By Dick Blackford
The few times I have met Charles Holt and Dusty Owens have been amicable. I have no personal dislike for them and I desire their salvation. However, I believe much of the doctrine taught in The Examiner to be dangerous to one’s faith and destructive to the body of Christ. I am also concerned about the biting sarcasm with which many articles are written which, in some cases, are downright slanderous of gospel preachers and the “people in the pew.”
The Examiner’s Attitude Toward the Assembly
The Examiner teaches that “there is no specific ‘assembly’ that is required of God and if missed (‘forsaken?’) is sinful” (Demetrius, Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 19). That New Testament Christians were in the habit of assembling regularly is abundantly clear from Hebrews 10:24,25. Christians were told to “consider one another to provoke unto love and good works: not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another.” One cannot forsake that which has never begun. This writer contends that the reason they were in the habit of assembling regularly is inherent in the things they were authorized (yes, required) to do in their collective worship and periods of edification. That these gatherings were not just a “one time occurrence” is clear from the word assembling (episunagoge), continuous action.
The teaching of The Examiner encourages “floating membership” or “membership-at-large” who have no responsibility to a particular local body of Christians. They are free-wheelers left to “free-lance” their religion with no organization to it. If anything is done with other Christians it is decided democratically. Contrary to it being a meaningless thing, the Lord had local congregations established in which Christians are to worship together, be fed, overseen, and provoked unto love and good works.
We will be using terms that are not accepted by the Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc. In objecting to “local church,” “universal church,” and “church treasury,” Holt says, “We have developed a large vocabulary of words, terms, and names that do not come from the Bible” (Vol. II, No. 1, p. 7). Of course, the editor and staff of The Examiner frequently use phraseology not found in the Bible, such as the word Bible! Let is be observed that not all Bible things have been given names. Whatever term would accurately describe such things would be in harmony with the Scriptures. (The term Great Commission does not appear in the Bible but describes a Bible idea.) This does not mean one is not “speaking where the Bible speaks” if he uses terms that describe Bible concepts. Here is a partial list of words used by The Examiner but not found in the Bible: individual, functional unit, Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc. (TAFMI), non-profit organization, the people in the pew, Bible, regular contribution (to TAFMI), congregations of the Lord’s body, mutual edification, portion of God’s people, group of disciples, reformation, renaissance, etc.
Are they speaking where the Bible speaks? With all those references to financial support, regular contributions, etc., surely they could find room for a treasury. The Examiner is playing word games.
TAFMI Surplants Local Church’s Worship
Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc. is the name of the corporate body which publishes The Examiner. While teaching that there is no such thing as a local church, no command for God’s people to assemble for worship, no authority for a treasury, etc., The Examiner argues for the right of TAFMI to conduct such worship. Note: “If we (TAFMI) should meet on Sunday, as such a group, would it be scriptural for us (the gathering or assembling) to sing, pray, study God’s word, take up a contribution to help a needy family and support to a worthy preacher in Nigeria, and observe the Lord’s Supper? If not, why not?” (No. 4, p. 7) What Scripture would they use that would not authorize a local church to do the same?
TAFMI is not a local church. It has a Board of Directors – 4 men, 2 women. While on a smaller scale, TAFMI operates on the same basis as the ministries of the electronic evangelists. They solicit donations and sell merchandise. In fact, Holt’s corporation discourages giving money into the local treasury and encourages readers to send it to his ministry.
“My brother and sister, you alone are responsible for the decision for the use of your ‘contribution’ . . . You dare not give away this responsibility. You will be held accountable before God. It is easy to merely drop our contribution into the plate and let the organization decide its use according to the operational budget. But it is a cop-out on your part!” (No. 1, p. 9) Then in soliciting for TAFMI, “This means that all monetary contributions are fully tax-deductible. The same as if dropped into the plate at what is called ‘the worship services of the church’. . . And we do need and desire your help” (Ibid). Notice the use of the word responsibility. What verse gives us that responsibility according to TAFMI? Do away with the local church and its collective worship and send your money to us! The local church and its assemblies (including the treasury) is a financial threat to TAFMI. The Examiner expresses much bitterness toward local churches. We should shut all of them down and act responsibly by sending our money to Holt’s corporation. If that were to ever happen Holt’s ministry would cause Jimmy Swaggart’s to pale in significance. Swaggart’s ministry is also “non-profit” and you can get a tax deduction for donating to it (The Examiner frequently gives this incentive for donations).
“Official Worship Stations”
Dusty Owens looks at local churches as “official worship stations.” “That makes this ‘local church’ the official meeting place where the five acts of worship are to take place” (Vol. I, No. 2, p. 17). “But we can’t think, nor can we do anything without ‘an assembly.’ That is the way we have been brain-washed. If someone took our ‘assembly’ . . . away we wouldn’t know how to behave” (Vol. III, No. 3, p. 9). Anybody knows the local church is not a place. The church is people, remember? I have never known anyone who argued that the church was a place. Owens builds a straw man. Straw men are easier to oppose. He belittled the “five acts” of worship. It so happens that there are five things that Christians are authorized to do together in assembling. Does he belittle the five acts because there are more or because there are less? Let him tell us how many there are in the assembly.
But notice again, Owens says, “While God has not commanded us to assemble for the specific purpose of worshiping him, he has commanded us to do things while assembled that when done constitute a service (worship) to him!” (Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 17) Earl Kimbrough answers Owens well in his booklet Destructive Heresies (p. 26): “If we are commanded to do certain things while assembled, how can those commands be obeyed without assembling? Would this not imply the necessity of assembling even if there were no commands, such as Hebrews 10:24,25? Owens’ reasoning is about like saying, ‘While God has not commanded us to enter the water for the specific purpose of being baptized, he has commanded us to do things while in the water that when done constitute obedience to him.'”
Five Acts of Worship
There is no question that worship is an individual matter, but it is not individual only! This is where The Examiner errs. It so happens that there are five things Christians are required to do collectively.
Owens says “they have supplicated to some extent the mind set of the Catholics that you assemble for the purpose of worshiping God” (Vol. III, No. 3, p. 8). He believes the assemblies were man-centered rather than God-centered. God forbid! Both purposes were served in that God was worshiped and men were edified. Owens arrays one against the other. That Christians assembled to worship God is seen in the things they did when assembled. Owens is requiring itemization. Whether he calls it a command or not, Christians are required to assemble to worship God.
Does God want to be worshiped? Yes (Matt. 4:10; Jn. 4:23,24). Are there acts he wants done toward him in our assemblies? Yes.
1. The Lord’s Supper. Paul said, “For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you” (1 Cor. 11:23). The only way Paul could have known God wanted the Supper in the assembly was that he “received it of the Lord.” It was done “when they came together” (1 Cor. 11: 17-20,3 3,34). Is the supper an act of worship? Yes. Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of me” (vv. 24,25). It was an act of worship directed toward the Lord. Christians assemble on the first day of the week to eat the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7). The Examiner cannot find any place where the Supper was taken outside the assembly. I deny that an assembly of the TAFMI was what the Holy Spirit had in mind.
2. Singing. The singing we do together is to be “with your heart unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:19) and “with grace in your hearts unto God” (Col. 3:16). This is in keeping with Jesus’ example. “In the midst of the congregation (ecclesia, assembly) will I sing thy praise” (Heb. 2:12). The singing we do in assembling is worship.
3. Praying. All prayer is addressed to God (Matt. 6:9f). Praying was done in the assemblies and included giving God thanks (1 Cor. 14:16; Acts 6:6).
4. Giving. Giving is an act of worship (Phil. 4:18). To prevent Paul from having to make collections, each disciple was to give on the first day of every week. This was an order (1 Cor. 16:1,2). As to the frequency of giving, this is the sum total of God’s revelation. The Examiner says this was a special contribution, for the Romans were not commanded to participate (A. Roberts, Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 25). The faulty reasoning is obvious and it essentially would destroy any obligation for us to worship today. What do they have against God anyway? Note the “logic”: Singing in the New Testament was “special circumstances” for the Philippians were never commanded to sing. The Lord’s Supper was “special circumstances” for the Thessalonians were never commanded to eat the Supper. Praying was “special circumstances” for the Galatians were not told to pray. And preaching was “special circumstances” because the Galatians were not told to preach.
5. Teaching. Speaking “as the oracles of God” glorifies him (I Pet. 4:11; 1 Cor. 10:31) and is to be done in our assemblies (1 Cor. 4:17).
Owens ignores these and says, “God has placed the emphasis of ‘coming together’ on our mutual edification. Man has distorted the teaching by placing the emphasis on ‘worshiping God.'” When Jesus said “this do in remembrance of me” he must have misplaced his emphasis, according to Owens. The point is, Owens minimizes worshiping God. He makes our coming together man-centered rather than God-centered. Both purposes were served in the assemblies (worship and edification) and neither should be minimized. Nor should one be maximized above the other.
My impression is that those aligned with The Examiner long to hear “some new thing.” Not all traditions are wrong (2 Thess. 3:6) and it just may be that once in a while the orthodox position is the correct or permissible one. A case in point: Steven Clark Goad tried to make a list of what he calls the “Church of Christ” Creed (Vol. IV, No. 1, p. 14). In his desperation he listed the use of a “wooden box or pulpit” as part of the creed. He asks, “Did Peter have a pulpit on Pentecost? Did Paul have a pulpit on Mars Hill? Did Philip while riding in the eunuch’s chariot?” Nobody knows what they had, not even Goad. And I know of nobody who says we have to have a pulpit or that it is the only way to preach. It is simply a convenient tool when speaking to a group. A kitchen table is more convenient when in someone’s home. But Goad so desperately wanted to attach a creed to the church that he listed the pulpit. Boy!
A reader wrote to Owens about his position that Christians don’t have the responsibility to assemble to worship and gave Scriptures. Owens replied that this was “the same line of argument that . . . I have used personally . . . (until I learned better). Preachers have made these points in order to keep their ‘members’ obligated to attend . . . . and support the ‘work of the church’ with their money . . . . They need the numbers and they need the money, so they assemble these Scriptures to make it sound authentic and hurl their thunderbolts from the pulpit, oh, so convincingly. The members are intimidated.”
Owens gives neither the preachers nor the listeners credit for being honest and sincerely believing these Scriptures. Instead he chooses to slander them. Is he saying these were his motives “before he learned better”? Owens does not know the mind of any man (1 Cor. 2:11). Because he so vehemently disagrees, he impugns the motives of others. Much of what I have read in The Examiner is of this nature. The Examiner needs to examine itself.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 19, pp. 583-585
October 4, 1990