I Joined the Church of Christ, FR 19

by Cecil Hook

ca. 1997

Detecting the Fatal Flaw in our Undenominational Claim

One cannot join the Lord’s church. When the people on Pentecost were baptized for the remission of sins, the Lord added them to his church. Those people did not have to decide which church to join, for the Lord added them to his one and only church. There was no worry about being made a part of the wrong church. The Lord’s church is not a denomination, sect, or division, for following the Bible will not make anyone a member of such. The gospel only produces Christians only, and one must go beyond the Scriptures to make one a sectarian, denominational Christian. By the same procedure through which people are saved, they are added to the one undenominational church of Christ. Those in the Church of Christ have never joined a church, but the Lord added them to it when he saved them. Therefore, we can be sure that we are not sectarian or denominational Christians.

Countless times throughout my years of preaching, I offered my listeners some such explanation as I have given in the preceding paragraph. It seems so true, air tight, appealing, and to be the simple answer to solve the problem of division. This is the only way that we can all be one in the same church. That plea is so simple, understandable, and appealing that even I had moderate success in convincing others that it is God’s way.

A person who is logical enough to form the above statement should be logical enough to see its weakness; however, it took me many years to come to recognize the overly simplistic nature of the explanation. If the Lord adds us to the one Church of Christ (or, church of Christ, if you prefer), which is not a sect, division, or denomination, how do we explain the many divisions among the churches of Christ? How does one get into one of the various groups who are dissociated from one another? Did the Lord add me to one of them, all of them, or none of them?

When I obeyed the gospel, the Lord added me to his one church which happened to be non instrumental, amillennial, and non-charismatic, and made use of multiple communion cups, Sunday School, women teachers, and orphanages. I never sought out such a church and did not apply for membership in it. I was just added to it, sort of automatically!

Others obeyed the same gospel and were added by the same Lord to his one church which happened to use only one cup in the communion and deplore Sunday School and women teachers. This group dissociated itself from the one I was in. These disciples had taken no steps to join a division any more than I had.

Still others obeyed the same gospel and were added by the same Lord to the same church which happened to use instrumental accompaniment to singing. Those people took no steps to join a sect, but remained in the church the Lord had added them to. Both of the former groups refused fellowship with this instrumental Church of Christ.

Then there were those who obeyed the same gospel and were added by the same Lord to his one church and found themselves to be in the Christian Church instead of the Church of Christ! They joined nothing and I joined nothing, but we wound up in different dissociating groups. Surely, God moves in mysterious ways, doesn’t he?

The truth may reveal that many other persons obeyed the same gospel and found their membership to be in groups with still other names.

We are not questioning that the Lord added all these people to his one church, but somebody joined a sectarian division also. Who was it? “Not l!” we hear from each one involved.

While I was a teenager, my grandfather spent one summer with us. His conviction was that we should not divide the assembly into classes. But he would go to class each Sunday, sitting in the adult class. When I questioned him about it, Grandpa explained that he did not go to classes. He just went to the assembly and the other people divided it by going to classes. Actually, they just pulled thin curtains hanging on wires; no one had to go anywhere. That’s the kind of explanations that we have made to justify our alignment in different exclusive sects of the Lord’s church. We are in the one the Lord added us to and it is others who have divided from us! As the cat gave out a loud “yeow,” the mother yelled, “Tommy, stop pulling that cat’s tail!” “I’m not pulling it, Mother,” he protested, “I’m just holding it; he’s doing the pulling!” No one wants to take the blame for anything.

One can join a group without applying for membership, being voted on, or conforming to any formality of recognition. When I was added by the Lord to his one church as a boy, I then joined an exclusive group in the church universal by my presence, participation, and support. No application of membership was made and no formal acceptance by the group was made, but the fact that I had become a part of that church which dissociated itself from other people whom the Lord had added was understood. If I had, as a professing Catholic, come into the group by presence, participation, and support, I would have experienced silent rejection, if not formal disfellowship. A Catholic could not have joined. But as a baptized believer, my joining was verified by congregational acceptance, “unofficial” as it might have been.

The same procedure prevails in the various divisions of the Lord’s church. We join them. Even though it is still true that the Lord adds us to his church when he saves us, he does not add us to a Church of Christ. We join our sectarian congregations which we designate as the Church of Christ. Isn’t it time for us to recognize that, to eat our humble pie, and to confess, “I joined the Church of Christ of which I am a member!”? After you were baptized and added by the Lord to the group that you are in without your joining it, could that group later withdraw fellowship from you? Well, yes! If they disfellowship you, they operate on the understanding that you are a part of that church. Somehow, you got into it, and it is less than the entire body of those added to the church by the Lord. God did not add you to it.

If you ever moved to another place, very likely you “placed membership” with a church in your new community. That is a ridiculous term, as though membership is something you can put somewhere, a euphemism invented to avoid using the term “join the church.” The Scriptures do not even speak of “members of the church.” We don’t “join the church”; we just “place membership!” By such action after you were baptized, you definitely identified yourself with a church that did not recognize all others in the body of Christ; hence, you joined a sectarian group.

While we are confessing, should we not go ahead and admit that we are aligned with a sect? Any group that refuses to recognize and accept others whom the Lord added to his church, as we have practiced in creating our divisions, is a sect. Who can deny that we meet that definition? And when we give ourselves a distinguishing name, we denominate ourselves. That’s a hard admission for us to make.

Is there a solution and remedy for this deadly disease? Ideally, we would all be able to agree on all points of doctrine and practice and be one in the most literal sense. That is both improbable and impractical. It has never been and there is little prospect that it will ever be. I question that Jesus had that in mind when he prayed for our unity, for he knew that we are humans rather than angels. He brought the saved to God in one body, not in fenced off congregations.

The Scriptural and practical solution is for us to quit judging others in Christ who hold differing views from ours and to accept them as brothers equal before the Lord. No one must compromise his convictions; all do not need to meet in the same congregation; and all do not have to believe and practice in total conformity. But all can love one another, accept each other, and work together in serving our heavenly Father.

Division or sectarianism is not so much the meeting in separate groups as it is a judgmental spirit. Each can have his own convictions of faith between himself and the Lord (Rom. 14:22), but one fails to discern the one body when he judges his brother even while continuing to commune with him (1 Cor. 11:29), and thus he eats and drinks damnation to his soul. In view of our practice, that becomes very frightening.

Some earnest disciples start new groups in an effort to be nonsectarian and non denominational. I can appreciate that fully. But why start a new group when there are already other non sectarian, undenominational churches in your community? Why not join one of them? “I do not agree with their doctrines and/or practices,” you reply. Then just how non sectarian is your group if it refuses fellowship with others who make the same claim that you make? You start another denomination when you start a group which must distinguish (denominate) itself from other non sectarian churches. If nonsectarian, non denominational churches are truly that, why do they not all unite—including the various Church of Christ groups who make that claim? “Non denominational” churches become “non-denominational” denominations!

I joined the Church of Christ – in fact, several of them. The Lord added me to his church and then I joined local fragments of the universal church by my identity with them which implied that I was part of them. The Churches of Christ which I served as a career minister would be characterized generally as judgmental, exclusive, and sectarian in spirit, and many who composed them held convictions different from mine. While being a part of such a group, one may disavow what he considers to be error; cultivate an accepting, nonsectarian spirit, and seek diligently to correct those evils which make the local group sectarian and denominational. I do not know what course anyone can take that will be more remedial of our ills.

All churches need constant reform, but only the Savior can remove the candlestick. Epistles were written to bring about correction and reform in churches, but in no epistle were disciples told to leave a misdirected church and start a pure one. []

(The above is Chapter 26 of my book Free as Sons with some revisions.)

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