Hugh’s News & Views (Speech Patterns)

HUGH’S NEWS & VIEWS

AVOIDING DENOMINATIONAL SPEECH PATTERNS

In order to maintain an undenominational stance in the religious world, members of the body (church) of Christ must avoid the use of denominational language. Surrounded as we are by those who do not use a biblical vocabulary, it is easy to pick up their unbiblical terminology and/or to use biblical terminology in unbiblical ways. Consider the following expressions which we as New Testament Christians should avoid.

“I’m Church of Christ.” This reflects a denominational view of the church. We are Christians, disciples of Christ, saints, brethren, members of the church, but we are not “Church of Christ” or “Church of Christ-ers”! A number of years ago a good Christian woman said to me, “I’m Church of Christ all the way!” While I appreciated her spirit of loyalty to the cause of Christ, I was appalled by her sectarian and denominational manner of expression.

Church of Christ preacher, etc. We would not refer to a gospel preacher (the proper and biblical term to use) as a “church of God preacher,” a “body of Christ preacher,” or a “kingdom of heaven preacher.” Yet all of these phrases (and various others) are biblical descriptors of the church, and all of them refer to the same entity. To speak of “Church of Christ” ministers, schools, colleges, papers, etc. is to be guilty of using a biblical descriptor in a sectarian manner.

Further, since the church does not determine the doctrine to be taught, it is not “Church of Christ” doctrine or teaching that we are to set forth, but rather the doctrine of Christ and His apostles as revealed in the New Testament. To speak of “Church of Christ” doctrine conveys the notion that we are a denomination, with our own humanly devised doctrine.

Still further, since “church” and “congregation” have the same meaning, the height of redundancy is reached when one speaks of “a congregation of the Church of Christ” or “Churches of Christ congregations.” It is the same as saying “a church of the Church of Christ” or “Churches of Christ churches”!

When Paul had in mind several local churches/congregations, he spoke of them as churches of Christ (Romans 16:16) and churches of God (I Corinthian 11:16), but both expressions referred to the same people. The observant reader of the Scriptures will discover several other descriptors of the redeemed people of God, none of which is ever used in a sectarian sense. The church of the Bible does not have a formal, patented “name,” and the effort to give it one is but a move, however unintended, in the direction of denominational status.

Reverend, Pastor. Both are biblical terms, but both are popularly used in non-biblical ways. “Reverend” applies to God, not to man. (See Psalms 111:9). “Pastor” is one of several words used in the New Testament to describe the work of an elder of a local church. In fact, three sets of words are used to describe this function: 1) Elder/Presbyter, 2) Bishop/Overseer, and 3) Pastor/Shepherd.

In New Testament times, each church always had a plurality of such men, never a single “pastor.” (See Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5). I have served as a minister/evangelist/preacher of a number of congregations, but I have never been a “pastor.” By well-meaning people I have been called “Reverend Fulford,” but I eschew the title.

“We don’t believe in music in the church of Christ.” On the contrary, we do believe in music in the worship of the church, but we insist on having only the kind authorized by the New Testament—vocal music, the music that is made by “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19), the music that is made by “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). Loyal churches of Christ leave mechanical instrumental music exactly where God left it—in the Old Testament as a part of the Jewish religion, not in the New Testament as a part of Christian worship!

The above is not an effort to “make a mountain out of a molehill”; rather, it involves a principle that lies at the heart of our effort to be the undenominational church of the New Testament and to use terms in such a way as to convey that biblical position. The apostle Peter exhorted, “If any one speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11a). As people committed to the restoration of apostolic Christianity and to being the church that Christ established, let us heed this divine admonition. We can live in the 21st century without having to adopt denominational theology, denominational thought patterns, and denominational speech patterns.

(Note: Even the most casual reader of the New Testament knows that Jesus did not build a denomination (Matthew 16:18). The question, however, that many apparently do not want to deal with is whether people today can be members of what Christ established without being members of any denomination. It should be obvious that if there ever was a time in the past when people could become members of what Christ established without joining any denomination, then such is still possible today. But the progressives among those of us who have done so are embarrassed by the concept, are ashamed of the plea, and want to do everything within their power to move us to denominational status. They shall not pass.)

Hugh Fulford

October 22, 2013

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