I’ve had a burning proclivity to write this piece for some time now. However, my inclination to do so was always tempered by the notion of “who cares?” After all, the Churches of Christ are a fringe group of autonomous Christians that not many people have even heard of.
According to the 2018 edition of “Churches of Christ in the United States,” published by 21st Century Christian, there are 1,126,347 members in the United States. This is down from 1,284,056 members in 1990. That’s a 12.28% decline.
The Christian Chronicle, a self-described newspaper, associated with the Churches of Christ has published numerous articles attempting to address these membership concerns, with little success. They fail to understand the roots of their decline are sown within their own doctrine.
As such, I always suspected that this particular sect of Christians would ultimately disappear. Ergo, my hesitation to write about them. Yet, I feel it’s important for those who might be exposed to their teachings to read about this because I was a reluctant member of this church for around 10 years. I say reluctantly, not only due to the fact that services were unusually boring
Next, I will outline some areas of concern and debunk some common notions held by this sect. I won’t cover every topic as this essay would become too lengthy, but will cast a light on those issues I find most important.
Claim: The Churches of Christ are the original churches established in the New Testament.
Members of the Churches of Christ believe that Jesus founded only one church, that the current divisions among Christians do not express God’s will, and that the only basis for restoring Christian unity is the Bible.
They simply identify themselves as “Christians,” without using any other forms of religious or denominational identification. Ultimately they believe that they are recreating the New Testament church as established by Christ.
To the dismay of most members of the Churches of Christ, their origins are a product of the 19th century Restoration Movement, and not early 1st century Christians. Thomas Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, and Walter Scott were the founders of this movement. The Restoration Movement ultimately divided into separate groups. There are three main branches in the U.S.: the Churches of Christ, the unaffiliated Christian Church/Church of Christ congregations, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
This separation occurred due to varying Biblical interpretations. For example, for the Churches of Christ, any practices not present in accounts of New Testament worship were not permissible in the church, and they could find no New Testament documentation of the use of instrumental music in worship. For the Christian Churches, any practices not expressly forbidden could be considered. Then there was this issue about women being allowed to minister, but I’ll get into that later. In short, their belief in one church was more susceptible to human interpretation as they originally thought.
It could be argued that while this isn’t the original church established by early Christians, it is a copy of that the church. Unfortunately, for believers of this theory is that history shows that were varying practices and organizational structures even in the early church. After all, this was a loosely structured group of adherents with varying interpretations even then. Also
Claim: The Bible is the infallible word of God.
Members of the Churches of Christ believe that God inspired men to write the various books of the Bible. Also, there is a belief that the Bible as written is perfect and infallible. To be fair, this is also the belief of many other Christian sects as well. This notion presents many problems, which ultimately leads them to believe their interpretation of the Bible to be correct. Any other interpretation is false and will lead you straight to hell. This attitude leads them to engage in a constant level of conflict even with other Christians based solely on interpretation. There is a certain degree of fundamentalism that is cast on the Churches of Christ as a result, due to their strict interpretation.
Another inconvenient truth for this sect is that although the Early Church primarily used the Septuagint or the Targums among Aramaic speakers, the apostles did not leave a defined set of new scriptures; instead, the canon of the New Testament developed over time. Groups within Christianity include differing books as part of their sacred writings, most prominent among which are the biblical
Actually, Marcion of Sinope was the first Christian leader in recorded history to propose and delineate a uniquely Christian canon in AD 140. This included 10 epistles from St. Paul, as well as a version of the Gospel of Luke, which today is known as the Gospel of Marcion.
Claim: Women Must Remain Silent in Church
The claim that women must remain silent in Church is one that I always found disturbing, especially to the degree this was enforced by the Churches of Christ. To be clear the Bible actually says this. 1 Corinthians 14:33–35 says that women are not allowed to speak in church and that they must be submissive. It goes on to say that if they want to know something they should ask their husbands at home.
Clearly, this is a passage that is reflective of a tradition that has not evolved for the betterment of society. Moreover, if falsely interpreted as inspired by God, then it is a dangerous set of beliefs that will undoubtedly have
Ironically I always wonder why the Churches of Christ, who take a literal interpretation of the Bible don’t preach slavery. After all, it is endorsed in multiple New Testament books such as Ephesians, 1 Timothy, and Colossians. While many Christians suffer from religious moral relativism when it comes to these questions, they should ask why an omniscient God would fail so miserably at eliminating human suffering and support such backward thinking.
- Elders – The elders, who are the church leaders, are at the top of the hierarchy. There is a certain degree of nepotism and favoritism for those in the good graces of the elders. Elders exercise complete control over the congregation.
- Prohibitions Against Questioning Authority– Members who question Church doctrine are often criticized or ostracised from the community. Whatever the preacher and elders say is correct. Their interpretations of the Biblical text are always to be considered the truth. You won’t find a spirit of intellectual debate in these churches.
- Us versus Them – Members are taught that their interpretation of the Bible is correct, and all others who fail to follow this teaching will face going to hell. This is where they lose a lot of people, simply because of poor marketing. My hope is that this will undoubtedly cause this sect to fade away with history as their numbers continue to decline. On its face, this argument is truly ridiculous because if you weren’t lucky enough to be born in a place that allowed you to receive these very specific teachings and interpretations you will suffer eternal damnation. If you do the math, that’s most of the world.
- Musical Instruments – As was mentioned earlier, this group doesn’t use musical instruments during their service because it wasn’t explicitly authorized in Biblical teachings. However, lots of things aren’t explicitly authorized in the Bible. For example, it didn’t say you were allowed to wear pants during service or wear a suite. It didn’t say that you people above 5 feet tall were allowed to sing either. All of these show the absurdity of these types of doctrine. It only serves to create more “us versus them” rhetoric.
There is much more that can be said of the dangerous beliefs and behavior of the Churches of Christ, but I will end my chastisement here. Hopefully, someone who is considering joining this group will read these words and think twice before joining. Or at least do more research into the matter.