What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (the Church, Part 2)

churchofchristAnd so we need to discuss Jesus some more.

John Howard Yoder, in The Politics of Jesus, points out that, when Jesus is held up as an example in the New Testament, it’s always about the cross.

He’s never held up as an example of how we should pray, or how to live as a single Christian. He is not held up as an example of Christian leadership or as the “Master Teacher.” It’s always about his crucifixion.

Philippians 2 is one very important example. Peter uses Jesus as an example to us of suffering for the sake of the Kingdom —

(1Pe 2:20-21 ESV) 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

Paul uses Jesus as an example of sacrificing for the sake of others —

(1Co 10:32-11:1 NIV) 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. NIV 1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

In Ephesians, Jesus is an example of love as shown in sacrifice —

(Eph 5:1-2 NIV) Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

In Hebrews, the cross teaches perseverance —

(Heb 12:1-4a NIV) And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

The lesson of the cross — and the example of Jesus — is about service, submission, sacrifice, and even suffering. This is what the church is supposed to be all about.

It’s how we relate to one another. It’s how we learn to get along. It’s how we show the world the light of Jesus. It’s how we are restored to the image of Jesus. It’s how we become Christ-like. It’s how we perform the mission of God. It’s even how we seek the good of the city where we are.

We surrender all pretensions to worldly power. No worldly politics. No yoking ourselves to political parties and candidates. No imposing God’s will by the power of the state’s sword.

(2Co 12:9-10 NIV) 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul is offering himself an example for how the church should live — in weakness, because in weakness we better serve others.

(2Co 13:4 NIV) 4 For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

It’s no easy question to decide how to seek our city’s good. Nor is it that easy to know what good works God wants us to do. But here is my experience and observations.

We start by getting rid of some dreadful habits. We remove worldly politics from the pulpit and the classrooms. We stop preaching against other Churches of Christ and “the denominations.” We stop defending our denominational identity and, instead, preach Jesus.

Preach through one of the Gospels — submissively, not explaining away the hard parts but approaching the text with humility and a heart of submission. Teach the Kingdom.

Preach Deuteronomy. There are some powerful passages in that ancient text, such as —

(Deu 10:16-19 NIV) 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

That’ll preach.

Spend some time in the books that the Churches of Christ routinely ignore. Study the Prophets and learn about the character of God.

(Isa 1:11-17 NIV) 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices– what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! 16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

(Mic 6:7-8 ESV) 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

There is incredible wisdom in the prophets.

So back to the theme of the series. What of the Church of Christ teaching should we keep?

* The Churches are insistent on regular church attendance, and I think that’s right. It’s not just a command but a necessary element of being formed into a spiritual, Christ-like community. You can’t be in community unless you see and talk to each other on a regular basis. You can’t be edified as a church unless you meet as a church.

* On the other hand, the notion that we meet to “perform Five Acts of Worship” misses the point of the assembly and points everything in entirely the wrong direction. It’s not a semi-pagan effort to appease an angry god by carefully following the rules hidden in the silences. It’s about so loving, so adoring God that we become like him.

We become like what we worship, and if we worship a god who damns over unintentional errors, we become harsh, judgmental people. But if we worship a God rich in mercy and love and forgiveness, that’s who we become.

* Church is not so much about obeying a command to attend so we can go to heaven as getting to be with other followers of Jesus to encourage and build each other up so we become more and more like him.

* And because we’re like Jesus, we work to make the world a better place — especially in the community where we are. It’s blessed to send out foreign missionaries and to dig wells in distant lands, as many churches do, but we should also serve the city where we are because we are the best evidence and testimony about the truth of Jesus. We need to show who Jesus is and how he has changed us so that faith is honored in our land because the world sees the good that faith brings about.

* Hence, evangelism, missions, and benevolence are good and necessary things, but they should no longer be programs required by the “pattern” of how we do church. Rather, they should exist because they reflect the nature of the members of the church. These should be second nature. They may be programs, but they’re done solely out of love for those served, not just to check the benevolence box on how to be a true church.

* And, yes, we worship during the assembly, not because God will damn us if we don’t feed his desire for adoration (God is not neurotic or emotionally needy), but because we see the beauty and wonder of God so well when we see his gathered people that we cannot help but worship the Being who drew us together. Then the worship will draw us closer to God and to each other, regardless of its form or tradition. The point is not rule-keeping but expressing our hearts toward God because of who he is.

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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29 Responses to What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (the Church, Part 2)

  1. “Spend some time in the books that the Churches of Christ routinely ignore.” How about Daniel and Revelations?

  2. Jen says:

    On the subject of regular church attendance…So often in the Churches of Christ, it is taught that if you are not there on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, then you are sinning. What are your thoughts on that?

  3. Pingback: Links To Go (April 29, 2014) | Tim Archer's Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts

  4. Skip says:

    The lesson of the cross is not primarily sacrifice but love. Love for us led Him to sacrifice. Our live for him leads us to sacrifice. A church that stresses sacrifice primarily will miss the point.

  5. Skip says:

    I meant “our love”. Sticky fingers on my cell phone.

  6. laymond says:

    I hope all of you that live in the stormy area are doing fine, I know that Jay and Alabama John live in the area that was hit hard, but it don’t seem to be over so hunker down and cover your head. and may God bless.

  7. I appreciate Jay’s admonition to read scripture to discover and better understand God’s character. It is sometimes difficult to get out of the traditional mindset of reading the scripture as though it were the instructions for a Blu-Ray player. What to do, what not to do, whether page 12 is applicable to Model 14A-40 or skip to page 13 to find out how to reset the timer for models after 2012, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

    Reading the scripture as grand divine autobiography is a revelation in and of itself. Especially when we stop focusing on the ancillary characters and seek out the Main Character.

  8. Mark says:

    You also have to look at the overall picture that Jesus bucked the religious establishment of the day. He healed on the Sabbath, he talked to women, he ate with “sinners and tax collectors”, etc. That sounds like liberal social justice of 27-33 AD. Oh no, not that. Social justice is purely secular, as we have all heard. Not if there is genuine care and concern for people behind it is it purely secular. There are a lot of works of Jesus that are not discussed, especially those in the middle of the gospels. Those works are not always easy to preach on because they aren’t three nice points, though some may seem too simple. I have heard the ultra-conservative cofC say that the spiritually immature just want to hear about Jesus cause it’s easy, and they don’t want to mature. I beg to differ in that the easy to listen to is sometimes very difficult to put into practice in real life.

  9. Alan says:

    We’re starting a 15 week series on Ezekiel in a couple of weeks — specifically for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of the nature of God.

  10. Price says:

    Jay, I agree that the CoC, as with all denominational affiliations, must first humble themselves. That is the service mindset that must be developed first. If all of us, all the rooms in the house as C.S. Lewis refers to the different faith heritages, could agree to agree on service to the local community, the exponential affect would be staggering as it relates to what might be accomplished.

    I would think that it would be a beautiful thing for a bunch of area churches to agree on a project and spend one Sunday morning all together working to help the community and singing and praising God with one another as we worked. To stop and the end and have communion would be a special time indeed. To me, that’s worship.

  11. laymond says:

    Charles said, “Reading the scripture as grand divine autobiography is a revelation in and of itself. Especially when we stop focusing on the ancillary characters and seek out the Main Character.”

    Charles who have you found to be the “main character” in your book. The one sender, or the many he sent?
    I believe God reveals his nature in the scriptures, even before Revelation , but we, like all disobedient children, don’t like what we see. so we rebel. The Father sends his one obedient son to talk to the rebels, in hope they might listen and be convinced their Father still loves them and has their well being at heart, but it is they that must change, and come back home of their own .
    Until we realize we need help, no one can help us.

  12. Alabama John says:

    Laymond, we are as ready as can be. Hit all around us and like every spring, they seem to follow topo areas that old times never built houses on. With few exceptions, those still get the blount today but folks keep building there. Folks were more aware of nature back a few tears ago. I meant to write tears instead of years as we see plenty of them when folks lose everything especially old pictures and letters.

  13. Alabama John says:

    Jay above mentioned Phillippians 2 and I want to make a comment on that chapter that I’ll bet most on here do not know.

    That chapter out of all the chapters in the Bible has had the most songs written from its words. I am going from memory, but I believe it is 393 and several are in our songbooks that we are very familiar with. Many have had their titles changed from the original but the words are still the same.

    Just thought you would find that interesting.

  14. Skip says:

    Laymond, I see three main characters in my Bible: 1. God, 2. Jesus, 3. Holy Spirit.

  15. stevdor75 says:

    There are several distinctive things about our group that I think are positive vis-a-vis others and should be preserved in some aspect. Below is an edited version of something I wrote on another list back in 2002.

    1. The CofC of my experience has a properly critical view of tradition. The view of tradition is that it can be both good and bad. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Sometimes it is viewed that a particular tradition may have served a valid purpose in the past but that it does not necessarily work now. Sometimes a tradition is viewed as simply being wrong, even harmful. These days many folks in our culture, whether talking about religion or politics, feel that reference to something being an established tradition entirely validates their position. In the cofc, an appeal to tradition does not work by itself. In fact one way of putting down an opponent is to accuse them of following a manmade tradition. There has to be good reasoning behind a tradition for it to have normative value in the cofc.

    2. There is a fairly high view of human reasoning. In the evangelical world, when you peel all the layers back, they will in the end justify themselves by appeal to the Holy Spirit testifying to them personally. In the cofc there is respect for logical and rational rigor. It may not always be executed properly but at least it is the goal that is generally agreed upon. I have learned some things 2002,however. I think our postmodern era does have some valid critiques of reason and our ability to be rational. We (editorial we) have sometimes reasoned ourselves to positions that put us at a disadvantage and make us unpopular. Our emphasis on not having instruments is one such example. I myself have no problem with it. But I know that many truly believe they have rational warrant and necessity for it and feel they must defend its truth even when it puts them at a social and financial disadvantage. I honor the character of that even though I think they are mistaken in this particular case. We need to have a rigorous method for not validating what we perceive is in our best financial interests. That takes honesty, fairness, and mental discipline.

    3. There is very little appeal to emotionalism. We perhaps take this too far. Emotions are important. They are basic data of our existence. But it is good that we work hard not to let them prejudice our views or misguide our actions. Once again, we and I, myself, are not always successful in carrying this out.

    4. Generally speaking there is little belief in the rapture nonsense.

    5. Spirituality is more abstract and less tied to the physical world. Pictures and statues of Jesus are of little interest. A church building is a building, a place that is as functional as finances and design permit. It is not a holy place. No place is holy, not even the so-called Holy Land. It is not important that Noah’s Ark be found or that the Shroud of Turin be authentic. Worship is not a performance which we witness. Its nice and somewhat beneficial if the singing in church is performed well but it is not that important. (I love singing and until turning sixty often led singing but some of my best memories are of country churches where the folks belted it out with sincerity and exuberance even if somewhat offkey.) On the other hand, now that I’m older, I do understand a little better how images and symbols and architecture and the entire sensual world does affect us and speak to us at a deeper level than and can meet our human needs. I’m presently wrestling with this one. I was certain of it in 2002 but now there is more nuance that I perceive is needed.

    In the C of C we share other good characteristics with evangelical christianity and christendom in general. These above are some of our distinctive traits which I value.

    6. Here is something that only recently I’ve begun to consider. On another forum, a scholar proffered that historically, the major areas of strength of the Churches of Christ were on the edges of the Confederacy and not the deep South or cotton belt. That got me to reflecting on the fact that often, advance and progress results from those who are on the periphery. In such cases they have much in common with those on the inside. But yet, being on the outside they perhaps are able to perceive problems and provide critique and add creative things. A certain 1st century rabbi from Galilee comes to mind who, shall we say, had some important insights that the establishment in Jerusalem needed to heed. For most of the 20th century we were on the edge of the mainline Protestant and then Evangelical worlds. I don’t desire that we be swallowed up into either of those. We should work to see what gifts we can bring from where we are… out on the edge.

  16. Skip says:

    I am not so sure the Church of Christ has a proper critical view of tradition. At least not in the several Churches of Christ I attended. The CoC has its own entrenched traditions such as: using the standard blue or gold song books, the same order to the service every week, the same type men are appointed elders (but often don’t know how to teach a Bible class), the traditional recycling of classes that reinforce CoC doctrine but tend to ignore the abundance of scriptures on other Bible subjects, etc…
    Tradition has a bad habit of creeping in to every church I have ever been a part of. Tradition is insidious and blinds the victims to objectivity.

  17. stevdor75 says:

    Skip, I agree, it does have a bad habit of creeping in as you say.

    Steve Allison

  18. Jay Guin says:

    Alan, I reviewed the best book on Ezekiel I know of at /2013/05/the-message-of-ezekiel-by-christopher-j-h-wright/

    Very readable. Wright has a real gift for commentary on a very challenging book.

  19. Jay Guin says:


    Tornados didn’t come near but lightning appears to have killed our air conditioning. Lost power at my office. But very few injuries. I’m aware of one death in Tuscaloosa County, that was a swimmer on UA’s swim team.

    Thanks for asking.

  20. Jay Guin says:


    I went looking for a song based on Phil 2:4-13 on YouTube and couldn’t find one. I found two or three home-made songs that weren’t worth passing along to the readers, but nothing else. I even found an internet table matching hymns to verses, and none of the suggested hymns followed the text of the passage.

    If you can point me toward a hymn or two based on this passage, I’d greatly appreciate it.

  21. Alabama John says:

    Jay, pull up http://www.hymnary.org and on Phillippians 2 there are 17 pages of songs listed.
    John 14 has more total number but not the number we use as in Phillippians 2. Many you will recognize by the title but many more have had the original title changed and they have the original listed. On those you will recognize the meanings and words in the songs.

  22. Alan says:

    Jay, thanks for the tip. I’ve ordered the book!

  23. AJ, that looks like a great resource for serious worship (or song) leaders!

  24. Mark says:

    Ah, now those are real hymns.

  25. Royce says:

    It seems we keep looking for things to do, or do better. We want to worship better, imitate Jesus better. All of these are good but not best.

    Knowing Christ more, loving Him more, treasuring Him more in my view is far better. Most sermons have a goal of behavour modification. When will we preach Christ? More doing and doing better will not give us what we already have in the person of Jesus.

    Jesus said what comes out of your mouth is what is in your heart. By that measure of people we obviously think to little of the Lamb of God.

  26. laymond says:

    Skip says:
    April 29, 2014 at 11:32 am
    “Laymond, I see three main characters in my Bible: 1. God, 2. Jesus, 3. Holy Spirit.”

    Skip, the main character in a play is the one it is about, and usually the one who has the most lines.
    My bible presents God Almighty as that “main character” . Consider that God told Jesus what to say, or as Jesus said “he only repeated what God said” and Jesus describes “the holy ghost ” in the same way He too repeats what he has heard, I don’t understand how you place them as equal headliners on the bill posted outside the theatre . I really doubt that Jesus Christ would agree with your opinion of the play. I know I surely do not. And especially in this play, I would not want to antagonize the “Main Star” if I ever expected to go back to that theatre , at least as long as HE was on stage.

  27. Philip says:

    Laymond said,

    “I don’t understand how you place them as equal headliners on the bill posted outside the theatre. I really doubt that Jesus Christ would agree with your opinion of the play. I know I surely do not.”

    Here is what Paul says,

    Philippians 2:5-7

    “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

    Jesus, is equal with God. You got it right Skip.

  28. Monty says:


    Did you call on the name of the Lord to be saved? And if so, then who in particular was it? Joel 2:32 says in reference to Jehovah, “whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The Jews in that context understood the coming of the day of the Lord as the coming of their Jehovah. Peter attributes what was happening on Pentecost as pertaining to Joel 2:32.

    Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye crucified both Lord and Christ.

    Question for you: Who did those who “called upon the name of the Lord”, on Pentecost cry out to for salvation? Jehovah or Jesus? Who did Paul call on when he was instructed to “arise and be baptized calling on the name of the Lord?” Was that his Jehovah God he was raised up serving or was it Jesus Christ? Acts 4:12 “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name(Jesus) among men, whereby we must be saved.

    So, which name do we call on? Jehovah or Jesus? Or is calling on Jesus, the same as calling on Jehovah because they are One? If Jesus is less than Jehovah, how does appealing to his name(Jesus) save? Shouldn’t we appeal to the highest name?

    At the end of time every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Doesn’t that mean what it says it means, Laymond? That everyone will confess that Jesus is God? Not somehow less than God, for to do so (bow and worship)would be blasphemy wouldn’t it? Only Jehovah is to be worshiped.

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