TWO SERMONS OUT OF THE PAST
Sixty years ago Bill Humble delivered a lecture at Freed-Hardeman College titled “The Church of Christ is Different.” The outline of the lecture was published in the 1956 book of lectureship outlines. Brother Humble preached for several congregations of the Lord, taught at Florida College in Tampa, and later at Abilene Christian College (University) in Abilene, Texas where for a period of time he also served as a high ranking administrator. He is now retired and living in Amarillo, Texas.
Brother Humble’s masterful lecture at Freed-Hardeman consisted of three major sections, each supported by several points. They were as follows:
- The church of Christ is different (a truth). Brother Humble pointed out that Christ’s church is different from paganism, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Protestant Denominationalism, and the irreligious.
- Why the church of Christ is different (a reason). Humble said it is different because we believe the Bible is a blueprint or pattern for the church in every age; that we must know what the blueprint calls for (teaches); and that we have a duty to follow it.
- Let’s keep the church of Christ different (a plea).
Brother Humble pointed out that our preaching must be distinctive; our practices must be scriptural, not denominational; our faith must be unmarred by modernism (earlier he had mentioned the modernists among us who have already departed from the faith); and our plea must be for a restoration of New Testament Christianity. In his conclusion, he reminded his hearers that God has a pattern, and we must follow it. He said that if modernism ever robs us of this conviction, the battle is lost and our faith in the deity of Christ and other fundamentals cannot long survive. He emphasized that if God has a pattern (and He does), we must speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent. He said that if the New Testament is not a pattern, then we must admit that it matters little what we speak or whether we speak at all. It truly was a masterpiece of a lecture!
In that same time frame (about 1958 or 1959) I heard Harold Hazelip in a gospel meeting at the Haldeman Avenue church in Louisville, Kentucky, the church where the great M. C. Kurfees preached for 45 years (1886-1931). One evening Harold preached a sermon on “Why Not Denominationalism?” Harold also preached for a number of local churches and went on to teach at Harding Graduate School of Religion (now Harding School of Theology) in Memphis. He later served as that School’s Dean, and still later served for about a dozen years as President of Lipscomb University in Nashville where the School of Theology is named in his honor.
Harold’s Louisville sermon title was not a rhetorical question, suggesting that we should accept denominational status. Rather, it was a well-reasoned and clearly-articulated presentation on why we should be undenominational Christians. First, responding to the various efforts made to defend denominationalism by philosophical, emotional, and scripture “defenses” (Harold showed that the various scriptures used to defend denominationalism were actually taken out of context and abused), he then gave six reasons for rejecting denominationalism and refusing to become denominational:
- It exists without the authority of Christ,
- It causes infidelity,
- It confuses men,
- It cultivates carnality,
- It retards evangelism,
- It divides.
I took copious notes on this sermon. The outline itself was simple, but the message preached was profound.
My question now is, are the things that Bill Humble and Harold Hazelip preached 60 years ago still true? If not, why not? How many of us still believe what they said? How many of us who preach still preach the biblical principles contained in those messages? Why do we now have members of the church (including preachers) saying the churches (they would write it Churches) of Christ are a denomination and that we cannot avoid being a denomination? Are some among us now ashamed of our undenominational stance? Have some among us allowed their denominational and scholarly peers to intimidate them into thinking and speaking of the church as if it were a denomination? Have some among us now abandoned the biblical concept of the church? Did some, in fact, ever really have a biblical concept of the church to begin with? Have some never really been able to view the church in any way except through the “eyes” of denominationalism and their denominational friends (e.g., “I’m Baptist,” “I’m Methodist,” “I’m Lutheran,” “I’m Church of Christ”)?
Are there those among us who want to bring the churches of Christ into a kind of amorphous, generic “Christianity”? Does the church of Christ have anything distinctive and definitive to offer that cannot be found in the religious evangelical world? If so, what is it? A proper view of grace? A true understanding of the place of baptism in God’s scheme of redemption? A correct biblical hermeneutic? A respect for the biblical organization of the church? The proper role of women in the work and worship of the church? True worship? The need for strict adherence to the word of God as the only authority in religion? Would the world lose anything if the churches of Christ ceased to exist? Can one find elsewhere what the churches of Christ have to offer? Given what I understand to be the thinking of some, if one left the church for a denomination or for Catholicism or for one of the so-called world religions, would that person still be alright in the sight of God? If so, why?
Yes, two great sermons out of the past of which the truths set forth in each have not changed and to which we would do well to still pay attention.
February 10: Nashville Road Church of Christ, Gallatin, TN.