<font size=4> COMMUNITY CHURCHES AND CHURCHES OF CHRIST </font>
<font color=indigo size=3 face=times new roman>We all understand that God did not assign a specific name to his church. Rather, several different names are used to designate his people: church of God, church of the Lord, churches of Christ and the church. When there was but one body of people in the world that honored Christ as their founder, head and Lord there was no need for any further identification. We, however, live in a society were there are upwards of 1500 different kinds of churches. This situation creates a state of confusion as to which body of people one is referring to when he speaks of or asks about "the church." This situation necessitates that we have some way of identifying ourselves so we can communicate, find each other and point others to a body of brethren in a given place.
In the early days of the Restoration Movement three different streams of people came together to unite on the Bible and restore the faith and practice of the original church. Those led by Alexander Campbell most often referred to themselves as Disciples of Christ. Those led by Barton Stone most often used the name Church of Christ. Those coming from the James O'Kelly, Elias Smith and Abner Jones movement preferred the name Christian Church. There was not a strict adherence to any particular one of these names and all the brethren recognized each other as fellow-Christians serving God in one body. When schism occurred at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, those preferring to have instrumental music, missionary societies, women in positions of church leadership, etc., generally identified themselves as Christian Churches/Disciples of Christ. Our brethren distinguished themselves by the biblical name Churches of Christ, found in Rom. 16:16. Over a period of 25 years this distinction of names became virtually complete. Our brethren continued to hold and use the name Churches of Christ, not because it was the exclusive Bible cognomen for the church but because it was biblical and was helpful in identifying our people, wherever they might be.
Over the last 40 years, as liberalism slowly eroded the Biblical foundations of many of our younger preachers and they in turn failed to properly instruct and indoctrinate our people, a new generation of leaders arose who seemed to be ashamed of their association with the brotherhood of people known as Churches of Christ. They craved acceptance with their neighbors of the Evangelical churches. They did not want to bear the stigma of being exclusive and different from the worldly churches around them. Since they no longer believed the exclusive message of salvation and the one church of Scripture, they did not want to be publicly identified with those who still held to such exclusive beliefs. Hence they began to cast around for a name that would do two things:
- It would mask from the people of their community that they were affiliated with other Churches of Christ.
- It would make them appear like other "Community Churches" that were experiencing phenomenal growth. We know that many of those who have taken this route have chosen as their models, "Non-denominational Community Churches" such as the Saddleback Community Church of Orange County California and Willow Creek Church in Barrington, Illinois and Robert Shuller's Crystal Cathedral. Of course those churches are thoroughly denominational in their faith and practice since they prefer the doctrines and commandments of men rather than the authority of the New Testament of Christ as their standard. Numerous Baptist, Methodist, Reformed and other denominational congregations have also taken this same moniker of "Community Church." It seems that some of our brethren prefer to be identified with such groups rather than with their brethren of Churches of Christ.
- Another probable motive is that under the name of Community Church, the typical congregation places little or no emphasis on doctrinal loyalty. Thus a typical Community Church might employ a Methodist minister this year and a Disciples of Christ man the next, and a female Presbyterian the following. Indicators are that some of our brethren who have chosen this route have a similar laxness about doctrinal standards. Church for them is all about fellowship, fun, doing good and feeling good. Such things as abiding in the doctrine of Christ (II John 9-11) are given little emphasis.
Those of our people who have chosen to identify themselves as Community churches seem to have a commonality about them. They all have embraced the agenda of the change movement, which seeks to transform our people into the likeness of our denominational neighbors. Such things as salvation by grace through faith before immersion, a de-emphasis on the importance of baptism, a willingness to tolerate the use of instrumental music in worship, a willingness to allow women to assume leadership roles in the life of the church, acceptance of denominational churches as in good standing with God and other related issues seem to be part and parcel of those wishing to be known as "Community Churches." Several of our Universities and Colleges have given encouragement to the Community Church movement: among them Abilene Christian University, Pepperdine University and Harding Graduate School of Religion.
It would be as scriptural to identify ones congregation as the Community Church of Christ as the State Street Church of Christ. But for most of these folks, they want the "Community Church" without the "of Christ" designation. As Jesus said we can only judge them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16-21). The direction of this movement is away from New Testament Christianity and from obedience to the message of Christ. It is away from the brotherhood of Churches of Christ of which they once were a part. In my judgment it would be a mistake for a congregation to take such a name as it creates confusion as to who they are. It also identifies them with those who are abandoning the Bible as their standard of faith and practice. It reflects on their part a sense of shame to be identified with the gospel and the body of Christ. Paul was not ashamed of the message he preached (Rom. 1:16). With Jesus, he gladly endured the shame of the cross (Heb. 12:2; Gal. 5:11) and so should we. If the world despises us for what we believe and stand for, so be it; they hated Jesus for his faith and convictions (John 15:17-20). </font>
John Waddey, Editor
Christianity: Then and Now
When You Change Your Name, You Have Changed Your Values
Although the name has changed, Lucado said the church's core values will not. We must wonder how has taking the name of Jesus Christ off of the church sign in front not changed the values. Are they ashamed of the name of Jesus Christ?
Jesus said, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:26). Christians wear the name of Christ; they love the name of Christ; and they are willing to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ. Lucado, however, thinks it is more effective evangelistically as a Christian not to put the name of Christ on the sign.
Some today are now rejecting the use of that name, claiming that it is sectarian. Others are rejecting the name because they, frankly, do not want to be associated with the undesirable behavior that some members of the church of Christ have manifested. The old statement that those people believe you have to be a member of the church of Christ to be saved has led some to be ashamed of anything that uses the phrase, church of Christ. Consequently, a new generation of churches of Christ has adopted some alternative names. Some now go by Community Church, putting the phrase a church of Christ on the sign in small letters. A minister favoring the change recently gave this explanation:
The truth is that the name Church of Christ carries the baggage of an exclusivistic mentality to many people in our culture. Oh, yeah, somebody says, those are the people who think theyre the only ones going to heaven. One lady said that she never would have come into our building if she had known we are a Church of Christ. Once she came in and experienced the presence of God in this body, however, she isnt about to leave! She and her children--from a very different denominational background--are reveling in the experience of Christ in this community of faith. (Rubel Shelly, "What Is Your Church's Name?", Lovelines, Vol. 24, No. 5, Feb. 4, 1998.)
Such statements show that some are embarrassed and ashamed of the phrase Church of Christ. I must wonder if such people will one day be ashamed of the phrase family of God when they suppose that there is too much offensive baggage associated with that name. I wonder if they would change their personal name if some member of the family should disgrace it. Many of those postmodernists who are so quick to embrace the unconditional love and grace of God are slow to forgive what embarrasses them.
It is not an accident that this generation has adopted some new names, nor is it surprising that these new names suggest a change in attitude and may say more about the nature of the new congregations than is at first intended. A nearby denominational group subnames itself, The Peoples Church. What does that say? I suppose that the members of the congregation wanted the community to know that they were a church of the people, i.e., that the common people of the city are part of the congregation. Perhaps they wanted to play up their large size and their appeal to people. Perhaps they wanted the community to know how in tune they were to the common opinions and beliefs. My thought was
this: if the church belongs to the people, how can it belong to Jesus Christ? If the desires of people are its driving force, how can Jesus be its Lord? Something of this same idea might also be said of the community church. Perhaps the idea is that the church is to be identified with the community. This has a fine marketing appeal, but where is the Lord glorified? Does Oak Hills Church now belong to Oak Hills or to Jesus Christ? When they substitute orchestras for Biblical worship, they are not living after the teaching of Jesus.
The words church of Christ are not a formal name so much as they are a description of who we are. The Scriptures do not give any title to the church, but no one should doubt that the church uniquely belongs to Jesus. Jesus is the builder of the church (Matt. 16:18); He is the One who purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28); He is the one and only foundation of the church (1 Cor. 3:11); He is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22,23); and He is the one and only Savior of the body (Eph. 5:23). When Jesus spoke of the church, He called it my church (Matt. 16:18); and when Paul describes the congregations, he calls them churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16). There is much to be said in associating the church to the name of Jesus Christ.
It must be further pointed out that we as Christians do whatever we do in His name. When we were baptized, it was in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). When we pray, we pray in His name (John 14:13,14). We give a cup of cold water in His name (Mark 9:41); we gather in His name (Matt. 18:20); and we suffer persecution for His names sake (1 Pet. 4:14-16). Repentance and remission of sins are preached in His name (Luke 24:47); we believe in His name (John 1:12); and we have life in His name (John 20:31). Peter reminds us that there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Indeed the apostles taught in His name (Acts 5:41), Philip preached His name (Acts 8:12), and Paul bore His name before the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). It is His name that is to be magnified (Acts 19:17); His name that we are to call upon when we are baptized (22:16); and His name that washes, sanctifies and justifies us (1 Cor. 6:11). Saints are those who call upon His name (1 Cor. 1:2). It was in the name of Jesus Christ that Paul both exhorted the Corinthians and turned the wicked man over to Satan (1 Cor. 1:10; 5:4,5). Paul describes the name of Jesus as that which is above every name (Eph. 1:21); and it is the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess to the glory of the Father (Phil. 2:9,10). Whatever we do in word or deed, we are to do in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col. 3:17); and His name is to be glorified in us (2 Thess. 1:12). Even slaves are to live worthy of the name of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 6:1). Consequently, those who name the name of Jesus ought to abstain from wickedness (1 Tim. 2:19). The name we name is more excellent than the name of the angels (Heb. 1:4). To His name we offer a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips (Heb. 13:15). When we minister to saints, we show love to His name (Heb. 6:10). The name of Jesus Christ, by which we are called, is a fair name (James 2:7); it is the name in which we are to glorify God (1 Pet. 4:14-16). We must hold fast to that name (Rev. 2:13), fear His name (Rev. 11:18), and never deny His name (Rev. 3:8). With all these emphases on the name of Jesus Christ, it is unthinkable that any Christian would abandon it.
Should the church wear the name of Jesus Christ? Yes. Should the church denominate that name? No. The phrase church of Christ ought always to be a description of who we are and whose we are. Those who are critical of our use of that name, saying we have somehow denominated it ought to be careful that they are not guilty of the same error with other descriptions.
According to the newspaper, "Oak Hills' core values are similar to those of other evangelical churches, emphasizing the need for faith in Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection for salvation. Oak Hills also believes salvation doesn't come through baptism, but that baptism is the initial step of obedience after salvation." If Max and Company are so ashamed of the "church of Christ" that they are removing it from their signs, then perhaps they are finally being honest. Their core value is Evangelical; they have ceased to be New Testament Christians.
Much of this is taken from my book, Adrift, pp. 113-117.
John Waddeys review of ADRIFT says it is A BOOK YOU MUST READ:
Much of what has been and is being said and written against the change movement afflicting our brotherhood deals with the visible symptoms of the problem. Bro. Phil Sanders, as a skilled physician, probes deeper and identifies the specific disease that has invaded the hearts and minds of many of our brethren. The disease is "Postmodernism" an affliction of the heart and mind affecting multitudes both in and out of the church.