In this post, I liken some rare ones in the Church of Christ to the proverbial ugly duckling. When I sent this article to one such, to check if it made any sense at all, I got back this reply:
“I think there may be a very limited number of people within the church of Christ who would benefit from this.”
It could be their way of saying, Don’t bother. 🙂
I suspect that because I am writing this so carefully, trying not to offend anyone in the Church of Christ or confuse those who are not in the Church of Christ, I am probably going to end up being vague and offending and confusing anyway.
But as I also use this blog as my personal repository, I shall post it quietly and hope it causes no irreparable damage.
[Disclaimer: I know that Churches of Christ members prefer to write the C in Churches in lowercase. Please excuse me for using a capital C]
Denominations and doctrinal disagreement among Christians are the results of the attempts from the ‘gates of Hades’ to prevail against the church of God. But the Lord has used this to prepare adornment and finery— exquisitely intricate—for His bride.
Some denominations have a better theological understanding, while others have other desirable aspects that are worth emulating. Not all denominations (and certainly not all local churches in any denomination) are true and faithful. The theological understanding of some churches is so compromised that no unbeliever could possibly be able to find the God of the Bible there and be saved.
Mysteriously, people do not readily understand each other across denominations. It is almost as if the Lord has allowed this situation, so that people may grow within smaller groups and not become one big uniform church. The mistakes of other churches appear glaringly clear, while we carry on blissfully oblivious of our own blindspots.
Some of us, who have been led of God to move from one denomination to another, are able to understand the perspective of both churches, and this can be a lonely vantage point, and one longs to share one’s thoughts and is unable to find the right audience. So with this rather long introduction, let me try to articulate what is on my mind.
I spent many years of my life in a denomination called the Church of Christ. All kinds of groups call themselves by this name, but I refer to churches that are sincere and faithful. [Note: Those from the COC do not regard themselves as a denomination, and the reason for this is historic; the word denomination to them refers to churches steeped in tradition who have moved away from the prescribed path of New-Testament Christianity. If you are in a denominational church you are not in the church of Christ, and as we all know, only His church will be saved.]
Unless you have spent many years in that church, I would urge you not to try and explain doctrinal matters to them. You will fail, and you will end up talking past each other.
Some in that group, like those untimely born, are like the proverbial ugly duckling; for some reason they have jumped the rut and have acquired the ability to slip the COC glasses on and off, whenever they need to. This is extremely rare and most of these individuals would have been disfellowshipped by their brokenhearted brethren. I do know one or two however who, because of generations of being in that church have learned from the being-disfellowshipped experiences of their forebears and have managed to lead productive lives in the Church of Christ, while also peeking out and profiting from the abundance of good material outside.
Thus one needs the capability to be doctrinally ‘bilingial’, as it were. I say this because the very meaning of words used are understood differently inside the COC. We saw how the word denomination could upset a conversation. Mention of Creeds and Confessions are an absolute no no. I suspect that if a sincere COC member picked up the 1689 Baptist Confession of faith, it might be an eye-opener and a pleasant surprise, provided some other word/term did not trip them up. The COC do have their own doctrines from their sincere understanding of scripture, but they would not use a historic word like creed or confession to describe them, because of the bad connotations these words have in their circles.
Recently, I read an article stating that one is not saved by faith alone. I know looking back on my COC days that I was very much saved, and it was not of works and it was still only by the grace of God through faith. So I took a double take on that one and relaxed when I read the rest of the article, which spoke about the necessity of both faith and obedience. Needless to say, the rest of the article spoke of the sorry state of churches that believed that faith alone could save. At this point, I am not even sure if any of you, my dear readers are with me. This does sound so much like Roman Catholicism entering through the back door. The danger of believing in a works salvation is real. But no knowledgeable member there would actually think of obeying the Lord in baptism as works meriting salvation.
When a church like the COC is unable to recognise other churches as fellow brethren, and they do not acknowledge the Reformation sufficiently, they bypass the language that Protestant Christianity has developed, and overtime they develop a jargon that is peculiar to them. They cannot get their errors ironed out because their interaction with others outside is limited.
I do not want to go into detail explaining their tenets and jargon, translating them for the benefit of others. I am not sure if it is even possible to do that successfully.
During my years in the Church of Christ, I came across many articles and tracts against the COC that had no positive effect on me. Instead they were most unhelpful and annoying. They said that I was not saved, when I knew then, as I know now, that I was a child of God through Jesus. That is why I write this piece very carefully because I have one thing to say to believers there that could be vitally important when they share the gospel.
If I could reach out to brethren in the COC, this is what I would want to tell them.
Emulating ALL the examples in Acts, the Churches of Christ treat baptism as the last step of conversion. [I wish that in all churches, believers would not allow much time to elapse between the point when someone comes to faith and their baptism.] The change of heart, the receiving of the gift of saving faith , and the resultant granting of repentance comes with the preaching of the word, and with the Spirit doing His work of convicting sinners. These “events” happen almost simultaneously. Faith come from hearing. And a baptism without faith is useless. The biblical stress on baptism being administered immediately after the candidate professes faith and repentance, sometimes results in unsaved people being baptised. This is a very real danger when salvation is declared at the point of baptism.
Thus it is possible to have churches with a large numbers of people who have an outward form of godliness without having been changed by the power of the gospel. It does not have to be that way; I have personally seen churches with godly men and women.
I also look back to those days in Bangalore when i was part of a small group of young people from two local churches in the city. The sweet fellowship and zeal of those days has stood all of us in good stead to this day.
The answer is to preach Jesus more and preach baptism less. Baptise at the “very hour of the night” by all means but the preaching that brings the candidate to that stage has to be gospel-saturated and Jesus-exalting. Preach about sin and the wrath of God and grace. Ensure that candidates can articulate their faith clearly.