Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Keeping the Church of Christ afloat

Preamble: This post arises because of my foundational belief is that a church lives or dies by it's theology; teaching a proper understanding of  God and His attributes is critical for a church to grow healthy Biblically.  If it can be shown that a church does not need to have correct theology to please God then my conclusions are not valid.

The theology of the Churches of Christ is being held up at this moment by two pillars: tradition and hymns- one is for all purposes knocked over, and the other is crumbling.  The result is that the CoC will soon collapse utterly because there is no solid doctrinal truth being imparted to the congregations.  What remains will be soon absorbed into more liberal churches. 
(Aside: for those of you unfamiliar with it, the CoC recognize no creeds, catechisms, or confessions.  They admit no document into the building or demand a member conform to a certain doctrinal statement. Therefore what they use to hand down proper theology lies in both tradition and what the people imbibe from singing hymns.  I am aware that there are plenty of sermons and bible classes, but these have no tether to the great theologians of old and are often not at all about the Bible.  That topic is for another time, suffice to say the formal training is not successful at imparting doctrine and can safely be discounted.)

The pillar of tradition has been kicked down for at least 30 years here in California.  CoC Churches are no longer doing what they once did, they are doing what is relevant, or emergent, or what will attract people. Those that are not have largely evaporated or died out as old people churches.

That leaves only songs to impart a right understanding of God from our wise ancestors to the members, but those face two dangers: the first is that new fluff songs like the Days of Elijah are displacing older, solid hymns like Amazing Grace leaving a theological void where the members fill in anything they like. 
The second danger is that many of the classic songs have been monkeyed with by CoC writers. I was shocked the first time I heard Holy Holy Holy which I learned as...Lord God Almighty, all thy works shall praise thy name... God in three parts, blessed eternally.  Some versions I sung growing up went ...God over all and blessed eternally.  Obviously the first song advocates the heresy of Modalism, the second denies the Trinity less explicitly.
The one bright side is that their a-capella format strengthens the impact of the words on the hearer, which is why I suspect they have lasted as long as they have.
The outlook is both bleak and bright.  Bleak because God is taking away their lamp stand.  Bright because He is lighting it elsewhere.


Jack said...

Your first-hand accounts of the Church of Christ are interesting to me. My only personal experience consists of having attended one service and then meeting with the pastor for approx. 6 weeks over doctrine. This was back in the late 70's (in PA). CoC doctrine is very wrong on numerous points, including primary doctrines. I later read a book by an older fundamentalist pastor, Hugh Pyle, that was very revealing and interesting. CoC error traces back to Mr. Campbell who had some reformed background but turned against it.

Phil said...

It's equally interesting to me to hear how people like you saw it and what you thought it's errors were. But yes, it's actually traced to both Alexander Campbell and Barton W Stone, both who rejected their learned fore-bearers. The more I think about it the more impressed I am it has lasted as long as it has.

showmetheway said...

I have a couple of questions. Which, if any, religious organizations/churches do not rely on tradition?
Do traditions determine morality?
How do we determine if a doctrine is right or wrong?
How do we determine is anything is right or wrong?

Jack said...

These are good questions SMTW. When speaking in a *general* way about life and faith, I do not say that tradition is useless or to be completely avoided. Tradition that is of sound, faithful sources can be helpful.....tradition can also be deadly! So, be careful. Tradition must never be allowed to determine primary doctrine (this sentence should be in all caps). God has revealed in His Word what He wants to us to know about primary doctrine. He commands us to not add to His Word. To rely at all on tradition for primary doctrine, even 1%, would be to add to God's Word and to sin against Him, to our own damnation.

When you ask who does not rely on tradition, we first need to consider the question in light of what I stated above.

God's Word gives instruction about morality, which has not changed. Society and culture (worldly tradition) also has its own take on morality, which has continually evolved, changed, and conflicted with other societies/cultures.

Correct doctrine is as God has stated in His Word, and is rightly revealed and taught to us by His Spirit.

Regarding "anything", if it has to do with our life and relationship with God then His Word instructs us. If it has to do with mundane things such as should I turn left or right at the next intersection, well my wife will tell me what to do :-)

Phil said...

Solid concise answers. Well done Jack

showmetheway said...

The statements, "The theology of the Churches of Christ is being held up at this moment by two pillars: tradition and hymns" and "That leaves only songs to impart a right understanding of God from our wise ancestors to the members" prompted me to ask the questions.

Perhaps I misunderstood the original post but it seems to be saying that Churches of Christ base their theology two untenable pillars: tradition and hymns. This may sadly be the case.

But for which Christian religion is it not true?

Jack says, "God has revealed in His Word what He wants to us to know about primary doctrine."

Since Paul told Timothy, "All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God made be competent, equipped for every good work," I heartily agree.

But again I ask what religious group bases its doctrine (I would argue with the word theology since by definition it is the study of religions whether or not based on a belief in God.) on New Testament teachings alone?

Since no man's, pope's, synod's, or counsel's opinions or edicts are tenable apart from being in agreement with God's immutable word, where is a church to be found that is sound?

Not that I think it is impossible for such a church to exist, I simply want to know where to find it?

Phil said...

Perhaps I need to be more nuanced. The historic progress made by the Church Fathers of old and their stands against heresy have been thrown out by the Churches of Christ. The lessons learned from the Reformation got dropped at the Restoration. As a consequence there is no way to impart
1. a Biblical worldview
2. a way to interpret what people read.
The only way it can be done is by having each individual learn as best they can and hope they didn't get it wrong.

Showme there are a lot of healthy Bible loving churches that are willing to listen to the progress made by their forerunners and exposit the Bible faithfully. I would urge you to find them. For myself I suggest starting in the Baptist circles, but there are plenty other denominations that I could count as a good church.

Jack said...

May I please point out, just for clarification, regarding "what religious group bases its doctrine.... on New Testament teachings alone?" --- that all of God's Word is for our instruction. It is true that the New Testament writings do more to help us understand and interpret the Old Testament, rather than vice versa; but NT and OT together are God's Word for us.

showmetheway said...

Jack, your statement, "... all of God's Word is for our instruction," agrees with what the Bible says.
Galatians 3:24 “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
This concept of the OT guiding us to the NT is well illustrated by Jeremiah 10:23-24.
"I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing."
The OT is replete with examples that prove Jeremiah's first point. Because of these examples we realize that we do not want the justice of God as seen in the OT but rather the grace of God that is available through obedience to Jesus Christ as seen in the NT.

I am however unclear about what you mean by, "Correct doctrine is as God has stated in His Word, and is rightly revealed and taught to us by His Spirit." It almost sounds like His Word (by which I assume you mean the Bible) and the explanation of it are separate things?!?! Putting this together with what you say Phil, “As a consequence there is no way to impart
1. a Biblical worldview
2. a way to interpret what people read.
The only way it can be done is by having each individual learn as best they can and hope they didn't get it wrong,” I gather the two of you believe that understanding of the scriptures occurs apart from reading and studying the same.

But since Paul says in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”, and in I Corinthians 13:8-10 adds, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away… but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” Further, as seen in Mark 16:19-20, “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs,” what the apostles spoke in the name of the Lord was confirmed with signs; how can it be that we are unable to “rightly divide the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15) without special help from, I assume, the Holy Spirit?

Gentlemen, you must excuse me if I do not trust what you say unless confirmed by the scriptures. Remember from the Sermon on the Mount that the people were amazed at the teachings of Christ, “For he taught them as [one] having authority, and not as the scribes?“ Since we have no signs confirming that what we say apart from the written Word is from God, our word as individuals is no better than the word of the scribes.

Phil said...

By that logic your last statement has no meaning either, since fallible now means at all points suspect. You can't have it both ways: either all mens powers of reasoning are fallen, broken, and unreliable, or they are not. If not then why do you not trust us. If so, then who but the Spirit of God will give us the proper reading?
I'll leave it to you to find the verses that point to the truth of what Jack is saying.

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