Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 9:44AM
Jeff Smith in Authority, Churches of Christ, Denominationalism

There is little doubt that among all the churches in the Yellow Pages, the churches of Christ are usually a peculiar bunch. They’re not as distinctive as they used to be, at least in general terms, but there are still a few congregations here and there that cling to peculiar beliefs that are eminently scriptural, but not terribly ecumenical. The lines separating most Protestant denominations are blurring so that people can easily transfer among them without noticing much difference and that is becoming more true of churches of Christ that are altering their worship and reducing their requirements for membership. The distinctiveness of the churches of Christ is at stake and we need to be equipped to defend, debate and practice those distinctive beliefs that are rooted in Scripture, rather than tradition or compromise.

I. Distinctiveness

    A. A Peculiar People

        1. the King James Bible described the disciples of Christ as “a peculiar people,” but newer translations have chosen more modern references to “a special people” or “a people for his own possession” (First Peter 2:9-12)

            a. the Greek word Peripoiesis (pr. per-ee-poy'-ay-sis) means “preserving, a preservation … possession, one's own property … an obtaining.” so the sense of peculiarity has nothing inherently to do with strangeness, but with exclusivity

            b. the members of the body of Christ are part of the elect group of people whom God has called and redeemed out of iniquity – not that others were ineligible for the call, but these are the ones who answered by faith

        2. in the Exodus, God made a distinction between his people and the Egyptians, although they lived and labored in the same cities and on the same streets: 


There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (Exodus 11:6-7)


        3. God reminded Israel through the prophet Amos that this special relationship carried with it certain obligations: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (3:2).

            a. we are naturally thrilled to be the people of God in the church that Christ founded, but that election carried an obligation to certain principles; we are not enslaved to human traditions, but we are obliged to bind and loose in our doctrine and practice only as God has done in the new covenant

            b. moreover, it is necessary that we have some basic capability to relate those principles to others who may desire to adopt or gainsay them


    B. Ready to Defend

        1. Peter encouraged his brethren to prepare to defend their convictions (First Peter 3:13-17)

            a. preparation

            b. gentleness

            c. respect

            d. consistency

        2. there are occasions when we must contend earnestly for the faith against those reject it, but there are also times when it is our privilege to share the gospel with people who are intrigued by it (Colossians 4:2-6)

        3. the apostle was always looking for an open door that the gospel might enjoy free course among the soft-hearted; there are opportunities that arise from time to time that we are tempted to ignore because we are afraid that our ignorance will be exposed and that is a shame

        4. there is no excuse for holding dear a belief that you cannot prove from Scripture


    C. Study

        1. many know that Jesus promised his apostles that replies would be given to them when they faced trial for their discipleship; many would like it to be that easy today, except that it wasn’t even that easy back then (see Luke 21:14-15)

        2. those people were hated and persecuted to the death for their commitment to a system that was only then being revealed; we are blessed to have the faith once for all delivered (see Jude 3)

        3. our ability to answer the seeker and skeptic will be dependent upon divine assistance, accumulated wisdom and the results of our study and meditation upon God’s word (First Timothy 4:11-16)

            a. Timothy’s job as a preacher was to magnify the word of God so that the Christians in Ephesus could learn it and use it 

            b. he did that by teaching and they grew by studying

        4. the goal of every Christian should be to become a worker for the Lord (Second Timothy 2:14-16)

            a. here again, the King James did more interpreting than translating: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

            b. the Greek word translated “study” in the King James is Spoudazo (spouda/zw, pr. spoo-dad'-zo) and it means “hasten, make haste … to exert one's self, endeavour, give diligence”

            c. what is recommended, then, is not simply study, but a diligent effort at making oneself into a useful worker for the Lord – study is just one part of the training of a disciple (see Hebrews 5:12)

        5. in what remains of this lesson, we will make a quick study of a few points that prove distinctive between churches of Christ and the denominations around them

            a. this should not be interpreted as an exhaustive list or an attempt at making a checklist creed of essential doctrines, but rather is one person’s attempt at identifying some points of expectable conflict

            b. the intent is to back each up with Scripture and to enable the disciple to contend earnestly for them without fear of ignorance


II. A Few Points

    A. His Kingdom Came

        1. everyone seems to agree that the mission of Christ in the first century was to establish his kingdom, but most people believe he fell short and introduced the church as a temporary contingency (Matthew 4:13-17, 6:9-10)

        2. Jesus began to use the kingdom and the church in the same contexts, suggesting a relationship between the two that defied mere contingency (Matthew 16:15-19)

        3. even when it became apparent that Jesus was going to the cross, he did not stop treating the kingdom’s arrival as imminent (Matthew 16:21, 28)

        4. his glorified appearance at the Mount of Transfiguration illustrated the transition from the Law and the Prophets to the Kingdom of Christ, from fleshly David to the heavenly (see Matthew 17:1-13)

        5. the kingdom of God came and Jesus continues to sit even now upon the throne of David at God’s right as believers are constantly conveyed into citizenship (Acts 2:29-33; see Colossians 1:13)

        6. the kingdom is the church, the called-out and elect whether living on Earth or waiting in eternity, but the kingdom has come


    B. Salvation is By Grace Through Faith

        1. like the legalistic Pharisees of the first century, many in the Dark Ages believed that fellowship with God was dependent upon a system of works and merit; the Reformers responded by offering an interpretation of the gospel that largely eliminated human effort, but they went so far that man lost all accountability

        2. salvation, we are told by the Holy Spirit, is by grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8-9); God extends his grace through the cross and its proclamation and the penitent respond in faith (Ephesians 1:11-14)

        3. Paul makes the point repeatedly in his letters that we cannot be saved like the Pharisees imagined – by impeccable keeping of the Law of Moses – or even as the Catholics taught – by obeying rituals and making payments; we will be saved by grace, not perfection

        4. but it is nowhere argued that we will be saved by faith alone (James 1:21-25, 2:14-17)

        5. our responsibility lies in making our call and election sure (see Second Peter 1:10), for Jesus is “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9)


    C. Baptism Now Saves You

        1. people are confused about baptism; some only want to experience Holy Spirit baptism as an electrifying feeling, while others insist upon water baptism, but diminish it to the level of parental imposition or post-salvific ritual

        2. baptism is part of the Great Commission (Mark 16:15-16)

        3. it was immediately part of the gospel response on Pentecost (Acts 2:37-41)

        4. Peter likened the immersion of a mature believer in water to the experience of Noah (First Peter 3:20-21); yes, baptism now saves you just like the ark saved those earlier objects of God’s grace


    D. Preachers and Pastors

        1. in the time of the New Testament, pastors were men who acted as spiritual shepherds of the local churches (Acts 20:17, 28)

        2. preachers were men who taught the doctrine of Christ, whether in one locality or itinerantly, and they wore no special title (Reverend, Father, Rabbi) or uniform because Jesus had forbade it (see Matthew 23:5-12)

        3. some preachers were also pastors (Peter), while many others were only preachers (Timothy, Titus); today, we maintain a distinction between pastors and preachers to uphold the autonomy and authority in the local congregation 


    E. Sing and Make Melody to the Lord

        1. one of the most prominent differences between churches of Christ and others is found in the lack of instrumental music in our worship

        2. it’s not that we cannot afford a piano or that we have no one talented enough to play it, but that we respect the fact that the New Testament is silent about its use, describing musical worship only as singing (Colossians 3:16-17, Ephesians 5:18-19)

        3. instruments were definitely used under the Old Testament, but that only makes their absence more significant in the New Testament, where God focuses upon worship as a sacrifice of the fruit of the lips and the message of the songs being important (see Hebrews 13:15, First Corinthians 14:15)


    F. Houses to Eat and Drink In

        1. why doesn’t this church have a fellowship hall with a kitchen and dining facilities?

        2. many churches do and even many churches of Christ have found room for them, but the Holy Spirit warned that this was outside of the church’s mission and purpose (First Corinthians 11:20-21, 33-34)

        3. the church’s purpose involves worshiping God, evangelizing the world, building up the members and providing for its needy, but nowhere is it authorized to venture into political, recreation, entertainment or other purely social pursuits


    G. As Often As You Eat and Drink

        1. that context had to do with the Lord’s Supper, the only regular commemoration authorized or commanded of the church in the New Testament (First Corinthians 11:23-26)

        2. it is the Lord’s death and resurrection that we acknowledge when we participate in the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7); whenever a week has a Sunday, we do as the early Christians did and commemorate his sacrifice

        3. there is no example for doing this on any day but Sunday or with any frequency other than weekly


    H. Denominationalism

        1. many in churches of Christ will claim to be non-denominational, which really isn’t all that uncommon these days, except that sometimes people really mean they are inter-denominational

        2. the preachers and inspired writers of the New Testament fought the dissection of the body of Christ into denominations (First Corinthians 1:10-13, 3:1-4)

        3. churches of Christ have no earthly headquarters or hierarchy, no manmade creed or annual conventions that would identify them as a denomination; we seek only to restore our modern practices to the approved examples found in the early churches of the Bible without resorting to the establishment of a new sect

            a. in the New Testament, they are simply “churches of Christ” or some similarly minimalist designation, never adopting the names of men or doctrines to distinguish them from others (see Romans 16:16)

            b. disciples are simply Christians (see Acts 11:26, 26:28; First Peter 4:16)


    I. Head of the Church

        1. that means respecting the authority of the New Testament and of Christ, who is the only head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23, 2:19-22, 4:4:11-12)

        2. the church has one head, Christ, and is not a two-headed beast with another chief authority or vicar on Earth; the development of dioceses and cardinals and the pope occurred after and without New Testament authority, compromising congregational autonomy and local oversight (First Peter 5:1-4)

        3. nowhere is Peter called or decreed to be a Pope over the church; his good confession is the basis of discipleship and, as an apostle, he is part of the church’s foundation, but only part

        4. Jesus is our head


    J. Commandments of Men

        1. we are continually striving to orient our practice and doctrine to that of the New Testament

        2. we are bound to uphold the doctrines of Christ and the apostles, but not the traditions and opinions of men (Matthew 15:7-9)

        3. we do not, therefore, celebrate Christmas, Lent or Easter within the church, although individuals are free to enjoy a secular observance of many such customs, understanding that each is thoroughly human in origin (Romans 14:23)



No doubt, churches of Christ are peculiar in many ways to the people around us. As strangers and pilgrims in this world, that is not a surprise, but to the extent that this distinctiveness is scriptural, we should be content with and committed to its perseverance.


Questions For Review

  1. What is (and is not) intended by “peculiar people”?
  2. What four qualities are essential to defending one’s hope?
  3. What is the difference between reading and study?
  4. When will (or did) the kingdom of Christ come?
  5. How can salvation by faith, but not by faith only?
  6. What is it about baptism that saves the sinner?
  7. What is the difference between a pastor and a preacher?
  8. What stops us from using instruments in our musical worship?
  9. What is the problem with the church promoting social meals?
  10. How often is it implied the early church observed the Lord’s Supper?
  11. What is wrong with denominationalism?
  12. Who believes that Jesus built the church on Peter? Is he the first Pope?
  13. What is Jesus’s birthday?
  14. How can individuals observe certain customs without involving the church?
Update on Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 1:07PM by Registered CommenterJeff Smith

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