By Phil T. Arnold
Sometimes labels can be very helpful. They can allow us to identify the harmful or beneficial contents of some product. They allow us to better judge the political position of some individual or even to evaluate the religious beliefs of some people. But often those labels can be used to bias and prejudice minds against consideration of the truth. The name “anti” is not new. It has been used among churches of Christ quite extensively for nearly four decades now. Often it is accompanied with statements which have caused the majority to “write-off” the “anti’s” as a small group of discontents who hate orphans, potlucks, and spreading the gospel. This conclusion is generally reached without a full consideration of the real issues which divide us and the scriptural basis for this division.
Since the term “anti” simply means “against” or “opposed to,” everyone is an “anti,” being opposed to something. And every Christian in a very real sense must be “anti” sin and Satan or else he does not belong to Christ. But since the term has and is used in a more special way in connection with those of us at the 84th Street Church of Christ and other congregations similar to us, we would attempt to give a brief summary of some of the things which we oppose which have provoked this label. We cannot speak for all those who have been called “anti” and, like anyone else, we resent being lumped together with other groups which believe and teach differently than ourselves. Therefore, we will attempt only to speak for ourselves in an effort to better convey what we are and are not opposed to.
At the outset, to help eliminate some of the false and prejudicial thinking, let us affirm that we are not opposed to Bible classes and multiply containers for the Lord’s Supper because we believe there is Bible authority for such. Nor are we “anti” anything simply to be “anti.” We are “anti” doing anything for which we cannot find scriptural authority. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). The Bible is filled with numerous examples and statements stressing the need to respect God’s authority as manifested through the word (Lev. 10:1,2). We are constantly warned not to alter God’s word (Rev. 22:18,19), not to accept any other teaching (Gal. 1:8,9), not to go beyond what is written in the Word of God (1 Cor. 4:6), and not to go beyond but abide in the doctrine of Christ if we are to have God (2 Jn. 9). So if God does not authorize a thing within his word, then we are not authorized to do it and we are “anti” that teaching or practice.
We are not opposed to mechanical instruments of music but we are “anti” the use of those mechanical instruments of music in worship to God. Throughout the New Testament the pattern is clear. God has authorized “singing” as the music which he desires in worship of him. Passages like Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 and many others reveal the will of God that people “sing” and make melody in their hearts to the Lord. Thus we have Bible authority for “singing” and so practice. But the Bible is silent concerning a mechanical instrument of music in Christian worship and thus is without Bible authority. Therefore, we are “anti.”
We are not opposed to the care of orphans and the needy of the world, but we are “anti” assigning to the church the work of general benevolence. God never intended for the church to take care of the needy of the world. I know this because through his word he has revealed his will. And in every case in the Bible where we find benevolent work being done by the church, it was always for the “saints” (Acts 2:44,45; 4:34-35; 6:1-6; 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25-26; 1 Cor. 16:1,2; 2 Cor. 8,9; 1 Tim. 5:16). The Bible again is silent concerning the church working in the realm of general benevolence. Yet, brethren have set up institutions to care for the needy of the world and called upon churches out of their treasuries to support them. This is a very emotional issue that unfortunately is often decided only on an emotional basis. Some passages of Scripture referring to individual’s obligations in this realm are often appealed to (Jas. 1:27; Matt. 25:34ff; Gal. 6:10), but they are twisted so as to make them applicable to the church as a collective unit. Again, we do not oppose providing a home for orphans or assisting the needy of the world. Every individual Christian has a responsibility in this realm as he has opportunity and ability. But we are “anti” God’s church doing anything without Bible authority and that authority comes only through the Scriptures. The Scriptures are silent concerning church-supported benevolent human institutions such as many of our brethren advocate and sponsor. Therefore, we are “anti.”
We are not opposed to preaching the gospel, making use of radio and T.V. to do such, or supporting missionaries in other lands. We are “anti” one congregation becoming a “clearing house” or “sponsoring church” through which other congregations may do a part or all of their work. We are “anti” one eldership exercising any control over the members, work, or resources of another congregation. Elders are limited to overseeing the local flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:14). Yet, the sponsoring church arrangement is presently being used by many churches to promote projects like the Herald of Truth, World Radio, Search, etc. Our opposition to such projects has nothing to do with the message they preach nor the methods they use as long as it is the gospel that is preached and as long as the congregation that is doing the work is able to finance it. This is in harmony with the principles set forth in the N.T. that every congregation see to its own work. This does not mean that we are opposed to church cooperation. In the N.T. churches cooperated, but they did so concurrently and not through centralization or the sponsoring church set-up. Churches cooperated in the support of preaching and preachers by sending directly to the preacher and not through another church (2 Cor. 11:8; Phil. 4:15,16). No church in the N.T. made another church its agent in forwarding, handling, or distributing its funds. There was no brotherhood projects as commonly spoken of today, no pooling of resources, and no loss of autonomy. Since the word of God does set forth a pattern for churches to do their work in supporting the gospel and still maintain their complete autonomy, and since the Scriptures are silent concerning the sponsoring church concept; we therefore are again “anti” those things for which there is no Bible authority.
We are not opposed to fun, recreation, sports, eating a meal together and socializing. We are “anti” such things being paid for and sponsored by the church. There is not a single passage of Scripture that even hints of such being a work of the church. Yet, churches dip into the Lord’s treasury to provide for the facilities, transportation, and means for such. I cannot read in the Scriptures about a “fellowship hall,” or a “family life center” (better known as a gymnasium), “church skating parties,” or “church softball teams,” etc. Since I am an avid fan of both sports and food and find few things more enjoyable than socializing with my brethren, I would be the first to join in if only a passage of Scripture could be found authorizing such as a work of the church. There is no doubt that the people in 1 Corinthians 11 were abusing the Lord’s Supper when Paul told them, “But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:34). But the practices of many brethren in turning the church into a “social center” rather than a “soul center” would undoubtedly draw the same response. The Scripture authorizing “church sponsored social fellowship” cannot be found. Again, we are “anti” what the Bible does not authorize.
Brethren, the only difference between the church that belongs to Christ and any denomination you can name is simply that we have Bible authority for all we do! Our practice has been and must continue to be to make an appeal to the Bible for what we call ourselves, our worship, our organization, our plan of salvation, and all that we teach and practice. Where is the authority for the church supporting benevolent human institutions to care for non-Christians? Where is the Scripture that authorizes centralization of oversight and the sponsoring church arrangement? Where in the Bible are we taught that church sponsored social fellowship is authorized? They are to be found right along side the Scripture which authorizes instruments of music in Christian worship.
We raise these questions and voice our opposition because of our love for truth, men’s souls, and peace with our brethren. What is your response? Brethren, we must have Bible authority for all that we do. Even the denominations have Bible for some of the things they teach and practice. If we do not have Bible for all we preach and practice, then we are only making a distinction between ourselves and the denominations without there really being a difference. Study, think, and pray upon these things.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 4, pp. 102-103
February 15, 1990