My answer to the question “Why?” has been prayerful, meditative, and reflective for over two years. I want to be faithful to God and his text, and as such, my thoughts answering “Why?” have been extensive. Yet, notes from my study Bible, my study journal, along with various other notes that helped me work through this material have not made it into this publication. I offer this final section, and my recommendation(s).
In the spirit of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, and the history of the church of Christ, I seek the Ancient Church. I want to know who the First Century Church was, what they did, and why they grew.
The modern church of Christ trained me, and I consider the pursuit of the First Century Church laudable and desirable. Yet, my studies about the First Century Church reveal that the church of Christ has not attained that goal of Restoration. As will be seen, the church of Christ has too many vestiges of Western Christianity for it to be truly the First Century Church. By Western Christianity, I mean a church dominated by the theologies of the early pre-Roman Catholic to the full Roman Catholic and Protestant movement.
Wisdom and Interpretation
Before I summarize, let me offer that God is in no way against humans using human wisdom in the pursuit of holiness. But our Creator is against human wisdom that lofts itself above God. And our Father is against human wisdom that constructs idols, worshipping them as God – whether literal or intellectual, idols are idols because the idol is praised and not God. Our Creator is against human wisdom when wisely studied information becomes interpretations that become traditions that loft themselves, replace, and/or undermine God’s teachings and instructions.
However, our Father is not against human wisdom that is derived from the biblical-spiritual influenced human mind. God is not against human wisdom as long as that mind:
God is not against human wisdom as long as that mind continues a.s.k.ing (a.s.k.ing is a play on the admonition to ask, seek and knock), in the pursuit of the one true and living God. As God’s creation, we will be better equipped for servitude in his church when we have an understanding of the Bible, the history (both physical and theological) contained in the Bible, an understanding of the history of the development of the Western Church, and many other things.
The heritage that I have been given is one that I appreciate. My heritage has taught me, and rightly so, to question everything. Unfortunately the questions have been aimed at everything about everyone else. Why did my heritage not teach me that it is necessary to question my own heritage? As I have been studying, the concept of “judge not” has permeated my motives. Since I really want to understand how to help others, it has come to my attention that there is a large religious plank in the eye of my church of Christ heritage that has to be removed. Having provided detailed and extensive thoughts found within the remainder of this trilogy of books, I offer succinct statements.
I want to express one additional idea before I move on. A church that teaches that the leadership is more learned, and that the church is to do as the leadership instructs is honest, even if flawed. However, a church that teaches the people to study the Bible and to use their intellect to understand God, but becomes irate at the people they instructed when the people draw conclusions different than the leadership, has the appearance of hypocrisy.
NT Use of OT
During the last half of 2009, I took several months and studied the NT, looking for its use of the OT. Many times it is taught that the NT supplants the OT and that we only need to follow the OT when included in the NT. After my study, I found that ideology flawed. So, following my intense study of the NT using the OT, I have come to believe that the following ten things represent a minimum number of problems. I reluctantly provide Bible References knowing that it cannot reveal the literary context.
For the following, I offer no Bible references and no supporting arguments. That information is found through these works: My Assessment of Six Theological Viewpoints, and my Thesis Concerning the OT, and these sections giving my answer to the question, “Why?” Ancient Church History, Ancient Church Theology, Comparative Theology, and Communion and Comprehensive Context.
The OT still has validity for the disciple and the church, so that both can know how to walk faithfully and how to worship fully (without the animal sacrifices and other OT offerings). There is purpose to the OT beyond just using the OT to show that:
Those truths do not negate the importance of the OT still providing “instructions in righteous behavior”.
However, as New Covenant believers we need to accept that Jesus is The Way as derived by the Messiah; and the Mishnah represents A Way as derived by the Elders, Sages, and Rabbis. Interestingly, Jesus does not negate the entirety of the Mishnah. This is because the Mishnah contains a Passover tradition called Seder. The Seder meal contains several symbols that Jesus claimed to fulfill, the bread, and the fruit of the vine, just to name two (see also number Seven). Thus the Mishnah contains some important information.
Following my study of the NT’s use of the OT, I read the book: Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices. While I cannot agree with the author’s conclusions on all matters, the author presents a concise history of Western Christianity. The author espouses “contextual” study (Chapter Eleven), yet he himself seems to neglect how the OT and how the Mishnah contextually affected and influenced Jesus, the Apostles, and the First Church in Jerusalem.
The NT Church did not fall from the sky as if it were manna or something brand new. The Church is a fulfillment of OT revelation (e.g. Jeremiah 31.31-34), and some Mishnah tradition. While the First Church certainly used the OT Scripture to prove Jesus (Acts 17.2-3), they also used OT Scripture as evidence for practices of their faith (e.g. Acts 21.20-21; Romans 13.8-10; 1 Corinthians 10.1-12; the entire book of Hebrews).
While I disagree with the author’s Replacement Theology, the author provides five specific topics in Pagan Christianity? which give historical evidence showing the gradual development of the Western Church during the last 1900 years (AD/CE 200-2000). By looking at these five topics it becomes questionable as to whether the church of Christ is the non-denominational body it has believed itself to be, and whether the church of Christ concords with the First Century Church.
The Pulpit – [Was] used in the Christian Church as early as AD/CE 250 [third century]. The pulpit came from the Greek ambo, which was a pulpit used by both Greeks and Jews for delivering monologues. (p. 272)
The Pew – [Developed] from the thirteenth through the eighteenth centuries [1200s-1700s] in England. (p. 272)
As much as I refer to culture and of all the examples given, the pulpit seems to be the closest to what the First Century Church may have used. For specifics on the Sermon see Number Four.
Clergy and Laity – The word laity first appears in the writings of Clement of Rome (d. 100). Clergy first appears in Tertullian [AD/CE 160-225, p. 280]. By the third century [200s], Christian leaders were universally called clergy. (p. 273)
The Title “Pastor” – Catholic priests who became Protestant ministers were not universally called pastors until the eighteenth century [1700s] under the influence of Lutheran Pietists. (p. 273)
Luther’s Modifications [early 1500s] – Singing, Prayer, Sermon, Admonition to the people, Lord’s Supper, Singing, Post-Communion Prayer, Benediction (form of a blessing or a song to end the service). (pp. 52, 56)
Calvin and Reformers Modifications [early-mid 1500s] – Prayer, Confession, Singing (Psalm), Prayer for enlightenment of the Spirit in the preaching, Sermon, Collection of alms, General prayer, Communion (at the appointed times) while Psalm was sung; Benediction. (pp. 58, 60)
The Puritan Modifications – Call to worship, Opening prayer, Reading of Scripture, Singing of the Psalms, Pre-sermon prayer, Sermon, Post-sermon prayer, Communion overseen by minister. (p. 63)
“Free Church” Modifications – Three hymns, Scripture reading, Choir music, Unison prayers, Pastoral prayer, Sermon, Offering, Benediction. (p.p 63-64)
church of Christ Modifications – Opening prayer, Singing, Scripture reading, Lord’s Supper and Offering – both overseen by men of the congregation, Singing, Sermon, Invitation, Benediction (usually a song or a prayer, but can be a blessing to end the service). The order can and does vary congregationally but these modifications are collectively referred to as the five acts of worship: singing, communion, giving, sermon, and praying. Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) who lived during the Frontier-Revival [late 1700s and early 1800s] influenced these modifications. However, the other historic modifications are listed to demonstrate that church of Christ worship organization has roots in Western Church development, which separates it from the First Century Church.
Sunday Evening Worship – Methodists popularized the Sunday evening worship services with the discovery of the incandescent gas. (p. 64)
The One-Hour Sermon, Sermon Crib Notes, and the Four-Part Sermon Outline – Seventeenth century [1600s] Puritans. (p. 273)
Conversion Sermons – Sermons aimed exclusively toward winning the lost, developed during the Frontier-Revivalist period [late 1700s and early 1800s], where little beyond salvation (conversion) was preached/taught. (pp. 65-66)
Altar Call (Invitation) – this practice began with the Methodists in the eighteenth century (again during the Frontier-Revivalist period [late 1700s and early 1800s]) inviting people who want prayer to stand on their feet and walk to the front to receive prayer; and asking sinners “to come forward”. (pp. 66-67)
The type of meal is not “agape” but Seder. I did refer to the Seder in the previous section: NT Use of OT. But it is important to accept that the historical context of Jesus leads to the Seder eaten during Passover, not the author’s understanding of a “Love Feast”. Yet, while I disagree with the author about the type of meal, the concept that the “Lord’s Supper” became the ritualistic symbol that we know it as today seems to be traceable back to the second century.
In addition to the organization of worship, there are at least four other developments that influence how Christendom processes and understands the Bible. These are the development of the Chapter markers; and Verse markers. These help empower the ideological (a body of beliefs that guide an individual or movement) practice of “proof texting”. These three seemingly “practical” innovations conjoined with the philosophy of pragmatism have helped develop, influence and shape the church of Christ’s understanding of “the plan of salvation” and “the five acts of worship”.
Here are the four developments (again, I do reference the book Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices):
It is true that proof texting takes and undermines the context of the Bible. But, the practice of proof texting was not “found” in the 1500s, because proof texting was used long before 1590. But that concept had been used for centuries to establish doctrine, first by the Jews, then by the Christians. However as was stated in the previous paragraph, the formal idea established during the 1500s was that every part of the Bible was inspired, including each and every single word. But that concept neutered context. Thus, words established doctrine being stripped from God’s Inspired Context. Yet, it is interesting to notice that Verses were added roughly 300 years after Chapters, but within fifty years after placing Verses in the Bible, “proof texting” began.
To Alexander Campbell’s credit, he did his best to negate the practice of proof texting. He did not call it proof texting, he referred to the practice as versifying. Here is what Campbell stated about versifying:
My experience shows that some within the church of Christ continue Campbell’s quest to end proof texting and the act of making Bible verses detached precepts and proverbs. But the enlightened age of which Campbell spoke seems not yet to have arrived.
Again, I reluctantly present my conclusions. This is because I know that some will find my conclusions unjustified and negligent. I offer two reasons for this. One, they simply cannot abide my conclusions and thus consider me heretic and hell-bound. Two, many will begin right here at my conclusion having not read the information within this trilogy. Irrespective of others’ opinions, my conclusions have been made after much prayer and presented after careful, attentive study of God’s Word.
While it may appear that I am being unjustified and negligent, my research and my studies are extensive, with much thoroughness of contemplation and prayer. By purview of historical data alone, although much time was given to Scripture and theology, I am forced to realize that we are working in the Western Church environment. By association it compels me to accept that the church of Christ “church” environment is simply a result of 1900 years of Western Christian development, which unfortunately is some distance from the goal of fully being the First Century Church.
Knowing that, my conscience cannot let me preach that the church of Christ is the Church Restored. Neither does my conscience permit me to preach against other Christian associations presenting the idea, in any way, that the church of Christ is superior to them just because the church of Christ has a different understanding of salvation, a variation in the practice of worship, or wears the name “church of Christ”.
By focusing on “contextual studies” (an idea supported by Alexander Campbell himself), it appears that the Bible cannot contextually support three major assertions. The first is “the plan of salvation” – it is a pragmatic proof texted plan aimed primarily at conversion. However, regarding conversion, I want to underscore the importance of baptism. All I am saying is that the approach to and method of planning toward baptism cannot be contextually originated. The second assertion is “the five acts of worship” – it too, unfortunately, is proof texted, again pragmatically aimed toward worship, tirelessly supported by the concept of expediency – an elegant aide to pragmatism. The third assertion is about Musical Instruments – contextually, the Scriptures do not disapprove of Instrumental Music. As such, musical instruments should not be viewed as unacceptable for worship (even though it is biblically permissible for a church to be non-instrumental).
During worship, the practice has been for the sermon to bring believers and/or non-believers to repentance. To bring an individual to repentance demands a piercing of the heart, which involves the requirement for the person to “feel” guilt, so they will repent and follow God. Make no mistake, there is a time and a place for preaching repentance but it is not during worship. As such, it seems proper to conclude that the sermon should be changed to cooperate with the intent of worship. Jesus advocates a guiltless worship, by taking care of issues before coming before God (Matthew 5.23-24).
The sermon aimed at repentance works against worship because worship is designed to uplift because we are praising God for his involvement in our lives. Any sermon that aims at repentance is looking to make the person feel guilty, which disrupts the intent of worship. If a “sermon” is to remain as a part of worship, it should be presented in a way to uplift and encourage people, instead of making them “feel” guilty, because “feeling” guilty is against “feeling” uplifted. Separate days and times should set aside to preach to the people for repentance. And finally, any preaching should be done through contextual sermons.
As far as my studies confirm, the church of Christ organization is scriptural, but just because the organization is scriptural does not mean that the church of Christ can claim, even “technically” to be the church of the First Century. While the church of Christ is not “technically” the church of the First Century, the church of Christ is not “technically” against God either. All that can be claimed with certainty is that the church of Christ is not the Church of the First Century. The church of Christ is one of many products (off-shoots, denominations) of the development of the Gentile Western Church from pre-Roman Catholic to the Protestant Church.
As best as I can tell, my research and experience support the assertion that the church of Christ has a threefold dilemma. First, literary contextual Bible study has been neglected as have linguistic, historic, and cultural contexts and covenant theology context. Instead, like most churches, Western Church development and proof texting influenced the church to prove doctrine. That is not rationalization to continue practicing proof texting, just realization that the church of Christ is not alone in this failure. Secondly, the church of Christ has been prideful against and condemning of other “denominations” who have utilized proof texting to arrive at their conclusions. Personal experience has shown the church of Christ does the exact same thing, thus it seems improper to condemn others when practiced in-house. Thirdly, again personal experience reveals the church of Christ to be ignorant of Biblical history (including the “intertestamental time period”), covenant theology and the development of church history.
Begrudgingly, I accept the fact that the last 1900s years of Western Christianity has influenced and developed the church of Christ. I also recognize and accept that Western Christianity is imperfect in many respects. And just as equally important, I accept that we all labor as best as we can within this imperfect system. With joy I can see much is changing and improving that encourages me, but, at times, the discouragement seems just as strong as the encouragement. Unfortunately, some will continue to maintain a judgmental attitude against other Christians.
While Pagan Christianity? is a valuable book for seeing in one volume the major developments of Western Christianity, the book falls short in understanding some of the larger scope of the Bible, like Covenant Theology. The author’s primary point was to reveal that everything Western Christianity does is “pagan” and therefore biblically unjustified, from weekly contribution to intellectual oratory sermons. Consequently, the author suggests that the aware Christian should quietly remove themselves from an “institutional” church and become part of the organic church. Doing what the author recommends is simply a choice – a choice to live Christianity slightly different than other Christians. I don’t mind the author’s conclusion to live differently or the fact that the church of Christ lives Christianity slightly different than other Christians, but the historical mindset that the church of Christ is the only ones saved, the only ones practicing correctly, the only true church simply cannot be sustained by either historical evidence or biblical context.
While I have some timidity in bringing this information, I stand in greater fear of God. I love God. I love Jesus. I love the church. But, I also love the truth. It is not my goal to hurt anyone, but if one learns that they are not who they thought they were, one should not become angry and respond in knee-jerk style, dismissing the truth. One should be inspired to move and turn toward the target. Let us have the attitude of Paul, forgetting the things behind and work for the goal. Together, let us lead the church to embody the living faith of the Ancient Church; in essence we live their faith in our world.
I propose that time be given to the following:
These things seem to provide integral components that disciples need in order to begin having greater knowledge of the background of the Bible. This information will help empower disciples to read and study the Bible for themselves focused on context, which in turn removes some dependency on commentaries and concordances. While those research tools have their benefits, relying on them to the neglect of personal study focused on context creates an environment for creating doctrine that is not contextually originated.
Worship should include more scripture reading, and during worship sermons should be aimed at uplifting themes. Lessons about conversion and repentance are best handled privately from disciple to disciple and/or disciple to the one learning about God. Let the time that is set aside for God be worship and praise of God and uplift each other in unison without introducing the guilt which works contrary to praise (1 Corinthians 14.12, 26b).
I want to have confidence that my readers are ones who seek God and his righteousness and thus have hope that readers are people of integrity, honesty and purity of heart. I know that what I have presented can be difficult and unnerving, but I have confidence and faith in you. I am simply asking for the readers to be bold, stand confident, examine the First Century and become more of the church that God wants. If doing so confronts beliefs, then that is what is done.
I am thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with whomever finds my writings. Thank you for hearing me. It is my prayer that the LORD will always bring you many blessings in serving Him and His people.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Blessings and Shalom