As a conclusion to the Wednesday night Bible Class I’ve been teaching on the topic of Church History, mostly Restoration Movement History, I invited the minister from the local Independent Christian Church to be interviewed. I met with Chris Bacus (the senior minister at Anchor Christian Church in Chili, NY) a week before the class to discuss the topics and goals of the interview. I also provided him with all the questions in advance so that he had opportunity to prepare his responses.
(Approximately 70 minutes. Recorded 26 August, 2009)
The interview was intended to primarily be informational. I had a choice. I could either teach a class about the Independent Christian Church, or I could invite them to speak about themselves. The majority of the members at Lawson Road have little, if any, awareness of Independent Christian Churches so let me give a little information I’ve gathered:
- The Independent Christian Churches are one of the fastest growing Christian groups in the US today. They total about 5,500 congregations, compared to about 12,500 Churches of Christ.
- Christian Churches have one of the highest percentages of congregations that are “mega-churches” (2000+ members). [54 congregations in 2008. The CoC has 3.]
- The largest Christian Church congregation is Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. With an average attendance of over 17,000 it is one of the 10 largest churches of any kind in the US.
In recent years there has been increasing level of dialogue and cooperation between Churches of Christ and Christian Churches. Here are some examples:
- Beginning in the mid 1990’s College Press started publishing a Bible Commentary Series representing the Restoration Movement with authors from both Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.
- In 2006, the centenary of the CoC/Disciples of Christ split, several prominent CoC ministers attended the NACC and exchanged Bibles with Christian Church ministers as a symbol of acceptance and reconciliation.
- Christian Church speakers have regularly presented at the Pepperdine Lectures since the late 90’s and more recently at the ACU Lectureship. Christian Church speakers are also regular contributors at the annual campus ministry conference, NCMS – Connect
- On October 4, 2009 some Churches of Christ and Christian Churches will participate in joint services as part of the Great Communion.
At the date of publishing this post, the Wikipedia entry for Independent Christian Church makes the comment that “The obvious difference from the Churches of Christ is the use of instrumental music in worship.” While the use of instruments in worship is an obvious and well-known difference between the two groups, I believe it over simplifies the issue to leave there. The bigger issue is how we read the Bible.
Both groups of churches quote the saying, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent“, yet we have VERY different meanings. Churches of Christ mean that we practice what the Bible authorises and anything else is unauthorised. In this way the ‘silence of Scripture” is as important to determining beliefs and practices as the voice of Scripture. Silence is prohibitive.
When Christian Churches use this motto they have a different intent. They understand it to mean that where God has made rules, we can’t ignore them. On the other hand, where God has not made rules, (ie. where He’s silent), we shouldn’t impose rules on people either. So silence is less important and more permissive.
Another common traditional way for Churches of Christ to read the New Testament has been to look for “Commands, Examples, and Necessary Inferences”. These 3 things will help us know God’s will for the church today. So “gathering together” is a command ( Heb 10:20). Based on 1 Cor. 16:2 we understand the NT example of the church to meet on Sundays. In Acts 20:6-13 Paul seems to stay in Troas until the first day of the week so he could meet with the church. It also seems that when the church came together they celebrated the Lord’s Supper (broke bread). The Necessary Inference is that Sunday is the only time the church comes together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and that they do so every Sunday. (I’m not saying this is my view, but that this is an example of this approach to interpreting Scripture.)
Christian Churches also celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly. They use the same verses to explain why they do so, but don’t acknowledge ‘Necessary Inference” as part of their hermeneutical method. They would argue that they are just following the New Testament example.
The difficulty with “Necessary Inference” is that not everyone agrees on what’s “Necessary”. It seems to me that one reason the Christian Churches seem more tolerant of diversity between congregations is because they’re more willing to label something as “Subjective” rather than “Necessary”. The down side to this is that there’s also a temptation to regard the pursuit of “doctrinal purity” or “God’s will” as unimportant because at the end of the day it’s subjective. The various “camps” within Churches of Christ demonstrate the inherent difficulty determining where to draw the line between “Necessary” and “Cultural or Subjective”.
For additional discussion and clarification on this topic, read my other post here.
Please leave a comment. If you know of other differences or have some information that would make this post more complete I’d love to hear from you.