Examiner Perversions: Church Membership

Earl Kimbrough
Brandon, Florida

In addition to perverting Bible teaching on the nature of the church and the work of elders, The Examiner corrupts Bible teaching on congregational order. It denies local church membership, claims the individual is the only "functional unit" of the church, and absolves Christians of their duty to assemble for worship. In its warped view of congregational order, it professes to believe that church membership destroys individual liberty and responsibility. The Examiner's teaching is given in the words of its editor, Charles A. Holt.

No Church Membership

"We never read in the New Testament of anyone being a 'member of the church.' The disciples were NOT 'members of the church,' they were the church" (The Examiner, Vol. 1, p. 27,23).

Christians are the church in the sense that they are the body of Christ. The church at Corinth was the body of Christ in that city. To saints there Paul said, "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (1 Cor. 12:27). The saints at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons, comprised the church in that place (Phil. 1:1; 4:15). In both cities, individuals were members of a group collectively called the church. Those a t Corinth were members of the church at Corinth and those at Philippi were members of the church at Philippi. The New Testament does not use the expression "members of the church," but Paul says the Christians at Corinth were "the body of Christ and members individually," that is, "individually members of it" (Revised Standard Version). If one is a member of the body, then he is a member of the church (cf. Col. 1:18). "Members" (1 Cor. 12:27) refers to "members of the local church as a body" (Vine's Expository Dictionary).

Christians are members of the church the way people are members of a family. One person is not a family, but the members together make up the family. Each individual unit in a family is a member of the family. The fact that the family is organized with the father having authority as the head does not make the family something apart from the members. It would be nonsense to say, "The individuals are NOT 'members of the family,' they are the family." They are both: individually they are members of the family and collectively they are the family. Their being members of the family doesn't make the family a body separate from the members. Neither does Christians being members of the church make the church a body separate from the members.

Membership Destroys Liberty

"It must be understood also that when disciples do constitute or form themselves into such a thing or entity or corporation (the local church), that they therein lose their Individual liberty and individual responsibility" (Ibid.)

Does a woman lose her liberty and responsibility when she submits to the headship of her husband? Do children lose their liberty and responsibility by obeying their parents? Does a citizen lose his liberty and responsibility in being subject to "the powers that be"? Of course not! Participation in a divine relationship that requires submission to ordained authority does not destroy rightful liberty or responsibility. It is only through submission to the demands of truth that disciples are really free in Christ (John 8:31,32). A wife can be subject to her husband and still be free in Christ. A citizen can be subject to civil law and still be responsible to the Lord (cf. Matt. 22:21). One can also be in subjection to elders without losing any liberty or responsibility granted him by the Lord.

Members Have No Voice

Addressed to "people In the pew": "You have no voice or vote in the actions/works of the organization. . . . That leaves you out - exactly as the laity of the Catholic Church an left out in the operation of that institution. . . . Your role in the 'local church' can be summed up in two words: OBEY and PAY" (Ibid. pp. 29,30).

The most charitable thing that can be said of this is that The Examiner editor is using dramatic hyperbole to sharpen his crusade against elders and preachers. The implication is that members of the church are spiritual zombies who do nothing except what they are told to do by the elders. If there is a place where such a condition exists, I will join him in condemning it. The churches of Christ scripturally and traditionally have been member oriented. Even when elders abuse their oversight, nothing kin to the clergy-laity practice of the Roman church prevails. No disciple of Christ is required on penalty of damnation to submit to abusive elders. In fact, those who submit to dictatorial elders, whether or not they treat the members "exactly" like the Catholic clergy, violate the will of God in so doing (cf. 1 Pet. 5:14).

Furthermore, a democratic arrangement where everything is settled by a "vote in the action/works" of the members is fully as unscriptural as dictatorial elders. Where elders abuse their oversight, the flock should remove them and appoint men who will obey the Lord. But no improvement is made by substituting abusive elders with majority rule, which can be every bit as abusive. We have no sympathy with elders who would command the flock rather than lead it. But neither do we have sympathy for those who would destroy God's plan because they find some who abuse it. We do not reject baptism because of the abuse that attends it.

When I assemble with the saints for worship, I am obeying the Lord, not the elders. The Examiner's claim that the assembly and the acts of worship performed therein rest on human authority because elders determine the time and incidentals is false on its. very, face. I do not give ("pay") because the elders say do it, but because Christ says do it. Nor do I give for the elders to spend the money as they see fit with no "voice" from me in the matter. Elders are obligated morally and scripturally to use the Lord's money in keeping with the Lord's will and with the knowledge and consent of those who give it. In my judgment, elders who refuse to communicate with the church regarding the use of the treasury, or who give them no "voice" in how the money is spent, might better serve the Lord in some other capacity.

The Only "Functional Unit"

"The only 'functional unit' that the Lord has Is the individual! The individual Is God's smallest, God's largest, and God's only 'functioning unit'" (Ibid.)

If this is true, where on earth did Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc. come from? This is certainly a "functional unit" larger than the individual Christian. It has a board that oversees the distribution of The Examiner's teachings. It says: "It is our hope and prayer that many of YOU 'THE PEOPLE IN THE PEW' - will join us in this work with your prayers, financial support, promotion of the teaching, preaching and special studies work, and the helping get this paper in the hands of all Christians everywhere" (Vol. 1, p. 15). While claiming the individual is the only "functional unit" to do the Lord's work, the editor doesn't blush to build a "functional unit" larger than the individual and he has the gall to beg money which he would deny the local church to fill the coffer of Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc. He scorns the contribution of faithful Christians on the Lord's day as "pay" extracted by dictatorial elders, but a "contribution" to his "missionary society" is praised as a "gift" from a "gracious brother" (Ibid.)

The Examiner paints elders as dictators who deprive their flock of a voice in how the money is spent, but how does he describe the unknown board members who oversee the treasury of Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc.? Why, they are "deeply concerned, faithful, generous men and women who support this work financially, with their advice, writings, and in other ways" (Ibid.). What voice do you suppose you would have in that society if you made a contribution to it?

Assemblies Are Entirely Voluntary

In commenting on Hebrew 10:24,25, Holt says:

"This simply means that we need one another for our mutual benefit. . . . It Is not a law requiring disciples to congregate at a church building at appointed times, to do appointed things, In the appointed way; that Is, to attend 'worship services... (The Examiner, Vol. 2, p. 9).

"The disciples planned and arranged such assemblies on their own. They decided when, where, and with whom they would assemble for satisfying these vital personal needs. They had no corporate control of such activities" (Ibid.).

He later says the disciples met "as often as they pleased" (p. 10).

This was written to answer the question: "Do you believe . . . that Christians are required to assemble and work together for certain reasons?" Nothing is said in the question about- "a church building," but its addition gives the editor something easier to shoot at than the question. If Hebrews 10:24,25 is not a command, how could the Holy Spirit have changed it to make it one? Brother Holt says of these verses, "Christians, the disciples, are instructed by the Holy Spirit." Is divine instruction to do something less binding than a command to do it? Is there really any difference? One definition of instruct is "to order or direct" and it is given as a synonym for command (New World Dictionary). Paul says the Scriptures are profitable for "instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Does this mean they are not binding as a law? When a person is "instructed" by one in authority to perform an act, the instruction has the force of a command.

David Lipscomb pretty well expresses the meaning of Hebrews 10:24,25: "This assembly, without doubt,,was the assembling of the saints on the first day of the week to break bread. Those that refuse to thus meet and break bread violate this positive authority and command of God" (Questions Answered, p. 158).

It is impossible for Christians acting individually to arrange any kind of meeting. Either they must act collectively as a body, or they must appoint others to 'act for them. The board of Truth and Freedom Ministry cannot decide individually, "on their own," the contents of The Examiner. They either must sit as a board to pass on every item that is printed, or they must appoint a trusted editor to do it for them. Two people cannot meet for lunch if each decides "on his own" when, where, and with whom he will meet. The chances of their deciding individually to meet each other and that at precisely the same place and time is slim to none.

If Christians may assemble when, where, with whom, and as often as they please, then God has no say in the matter. If they may assemble "as often" as they please, why wouldn't once in a lifetime do, if that pleases them? If they are free to assemble with I 'whom" they please, why not with some denomination. The editor says the churches of Christ are just another denomination anyway and denominationalism is where he and his associates will very likely wind up, after they have done all the damage they can in faithful churches.

There are more errors per column inch in the first two numbers of The Examiner than in any paper we have read in recent time. It would require considerable space to deal with each of them fully. But the main errors around which all the others revolve concern the nature of the local church, the role of elders, and church membership.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 22, pp. 678-679
November 20, 1986