By Warren E. Berkley
Here is a situation that isn’t hypothetical. It is common, thus worthy of our attention.
In a local church where there is a history of objection to the sponsoring church arrangement and other unauthorized innovations, war breaks out. Brethren “bite and devour one another,” and the ugly result is “envy and self-seeking . . . confusion and every evil thing” (Gal. 5:15; Jas. 3:16). There is a division, perhaps followed by another; snide, sarcastic remarks. Preachers are fired, elders resign, members are agitated and a cold sterile atmosphere takes hold.
In the midst of this turmoil, as impatience and disgust turns into bitterness, there are some who just quit. They join a nearby liberal church, enter into the mainstream of Protestant denominationalism, or entirely give up the matter of religion. Though I’m not altogether satisfied with this description, I’m going to call this: reactionary apostasy.
Reactionary apostasy is usually accompanied by a statement something like these: “I’m fed up with conservative churches of Christ,” or “There has got to be something wrong with ‘conservative church of Christ’ religion.”
This needs to be addressed. So I beg your consideration toward these thoughts. Reactionary apostasy is fraught with at least two flaws.
(1) Rejecting teaching, merely on the basis of misbehavior. Suppose someone were pressed to define “conservative church of Christ” religion. Personally, I’m not comfortable with this label. I would rather communicate with scriptural language and deal with “the gospel,” “the truth,” “the Lord’s church,” or even New Testament Christianity. Yet, in the interest of being realistic and accommodative, and for the purpose of dealing with this matter of reactionary apostasy, .let’s formulate a definition of “conservative church of Christ” religion. Perhaps this religion would entail the following items of conviction:
a. There is “one God, and Father of all, who is above all” (Eph. 4:6).
b. The Bible is the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16,17).
c. Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and is the only begotten Son of God, who died for our sins, but arose and ascended to the right hand of God (Matt. 1:21; Rom. 1:1-4; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Jn. 1:14,29).
d. Man’s number one problem, and the great tragedy of all humanity is sin (Rom. 1:18-3:23).
e. The gospel is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16,17).
f. Those who would be saved by the gospel of Christ, must hear, believe and obey that message (Rom. 6:17,18; Mk. 16:15,16; Heb. 5:9).
g. Baptism is essential unto salvation (Mk. 16:15,16; Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21; Gal. 3:26,27).
h. After baptism, God requires a life of faithfulness (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:42; Col. 2:6,7).
i. Jesus built his church, one body; and it came into existence on the day of Pentecost (Matt. 16:16-18; Acts 2:47; Eph. 1:22,23; 3:10,21; 4:4).
j. Local churches are charged to do the works of evangelism, edification, and benevolence for needy saints (Acts 20:28,32; 1 Thess. 1:8; Phil. 4:15; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).
k. The local church is to be financed by the voluntary giving of the members, as they respond according to their own prosperity (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
1. When fully developed, local churches are to have scripturally qualified elders, deacons and saints (Phil . 1:1; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3).
m. We are to worship the Father “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24).
n. Evangelists are to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2).
o. As individual Christians and as collective groups (local churches), we are obligated to abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9; Phil. 4:9; Matt. 7:24-27; 28:18-20).
If you can – for the sake of this present study – regard this as a summary of those things believed and taught by “conservative churches of Christ.”
Now here is my point: when people who teach these things become embroiled in battle with one another, and manifest ungodly attitudes to the point of unjustified division, by what reasoning do we conclude that these 15 principles are faulty?
Somebody needs to explain this to me. Am I missing something? When people who teach these things turn a local church into a mess, by what reasoning are we supposed to conclude that these principles are invalid? Help me here.
If a man who believes in the existence of God throws himself into a pile of iniquity, crime and shame . . . should this cause me to question God’s existence?
If a group of people who preach that the Bible is inspired involved themselves in dishonesty, jealousy and other acts of disobedience . . . does this mean that the Bible may not be inspired?
Do we prove that what a man is teaching is false, by pointing to his foolish behavior? No, we must never reject some proposition simply because the one who advances it is inconsistent. We examine teachings; we test doctrines in one and only one way: by the light of Scripture (Acts 17:11).
I’m persuaded, a connection is being made here that doesn’t logically follow! When a group of people bite and devour one another, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything they have been teaching should be called into question! By no means.
When a “conservative church of Christ” falls into turmoil and disorder, they fell into chaos in spite of the above principles, not because of them. When “conservative brethren” act in a manner that isn’t befitting the gospel, that misbehavior says nothing about the gospel. It says a great deal about lack of commitment, weakness in yielding to temptation, and hypocrisy. But it says nothing about the truth of the gospel, or the integrity of New Testament Christianity!
Anytime there is a big church fight or division, be assured somebody isn’t obeying God’s word! It may be just a few; it may be everybody. But when such an ugly mess arises, it does not mean that everything these folks have taught and stood for is suspect. It means: somebody isn’t obeying God’s word. (When the apostle Peter, in Galatians 2:11-16, ” played the hypocrite,” that misbehavior did not diminish the integrity of anything he had taught on the day of Pentecost!) But, reactionary apostasy faces another problem.
(2) “You can run, but you can’t hide!” When you abandon “conservative church of Christ” religion, where do you go? Liberal churches are not immune from the ugly spectacle of uproars caused by selfishness and stubborn sin. Denominational churches have internal battles, and open political warfare between parties who struggle for power. Where will you go? Paul Harvey often says, “You can run, but you can’t hide!”
Let it be granted, it is a real challenge to your attitude, perseverance and commitment to go through internal strife. And there are circumstances where, for consciences’ sake, one must leave a group and identify with another congregation. But when you find yourself in the middle of an ugly mess, consider that there is a right way and wrong way to react.
I’m saying – reactionary apostasy is not the answer. (1) It is based on an invalid connection, between what a group has taught and the way they act. Misbehavior doesn’t necessarily mean that the teachings have been invalid. (2) Reactionary apostasy takes you somewhere else, with no guarantee that you won’t meet the same ugly spectacle, sooner or later.
Don’t just react out of the subjective emotion of bitterness. Stand for the truth, support those who stand for it; live as you should; resist the devil, and remember “. . . if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 3, pp. 67-68
February 1, 1990