The Church OF Christ: Part 3

  • Follow the rest of this discussion here.

I would expect a church with the name “The Church of Christ” to have one, or many, favorite verses about Jesus.  Yet, as a Church of Christ insider, I would consider the following a representative list of Church of Christ “motto” verses:

  • Acts 2:38 – baptism
  • Colossians 3:16 – acapella worship
  • Acts 20:7 – weekly Lord’s Supper
  • Mark 16:16 – Great Commission & baptism
  • John 4:24 – worship in spirit & truth  (emphasis on truth)

These verses seem to more accurately describe the way others perceive us as “The Church of Baptism” or “The Acapella Church”, rather than The Church of Christ.  Others perceive us this way, because that’s the message we’ve emphasised.

If I was starting from scratch and came across a church named “The Church of Christ” I would expect that church to have Galatians 2:20 as a central value.  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. The members of the church no longer live for themselves, but seek to serve and glorify Christ in all they do, because Christ now enlivens them.

The Church of Christ should emphasise spiritual disciplines as a means of dying to self.

Romans 12:2 & 2 Corinthians 3:18, both refer to this dying/new life process as a transformation.  But it’s not a transformation that we perform.  It’s a transformation that God accomplishes within us.  Our only task is to create the space for God’s Spirit to work.  As we allow God to transform our mind, our thoughts and priorities, in turn we will increasingly live within the will of God.

The Church Belonging to Christ should be dedicated to the process of transforming itself, and members, into the image of Christ.  We recognise that even if there was a point when we “came to Christ”, that point only served as a beginning point for the process of “becoming like Christ”.

In Luke 9:23 Jesus told his followers that they must take up their cross daily and follow him.  We often approach this thinking that we must endure difficulties as we follow Christ.  And often, we look at those difficulties as something imposed upon us from outside: by life, or others.  But if you look closely you’ll see that Jesus is more specific than that.  The first step he gives is that we’re to deny ourselves, or as Paul would say, that we die to [crucify] ourselves.

Finally, a church with personal and corporate transformation as a core value would necessarily also stress personal accountability.  The leadership would encourage and look for spiritual growth within the members.  Attendance would no longer be primary measure of church growth or success.  The church would constantly change as God continually transforms its members into His image.

  • How do you think churches can encourage spiritual transformation?  Special Wed. night prayer classes, sermons on spiritual disciplines…?
  • I think we have previously demanded transformation by stressing obedience.  What are the alternatives?  Are the Biblical examples?
  • How can leaders monitor the growth of the congregation?  Number of Bible studies, mission trips…?
  • Maybe you’d like to suggest some more “motto” verses for Churches of Christ?
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15 comments

  1. K. Rex Butts

    Like many other demoninations, we have demanded fidelity to an creed (though unwritten) selectively extrapolated from scripture rather than fidelity to Jesus…and for those who might scratch their head at this comment, no the two are not the same. It is entirely possible to adhere to a doctrinal creed while looking and living very differently from Jesus for I have seen Christians/church who embody this very problem.

    Jesus never said that the world would know that we are his disciples by how fine-tuned we get our doctrine on baptism, worship, the end-times, etc… correct. And yet this has been the assumption, that the world will recognize the “true church” based upon getting our doctrine correct. Folly! We wonder why more and more people don’t believe Jesus is the way, truth, and life but how can they when they see churches that are satisfied with correct doctrine (which they assume is correct) with considerably less concern for living, looking, smelling, etc… just like Jesus?
    Jacques Ellul once said, “We have to admit that there is an immeasuable distance between all that we read in teh Bible and the practice of the church and of Christians. This is why I can speak validly of perversion or subversion, for, as I shall show, practice has beenthe total opposite of what is required of us” (quoted in Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, “ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church,” 41).

    I am not saying that we should not desire to have correct doctrine when it comes to matters of church polity inasmuch as we can discern such matters. But the object of our fidelity/faith must be Jesus Christ alone and not doctrinal creeds (written or unwriiten). Salvation is not dependent on my ability to get such doctrines perfect unless salvation is dependent upon me rather than Jesus Christ. So let us as disciples make Jesus Christ the object of our faith and pursue the values of Rom 12.1-2; Gal 2.20; Phil 1.21; 1 Pet 1.13; 1 Jn 3.16ff;; to name a few verses that remind us that following Jesus is functional and not just propositional.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  2. Tom

    Rex,
    You are setting up a false dichotomy between doctrine and faith in Christ, as if these are two different things. They are not. Now I agree that our doctrine doesn’t have to be “perfect” for us to be saved. We don’t have to perfectly understand every single thing in scripture. But our doctrine does have to be right, does it not? You make it seem like just having “faith” in Christ is all that is necessary but speak nothing of what exactly that faith is. It is doctrine! Jude 1:3 tells us to “contend earnestly for THE FAITH” (emphasis mine). It is vital that the content of our faith is correct. The death and resurrection of Christ, the deity of Christ, these are doctrinal issues that we must have correct in order to be saved. Don’t you believe that in order to be saved a person must believe and confess that “Jesus is Lord”? Well guess what, that is a doctrinal statement! The only way we know Christ is through the series of doctrinal statements made by Him and about Him in His word. The only Christ we can know comes to us clothed in the Apostles’ doctrine. Without this you only have a soupy, sentimental attachment to Jesus.

    • K. Rex Butts

      It is actually hear you say “The only Christ we can know comes to us clothed in the Apostles’ doctrine [teaching]. Without this you only have a soupy, sentimental attachment to Jesus.” Because I actually agree with the statement just not what you mean by it. One only has to look at Christian history to see the destruction that has been caused the more Christians moved away from faith in Jesus Christ – a living, breathing way of life that emulates the life of Jesus Christ because the disciple believes Jesus is the crucified, resurrected, ascended Lord and Messiah – which was the apostles teaching (doctrine) and moved towards belief in doctrinal creeds as the basis of sound Christianity. What did that produce? Crusadors who gave pagans a choice between baptism or the sword. European Protestants who waged war and persecution upon Christians who did not share the same creedal convictions. And though Christianity in America (to which I include the Churches of Christ) did not result in such violent and murderous results, if sermons could kill….

      Any ways, I want to make clear that I am not opposed to apostolic doctrine/teaching. I thought that would have been evident in my above comment because the convictions I describe about fidelity/faith in Jesus cannot be arrived at without apostolic teaching/doctrine. So that is not what I am opposing. What I oppose is the doctrinal creeds (written or unwritten) which have become the object of Christian faith for many denominations, tribes, fellowships (whatever we want to call it) including the Churches of Christ. That is why Peter rightly observed that our fellowship is known more for our obsession with the passages of Acts 2.38; 20.7; Col 3.16; John 4.24; Mark 16.16. Because despite their best efforts to not be a creedal movement, historically the Churches of Christ extrapolated certain verses to become an unwritten creed for which one could not be a true Christian in their view without submitting to the interpretation/practice of that creed deemed to be officially correct by the powers of the pulpits and editorial positions. The funny thing is, since we are talking about apostolic teaching, is that historically in the Churches of Christ we have used this unwritten creed as a test of fellowship while tolerating some views regarding the Holy Spirit that were condemned as heresy by an era of Christians much closer to the apostolic period than our own.

      ANd I would also suggest that the early Christian conviction “Jesus is Lord” is not the same conviction Christians today hold regarding “Jesus is Lord.” Early Christians did not have the religious conotations that we ascribe to that confession. No, their confession “Jesus is Lord” was much more political and it cost them their lives. Ceaser wanted them to bow down to his image and ascribe allegiance to him but Christians refused to do so because their believed Jesus alone was Lord. Today, many Christians so casually stand in reverance of another nation’s image (a flag) as they pledge their allegiance to that flag and nation…so much for Jesus being Lord. But that is what happens when the object of our faith stops becoming Jesus, the man from Nazareth and instead becomes a doctrinal creed that based on the Jesus Movement that has been religiouscized (sp?) from the actual historical Jesus and what he taught.

      So no, I don’t think I am creating a false dichotomy. I believe the false dichotomy already exists and I am trying to get rid of it.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

      • Tom

        I believe I understand what Peter is saying. (Perhaps he could weigh in here.) Your fellowship has emphasized particular doctrines at the expense of other doctrines. It is certainly an easy thing to do. We spend so much time defending and proclaiming the doctrine of Biblical baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins because that doctrine has been subverted in the denominational world. But we don’t spend as much time on the doctrine of taking up our cross and becoming more “Christ like” because it is not as much a point of contention. Unfortunately this can cause us to forget to make sure we are doing it ourselves. Peter is reemphasizing the importance of this doctrine and I agree with him.

        But Rex, you are creating this dichotomy. You keep slapping the term “creed” after doctrine because you know those out of the Restoration Movement have a “knee jerk” response to that term. But then every belief held would then, by you, be considered a creed. You are essentially stating “Doctrine is bad, it causes wars and begets hate. Faith in Jesus is good. So lets just all drop all of our creeds and simply have faith in Jesus.”

        And so once again I say “The only way we know Christ is through the series of doctrinal statements made by Him and about Him in His word. The only Christ we can know comes to us clothed in the Apostles’ doctrine. Without this you only have a soupy, sentimental attachment to Jesus.”

        Side Note: (What was your first sentence suppose to say?)

  3. K. Rex Butts

    My first sentense was meant to read:

    “It is actually nice to hear you say “The only Christ we can know comes to us clothed in the Apostles’ doctrine [teaching]. Without this you only have a soupy, sentimental attachment to Jesus.”

    I forgot “nice to” in the original comment…sorry.

    What is the apostles doctrine? What statements would you select to make up this doctrine? And why should those statements be removed from the narratives they are part of and then placed into some form of creed (written or unwritten)?

    Again, I don’t see where I have created a false dichotomy. I believe that false dichotomy already is present by those who have made their creeds the object of faith by making those creeds to be the test of fellowship rather than a simple faith in Jesus that results in being conformed to the lifestyle and values of Jesus. That simple faith does not mean practices such as baptism, worship, communion, etc… are not necessary and important but it does raise the idea of having those practices all biblically interpreted correctly as the test of orthodoxy. How interesting it is that in First Corinthians the Apostle Paul could continue to allow some Christians to have a polytheistic belief in God(s) but only concern himself with making sure that in the Christian community those with the superior knowledge regarding food offered to idols to not use their knowledge to destroy the weaker brother…but I guess Paul was only after a soupy, sentimental attachment to Jesus by not correcting their false beliefs about God (cf. 1 Cor 8) :-). Or perhaps, just perhaps, adhering to a finely tuned doctrine/creed was not as important but having a belief in Jesus that translated into genuine discipleship (or as Paul would put it, “obedience”) was more important.

    So again, I am not opposed to doctrine. I am opposed to placing the cart before the horse, fidelity to doctrinal creeds before Jesus as a tangilbe way of life.

    Well, that is all I have for this conversation. God bless you Tom in wherever and whatever capacity you serve God.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

    • Tom

      So now Paul isn’t concerned about correct doctrine either? You don’t think Paul was concerned about some Christians still believing in pagan gods? Of course he was concerned. But who is he talking to in 1 Cor. 8, the one who lacks this knowledge or the christian who has the superior knowledge?
      1 Cor. 8:1 “we know that we all have knowledge”
      1 Cor. 8:10 “For if someone sees you, who have knowledge”
      Paul is clearly speaking to the brethren that have the correct knowledge or doctrine about God, thus he does not need to correct them in this. Instead he wants to make sure that they do not have an arrogant attitude towards those who still lack this knowledge. Don’t you think if Paul was speaking to those who still did not understand that an idol is nothing that he would address that and correct their theology?

      You said, “What is the apostles doctrine? What statements would you select to make up this doctrine? And why should those statements be removed from the narratives they are part of and then placed into some form of creed (written or unwritten)?”

      I am confuse by your questions. Surely you know the answers to these questions. Perhaps you are unsure if I know the answers to these questions?
      The apostles doctrine is what the apostles taught. It is contained for us in the New Testament. We are told to abide in Christ by abiding in what we heard from the beginning (ie. the apostles doctrine). I am not sure what you mean by your last question in this paragraph. How are statements being removed from their narratives and turned into creeds? Perhaps an example of this would be helpful.

      • K. Rex Butts

        Tom, why do some of the Christians in Corinth still believe in many gods – the idols to which food is being sacrificed too? Why did Paul not take the time to neatly shore up a monotheistic belief for them, such as the early church fathers did?

        I did not say either that Paul was unconcerned with doctrine. However, I think there is a vast difference between how Paul understood the word doctrine and how it is used in rather contemporary Christian circles (especially the more conservative circles). I also think Paul an obedient faith that pursues Jesus Christ as a way of life above us having “knowledge” in terms of precise belief on every doctrinal issue, as Protestant Christianity has insisted upon by proxy. Again, that does not mean I believe sound doctrine/teaching is unimportant and should not be desired. I just think Christians have often put the cart before the horse.

        Grace and peace,

        Rex

      • Tom

        I believe I understand what you are saying. But I wonder how this works out for you in a practical way. Say for instance someone who was sprinkled as an infant has been coming to your church and wants to become a member. They have faith in Christ and a lifestyle that reflects this faith. Do you allow them to become a member of your church as they are or insist that they be immersed for the forgiveness of their sins? If, in their eyes, they have been baptized and refuse to be immersed but still want to be members or else leave your fellowship, what do you do then?

  4. K. Rex Butts

    Tom,

    That is actually a great question to ask because it is actually the exact situation the church I have been a part of for the last year was faced with. But before I answer your question and tell you the story of hwat happened, let me state that I believe a proper understanding of biblical baptism is imersion in water for those who are willing to make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. While I believe baptism is “for the forvgiveness of sins” (Acts 2.38), I do not believe one must understand this as a prerequisite for baptism. I do believe the highest motive for baptism ought to be obedience…submitting/surrendering our lives unto Jesus Christ as Lord. I lament the fact that the Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ have often reduced baptism to simply being about getting a ticket to heaven and have minimized it significance for being a disciple that Paul understood it to have (cf. Rom 6).

    Any ways…I believe that one cannot be expected to obey something that they don’t believe God teaches. So if I had someone come to my church who had not been immersed as a confessing believer, I would do my best to teach them why I believe believer’s immersion is biblical and the will of God in hopes that they would want to be baptized. But if they for the time being were not convinced this was God’s will and call for their life, I WOULD still let them be a part of the church and have. And I would do so treating that person as a believing disciple of Jesus just as Luke and Paul did so with the twelve in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19.1-2). I would also continue to pray that as they continue to walk in the Lord with me and my particular church congregation, that they might one day come to the decision that God is calling them to be immersed as a confessing believer. And so, I would still do my best to teach this person in a way that does not push them away or make them defensive but lovingly teaches them what I believe to be the biblical view (however long that takes).

    Last year, a man and his wife joined our church. This man had never been baptized as an confessing believer in the Lord but he was not ready to hear that teaching about baptism just yet. We still let him join where he continued to grow in faith just as we all expect to do as seek God. Just four weeks ago he called and said that as he has continued to read scripture and pray for God’s will that he wanted to be baptized into Christ; and so he was baptized into Christ Saturday morning on April 24, 2010 (you can read more about that here: http://kingdomseeking.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/jasons-baptism/). We have another person attending our church who was only sprinkled as an infant. My hope is that one day they to will be immersed as a believer in Christ because that is what I believe scripture teaches.

    One thing else…I don’t believe people who believe in Jesus Christ and strive to live the life he has called are lost because they have been taught a view of baptism which I believe is unbiblical. I know that for most of my years most CoCs have taught that unless one believes and practices the “right” doctrine of baptism, then that person is lost. However, such CoCs have rarely ever considered the question of what if they are wrong. And by their own argument, they would be lost if they are wrong on ANY part of the baptismal teaching since they have historically preached that there is no grace without correct understanding. Of course, such reasoning places way too much faith in our intellectual abiblity for correct biblical interpretation and too much faith in correct biblical interpretation than faith in God…who has shown in scripture that his grace is bigger than any particular law/command. For example, in Mark 2.1-12, Jesus heals a paralytic to show that he has the authority to decide forgiveness (and not God’s people, Israel or the Church) and to forgive; then Jesus proceeds to forgive that person of sin and completely side step the sacrificial offering system of the Old Covenant.

    So, I would rather not pronounce Judgment on person over an issue such as baptism that has regretably been very muddled though 2,000 years of Christian history. Instead I would prefer to leave that judgment to God and if a person proclaims to be a Christian, I will treat them as my brother or sister in Christ. And if I should happen to discover that they have not fully embraced the biblical view of Christianity, be it baptism or some other issue, I will do my best to try and teach them the truth as I would hope they would do the same for me if they should suspect that I have not fully embraced the biblical view of Christianity. And when the Day of Judgment comes, we will all stand before the same God whose scripture teaches us that mercy will not be shown to those who are not merciful themselves (Js 2.13).

    ——-

    So how about you, Tom? What would be your practice to the question you asked about the unimmersed believer and why?

    Hopefully, you feel as I do that iron is sharpening iron.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

    • Tom

      I actually agree with much of what you are saying here. I also do not believe it is necessary to have a full or complete understanding of baptism for it to be valid, and that obedience needs to be the primary motive for being baptized. I also do not pass judgment on whether a person is saved or lost. That is only left up to God. But I also believe that baptism is set forth as a part of salvation. So for the person who has yet to be obedient in baptism, by immersion, I would certainly spend some time teaching them and encouraging them to be immersed. I would stress the fact that we have no assurance of salvation unless we have been obedient to what God has told us we must do to be saved. Whether those who have faith in Christ but have never been immersed into Christ will be saved or lost is entirely in the hands of God. And personally I believe He will show mercy, but why would someone want to take that chance?
      I came out of the Methodist church and had been sprinkled as a young boy, and for the longest time that’s what I thought baptism was. For a long time no one ever told me different. Until one day I was confronted with the truth of the gospel message. It took me a while to work through some of my personal issues with it, but eventually I was convinced by the overwhelming clarity of the scriptures on baptism. If I had died before being confronted with what the Bible says about baptism would I have been saved? I think in my ignorance, I would have. But I have much more confidence in my salvation now that I know I have been obedient to what the scriptures tell us men must do to be saved.

      I think part of the problem is that no one in the New Testament ever refused to be baptized. We see several people who had faith in Christ but had not yet been baptized into Christ, but as soon as they are told about it they are obedient to it. If some one had ever refused to be immersed into Christ we would at least have some precedent.

      But I agree that when dealing with this issue that patience and an environment to grow and seek is needed.

      • K. Rex Butts

        Tom,

        Thanks for sharing your personal story. It is a story much like my mother’s story. It has been a good conversation with you. Blessings to you as you serve the Lord.

        Grace and peace,

        Rex

  5. ozziepete

    Wow guys, I leave the office for the weekend and you get busy. Your discussion moved around a lot, and interestingly ended up at baptism!! hmmm, do all CoC conversations get there sooner or later?

    Tom you summarised the intent of my post very well with your 12:54 post.

    Rex, you also grasped my point that we obsess too much over the beginning of the race, and not the race itself, or even its finish.

    Even if I accept the priority of Acts 2:38 to our faith (creed) I still have a problem. That whole discussion is fine if the individual who just got baptized and received the gift of the Holy Spirit has has a fatal heart attack 5 minutes, or 5 weeks later.

    But if the person lives another 5 or 50 years, then the question is that baptism benefiting them that much later?

    What have they done with the gift of the Holy Spirit that they received? Have they used the intervening time to develop the fruits of the Spirit? Have they continued to be sanctified and allow the Spirit to transform their thoughts and actions?

    Is a person who’s baptised and then proceeds through life on an assurance of salvation that comes from that act really saved if 25 years later they’ve failed to grow? Have they really died to self and raised in Christ if no one can see Christ? Does God really rule their life if their life hasn’t changed other than to attend church a couple of times a month for 25 years?

    If someone is a “Christian” that long but their relationship with Christ never develops, then do they really have a relationship with Christ? If baptism saves us by removing the barriers of sin and bringing us into relationship with Christ then how do we determine if someone has such a relationship? Or maybe that’s a determination that we’re simply not supposed to make about other people?

    I confess that I don’t really know what Paul was thinking when he wrote in 1 Thess 5:19 ‘Don’t quench the Spirit.” But surely someone who fails to grow in the Spirit has quenched the Spirit!

    So that get’s me back to my initial thesis, “The Church of Christ should emphasise spiritual disciplines as a means of dying to self.” Perhaps I should also add “… and living in Christ.

  6. Pingback: Church OF Christ: Part 10 « Peter’s Patter

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