Why the Church of Christ
The idea 'why I'm a member of the Church of Christ' is nothing new. Several books have been written under that title, or something similar to that title. And I'm sure I'm not the first preacher ever to preach a sermon on the subject. However, the idea came to me as I spoke to someone about their family's religious background. And they said something that I had heard all too many times before.
I was speaking to a young man and he was talking about his wife's family. And he was saying that his wife's family were Baptists. He was a member of the church, but his wife's family were Baptists. This person said to me, in our conversation, "When I go visit my wife's relatives, we all go to the Baptist church on Sunday. After all," he said, "aside from the piano, there's really not much difference between them and us. Is there?"
Well, we went on to talk about other things, but inwardly I marveled that one who had supposedly grown up in the church could be so uninformed, so mistaken. His comment about us being practically the same as our Baptist neighbors made me question again why I- and you know my background, I was raised Catholic and there was a time I was part of the charismatic churches. So I began to question, once again, why I am a member of the Church of Christ and not some other group. After all, merging with other religious organizations and finding ways to cooperate on various projects is quite popular today. And Baptist or Methodist or charismatic, whatever, these are good moral people like us. Why should we try to remain distinct? Why should we make the effort to remain apart? Maybe if we merged a little more, mixed a little more, people might stop accusing us of thinking we're the only ones going to Heaven.
So I reviewed again in my mind, why I am a member of the Church of Christ. Remember, my father wasn't an elder. I was converted, I was baptized when I was 30-years-old, and I had already two very significant religious experiences under my belt. So I asked myself, why did I come here? Why did I choose this? Why did I stay?
And this morning, I'd like to share with you a couple of those reasons. There are lots of reasons, but because of time, I've chosen three important reasons, not only why I'm a member of the Church of Christ, but why I am thankful that I am a member of the Church of Christ.
Why the Church of Christ
1. We Have the Right Lord
Well, the first reason is kind of obvious. I'm a member of the Church of Christ because we have the right Lord. Now this may seem like a no brainer, but when you step back and you look at the world as a whole, this is very important. Take a look at the entire world. And when you do, you see, for example, that unbelievers, those who don't believe in God, those who don't believe in anything, they have Satan as their Lord, whether they know it or not. Luke 4:5-6 and John 12:31 tell us that. This group that believes in nothing, this group makes up a majority of the world at this time. It's a pretty important distinction, isn't it?
And then, there are those who believe in a form of God that they themselves have created. For example, Eastern religions that see God as some kind of impersonal power or force, or pagan religions that imagine God as some form of nature or some form of animal or some form of superhuman. People who believe this also make up a large percentage of the world.
And then you have millions of people who have been fooled into believing in a God that rejects Jesus Christ as the Lord, and their religion is based completely on the removal of Christ as the Savior. Muslims, for example, who substitute Mohammed; and Jehovah witnesses, who reduce Christ to the position of an angel.
As you can see, those who call Jesus, "Lord," are in the minority. There's a big section of the world that either doesn't believe in God, believes in a God that they've just created themselves, or believes in a God that actually denies that Christ is Lord.
The Church of Christ, by its very name, honors the One who has been honored by God as Lord, and that is Jesus. Of course, we're not the only ones to do this. Don't get me wrong. We're not the only ones that say Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God. We're not the only ones who do this, but for now, what is important is that the Church of Christ publicly acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the Lord, the King, the Savior, the living divine Son of God. And I am happy to be a member of a church that is not ashamed to confess the name of Jesus. Because,
If we confess His name before man, He will confess our name before the Father.
- Matthew 10:32
Also, because as Peter says in Acts 4:12,
There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.
- Acts 4:12
I'm glad to be a part of the church that openly acknowledges as Lord, the only One that can save all men, and that is Jesus Christ. So we have the right Lord.
2. We Have the Right Book
Secondly, I'm happy to be a member of the Church of Christ because we have the right book. From the very beginning, God's people have always been a people whose lives and whose practice have been based solely on God's inspired word.
This was true of the Israelites in the Old Testament, who were warned not to stray from God's commands by Moses, Deuteronomy 7:11. And it remained true for First Century Christians who were encouraged to make the effort to abide strictly to the teachings of Jesus as recorded by the apostles and as given to the church once and for all. In the book of Jude, Jude says,
I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
- Jude 1:3b
And then John, the apostle, in the same vein warned all future generations that God did not permit any deletions. God did not permit any additions. God did not permit any changes to His Word, Revelation 22:18-20.
Then of course, lest we forget, Jesus Himself reminded all disciples that in the end everyone would be judged according to His word, as He had spoken it,
He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
- John 12:48
So we need to learn it, to teach it and to pass it on without changing a single thing, Matthew talks about this:
Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
- Matthew 28:20
It's quite a comfort to know that the Church of Christ not only considers the Bible the inspired word of God, but we accept that only the Bible is the inspired word of God. That is an important distinction. Only the Bible is the inspired word of God. Unlike, for example, Mormons. Mormons don't consider the Bible the only inspired word of God. They have additional material that they include. And Roman Catholics, I can speak with authority, having been a Catholic, taught in Catholic schools. I'm not trying to be offensive. I'm speaking as someone who is an authority. Catholics consider the word of the Pope and the history of the church as equal authority to the Bible. So we're certainly not like that. And many charismatic churches also accept prophets and faith healers as individuals who have authority in speaking in the name of God.
I am happy to be in a church that accepts only one Lord, Jesus Christ; and only one authority in matters of religion, and that is the Bible. Nothing has changed since Moses. God's people are still those people who know His word, who obey His word, and who teach only His word.
Now I'm not saying, once again, that we're the only ones who say this, a lot of people say this. But you know what? The advantage that I have in coming, as it were, from the outside, as an individual who did not become a Christian until he was 30, is that I had the opportunity of studying and examining objectively other religious groups. And I'm going to tell you something, based on my informal and formal study as well, in college, a lot of churches say that they teach only the Bible, but by their actions, you see that that is not so.
I remember I was part of a church once, not a Church of Christ. A charismatic church, actually, that said that they were a Bible church. Everybody carried their Bibles around, people would get excited if you didn't bring your Bible to a meeting. But you know what? In that church, women preached. And in that church, they hardly ever took communion. And in that church, they forbade people to eat certain meats. These are things that are contrary to what the Bible actually teaches.
Now, obviously I cannot see into every church. But I'll tell you this, there's never been an accusation against the church that we are doing or teaching something unbiblical. I have never heard that accusation, never seen it in print. Oh yes, people say that we're too narrow-minded at times. People accuse us of being overzealous about church attendance. People say we're old-fashioned in worship. And sometimes we're legalistic. Some of that may be true, but never once has anyone accused or demonstrated that we are doing or teaching something that is contrary to the teaching of Christ.
Now, I'm not saying we're not, but no one's ever stood up to show that to us. And believe me, they've tried. Unfortunately, by comparison, it is almost too easy to find unbiblical practices in so-called Bible churches today. I'm happy to be a member of a church that is known for its Bible accuracy and its devotion to careful obedience of God's word in every area of life. And one of the problems, when you're trying to be careful to obey the Lord, is sometimes you slip over into legalism. That's the price you pay for that type of thing, and the thing that we have to be careful of.
There may be others who do the same thing out there. I'm not saying we're the only ones, but you know what, we're the ones that have the reputation for it. There was a time when people would say, "You know that Bible church." There was a time when 'Bible church' meant the Church of Christ, because that was the church where every member knew their Bible and it got on people's nerves, because whenever there was a discussion or a debate, this side was just yammering and this side was simply quoting scripture. And people didn't like that.
I don't mind being accused of being zealous for God's word. I'd rather be accused of being zealous for God's word, than be accused of being lazy or sloppy.
We have the right Lord. We do. We have the right Lord. Does anyone disagree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? We have the right Lord. We have the right book. Does anyone disagree that the Bible is the only inspired word of God? We've got the right book. It's not my fault if some other church wants to deny portions of the Bible or twist it out of proportion, if some other church doesn't want to accept that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, why should I be ashamed? Why should that bother me? Why should I be accused of being narrow-minded? We have the right Lord. We have the right book.
3. We Have the Right Approach
And we also have the right approach. One of the sad things about the present generation- you know you're getting old, you're middle-aged, when you stop complaining about the older generations and you start complaining about the younger generations. I think I've crossed over. One of the sad things about the present generation, generally speaking, is that they have no appreciation for our past, for our heritage.
If you'll permit me a three minute history lesson here, the churches of Christ are a product of the restoration movement, not reformation, the restoration movement of the 18th and 19th centuries that began initially in parts of Europe, but quickly spread across America. This movement was led by men who courageously proclaimed that we should throw off the chains of tradition and non-biblical authority and return to the pristine waters of the inspired word of God in order to become, and in order to live as Christians and Christians only. That was the message.
This was a radical idea at that time, but it captured the minds and the hearts of a young nation, here in America, who were searching for fresh religious identities in Christ Jesus.
Now, these people, we've heard about them, Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, these great men of the past made some terrific contributions to us today. Contributions that truly set us apart from our evangelical friends. I can name several, but I'll just name two very important things that they did that somehow we're forgetting today.
What the Restoration Movement Gave Us
1. Reintroduction of the Idea of Restoration
First of all, they reintroduced the biblical idea of restoration to the church. I say, not a human idea, a biblical idea. They re-introduced, they rediscovered from the Bible an important theological idea called restorationism. Basically, what they did is they demonstrated that in order to remain faithful, sinful people had to continually pursue the restoration of biblical Christianity from generation to generation. They were like a filter. They said the church needs a filter to continually purify itself. And that filter was restorationism.
We see this principle of restoration at work throughout the Bible from the very beginning. Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel, right? And then Cain killed Abel, and then they had Seth. And the Bible says,
To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the Lord.
- Genesis 4:26
And so Seth restored what was lost by Adam. Noah, later on, restored what was destroyed by Seth's descendants. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob restored God's promise from generation to generation. Moses restored the people's freedom. Joshua restored the people to their own land, the kings and the prophets, later on, continued this cycle of fall and restoration until the coming of Jesus. And then when Jesus came and when Jesus revealed God's plan, the apostles provided the church with the words of Jesus, which were to be maintained until He returns, Matthew 28:20. Remember, that was a command: we had to maintain the word of God, not only the idea of the word, but the practice of the word, until Jesus returns.
Now, the history of the church from the first century has continued the cycle of restoring God's people to a pure teaching and living of God's word, always a cycle. There's always a cycle of drawing near to God by a more concerted effort to do what's right. There have always been people throughout history that have said, "Let's go back to the Bible. Let's go back to God. Let's go back and do what's right." That idea is called restorationism. And these people, Stone and Campbell and others, they cried out in America several hundred years ago, "Let's go back." And their cry was heard.
Now in the middle ages, the reformation was an effort to restore the purity of the word and it succeeded to a certain degree. And then, as I said, in the 19th and 20th century, another effort was made to restore a purified form of Christianity based only on the word, and the churches of Christ are a product of that effort.
Now, some will say, "But I don't see the name 'Church of Christ' there in the 12th century." No, you don't see the name 'Church of Christ' in it. But what you see from the very beginning is the cycle of restoration. The cycle of restoration has always been there. It's had different names, it's carried different names. Earlier in the middle ages, it carried the name reformation because it was men and women who said, "Let's go back to the Bible." They didn't quite succeed. And then a few hundred years later, another group rose up and said, "Let's go back to the Bible. Let's throw off all this stuff. Let's just do what God says in His word."
We are a product of that movement in history, that cycle in history that said, "Let's go back to the word." We're a product of that. And so the thing that separates us from other groups- hear me now, this is historically correct. The thing that separates us from other groups is that we are the only ones dedicated to continually purifying and restoring biblical Christianity. That's what we're about. That's the Church of Christ. And this effort to restore biblical Christianity is like a theological compass, that always helps us find True North, no matter how far left or how far right we get.
People say, "Well, I've seen churches of Christ that are really conservative. And I've seen some churches that are really liberal." Yes, that's true. But the thing that we share all in common is that we have this same compass, this restoration compass that allows us to find True North, whenever we want to get back to the right path, no matter how far left, no matter how far right. The restoration idea always helps us to find our direction once again.
No other church group has this feature. This is not a boast, it's a fact. A lot of religious groups have good ideas. They say, "We're going to start our own church." They start with the Bible, but the minute that they begin to drift away, there's nothing to bring them back. They haven't got a compass. There's no restoration idea to bring them back. That's why, for example, there are over 200 different Baptist groups. I picked that because that's common in the United States, but I could use Canada, and talk about the United church. There are hundreds of different subdivisions of the United church. Why? Because there is no restoration idea. The restoration principle, that theological compass, makes us unique, sets us apart.
Now the great danger in today's generation is that we are largely failing in teaching this to our young adults and to our teenagers. And we risk becoming like the others. You want to be like the others? We're going to be like the others in one more generation if we don't start teaching our people, our younger people, what makes us unique. Some people say, "Oh, you're the guys that don't use musical instruments." It's not about using musical instruments. It runs much deeper than that.
2. Speak Where the Bible Speaks, be Silent Where the Bible is Silent.
Another thing these people gave us is they gave us a good Bible study tool. We call it, in a more technical term, hermeneutics. They gave us a simple way to study the Bible. The reason we can come to concise and consistent conclusions about the Bible is because they developed a simple way that every ordinary person can use. Their method was best described in a motto that used to go around. We don't say it much anymore. They used to say, "In the churches of Christ, we speak where the Bible speaks and we are silent where the Bible is silent." That was the motto.
In other words, they taught us to do or to copy those things that the Bible commanded or the Bible taught by example, or the Bible demonstrated by logical conclusion. So if you could base your teaching or your practice as a Christian on something that was in the Bible, then you had divine authority for that thing. However, anything that was not biblically sanctioned or based was left to a matter of judgment or opinion. Some things are commanded in the Bible. Some things God leaves to our judgment.
And I'll tell you what, most of the arguments don't come from the things that are commanded or demonstrated. Most of the arguments in the church come from those things which are left to our own judgment and opinion. And unfortunately, brethren fuss and fight over those things. They gave us good, common sense rules to help us do Bible things in Bible ways, to make sure that God's people were doing God's will, according to God's word.
For hundreds of years, the Church of Christ has maintained unity, has done God's work, has grown throughout the world with no human headquarters. We're the only religious group that does not have a human headquarter. We don't have regional or sectional headquarters, and we don't have supervisors. This is it folks. The local congregation is the only unit that exists in the churches of Christ. Why? Because it's the only unit that existed in the Bible. And yet, we've been able to do all these things simply because the members of the Church of Christ have humbled themselves to simply use a biblical approach to studying and carrying out God's word in their lives and in the church.
Don't get me wrong, we share many resemblances to churches who say that Christ is their Lord. Our buildings are alike. Our buildings are pretty much the same as any other church buildings. We use similar words, don't we? Brothers, sisters, communion. We use the same kind of language. We have similar levels of morality. The folks across the street at the Baptist church, they are fine people. They are upstanding citizens. They believe in doing what's right. So we share that with them. And they call on the same Lord. We call on the Lord, they call on the Lord, same thing. So we share many things in common, but there are differences. That's the point. I don't want to be mean-spirited about it. I just want us to see it. There are differences that are very deep and very important and should never be overlooked.
Let me just review once again. First of all, we in the Church of Christ are devoted to the careful preservation and obedience of God's word. I mean, on purpose, we do it on purpose. It's not a side dish. It's not a spin-off benefit. It's our main purpose. Now, a lot of people say this, but their unbiblical practices deny what they claim. You can say, "The Bible is God's word." You can say that. But if you openly do things which are clearly in contradiction of God's word, it doesn't mean anything.
Secondly, I make this challenge to anybody, and I'll have people come up to me and that's okay. I like it, it means you're paying attention. We can demonstrate that everything we teach and everything we do, and the way we do it is based on the Bible. And you know why we do it that way? Because the Bible tells us we must do it that way. It's not a Church of Christ thing.
Paul specifically says to Timothy,
He should retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
- II Timothy 1:13
He's got to do exactly what the Bible says he must do. And he must teach others that that's what they must do. And they have to pass that along. Well, brothers and sisters, in our generation that's our job. Most, not all, that I've seen, do not even care whether this is true or not. Filling the building is usually more important.
And then finally, we are preparing the next generation to preserve these values, and search to purify and refine more perfectly the church that we pass on to them. I pray to God that the Choctaw Church is even more biblical, more accurate to God's word in the next generation than it is in this generation. And I hope that we are at least as accurate, knowing the men that have come before us, men and women, that we are at least as accurate biblically as they strived to be before us.
Most other churches struggle to fit in. And the reason I say this, I'm not sitting here throwing rocks at people. I get all kinds of mail and literature from all kinds of churches all the time, every day. And I read it, because I want to know what's going on. You know what? Most other groups are struggling to fit in to the changing society of the future. How's the church going to fit in and how's the church going to do this? And how are we going to cope with the yuppies and the X-ers? In the Church of Christ our struggle is different. We struggle to preserve the church as Jesus established it. That's what we struggled to do. It costs us, but that's what we struggle to do.
So I'm happy to be and I'm thankful to be a member of the church that places such a high priority on purity, obedience, perseverance, and love. Isn't this the church that you want to be a member of? Brothers and sisters, it's more than just a piano in the auditorium. It's about truly being the church that God designed, that Jesus died for, that the apostles established, that the Holy spirit describes in His word. That's what it's about. I can never explain that to somebody in a quick one-word answer, in a one-liner - what's the difference between you and us? I can never do that in just a one-liner.
Are you a member of the Church of Christ? Are you a member? The Bible says that in order to be a member of the Church of Christ, you must believe, you must hear, of course, and believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that He died for your sins and rose again on the third day. You must confess your belief. You must repent of your sin. You must be baptized in water, immersed in water, for the remission of your sins in Jesus's name. All of those principles are contained in the book of Acts 2:38. This is not what other churches teach. They teach accept Jesus into your heart, come forward to the altar call, wait for the Holy Spirit.
But this is what the Bible teaches. My question to you is, who are you going to believe? The Bible says, if you want to be restored, you have to confess your sins and pray for forgiveness and walk in the light again, I John 1:7-9. It doesn't say you have to go on your knees. When I was in Montreal a couple years back, I saw people going up 10 flights of stairs on their knees, offering pennants at the St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal. That's not what the Bible says you have to do to be restored. Are you ready to just obey the word of Christ in order to be a member of the Church of Christ?
I encourage you brothers and sisters, in a positive way, be proud and be thankful if you are member of the Church of Christ, and take seriously your responsibility to pass that heritage and that gift along to your children and to other young people. Because if we don't, God will find somebody else to raise up the banner of restorationism in the next generation.
I tell you, all we'll ever ask you to do here, the elders and myself, all we'll ever ask you to do are things that are supported by the scriptures. If you need to come to God this morning and obey the Bible, obey God's word in some way, we encourage you to do so now as we stand and as we sing our song.