I grew up in churches of Christ. I unapologetically claim them as my family. But as a millennial, I recognize that many of my peers in churches of Christ are leaving or are incredibly critical. Of course, I recognize the truth in some of their complaints, but there are still countless reasons I love, appreciate, and remain committed to the congregations who identify as churches of Christ.
Please don’t read the following list in a holier-than-thou tone. I’m certainly not saying churches of Christ are without fault. Every church family has people and where there are people, there are problems. While it is good to acknowledge and address our problems, it is also good to reflect on the positives as well. So, in no particular order, here are five things I appreciate about churches of Christ:
1. Recognition of the Importance of Baptism
Scripture places a significant amount of emphasis on baptism. Baptism is said to be the moment a person is:
- United with Jesus and freed from the reign of sin and death (Romans 6)
- Raised up with Christ (Colossians 2)
- Adopted as a member of God’s covenant family and heir to the promises made to Abraham (Galatians 3).
In an age of deemphasizing baptism as an unnecessary “work,” I appreciate that churches of Christ continue to see baptism not as a work of merit, but as an expression of repentant faith and the moment at which a person is forgiven and becomes a member of the universal church. I appreciate that within churches of Christ, we can (as the apostles did) refer each member back to their baptism as the moment at which they personally decided to begin their walk with Jesus.
2. Scripture Takes Precedence Over Tradition
I love the fact that I grew up hearing phrases like, “Speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent.” And, “Do Bible things in Bible ways, call Bible things by Bible names.” That’s not to say that we have always lived up to those ideals. Like others, we too are susceptible to misunderstanding Scripture, getting caught up in traditionalism, and judging people based on our own inferences. But our deep desire to have a biblical understanding and biblical practices is a great characteristic.
No matter how longstanding the tradition or deep-rooted the idea, if it can be proven to us that something is not in keeping with Scripture, we are capable of changing our thinking and practice. Because our traditions are not etched in stone as formal creeds, it is possible for them to be somewhat fluid. This willingness to sacrifice “the way we’ve always done (or understood) things” in favor of the teachings of Scripture ensures that even when we get off track a bit, we are able to find our way back to Jesus.
3. Informal, But Reverent
There is no formal liturgy and ministers do not wear special robes or clerical collars. Even in congregations where there are full-time ministers, much of the service is led by what some would call “lay ministers” (men who work in other professions and have no formal religious or theological training). These brothers will simply speak from their hearts, voicing unrehearsed thoughts and prayers. In this way, you might say our assemblies are rather informal and emphasize a true priesthood of all believers.
But at the same time, our assemblies still maintain what I imagine is somewhat similar to the orderly synagogue-like environment the apostles instituted in the first-century church (see 1 Corinthians 14). One at a time, men will rise to share a prayer, read a Scripture, lead a song, or impart some teaching to the church family. There is an emphasis on reverence, an awareness that we are being humbly led before the throne of God. In our loud and chaotic world, I greatly appreciate a time and place for prayer, contemplation, and self-reflection.
4. Weekly Observance of the Lord’s Supper
In the early church, one of the most important parts of coming together was sharing the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper. It was a continual celebration of the forgiveness, fellowship, and freedom we have because Jesus laid down his life for us. It was a reminder that we are part of a family and we have an obligation to love them and maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (see 1 Corinthians 11).
I love the fact that churches of Christ continue to celebrate this meal every Sunday, the day on which our Lord rose from the dead. I love breaking bread with my local church family, knowing there are Christians all over the world doing the same thing. I love that we are being shaped by rehearsing the story of the cross, the way Israel was shaped by rehearsing the story of the Exodus.
5. Elders to Shepherd the Church
Finally, I love the fact that churches of Christ are individually shepherded by their own group of wise, experienced, and godly men. Flawed men, no doubt. But men who are willing to sacrifice countless hours wrestling with theological and practical questions, ministering to broken people, and making decisions that will affect the church beyond their lifetime. They do this because they love Jesus and they love Jesus’ people.
Every first-century church needed elders and every church today needs elders. Especially in our current age of hyper-individualism, every follower of Jesus needs guidance, insight, and accountability. We need shepherds, overseers, mentors, and role-models of the faith. We need to be part of a church family who reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and our individual choices affect the entire body.
I imagine some think I have gone too far with my appreciation for churches of Christ, while others probably think I have not gone far enough. That’s fine. You are welcome to your own thoughts, feelings, and observations. These are mine.
Because churches of Christ are an organic, sort of grass-roots movement, rather than a denominational body, I have high hopes that in the decades to come, we can move in the right direction. I believe it is possible to mend some of our divisions, focus on the things of first importance, and bring more people to Jesus. Those, my friends, are some things for which we should all be earnestly praying.
I love you and God loves you,
Tim’s Thoughts -May 5, 2019
Are we fit for glory? Do our thoughts and our words reflect the truth of who God is? Do they admire His ordinances? Anyone who is honest will have to admit that, many times, our inward thoughts lie to us about God-His love, His purity, His care for us, the goodnesses in His plan. We want to violate them in ways that will be pleasing to us or that will satisfy our personal agendas. We constantly need to ask ourselves whether our words and even our thoughts fits with the God of glory and truth (Psalms 18)
When the Bible talks about baptism, it almost always talks about it in connection with forgiveness, salvation, and the washing away of sins. But this confuses many people, because the Bible clearly teaches that man is saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). So what, if anything, does baptism have to do with salvation? Let’s see what the Bible really teaches.
The Biblical Expression of Faith
Baptism is not something we do in addition to having faith in Christ. Baptism is an expression of faith in Christ. In fact, baptism is the biblical way for a lost person to express faith in Christ, in order to be saved by God’s grace.
To say it another way, baptism is the biblical way of crying out to the Lord in faith, “I want nothing more to do with a life of sin. I want to live anew as your humble servant. Please, Lord, wash me and I will be clean.”
That’s why the New Testament says things like this:
- Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
- Baptism is the moment when sins are washed away (Acts 22:16).
- Baptism is the act of putting on Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:27).
- Baptism unites us with Christ. Our old self is buried and we’re raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1-11).
- Baptism saves us because it is an appeal for a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21).
None of what the New Testament teaches about baptism contradicts what is said in passages like Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” What the Bible says about baptism is in perfect harmony with what it says about grace and faith. We are baptized because we have faith that God really does save sinners “by grace.”
Not by Works
Some may say, “But if you believe you must be baptized in order to be saved aren’t you teaching salvation by works? Doesn’t Paul say we are NOT saved by works?”
The New Testament absolutely teaches we are not saved “by works.” Many people in the First Century taught that in order to be saved, you had to keep the Law of Moses. They were teaching a salvation by works of the Law. They did not have faith in God’s willingness to save by grace. The books of Romans and Galatians were written to combat this false teaching.
“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
Paul also explained in the book of Ephesians that we are not saved by any of our good works. We cannot save ourselves by being good people and doing good deeds. If we could, then we would boast that we had saved ourselves, rather than praising God for saving us.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
We can only be saved by trusting in Jesus’ power and willingness to save by grace. This faith is expressed by repenting of our sins and being baptized (Acts 2:38). Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Baptism is the biblical way for a lost person to express belief in Jesus. Until they do so, they remain condemned.
Baptized Because You Are Saved?
Many argue with the biblical teaching on baptism. They say they were saved first, then later were baptized because they were saved. In other words, they believe baptism is to show people they’ve already been saved. This is simply not the biblical teaching on baptism.
Occasionally, the argument is made about the Greek word, “eis” in Acts 2:38, that it means “because of.” But this is simply not true. The Greek word “eis” occurs over 1,700 times in the New Testament and it never means “because of.”
Consider the account of Saul of Tarsus (who later became Paul): After persecuting the church, the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus and struck him blind. No one argues that Paul believed at this point, but was he saved? That’s an important question.
We certainly don’t find Paul rejoicing. The text says, “For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). When a man named Ananias showed up he said to Saul, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Here was a man who had believed in Jesus for three days, but yet was still in his sins. It wasn’t until he called on the name of the Lord by being baptized that his sins were washed away.
Why Were You Baptized?
Here is an important question. If you’ve been baptized, were you baptized by faith or were you baptized for some other reason? Were you baptized, as the New Testament teaches, because you knew you were lost and you wanted the Lord to save you?
The vast majority of religious teachers today do not teach what the New Testament teaches on baptism. People are being baptized as a good work, not as an expression of faith. Their teaching and practice are not biblical.
If it were me, if I had been baptized for a reason other than what is taught in the New Testament, I would go today and be baptized by faith. I would find someone who teaches the truth to immerse me in water, trusting in the blood of Jesus Christ to wash me clean.
I love you and God loves you,
Making melody in the heart
by Stan Mitchell
How important is our worship in song? What role should it play in our worship and in our lives? Paul puts it this way:
“Addressing one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19).
This key verse starts with one command (“Addressing one another” and is followed by three participles (in English, words ending in the letters “ing”). Thus Paul instructs us in our hymns to “address one another,” then adds the specifics: “Singing,” “making melody,” and “giving thanks.” In a word, we address each other in song. Our hymns affect two areas, our hearts and each other. Consider the profound possibilities of our hymns to strengthen, to teach and to encourage.
This truth is expressed further by Paul’s vibrant analogy with a stringed instrument. Note carefully what he says about “making melody.” The word comes from the Greek psallo, and depicts the strings of an instrument being vibrated. Paul might have said that our hymns are “vibrating” the strings of a harp, or similarly vibrating the strings of a lyre, but, and it is vital to see this, he actually says that our hymns are to “vibrate the strings of our hearts!”
In a word, our hymns are intended, even designed to penetrate to the very core of our beings, the words and the music are to move the very deepest part of our person! Can you imagine words that are true, biblical, exalted expression set to music echoing to the depths of our heart! Or, conversely, how dare we sing these great sentiments and it not reach our hearts.
Augustine put it well: “How many tears I shed at the sound of hymns … sung by impassioned voices of you church! Their voices poured into my ears and dissolved into my heart” (Confessions 9,6).
Like sugar in sweet tea, these sentiments are supposed to filter into our Christian character.
Our worship in song is not an interlude filling time between the Lord’s Supper and the sermon; it is an integral and vital part of our worship. It enriches and teaches in a manner that can only be described as God-designed.
Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, “Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation