Monday, September 23, 2013

A Challenge To Old Friends

I was not baptized for the remission of my sins until October 2003. At the time, I was 18 years old. Now, I'm 28, so it's been almost ten years. I've been acquainted with the "church of Christ" for just four months longer. Prior to that, I was very involved in a number of denominational churches and before that, I wasn't a church-goer (for most of my life).

When I made the decision to be "re-baptized" in October 2003 and to join the church of Christ in Lexington, my family reacted with confusion and even anger, but more than anything, they were very concerned. In their minds, I had joined a cult. I remember my uncle predicting that I'd soon be shaving my head and preaching in the airport in a purple robe. I had many conversations with members of my family and even with friends from high school and from my former church affiliations. It was clear that my decision had erected a barrier between me and my friends and family. Things have never been the same.

I stay in touch with a lot of these people through Facebook. Former youth pastors and fellow "youth-groupers," friends from high school, and of course, family. For the most part, the concern surrounding my conversion in 2003 has subsided, and I highly doubt that they give it much thought anymore. However, I'd like to issue a challenge, or a request, to all of my friends and family members who, in hindsight, disagree with my decision to abandon "traditional Christianity" for a stricter, more exclusive form of what I consider to be "biblical Christianity."

Here's my challenge, or request: if you are concerned about the direction I've taken these past ten years and if you disagree with my affiliation with "churches of Christ," please make an effort to convince me that I'm on the wrong path. There are a couple of ways that you can do this...
  • You have the option of disproving my stance on key issues that have compelled me to leave behind denominationalism in favor of undenominational "churches of Christ." Here are a few of the issues that MUST be addressed in order for me to even consider a change:
    1. At the top of that list is the true purpose of water baptism. The majority of modern churches teach that water baptism is simply an act of obedience that one does after they are saved. My position now is that water baptism IS essential for salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-5 and 1 Peter 3:21, just to name a few). Scriptures such as this must be individually addressed, and it must be shown that baptism cannot be a part of salvation.
    2. Secondly, you need to address the issue of "doctrinal division." In other words, most religious people believe that the doctrinal differences between churches do not really matter. However, when I read verses such as Romans 16:17, 1 Timothy 1:3 and 2 John 9, I conclude that we must not only strive for doctrinal unity, we must not tolerate teachings and practices that are unscriptural. If I'm going to once again embrace traditional Christianity and denominationalism, you have to prove to me that these doctrinal differences don't really matter in the end. Can you do that?
    3. Finally, you have to specifically address the identity and work of the church. When I read the New Testament, I conclude that Jesus established "one body," or church (Eph. 4:4-5) that has a scripturally-defined identity. I also conclude that the church's purpose and work is primarily spiritual, not social, physical or recreational. Can you prove to me that we have the liberty to redesign and restructure our local churches today?
  • If you do not or cannot address these specific issues mentioned above, you also have the option of disproving my general approach to the Scriptures. I approach the Scriptures with extreme care and precision. I believe that we need to seek scriptural authority for all that we do (Col. 3:17; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 4:11; 2 John 9, et al). What we specifically do in worship must be based upon the authority of Scripture (John 4:24). For example, this is why we reject the use of instrumental music in worship; there is no New Testament authority for it. This is why we use the designation, "church of Christ" - it's a scriptural designation (Rom. 16:16). You could avoid a lot of these individual issues by proving that my overall approach to the Scriptures is flawed. Maybe you can prove to me that the New Testament was never intended to be a pattern, or that we don't need authority for how we worship, what we teach, how we structure the church, etc. Maybe you can prove to me that faith and zeal are all that matter in the end, and that such strict obedience has nothing to do with our hope of heaven. Can you prove the fallacy of my approach to the Scriptures?
  • Finally, you have the option of proving to me that there is a greater and more current authority than the Scriptures. Is it the Catholic church and the Pope? Is there a more modern revelation such as the Book of Mormon that supercedes the Bible? Should I be putting my faith in some other organization or holy book? This will be tough, but you're welcome to try this route.
Am I just being argumentative or arrogant by issuing this challenge? That's not my intention. I am just THIS determined to practice the truth in my life, and I try to always remain humble and open to criticism or rebuke. If I'm missing something and if I have embraced a religious system that is unbiblical, I sincerely want to know it. At the same time, perhaps this will result in opportunities to discuss the Scriptures with people I have cared about for years. Maybe I can provide some clarity, or maybe they can. Either way, no time is lost when we are opening and studying God's word with the intent of seeking greater unity.

If you'd like to take me up on this, please contact me on Facebook, comment below, or email me at I hope to hear from you soon!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Social Functions In Church Buildings

Next month will mark ten years that I've been a Christian, and for almost that entire time, I've been preaching for various churches of Wisconsin, North Carolina, Kentucky, and now Nevada. 

From the very moment that I was baptized, I have taken a stand against what many call "the social gospel," which is the belief that local churches have the right (for edification and evangelism purposes) to sponsor, support and facilitate social functions such as potluck meals, banquets, sports and recreation. 

Of course, all the major denominations practice this, but this is also an issue that has divided "churches of Christ" for a very long time. There are those churches which have fellowship halls and even gymnasiums attached to the same church-owned buildings where worship and Bible classes are conducted. In most of these cases, these social/recreational activities are promoted and advertised in church bulletins and in the community. But then there are churches like the ones with which I have worked that oppose such "additions," arguing that the church has no scriptural authority to sponsor such social and recreational activities. 

If you're not a member of a "church of Christ," then you probably think I'm crazy for making this an issue. If you ARE a member of a "church of Christ" who happens to disagree with me...well, you may still think I'm crazy, but I'm sure that you at least understand where I'm coming from.

Why do I oppose such activities?

To make a long story short, I oppose such activities because:
  • When I read the New Testament, I don't find any evidence that the early churches ever sponsored social meals and/or recreational activities. Sure, they did provide meals to the widows and to Christians in need (Acts 4:35; 6:1-2), and yes, Christians did eat together in their homes (Acts 2:46), but I don't see the early churches (as churches) organizing Sunday potlucks or chicken dinners for social or even "fellowship" purposes. And if there is no scriptural authority for such, then we MUST avoid it lest we be guilty of sin (2 John 9).
  • And even though this interpretation of the text is disputed by many, I do firmly believe that Paul plainly commands us NOT to incorporate social meals or common meals into the work of the church based on 1 Corinthians 11:22, 34. It's true that Paul in this text was condemning the Corinthians' perversion of the Lord's Supper, but even still, he made a clear distinction between what the church assembly was for and what the private home was for. "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?" (vs. 22). And in verse 34: "But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment." Sounds pretty serious!
HOWEVER - and this is the main point of the article - it has occurred to me recently that this really shouldn't be an issue. Allow me to explain.

For nearly 2,000 years since the establishment of the church in the first century, men have fallen further and further from God's design for the church and SO MANY human traditions have crept in. The Catholics first emerged, and over the centuries, constructed cathedrals in the likeness of pagan temples and the Jewish temple of old. The concept of "God's house" became very physical, and was tied to a building rather than the people (1 Peter 2:4-5). Of course, during the Reformation Movement, as men began to break away from the Catholic Church, they carried with them many of these same concepts. The "church" came to be the building itself, and for hundreds of years, Christianity has been as much about the buildings as what goes on within them. Again, this line-of-thinking originated, not in New Testament teaching, but in the apostate frame-of-mind where Christianity was redefined in more ways than this.

So today, even among "churches of Christ," so much emphasis is placed on the if the building is an integral part of the church's identity and work. Most churches not only OWN their own buildings, but own very ornate and elaborate buildings.

But this was NOT the case in the first century.

The "church" (ekklessia) referred to an "assembly" of people, not to a church-owned building. In the book of Acts, we learn that the early churches met in a variety of places: on Solomon's porch at the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2:46; 5:12), in houses (Rom. 16:5; Philemon 2) and in "upper rooms" (Acts 20:7-10, whether of members' homes, or rented, I don't know). We know that Paul disputed daily in the School of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9); perhaps the local church met here as well. We might identify a few other locales where churches assembled in the first century, but it's clear to me at least, that the early churches placed very little emphasis on where they met.

NOTE: Some argue that in James 2:2, the word "church" (sunagoge rather than ekklessia) indicates a building owned by the church. After all, the Jewish synagogues (same word) were physical buildings, and James here refers to "the church" using that same term. However, in my studies, I've found that the Greek word sunagoge can just as easily refer to an assembly of people (Acts 13:42-43). So by no means do I consider this to be proof that early churches owned buildings.

With these facts in mind, I really don't believe that the issue of church-sponsored social and recreational activities was ever an issue in the first century. Churches simply met where they could. The evidence points to the fact that when they came together, it was to worship together, pray together and study together (1 Cor. 14). At the same time, churches often met in homes, and there is no doubt that they ate in these same buildings (as Acts 20:7-11 makes clear). More importantly, the Christians spent a lot of time together, much more time, in fact, than we do today. In the face of such severe persecution, the Christians of the first century were totally dependant upon one another. They often came together in members' homes just to pray together (Acts 4:23-31; 12:5, 12). Furthermore, it was common for the Christians to travel, and when they did, they stayed with other Christians (Acts 9:43; 18:3).

My point is this: the church was a way of life for the early Christians. They assembled together often for spiritual purposes, but then they also spent a lot of time together on a more private basis. Church wasn't so much a place that you went to because churches often were meeting in homes; it was something they did; the location was incidental.

No doubt, there were occasions in the first century where the Christians failed to understand these distinctions (1 Cor. 11:22-34; 1 Tim. 5:1-16). But for the most part, the "social gospel" issue was not an issue then like it is now. For them, "church" was about worshiping and working together on a spiritual level with those of like-precious faith. But because their faith was a way-of-life, they spent so much time together from day to day. I doubt they ever had conversations about incorporating social meals and recreational activities into the "work of the church." I doubt they ever considered building fellowship halls or gymnasiums. "Church" was about spiritual nourishment, but their faith bled over into their individual lives.

It's only in our age of "redefined Christianity" that we have come to view "church buildings" as an integral and essential part of faith. And it's because churches own buildings that the issue of what we (churches) do inside those buildings is even an issue. And this is really, really unfortunate.

But here's the thing, folks...

As much as I hate that this is such a divisive issue, and as much as I think that it shouldn't be an issue, the fact of the matter is, it IS an issue.

While it's true that Christianity has been redefined in a number of ways, and while I hate the emphasis placed upon church buildings today, I do know, based on the Scriptures that:
  • There is a difference between the church and the individual. While the church consists of individual members (1 Cor. 12:27), the local church as an "institution" is unique and its characteristics are defined in Scripture. The local church has organization (Acts 15; concept of elders, deacons), commands that are unique to its assembly (i.e. the Lord's Supper), administers discipline (1 Cor. 5), and is plainly told in places like 1 Timothy 5:16 NOT to support certain works that ought to be relegated to individual responsibility.
  • Again, in 1 Corinthians 11:22-34, Paul is clear that there are certain things that are proper at home that are improper in the church assembly. In other words, when we come together as a church, it needs to be for the purpose outlined by God in His word.
  • Because we must abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9) and seek His authority for all we do (Col. 3:17)...and because the Lord is obviously concerned about what churches are doing, then we need to respect God's design for the church and respect the distinctions found in His word.
So should it be an issue today?

I may disagree with the modern obsession over "church buildings," but the fact is, I don't believe they're unscriptural. As a matter of expediency, I believe that church buildings are just as authorized (by general authority) as song books, pews, serving trays for the Lord's Supper, Bible classes, etc.). In other words, because the church is to assemble (Heb. 10:25, et al), and because "church buildings" are a means of facilitating that command, I believe they're permissible. They're FAR from necessary, but they are techincally authorized.

And IF the church is going to purchase/own a building using the church's funds, then of necessity, the church building must be used for that which the local church is authorized to do. Because we have to make those distinctions.

In conclusion, our modern desire for and use of "church buildings" has created an environment where this is such a divisive issue. I can't help but think that if there were no "church buildings" and if we stopped treating the church like a business, these barriers that we've erected over the years would be toppled. It really wouldn't take much to get back to the mindset of the first century. is really difficult to shake age-old traditions like this...which means that we're simply going to have to show extra caution when it comes to how we view and use "church buildings."

I know this has been a long article. I know I've rambled. But I do hope and pray that my thoughts are somewhat coherant to you.