Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 14, 1955

The Church Of Christ -- Why?


Since the days of Martin Luther debates over specific Bible teachings have been widespread and often bitter. Methodists and Baptists have debated one another hotly over the action or "mode" of baptism; Presbyterians have upheld their views on predestination on many a polemic platform; Mormons have defended Joseph Smith as a true prophet of God; Catholics have joined battle more than once with those who denied the authority of the pope.

As the years have passed, however, religious debating has become less and less common. One by one the great denominational bodies have tended to withdraw from the field, and to leave the matter of such public discussions to the smaller sects and bodies. Only rarely now can a man be found who will participate in one of these exercises. We believe the reason for this fading out of a once popular religious phenomenon can be found in one significant factor — the willingness of gospel preachers, simple Christians, to meet any and all comers in a fair, open investigation of the word of God, and the almost uniform results from such debates.

Out of these public discussions, over a hundred years, it has become crystal clear that there are very few points of difference as to what the Bible actually teaches on the points in question. Is it a matter of baptism that is being debated? Then where is the man who will deny that the Bible teaches immersion? Is it the name that is being considered? Who can be found who will deny the name "Christian" or who will deny that "the church of Christ" is a scriptural appellation? Is the Lord's Supper being studied? Where can be found a man who will deny that the disciples came together "upon the first day of the week" to break bread?

As these religious controversies grew in interest and volume through the years, it became evident that millions of people would be faced with this simple choice:

(1) Give up their denominational affiliations and become members of the church of Christ; or,

(2) Cling tenaciously to their denominational attachments, and gradually begin to deny or discredit the authority of the Bible.

As a matter of historical record both courses have been followed; multiplied thousands of honest and sincere people have come out of denominationalism; other thousands, facing the same crisis, have chosen to retain their denominational association, and have (probably unconsciously) come to the conclusion that the Bible is not to be taken "literally" and "followed slavishly" — as they would put it — but rather is to be a broad general outline of the course of Christian living. They came to contend that in vast areas of our living God has simply told us "what" to do, but has not told us "how" to do it, leaving that up to the sanctified common sense of the individual believer. God told man "what" to do concerning baptism, for example, "Arise, and be baptized," but did not tell him "how" to do that; hence, he may be immersed, may have water sprinkled on him, or poured on him. The choice is his own, since God has not said "how" it is to be done!

Thus the arguments have gone. And through it all one thing has emerged beyond all dispute — our present day differences are NOT over questions of Bible teaching, but are over an ATTITUDE toward the Bible. The church of the Lord, determined to accept the word of Christ as absolutely authoritative, has demonstrated to denominational debaters of every stripe and variety that the Bible is clear in its teachings on most of these disputed doctrines. It finally resolves itself into a problem as to the degree of authority to be accorded the Bible. Is its teaching final and definitive? The church of Christ stands almost alone in her insistence that the answer to this problem is "yes." Nearly all other religious bodies want to hedge or explain or modify their answers. Indeed, this very question of ATTITUDE is the one distinguishing characteristic of the church of Christ — and always has been.

When the question of the Missionary Societies and Instrumental Music split the Lord's church a hundred years ago, the real division did not come over the actual teaching of the Bible on these matters. That teaching was clear enough. The division came about as the result of an attitude toward the Bible. Instrumental music, the societies, and numerous other particulars were but symptoms of the real trouble, just as thirst, fever, and a skin rash may be the symptoms of measles. The real disease was a wrong attitude toward God's word; this wrong attitude has expressed itself during the last century in a score of different ways, of which instrumental music, the missionary societies, women preachers, "open membership," and various other innovations are but specific examples.

There is real comfort here for all true followers of Christ in our unwavering conviction that the Bible is clear in its teachings on nearly every point in dispute, or that ever has been in dispute. Our big problem always is to get men willing to accept the authority of the Bible, and not to seek to justify their practices in religion by an appeal to past traditions or the actions of others. In any present dissent which may exist over the benevolence work of the church, or its cooperative endeavors in evangelism, we believe it is practically impossible that much question arise over what the Bible teaches. The differences, when they arise, are over matters outside the realm of actual Bible teaching, and are based on human reasoning, the past practices of recognized Bible scholars, the good to be accomplished, etc. It is a reversion to the old, old sectarian plea that God has told us "what" to do, but has not told us "how" to do it, and a misapplication of that in matters of vital doctrine.

— F. Y. T.