By Thomas G. O’Neal
The last few years have seen the start of a number of congregations seeking to follow Christ. Some of these have begun where there was none before. Others have started because those that existed departed from New Testament teaching to the point that brethren that wanted to follow the New Testament had to get out and start all over again. Division was not pleasant, yet it was necessary in order to follow the New Testament pattern because those in the older liberal churches were not about to give up their digression. Thus, “liberal” and “conservative” churches of Christ became a reality.
Many young men with faith in God and His word took their stand with truth and against the large, liberal congregations. Men not so young did the same thing. I was among the number. I believe we did right, and would do so again, Out of a need to oppose institutionalism, some evidently got in the opposing mood and some things that should have been studied and discussed within reason were pressed out of hand. Some began to press one matter and others another matter thinking that faithfulness to the Lord depended on their preaching and pressing these matters.
We would do well to look at apostolic preaching. Jesus said go preach the gospel (Mk. 16:15). Paul said to the Corinthians he determined to know nothing among them “save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Philip went to Samaria and preached “Christ” (Acts 8:5) and preached “Jesus” to the eunuch (Acts 8:35).
One needs to learn that there is a great difference in preaching “Christ” and preaching what “his position” is on some question. Brethren, we need to, be. slow to “take a position” but rather “begin at the same scripture and preach unto him Jesus.” One needs to be careful about dividing the church over some matter that affects the activity of the individual. I can work and worship with brethren who may not see things of an individual nature as I do. I should be willing to objectively study such questions, but never divide the church over them. Look at some such questions.
(1) Posture in Prayer. Should some one desire to kneel when they pray, that is fine with me and they will hear nothing from me about such. However, if they press the matter to the point that prayer is not scriptural unless one kneels, they cause trouble over something that affects the individual and not the congregation.
(2) No Women Teachers. There are those that believe that women in a class should not instruct people in the word of God. If they believe such, no one should ask them to violate what they believe the New Testament teaches. Yet, they should not seek to leave the impression those women who teach God’s word, under New Testament restrictions, are great sinners.
(3) No individual cups. Some brethren feel that a plurality of communion cups are contrary to New Testament teaching. Under no circumstances would I want them to violate what they think the Scriptures teach. They should not be out trying to convert people to this way of thinking before they ever obey the gospel. Let them use their cup but let them also count faithful to the Lord those that use a plurality of drinking vessels. The New Testament teaches only one cup; we may drink that one cup out of many drinking vessels.
(4) Limited Song Books. Some brethren have wanted to limit the use brethren can make of song books. Some object to taking song books to individual homes or any place else for the purpose of singing the praise of God. If they so object, then let them refrain from the practice. However, they should respect brethren who want to borrow song books in order to learn how better to worship God. A song book is just a book containing Bible teaching. Would it be wrong to take Bibles from the meeting house in order to teach someone or to better learn how to serve God? If not, what is the difference? Yet, I have known of brethren opposing such who sang out of song books that I have taken from the meeting house to a funeral home. If someone does not think it proper to use song books owned by the church for any purpose other than public, church worship, let them so believe, but do not disturb brethren over such matters.
(5) Chairs Limited. Along with not using song books, some have suggested it is wrong to take chairs from the meeting house to private homes in which people sit while they sing from the song books. Again, if a person so believed, I would not try to get them to take a chair from the meeting house to sit in while singing. If the preacher had a chair from the meeting house in his study at home to sit in while he worked on sermons, would it be sinful for him to sit in it while he prepared his tax returns? In an effort to restore New Testament Christianity, we would do well to stop when we get back to Jerusalem and not destroy our heads on the wall of Jericho.
(6) No public announcements. Sometimes a family will want to invite other Christians in the congregation over to their home after services some evening. I have known of some brethren who would not permit such an announcement to be made. One church would let a woman in the congregation stand at the door and announce it to each family as they were leaving the building, and another church would not let such announcement be made from the pulpit at the close of services, but would let it be placed on the bulletin board at the rear of the building and a public announcement made to the effect that there was an announcement posted on the bulletin board that everyone should see as they were leaving. If some one does not think it proper to make such announcements from the pulpit, do not force them to do so, yet they should not disturb brethren over such.
(7) No Pant Suit. Another issue that seems to some to be more important than the gospel of Jesus Christ is whether a Christian lady may scripturally wear a pant suit. No one favors wearing immodest clothing whether dress or pant suit. Let each lady determine for herself in keeping with New Testament teaching what she will wear. Let preachers cease making “their position” what others should do and thereby disturbing good churches. It would be an assumption to say all dresses are modest and it is just as much an assumption to say all pant suits are immodest. If brethren would stop pushing their view, we would have little difficulty with this matter.
(8) Length of Hair. The term “long” with reference to the length of hair in 1 Cor. 11 is a relative term, not an absolute term. As long as sex distinction is maintained the teaching of 1 Cor. 11 has been observed. However, in the last several years we have seen a change in hair styles, not all of which violate New Testament teaching. We have come from the “flat-top” for men being in style to the “dry look.” When men had the “flat-top” I heard no one commend them for following New Testament teaching. But when men went to the “dry look” some began to preach against long hair on men. One preacher said that if hair was long enough to hang down over a. man’s ears, partially covering them, such was unscriptural, but if the same length of hair was combed back over the ears so as to expose the whole ear such was scriptural. Who said so? He did, not the word of God. Another preacher said if a woman ever put the shears to her hair, she did not have long hair. If this is so, then the same would also apply to men. Admittedly, some men wear their hair different to what I want mine, but such is no reason to disturb good brethren over such a matter. No Christian favors the “hippy cult” but every Christian with hair touching his ears is not ungodly. If so, then gospel preachers a generation ago were ungodly for most of them had hair longer than the average today. It has not been brethren discussing this matter that has caused problems, it is a few wanting to push their views upon the consciences of good brethren. Discussing the scriptures will not cause problems; pushing your view upon another will.
(9) Covering. The covering of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 has been discussed by brethren through the years. Brethren should study this passage from the word of God in an objective manner. However, the application of the passage affects the individual woman and should be left there. Elders would do well not to make it a test of fellowship, saying if one did not agree with their view on this question that they had gone beyond the “doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9-11). They would do well not to determine if they would have fellowship with a gospel preacher based on whether he agreed with them on this or not. Preachers could find plenty to preach on without having to get “their position” on the matter before the congregation within a matter of a few weeks of their moving to a place to work. Study of scripture will not affect the unity of a congregation but a preacher trying to force his thinking on all the ladies within a congregation will. Do not make your conscience on this the guide for another.
(10) No Funeral. Some have taken the position that funerals cannot be conducted in the meeting house. A gospel preacher can preach for a number of years the teaching of the scriptures on life, death and the judgment, but when he dies there are those that think it improper to assemble in the same building for others to preach and teach the same scriptural lessons he taught. Sometimes trouble can be talked up when and where none exist. I know of at least one place when the length of years I have known the town it was the custom to have funerals in the funeral homes. I never knew of the faithful having a funeral in any of their meeting houses, but not because they considered it wrong. Yet a few brethren have done a good job talking this problem into the front of the brethren’s attention. Why would brethren create a problem over that which they are not and have never practiced? If it is scriptural to “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18), what scripture is violated if a casket is in the same room?
(11) No Wedding. Some have raised objection to having a wedding ceremony in the meeting house. Again, when most gospel preachers read wedding vows for a couple, they are just doing some Bible teaching. No one would object to a gospel preacher teaching what Jesus and the apostles taught on marriage and related matters. If during the teaching done by a gospel preacher, a couple wants to get married, a thing the Lord taught could be done, what scripture is violated? If it is wrong for one person to get married in the meeting house, it is wrong for any person to get married in the meeting house. I have known of brethren forbidding one person to get married in the meeting house, yet because of “position” let another get married in the meeting house. I have known of those that are opposed to having weddings in the meeting houses of brethren yet they would go to a building owned by a denominational body. If such is sin in one place, it is sin in both places. Instrumental music in worship is sinful in the meeting houses of brethren and it is also in denominational buildings. Who would have thought brethren would ever oppose gathering to hear God’s word preached on death and marriage? If there are brethren who really are opposed to such, let them both refrain from attending such and making their conscience the guide for another.
(12) No Invitation Song. Some have disturbed brethren over the matter of having an invitation song at the close of a gospel lesson-a song designed to encourage people to obey the gospel. One church I know of was about completely destroyed by a preacher advocating the view. One of the designs of singing is “teaching” (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). What makes it right to teach in spoken word but not in words sung? The “bride” says “come” (Rev. 22:17) and the bride of Christ is His church (Eph. 5:22-33). What is wrong with the church saying to sinners “come” to Christ?
(13) No Evening Lord’s Supper. Others have opposed having the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening. The Lord placed his supper in the kingdom on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7). Any time on the Lord’s Day saints may eat the Lord’s Supper. The supper on Sunday evening no more constitutes a “second supper” or “a second serving” than preaching on Sunday evening constitutes a “second gospel” or a plurality of containers constitutes a plurality of cups. There is one Lord’s Supper just as there is one cup. We may drink of “the cup” out of different containers and we may eat the Lord’s Supper at different times but it is still just the “cup” of the supper of the Lord. It is the Lord’s Supper. I do not have the right to refuse brethren the right to do what the Lord said they should do on the Lord’s Day. When the younger divide the body of Christ over such, let not the older condemn them so severely for they are just putting into practice what the older have taught. The root of the problem is what they have been taught.
Other such matters could be mentioned. However, these should suffice to show how some want to make matters of individual understanding and practice a matter that they want to line everyone up with “their position.” I know of no one who holds all of these positions. Those holding one or more of these positions will think someone holding some of the others are extreme in the views and vice versa. Brethren would have little difficulty with such matters if a few didn’t seek to set forth “their position” on such matter. Let each study the New Testament and practice what he concludes he should. These matters do not affect the worship, function, organization and work of the church. Pressing these matters does not build up the work of the Lord.
Truth Magazine XXII: 36, pp. 584-586
September 14, 1978