February 27, 2003
The editor of a noted conservative Christian periodical recently wrote the following to me:
Let me clarify a few things for those who may be equally as confused as this devoted brother. I too love the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. This One Body universal is definitely not a denomination or sect or faction, nor is it something I merely "tolerate." I am thrilled to be a part of that wonderful band of called out believers, and I can assure you it is only by His grace that I am who and what and where I am today. Ashamed of the One Church of Jesus Christ, or of my presence within it? Absolutely not! Yes, the Lord's church is indeed the true church of the New Covenant. You will get no argument from me on that point of doctrine.
I think where this brother and I may not be in agreement is in our respective definitions of the term "church," and who or what constitutes that One True Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I firmly believe that there is only ONE church (Ephesians 4:4), and that it is HIS church (Matthew 16:18). "Church of Christ" is not a title, it is a description. This body of believers belongs to Him. The "church," pure and simply, is made up of ALL those individuals, whoever and wherever they may be, who belong to Him and are in Him. They are those who have accepted the call of God in Christ Jesus to come out of the world and into His beloved family. The church is composed of the "called out ones." ANY person who has accepted that call is a member of this One Body of believers -- the church.
Where I differ with this editor, and others like him, is in what I consider to be his rather restrictive and exclusive view of who makes up that "one true church" today. It seems pretty obvious to me, from his writings, that he believes ONLY those who are within the group designated "Church of Christ" in the yellow pages of the phone book are truly members of that universal One Body. Thus, in his view, if one does not assemble for worship in a building which has a sign out front reading "Church of Christ," then that person is not in the one true church. WE (the "church of Christ" church) are exclusively the one true church that was established on the day of Pentecost; THEY (anyone else) are all the many "denominationalists" who mar the beauty of the Bride of Christ (US). WE are the only ones going to heaven to be with the Lord; THEY, on the other hand, are all going straight to hell to be tortured without mercy endlessly. WE are the only ones who teach Truth; THEY are all dishonest, deceitful disseminators of false doctrine.
I once asked a "Church of Christ" elder, who embraced the above point of view, what happened to all the people during those many centuries between the first century church and the time just a few hundred years ago when a band of restorationists finally got the sign above the door "right." Without a moment's hesitation he said, "They all went straight to hell." He, with all seriousness, declared that not a single person was saved during those "dark ages" until we got the "name on the sign" correct!! He also declared that nobody on the face of the earth was teaching Truth until WE (the "Church of Christ" church) came along and restored the fullness and purity of the gospel.
It is this kind of brazen arrogance (reminiscent of the Pharisees of old) which has led to the jokes with which we are all familiar .... and the charge that we think we're the only ones who will be in heaven. Yes, I agree that salvation is in no other name (Acts 4:12), but I do NOT equate that One Body universal with the historical group known as "Churches of Christ." Here is where this brother and I differ.
I most definitely believe that many within the group denominated "Churches of Christ" are indeed members of that universal ONE BODY. In fact, quite frankly, of all the many fellowships within Christendom that I have studied I believe this group is much closer to what I personally believe the Bible teaches on a great many subjects than most other groups. This is one of the reasons I personally am part of this particular fellowship or association of believers. We share many of the same perspectives and preferences, and thus I feel very comfortable among them. However, like any other group of disciples, or faith-heritage, we are far from perfect in either our understandings or our practices. We certainly do not have a monopoly on Truth. God has many sons and daughters on the face of this earth, and they are not to be found exclusively within the four walls of our particular buildings.
I do not personally believe that God has selected one small group of disciples from a particular faith-heritage and then declared, "These few constitute the entirety of My church!" Rather, He gathers diverse individuals from far and wide, adding them to the Lord and numbering them together with all other believers in that ONE BODY universal. Therefore, I have brothers and sisters IN CHRIST who are not congregating in buildings marked "Church of Christ," but who nevertheless are part of that great, universal, spiritual FAMILY OF GOD in Christ Jesus. As brother Carl Ketcherside once said, "Wherever God has a son, I have a brother!"
Let's just suppose for a moment, for the sake of argument, that this brother who wrote to me is correct, and the historical group known as "Churches of Christ" IS, in fact, the One Body universal in its entirety upon the face of this planet. Assuming the above, I would like to ask which faction of this religious group constitutes the One True Church universal? Is it the NI (Non-Institutional) faction? Is the One True Church universal the OC (One Cup) faction? Is it perhaps the ME (Mutual Edification) faction? Each of these factions seem to think so! There are scores of such warring factions in the "Church of Christ" church, and few of them will even acknowledge the others as brethren. WHICH of these, therefore, constitute the ONE BODY universal? Which of these is the REAL "Church of Christ?" They each claim to be. Or, is it a combination of factions? And if so, which combination? Is the "One True Church" universal the "One Cup, Non-Institutional, No Located Preacher, Don't Eat In The Building" Church of Christ church? Or, is it .....? Well, you get the picture!
All I'm saying, brethren, is that the ONE BODY of our Lord Jesus Christ, His one genuine church universal, is much vaster than any particular faction of any particular segment of any particular historical, religious movement in any particular country. It is made up of ALL those individuals who have done what the Lord has said to do in order to enter His spiritual family. And that family is much vaster than our own little fellowship of disciples who hold to similar humanly devised traditions.
Patrick Henry, in a speech at the First Continental Congress (Philadelphia, October 14, 1774), stated, "I am not a Virginian, but an American." What was he saying here? Yes, he was indeed a Virginian; he was from Virginia, after all. However, he wanted people to know that his citizenship was broader than just a particular part of the whole. He was not just a Virginian, he was an American.
Brethren, my association is with the historical group known as "Churches of Christ." This is my religious heritage, and I am very much in love with my brothers and sisters in this fellowship of believers. However, my true membership is in a Body much vaster than any particular group sharing a particular history and certain traditional practices. My membership is in the ONE BODY universal; the One Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am a member of the ONE BODY, but I labor with that segment of Christendom, that faith-heritage, known as the "Church of Christ" church. I do not equate the latter with the former, as too many apparently do. The latter is a part of the whole, but it does not constitute the whole exclusively. Virginia is not America; Virginia is rather a part of America. Similarly, the group denominated in the yellow pages "Church of Christ" is not exclusively and completely the ONE BODY universal, but there are those within it who are a part of that universal One True Church, just as there are individuals from other faith-heritages.
Some, like this editor, have accused me of being sectarian. Just the opposite! I deplore sectarianism, and have spoken, taught and written against it for many years. Those who declare that some small part of the whole is exclusively the whole are those who are truly promoting sectarianism!! May God help us all to abandon such arrogant exclusivism, and to begin embracing our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are family, not warring bands of factionists. Let's begin acting like it!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
(A brother-in-Christ I highly respected during my university
and graduate school years, and with whom I had lost contact
for almost 30 years. He found me thru Edward Fudge's kind
endorsement of my Reflections in his popular GraceEmail)
It was so good to be brought up to date with you and your family and to see how God has led you through the years. Most people in the Church of Christ do not think for themselves, but simply accept the traditions that have evolved, and they accept without questioning the traditional teachings they have heard. However, many are waking up today.
As you probably know, my wife and I were raised in the "straightest sect of religion" --- the Non-Sunday School, Non-Located Preacher Church of Christ. Somehow the Holy Spirit led me to examine myself and my beliefs. Through this guidance I began to see things in the Scriptures that led me to know Christ, not just a doctrine, to learn of the Holy Spirit and His guidance, to see that love is the greatest commandment, to learn that "we were not the sum total of God's children," to learn that we are not saved because of our own goodness and righteousness, but by "undeserved favor." I could go on and on, but this is just a part of the work the Holy Spirit has done on and for me. Fortunately my wife and I experienced God's work on us before we could instill the divisions we experienced on our children, therefore they know Christ, but not the divisive doctrines we were raised with.
From a University Professor in Texas:
Edward Fudge from the Bering Drive Church of Christ in Houston sent out a message with a link to your website. I was overjoyed to read some of your Reflections. How refreshing to hear someone with the courage to break away from our human traditions and passionately embrace the freedom we have as children of the Father. My wife and I had often wrestled with the legalistic nature of our heritage's traditions. We have found our present congregation a very loving family that attempts to preach grace and redemption in both word and deed.
At any rate, I just wanted to offer you some words of encouragement and also ask if you would add me to your email list to receive future Reflections. Thank you for your ministry. Some of your seeds may land on rocky soil, but some of them are also taking root! God bless!
From a Reader in West Virginia:
I would like very much to be added to your mailing list. Got your address from Edward Fudge. I live in the very conservative Ohio Valley, have all my life. I am an Abilene graduate and was a third generation elder in what was my home congregation. Am glad to see somebody finally putting into print what a lot of people have been thinking for years. Keep up the good work.
From a Minister in Western Australia:
My name is --------, I am currently the minister of the ---------- Church Of Christ. In recent times we have gone through a church split and I have found myself trying to keep the church on the restoration church track. I find myself struggling to know what the restoration movement looks like. I have been studying the Acts model to help establish what the early church looks like. It was a painful unnecessary split, but the minister that left was .... a world away from the Acts model. His teaching seemed hard and divisive, things like, we are the only people in God's kingdom, and we are the only true church.
I would like to receive your writings on the restoration church and its issues and what it looks like, if you don't mind. Thank you very much for your time.
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