In this post, I speak of some in the Church of Christ as having a special pair of glasses. Initially I likened these rare ones to the proverbial ugly duckling. But the problem with that analogy, taken further than my intent, would make the rest of the flock somehow inferior, and that is not my intention at all. So let me stay with the “special pair of glasses.” When I sent this article to one such rare person, to check if it made any sense at all, I got back this reply:
“I think there may be a very limited number of people within the church of Christ who would benefit from this.”
It could be their way of saying, ‘Don’t bother,’ or ‘I dont agree with some of this myself.’
I suspect that because I am writing this so carefully, trying not to offend anyone in the Church of Christ or confuse those who are not in the Church of Christ, I am probably going to end up being vague and offending and confusing anyway.
But as I also use this blog as my personal repository, I shall post it quietly and hope it causes no irreparable damage.
[Disclaimer: I know that Churches of Christ members prefer to write the C in Churches in lowercase. Please excuse me for using a capital C. I have to do this because I think of the Churches of Christ as another group within the church of Jesus. I can, in all good conscience, use the term ‘church of Christ’ with a small c for church only when I can put all saved believers of the Lord Jesus past, present, and future in it. So let’s leave this matter there. I shall use the abbreviation COC to keep it simple.]
Denominations and doctrinal disagreement among Christians are the results of the attempts from the ‘gates of Hades’ to prevail against the church of God. But the Lord has used this to prepare adornment and finery—exquisitely intricate—for His bride.
Some denominations have a better theological understanding, while others have other desirable aspects that are worth emulating. Not all denominations (and certainly not all local churches in any denomination) are true and faithful. The theological understanding of some churches is so compromised that no unbeliever, short of exceptional divine intervention, could possibly be able to find the God of the Bible there and be saved.
Mysteriously, people do not readily understand each other across denominations. It is almost as if the Lord has allowed this situation, so that people may grow within smaller groups and not become one big uniform church. The mistakes of other churches appear glaringly clear, while we carry on, blissfully oblivious of our own blindspots.
Some of us, who have been led of God to move from one denomination to another, are able to understand the perspective of both denominations; perhaps we have special glasses too, and this can be a lonely vantage point, and one longs to share one’s thoughts and is unable to find the right audience. So with this rather long introduction, let me try to articulate what is on my mind.
I spent many years of my life in a COC. (I won’t use the word ‘denomination’ of them, because I know that members so loathe the word, and for legitimate historic reasons. The word ‘denomination’ to them refers to churches steeped in tradition who have moved away from the prescribed path of New-Testament Christianity, and along with the word, unfortunately many members would not accept any other denomination as being part of the Lord’s church. As it is, if any of the members are reading this post, they would have to bend over backwards to even keep up with where I am going. To readers who do not know the COC, this may sound dramatic. Again, let’s leave this there.)
All kinds of local churches go by the name COC, some of them are cults, but I refer to churches that are sincere and faithful, and dare I say Biblical. Now believers inside the COC cannot understand believers outside, but the reason is prejudice and peculiar usage of language. Well something akin to that anyway.
Unless you have spent many years in that church, I would urge you not to try and explain doctrinal matters to them. You will fail; it is nigh impossible, and you will end up talking past each other.
Some in that group, like those untimely born, have special glasses; for some reason they have jumped the rut and have acquired the ability to slip the COC glasses off and put these on, whenever they need to. This is extremely rare and most of these individuals would have been disfellowshipped by their brokenhearted brethren. I do know one or two however who, because of generations of being in that church, have learned from the being-disfellowshipped experiences of their forebears. And so have managed to lead productive lives in the COC, while also peeking out and profiting from the abundance of good material outside.
Thus one needs the capability of being doctrinally ‘bilingial’, as it were. I say this because the very meaning of words used are understood differently inside the COC. We saw how the word ‘denomination’ could upset a conversation. Mention of ‘Creeds and Confessions’ are an absolute no no. I suspect that if a sincere COC member picked up the 1689 Baptist Confession of faith, it might be an eye-opener and a pleasant surprise, provided some other word/term did not trip them up. The COC do have their own doctrines from their sincere understanding of scripture, but they would not use a historic word like ‘creed’ or ‘confession’ to describe them, because of the bad connotations these words have in their circles.
Recently, I read an article stating that one is not saved by faith alone. I know looking back on my COC days that I was very much saved, and it was not of works and it was still only by the grace of God through faith. So I took a double take on that one and relaxed when I read the rest of the article, which spoke about the necessity of both faith and obedience. Needless to say, the rest of the article spoke of the sorry state of churches that believed that faith alone could save. At this point, I am not even sure if any of you, my dear readers are with me. This does sound so much like Roman Catholicism entering through the back door. The danger of believing in a works salvation is real. But no knowledgeable member there would actually think that obeying the Lord in baptism was works meriting salvation, in the way it is feared by Christians outside the COC.
When a church like the COC is unable to recognise other churches as fellow brethren, and they do not acknowledge the Reformation sufficiently, they bypass the language that Protestant Christianity has developed, and overtime they develop a jargon that is peculiar to them. They cannot get their errors ironed out because their interaction with others outside is limited.
I do not want to go into detail explaining their tenets and jargon, translating them for the benefit of others. I am not sure if it is even possible to do that successfully.
During my years in the COC, I came across many articles and tracts against the COC that had no positive effect on me. Instead they were most unhelpful and annoying. They said that I was not saved, when I knew then, as I know now, that I was a child of God through Jesus. That is why I write this piece very carefully because I have one thing to say to believers there that could be vitally important when they share the gospel.
If I could reach out to brethren in the COC, this is what I would want to tell them:
Emulating ALL the examples in Acts, the Churches of Christ treat baptism as the last step of conversion. [I wish that in churches outside the COC too, believers would not allow much time to elapse between the point when someone comes to faith and their baptism.] The change of heart, the receiving of the gift of saving faith , and the resultant granting of repentance comes with the preaching of the word, and with the Spirit doing His work of convicting sinners. These “events” happen almost simultaneously. Faith come from hearing. And a baptism without faith is useless. The biblical stress on baptism being administered immediately after the candidate professes faith and repentance, sometimes results in unsaved people being baptised. This is a very real danger when salvation is declared at the point of baptism.
Thus it is possible to have churches with a large numbers of people who have an outward form of godliness without having been changed by the power of the gospel. It does not have to be that way; I have personally seen COCs with godly men and women.
I also look back to those days in Bangalore when I was part of a small group of young people from two local churches in the city. The sweet fellowship and zeal of those days has stood all of us in good stead to this day.
The answer is to preach Jesus more and preach baptism less. Baptise at the “very hour of the night” by all means but the preaching that brings the candidate to that stage has to be gospel-saturated and Jesus-exalting. Preach about sin and the wrath of God and grace. Ensure that candidates can articulate their faith clearly. We want genuine conversions, heart conversions. For many, is not hard to confess with the mouth and be baptised.