provable fact? Really?
Of course, it’s true of some preachers, including some in the Churches of Christ. But is this universally the case? Think hard before you answer because bearing false witness is still a sin the last time I checked.
(Col 3:8-10 ESV) 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Randall’s statement is false. I know too many leaders of non-Church of Christ churches. It’s just offensive, ignorant, and ungodly. I can’t imagine why anyone would countenance this kind of speech as worth paying money for and then distributing to church members as though it’s okay to slander and lie about “the denominations” because they aren’t your particular group of friends. It’s sin.
The next chapter questions the Baptist one-man pastor system. The Churches of Christ insist on a plurality of elders, noting that every biblical reference to the elders is in the plural because neither Greek nor English provides a convenient way to say “one or more elders.” Ask a group of adults how many have “children,” and those with just one child will raise their hands. It’s just understood that the plural can often include the singular. (The same logic allows a man with just one child to qualify as having believing “children.”)
(Gen 16:2 ESV) 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
Sarai doesn’t mean that she has only one child and wants a plurality. She has neither a child nor children. And this is how language often works.
(1Ti 5:17 ESV) 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
What if only one elder rules well? Does he receive double honor? Of course, because “elders” means “elder or elders” in context.
[I]t is less clear how many elders (one or a plurality) in a church would provide the leadership. The pattern elsewhere suggests that plurality of leadership was the rule or the ideal (Phil 1:1; Acts 20:17, 28; 16:4). But the scope of the task—“elders in every town”—offers no sure indication of the distribution of leaders from church to church.
Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 680.
Because the term “elders” is plural (Titus 1:5) many hold that each congregation had a plurality of elders. However, this cannot be proven. The use of the plural is natural when more than one person is indicated. The plural could easily be because there were multiple churches, thus multiple elders. Though multiple elders may have led each congregation, it seems more likely that individual elders led each house church.
Terry Wilder, “Titus, Letter To,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1602.
Therefore, the use of the plural “elders” really doesn’t prove the point. I’ve attended small churches that had just one man qualified to be an elder, and he couldn’t serve his church as an elder because we so want to damn the Baptists that we’ve made having a single elder a damnable sin — a failure to be “scripturally organized” — on very thin evidence. The result is a church without recognized leadership — which is not a good thing when God has given the church a man with the gift to lead. Burying talents given by God is a very dangerous practice.
Thomas and Alexander Campbell — and many others — were the only elders of their churches. The rejection of one-man elderships came much later, likely in the early 20th Century when we began to debate Baptists more or less continuously. You see, a large part of our doctrine is not so much from the scripture as it’s invented to make Baptists look bad to our members.
A preacher once said to his church, “I’m so glad that you all haven’t noticed that the Baptists enter their churches through the door, because if you did, you’d insist on entering through the windows!”
If we were to recognize that the Spirit is alive and active in our churches to raise up leaders (Eph 4:11-12), then we’d readily see that the number of elders to ordain is determined by how many the Spirit has qualified for the task.
This chapter is called “The Gospel.” Well, the good news goes back to Isaiah and it’s the coming of the King or Messiah into his Kingdom. It’s Jesus being enthroned following his death, burial, and resurrection. It’s our privilege to be saved by faith in Jesus as Son of God and confidence in his resurrection.
But, no, this is yet another chapter about baptism — with Jesus off in some dark corner being ignored yet again. You see, even though the text of the Bible says that “obey the gospel” means to believe in Jesus, Randall has sold Shank on the idea that it means being correctly baptized.
Now, I’m delighted that Shank has decided to be properly baptized, but this is not “the gospel.” The chapter actually gets some of this right, but always and only for the purpose of returning to baptism.
Paul preached Jesus and him crucified. Those sermons produced baptisms because they first produced faith in Jesus, not as someone who will damn you for a bad immersion but someone who died to save you. And I worry about those people who enter Christianity out of fear of what will happen should they be baptized wrong rather than in the joy of God’s grace. I really do.
Finally, Randall explains the history of the Churches of Christ, but not quite correctly —
In reality Campbell started nothing. He started no church or religion. He simply pointed people back to the Bible. His plea was the restoration of the first century church and practices that were supported by the Bible. He encouraged people to leave denominationalism and be unified under the banner of Jesus Christ and the Lord’s church as found in the New Testament.
(Kindle Locations 6355-6359). And this is ignorant history. I mean, it’s kinda close to true, but just close enough to deceive. It’s a fiction that must be indulged to pretend that the Churches of Christ can trace their roots back to Pentecost by an uninterrupted line of congregations and believers.
We pretend we have no history, and so we don’t study history, and so we learn nothing from history. And we believe all kinds of ridiculous things. So let’s talk about the real Alexander Campbell.
That’ll be the topic of the next post.