Free in Christ – Chapter 1, The Issues Before Us

by Cecil Hook

THE ISSUES BEFORE US

We are divided! While we in the Church of Christ have pled fervently for unity, we have continued to divide. The very message which we proclaim in hopes of creating unity has been the cause of division by its nature.

The splintered, sectarian divisions claim to be the one true church. Those on the left often look condescendingly upon those on the right while those on the right condemn those on the left. Both those on the left and the right usually set themselves against all who do not denominate (name) themselves Church of Christ.

A special reasoning has developed which produces and defends this lamentable condition. It begins with a legal approach to the Scriptures and justification. According to this line of thinking, since salvation depends upon rightly keeping of law, each point of law must be known and practiced in detail. Unity and fellowship are based on total doctrinal agreement, ruling out any thought of unity in diversity. This mentality will continue to emphasize differences and force those distinctions into dividing issues.

A person has only to sit in one of our Bible class discussions to see how foolish our claim for doctrinal unity is. No two of us agree on everything. We cannot evade this point. To emphasize this truth, a list of one hundred issues over which individuals have disagreed is given below. We have continued in congregational fellowship while disagreeing on these many points; thus our very practice has been inconsistent with our denial of unity in diversity.

1. taking of oaths
2. serving in the military
3. inflicting capital punishment
4. using force to defend oneself or others
5. voting for political candidates
6. serving as a government official
7. engaging in political activism
8. Christmas or Easter programs
9. letting a non-member lead prayer
10. lifting hands while singing
11. joining a ministerial alliance
12. indwelling of the Holy Spirit
13. work of the Holy Spirit
14. baptism of the Holy Spirit
15. prayer for healing
16. the Trinity
17. special providence
18. how God answers prayer
19. fasting
20. translations of the Bible
21. use of Thee and Thou in prayer
22. authority of elders
23. who selects and appoints elders
24. qualifications of elders
25. tenure of elders
26. elders presiding at the Lord’s Table
27. qualifications of deacons
28. deaconesses
29. enrolling widows
30. addressing disciples as Major or Doctor
31. long hair on men
32. midweek contributions
33. dimming the lights during prayer
34. singing as the emblems are passed
35. use of church buildings for secular activities
36. use of pictures of Jesus
37. use of symbols such as the cross
38. use of steeples and stained glass windows
39. use of the term Sunday School
40. passing of the collection baskets
41. eating in the church building
42. grounds for disfellowshipping
43. support of colleges from the church treasury
44. divorce for any cause
45. remarriage of a divorced person
46. preacher officiating at a wedding of a divorced person
47. disciples marrying non-members
48. preacher officiating for a mixed marriage
49. use of an instrument in “church” weddings
50. method and type of inspiration of the Bible
51. re-baptism of Baptists and Christian Church members
52. the “five items of worship”
53. use of choirs, choruses, quartets, solos, etc.
54. serving the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
55. serving the Lord’s Supper other than in assemblies
56. integration of races
57. smoking
58. total abstinence from alcoholic beverages
59. membership in fraternal orders
60. contributing to public charities
61. use of Bible class literature
62. youth directors, youth rallies, youth camps
63. the six days of creation being literal days
64. the extent of evolution
65. the operation of Christian hospitals
66. awards and prizes for church activities
67. debating religious issues
68. ministers of education, ministers of music, etc.
69. benevolence to fellow-disciples only
70. the baptismal “formula”
71. formal confession before baptism
72. going to law against disciples
73. dedicating babies
74. signing contribution pledge cards
75. children’s homes under eldership or a board
76. dancing
77. women wearing shorts and slacks
78. women wearing slacks to church services
79. girls leading prayer in family devotionals
80. girls leading prayer in youth devotionals
81. clapping hands during singing
82. buying VBS refreshments from the treasury
83. the present day activity of demons
84. applauding in the assembly
85. use of God’s name as a by-word
86. use of euphemisms of God’s name in by-words
87. use of contraceptives
88. abortion
89. adopting out an illegitimate child
90. women working outside the home
91. Children’s Bible Hour
92. bussing children to services
93. “What is to be will be.”
94. bodily resurrection
95. if we shall know each other in heaven
96. degrees of reward and punishment
97. whether heaven and hell are literal places
98. dress code for men serving the Lord’s Supper
99. whether Christ came in AD 70
100. a name for the church

No doubt, you can add to this rounded count of 100 issues. This listing borrows heavily from a list by Patrick M. Phillips, who also gives credit to James Robert Jarrell, in Mission Messenger, May 1971. How absurd it is for us to pretend to be united doctrinally when it is not likely that there is even one small congregation among us in total agreement on all these matters.

Then there are “big” issues over which we have created open divisions, aligning brethren in different sectarian, exclusive groups. Phillips noted thirty divisions due to doctrinal distinctions. I have known of divisions based on the following doctrinal distinctions and practical issues:

1. use of Sunday School classes
2. use of women teachers
3. use of multiple communion cups
4. premillennialism
5. congregations cooperating in evangelism through a sponsoring church
6. supporting Christian orphanages from the local treasury
7. speaking in tongues
8. cooking and eating in the church building
9. the “located minister” system
10. the use of instrumental music in worship
11. the use of missionary, benevolent, and other types of societies or organizations to carry out Christian activities.

In developing such issues, we have become hair-splitters serving a God of quibbles. Sincerely, but being either ignorant or intellectually dishonest, we have twisted and misapplied Scriptures to support our contentions. We have become fixed in the tracks of dogmatism. God’s purposes in His directives have been overshadowed by emphasis on lawful requirements. Binding incidental details often has become more important than the love without which we cannot be bound together. Doctrine, instead of the Savior, has become our center. The binding of scruples has limited the liberties of others. We have not trusted others with the freedom which Christ gives. We have become judgmental and exclusive and have given ourselves a name to distinguish ourselves from others. God’s grace has been limited to our achievement. We continue not only to divide but also to prevent the only true unity. Unless we change our perspective, we shall continue on this ill-fated course.

As the forty-plus years of my ministry passed and I continued to learn, it became evident to me that we were in need of much correction of course. Our group philosophy and attitude, however, allowed for little correction. We were right in all the things that counted! I learned that all the truth is not permitted from our pulpits. When the financial security of the preacher’s family is threatened by each new thought that he introduces, it is easy for him to rationalize that it is better to wait. But how long must we wait? Years have fled by and my time of opportunity on earth is limited. Shall I wait for another generation to speak out when I lacked the courage to do so? Shall we allow our misdirection to be perpetuated? Some have led the way courageously. I, too, must speak out! I want to do what I can to correct the course of those whom I spent my years sincerely misdirecting. I hope that I am ready to pay the cost.

Although this is my lover’s quarrel with the people I hold dear, it is not a negative and bitter assault on them. There are positive solutions. So, stay with me through the chapters ahead, and may God bless you and me through this study together.

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