“IF IT LOOKS LIKE A DUCK . . .”
“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”
So goes the “Duck Test.” It is often used to suggest that an unknown subject can be identified by observing that subject’s habitual characteristics. It also is sometimes used in an effort to counter valid arguments that a thing is not always what it might appear to be to an undiscerning person.
Unfortunately, I hear it being used more and more today by liberal/progressive members of the churches of Christ to try to prove that, contrary to the fact that these churches do not constitute a denomination, they nevertheless are a denomination. The logic seems to be that if these churches in some ways look and act like a denomination then they must be a denomination. Is the “Duck Test” valid in this connection? Well, let’s see.
In I Samuel 16, following God’s rejection of Saul as the king of Israel, God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to choose from among Jesse’s sons the man who would be the next king of Israel. Jesse had Eliab his eldest son to stand before Samuel, and when Samuel saw him he said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him” (I Samuel 16:6). Eliab looked like a king, acted like a king, and talked like a king. But God said, “He’s not a king!” And so it was with the next six sons (seven in all). However, “the Lord [had] not chosen these” (verse 10). Thus, the reality is that things are not always as they outwardly appear. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (verse 7).
Nothing is more obvious to the student of the New Testament than the fact that Christ established His church (Matthew 16:18), gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25), purchasing it with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Every person in New Testament times who heard, believed, and obeyed the gospel, being saved from his sins, was added to that church (Acts 2:47). The church of which we read in the New Testament was the aggregate of all the saved. It was not just a part or a portion of the saved—a denomination among several other denominations! In New Testament times there was but one church and every Christian was a member of it.
That same church exists today. “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Whenever and wherever today the gospel of Christ, the pure word of God unmixed with the doctrines and commandments and creeds and catechisms of men, is preached, believed, and obeyed, the same results obtain as obtained in New Testament times: people are saved and added to the church, the one spiritual body of Christ. Thus, today, in 2014, a person can be just a Christian, a member of the very church that Christ Himself established, all without being a member of any denomination, just as people were in New Testament times! If not, why not?
The fact that members of the church of Christ assemble on the first day of the week for worship, meet in buildings of recognizable “ecclesiastical” structure (though such is not always the case), conduct Bible classes, have a preacher, minister to the poor, use an identifying designation (albeit only scriptural designations, never ones of human origin), etc. does not make of them a denomination!
The churches of Christ adhere to no denominational creed, have no denominational organization or structure, and wear no denominational name. But our denominational friends want to pour us into their mould and make of us a denomination!
As Alexander Campbell wrote,
“The Lutherans, Calvinists, Arminians, judging us according to their standard, and weighing us in their balances, have nicknamed us ‘Campbellites.’ They wish us to take no precedence of them. They are proud of the livery they wear, and would have us to be like themselves, the followers of a fallible earthly leader” (The Millennial Harbinger, Vol. III (New Series), No. VIII, Aug. 1839).
Campbell’s point was that those who are denominationalists cannot stand the idea that there are those who remain aloof from denominational creeds, organizations, and names, and they want to force us to be what they freely confess themselves to be, a denomination!
And now a growing number of our skittish brethren, ashamed of the plea to be undenominational Christians, thinking that such smacks too much of spiritual superiority and exclusiveness, and wanting to curry favor with their denominational friends and engage in fraternal relations with their denominational peers, increasingly view the church as a denomination and speak of it in such a way as to cast it in that light.
To all such I would recommend a deep and serious study of the New Testament, as well as a sober and thoughtful reflection on the restoration plea and its meaning. In the absence of a willingness to engage in such a study, let me kindly request of you that you refrain from substituting “cuteness” for knowledge by the mindless repetition of “If it looks like a duck . . .”! Far better it is to be informed than to be “cute.”
September 23, 2014