The Church Or A Denomination?

By Vestal Chaffin

Let us suppose that it is possible to turn back the pages of time for about thirty-five years. You and I are living in the year 1950; perhaps you are 20, 25, 30, or 40 years old. Both of us are members of the church of Christ. We are old enough to know what the Bible teaches about what the church should be in organization, work and worship. In all the Scriptures we find no authority for the church to build and support such institutions as the so-called orphan homes, the unwed mothers homes, homes for the aged, or fellowship halls for the young people, etc. We have been brought up by parents who are members of the church, and have heard many of the best gospel preachers in the brotherhood, such as N.B. Hardeman, H. Leo Boles, S.H. Hall, C.R. Nichol, R.L. Whiteside, and many others. Not only so, but we have carefully read the Bible ourselves, and we have learned that God’s word authorizes the church to engage in a threefold work: (1) evangelism (1 Tim. 3:15; Acts 11:22-26; 1 Thess. 1:6-8); (2) edification (Eph. 4:16); (3) helping the needy saints (Acts 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Rom. 15:26). We have been taught by both the Bible and faithful brethren that we must respect the authority of God’s word, and where it speaks we must speak and where it is silent, we must be silent (1 Pet. 4:14).

In the year of 1950, you and I meet a man whom we shall call, “Mr. Stranger” who likes to talk about religion. In the course of our conversation, “Mr. Stranger” tells us that he knows of a religious body of people who are rather peculiar in some ways. He says that they claim to be following the Bible, and they teach that there is only one true church. They have the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week, etc. What would you and I say in reference to that bit of information? Would we not immediately conclude that he is talking about the church of Christ?

Our friend, “Mr. Stranger” continues and says this church has on, or about its buildings the name “Church of Christ” and its members just call themselves “Christians.” We might interrupt our friend, and say, “Oh that is the church that we are members of, the true church of Christ.” But says “Mr. Stranger,” let me tell you something else about this religious body. They include in their work that of building “Fellowship Halls,” for the entertainment of their members and their friends. They have in these fellowship halls, TV sets, ping pong tables and shuffleboards, snack bars, coke machines, and other such things. (Now remember, we are living in 1950.) So after hearing these things, we are in doubt about this being the true church of Christ. No doubt we would say, that sounds like some denomination to us.

“Mr. Stranger” continues and tells us that this church that he is speaking of, makes contributions to colleges from its treasury; has built a few hospitals in some of the foreign countries where they have missionaries, and they have medical missionaries. Some of the congregations rent their parking lots for extra income purposes, and some have invested some of their money in low rent housing projects; and he tells us that this church has a few unwed mothers homes supported directly from their church treasuries; that they have women lecturers in almost every college lectureship that they have; and that they have “Christian Student Centers” in many of the state colleges; and have women employed by the local churches as “Campus Missionaries” in some of the state colleges.

Now, in this year of 1950 in which you and I are living, what is our conclusion as to what this religious body is? Would we proudly say, “Well, that is the church of Christ, and it is really on the march”? Or would we say, “Well, even though it is wearing the right name, it just can’t be the true church of Christ, for the Bible does not authorize the church to engage in such things as you have described.” We would conclude, “This definitely is not the true church of Christ, but it is a denomination that has taken the right name but has the wrong practice.”

Why would we reach such a conclusion? First, because we know that the Bible does not authorize the church to engage in any of the works mentioned by “Mr. Stranger.” Second, in the year 1950 and prior to that time, no church of Christ was ever known to engage in such works. And very likely many gospel preachers (in 1950) would have hastened to write an article exposing such erroneous practices by a religious body wearing the name church of Christ. They would have sent a copy of their article to the Gospel Advocate, and the Firm Foundation, and both papers would gladly have printed it.

But now, in 1987, just thirty-seven years later the works mentioned by our “Mr. Stranger,” are freely engaged in by the “liberal” Churches of Christ, and your name is “Mud” if you oppose the things they are doing. Why this big difference in just thirty-seven short years? Has the Bible changed? No, but many have changed their attitude toward the Bible and its teaching. I dare say that in 1950, you could not have found a member of the church of Christ that would have said that it is right for the church to engage in such works. If we would have correctly judged a church engaged in such works in 1950 to be a denomination, then what does that make the “liberal” church of Christ engaged in such works today?

Many brethren living in 1950 who would have strongly opposed the church engaging in such works then, are still living today, and are going along with all these things, and will not raise their voice in protest. Brethren, just remember that 2 John 9-11, is still in the Bible. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (emphasis mine, VC). Some of these liberal churches have joined hands already with the denominational churches, by calling on their preachers to lead prayers and speak on some occasions. About the only thing they see that separates them is the mechanical instrument of music, and some liberal churches of Christ have accepted the mechanical instruments. What would you call a religious body that did such things, “The Church” or “A Denomination”?

Many good brethren have not thought this thing through as they should. The change has been so gradual that they have accepted it without question. Brethren, we need to give heed to the warning of the apostle Paul when he said, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:8-9). “Take heed brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). The conservative churches need to heed these warnings, lest they too drift away from the truth.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 19, pp. 596-597
October 1, 1987