Here is a situation that isn't
hypothetical. It is common, thus worthy of our attention.
In a local church where there is a history
of objection to the sponsoring church arrangement and other unauthorized
innovations, war breaks out. Brethren "bite and devour one another," and
the ugly result is "envy and self-seeking . . . confusion and every evil
thing" (Gal. 5:15; Jas.
3:16). There is a division,
perhaps followed by another; snide, sarcastic remarks. Preachers are
fired, elders resign, members are agitated and a cold sterile atmosphere
In the midst of this turmoil, as impatience
and disgust turns into bitterness, there are some who just quit. They
join a nearby liberal church, enter into the mainstream of Protestant
denominationalism, or entirely give up the matter of religion. Though
I'm not altogether satisfied with this description, I'm going to call
this: reactionary apostasy.
Reactionary apostasy is usually accompanied
by a statement something like these: "I'm fed up with conservative
churches of Christ," or "There has got to be something wrong with
'conservative church of Christ' religion."
This needs to be addressed. So I beg your
consideration toward these thoughts. Reactionary apostasy is fraught
with at least two flaws.
(1) Rejecting teaching, merely on the basis
of misbehavior. Suppose someone were pressed to define "conservative
church of Christ" religion. Personally, I'm not comfortable with this label. I would
rather communicate with scriptural language and deal with "the gospel,"
"the truth," "the Lord's church," or even New Testament Christianity.
Yet, in the interest of being realistic and accommodative, and for the
purpose of dealing with this matter of reactionary apostasy, .let's
formulate a definition of "conservative
Christ" religion. Perhaps this religion would entail the following items of
a. There is "one God, and Father of all,
who is above all" (Eph. 4:6).
b. The Bible is the Word of God (2 Tim.
c. Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and
is the only begotten Son of God, who died for our sins, but arose and
ascended to the right hand of God
(Matt. 1:21; Rom. 1:1-4; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Jn. 1:14, 29).
d. Man's number one problem, and the great
tragedy of all humanity is sin (Rom.
e. The gospel is God's power to save
(Rom. 1:16, 17).
f. Those who would be saved by the gospel
of Christ, must hear, believe and obey that message (Rom.
6:17, 18; Mk. 16:15,16; Heb. 5:9).
g. Baptism is essential unto salvation
(Mk. 16:15, 16; Acts 2:38;
1 Pet. 3:21; Gal. 3:26,27).
h. After baptism, God requires a life of
faithfulness (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts
2:42; Col. 2:6, 7).
i. Jesus built his church, one body; and it
came into existence on the day of Pentecost (Matt.
16:16-18; Acts 2:47; Eph. 1:22,23;
j. Local churches are charged to do the
works of evangelism, edification, and benevolence for needy saints
(Acts 20:28,32; 1 Thess.
1:8; Phil. 4:15; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).
k. The local church is to be financed by
the voluntary giving of the members, as they respond according to their
own prosperity (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
l. When fully developed, local churches are
to have scripturally qualified elders, deacons and saints (Phil .
1:1; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet.
m. We are to worship the Father "in spirit
and in truth" (Jn.
n. Evangelists are to preach the Word (2
o. As individual Christians and as
collective groups (local churches), we are obligated to abide in the
doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9; Phil. 4:9; Matt. 7:24-27; 28:18-20).
If you can - for the sake of this present
study - regard this as a summary of those things believed and taught by
"conservative churches of Christ."
Now here is my point: when people who teach
these things become embroiled in battle with one another, and manifest
ungodly attitudes to the point of unjustified division, by what
reasoning do we conclude that these 15 principles are faulty?
Somebody needs to explain this to me. Am I
missing something? When people who teach these things turn a local
church into a mess, by what reasoning are we supposed to conclude that
these principles are invalid? Help me here.
If a man who believes in the existence of
God throws himself into a pile of iniquity, crime and shame . . . should
this cause me to question God's existence?
If a group of people who preach that the
Bible is inspired involved themselves in dishonesty, jealousy and other
acts of disobedience . . . does this mean that the Bible may not be
Do we prove that what a man is teaching is
false, by pointing to his foolish behavior? No, we must never reject
some proposition simply because the one who advances it is inconsistent.
We examine teachings; we test doctrines in one and only one way: by the
light of Scripture (Acts
I'm persuaded, a connection is being made
here that doesn't logically follow! When a group of people bite and
devour one another, that doesn't necessarily mean that everything they
have been teaching should be called into question! By no means.
(1) When a "conservative
into turmoil and disorder, they fell into chaos in spite of the above
principles, not because of them.
When "conservative brethren" act in a manner that isn't befitting the
gospel, that misbehavior says nothing about the gospel. It says a great
deal about lack of commitment, weakness in yielding to temptation, and
hypocrisy. But it says nothing about the truth of the gospel, or the
integrity of New Testament Christianity!
Anytime there is a big church fight or
division, be assured somebody isn't obeying God's word! It may be just a
few; it may be everybody. But when such an ugly mess arises, it does not
mean that everything these folks have taught and stood for is suspect.
It means: somebody isn't obeying God's word. (When the apostle Peter, in
" played the hypocrite," that misbehavior did not diminish the integrity
of anything he had taught on the day of Pentecost!) But, reactionary
apostasy faces another problem.
(2) "You can run, but you can't hide!" When you abandon
of Christ" religion, where do you go?
Liberal churches are not immune from the ugly spectacle of uproars
caused by selfishness and stubborn sin. Denominational churches have
internal battles, and open political warfare between parties who
struggle for power. Where will you go? Paul Harvey often says, "You can
run, but you can't hide!"
Let it be granted, it is a real challenge
to your attitude, perseverance and commitment to go through internal
strife. And there are circumstances where, for consciences' sake, one
must leave a group and identify with another congregation. But when you
find yourself in the middle of an ugly mess, consider that there is a
right way and wrong way to react.
I'm saying - reactionary apostasy is not
the answer. (1) It is based on an invalid connection, between what a
group has taught and the way they act. Misbehavior doesn't necessarily
mean that the teachings have been invalid. (2) Reactionary apostasy
takes you somewhere else, with no guarantee that you won't meet the same
ugly spectacle, sooner or later.
Don't just react out of the subjective
emotion of bitterness. Stand for the truth, support those who stand for
it; live as you should; resist the devil, and remember ". . . if ye bite
and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of
another" (Gal. 5:15).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 3, pp.
February 1, 1990
Changing the Mission of the Church