The Church Maligned

“Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same manner did their fathers unto the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).

If the Gospel is being preached and promoted, we should not be surprised to learn that there are some who will stand in opposition to the truth and the church. The following article represents an example of such opposition:

Christers at the Gate (Jeff Woods, Nashville Scene, 14 June 2007).

The article is written in an alternative Nashville publication regarding certain members of the church who are running for elected office in Nashville. I find the substance of the article fascinating, for it reveals much about how the church is often perceived by those on the outside.

Below are some particularly good “nuggets” from the article:

“both belong to the Church of Christ– that quirky collection of rigid fundamentalists that’s a little squirrelly even for much of the rest of the Christian right.”

“But in addition to the standard conservative Christian articles of faith, the typical Christer thinks a church piano is the devil’s instrument, it’s wrong to celebrate Christmas as Jesus’ birth– and, oh yes, everyone but members of the Church of Christ is going to spend eternity in hell.”

“[The ‘fact’ that not just members of churches of Christ will be in Heaven is] good, because heaven would be a sparsely populated place if only Church of Christ members went. There aren’t many in the world– something less than 2 million. Nashville, though, has been blessed or cursed with a lot, depending on your point of view.”

“Dozier is an elder in his congregation, sort of like a chief in an Indian tribe, and Tucker teaches Sunday school class in hers.”

The bias of the article is clear: we have someone writing who either has no religion or is of the ecumenical sort of Christianity, and this person does not like the ramifications of having members of a church of Christ as mayor and vice-mayor of Nashville.

What, then, shall we do with these things?

Some of the responses to this article chided the author and the publication for its ignorance and biased reporting. This is hardly surprising; “Christianity” in general is rightly accused of being a “protest” religion, and unfortunately many members of the church can be the same way. Many times Christians will cry out “unfair” or “not right”, but not show the path that is right nor show any willingness to live in a society that will not provide superficial agreement with their belief systems. This is not what we see Peter, Paul, the other Apostles, or the early Christians doing.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing responses is within the article itself: the attempt to get away from the teachings of the Bible so as to look more favorable to men. The mayoral candidate in question, when asked whether “only members of churches of Christ are going to Heaven,” answered by saying:

“‘That isn’t true’ that the Church of Christ thinks everyone except its own members is going to hell, Dozier says. ‘Probably years ago there were some who may have said that, unfortunately. They’re all dead, I think. We don’t believe that now.'”

Another revealing quote:

“‘All religions have their strengths and weaknesses and blind spots,’ he says. ‘It’s true that the Church of Christ has been narrow-minded probably in the past. But it’s changed a lot. My faith-based heritage helps me. I do believe that the quality of an individual is enhanced by faith, and I will always support that. But my faith has never gotten in the way of my judgment in elected office and it shouldn’t.'”

How can anyone possibly believe the Word of God as complete and inerrant, that they equip the man of God for every good work, and yet say that Christianity has “weaknesses”? Now, if he is speaking about the people, and that the people sometimes make mistakes, well and good, but that has nothing to do with the religion itself (James 1:27). The quotes sound right at home in a relativistic, postmodern world: but are they what the Bible teaches?

What, then, shall we say to these things? We should follow the advice of Peter and make a defense of our faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16). We must remember that it is by our deeds as much if not more than our words that the truth of Christ will be made manifest (cf. 1 Peter 2:15).

As to “the only ones in Heaven,” or that “everyone else is going to hell,” we can only establish what the Scriptures establish: there is one Body of Christ, therefore one church (Ephesians 4:4-5, Colossians 1:18). The only ones who will be saved on the last day are those who are part of that church (Ephesians 5:22-33, Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 25:1-13). That much should never be under dispute.

The issue, of course, is whether the “Church of Christ” is that particular church. The way that the discussion is framed, of course, is within a denominational framework, and so it is almost certain that whatever answer we provide will not be understood or acceptable on its own merits. No one is going to be able to understand the teachings of the New Testament regarding the church while operating under a denominational framework, just like the Jews could not understand how Jesus was fulfilling prophecy while operating under their conceptions of the Messiah. The realization must exist that when Jesus speaks about His church, He is not thinking of a building nor an organization akin to what exists today but a group of people. Christ’s church is people– those whom He recognizes as His true disciples and servants (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-23). Obviously, if we are striving to follow Christ, we hope and think that we represent those people. This belief, however, is not viable because we are “Church of Christers”; it is only viable if we are serving God and have the attestation as servants of God as described in 1 John 2:1-6. Hope of salvation comes not from the church but from obeying God and striving to work with people who similarly seek to obey God in all things.

The only real answer to the question is that God will be the one judging who will be in Heaven and Hell (Romans 14, James 4:12), and that His judgment will be just. We are only doing what we can to serve Him, and we are not going to change the truth He has established because it is convenient for the modern denominational world.

Conceptualizing elders in the church like Native American chiefs may strike us as either funny or offensive, but considering the denominational power structures in place today, not terribly surprising. We would encourage any reader of this article to consider Acts 20:18-35, 1 Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-7, and 1 Peter 5:1-4. In it Paul and Peter establish exactly what elders are in the New Testament: older men who meet certain qualifications who are charged with overseeing and shepherding a local church. While many are familiar with “pastors”, we do not see in the New Testament one person in each local church given authority to shepherd and also to do the work of an evangelist. The role of the evangelist is distinct in the New Testament from that of an elder: notice that Paul writes to Timothy and Titus, men who are younger and who are evangelists and yet not elders themselves! Elders, then, are the real pastors, more akin to shepherds than Indian chiefs.

I would also hope that the author of the article and those who read it would not make a blanket judgment about all persons within the church based upon the examples provided. We can stand for the truth without being arrogant, sanctimonious, or Pharisaical. Likewise, there are many who do not think that the best way to win America over for the cause of the Gospel is through public office and legislation.

I have little doubt that if anyone involved in the article read this that it would fall on deaf ears. Regardless, let us consider what it says and what it represents– how many in the world perceive us, and the work that we must do to show that we are indeed stewards of God’s grace and love as His servants– if, indeed, we are His servants!

ELDV

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