January 17, 2003
My Reflections are beginning to generate a good deal of response from the readers, and from persons with whom the subscribers are sharing these articles. Many are very complimentary of my efforts, but some are highly critical. I try to respond to all who post responsibly with genuine concerns. One such brother from Tennessee wrote a four page article in response to my article "Added to the LORD" (Reflections #9). He intended to publish this article in one of the brotherhood periodicals, but decided to seek confirmation of my views prior to doing so, which I think is highly commendable.
I have promised the readers that I will not reveal the identities of those who write to me, and whose material I may use in published responses. I think that is only fair. Thus, I shall refer to this brother as "Bro. Smith." I have changed the name of his congregation also (to which he referred in his email to me). I have also chosen not to submit the entire four page letter, but rather only those portions to which I have responded. It is highly probable that the questions he asked of me may well have been on the minds of other readers as well. Thus, I submit to you this response to those concerns for your reflection.
Good Morning Bro. Smith,
First, let me say how much I appreciate you seeking clarification of my position before you print a criticism of what you perceive my position to be. That places you head and shoulders above many who have "written up" brethren without ever bothering to try and verify if what they have assumed is in fact correct. I commend you for taking this step. I believe it shows the spirit of Jesus Christ.
Brother Smith, let me hasten to say that I most definitely DO believe that those who have been "added to the Lord" have then been made a part of the One Body (the church). Yes, I am very familiar with the various Scriptures you listed in your article that speak of the church/body, and the fact that we who have accepted Christ Jesus are a part of that body/church. If one is IN CHRIST, then one is also IN THE CHURCH.
My point in my article, which perhaps I did not make as clearly as I should have (so I will take the blame for this confusion), is one of priority of placement .... or perhaps we could say order of placement. I believe we are to preach HIM, that men are to accept HIM, and when they do that they are then added to HIM (i.e., relationship). Those who have embraced HIM are then BY Him numbered together with all others who have embraced Him also (as per the conditions specified in Scripture --- hear, believe, repent, confess and be immersed).
The purpose of my article was to try and stress the importance of bringing people to CHRIST, rather than to the CHURCH of Christ. Do you perceive the distinction here? Perhaps it is a fine line I draw, but I think it is crucial. In my experience in almost 30 years of full-time preaching, I have seen too many people trying to convert a person to the CHURCH (i.e., our methodology in worship, benevolence, evangelism etc.), rather than to the CHRIST. They would sit down and present lessons and film strips to these people on how to sing (a cappella), when to take the Lord's Supper (Sunday only), when to contribute (Sunday only), and many other things we erroneously seem to feel "sets us apart from the denominations" and makes us the "one, true church." In effect, we were converting them to our CHURCH, and just assuming that if they got into the "right church," then they automatically would be in CHRIST as well. I think we had the cart before the horse!! We should have been introducing them to JESUS. When these precious souls embrace HIM, and are added to HIM, then they are automatically in the One Body.
My goal in my article, therefore, was to try and get us to focus on what takes precedent --- getting them into Christ, or getting them into the Church of Christ? Both happen. But if our preaching and teaching is largely focused on the latter, rather than on the former, then to what are we really "adding" them? I believe the Scriptures teach we are to preach JESUS. People are to accept JESUS. They are then added TO JESUS. At that moment, HE then numbers them together with all others who have embraced Him and been added to Him in special spiritual relationship. Because of this special relationship with Him, we then have a special relationship with our fellow believers in the One Body. Being added to Him must come before we can have fellowship with a person in the church.
I believe the apostle John alludes to this very order of placement in the beginning of his first epistle. He wrote, "what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). John says they preached "the Word of Life" become flesh so that people could accept HIM as they themselves had. When these persons being taught the Word accept JESUS then they subsequently enjoy the added benefit of fellowship with all others who have done the same. That fellowship is experienced in the One Body (the church). But that fellowship in the church cannot be experienced until one FIRST embraces the Son of God. When men are added TO HIM, it is then that they are placed within the fellowship of fellow believers (the church).
Do you see my point, brother Smith? Surely you would agree with my above assessment. It is based completely on the Word of God.
I think the latter might be a bit harsh, but I basically agree with your above assessment. There is only "one body" (Eph. 4:4), and all who have been added to the Lord Jesus Christ through hearing, faith, repentance, confession and immersion, are IN that One Body. They are in the church, brother Smith .... and there is only one. As you mentioned in your email, and with which I agree, it may be "designated" any number of things --- a church of Christ, a church of God; they may characterize themselves as Christians or Brethren --- but all are merely descriptive terms and phrases indicating ownership. They belong to Christ; they have been added to Him. They are in Him and He is in them! All who have thus been added to the Head comprise the Body. We are numbered together with the other parts and members, each doing our part to promote and maintain a functional Body!
I do not believe the Lord adds people to GROUPS. The One Body is not the group designated in the yellow pages "Church of Christ," any more than it is the group designated "Baptist" or "Methodist" or "Church of God" or "Christian Church." The One Body (the one church) is much vaster than any one particular religious-historical group (or any faction thereof). For example, some say the "Church of Christ" group IS exclusively the One Body universal on planet earth, and that the redeemed of the earth will be found IN THIS GROUP ALONE. If a person is associated or affiliated with any other group, then they are doomed to hell. It doesn't matter if they have believed, repented, confessed and been immersed for the remission of sins .... they can sincerely do all of those things and still be lost if they are not added to the RIGHT GROUP (which, of course, is OUR group). Such persons are, in my view, guilty of preaching and teaching the CHURCH of Christ (and seeking to add people to that institution), rather than preaching and teaching CHRIST and seeking to have people added TO HIM. It is this against which I spoke in my article, brother Smith. Our focus is wrong if we are guilty of the above.
ANY person who has done what the Lord has asked him or her to do in order to be saved, IS ADDED TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. They are then in a relationship with Him and with the Father. As a result of being added to Him, they are then by Him numbered together with all others who have also, in like manner, joined themselves together with Him. These individuals IN CHRIST then comprise the One Body universal on planet earth. And, brother Smith, the totality of these persons will NOT be found in any one designated religious-historical group or faith heritage. Our Lord will have His people present throughout Christendom. They are not exclusively pooled in one designated group .... or some faction thereof.
One of the things I seek to accomplish in my preaching and teaching, and in my "Reflections," is to help God's children begin to perceive their extended family. It is time to begin bringing down the "Berlin walls" that divide brethren in Christ into countless warring factions that plague and shame the Christian faith and experience. It is time to begin building bridges, brother, not reinforcing our walls of exclusion and isolation. If you are IN HIM, and I am IN HIM, then we be brethren .... regardless of our differing faith heritages and personal preferences and perceptions.
You would also be making the same mistake John made if you taught that one must be in the "Church of Christ" church group in order to follow Jesus. The fact is, there are people in other groups following Jesus, and submitting to His authority, no less than you and I. We may differ in our understanding and personal preferences on some things, but thankfully salvation is by grace through faith, not through perfection of knowledge. I have brethren in the Christian Church, for example. They may have a different view of instrumental music in worship, but as for hearing, believing, repenting, confessing and being immersed for the remission of sins, they and I think exactly the same. Thus, they too are IN HIM .... and are in the One Body .... and thus, they are my beloved brethren. For me to shun them because they don't "walk along with US" would be to make the same mistake as the apostle John.
Brother Smith, I hope that this helps clarify my position somewhat. Again, I believe you did indeed misunderstand, and thus misrepresent, my position. I thank you again for this opportunity to clarify my views on the matter. I would be interested in your thoughts, and in further dialogue with you, if you so desire.
With Christian Love,
A Concluding Note --- Bro. Smith responded a few hours later to my above comments. He wrote, "Dear Al, I received your response to my article. I do not think there is anything in your statements with which I have any particular disagreement." He did point out that he still had some concerns with a few of my "assumptions," such as my view "that those in various denominations who claim to believe in Jesus and have been baptized are in Christ and our brothers. You do not in your response to me clearly address that issue, but you have apparently addressed it in other 'Reflections.'"
Bro. Smith also seemed to agree with me that some do indeed have a misplaced focus when it comes to whether one should preach Christ or the church as being of primary importance. He wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind that there are those 'conservative' brethren in the Lord's church who have emphasized the 'blood-bought institution into which one must come in order to be saved,' and have missed the point." I consider this a significant admission considering that "Bro. Smith" is a well-known and highly respected writer for many of the more conservative brotherhood periodicals, and has been for many decades.
Brother Smith's tone was cordial, and his reply was respectful, and I believe we have a better understanding of one another through our dialogue. Via communication between brethren, in a loving manner, walls can begin to come down and bridges can begin to be built. Thank God for such opportunities!
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