Who are we? Expanded interviews with sources from non-mainstream churches
1. Have we always had diverse beliefs and practices within a cappella Churches of Christ, or is the notion of an “identity crisis” a new concept? (To be more specific, were our churches more alike in the 1950s than they are today?)
Carl Johnson, evangelist at the one-cup Southwest 32nd Street church in Ada, Okla.: There have been diverse beliefs within the church since soon after its birth (e.g. Romans 14), and we know that at least after the beginning of the American Restoration Movement there were some differences in practices among the churches. It follows, therefore, that there have been periods of time since the beginning when people have wrestled with the identity of the church.
Mark Copeland, evangelist at the non-institutional Fortune Road church in Kissimmee, Fla.: I doubt churches of Christ were ever as monolithic as many have tried to make them out to be.
Jesus warned in His parable of the tares that Satan would be at work, and so from the beginning there were always varying degrees of faithfulness (and thus diversity) among the churches of Christ. This is illustrated in the Lord’s letters to the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3).
As for whether “our churches” were more alike in the 50s than today:
That depends on what is meant by “our” churches. Those churches recognized by “brotherhood” institutions (such as papers, colleges, etc.)?
Certainly the churches whose members subscribed to papers like Gospel Advocate and supported institutions like Abilene Christian College were more alike in the 50s than they are today. Changes in editorial and college policies over the years undoubtedly proved divisive among those churches who were aligned to such institutions.
But I will add that it smacks of sectarianism if we suppose the church of Christ is made up only of those churches which are recognized through some devotion to certain papers or colleges.
Barry Poyner, an elder at the Kirksville, Mo., church and author of the book One Another Christianity: Mutual Edification: Movements progress in stages, including the Restoration Movement. Rarely do you ever see the term defined or stages defined. I rely on Denton and Stewart’s Persuasion and Social Movements text. I use this where I teach at Truman State. One can probably find just about any idea in the Restoration Movement. That does not mean that it should be accepted or is biblical. What some fail to realize is that churches that have adopted certain doctrinal stances may be in the termination stage of the restoration movement. I believe there were 15 or 16 restoration movements in the book of Judges. I believe the Stone-Campbell restoration movement has been long dead. Movements may generate institutions that outlive them and that will eventually adopt views that would cause the orignial movement leaders to cringe! Within contemporary churches of Christ, churches are in different movement stages. Some are not a part of the Restoration Movement at all and have no desire to restore the NT church. I believe members in the 50s were more acutely aware of who they were and what they were wanting to restore because of the 1906 separation. Many also had developed an evangelistic awareness due to the war. The effect of birth control should not be dismissed. Some would argue that we need to start having kids. The Mormons and Catholics are outpacing us along some very predictable lines.
I actually find that I often have more in common with more conservative brethren because they are asking questions about authority and restoration that others do not. However, I actually would not put ME so far to the right. I find that many ME congregations have astute independent thinkers who demand to be heard. Our efforts in mainstream churches to make everything so professional have resulted in “performance” mentality. I believe people in mainstream churches likely feel more bored because they are not involved.
Editor’s note: Poyner is offering free copies of his book to interested readers. Contact him by e-mail at [email protected].
Thomas Langford, a former elder at the non-class Quaker Avenue church in Lubbock, Texas: I think there has always been diversity, but probably not as pronounced as today, when considerable change is taking place. I suspect that churches were more alike in the 1950s.
2. What are the core beliefs that unite us — or, in other words, when can we agree to disagree, and when does a belief or practice become a fellowship issue?
Carl Johnson, evangelist at the one-cup Southwest 32nd Street church in Ada, Okla.: The core beliefs are the same as those expressed by the apostles and the same as such men as Campbell and Stone began to perceive: The Bible as the only authority in faith and practice, the same plan of salvation as was given in the first century, corporate worship according to the God’s divine pattern, and the autonomy of each congregation. The slogan of the Restoration Movement is still valid today: “In faith–unity, in opinion–liberty, and in all things–charity.” Of course the dilemma facing us is trying to agree upon what constitutes matters of faith and liberty.
Mark Copeland, evangelist at the non-institutional Fortune Road church in Kissimmee, Fla.: In listing core beliefs that must unite us, I would start with the seven ones that make up the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6). That is why I cannot have fellowship with any person or church that teaches a different baptism.
Beliefs clearly delineated in the Scriptures must be also held in common (e.g., matters involving circumcision, the deity of Christ, fornication, etc.).
Beliefs that are the result of interpreting and applying principles of Scriptures rather than from a clear declaration of Scripture must be handled carefully.
The Pharisees taught their traditions (i.e., their interpretations and applications of the Law) to be equivalent to the Law (or even to supersede the Law), for which they were rebuked by Jesus (cf. Mark 7:1-13).
We can be guilty of the same mistake, if we make our interpretation and application of scriptural principles as though they were the doctrines and commands of the Lord.
However, even with interpreting and applying principles found in the Word of God, we must be true to our conclusions and convictions. We may not have sufficient Scriptural revelation to bind them on others, but we must not violate our own consciences (cf. Romans 14:23).
Because the Bible clearly teaches us to maintain a clear conscience, sometimes we are unable to have fellowship with others in matters involving the interpretation and application of Scriptures.
For example, whether or not the Scriptures actually condemn instrumental music in the worship of the church, if one deduces that instrumental music is not authorized then he cannot have fellowship with a church or brethren that seek to force the practice on him.
Thus even matters of personal conviction or conscience can become a “fellowship issue” if it involves a congregational activity whereby one would required to participate in that which violates his conscience.
Barry Poyner, elder at the Kirksville, Mo., church and author of the book One Another Christianity: Mutual Edification: An interesting study is to examine the “dei” passages of the NT. This word can be translated “must,” “it is necessary,” etc. Where God has placed emphasis, so should we. Sometimes members of the Lord’s church are critized for inordinate emphasis on certain doctrinal points. But consider we “must” believe in God (Hebrews 11:6); there is no other name under heaven whereby men “must” be saved than Christ (Acts 4:12); we must be born again (John 3); we must worship in spirit and in truth (John 4). Placing an emphasis on what God values is biblical.
Thomas Langford, former elder at the non-class Quaker Avenue church in Lubbock, Texas: Generally, the core beliefs are the Lordship of Christ, the inspired Word, weekly communion and baptism by immersion (though I see this latter belief eroding somewhat as people from effusionist backgrounds come into our fellowship).
3. Some suggest that our differences are exaggerated simply because we do have so much in common. Would you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
Carl Johnson, evangelist at the one-cup Southwest 32nd Street church in Ada, Okla.: If the differences of which you speak are dealing with matters of opinion, then we should deemphasize them. It is not an exaggeration, however, to be concerned with differences that deal with matters of faith.
Mark Copeland, evangelist at the non-institutional Fortune Road church in Kissimmee, Fla.: Where there is general agreement, differences do often stand out like a sore thumb. But the differences impacting many churches of Christ today involve real and serious issues.
For example: authority in religion. That is the issue denominations like the Episcopalians, Methodists and Baptists are struggling over in dealing with issues like women preachers and homosexuality.
Churches of Christ are often just a decade or so behind the denominations. Already I am hearing of churches of Christ that approve women preachers and homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.
So I would say that the differences are very real, and not simply exaggerated.
Barry Poyner, elder at the Kirksville, Mo., church and author of the book One Another Christianity: Mutual Edification: I agree that the differences among a cappella congregations are exaggerated. However, which is more difficult to spot: Monopoly money or the close counterfeit. This same argument is used in talking about the Christian church. I view the Christian church as North Israel. Were they Jewish? Were they in covenant? Those in the Christian church by in large have become Christians but are not worshiping as God said we must (John 4). Differences in a cappella churches exist, but some are indicative of preferences only. I could worship with an NI group. I often worship at holidays with relatives with congregations that employ a full-time preacher. I think this may be a reason that churches in highly concentrated Christian states are declining: atrophy.
Thomas Langford, former elder at the non-class Quaker Avenue church in Lubbock, Texas: I doubt this is the case. I see real differences that strain our fellowship.
4. What does our diversity mean in terms of developing a common vision or mission for growth or even fellowshipping with each other?
Carl Johnson, evangelist at the one-cup Southwest 32nd Street church in Ada, Okla.: It should be obvious from our history that diversity has been a hindrance to common efforts.
Mark Copeland, evangelist at the non-institutional Fortune Road church in Kissimmee, Fla.: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” – Amos 3:3
If the diversity is due to a lack of respect for Biblical authority or a rejection of that which the Bible clearly teaches, then fellowship is not possible.
If the diversity is due to a difference of interpretation and application of Scripture involving the work and worship of the local church:
1) Fellowship (sharing) within the framework of the local congregation is not possible if one’s conscience is violated.
2) Fellowship (sharing) on an individual level may continue for the purpose of keeping the door open to further study, that one day full fellowship might be possible.
Barry Poyner, elder at the Kirksville, Mo., church and author of the book One Another Christianity: Mutual Edification: I accept ethnic diversity, economic diversity. I am not inclined to accept doctrinal diversity. Few seem willing to say that there are false teachers. Educational freedom should not permit falsehood. I could not work with those who use the instrument or who use women in public roles.
Thomas Langford, former elder at the non-class Quaker Avenue church in Lubbock, Texas: Many of us welcome diversity insofar as it doesn’t work against core beliefs. Romans 14 and other passages seem to make fairly clear that we should not judge or break fellowship over non-essential variations. Alexander Campbell said that he would not make anything a test of fellowship that God had not made a condition of salvation. That’s a pretty good rule.
5. From your perspective with a “non-mainstream” church, are you able to fellowship with congregations that view the specific issues differently? Or does this cause you to break fellowship? Or is this question not even seeing the issue correctly from your perspective?
Carl Johnson, evangelist at the one-cup Southwest 32nd Street church in Ada, Okla.: Speaking in an unofficial capacity for one-cup churches, the use of more than one cup in the distribution of the fruit of the vine would be a violation of the divine pattern for the communion and a violation of the consciences of our members.
Mark Copeland, evangelist at the non-institutional Fortune Road church in Kissimmee, Fla.: Because of my own interpretation and application of Scriptural examples and principles regarding the work of the local church, I cannot have fellowship with a congregation that would force me to participate in a practice that violates my conscience.
By that I mean that I could not place my membership with an institutional or sponsoring church when funds are being used in ways that violate my conscience.
However, I believe it is important to maintain contact and association with any brother in Christ who is open to discuss and study whatever differences there might be which prevent us from being able to work and worship together in a congregation.
So I will on occasion visit institutional churches and seek to maintain cordial interaction with brethren in such churches that I believe are open to study.
Barry Poyner, elder at the Kirksville, Mo., church and author of the book One Another Christianity: Mutual Edification: Please be aware that ME does not mean non-class. It is true that most non-class do practice ME. But the ME classification in the directory refers to churches that have classes and who favor ME in the pulpit. ME churches do support full-time evangelists as well. Some ME members or leaders do not fellowship with other churches of Christ. I find that many churches of Christ practice ME (often by necessity and not by choice). I enjoy especially helping these brethren learn of additional models. I do worship with others at times (see above response) and use this as an opportunity to dialogue. We have also invited speakers that value the evangelistic role but who are largely in the mainstream. For instance, we have had We Care evangelist Willie Tolison here and will have Larry West here in 2008. We had Willie Franklin here to work with our college youth in 2006, and he will return in 2007. We had Brad Harrub of Apologetics Press here in 2006. These men are functioning in our estimation as evangelists. We use media clips on our radio and tv programs from the International Gospel Hour, The Gospel of Christ (Ardmore, OK), and We Care.
Thomas Langford, former elder at the non-class Quaker Avenue church in Lubbock, Texas: Many of us in this segment of the brotherhood (though not all, by any means) are working to restore fellowship with differing brethren, including those who use instrumental music. In 1993, our elders proposed an end to the division between our congregation and the Broadway Church, from which we separated seventy-five years ago. It was a wonderful thing, with several joint worship services. Since then, we have worked in harmony with most of the churches in town, in mutually agreed upon projects.
March 1, 2007
FeedbackUnity and diversity are two different things, including the ways chretienle see. used the instrument, or allow the woman in the presence of rpié brother for example is only an opinion but a direction to the false doctrine. I just not take a dorection different under pretext that such an opinion. our opinion should be the same as the Bible.francisaucuntrois rivieres, guadeloupe
franceNovember, 17 2009