Over and over in this paper I have pointed out that there is actually no "church" (or any kind) in God's word. Yes, the English word "church" appears many times in most translations; but it should not be there because that word is not a translation of the Greek word "ekklesia." The English word "church" has two primary or major meanings in today's usage: (1) a building called a "church," and (2) a religious institution or corporate body like Southside Baptist Church or Forest Hills Church of Christ. Both are human institutions, corporate organizations, called "churches." Both basically have the same structure. Each is a legal entity, the equivalent of an individual under the law. The Greek word "ekklesia" does not mean either of these concepts.
The error and evil here does not lie in the idea that a religious institution or organization is wrong or sinful per se, in and of itself. The error and evil lies in the false, unscriptural, even anti-scriptural claim that "the church," either the building ("sanctuary" or "Holy place") or the religious organization - "local church" - is from God! The claim is that the local Church of Christ Church (C of CC) is divine, that the Lord built it or set it up as an organization, institution, or corporate structure! Did Jesus build or establish the Forest Hills C of CC? Certainly not! No more so than He built or established the Southside Baptist Church Church. The Baptists recognize and acknowledge this fact. C of CC people don't really know what to say about this, so the preachers do a lot of double-talk. They bewilder the people with the assumption and assertion that the Lord has provided a "pattern" and the church institution - "the local church" is to be built according to this pattern. Brethren, this anti-scriptural dogma of men has developed and become "law" in my lifetime. It is all from men, not from the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no "local church" institution, such as we have today in C of CC's, set forth in God's word. Please, honestly and objectively check this out for yourself. Search the Scriptures for such a descriptive pattern.
Jesus did not die, give His life, or shed His precious blood for either a material building ("church") or a religious institution ("church")! He is not the head nor the Saviour of a building! He is not the Head of a corporate structure or organization such as the Richland Hills C of C or the Northside Baptist Church. He did not build or establish a material building called a "church," nor a legal entity, a religious corporation called a "church."
The "church/building" and the local "church/institution" are both from the wisdom and will of men. This fact in itself does not mean that they are necessarily wrong or sinful. As an example, Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc. is a religious corporation, a legal entity under law, that originated in the will and wisdom of men. I believe it is an expedient method for disciples to combine individual efforts to teach and preach the word of God, as well as do other related "religious" activities. But - and get this fact, please! - we do not in anyway whatever think that this human corporation is from God or that the Lord built it or even gave a "pattern" for such.
The facts are, Biblically and according to civil law, that Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc. and the local C of CC are equivalent human structures or organizations. The difference is that we know this truth and admit it; but your clergy are "selling" you a human organization as a divine institution, just exactly as the Roman Catholic Church claims for itself. In actuality, the Roman Catholic Church and the major, older denomination churches serve as the "pattern for the modern local C of C Churches, as well as the Independent Christian Church Churches. None of these structured religious institutions are from the Lord. They are all denominations, the creations of men.
Let me repeat what I have tried to emphasize several times in this journal: There is not one essential requirement for having a denomination that the local C of CC does not have! If so, name it. I said "essential'' to being a denomination. Certainly there are differences between denominations, but each one has every essential characteristic or requirement to be correctly labeled as a denomination. (It should be noted that there are differences aplenty between C of C churches.) But whatever is required to constitute a denomination is found in today's local C of C churches! Get your Pulpit Minister to show you from God's word that I am wrong. You need to know the truth on this vital matter. It is vital. It is your eternal destiny that is at stake here. Are you willing to examine everything carefully by searching the scriptures to see if these things are true; that is, to determine for certain that "the local church" institution, like West End C of C, is found in God's word? Or, will you simply take the assurance of your Pulpit Minister, who, is employed by the "local church" and paid by the "local church," that such an institution the C of CC denomination - is from God? Unfortunately "many" are willing to put their trust in men. The "few" will not risk such.
One important consideration: if you were the hired Pulpit Minister of "the local church," depending upon it for your livelihood, how do you think you would answer that question? It is still true that one does not "bite" the hand that "feeds" him!
Let me put it plainly: See if you can get your Pulpit Minister to affirm in honorable public discussion that the local C of C institution (which hired and pays him for services rendered) is built according to a pattern given by the Lord Jesus Christ and today exists and functions in all it structure and operations by divine authority. Reread that statement. Surely if the preacher believes and preaches this doctrine, he should be willing to affirm it publically. Let's see if we can find one who will do so where his flock can hear his defense. I will be happy to come and deny that proposition.
The above is a brief review of what I have been trying to get you - the children of God - to understand. I want to make you aware of how far from God's teaching the C of C churches (and the ICC churches even more so!) have gone. The C of CC is but another denomination among the hundreds of others. The other denominations have recognized this truth about the C of CC and have tried to tell us for a long time, but we refused to even consider it, all the while becoming more and more a full-fledged denomination just like the rest. Yet even now our preacher/clergy keep harping that the C of CC is the one true church, the very one that the Lord established. It is time the C of C members faced up to the reality of the situation and honestly and openly acknowledged this undeniable truth. If you are going to play the institutional church game, then stop trying to claim you are not what you are in reality. Accept the status and play according to the "rules" of denominational acceptance and practice.
There is a solution to the denominational course the C of C churches are now on. It is not an easy one, but it is the right one. It is simply to return to the Lord for a direct, personal, individual relationship with Him without membership in the C of C denomination. There should be no church institution or corporate structure between you and your Savior; nor through which you must serve Him and others. Turn from the on-going apostasy into the denominationalism of men. See "the local church" institution for what it really is - an organization of men. I speak here of the institution, NOT the people themselves. The Lord's saints are member/slaves under the control and direction of "the local church" through its body of Lords or Rulers. You must recognize that this enslavement in the local church is the same sort and kind as is found in the Roman Catholic Church and most of other major denominations. The institution controls and orders your religious service and stands between you and the Lord. The head of the local C of CC is the Eldership, this corporate body of Rulers or Lords, who "lord it over" or rule that institution in all its activities. The local C of C church is not something the Lord built or designed that you must join or in which you must "place membership" in order to be saved. It is a creation of men.
You must - absolutely must - come to understand that an assembly or gathering of saints is not a corporate entity or a religious institution. Saints may congregate or gather when, where and with other disciples as they please to "provoke one another unto love and good works" (Heb. 10:24); but this does not make them a church or an institution, such as the White Rock C of C in Dallas. White Rock Church of Christ is the corporate name of a religious institution. It takes more than getting a number of Christians together to constitute a church. A church is a corporation (formal or informal, under the law) or institution that can function as a legal entity. The local C of C church, such as the Brentwood C of C is a corporate organization that has entity, identity, and functions separate and apart from the individual members thereof.
If nothing else can be done, the saints must correct their understanding of the church institution. If you must have some organization/institution, at least recognize that it is not a church institution that belongs to Christ. It is not a divine organization! It is not the equivalent of the kingdom of heaven or the body of Christ. In no sense is "the local C of C" institution the same as the ekklesia of Christ.
Let me illustrate it this way: When a group of God's people decide to start, form or constitute themselves into a corporate entity, a functional, legal entity under the law of the land, calling it Temple Terrace C of C, in order to buy and own property and to otherwise transact business (such as build a building, contract for electrical service, water, telephone, janitor service, hire employees, etc.), is this man-formed, legal entity or institution a requirement of the Lord? Is there a "pattern" from the Lord for such a creation of men and civil government? The answer should be obvious to all. That is what the local C of C churches are! Learn this truth. Open the eyes of your understanding and face up to reality before it is too late.
Hold to this simple truth: The saints, the redeemed people of God, constitute His ekklesia. There is one and only one ekklesia of Christ, just like there is only one body of Christ and one kingdom of Christ. The Lord did not prescribe any organizational entity or structure, no institution, which His disciples must "join" or in which they must "place membership." The Lord alone adds to His ekklesia - "the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). Is that not adequate? Do I need to "join" or "place membership" in some man-made organization to please the Lord and do His will? Where is the instruction from Him for us to do this? Must the Christian be a member of two "churches," two ekklesias? The Lord adds us to one when saved. Must we now find or build another "church" or ekklesia and join it? If we do such, it is certain that we join a "church" or ekklesia of men, because the Lord has only one! Can't you understand that? Do you believe His word?
Now let me respond to the question above, the one serving as the heading of this editorial. Look again at the heading above.
Many times since this series of editorials have appeared, I have been asked that question by honest, devoted Christians. They can generally understand what I am saying and they agree for the most part. But the question poses a big problem for them. I detect a large degree of uncertainty and fear expressed in this type of question. They immediately recognize that if there is no "local church" to order and direct their lives and service to Christ, then what are they to do. All their lives they have been dependent upon this church institution. They will be in a state of total confusion without this Master -the local church - to which they have been so long slave/members! Throwing off the yoke of bondage and servitude to "the local church" organization makes them fearful. I can definitely empathize with this concern.
If "the local church" institution is removed or if the saints should dismantle it or withdraw from it, the disciples would be in a state of chaos! Where would they go for "worship services?" Where could they get the Lord's Supper? Who would decide the time and place for getting saints together? How would they sing, pray, or make a financial contribution into a corporate treasury to be controlled by the Board of Directors of the corporate church? Who will provide Sunday School for our children? Who will "preach to us"? Who will decide for us what is right or wrong, what is truth or error? Can you see the fear, the confusion, the despair in these concerns?
A few times some have asked, "Well, if you are going to do away with 'the local church,' what are you going to put in its place?" The answer is (in part): NOTHING! There is no gain to do away with the local institutional church and then set-up something in its place to function as it does.
What we need to do is to remove "the local church" that stands between the disciple and his Lord. The local church institution controls and orders the lives of its adherents or members. The role of the member-slave is (1) to obey and (2) to pay! Just as the Roman Catholic Church teaches its member-slaves. The Eldership is "the head over all things to the local church," this corporate institution. Our people are being taught the heresy that "to obey the Eldership is to obey Jesus Christ and to disobey the Eldership is to disobey Jesus Christ." Think about that teaching. Do you really believe that? Do you understand why I so often speak of the Eldership as the Rulership or the Lordship of the local church institution? That is the reality of the modern C of CC. The Lord Jesus Christ is not the Head of this local church organization. You are not directly under the Headship of the Lord Jesus. You have substituted the Eldership for the Pope; or have allowed the preacher/clergy to establish men (two or more) into a corporate body that exercises the same position and power over "the local church" as the Pope or the Priest does over the Catholic Church. And all of this anti-scriptural teaching and practice has culminated in my lifetime! It is a recent invention. "The local church" is a human invention, an organization ruled by a body of men as the head thereof; and to which you are to be in subjection, with no voice and no vote. Do you believe this is God's will for His people?
Instead of "the local church," let me recommend the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's exalt Him to His rightful place as our one Lord and Master; as the one and only Head of His people. Let's replace "the local church," controlled by its body of Lords, with the Lord of All! He is your spiritual Head; your Master and you should be His slave! One on one; individual to individual. You sing, "Where He leads me I will follow;" now do it.
Try a direct, personal or individual relationship with Jesus as Lord and Master. Let Him direct your life and service. He is the Head of the one body (of the redeemed). Each member is directly connected to the Head, is governed by the Head, and is accountable only to the Head!
There is nothing the Lord wants us to do that is not done by us as individuals. There is no corporate or institution responsibility. The Lord has never assigned any work to a Church organization. There is no such thing as "collective responsibilities," as some of our preacher/clergy now try to "con" us into believing. If there are collective or corporate responsibilites, then there would of necessity have to be collective or institution accountability. Will the Lord hold a corporation or "local church" institution accountable at the judgement?
What would you do without "the local church" institution ruled by its Board of Elders? It all depends upon you! It depends upon what you want. It depends upon whether you want it all done for you or not. It depends upon whether you are ready, with the necessary faith and courage, to accept your individual responsibility as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you ready and willing to stand on your own feet and make the decision for yourself in being a follower of the Lord? It won't be easy because in a large measure you will be like a child learning how to walk. You will be afraid to "turn loose" of "the local church" and follow Jesus. But it can be done as you grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord. You often sing, "Take my hand and lead me, lead me all the way." Did you ever sing these words:
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Thru the storm, thru the night,
Lead me on to the light;
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.
Dear brother and sister, "the local church" institution can't do that!
Once more: Recall those comforting words so familiar to all - "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want... He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me..."
"The local church" cannot be your Shepherd. That institution cannot "restore" your soul. It cannot guide you in the paths of righteousness. "The local church" cannot be with you when you have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In that journey you cannot say of this human institution - "for Thou art with me." Oh! Praise God, He has provided for us a Lord and Master who can Shepherd guide, direct, and care for us here; and He (only) can and will go with us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Will you trade that Savior/Shepherd/Master for an institution built by men and controlled by men? Surely not.
Well, seriously consider this: "No man can serve two Masters" (Matt. 6:24). "You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men" (1 Cor. 7:23).
When preachers set forth the false doctrine and bind it upon you, that you are to obey the elders, they are teaching you to obey men! When they proclaim that the Eldership/Lordship is "over" the local church institution of which you are a member, they are demanding that you must obey men. When they make the law that to "obey the Eldership is to obey God and to disobey the Eldership is to disobey God," they are requiring that you are to obey men! This is simply a new version of the Roman Catholic Church doctrine that places the Pope and the clergy as the head of that institution. The members thereof are to obey as if they are obeying God Himself! Thus they have enslaved millions of deluded people through all these years. What a tragedy!
But the same thing, even though to a lesser degree, is in the C of CC doctrine as above. It is error and it is evil!
As slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must stand up and proclaim to "the local church" and its Board of Rulers/Lords that "whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge..." (Acts 4:19), but "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Do you have the faith and courage to throw off the yoke of slavery to men and a church institution and be only a slave (servant) of the One Lord, our Master, Jesus Christ? I hope and pray that each of you will do just this. You must do so if you are to please God. The choice is yours: God or men! - CAH