Churches of Christ and the Other Churches

Over on The Christian Chronicle website there’s an article asking about how Churches of Christ can interact with other local Christian churches (read it here). The article is part of a series called “Bridges & Barriers” and I have enjoyed the two previous article in the series.

I’m glad to hear this article is in the works as I think it is past due that Churches of Christ learn how to work cooperatively with other local churches. In most of my ten years as a minister, I have enjoyed participation with other churches. In Ithaca, New York, besides meeting with other local pastors on a regular basis for prayer and encouragement. The Ithaca Church of Christ partnered with volunteers from Young Life to run an after school coffee house ministry (the church building was near the high school) which was also supported by some other local churches. Likewise, the Ithaca Church of Christ also helped support the Ithaca Pregnancy Center, a ministry to expecting mothers that was ran by another local church.

Here in Columbia, where I minister with the Columbia Church of Christ, I meet with other local pastors for lunch, prayer, and encouragement. One of the things we prayer for is all of the local churches. Our church has also partnered with other local churches in local initiatives aimed at helping the poor among our community. I’m also blessed to be a Doctor of Ministry student at Northern Seminary where I learn from a myriad of other pastors.

Those who come from the Churches of Christ know that our fellowship has often eschewed participation with Christians from other local churches. That was a consequence of sectarianism, which more and more churches in our fellowship have left behind. However, as this is still new waters for many Churches of Christ, there still might be some hesitation and questions. So I want to offer a few reminders/suggestions.

  1. Trust Jesus, walking by faith rather than remaining isolated in fear of other churches. Their aim is the same as your aim: to live as witnesses of Jesus Christ. In the Bible-belt where there are still plenty of local Churches of Christ, it is easy to remain isolated from other local churches. But in the rest of North America—an increasingly post-Christian North America—organized ministry within the community will require more collaboration. Remaining isolated will not only be detrimental to faith but also to the mission of God.
  2. Focus on our common confession of faith in Jesus Christ rather than the doctrinal differences. Each church will likely still be gathering for worship in their own meeting places, being led and taught by their own leaders. So many of these doctrinal differences and the church practices that come as a result of those doctrinal differences will likely never become an issues to deal with and work through.
  3. Be humble and be a fellow learner on a journey together in Christ. In one of the comments on the Christian Chronicle article linked to above, someone suggests that Churches of Christ should interact with other churches saying, “We can pray for them and also teach them; not what WE think; but what the Bible teaches!” How about a little humility! Yes the Churches of Christ can pray for those other churches, just as they should pray for us. And yes we can teach them just as they can teach us something if we all are willing to collaborate as learners who are journeying together seeking the kingdom of God (cf. Matt 6:33). Neither the Churches of Christ nor any other local church has a full understanding of the Bible and a perfected Christian faith, so we all benefit by coming together, praying for each other and learning from each other that we may help each other live as faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Well, those are my thoughts. What are some of your thoughts?

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23 responses to “Churches of Christ and the Other Churches

  1. This is scary ground for a lot members in a lot of coc’s. Just mentioning such things is enough to bring questions about your loyalties. I have worked in the coc for the last 12 years. I also have a degree from a baptist university. You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) how many people would prefer a state college over a baptist college. Or just how much questioning you get when applying for a postiont with a coc. The mindset for many is that we are at war with non-coc’s. It’s sad, most people don’t even know why they are so pasionate about it.

    • That is sad but I believe it is changing with time. The Churches of Christ, and any other Christian fellowship that has struggled with sectarianism, must reflect and come to grips with Mark 9:38-41…

      “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
      “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”

  2. Rex, I think you are on target on all three points. At the church where I am an elder (Hills C of C, Ft. Worth, TX) we have had a pulpit exchange about this time of the year for several years with a thriving Independent Christian Church and their preacher. Little things can be the start of bigger things. We did this sort of thing in the early days of our movement. I think things may be coming full circle.

    • I am glad to hear this about the Hills CoC, not just because I think it is a healthy step forwards but also because of the influence your congregation has within our own fellowship. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I was asked this question; “What IF a person is led down a path that cost him/her salvation as a result of my efforts to “work with others”?

    Did make me think. I do have a responsibility to the lost I encounter.

    • Here’s where we need to trust Jesus all the more. Such “what if” questions such as these seem only to be a means of fear (ultimately from Satan) to keep from stepping forward.

  4. Some say I am of Apollos, some say I am of Paul, some say I am of Christ, is Christ divided? If Christ died for and built only one church, HIS, why would I want to entertain the idea of fellowshipping with a man made “body”? What fellowship has light with darkness? Were we not called out of darkness? What about the words we see in Acts 2, those who were baptized, were the one who gladly received the words of Peter. And what did Peter say after they asked that age old question, “what must we do”. Peter said, repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins. Now a Baptist preacher would never say that to the lost, yet you folks here seem to think its ok. Darkness and light don’t mix gentleman. Not everyone who says to (Christ) me will enter into the kingdom of heaven. I wonder what He meant by that?

  5. OK, here’s my take. What is the Church? It is the resurrected Body of Christ. What does that mean? Though it has sinful members, the Church itself has the qualities of Christ’s resurrected Body. It is incorruptible, eternal, and because of that utterly faithful to its call to preserve the doctrine that it is to teach, to make disciples and to baptize. It is incapable of being divided; it is ontologically incapable of being divided; it is His Resurrected Body and will preserve the fulness of doctrinal and noetic Truth in Christ.
    So, when you start talking about different Churches, I do not see that language in Scripture and it is an expression of unbelief about the nature of Christ, His Resurrection, and His Salvation, and His Church. It is a form of falling away from the faith. It has an appearance of wisdom, but is not based on Scripture. The early Church of Christ was right on this one; the Church ought to be united and speaking the same thing doctrinally. They were wrong however, for they believed that the Church had fallen away and needed to be restored. Christ in Scripture said that this was not true. At that time in history the Church was hard to find but it did not need to be restored.
    When the Normans invaded England in 1066, vast numbers of the Orthodox Church fled to the protection of the Byzantine Empire. They became members of the Emperors guard, the Varangians. The established villages named after English towns. At that time in history, when apostasy was setting in by the Norman and Roman Catholic invasion, the Christians knew that they needed to find Bishops of the Church who were faithful; they knew they needed to find the Church, for it is the Resurrected Body of Christ. Hundreds of ships left England for Byzantium at that time.
    Yes, there are thousands of different groups saying that they are part of the Church and in them are many sincere, God-loving, and God-serving, Christians; however, unless they have recovered the Church, Orthodox and Catholic, they are in the state of Apollos who was zealous for the Truth but had not found the Church and its doctrine, and he had to have the Way explained more perfectly to him. They are like the Ethiopian Eunoch, who read Scripture but did not understand because he did not know the Tradition of the Church, nor had he received Baptism into the Church. They are like the Ephesians, baptized into John’s baptism, who had not learned the fulness from the Apostles and their successors.
    So, I have to say, though I held Rex’s viewpoint for many years, it was based on experience and not on a vigorous reading of Scripture. It was based on the observation of division amongst Christians, with thousands of different views on Scripture, and with no consensus as to what is of first importance and what is of least importance. An evangelical Anglican will say baptism is essential for salvation. The Salvation Army guy will disagree and further say that we do not even take Communion with bread and wine. The evangelical Quaker will keep silence throughtout Church with no liturgical and only the free moving of the Spirit. But the Charismatic Episcopals will Liturgize. The Lutherans will say the Creed with altered words for the Catholic Church. And The Christian Church will oppose Creeds with their unwritten Creed. TULIP Presbyterians will speak of double predestination. Arminians will disagree. Most will say salvation is imputed Justification but the Wesleyans will say it is impartation.. This is not evidence of Divine Inspiration but comes from somewhere else. But the Spirit and the Bride say “come.” Come and see the resurrected Body of the Lord.

    • Ben,

      When I speak of different churches, I am not denying that ontologically there is one church, the body of Christ. What I am saying is that there are Christians who gather in different locations, for which I am referring to them as localized churches. This plural use of the word ekklesia is found within scripture (Acts 15:41; 16:5; Rom 16:4, 16; 1 Cor 7:17; 11:16; 14:34; 16:1, 19; 2 Cor 8:1). That we have stamped our own tribal identities to differentiate our particular church from other churches—such as Assemblies of God, Catholic Church, Churches of Christ, Lutheran Church, Orthodox Church, United Methodist Church, and so on—is certainly a perpetuation of division but that is not the way I want to encourage us to think of other churches…just as much as I don’t want to encourage us to think of churches as buildings rather than the people who confess faith in Jesus Christ.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  6. The Lord died for and built only one church, His. Why would I want to entertain the idea of fellowship with a man made organization? Some say I am of Apollos, some say I am of Paul, some say I am of Christ, is Christ divided? Why would I entertain the idea of fellowship with those who teach things contrary to God’s word.? What fellowship has light with darkness? What about those words in Acts 2, where they asked “what must we do”? Peter responded and said, repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins. Those who received the message of Peter were said to have “gladly received” Why would I entertain the idea of fellowship with any group who offers different answers to that question. It seems that many are filling their own belly’s, lusting after their own desires, wanting to be more and more like the world. To be a follower of Christ, one must follow. We are to hang our souls on every word and every teaching of His, in humble obedience. We follow the same path that He has led us. When we change paths, we become lost walking in darkness.

    • “Peter responded and said, repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins.”

      That’s not exactly what Peter said. You’ve seem to forget the part about “in the name of Jesus” and “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So why should I entertain the idea of fellowship with you when you’ve offered a different answer than Peter’s answer in Acts 2:38?

      I hope you have all of your doctrine absolutely 100% correct because the logic of your argument says that there is no grace for a believer if they happen be wrong on any teaching of the scripture. So you should expect no grace from God should you learn upon the day of Judgment that you too have misunderstood some portion of scripture and in fact taught what is contrary to the will of God.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  7. Peter said, repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins. When you do that you are doing so in the name of Jesus Christ, or by His authority. When you teach someone to do something else to gain salvation, you are doing so in their name, because Christ only authorized one way. A believer is one who has been saved by the authority of Jesus Christ. And God adds those who are being saved to HIS church.

  8. Read Romans 2:25-29 before you decide who God will save and who he won’t save. I have learned much from my baptist, mennonite, catholic, and methodist friends and some who don’t attend anywhere.
    As Einstein said, ” we are all like little schoolchildren”.We have a lot
    more in common than we have differences. You will gain more respect
    from others if you work with them as much as possible while respecting doctrinal differences.

    • Eli,

      I’m not sure who you are speaking to in your comment but I appreciate it and agree with you. Thanks for commenting.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

    • Eli,
      Paul is reminding the Jews that their heritage and the fact that they were circumcised was not enough, pass tense, they had failed to obey the law (the law of Moses). They had a heart problem and did not obey God. Circumcision alone was not good enough. Obedience is the key to these passages. To use circumcision and un-circumcision and equate that to baptism and non-baptism is taking the passages out of context. Circumcision of the heart would be repentance, cutting away that which is evil and humbly obey God. I suggest you read Romans 6 to understand what baptism is and for. I’m only concerned with being obedient to God, if I gain the whole world ( respect) and lose my soul, what have I gained? You say, before I decide who is saved? That’s not my decision nor is it yours, I can only state what scripture teaches.

      • Jeff,

        Have you read any N.T. Wright and James D.G. Dunn on the historical background of Second-Temple Judaism (the worldview of the Jews in the first century) to see how circumcision functioned as an identity marker? If you havn’t then I would suggest doing so. Then follow Paul’s argument about justification by faith through Romans, noting in Romans 4 that Paul mentioned that Abraham was justified by faith prior to circumcision. While baptism is the normative means by which God seeks to crucify us with Christ and raise us into the new life of Christ, I think Paul would be appalled by the way modern Christians have used their dogma about baptism and other issues as a boundary marker to determine who is in and out of the kingdom of God. We all, just like Abraham, are justified by faith!

        Grace and Peace,

        Rex

  9. gentle readers of this blog.
    The circumcision to baptism analogy is used in Col. 2:11-12. I agree it is not as clearly apparent here in Romans. This passage helps us see that God is concerned where our hearts are. Paul is building a case in Rom. 1-7 that man can never fully obey and will mess up. That’s why we need Christ to “set us free from the law of sin and death,,,,in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us,” (8:2-4) How? Through justification by faith. Thanks for spurring my mind on these matters.

    • And how are we justified by faith? through obedience. Galatians 3:26,27 ” For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” One of the problems that remained at Colossae was the Jews still held to the idea that physical circumcision was needed. Verse 11 circumcision and repentance, vs 12 baptism. The Christian dogma of baptism? Paul preached it, Peter did, remember 1 Peter 3:21 “There is an anti type which now saves us, BAPTISM, not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:12,14 ” giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the Saints in the light. In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” The only way to wash away our sins, is through baptism. We have somethings to do to be qualified, believe, repent, confess and be baptized, we are then qualified for the inheritance. ” I think of you gentleman when I read Gal 1:6f When Paul said, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ. But even if we, or angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you, let them be accursed.”

      • Jeff,

        This is my last comment on this post, as I must move on to other things.But here is what I want to say…

        Before you imply that I or anyone else is turning away from the grace of Christ to another gospel and give a lecture about baptism you should get out a copy of Greek New Testament and tell me why in Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12 the action in baptism is spoken of in the passive voice? In other words, who is doing the baptizing? Then come back to your comment and see if there is anything you would like to revise.

        Grace and Peace,

        Rex

        P.S. I never said anything about “The Christian dogma of Baptism?.” What I said was the way modern Christians have used their dogma about baptism. There is a difference.

      • Rex what drivel, the performer (ie the baptizer) is not important. The Colossians were the ones who were buried with Christ in Baptism, that’s the point in Col 2:12. The lecture as you call it was simply scripture quoted. Clear scripture teaching the necessity of baptism. You have become polluted with human wisdom, which is foolishness to God. You are twisting God’s word to your own destruction. May you find your way back, before its everlastingly to late, sincerely.

  10. Last year I participated in a massive evangelism outreach organized by the Charismatic Evangelistic Ministry in Kintampo, a city in Ghana. It was the first time I had witnessed a program of such magnitude. There was a healing and deliverance service every evening for 3 days and during the day time, we share food items, clothing, farm tools, detergents and medications. We reached out to the very poor, the aged, the needy, and as many as the resources were enough to supply. I was amazed at how they hosted me as a minister from COC and allowed me to just be part of them. When I posted a picture concerning the programme on a facebook, one minister of COC asked me whether I have left the church of christ. In Ghana, this sectarianism syndrome is so dominant and prevalent among churches of christ that other brethren will brand you an apostate when they see you attending programmes of other churches. I am happy to know that there are a lot of people out there like Rex and others who are spiritually matured to understand that knowing christ goes beyond sectarian barriers. I am afraid to say that many churches of christ especially in Ghana are towing the line of Phariseeism in their self-righteous attitude. We brag about being the only candidates for heaven and all other christian lost to hell just because we bear the name church of christ. God have mercy!!!

    • Thank you for sharing that experience. I too have experienced that gracious hospitality from Christians and ministers that come from other church traditions and it is amazing.

      It is unfortunate that the sectarianism which has plagued the Churches of Christ in America was a seed that many missionaries carried with them to other countries, including Ghana. Just continue to follow Jesus as he leads, not as other Churches of Christ expect, and you will sow a different seed.

      May the walls of sectarianism, wherever they are found, come down!

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  11. thanks for the article. It is a good reminder of where some are. I have been working closely with churches in our area since my arrival and that has always been a part of what I do. I forget not everyone enjoys such blessings. Other than a recent hiccup I have never had issues.

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