As I watched the magician perform, it became apparent that we don't always see what we think we see. We can be convinced that things are a certain way when they are not that way at all.
The four issues that have probably caused the church the most pain and sorrow are:
1. The local church building, and what we can or cannot use it for or do in it.
2. The local church treasury, and what we can or cannot do with its contents.
3. The local church pulpit, and who is in it and what he does there.
4. The local church's autonomy, and what it excludes and includes.
It will probably come as a shock to find out that not one of these things is found in the New Testament.
After all the in-fighting over the local church building and whether you can eat a sandwich in it, or let the Boy Scouts meet there, did you ever try to find a local church building in the New Testament... you who speak where the Bible speaks? You can't find the building, much less a list of what you can or can't use it for.
After all the bickering over the use of "the Lord's money" why hasn't it dawned on us that the Lord didn't have any money, except in the sense that all things are his. (He had to perform a miracle and produce money in the mouth of a fish with which to pay the tax collector.)
It would be hard to prove that now that he has gone to heaven, the Lord has suddenly become a rich capitalist. The church treasury, as we have it today, was a thing totally unknown in the New Testament church.
The local pulpit, with all the grief and church splitting that has occurred over who uses it, and who controls who uses it, is a non-biblical issue. The "Local Pulpit" as we presently experience it did not exist in New Testament times.
Also, the doctrine of "local church autonomy" is a myth we have pulled out of the blue, to divide asunder the body of Christ in the twentieth century. "Congregational Autonomy" as we presently view it, is a result of the extremely sectarian spirit that has only recently engulfed us. While we preached that the entire body of Christ is one organism, rather than an organization, we have proceeded to organize it, and have determined among ourselves just how independent of each other each organization has to be. We determined that every born-again soul had to be not only related to Christ; he had to be related to a "local congregation" also. We presumed to organize the organism, while we preached that only God can do that. How hilarious it would be if it were not so tragic and painful!
We have made our boasts of "restoring New Testament Christianity," and have chided the religious world for its disregard of "scriptural principles." We have, at the same time, made a creed out of our slogan, "Where the. Bible speaks we speak and where the Bible is silent we are silent." We do not live up to our boast on either count. While generic commands may imply specific provisions to meet the changing needs, the specifics may change as the need changes. On this basis, we justify our participation in the four areas mentioned above.
I do not believe it is wrong to have a church building, a treasury, a local pulpit or to practice congregational autonomy. I am simply saying that we have made a whole lot of noise in areas where we have boasted of our silence. In areas of silence we are not always as silent as we claim we are.
The troubles of the church will not be solved by administrative demigods. The truth is not determined by bending the scriptures to fit our slogans. A non-sectarian church cannot be built by insisting that all others accept our interpretations of scripture. The truth lies objectively in the Word, and not in our subjective understanding of the Word. It is hard to circumscribe the truth with slogans. Anyone is sure to be embarrassed sooner or later who assumes that truth lies solely with his understanding of it. Things are not always what they seem to us to be.
We have used the same scriptures to prove the same practices so long that we are in danger of becoming brainwashed. We have used the same arguments, based on the same assumptions used by our debaters a hundred years ago, and some of them were not sound then. A point made for argument's sake does not necessarily prove truth. The old cliches are not necessarily true because they have been so oft repeated. We cannot afford the luxury of believing that we have already arrived at all ultimate truth.
Self-righteousness ill becomes us. Jesus had some pointed things to say in Luke eighteen about a Pharisee who was afflicted with it. He did everything just right, and looked with disdain upon publicans. He felt that he had a right to sit in judgment because he spoke where the Bible speaks and was silent where the Bible is silent. He had reached, at least in his own mind, a state of absolute perfection that qualified him to decide how sinful all publicans were. When we usurp the prerogative of checking and passing on the soundness of everyone else, we have a real problem.
We do not need to panic when some non-traditional thing happens. We do not live by traditions, do we? I have noticed that most of us who are quick on the trigger when it comes to shooting heretics are more incensed over the kicking of some sacred cow than they are zealous for the truth.
The only safe source we have for our faith and practice is the Word of God. We need to keep going back to it, like a carpenter to his blueprint, and we need to read it without our own special brand of colored glasses on. Judging another by someone else's report, or by a standard that men have set up is a dangerous practice. Setting someone straight by aligning them with our practice is dangerous too, because some of our practices, which we swear came out of the Bible...didn't. -- Reuel Lemmons.
(Editor's Note: The above article is taken from Image , a magazine edited by Brother Lemmons. It is published by Worldwide Missionary and Educational Foundation; Alton Howard, President, 115 Warren Drive, Suite D, West Monroe LA 71291-7256. It is published twice each month, 36 pages and the subscription price is $18 per year.) CAH