HUGH’S NEWS & VIEWS
THE LANGUAGE OF ASHDOD
One of the great hindrances to the restoration and advancement of original, apostolic Christianity and the church of which we read in the New Testament is the use of Ashdodic language (i.e., denominational terminology in an attempt to convey biblical concepts and/or biblical terms in a denominational sense).
In about 450 B.C., after the return of the people of Judah from the Babylonian Captivity (which God had brought on them as punishment for their rebellion against Him), we read these words: “In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of the other people” (Nehemiah 13:23-24).
The Lord’s people today, just as the people of Nehemiah’s day, live among a “mixed people.” Our world is one of many religions, including many “brands” of professed Christianity. Great care has to be exercised not to be influenced by the unbiblical concepts and terminology of the denominational world around us. The late Guy N. Woods often spoke of the importance of God’s people maintaining “a pure faith and a faultless practice.” Such a faith and practice will be reflected by the proper use of biblical terminology and the refusal to use denominational terminology.
One of the most glaring examples of the language of Ashdod is the use of “church of Christ” (often spelled “Church of Christ” as though that descriptor is the official and exclusive “name” of God’s people) as an adjective/modifier. Christians thoughtlessly speak of “Church of Christ preachers,” “Church of Christ schools,” “Church of Christ publications,” “Church of Christ worship services,” “Church of Christ congregations” (which is the same as saying “Church of Christ churches”!), etc. One fellow has a blog called “Church of Christ Celebrities.” Whether intended or not, all of these convey a denominational concept of the church.
The expression “church of Christ” is only one of several terms used in the New Testament to refer to God’s people. The church also is spoken of as the church of God, the family of God, the kingdom of the Son of His love, the household of faith, the body of Christ, as well as a number of other descriptors. I doubt if anyone would use any of these terms to identify gospel preachers, Christian schools, gospel publications, and autonomous congregations of people who are Christians only, so I wonder why they use “Church of Christ” this way.
I know there are many good, sincere people who have been converted from denominationalism to the New Testament way who, without thinking, sometimes lapse into a denominational way of expressing themselves. They understand that the church is not a denomination, but they have not yet learned how to speak of it in an undenominational way. We need to be patient with such people and help them understand the right use of biblical terms. A number of years ago, a fine sister in Christ told me that she was “church of Christ all the way”! I admired her loyalty to the New Testament way, but she had not learned how to speak in a non-sectarian manner.
Because we dwell in the midst of a denominational culture, it is easy for otherwise good people to lapse into the use of denominational terminology to state their religious identity. But we need to stop and think about what we are saying and the concept of the church we are conveying. I am not “Church of Christ,” and I did not marry a “Church of Christ”! I am a Christian, a member of the body of Christ, and I married a member of God’s family, a Christian! I did not “join” the church of Christ, nor was I “voted” into the church. Rather, as a result of obedience to the gospel and being saved from my sins, I was added to the church by the Lord (Acts 2:47), which is the same as being “translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13).
I am not a “Church of Christ” preacher, but a gospel preacher. I do not teach “Church of Christ” doctrine, but the doctrine of Christ. I am not a “pastor,” a “Reverend,” or “Father” Fulford. I am simply a Christian, a child of God, a preacher of the gospel. I am not trying to convert people to “the Church of Christ way” or to “Church of Christ teaching,” but to Christ and the teaching of the New Testament.
The expression “congregation of the church of Christ” is often used by knowledgeable and well-meaning Christians, but the expression is redundant and leaves the impression that the church of Christ is a denomination composed of its constituent congregations, just as the United Methodist Church is a denomination composed of its constituent churches.
There is no difference in the meaning of “congregation” and “church,” either in English or in Greek. To speak of “a congregation of the church of Christ” is tantamount to saying “a church of the church of Christ.” If our intention is to speak of a single congregation, let us use biblical language and simply say a church of Christ or a church of God—not a congregation of the church of Christ. If our intention is to speak of more than one congregation, let us not speak of congregations of the church of Christ, but let us simply speak of “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), “the churches of God” (II Thessalonians 1:4), or “the churches of the saints” (14:23). This is Bible terminology.
We do not go to mission areas to establish a congregation of the Lord’s church! We go to preach the gospel and to plant an autonomous church of the Lord! It is glaringly redundant to speak of a congregation (or congregations) of the church of Christ! It is quite sufficient to speak simply of a congregation (or congregations) of the Lord. Paul did not speak of “the congregations of the church of Christ”; rather, he spoke simply of “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). So should we!
Only by thinking of the church in denominational terms or with an overt intent to present the church as “a denomination among the other denominations” does one use the above kind of terminology. The same is true of such expressions as “our fellowship,” “our brotherhood,” “our faith heritage,” “our tradition,” “our tribe,” or “our tributary.” God’s people today should belong to no fellowship, brotherhood, faith heritage, tradition, tribe, or tributary different than that to which the first century Christians belonged.
I know it will do no good to call these matters to the attention of some folks. Their thinking is so influenced by denominationalism that they can only speak the denominational language of Ashdod. On the other hand, our liberal brethren are only too happy to use such denominational terminology in speaking of the church for they have as their agenda the portrayal of the Lord’s church as “just another denomination” originating with the Stone-Campbell Movement of the early 1800s.
Others, however, will appreciate what I have had to say and will adjust their thinking and terminology accordingly. Some people are teachable and willing to have things pointed out to them. Others, overly “wise in their own conceits” (Romans 12:16) and puffed up by their “scholarly” achievements, are not so teachable. Yet there are things for all of us to learn if we are humble enough to listen.
If we are ever to be successful in the advocacy of pure, New Testament Christianity—undenominational Christianity—we must learn to think and speak biblically, not denominationally. I have no ill will toward any one, and I do not point out these matters motivated by an ugly spirit or with an air of superiority. However, I will not let up in my efforts to point out the unbiblical ways some people think and speak with reference to divine things, regardless of from where I see or hear the unbiblical thinking and terminology coming. Faithful preachers, teachers, and elders have a big job on their hands in educating many of our members out of their denominational thinking, speaking, and writing. This includes not a small number of preachers, teachers, elders, editors, and university professors themselves!
“Hold the pattern of sound words” (II Timothy 1:13, ASV).
“But speak thou the things which befit sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1, ASV).
June 19, 2018
June 24 (6 p.m.): Willow Avenue Church of Christ, Cookeville, TN
June 27 (7 p.m.): Blackmon Church of Christ, Murfreesboro, TN