Christmas Tree?

Do not learn the way of the Gentiles… for the customs of the people are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the ax.  They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.  They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves.  Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good” (Jeremiah 10:2-5).

Is this speaking of the Christmas tree?  No, this is speaking of the making an idol out of wood and overlaying it with gold and silver (Jeremiah 10:3-4, 8-10, 14-16 cf. Isaiah 40:19-20; 46:5-7).  I know of no one who sets up a Christmas tree to be an idol.  Nor, do I know of anyone who claims to be worshipping a god under the image of a tree.

Doesn’t the Christmas tree have pagan origins?  Maybe.  The History Channel says, “Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter.  Just a people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows.  In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun had become sick and weak.  They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well.  Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun was strong and summer would return…  Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes, which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.  Early Romans… decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.  In Northern Europe, the mysterious Druids… also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as symbols of everlasting life.  The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder” (History of Christmas Trees, history.com). 

However, the modern Christmas tree seems to have its origin in Germany.  “Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition, as we now know it, in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees in their homes… It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther… first added lighted candles to a tree.  Walking toward his home one winter evening… he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens.  To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired it branches with lighted candles” (ibid). 

The Germans seem to have introduced it to America.  “Most 19th century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity.  The first record of one being displayed was in 1830’s by German settlers of Pennsylvania although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier… But as late as the 1840’s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans… In 1846… Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree… Victoria was very popular… what was done at court immediately became fashionable – not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society… But the 1890’s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas popularity was on the rise in the U.S. … The first tree at Rockefeller Center was in 1931” (ibid).

Is the seasonal display and decoration of a tree sinful?  There is nothing inherently sinful about having a green tree in one’s house.  There is nothing sinful about decorating it.  Idolatry is wrong, not decorations.  What about pagan roots?  Intent matters.  To marry in June at one time may have meant that one was seeking the blessings of the goddess Juno.  Today, it may be simply a convenient time for the couple and have nothing to do with Juno.  The meaning a culture attaches to a symbol matters.  The question mark in Greek is the same symbol as semicolon in English.  2¼ may be written 2,25 in France, Germany, and some parts of the world.  It is written 2.25 in the United States and other parts of the world. One thousand is written 1.000 in Germany and some parts of the world. It is written 1,000 in the United States and other parts of the world. One million is written 10,00,000 in India (the comma is placed after every two digits following the first three). It is written 1,000,000 in the United States (the comma is placed after every three digits). The eating of unleavened bread and drinking of the fruit of the vine does not necessarily mean that one is remembering the death of Christ.  However, in context of Christian worship, this is what it should mean. 

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Some Questions About the Church of Christ

What is the church of Christ?  I believe that some well-meaning brethren have wrongly approached this question.  They have approached this from the idea of perfection.  For example: (1) The church of Christ teaches the correct plan of salvation.  (2) The church of Christ wears a scriptural name.  (3) The church of Christ has no creed book but the Bible.  (4) The church of Christ partakes of the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week.  (5) The church of Christ does not use mechanical instruments of music in worship.  (6)  The church of Christ is supported by free-will offerings by its members each first day of the week.  (7)  The church of Christ is properly organized, etc.  “Identifying marks” are listed.  If each may be checked off, then one may know that he has found the church of Christ. 

This may help one identify a church which is following (at least in these points) the Biblical pattern.  However, I do not truly believe that this accurately answers the question: What is the church of Christ?

The simple answer is: it is the called-out of Christ.  He has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  It is composed of those who have been baptized into Christ.  “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 cf. Acts 18:8; Acts 2:41, 47).  I do not believe that this refers to the baptism with the Holy Spirit (see my article – The Holy Spirit: In Conversion, Part 2).

The baptism to which we each are to submit is based on the authority of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38).  It is described as a burial and resurrection (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).  It is for believers (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:12; 8:36-37; 18:8), who are willing to repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19).  It is done for the purpose of washing away sin (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 22:16). 

What about the other “identifying marks”?  Once one has been added by the Lord to His church, he should meet with other members of the church of Christ and worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Hebrews 10:24-25).  He should seek to do this in a manner which is pleasing to the Lord (John 4:24; Colossians 3:16-17). 

Not all worship is pleasing to God.  The Bible speaks of vain worship (Mark 7:6-7), ignorant worship (Acts  17:22-24); and will or self-impose worship (Colossians 2:20-23).  We should worship God in spirit/proper attitude and in truth/proper action (John 4:24 cf. Joshua 24:14).  However, these “identifying marks” are not what constitutes the church of Christ.  The church at Corinth was still a part of the church of Christ, though they were doing many things wrong in practice.  This is not intended to condone error.  It is simply to understand that perfect practice is not what makes a church of Christ to be a church of Christ. 

Must I be a member of the Church of Christ to be saved?  When someone asks me this, I answer, “One certainly must be a member of the church you read about in the New Testament.  Can we study together about how one can be added to that church?”

T. Pierce Brown has written, “When a person asks, ‘Do I have to be a member of the church of Christ to be saved?’ the implications to the average questioner are: 1. That means that a person ‘gets membership’ in the church of Christ, and that saves him.  2.  Membership comes first and salvation comes second in a logical and chronological order.  3.  The church of Christ is a sort of religious organization similar to any denomination, except it claims (somewhat like the Roman Catholic Church) that salvation is found by ‘getting membership’ in that organization.

“I contend… that these implications are wrong!  It would be at least accurate (or more so) in view of Acts 2:47 to say, ‘A person has to be saved in order to be a member of the church of Christ.’  However, since that might suggest that a person ‘gets saved’ and then becomes a member of the church, that would also have to be explained.

“…The truth of the matter is that the moment a person becomes a member of the church of the Lord he is saved, or the moment he is saved he becomes a member of the church of the Lord, and neither is the consequence or antecedent of the other, but both are the concurrent or simultaneous result of something else…

“The church is the saved (the group that has received God’s salvation, B.H.).  If he understood that, he would not ask the question in the first place, for it would be, ‘Must a person be a member of the saved group in order to be saved?’  Which would sound rather stupid” (Article: Do I Have To Be A Member of The Church of Christ? By T. Pierce Brown). 

Wendell Winkler correctly said, “There was no such thing as a man being saved on Monday and joining the church the following Sunday.  Rather, the moment he was saved… he became a member of the New Testament church (Wendell Winkler, The Church Everybody is Asking About, p. 106).  This is true (Acts 2:47). 

What does the Church of Christ Believe/Teach about X, Y, and Z?  I have been asked this many times through the years.  In a radio interview a preacher worded his questions to me this way.  I do not like the wording.  (1) The church is not the ultimate authority.  It does not matter, in a sense, what the church believes/teaches.  It matters what the Bible teaches (Galatians 1:8).  (2) One can find a wide variety of things taught, by members of the church of Christ, on a given subject.  I suppose that this has always been true (cf. Acts 15:5; 1 Corinthians 15:12).  Each of us must, “Be diligent to present (ourselves) approved to God… rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). 

How does one become a member?  The term “church” is used in two senses in scripture.  (1) It is used of the universal church (e.g. Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 15:9).  One becomes a member of the universal church when he is baptized into Christ (Acts 2:36-38, 41, 47).  (2) It is used of the local church (e.g. Acts 14:23; James 5:14).  Specific names were associated with certain local churches (e.g. Acts 13:1; Romans 16:14-15; 2 John 9-12).  One must be a member of the universal church to be a member of the local church.   While there is no specific formula, it seems that in some way one should make known that he desires to be identified with the local church.  How else could proper care and effective work be done together?  (Consider Acts 6:1-5; 1 peter 5:1-2 cf. Luke 15:4-ff; 1 Corinthians 12:12-ff; Romans 12:4-ff; Ephesians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14; Hebrews 10:24-25).  One should be a part of a local church and not hop around without any commitment to a local church.

Why do some not capitalize church in church of Christ?  It is for the same reason that one does not capitalize bride in bride of Christ.  It does not seem to be a proper name, but a descriptive phrase of relationship.  Whether to capitalize or not is a personal choice and matter of opinion or writing style.

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The Christmas Truce

It sounds like fiction.  However, it is history.  History is sometimes stranger than fiction.  The date was December 24 – 25, 1914 during World War I.  The location was in Belgium and France, along the Western Front.  German soldiers began to sing “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) from their trenches.  The British and Allies, hearing them, began to sing as well.  The Germans called for the British and Allied soldiers to come out of their trenches and join them.  Signs were held up, “You no shoot, we no shoot.”  An unofficial truce was reached.  They shook hands.  Gifts were exchanged including food, cigarettes, buttons and hats.  Soccer was played.  The dead were retrieved and buried.  Perhaps, 100,000 were a part of this spontaneous Christmas truce.  Some officers were not pleased with soldiers fraternizing with the enemy.  Gerfreiter (Lance Corporal) Adolf Hitler thought this should never happen in war. War soon resumed and would last almost four more years.  However, one British soldier, Murdoch Wood said in 1930, “I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired” (time.com).

Christ can and has brought men together.  Matthew, a tax collector, and Simon, A zealot, were brought together by Christ (Matthew 10:1-4 cf. Luke 6:12-16).  Jews and Gentiles were (are) brought together in one body (Ephesians 2:14-22). 

Christ should bring us together.  We are taught to love one another as He loved us (John 13:35; Ephesians 5:2; 5:25; 1 John 3:16-18).  We are taught to forgive one another as He has forgiven us (Colossians 3:12-13).  We are taught to care for others as He did (Philippians 2:4-8).  He taught us that true greatness is found in service (Mark 10:42-45; John 13:14-15).

(Sources consulted include – Silent Night: The story of the World War I Christmas truce of 1914 by Naina Bajekal December 24, 2014, time.com; WWI’s Christmas Truce: When Fighting Paused for the Holiday by A.J. Baime & Volker Janssen December 6, 2021, history.com; Christmas Truce of 1914, history.com; The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce by Mike Dash December 23, 2011, smithsonianmag.com; interesting video- The Christmas Truce, Warographics, Simon Whisler, YouTube; Christmas 1914 brought the men out of the trenches and the slaughter to a stop by Michael E. Ruane Dec. 24, 2014, washingtonpost.com). 

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Honoring Veterans

Veterans Day is observed on November 11th.  It does not matter on what day of the week in falls.  The date stays the same; the day of the week changes.  It was originally known as Armistice Day.  In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice was declared in “the Great War” (WWI).  The war officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles signing on June 28, 1919.  However, in the public imagination November 11, 1918 marked the end.  Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 Armistice Day.  On June 4, 1926, Congress passed a resolution that Armistice Day should be a recurring observance.  In 1938, in became a federal holiday (Veterans Day 2022, history.com).  “However, in 1954, the holiday was changed to ‘Veterans Day’ in order to account for all veterans in all wars” (Veterans Day 2022, military.com).     It should not be confused with Memorial Day, but often is.  Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May.  The day of the week stays the same; the date changes.  “Memorial Day is a day for remember and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as the results of wounds sustained in battle.  While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime.  In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty… we’ll give the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs the last word: ‘Veterans Day does not include an s’ at the end of veterans, it is not a day that belongs to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans’” (Matthew T. Hall, Many People Confuse Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  Don’t., The San Diego Union Tribune, Nov. 10, 2014, sandiegotribune.com).

We should appreciate those who have served (and serve) to keep us free.  “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7).  “Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the King” (1 Peter 2:17). 

However, let us think beyond honoring military service.  Let us appreciate, and honor those who serve in all areas of life.  Let us appreciate, and honor those who serve in the church.  Let us honor the living who serve, and not just eulogize the dead.  Jesus taught that true greatness is found in service (Matthew 20:25-28; 23:11-12).  Paul instructed, “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).  Service, and those who serve, should be highly esteemed (Philippians 2:29-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17; Romans 16:3-4; 1 Corinthians 16:15). 

      

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“Where Two or Three Are Gathered Together…”

I love to travel.  I love to view God’s creation.  The Canadian Rockies, the autumn leaves of  New England, the Great Smoky Mountains, Monument Valley, Big Bend, the Amazon Rainforest – it is all so amazing.  “When we behold the wonders of creation, the flowers that bloom, the raindrops as they fall; the spacious skies and life’s perpetuation, we cannot doubt that God controlled it all” (Song: Lord, I Believe by A.W. Dicus). 

However, when I travel, I especially look forward to being with the saints on the first day of the week.  When it is possible to meet with other Christians, I plan to do so.  It is an encouragement to me.  It is an encouragement to the local church.  The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Sometimes, I get to meet brethren that I have never met. Sometimes, I get to visit with brethren that I know. Sometimes, I have even been reunited with brethren with whom I had lost contact. Sometimes, I am exposed to new songs. Sometimes, I learn a new method, maybe a better method of doing things.  I get to hear God’s word expounded, sometimes with a new thought or insight which helps me.  A few times, I have even been called on to preach at the last minute.

Some brethren do not share my enthusiasm in this.  Some do not worship when they are away from home.  Others take the communion elements with them, and worship with friends and family who are with them, but do not meet with a local church in the area.  A common refrain is, “For where two or three are gathered together…” (Matthew 18:20). 

I want to encourage all to meet with a local church, when possible, even when away from home.  Consider: 

  1. Paul took time, when traveling, to meet with the church (e.g., Acts 20:6-7; 21:3-5).  Granted, Paul was an apostle.  Moreover, he knew at least some of these brethren.  Still, one never finds record of Paul choosing to separately, worship with his travel companions, when he could have met with a local church.
  2. Why wouldn’t one want to assemble with a local church, when it is possible?  If King Charles III was in the area, and was willing to meet you, then wouldn’t you do it?  What about the Governor?  Michael Jordan?  George Strait?  Nolan Ryan?  Tiger Woods? When I have an opportunity to meet with the saints, I take it.  These are people who make up the bride of Christ.  These are people with whom I may be able to work and spread the good news. This same point applies to meeting with the saints on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.  Why wouldn’t I want to be there if I could be?  What is more important?  TV?  Facebook? Walmart?  “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). 
  3. We should be careful with scripture.  I grant that a local church could consist of two or three Christians coming together for worship.  However, the passage in Matthew 18 concerns church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20).  It was never intended to be used to justify not meeting with a local church when traveling.

May we “love the brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17).  Current statistics indicate that in the U.S.A. we are losing each month 2,000 members and 9 congregations.  May we do all that we can to help strengthen the church and fill the pews with encouragement.

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Church of Christ: What is Said About Us?

From time to time, I have tried to provide some basic information on a religious group, denomination, or independent church.   I have tried to be fair and accurate.  The aim has been to provide information to you which may be helpful when evangelizing, and when conversing with your neighbor or friend about spiritual matters.

At some point, I will write on the church of Christ.  The plan is to cover such things as: “What is the church of Christ?” “Must one be a member of the church of Christ to be saved?”  Do you believe that you are the only ones saved?”

However, at this time I want to consider what another has said about the church of Christ.  Inaccurate and misleading information is pervasive on the internet.  It is easy to defeat a strawman.  However, I recently came across two sites which sought to accurately represent the facts.  One was an article on Christianity.com by Brannon Deibert entitled: Churches of Christ – 10 Things to Know About Their History and Beliefs.  The other was a Ready to Harvest YouTube video entitled: What is the Church of Christ?  It is the article by Brannon Deibert we consider.  Here are his 10 points:

1.  “The Churches of Christ arose from the Restoration Movement.”   

B.H. – I do not believe that this is completely accurate.  It is true that many churches of Christ in America have historical connection with the Restoration Movement.  However, it does not depend on it.  The Bible teaches that the Lord adds to His church those who obey His plan for salvation (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2). David Roper has written, “Anywhere that is a Bible, there is always the possibility that people will read it and obey it just as it reads – and when that happens, God adds them to the church” (Voices Crying in the Wilderness, p. 94). 

He adds, “Despite being influenced by the Restoration Movement, individuals of the Church of Christ do not consider themselves as a new Church originating near the beginning of the 19th century.  Rather, the whole movement is designed to represent in modern times the church first established on Pentecost, A.D. 30.”

2.  “The founders believed in adhering solely to the Bible.”

B.H. – By “founders” he seems to be referring to men like Barton W. Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell.  The true founder is Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20). 

He adds, “Churches of Christ seek to follow the teachings on the Bible being the only source to find doctrine (known abroad as Sola Scriptura).”  B.H. – All should.

3.  “The Churches of Christ are autonomous congregations.” 

 He adds, “There is no primary headquarters of the Church, and no organization superior to the elders of each local congregation.”  B.H. – This is how it should be.

4.  “There are over 15,000 individual Churches of Christ.”

He adds, “the total fellowship of the Churches of Christ is now 2,000,000.  There are over 7,000 men who preach (full-time) publicly.  Membership of the Church is largest in the southern states of the United States, especially in Tennessee and Texas, though there are congregations located in each of the 50 states and in over 80 countries.”

B.H. – His figures seem to be based on U.S.A. figures.  His figures seem too high.  “Attendance in churches of Christ peaked (in U.S.A. – B.H.) about 1985 and has been in decline since about 1990.  As of 2010, Churches of Christ had 1.6 million adherents… and 12,584 congregations… Tim Woodroof and Stan Granberg wrote that Churches of Christ have lost more than 2,000 people and nine congregations a month since 2015” (Non-instrumental Churches of Christ Facing Uncertain Future by Kent Fillinger, Oct. 13, 2021, christianstandard.com; Churches of Christ …New Study Reveals Drastic Decline by Tim Woodroff & Stan Granberg).

B.H. – It is not possible to be exact on these numbers.  Remember there is no hierarchy or earthly headquarters.

B.H – Most congregations in the U.S.A. are small. 91% of all attendees are found in churches of fewer than 250. The smallest 55% of congregations average 34 people (Churches of Christ … New Study Reveals Drastic Decline by Tim Woodroff & Stan Granberg).

5.  “Churches of Christ are governed by a plurality of elders.”   

He adds, “In each congregation, which has… become… organized, there is a group of elders or pastors who serve as governing authority.  These men are chosen by the local congregations on the foundation of qualifications established in the scriptures (1 Timothy 3:1-8).  Serving under the elders are ministers, teachers, and (foreign) evangelists or missionaries.   (They) do not have authority equal to or exceeding that of elders.”  B.H. – So, it should be.

6.  “Churches of Christ believe in a process of salvation.” 

He adds, “The process of salvation… One must be properly taught, and hear (Romans 10:14-17); One must believe or have faith (Hebrews 11:6; Mark 16:16);  One must repent… (Acts 17:30); One must confess belief that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 8:36-37); One must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38); and One must live faithfully as a Christian (1 Peter 2:9).” 

7.  “Churches of Christ baptize by immersion only.”

B.H. – This is what the original word means. Moreover, it is described as a burial (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).

8. “‘A Capella’ singing is the only music used in worship.”

He adds, “It is believed that there is no jurisdiction for involving acts of worship not found in the New Testament.”

B.H. – Alas, it is not always this way in every church of Christ.  However, it should be. 

9.  “Churches of Christ have a distinctive plea.”

He adds, “The Churches of Christ have a distinctive plea for spiritual unity based upon the Bible.  In a segregated religious world, they believe that the Bible is the only plausible commonality upon which Christians can unite.  The objective of their plea is religious unity of all believers in Christ following the basis of the New Testament…”  

10.  “Most members of Churches of Christ live outside the United States.”

He adds, “There are more than 1,000,000 members of the Churches of Christ in Africa, roughly 1,000,000 in India, and 50,000 in Central and South America. 

B.H. – These numbers may be under-estimated.  The church is experiencing rapid growth in Africa and India (faster than one can keep up with statistically).  If we do not get busy, they will need to evangelize us one day.  Further, the numbers in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean likely exceed 100,000 (the global status of Churches of Christ by Bob Waldron, missiodeijournal.com).

B.H. – It is not possible to be exact on these numbers.  Remember that there is no hierarchy or earthly headquarters.  Some congregations are very small, meeting in houses. 

                  

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Denominations: Disciples of Christ and Independent Christian Church

The Christians Church (Disciples of Christ) saw its membership fall below 400,000 in 2018.  It is in rapid decline.  Jeff Walton writes, “At the current rate, the denomination will shrink by another 50 percent within a decade” (Disciples of Christ on Track to Lose Half its Membership in Ten Years by Michael Gryboski, CP Church & Ministry August 25, 2019, christianpost. com). It may be the fastest shrinking church in the U.S.A.

The Independent Christian Church reported a membership of about 1.2 million in 2018.  42% of its congregations are in five states: Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri.  [By comparison, 46% of all churches of Christ in the U.S.A. are located in five states: Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Kentucky.]  46% of its members are located in five states: Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and California.  [By comparison 54% of members of the church of Christ are in the U.S.A. are located in five states: Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma] (Non-Instrumental Churches of Christ Facing Uncertain Future by Kent Fillinger, October 13, 2021, christianstandard.com). 

History

The two groups share a common history.  The DOC and the ICC both have historical connection to the American restoration movement of the 19th century.

In 1906, a split was recognized between the Christian Church / DOC and the churches of Christ.  The reality is this split had taken place decades earlier. Tension over the missionary society occurred before and after the Civil War. Tensions over instrumental music occurred mostly after the Civil War. By 1883, some were openly declaring that division was present (Earl Irvin West, The Search for Ancient Order vol. 2, p. 223). J.W. McGarvey wrote in 1883, “I would not hold membership with a church using one (an organ B.H.)” (West, vol. 2, p. 233). In 1906, S.N.D. North, the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, wrote to David Lipscomb, editor of the Gospel Advocate, to ask whether the churches of Christ should be listed separately from the Disciples of Christ/ Christian Church in the religious census. Lipscomb explained that each church is governed congregationally. In some places the differences had not yet resulted in division, but in other places it had. A few months later North visited the Gospel Advocate office and ask J.W. Shepherd, co-editor of the Gospel Advocate to compile a list of know churches of Christ for census purposes. The churches of Christ were listed separately in the 1910 census. Two major issues contributed to this split: The Missionary Society and instrumental music in worship (History of the Disciples, disciples.org).  There were other issues, as well, for example – the role of women in the church (Fred Arthur Bailey, The Status of Women in the Disciples of Christ, 1865-1900). At the time of the split the Christian Church was much larger than the church of Christ.  They had over six times the number of members, and over three times the number of congregations (Bill Humble, The Story of Restoration, p. 66, 79).

In 1926, another split began to occur, which some say was not complete until 1971. The Independent Christian Church (ICC) split from the DOC.  One source says that the “due primarily to disagreements concerning liberal trends and development of denominational structure within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The split occurred as local congregations refused to take part in rapidly developing extra-congregational organizations that eventually evolved into a General Assembly.  They were also disturbed by what they saw as liberal influences within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) concerning Biblical criticism and social justice.  This came to a head at the 1926 DOC convention in Memphis, Tennessee” (Independent Christian Church/Churches of Christ, en-academic.com).  There was also the issue of membership.  In the 1920’s it was discovered that the missionary society’s missionaries were accepting the un-immersed as members, a practice known as “open membership” (Bill Humble, p. 68). Edwin V. Hayden (of the ICC) lists four reasons for the split: (1) Federation in interdenominational activities; (2) The acceptance of “the historical criticism advanced by modern scholars”; (3) Open membership; (4) The limitation of missionary activities through comity agreement (Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 625 ref. Edwin V. Hayden, 50 Years of Digression and Disturbance, p.6). The exact date of the split is disputed. Some say it occurred in 1926, at the Memphis convention. Some date it in 1927, when the conservative of the Christian Church formed the North American Christian Convention (NACC). Some date it in 1955, when a directory of ministers was published of the “Undenominational Fellowship of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.” Some date it in 1968, when the Disciples of Christ restructured under a General Assembly. Still others date it in 1971, when the Yearbook of American Churches was asked to list Christian Churches separately.

The DOC has continued to digress.  “The leadership of the Disciples of Christ… has now abandoned the concept of restoring New Testament Christianity.  They believe that in the light of modern scholarship it is no longer possible to accept the New Testament as a pattern for the church” (Bill Humble, p. 77). 

Beliefs and Practices

1.  Baptism

DOC: “We believe in the importance of baptism.  We see full immersion as the most symbolic mode and the way that baptism was practiced in the New Testament.  However, we also freely accept members into our congregations who have been baptized by other means: infant baptism and confirmation, or adult baptism by sprinkling” [First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Rogers, Arkansas, fccrogers.org]. 

ICC: “The Bible shows the way that leads to salvation: (1) Belief and confession of Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance from sinful life; (3) Baptism (immersion) for the forgiveness of sins; (4) Receiving the Holy Spirit as guide and counselor; (5) Faithfulness to Christ” (Central Christian Church, Bristol, Tennessee, cccbristol.com).    Ken Chumbley, who left the Christian Church, writes, “Many people assume that all of those involved with the Independent Christian Church baptize for the remission of sins.  However, this is a fallacy.  Common practice among Christian Churches in Australia, and I am persuaded in this country also, is to put off a baptism until the next Sunday or some special service.  To say the least, this shows a light regard for baptism… Further, there was, and is, the practice of receiving anyone who has been immersed regardless of whether they have been immersed for the remission of sins… Mr. Henderson [Los Gatos (California) Christian Church – B.H.] states, ‘I do not teach that baptism is a necessity for the remission of sins, but that it is a public declaration of the inward work of the Holy Spirit…’” (Why I Left the Independent Christian Church by Ken Chumbley, ed. Terry Hightower, Denominationalism Versus the Bible). 

2.  Communion

DOC: “We invite all Christians to participate in the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper together” (fccrogers.org).

ICC: “The Lord’s Supper is the celebration of the New Covenant, in which the Christian community remembers Christ and celebrates the covenantal relationship they have with Him and with each other.  Congregations in this fellowship typically celebrate the Lord’s Supper at least weekly” [Gillette (Wyoming) Christian Church, gillettechristianchurch.com]. Dan Goddard, who was once a preacher at the Bell Gardens Christian Church in Southern California but who left the Christian Church writes, “Partaking of the Lord’s Supper on days not authorized was another practice of concern.  We partook of the Lord’s Supper on any night we chose with the logic, ‘The Lord is here, the Lord is near, so let’s acknowledge this by partaking of the Lord’s Supper” (Why I Left the Independent Christian Church #1, Seek The Old Paths, October 1995). 

3.  Instrumental Music

It is common for both groups to use mechanical instrumental music in worship. It is also common for them to use choirs.  Dan Goddard writes of his time in the Christian Church, “We had our choirs, chorales, rock bands and orchestras – all during the worship services.  Our philosophy was ‘The more you entertain them, the more people will come’” (Why I Left #1).

4.  Women’s Roles

Both groups use women in public and to lead the church.  The “Rev.” Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens is the current General Minister and President of the DOC. “Rev.” Yvonne Gilmore is Interim Administration Secretary of the National Convention. “Rev.” Lori Tapia is the National Pastor of Hispanic Ministries (disciples.org).  Dan Goddard writes, “We had women choir directors, women of church boards, Women teaching mix adult Bible classes, women educational directors, women youth ministers, and women who filled in for their husbands in elders’ meetings” (Why I Left #1).

5.  Denominations

DOC: It considers itself in full communion with the United Church of Christ and The United Church of Canada.  It is a member of ecumenical associations: World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ USA, and other interfaith groups.   W.E. Garrison stated in 1952 before the Third World Conference on Faith and Order, a unit of the World Council of Churches, that there should be “union upon loyalty to Christ with full freedom of opinion in regard to doctrines and ordinances.”  “Jesus is Lord” must be the only creedal or doctrinal test. There must be an interchangeable membership. There must be an interchangeable ministry. There must be equal freedom in forms of worship, with no established ritual for all congregations. Varieties of organization and structure must exist independently but harmoniously within one united church. There must be agencies of cooperation. (Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 719-720).

ICC: They tend to reject denominationalism and to consider themselves “Christians only” (4 Beliefs That Set Independent Christian Church From Other Denominations by Jocelyn Mackie, newsmax.com). 

6.  Organizations

DOC: Since 1968 it has had three levels of organization: local (congregational), regional (there are currently 31 regions), and general (Frank Mead and Samuel Hill, Handbook of Denominations, p. 72-74; Our Structure, disciples.org). Each level has its own roles. e.g. The regional level provides leadership in such matters as standing and credentialing of ministers, and the relocation of pastors (Our Structure, disciples.org). DOC General headquarters are located in Indianapolis, Indiana (disciples.org).

ICC: “Every Christian Church is completely independent.  There is no denominational control, hierarchy, or national headquarters… Each church is self-governed and determines its own affairs based on the word of God” (Atlanta Christian Church, What Kind of Church is This?, atlantachristianfamily.org; Handbook of Denominations, p. 75-76).

7.  Designations

This is a bit tricky.  DOC and ICC both may be referred to as the Christian Church. The ICC is also sometimes referred to as the conservative Christian Church. Further, some ICC are referred to as Church of Christ, also instrumental Churches of Christ.  I experienced this once, years ago, while traveling in Michigan.

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The Weeping Prophet

Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughters of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1).

Jeremiah has been dubbed “the weeping prophet.”  Here he said, “I physically cannot produce enough tears to express my sadness over what awaits my people.”  Jerusalem was about to become “a heap of ruins, a den of jackals” and the cities of Judah “desolate, without an inhabitant” (Jeremiah 9:11).  He saw where their actions were leading.  He reasoned with them, “Hear and give ear; do not be proud, for the LORD has spoken.  Give glory to the LORD your God before He causes darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and while you are looking for light, He turns it into the shadow of death and makes dense darkness.  But if you will not hear it, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the LORD’s flock has been taken captive” (Jeremiah 13:15-17).   

Judeans were oblivious to their true condition.  (1) They listened to false prophets.  “They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).  (2) They were no longer ashamed of sin.  “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?  No!  They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15).       (3) They refused to listen to God’s true prophets.  “Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen’” (Jeremiah 6:17).  (4) They trusted in the physical temple (or church building).  “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.  Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these’” (Jeremiah 7:3-4).  They trusted in the house itself (Jeremiah 7:14).  (5) They trusted in their external worship of the LORD.  “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations?’  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of thieves in your eyes?” (Jeremiah 7:8-11).

Many preachers, elders, and concerned members can see what so many seem oblivious to seeing.  They see that God expects total devotion.  Yet, many conduct themselves as if half-hearted devotion will be acceptable.  They see that we are to be evangelistic.  Yet, many feel no personal responsibility.  They see parents sending a message that school and sports are more important than worship and Bible study.  Yet, their warnings are written off as out-of-date and unrealistic.  They see that if things do not change there may be no local church in a location in a few years.  Yet, they are considered fearmongers.  They warn that few will be saved.  Yet, many live as if almost all will be.  Could it be that those who warn are not trying to be fearmongers, or Chicken Littles, or unnecessarily negative, but are in truth concerned about souls?  Are you concerned about your soul?

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Fire in My Bones

Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name” (Jeremiah 20:9a).

Jeremiah was tired of the fight.  He was mocked by what seemed like everyone (Jeremiah 20:7, 10).  He was in derision daily (Jeremiah 20:7-8). He was alone (Jeremiah 15:17). The message which he preached was not popular, and it was in general rejected (Jeremiah 6:16-17). His preaching was considered too negative, and even unpatriotic [Jeremiah 20:10 (cf. 6:25; 20:3; 46:5; 49:29); Jeremiah 37:11-16; 38:1-4]. He was threatened by men in his own city of Anathoth (Jeremiah 11:21 cf. 1:1).  They said, “Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD lest you die by our hand” (Jeremiah 11:21).  He once wished that he could leave His role as a prophet/preacher and open a hotel in the wilderness.  He said, “Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging place for travelers; that I may leave my people, and go from them!  For they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men” (Jeremiah 9:2).  He genuinely cared about his people and wept over the path they had chosen to follow (Jeremiah 8:21; 9:1).  He was tired of dealing with such weighty matters.

This preacher (probably, most preachers) can, at times, relate.  There seems always to be some controversy or difficulty.  There are those who will not listen and amend their ways.  There are critics, and sometimes scheming opposition.  Maybe I could open a gym.   Maybe I could be a hotelier.  Maybe I could be a landscaper.  Perhaps, only other preachers fully understand.  It hurts when brethren are lukewarm.  It hurts when brethren do not attend.  It hurts when members gossip and criticize and misrepresent.  It hurts when you seem to be more concerned for a brother’s soul, than he is.  Moreover, when you take a stand, it hurts to feel like you are on an island by yourself.  It is easy to burn out.    

But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back and I could not” (Jeremiah 20:9b).

The word of God motivated Jeremiah to continue his work as a prophet of God.  Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “God’s word was not an impotent force in his life.  Quite to the contrary, God’s word was a burning fire.  It was shut up in his bones.  He could no longer contain it.  It had to burst forth from his heart, from his lips” (Robert R. Taylor, Jr., Studies in Jeremiah and Lamentations, Vol. 1, p. 157). 

Preachers (and all Christians) should stay in the book.  It “effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).  It provides not only information but motivation.  The wise meditate on God’s word day and night (Psalm 1:1-2; 119:15, 23, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148).  “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). 

Love also motivates. Garland Elkins suggests, “It was his deep love and compassion for his people that made him cry out” (ed. B.J. Clark, Major Lessons from The Major Prophets, Power Lectures, p. 78). Johnny Ramsey has written, “Jeremiah yearned for the word of God (15:16), and it burned within his heart (20:9) to such an extent that he wanted the entire earth to hear it (22:29)” (Johnny Ramsey, The Message of Jeremiah, Gospel Advocate, April 1990). If we truly love others, then we will be compelled to proclaim God’s word to others.

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Negative As Well As Positive

Behold I have put My words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9).

The LORD addressed these words to Jeremiah.  The prophet was to speak God’s word.  It was not his duty to entertain the people.  It was not his duty to please the ears of the people.  It was not his duty to make people feel good.  It was his duty to proclaim God’s word to the people.

This remains the duty of those who would preach today.  Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).  The word translated “preach” (kerusso) means “to be a herald… to proclaim” (Vine’s). 

See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the Kingdoms” (Jeremiah 1:10a).

The prophet had authority.  His authority was based on the fact that he was preaching God’s word, which has authority.  If a prophet (or preacher) proclaim some other message than God’s word, he has no authority from God to do so.  He abandons the only authority that he has. 

Jeremiah’s jurisdiction extended beyond Judah.  He prophesied concerning gentile kingdoms and cities (Jeremiah 46-51).  He did this because God’s authority is universal.  It still is (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47).

To root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10b). 

It was not all positive.  Tom Wacaster comments, “Before Jeremiah could ‘build and… plant’ he must first ‘root out… pull down… destroy and throw down.’  In order to build, it was important for Judah to know, ‘You can’t get there from here!’  Before progress could be made it was essential that the rubbish be cleared away.  The heart and soul of Judah needed to be changed.  Jeremiah could not reform that which was corrupt – he could not get Judah to where God wanted them to be from where they were!”  (Article: Getting There from Here by Tom Wacaster).  Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “Evil must be rooted out; strongholds of sin must be pulled down; widespread iniquity must be destroyed; rampaging idolatry with all its shrines, altars and high places of lascivious actions in the name of so-called fertility rites must be thrown down…” (Robert R. Taylor Jr., Studies in Jeremiah & Lamentations, p. 13).  [Note: These six words are repeated elsewhere in this book (Jeremiah 12:14-15, 17; 18:7-11; 24:6; 31:28; 42:10; 45:4).]

Two illustrations are given.  (1) A farmer needs to sometime remove unwanted plants before he plants wanted seeds and plants.  (2) A builder needs to sometimes demolish before he builds.

Even so, it is with preaching.  Sometimes it is the case that before there can be productive growth (build, plant) things which stand in the way need to be removed (root out, pull down, destroy, throw down). The negative is needed as well as the positive.  Do not despise the negative.  Sometimes such is necessary for positive results. [Note: I do not think that the instructions given to Jeremiah is unique. Compare instructions given to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:10) to instructions given to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 4:2). Both contain negative aspects. A case can be made that both are 2/3 negative in content.]

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