What Is The Difference Between “Liberal” Churches of Christ and “Conservative” Churches of Christ?

By Donald Townsley

In the introduction, let us explain the descriptive terms which we will be using. Webster says that “liberal” means: “not bound by orthodox tenets or established forms in political or religious philosophy; not conservative.” The word “conservative” means: “disposed to maintain existing institutions or views; opposed to change.”

I believe these two terms describe the views of churches of Christ today. Many churches of Christ no longer hold to the New Testament as a blueprint that is to be followed in every detail. They do many things for which there is neither command, example or necessary inference. On the other hand, there are many churches of Christ who are opposed to these departures from the New Testament pattern. They believe we must have book, chapter and verse for all we do and practice.

Let us contrast some of the views and practices of the two groups:

Liberal Churches Conservative Churches
1. Have missionary, benevolent and educational organizations to execute the work of the church. 1. Have no missionary, benevolent and educational organizations to execute the work of the church. They believe the local church is God’s only organization to do his work (Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23).
2. Have “educational directors,” “associate ministers,” “youth directors,” and “superintendents” over their human organizations. 2. Have evangelists, elders (pastors) and teachers (Eph. 4:11).
3. Seek to get crowds with “youth meetings,” “rallies,” carnal rewards such as trips to Opryland and all kinds of promotions (such as the “bus ministry”). 3. Engage in none of these things, but seek to draw men to Christ with the preaching of the gospel (Jn. 6:45; Rom. 1:16).
4. Emphasize society and the physical man by appealing to the carnal nature with “church banquets,” “church kitchens,” “church camps,” “fellowship halls,” and all kinds of parties. 4. Do not believe the church is to provide the social needs of man (Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 11:22, 34; Jn. 18:36).
5. Elevate their preachers above the rest of the members by using such titles as “doctor.” 5. Reject all such titles as unscriptural (Matt. 23:7-12).
6. Support and operate schools for secular education, beginning with kindergarten and going through schools of higher education. 6. Do not support or operate any schools. They believe that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15)
7. Do much of their work through what they call the “sponsoring church” arrangement – many churches pooling their funds under one eldership to do a general work all churches are equally related to. 7. Reject this arrangement as a violation of the New Testament pattern of congregational cooperation. In New Testament times one church only helped another church when the receiving church was in want (or need) – unable to do its own work (Acts 11:27-30). (Cooperation in such work does not require the centralized “sponsoring church”).
8. Base many of their practices on the silence of the Scriptures, and appeal to the traditions of the past. 8. Base all their practices on the unadulterated gospel of Christ (Matt. 28:18; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
9. Expect their preachers to be modern-day “pastors,” running after the members and visiting the hospitals on a regular basis and to be the “head planner” of all their projects and promotions. 9. Do not expect their preachers to leave the work of God to serve tables (Acts 6:20). They have deacons and godly women to take care of the “physical needs” of the congregation and elders to do the planning (Acts 20:28). The preacher is left free to study, meditate, pray and carry on the work of preaching the gospel to the lost (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Tim. 4:12-16). The preacher is to visit the sick because he is a Christian (Matt. 25:36), not as a “preacher duty.”
10. Have “special singing” in the assembly – different choral groups are invited in to sing. 10. Have nothing but congregational singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

(Truth Magazine, 3 May 1979, p. 290).

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 13, p. 396
July 5, 1990