I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard “Simplicity” named as a value within Churches of Christ, yet it exudes from each and every historical pore. Perhaps the value is best represented in our pioneers’ pursuit of “common sense” theology & philosophy. Consider the numerous ways the Restoration Movement has sought to distinguish itself from other churches.
- We rejected human creeds as extra-biblical with with simple slogans such as “No creed but Jesus”, and “Bible names for Bible things”.
- We taught against denominational structures in favour of self-autonomous congregations (not a Bible term).
- The Restoration Movement has always emphasised the priesthood of all believers, and the ability of each individual to interpret Scripture for him/herself. This contrasts with denominations who have an ordination process for their clergy, dress them in robes, and call them by a title.
- The leadership of local congregations rests with elders and deacons appointed according to the Biblical criteria of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. There is no elected board or constitution to negotiate.
- Churches of Christ have seldom attempted to build cathedrals. Most church buildings have emphasised simplicity and rejected stained glass, paintings and ornaments as distractions and potentially idols.
- Congregational singing has been a historical value and the introduction of specialists, either soloists or choirs, has resulted in controversy. The reason for emphasising congregational singing is to allow each member to worship from the heart. (And I’m sure in some circles a belief that if anyone omits an act of worship they’re sinning.)
All of these customs reveal an underlying value of simplicity, whether this term is ever used or not. The Restoration Movement was all about Simple Church even before the book was written.
In my experience the church has rarely made the same application to Christians’ personal lives. Many preachers and church members have undoubtedly sacrificed a lot to spread the kingdom of God, but I don’t know that this has been widely preached as an expectation of the church.
Our Sunday morning Bible class is currently discussing Hicks and Valentine’s book Kingdom Come. In two chapters they demonstrate that James Harding and David Lipscomb (early 19o0’s) certainly encouraged personal simplicity. I believe this message has faded over the years. Harding himself claimed to have never had possessions that totaled more than $500. In turn, Lipscomb didn’t promote simplicity as a goal in and of itself, but championed the poor while teaching that,
“Our fellowship for one another must be of this character… The man that can spend money in extending his already broad acres, while his brother and his brother’s children cry for bread — the woman that can spend money in purchasing a stylish bonnet… merely to appear fashionable, while her sister…[is] shivering with cold…are no Christians… notwithstanding they have been baptized for the remission of sins.”
David Lipscomb (Quoted in Kingdom Come, p98.)
Both Harding and Lipscomb lived this way as a result of their conviction that God calls all Christians to live as pilgrims, or resident aliens in the world trusting in the providence of God. In The Cruciform Church (p169), C. Leonard Allen calls attention to 1 John 2:15-17.
“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” The Message
At the end of the chapter, Allen states that “The church – God’s new social order – can serve the world most faithfully and sacrificially by being the church.” (p179) He goes on to give four examples, the fourth of which states that the church should “Sound a call to greater modesty, generosity, graciousness, and simplicity of life – and look to leaders who model such a life. As “strangers and exiles” in this world, Christians are called to travel light.” (p180, italics his)
Jesus kingdom is not of this world. (Jn 18:36) We live in a society of gadgets. The advertising industry constantly entices us with the next hot thing: the thing that will truly make our lives simpler. Often we buy into the deception that more stuff will create more space. It doesn’t work. Removing stuff remains the only way to create space. When Jesus needed time with God he removed himself from his village, from his friends, from the crowds, and found the quiet space of a hillside.
I don’t want to use this post to suggest that Christians should sell everything and live under a bridge. I don’t want everyone to turn Amish. I don’t want to give the impression that God is simple, He’s not. I do want to call all Christians back to the fact that our faith and our lives orbit around God. He’s our centre. In a busy and materialistic world we need to create space to spend time with God. To listen to God. To talk with God. What have traditionally been called “spiritual disciplines” need to regain prominence in the lives of the church. It’s not enough to have simple church buildings. We need a simple faith, and a simple relationship, that allows us to tackle the complexities of life.
Hopefully, in the next couple of days I’ll put up a couple of posts on Spiritual Disciplines.
- Have you been part of a church that actively encourages members to practice spiritual disciplines? How did they do this?
- How important are personal spiritual disciplines in your life?
- Churches often promote prayer and Bible reading as standard disciplines. Are you content with the basics or is it important in your relationship with God to be creative?
- Does your relationship with God benefit more by practicing a variety of disciplines or a variety of approaches to the basics such as prayer and Bible reading?
Of all the so called Steps of Salvation, the Step of CONFESSION is the most tenuous. According to Boring (p395-400), Walter Scott first presented the “Steps of Salvation” or “Five Finger Exercise” in 1827. The earliest presentations did not include the step of Confession. Although, by 1848 some lists of “Steps” did include confession.
It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that Confession of Faith became well established as part of the Plan of Salvation. So I was surprised in my reading to find a couple of respected voices dissenting from the generally accepted view.
Boring (396) states that,
In the 1860s David Lipscomb acknowledged “faith, repentance, confession, baptism” as standard undisputed doctrine. (Queries and Answers 6-7) Making the confession that Jesus is the Christ was already becoming an “essential” part of the initiation ritual, so that Lipscomb could even question this understanding as too rigid. (Queries and Answers 96-97)
Apparently over time Lipscomb’s view of confession changed considerably, so by the time his commentary on Romans was published he challenged the idea that confession should be listed as a step of salvation at all. Or at least to the extent that it was understood as a formal statement prior to baptism. Here are David Lipscomb‘s reflections on Romans 10:9:
I do not understand this as referring to a formal confession of faith before baptism, for the following reasons : In the commission, in its fulfillment on the day of Pentecost, and in the examples of conversion recorded in Acts of Apostles, there is no example of a formal confession being required as a precedent to baptism, unless the case of the eunuch be regarded as such. In reference to this, it is claimed by the textuary critics generally that the confession there recorded is an interpolation… But if this [the Eunuch] does not require the confession, the singular fact is presented that in the Scriptures a condition of salvation is left out of all the precepts and examples concerning remission, and is to be found only in a reference in a letter to Christians as to what had been required. Then it is necessary that at every step of the religious life, even after one has grown old in the service of the Lord, with the mouth confession must be made unto salvation, and with the heart he must believe unto righteousness. He must live by and walk through faith unto the end. It is just as necessary that confession of Christ should be made at all times or Christ will not own us. But that any formal confession was required before baptism, more than at any other step of his religious life, is not clear. Confession of Christ in our words is necessary. It is necessary in coming to Christ and in all the Christian life. I am sure that the questions and obedience on the day of Pentecost were an acceptable confession. So at the house of Cornelius and in all other instances.
David Lipscomb & JW Shepherd, Romans (2nd ed, 1943), 190-191.
He expresses my understanding of the issue well.
The following paragraph from Jimmy Allen also surprised me.
The Bible nowhere teaches that a formal confession of faith before baptism is essential to salvation. If it does, why is it left out as a condition in the great commission? Why is it not found in any of the conversions recorded in Acts? The Eunuch’s statement of faith in Acts 8:37 (scholars feel this is an interpolation because of a lack of textual evidence to support it) was no a formal confession made to satisfy on of the “steps” in the plan of salvation. Philip questioned him to learn if he truly believed in Jesus. One must acknowledge Jesus as Lord prior to baptism and during the whole of his Christian life, but, as far as formal confession is concerned, God’s word does not command such.
Jimmy Allen, “Survey of Romans” (1992), p92.
Allen gives credit to Lipscomb and also references G.C. Brewer’s Autobiography.
I don’t really have any more to add. You can read more of my thoughts on the topic here. I didn’t want to extend my original post, so I included these quotes as a separate article. I hope you find it interesting too. There probably are others out there asking these questions. Fell free to post a link by adding a comment if you know of other relevant articles.
I also discuss this topic a little more and provide some links here.
READ the rest of the series here.
I’ve taken a couple of weeks away from the blog as I’ve been celebrating the birth of my daughter, Sophia Grace. Perhaps it’s appropriate that my “baby-cation” interrupted a discussion in our Wednesday night Bible class on the role of women in the church as taught in 1 Timothy. What opportunities for church involvement and service will my daughter have? (Of course that’s a relevant question for my wife, sisters and all other women out there too.) As she grows what gifts should I encourage her to develop and how can she use them in God’s service?
The topic of the “Role of Women in the Church” could obviously carry on for months and still not reach a conclusion that pleases everyone. We could look at different passages in the Old and New Testaments. I’m only raising this topic because you can’t teach 1 Timothy without addressing it, not because I’m trying to initiate a debate. I expect to post 3 or 4 blogs on this topic.
My final precursor is to let you know that after a lot of study and thought, I generally adopt what has been described as the complementarian view of gender roles in the church. Which basically holds that men and women have equal value in God’s eyes, but different roles within the church and family. [You can read a brief description here, or a book on the topic here.] So I’m not wanting to debate the merits of that view.
In 1 Timothy 2 the key restrictions placed upon women are found in v12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be quiet.” I find that churches often muddy the discussion by using the term leadership rather than the biblical terms teach and have authority over.
Perhaps at first glance we might say that the meaning of these terms is obvious, but church life provides so many opportunities for people to involve themselves, that it’s not always clear where these restrictions should apply.
I’ve composed a list of different teaching and leading scenarios for women. Please read through the list and consider how many are NOT RESTRICTED by the terms “teach and have authority”. PLEASE do not comment on every single item. I’m interested in seeing how easy it is to understand these terms and how much our understandings differ, so all you need to do is give a total number and some general comments.
In future posts I’ll explore more the methods of how we come to these conclusions.
Possible Areas of “Teaching & Authority”
- Teaching a ladies Bible Class
- Teaching a children’s Bible Class
- Teaching a children’s Bible Class with baptized boys in it
- Teaching a teen Bible Class
- Asking a question in Bible Class
- Answering a question in Bible Class (offering an interpretation of a verse)
- Co-teaching (with a man) a Bible Class on Christian parenting
- Teaching an adult Bible Class on serving people with addictions.
- Teaching an adult Bible Class on the book of Ezekiel.
- Writing a book on God’s grace, that may be read by men
- Writing songs
- Singing songs
- Leading congregational singing
- Sharing in Bible Class how God has worked in her life
- Reading Scripture in Bible Class
- Reading Scripture in a worship service
- Participating in a congregational reading in a worship service.
- Saying “Amen” and “That’s the truth” in a worship service.
- Making an announcement during a worship service
- Preparing powerpoint slides for a worship service
- Running the powerpoint slides for a worship service
- Managing the audio/visual system for a worship service
- Passing communion trays during a worship service
- Serving as an usher at a worship service
- Saying a prayer during a worship service
- Presenting thoughts prior to the Lord’s Supper
- Preaching at a worship service
- Serving as a ministry leader for church fellowship meals
- Serving as a ministry leader for children’s education
- Serving as a ministry leader for missions or benevolence
- Participating on ministry committees
- Standing before the congregation to report on a mission trip
Can you think of some more situations that are difficult to define? Leave a comment and add them to the list.
BONUS: Interestingly, David Lipscomb, an early american Church of Christ pioneer, had no problem with women teaching men in Sunday Bible Classes. You can read one of his quotes on the topic at this blog… just scroll down the page a little bit.