Issue #243 -------
April 5, 2006
Let me warn you in the most solemn manner
against the baneful effects of the spirit of party.
George Washington (1732-1799)
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) once noted, "There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it." It is a fact of God's Word that there is but "one body" (Eph. 4:4) of Christ on earth, and yet few would deny the reality that we are plagued by countless versions of His blood-bought church. Compounding the tragedy is the fact that each of these versions, and countless factions within each, claim divine exclusivity! In other words, they each claim to be, to the exclusion of all the others, "the one true church." Obviously, they can't all be ... and, frankly, one at times is led to wonder if any of them truly comprehend the essence of the universal One Body.
This confused view of the nature of the church, this woeful lack of perception on the part of some who profess to be leaders within it, was evidenced recently in an ultra-conservative publication known as Christianity: Then and Now. This is largely the work of Bro. John Waddey, who is the minister for the Church of Christ in Surprise, Arizona. John has long been one of my vocal critics, though he has a tendency to be far more restrained and respectful than some, and has even, on occasion, written to commend some point I have made in my weekly Reflections, to which he subscribes. Although John and I are far from being "on the same page" theologically, I nevertheless appreciate his obvious concern for the kingdom of God, and have at times found some of his studies in his publication, to which I subscribe, to be insightful and commendable. I believe we have a cordial relationship, even though we each most certainly stand strongly opposed to the spiritual focus of the other.
One of the factors that has facilitated the fracturing of the family of God into numerous feuding factions is a spirit of partyism. As noted in the quote at the top of this current issue of Reflections, it was a mindset that George Washington, the father of our country, solemnly warned his fellow citizens against in his famous farewell address on September 17, 1796. The party spirit has plagued the One Body almost from the very beginning. There is a firm belief, in the hearts and minds of some, that one simply cannot be saved outside of their particular group. Indeed, they view their group to be the "one true church." If you are not in favor with them, you are not in favor with Him. This is a most distasteful attitude, and has led far too many to reject Christianity altogether. Thomas Jefferson summed up the feelings of many today when he wrote in a letter to Francis Hopkinson, which was dated March 13, 1789, "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." Pharisaism -- this philosophy of arrogant separatism -- has for centuries tarnished the truth of an attainable unity in One Body in Christ Jesus our Lord. And yet, that sectarian spirit is alive and well today in those who equate the narrow boundaries of their own party with the universal church of Jesus Christ. They proclaim boldly: "There is only one church ... and WE are it!!"
Brethren, I personally do not equate any one particular group, or any single faction thereof, with the universal One Body of Jesus Christ. Yes, there is only ONE church of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is a fact. It is made up of ALL who have, in simple, trusting, obedient faith, surrendered themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and who have been added by Him to the family of the Father. The totality of this universal body of believers is NOT contained in any one sect, party, faction, group, schism or movement to the exclusion of all others. Salvation is by grace, not by group ... and this is an individual matter between the believer and His Lord. Wherever my Father has a child, I have a spiritual sibling ... and I don't check the sign above the door to determine the location of my brethren --- I check for the sign of the Spirit living within their hearts and lives! We may differ on any number of personal perceptions, preferences and practices, but unity within the One Body is not based on pattern, but paternity. If we have the same Father, we be brethren ... and, as I've often said, one does not have to be my twin to be my brother.
In the March, 2006 issue of his above referenced publication, Bro. John Waddey presented an article titled "Two Kinds of Churches of Christ." He wrote, "Within the brotherhood of Churches of Christ, who were once serving God by seeking to restore the primitive faith and practice of Christianity, we now can identify two distinct kinds of churches." John then lists nine areas in which he believes there exists this dualism. Although some of his points are well-taken, nevertheless I believe John's perception of the "problem" is woefully inadequate, and, frankly, betrays his own religious bias. Each of these nine areas of concern are captioned: "There are two views of ..." --- and it does not take the reader long to realize that the two views are: (1) his view, and (2) the wrong view. Therefore, there are two kinds of Churches of Christ -- the right one (which John is in) and the wrong one (in which all those who differ with Bro. Waddey may be found). This is thinly veiled sectarianism at best, and it will become increasingly apparent as such as we examine each of the nine areas where John perceives the existence of "two views."
Two Views of the church of Christ
John wrote, "One says the church of Christ was established by Jesus. The other says it was founded by Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell." Well, this depends largely on what one means by "church of Christ." I really don't know of anyone who declares that the universal One Body of Jesus Christ was established by Stone or Campbell. There is only one church, and it was established by Jesus ... and centuries before Stone or Campbell ever came on the scene! On the other hand, there have been countless historical movements within Christendom led by devoted disciples of Christ who sought to bring about much needed responsible reform at various points in the development of the Lord's church. Stone and Campbell, as well as others, certainly can be counted among those reformers. Unfortunately, what began among them as a unity movement, soon devolved into somewhat of a separatist group, which later fragmented further into distinct fellowships known as Disciples of Christ, Christian Churches, and Churches of Christ.
I believe Bro. Waddey's problem is that he has fallen into the sectarian trap of equating the body of believers with whom he personally assembles (and others of like tradition who have the same name on the sign above the door) with the universal One Body of Jesus Christ. This is an "Us -- Them" mentality that will inevitably lead to the position that "We are saved -- They are lost." Indeed, John wrote, "The one says the church is God's family of saved people, therefore all who are saved will be within her fellowship. The other says that folks are saved in all sorts of denominational churches." Here we find that inflammatory watchword one hears time and again from these caustic partyists -- "denomination." WE are the "one true church;" everyone else is in a "denomination." All the saved are in "OUR fellowship" (i.e., in our buildings); if one is not assembling with us, then they are LOST ... until such time, of course, as they come to their senses and get out of their "denomination" and find their way to our buildings, where they will then be assembling and worshipping with the "one true church." This again equates a particular group with the universal One Body. The Family of God is not identified with any particular group, however; the Family of God is made up of individual believers the world over. To suggest that on any one Sunday morning ALL the redeemed on planet earth will be found assembled only in the buildings of one particular group is an arrogant absurdity, and it clearly evidences a sectarian spirit that our Lord finds most offensive! Jesus rebuked John on one occasion for trying to hinder the ministry of another disciple "because he does not follow along with us" (Luke 9:49-50; Mark 9:38-41). One does not need to "follow along with us" to be a part of the One Body, he only needs to follow along with HIM. This is a lesson we desperately need to learn today!
When one equates his own group with the One Body, the next step is to equate his preferred practices with a "divine pattern." This is especially true with respect to the so-called "worship service" that occurs in our buildings on any given Sunday, and which has historically been the primary battleground of the militant sectarians. More of our splits have arisen over squabbles pertaining to the "five acts of worship" than just about anything else. Our pattern is divinely approved; your pattern (if it differs from ours) is godless digression. Bro. Waddey wrote, "The one sees the church as sacred and holy and they dare not tamper with her faith or worship. The other sees no harm in changing any or all of her divine ordinances." If you really pin John down on this one, you will find very quickly that it is not really "divine ordinances" or "the faith" with which others are perceived to be tampering, rather it is one's own tradition -- the "sacred cows" of one's sect. When one's traditions are perceived as being divine ordinances, when one's preferences are perceived as being "the faith" once for all delivered unto the saints, then any departure from "the way we do it" is considered nothing short of rebellion against God. Yes, John is correct -- there are two views of the church: one is sectarian, the other is non-sectarian. I shall leave it to the reader to decide which of these two views is closer to what our Lord actually intended.
Two Views of the Bible
With regard to the Scriptures, Bro. Waddey writes, "The one says that the Bible is inspired of God and without mistake or error in its original manuscripts. The other sees flaws and mistakes in the Bible." Although it is true that there are some religious skeptics who do not believe the Scriptures are inspired of God, most who profess genuine belief in the Lord do accept these documents as "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16). I personally believe, for example, that with regard to the Autographs (the original writings of the inspired authors), they are Spirit-guided in every single word. I also understand, however, that over the course of 2000 years of copies of copies of copies that copyist errors have crept into the versions we have at our disposal today. There is no flawless version (not even the KJV), and thus any translation and version must be read with caution, rather than assuming each English word fell from the throne room of God Himself. Versions and translations are the best efforts of fallible men, and, as a result, will inevitably be less than perfect. For someone to suggest there are copyist errors in these various versions and translations (which, by the way, is an easily verifiable fact) does NOT necessarily suggest that the one making this assertion of fact has thereby denied the inspiration and/or infallibility of the originals. Although it is true that there are countless errors in our versions and translations, nevertheless, by employing the science of Textual Criticism, one can reconstruct, with a very high degree of certainty, the text of the Autographs. It is my conviction, having studied this science for a good number of years, that no significant doctrine involving our unity, fellowship or salvation is adversely affected by the small percentage of textual uncertainties or copyist errors left unresolved.
Bro. Waddey further wrote, "The one takes the Bible as his final and complete authority in all matters of faith and practice. The other feels that changing world views, mores and standards must be accommodated, and that the Bible should not be viewed as a set of rules to be followed." It is not quite as "black and white" as John would have his readers believe. I accept the Bible as authoritative, for example, but I do not regard it as a "book of rules and laws" that must be scrupulously followed to the letter so as to merit salvation. Yes, God has expectations of His people; He has issued commands; He has laid down guiding principles. These must be honored and observed. However, God's precepts and principles CAN be practically applied in any culture or historical setting. The Christian walk is not forever frozen in the cultural norms of first century Palestine, or in any of the various environs of the extensive Roman Empire. Truth can easily be adapted to one's own cultural circumstances (and, indeed, must be if it would prove to be universally relevant). This can also be done without in any way compromising those divine, eternal Truths themselves.
John further writes, "The one accepts the Bible as the divine, God-given pattern for the church, the other flatly rejects the idea of it being a pattern. ... The one honors the New Testament as the law of Christ, the other denies it is a law." Obviously, I deny that the NT documents were ever intended to be a book of LAW, yet I "honor" these documents as the revelation of God's redemptive work through His Son, and as divinely inspired guiding principles for His people. To imply, as John Waddey does, that one only truly "honors" these writings if one accepts them as some kind of blueprint, pattern or law is grossly misleading and prejudicial. Indeed, in my view, for what it may be worth, one honors them far more by rejecting such legalistic claims for these writings. After all, what greater dishonor to these God-breathed revelatory writings can one conceive than reducing them to LAW, the very burden from which our Lord suffered and died to forever free us!
Two Views of Communion
Bro. Waddey writes, "The one takes Christ's and Paul's words quite literally that they should take the bread and fruit of the vine 'in memory' of His body and blood shed on the cross. They dare not mix it with common meals which are no part of that event (1 Cor. 11:20-22)." As much as John Waddey might like to have it otherwise, the reality is: the early church did observe the Lord's Supper in connection with a meal. That is historical fact. Yes, Paul did address certain abuses that had arisen in connection with that event, but he did NOT abolish the union of the two. Indeed, in 1 Cor. 11:33 he suggests quite strongly that the practice would continue; his admonition was that the abuses should discontinue. The separation of the Lord's Supper from the Agape meal would not occur for many years. For documentation of this, I would refer the readers to my Reflections #114 -- "The Lord's Supper: A Brief Historical Overview." Legalistic patternists must deny this connection, of course, since if they ever admitted to it, they would have to change their current practice so as to "conform to the pattern of the early church" in order to be saved! Since such a practice is clearly not within their tradition or comfort zone, they in effect transgress and invalidate the Word of God for the sake of their tradition (Matthew 15:3,6). Patternists are never consistent; it is a highly subjective system of sectarian selection. Therefore, the difference between that which is declared "expedient" for them, and that which is regarded as "godless innovation" for you, is simply personal or party choice. Is it any wonder the Family of God is so woefully fragmented?!
John Waddey further writes, "The one follows the example of the early church and communes on the first day of the week, the day of Christ's resurrection (Acts 20:7). The other wants to commune at other times that suit them." Again, this completely fails to perceive the actual practice of the early church, which was anything but uniform. Acts 2 certainly seems to suggest the very real possibility that the Lord's Supper may well have been observed daily by some. There are also many questions associated with the Acts 20:7 passage; questions and challenges that dare not be discounted lightly. There is also the testimony of the early church writers on the actual practice then current. Again, it is not as "black and white" as John would have his readers believe. As for communing at other times, the only command given in connection with frequency of observance is given by the Lord Jesus Himself (repeated by Paul), and it leaves the matter of frequency in the realm of the indefinite. He simply stated, "As often as" you do it (1 Cor. 11:25-26). To regulate it further is unnecessary.
Two Views of Music in the Worship of God
John Waddey writes, "The one follows the ancient practice of praising God with their voices alone. They make melody in their hearts. They base their practice on Scripture such as Ephesians 5:19. The other wants musical instruments for their worship. Performance is mixed with their praise. The one group speaks one to another in their psalms, hymns and spiritual songs as they lift up their voices in congregational singing. The other prefers praise teams, solos, duets and choirs." This entire matter really comes down to little more than personal preference and tradition. The primary objection of the legalistic patternists is that since the early church apparently did not use instruments as aids or accompaniment to their singing, then for anyone else to do so is SIN. This is a specious, inconsistent argument that quickly falls apart under the weight of its own absurdity. Nevertheless, for those who believe the way of unity, fellowship and salvation lies in uniformity of pattern (and, to be specific, their pattern), this issue becomes a matter of life and death. Those who dare to use instrumental accompaniment with their singing are bound straight for hell. Period! End of discussion! They are godless apostates! Our merciful Father will torture them endlessly in the blazing fires of hell for daring to sing His praises while "Bertha tinkles the ivories" in the background. And as for praise teams and other "innovations" ... hell is a "just reward" for such heathen! Needless to say, I regard such nonsense as an affront to deity, and bordering on blasphemy! I would refer those readers who might be interested to Reflections #71 -- Musings On Music: Interpretative Issues Involving Instruments, and Reflections #126 -- Suggesting Another Hermeneutic: Inquiry into an Interpretive Methodology.
Two Views of the Atmosphere of Worship
With regard to "worship styles," John Waddey perceives two views in the Churches of Christ today. He writes, "The one prefers to worship in a more solemn way with their emphasis on offering up their worship to God. They come to fill their minds and hearts with saving truth. They worship as God has directed them to do. The other prefers an emotional and exciting type of worship. They crave performance and entertainment. The practices of the charismatic churches appeal to them. Such things as lifting their hands, swaying with the music, and applauding the performers attract them."
Well, one does not have to have a degree in psychology to perceive the not-so-subtle innuendos contained in this statement. Those who worship as John Waddey worships are worshipping "as GOD has directed." Those who choose any style different from what John and his companions prefer have obviously abandoned GOD'S specifications governing worshipful expression, and merely "crave performance and entertainment." John fills his mind and heart with "saving truth" when he worships; those who differ with him apparently do not. John's worshipful expression is "solemn," those who differ with John are just a bunch of emotional body swayers and hand lifters (I guess Bro. Waddey's Bible doesn't have 1 Tim. 2:8 -- "Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands"). They even ... horror of horrors ... clap in the assembly! Obviously, unlike John, they have no reverence for God and Truth; they're just wild revelers, dishonoring God and shaming His church by their emotional displays. John hints, none too subtly, that they are little different from the Pentecostals, and thus, perhaps, they might want to consider joining them, and getting out of his church. When I was living and preaching in Honolulu, Hawaii (1992-1998), I actually had a former Christian college president write and demand that I get out of his church and go start my own! Why? Because he didn't like my view on the "music issue," and thus I was no longer welcome in "his church."
Among ultra-legalists there is no room whatsoever for any demonstration of diversity, and emotionalism in worship is just one step short of outright apostasy! The Puritans used to literally expel members from their assemblies for the "sin of smiling in church." One woman, according to history, was actually banned from the colony and returned to England for daring to "laugh out loud in church." I fear that same tendency to view the assembly as a "solemn," almost funereal, occasion is evident in far too many congregations today. And it is quenching the Spirit of God who seeks to move within and among us, not just individually, but also collectively. The story is told of a visitor to a very conservative Church of Christ in the deep south on a particular Sunday morning. As the sermon progressed, this man would say, "Amen!" Then he shouted, "Praise God!" on one occasion. During one of the songs he actually lifted his hands in the assembly. Finally, one of the elders had had enough, and approached the man. "Brother, we would appreciate it if you would not show so much emotion in our assembly!" He looked startled, and replied to the elder, "But, I've got the Spirit!!" "Well, you didn't get Him here," retorted the elder. "So, knock it off!!" I fear too many of our assemblies may in actuality be Spirit-less. When we come before the Lord, are we coming to a funeral or a celebration?! Yes, let's do things with a reverent attitude -- we are in the presence of Almighty God, after all -- however, if we can't come before our Father with genuine heartfelt rejoicing, then I fear we have probably completely failed to perceive the significance of our assembling. May I suggest the following to Bro. Waddey, and others of similar persuasion: Reflections #112 -- The Nature of True Worship: An Examination of John 4:19-24 ..... Reflections #33 -- Worship Reformation ..... Reflections #139 -- Applause in the Assembly ..... Reflections #182 -- Faith in Formaldehyde: A One Cup Preacher's Powerful Sermon that Resulted in his Termination.
Two Views of the Mission of the Church
With regard to the mission or purpose of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, John Waddey writes, "The one sees the church as God's unique and only kingdom on earth with a simple divine mission. She is to glorify God and His Son (Eph. 3:21) and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). She is to minister to the poor and unfortunate. She is to educate and edify her members, striving to keep all safe unto the day of redemption. The other sees the church more as a social service club with a social gospel to preach. Entertainment is one of her duties. She is to provide for the felt needs of her community and those who worship with her. To them such things need no authorization from Scripture."
That final sentence really tells the whole story here. With legalistic patternists it is all about law ... authority ... blueprints and patterns. It is FORM over FUNCTION. If you can't find "book, chapter and verse" where the first century church practiced a certain pattern or form, then God will torture for zillions of years in endless fire those who dare to do benevolence, or practice love, or engage in worship with some FORM about which the NT writings are silent. Brethren, such a portrayal of our God is nothing less than blasphemous!! It pictures our merciful Father as the Ultimate Legalistic Nit-Picker (please read: Reflections #21 -- The Law According to Pa), and if that portrayal is true, then we are all without hope.
Yes, the called out people of God in Christ (the "church") do indeed have a mission. Our mission, however, is not to glorify God and His Son. That is a by-product of our mission. Our mission is to be His ambassadors of reconciliation and redemption to a lost and dying world. Our mission is to extend love, compassion and healing to those in distress. Our mission is to LIVE JESUS before others in such a way that they can behold in our daily living the great JOY that is ours IN HIM. Christians should not go around looking like they just sucked a lemon; they should be the people with the widest smile, the bounce to their step, a song in their hearts and on their lips, a kind greeting, a warm embrace. A "social gospel"? --- Absolutely. We are salt, yeast and light in our societies. We must mingle with the masses, be among the people as social beings, and influence those with whom we come into contact with the positive nature of our Faith! The mission of the church is not fulfilled within a building; the mission of the church is fulfilled entirely outside of the building. Should our Christian walk be "entertaining"? Should our assemblies be "entertaining"? Should our times together be "social" and "enjoyable" and even "entertaining"? God help us if they are not!!
I am just as opposed as John Waddey is to the notion that when God's people assemble they should "put on a production" for "paying spectators." If all we are doing is making a public spectacle of ourselves for the weekly amusement of our members and outsiders, then we have indeed missed the point. However, to suggest that our times together, wherever and whenever those assemblies may occur, should not be entertaining to us and others is fallacious. My Webster's New World Dictionary defines "entertaining" as: "interesting and pleasurable." Well, brethren, that is exactly what I hope each one of our assemblies can be. Indeed, I pray our interactions with those about us socially will also be characterized as "interesting and pleasurable." Does this mean we don't take seriously our message to those who need to hear it? Not at all. It simply means we find great JOY in Christian living, and we don't mind sharing it and expressing it. Those living within our communities have needs (felt and/or real), and the people of God should be joyously seeking to meet them in any way they can. Brethren, when seeking to fulfill our mission as God's "church," we need to forget form, and focus on function. When it comes to doing what God has called us to do, He couldn't care less about the pattern or form utilized --- He only cares that the job gets done; that the mission is accomplished. Legalistic patternists elevate form over function; they place pattern over people. In so doing they completely fail to perceive the true mission of the church of Jesus Christ, and thus they fail to accomplish it. I would suggest reviewing Reflections #240 -- The Missional Church.
Two Views of the Church's Relation
to the Larger Religious World
In this section we basically see the old "Us - Them" separation within Christendom. OUR group is the "one true church" -- all other groups are godless "denominations." WE have Truth all figured out -- all others do not. WE are saved -- they are lost. Our mission is to have no association with others ... other than to call them to repentance, to call them out of their "digressive denominations" and into our "one true loyal church." John Waddey writes, "The one sees the church as God's Cause and the various denominations in competition and conflict with it. The other sees the church as a sister to other denominations, all equally pleasing to God." By "the church," of course, John simply means the group that has denominated itself "Church of Christ."
John Waddey continues, "The one sees the denominations as good people seeking God in a mistaken way." Frankly, I see good people seeking God in a mistaken way in all the many groups within Christendom ... including our own! There are a good many people in the Churches of Christ "seeking God in a mistaken way." I think John Waddey is seeking God in a mistaken way. But, that does not mean he is a godless apostate; it does not mean he is not my beloved brother; it does not mean he is lost. It simply means he is a "good person" who is seeking a deeper relationship with his God, and that he is mistaken in some of his perceptions and practices. Who among us is NOT?!! "But, those people are erring brethren!" Yes! They are! And, again, who among us is NOT?!! "Erring brethren" are the only kind we have!
What is John's solution? He states that our responsibility to those entrenched within these denominational groups is to "teach them the way of the Lord more perfectly (Acts 18:26) and bring them into Christ's church and fellowship." By "into Christ's church" he simply means into the group known as "Church of Christ." One might well ask John, "Into which particular faction of this greatly diverse group are we to bring them?!" Instrumental or non-instrumental? One cup or multiple cups? Located preacher congregations or those who practice mutual edification or encouragement? Institutional or non-institutional? Sunday school or non-Sunday school? Which of our enumerable feuding factions is the "One True Church" into which these lost souls must be brought for their salvation, Bro. Waddey? I would genuinely love to hear your answer, and the justification for it! Each faction claims to be the universal One Body in its entirety upon the face of the earth. Thus, we must get all other believers, and all non-believers, into our group before they can be considered saved, and before they can ever be correctly characterized as true "Christians." Once they are safely within the fold of the Churches of Christ, we must then make sure they get into the correct "brand" of our group before they can be regarded as "faithful" brethren. Dear reader, this is nothing short of Satanic sectarianism, and it was exactly this that elicited from our Lord some of the most scathing rebukes of His earthly ministry.
John writes, "The other sees no serious problem with the unscriptural beliefs and practices of denominations and is willing to accept them as they are." That is a ridiculous statement. Genuine disciples of Christ Jesus do indeed have serious problems with beliefs and practices that are contrary to God's clearly specified will. We have problems with such wherever they might be found, and by whomever they might be embraced. And I can assure you that such "unscriptural beliefs and practices" are not just limited to the "denominations." Such can be found in abundance right in our own faith-heritage. No one has a monopoly on Truth, just as no one has a monopoly on falsehood. Some may well have more of one than the other, but NONE of us has arrived at where we need to be spiritually. For those within Churches of Christ to condemn all others for having "unscriptural beliefs and practices" is simply a case of the kettle calling the pot "black!" Such self-deceived arrogance is appalling!! Does this mean we embrace error? Of course not. We oppose error wherever it is found. Perhaps some might want to take the beam out of their own eye, however, before trying to dig for the speck in their neighbor's! Once our vision is made clearer, perhaps we might actually be able to discern the fact that God has children, and we have brothers and sisters, in far more places than we had previously been willing to acknowledge.
Two Views of the Role of
Women in the Church
John Waddey writes, "The one is content to respect and abide by the restrictions placed on women by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 14:33-34; 1 Tim. 2:11-12). The other follows the demands of the Feminist Movement." Again, John uses a very common, though somewhat disreputable, tactic -- he seeks to associate those who differ with him with a movement that he hopes would portray his "opponents" in a very negative light in the minds of many within our society. In other words, John "respects" and "abides by" the leading of the Holy Spirit of God. Those who differ with him, on the other hand, are little more than mindless, submissive puppets of the Feminist Movement. Wow! That's about as "either - or" as it can be! Of course, John completely overlooks the fact that good, reputable biblical scholars, even within the Churches of Christ, have differed significantly over the correct interpretation and application of the above two passages. John's view is NOT the only view, although he certainly seems to imply such. I would suggest he might benefit from a reading of the following: Reflections #113 -- Women in the Church: Reflecting on the Nature of their Role ..... Reflections #216 -- Head Coverings for Women ..... Reflections #239 -- Gender Regeneration.
Two Views of What it Means to
Restore the Ancient Faith
In this final section of John Waddey's article, he writes, "The one believes that this commitment means to go back to the Bible and identify the faith, worship and practice of the earliest Christians and then reproduce those very things in our worship and service today. The other says such is not necessary, it is even foolish. They feel the church is free to adapt herself to the demands of modern society. The one is willing to be as old-fashioned and different from the world today as the church was in first century Roman society. The other wants the church to be conformed to the world's standards." Well, there might be a handful of people who truly want a "worldly church" in today's society, but they are few. When John speaks of identifying and reproducing the "very things" found in the worship, service and practice of the early disciples, he is simply referring to "the pattern." The job of the church today is to "identify" and "reproduce" THE PATTERN. John's first mistake is in the assumption that this is God's desire for disciples today. His second mistake is in assuming that such can even be accomplished. Even if we could somehow reproduce the exact pattern of first century worship and service (and this is quite a challenge considering we have both Jewish and Gentile congregations which most likely were quite different from one another), where in Scripture has our God commanded His people in every culture, every society, the world over until the end of time, to reproduce in exacting detail the form and pattern of the first century disciples? If someone can find that specific command, I would certainly like to see it. Yes, we should imitate their faith, but attempts to imitate their form, and to condition unity, fellowship and salvation upon such, is both foolish and fallacious!
Again, John attempts to employ "scare tactics" in his depiction of those who differ from his view. Those who are not legalistic patternists are portrayed as those who are seeking to conform the church to the standards of the world. Nope! Not even close. What they are simply seeking to do is take the gospel message and proclaim it in a culturally relevant manner. Truth can easily be made relevant to any society or culture, whether primitive or modern. Loving one another, for example, is a universally applicable principle, although how it is applied may vary dramatically from one culture to the next. If it is the FORM that we must reproduce exactly, then we must insist that all people everywhere until the end of time portray love for one another ONLY in the forms found in the pages of the NT writings. If the NT is "silent" about the early Christians showing love by having congregational birthday parties (just by way of illustration), then congregational birthday parties are forever forbidden. I am 100% opposed to such thinking, however. When God said "love one another," He was NOT interested in all mankind until the end of time forever limiting their application of this directive to the cultural parameters of first century Jerusalem or Rome or Corinth. Making Truth culturally relevant is NOT "conforming to the world's standards."
Frankly, John Waddey has a distorted perception of the restoration plea. When we speak of "restoring" New Testament Christianity, it is the faith and purpose of these early disciples we seek to emulate, NOT the form and pattern of their application of divine directives and principles within their own time and culture. The former can easily be recaptured and put into practice in any time and place; the latter is not even desirable. This effort at "restoration" of the first century church has easily proved to be one of the most divisive ideas ever promoted by later disciples. Restoring some elusive "pattern" (the nature of which even the patternists themselves can't agree upon), that some think they perceive in their personal study of the inspired documents, has led only to the fragmenting of the fellowship of the saints, and it has fostered feuding factions the likes of which make the church in Corinth look like a unity movement! The reality is simply this: Christianity is not, never has been, and never will be, frozen in 1st century practice or perception; it transcends such a local limitation. I dealt with this false notion in one of my very first Reflections --- Issue #3 -- Restoring the 1st Century Church?
One of the real tragedies of such narrow, exclusivistic sectarianism is that, although these people are truly in the minority in the Churches of Christ, they are nevertheless extremely vocal. Therefore, their religious antics have caused those in this faith-heritage, who do not share their narrow-mindedness, to be the recipients of some very negative publicity from others in Christendom, and also from unbelievers. Good, decent, devoted, rational Christian men and women within this movement are too frequently slandered and libeled because of the irrational excesses and attitudes of those on the extremist fringes of our movement. It is the Waddeys of the world, and, believe me, he is tame compared to some, who have made the efforts of evangelistic, ecumenical disciples of Christ, who work and worship with Churches of Christ, far more difficult.
A perfect example of this was seen recently on a CNN broadcast in connection with the Matthew Winkler murder. On Monday evening, March 27, on the Nancy Grace show (and I would encourage readers to examine the Transcript of that particular broadcast), she, in the course of her discussion of this tragedy that occurred in Tennessee, briefly conducted an interview with a Baptist pastor named Tom Rukala. Nancy Grace said, "I want to go to pastor Tom Rukala, joining us tonight, a special guest, a Baptist minister. I've been researching the Church of Christ. I don't know that much about it. What can you tell me?" First, I found it rather interesting that she sought insight from a Baptist pastor as to the beliefs and practices of those in the Churches of Christ. But, the pastor was there and she tossed the question his way. His answer was fascinating, and it has caused quite an uproar among members of the Churches of Christ, some of whom are even calling for a boycott of CNN (personally, I stopped watching them years ago!).
Pastor Rukala (some have suggested his name was not spelled correctly in the transcript, and that it should be "Ruhkala") replied, "Well, the Church of Christ is a relatively new church. It was started about 150 years ago by Alexander Campbell. And it's, unfortunately, a very legalistic sect, and they tend to use methods of intimidation and pressure tactics. They claim that they are the only ones going to heaven, and all other people are condemned to hell." Nancy Grace said, "What more can you tell me?" The pastor continued, "Well, they claim that if you're not baptized by one of their ministers, that you're doomed to hell, even if you're a believer in Jesus Christ, which, of course, breaks completely from the traditional Christian view that all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved because we're saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again. For the Church of Christ folks, that's not enough. You have to be a member of their narrow sect. It's a very exclusive group. And if you're not a member of their sect, you're condemned."
Nancy Grace responded, "You know, Pastor, you keep saying 'sect.' You make it sound like a cult." He then replied to her, "It kind of is a borderline cult, unfortunately. I don't want to make it out to be some kind of Hare Krishna group, but it has cult-like characteristics." Nancy asked, "In what sense?" He responded, "Well, in the sense of the exclusivism, the attitude that they are the only ones who know the truth. The tactics that they use are sometimes not only unbiblical, but unethical, and they can be very ungracious, unfortunately." At this point, Nancy Grace turned to another guest. However, in just a few seconds, millions received a very negative view of the Churches of Christ. The temptation, of course, is to vilify the Baptist pastor for his harsh remarks, or to question the journalistic approach of Nancy Grace. I will do neither. Sadly, I think some within our faith-heritage have invited such a view by their religious arrogance. Was the characterization of Tom Rukala accurate? Well, yes and no. It is most certainly NOT accurate of the vast majority of Churches of Christ, or those within them. But, sadly, it is very accurate of the extremists among us ... and they tend to be the most vocal, unfortunately. Thus, Pastor Rukala may simply have been reporting what he had personally observed and experienced.
Brethren, let's face it: there are some among us -- the legalistic patternists -- who are doing great harm to the One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Frankly, there has always been such an element among the people of God ... even among the early Jews. They were called the Pharisees. Paul gave a quote from the prophet Ezekiel when describing such rigid religionists, saying, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you!" (Rom. 2:24). I fear that today the good name of many within our faith-heritage in Churches of Christ is being tarnished by the excesses of exclusivists among us. They need to be exposed and opposed, otherwise they shall continue to divide the Body of Christ, shun the extended family of God, and shame the fair name of our Savior before the lost of this world. May our Father help more of us to be bold in our stand against this sectarian mindset. If we allow this cancer to remain in the Body unchecked, it could well consume us ... it has already sickened us. Dear God, be merciful to Your people and help us to be ONE, and, Lord, forever silence those who have positioned themselves as obstacles in the pathway that leads to genuine unity among Your sons and daughters!
From a New Reader in Hong Kong:
Al, I am from Hong Kong. I would appreciate if you could add my name in your email list for your Reflections.
From a Doctor in Alabama:
Al, I want to thank you for the extremely gracious comments you made in your introduction to my article. I'm not sure that I deserved that much praise, but I certainly appreciate it and am humbled by it. I pray that the article will be well-received by your readers, and that they will find it to be beneficial. Thank you for all that you have done for me. God has used you to strengthen my faith and draw me closer to Him. For that, I thank both Him and you. Keep sowing the good seed!
From a Reader in Missouri:
Wow!! I am so impressed by the guest article by the doctor in Alabama! How very well this person has expressed in detail the problem. I will keep this piece and share it. Step by step it is expressed so that all can understand. It shows that much thought had been put into that writing. Thank you for sharing this with us, Al.
From a Reader in Missouri:
My dear brother Al, This brother (whose guest article appeared in your last issue) has truly touched my heart. It seems as if I am coming out of a fog and starting to see more clearly now. For the last 40 years I have been a part of a legalistic group. I pray that through earnest and open-minded study the Lord will increase my knowledge so that I may apply it and gain wisdom. Continue to fight the good fight of faith, my dear brother.
From a Minister in Alabama:
Brother Al, This is a bit unrelated to the article by the doctor from my state, but one of the thoughts in it reminded me of this meditation I had the other day. I have noticed that we definitely want to apply God's grace to ourselves, and often we will apply His grace to some within our own circle, but, most especially, we do not want to give grace to those whom we think misunderstand what grace is.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Al, Thanks for printing the article by the good Alabama doctor. When he stated the following dogma of the patternists, "The pattern should be obvious to any sincere believer who reads the Scripture," it reminded me of the Mormons. They will tell you that you will be able to understand and accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God if you pray for "enlightenment." Maybe our patternistic brethren should start telling folks to pray for enlightenment!! Although you had an excellent article on the unpardonable sin several weeks back (Issue #236), I can now understand the mindset that Jesus was talking about as I look at the patternists' mindset when it comes to "the pattern." They will never understand God's grace nor His Word because too many of them have their thoughts set in human concrete.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Bro. Al, I am always encouraged by reading your Reflections, and was especially so this morning. The brother from Alabama had some very good observations. My own journey has taught me much, as I was converted by patternistic "leaders" to their "system." I think it's pretty hard for someone who hasn't been there to really understand the process, and how it works. The last place that Satan has any real influence is in the mind, and it goes much deeper than just "doctrine." He has to bring about "misplaced trust," and he does that by causing us to honor the CHURCH of Christ more than the CHRIST of the church, the DOCTRINE of God more than the GOD of the doctrine. I was convinced that I would be lost outside the "system." We, in Churches of Christ, have much to offer others, but others have much to offer us also. All of the factions within the Churches of Christ have much to offer each other, and yet Satan knows that if we will just stay divided he will win.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, I love you and your sweet spirit of our precious Lord. Thank you so much for sharing the thoughts of the brother in Alabama. This pattern bugga-boo has been a rough one for me. It is the scariest thing I've ever encountered. It suddenly turns someone you thought loved and cared for lost souls into a wild-eyed, tooth-gnashing, name-calling psycho who hates you and wishes for your destruction. Again, thank you, my brother!
From a Reader in Hawaii:
Aloha Al, I ordered and watched Rick Atchley's DVD "Learning Division." I fully appreciated and agreed with all that he said. I also noticed how the audience laughed when he did the chair thing. While I found it funny as well, I realized there really isn't anything funny about it at all. And I know in my own heart, even though I know better, that I am one of those people in the chairs. I really struggle with this!!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Dear Bro. Al, Thank you for the latest Reflections regarding "pattern" theology (which I really think is a misnomer, because in patternism I find very little theology). I have been saying for years that there certainly is a pattern involved in Scripture. The real question, however, is: "What is it?" Our Alabama brother (who wrote last week's Reflections article) has hit the center of the target indeed!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, I think the gentleman from Alabama hit the nail right on the head! Excellent article! I think it shows a lot of character on your part to step aside and let him have what is normally your forum! Thanks for all your efforts!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, I saw where you are planning on going to Nixa, Missouri for your vacation. I have friends in that area. I may plan to come up and go to church with you. We (your readers) may just swell that congregation's attendance to record levels. I know you will have people you want to spend your vacation with, but at least we could meet and shake hands!!
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