Please read "Church of Christ" Creeds in January's edition of The Examiner. The responses to this admittedly controversial first essay on creeds have been overwhelmingly positive. Some who wrote or called suggested other traditions among restorationist fellowships that have crystallized into sacred cows we are here calling creeds. It is difficult even for this "open minded" conservative to admit openly that I have aided and abetted those who perpetuated creeds among us, whether written or oral. But, alas, we scratch at a few more itching spots that need attention.
First, THE SOUND-PAPER CREED. By this I refer to the partisan idea that there are sound journals among us implying unsound (heretical) ones as well. A paper is only as sound as the writers who contribute, the editor who distributes and the readers who consume. Candidly, there is no such thing as "a sound paper." No two Christians or editors think and interpret scripture exactly alike. Unity is not based on unanimity of opinion. How many times must we say it? Unity in diversity is a reality. Unity in university is nonexistent. And praise be to God for our differing gifts and vantage points. Tant, Woods, Holt, Ketcherside, Hedge, Garrett, Barnett and Fudge are just a sampling of brothers who have goaded me personally into being forced to THINK. And I love them all. Yet they are as diverse as an Arizona sunset is from a frozen lake in Winter Michigan.
THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL CREED. In relationship to Pentecost Sunday School is a relatively new innovation. I've benefited from it. The principle for it (studying together) is biblical. I've abhorred its abuses. Parents use it as a crutch while absolving themselves of being the primary spiritual leaders/teachers of their children. Shame! We've even hatched an anti Sunday School group within our fractured fellowship. But lest anyone doubt the creedal status this tool of instruction has become just suggest the idea of doing away with Sunday School in any established congregation. Sadly, if we ever did such, what little teaching some kids receive would cease.
THE COME-THREE-TIMES CREED. Simply stated this requires three trips a week to the edifice for edification. One must appear for : 1) A.M. Sunday School/Worship, 2) P.M. Sunday Evening Worship, 3) Wednesday Bible Study (formerly known as "Prayer Meeting"). Miss often from any of these without proper ecclesiastical reasons and one's spirituality is questioned. Yet this is a hard creed to enforce. I've noticed that big money givers can attend as infrequent as once or twice a month yet receive little, if any, reprimand or discipline from church leaders so long as their contributions continued. Yet other poor souls have been "withdrawn from" for in-attendance (and I'm still puzzled at how we can withdraw something we don't even have).
THE BLACK/WHITE-CHURCH CREED. I heard Jimmy Allen once cancelled a meeting in progress because blacks weren't allowed in the lily white southern Church of Christ edifice. I was personally dismissed from a thriving southern white congregation just weeks after baptizing blacks and helping to integrate that fellowship. This was done in spite of the fact that every baptism, contribution and attendance record had been shattered the six months prior to these baptisms. My wife drove from Indianapolis in 1964 to Abilene Christian College with the first black man admitted there as a student and even this was at Otis Gatewood's intercession since the young man had been an honor student at Michigan Christian College. Brethren, the vestiges of racism are still among us. God forbid that this continue!
THE F. T. P. G. P. CREED. Most of us are familiar with this. The Mormon's aren't. They have mutual edification and have grown 5 to 1 over us. Our creed states, "If we want to grow we need to hire a sharp and well mannered orator known in extra biblical jargon as a full time paid gospel preacher." This edifier will lecture at appointed times thus insuring growth. Why didn't someone tell the apostles this before they turned the world right side up for Jesus? (And I told Charles that sarcasm wasn't nice. Sorry!)
THE LEGISLATING-MORALS CREED. Included in this mindset are viseral matters including length of hair, length of skirts, pants suits (on women), dancing, smoking, drinking and the ever popular, yet dreaded, "mixed bathing." That's correct, Christian friends. Bathing with the opposite sex. In Indiana we called it "swimming." I never had a bar of soap with me when I did it. I always wore trunks. I even remember a preacher questioning the sincerity of my dear brother-in-law when he professed that he didn't go to a swimming pool to lust at all the girls (or even some of them). Sometimes I've wondered if there weren't more dirty thoughts in the minds of the preachers than with the young ones they warned. By the way, that was the church that fired me down South. Yep! That one. My first official "invited to" church party was a pool party. Even open-minded Goad and spouse were a little uncomfortable. It reminds me of the annual "drunk sermons" around Xmas and New Year's delivered to a house full of teetotalers who were stone sober yet ne'er one was given on the vice of smoking since a quarter of the members did. It's hard to preach on defiling the temple of God with tobacco when the very elders who provide your salary are growing it on their back forties. Capice?
I can see I'm in trouble now. Let me try to unbury myself. My point is: "One can't legislate and enforce morality for another." Parents and God excluded, of course. I still remember a dearly beloved deacon whose wife, even while pregnant, wore super short mini skirts. That's right. Goad decided to moralize. Sweet brother forgive me. The next Sunday his precious mate had her hem let out almost completely on her maternity dress. Point? I, nor you, have the right to tell another Christian how long his wife's dresses or his son's hair should be. That is a family matter with the head of each household. Nor do we have the mandate to prohibit beer and dancing in a man's own house. Sure, I've got my druthers. But mine may not be yours. Got it! We all must study and pray and listen and pray and then obey the will of God to the best of our abilities, including all areas of morality whether it includes something as innocuous as recreational choices or a matter as volatile as abortion. And just for the record, I don't drink and I don't chew and I don't swim wif' 'dem 'dat do!
THE EDIFICE-REX-COMPLEX CREED. This is the almost universally accepted "Let's erect us a building" mania. The orator/building creed reminds me of the Israelites demanding a king so they could be like the other nations. I grew up in an "anti" fellowship (this is the Goadspel truth) that passed a hat so we could rent a Roman Catholic church facility in order to have a pot luck dinner. That's right. We didn't want to be involved with the liberals who had "bellyship halls" as Foy Wallace labeled church kitchens. You see, it was wrong for us to eat apple pie in the church basement. What a monumental theological impact all of this made on my developing twelve-year-old spirituality.
"Now let me get this right. The preacher can have a bologna sandwich in his study. I can go to the potty in the building's 'rest' room. We can cool the air and pad the pew. But we can't break bread 'after church' in the basement for that will somehow defile holy ground or perhaps profane a spot devoted to spiritual matters." You see, the Edifice Rex Complex deals with the ends and outs of what can and cannot be done in the church house. And the irony of all this "holy place" thinking is that our peculiar vocabulary wouldn't even allow us to refer to worship hall as the "sanctuary." How utterly supercilious! Creeds are hard to break. I still get nervous every time I drink from a church water cooler (choke). See, Charles, sarcasm only adds to the confusion.
THE INVITATION-SONG CREED. Can you imagine the scene? It's Pentecost day. Peter is preaching in tongues. Suddenly he's interrupted in mid sermon. "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Peter responds, "Please be quiet until the invitation song is sung. Then you can come and obey the gospel." Silly? Of course. But I use this illustration simply to underscore the fact that even something good and innocent can become a crutch, an excuse, a creed. I genuinely believe that some of us think that if we invite a "lost soul" to "church" and if he listens to one of our pulpit lessons and the invitation song is extended then we've done our part. WRONG!!
Point? Evangelism is not an invitation song. It ain't that easy! Where's a New Testament example of it, even? If you think it's not to the creed stage, attempt to get your church leaders to dispense with the "as together we stand and stag" ritual. As I've said so often before, the invitation of our Lord is something that's done at home with our accountable children, at work with co-workers during lunch, on a date with that special sweetheart, in a letter to a World Bible School student. I love "the" invitation. Let's do more of it!
THE HERETIC-HUNTING CREED. This is the notion that certain men with access to a printing press and a few verbal skills have the inalienable right to expose those whom they perceive as false teachers of the day. They publish or perish. They print slander sheets and brotherhood expose's that make the super market tabloids pale in comparison. All, in the name of Jesus and truth, set about to warn the particular partisan sect who to avoid and what teachers and preachers and editors are to be blackballed. This nonsense would be almost laughable if it didn't strike so near to the heart of Diotraphesism. One big shot trying to expose other big shots in hopes of some day becoming a bigger shot. It smacks of the infallibility syndrome which some deny out of one side of the mouth yet affirm by practicing such presumptuous journalism. An issue, an issue! My country for an issue!
THE HIGHER-LEARNING-IS-SUSPECT CREED. Why are we afraid of intellect? Why is someone held in contempt if he has a PhD? Are we afraid to admit that others might know more than we? What does truth have to fear from education? One dear and gentle brother, who baptized me when I was eleven and later became a spiritual mentor, was continually the brunt of the watchdog's bark. Why? He didn't pronounce Shibboleth the way others did. Sadly, he pronounced it correctly. He had two earned doctorates in biblical languages. He taught at a local seminary (not ours so maybe that was it). He was a master of Greek and Hebrew. What was his cardinal sin? He gently asked questions few could answer. He goaded people into traveling intellectually where they had never treked before. He answered vital questions that many of us didn't know to ask nor had the skills to verbalize them if we had known. He forced me to think more about souls and eternity and less about sandwiches and edifices. He fellowshipped other Christians...all Christians before it was popular to do so. Why do we feel compelled to stone our greatest thinkers? Is it because we are afraid of what we don't already know?
THE WOMEN-CAN'T-PRAY-OUT-LOUD CREED. I thank God I heard my mother pray. I thank God I heard my father pray. My boys get to hear their mother pray. Who says women can't pray out loud? Paul wrote to Timothy that men (aner - males) should pray "everywhere" but never hinted that women couldn't pray "anywhere." This is a super sacred cow among us. I know men who declare, "My sons will never hear their mother pray!" Is this a stamp of orthodoxy? I respect their opinions. But I believe they are woefully wrong.
I remember as a green pea preacherette in a loving Kentucky congregation my first serious encounter with this creed. I taught a wonderful class of ladies. Actually they probably taught me more than I taught them. The problem? Since it was their class and I was simply the invited guest leader. I allowed class members to open a study period each week with their own prayers. Uh oh! I was too dumb to leave the room. Now, mind you, preachers have been fired for less than this close to the Bible belt.
Anyway, they prayed. First, the preacher's wife. Then next week the deacon's wife. Then the next week an elder's wife. No problem. The next week a few of the ladies expressed doubts concerning the propriety of their praying aloud in the presence of a man (I felt like a boy). Most of the ladies were old enough to have been my mother and some my grandmother (how's that for pure grammar?). We resolved the dilemma by me standing outside the door of the classroom until the prayer was offered in spite of the fact that I could still "hear" the prayers thru the door. Do we still strain out gnats and swallow camels?
THE CHRISTIANITY-IS-A-SPECTATOR-SPORT CREED. This perpetuates the notion that Christianity is something one "does" in a structure not unlike a stadium or an arena of some sort. Bob Mize dealt with this passive pathos in the October 1988 issue of Image in the following comparison.
CHRISTIANITY IS: CHRISTIANITY IS NOT:
1. Active doing 1. Passive viewing
2. Being a messenger 2. "Enjoying" a message
3. Giving 3. Receiving
4. Participating 4. Spectating
5. Edifying 5. Being edified (merely)
6. Being a preacher 6. Listening to one (merely)
7. A "passion" show 7. A fashion show
The last one listed here is mine lest I get brother Bob in hot water for something he didn't write.
THE "HOLY-SPIRIT-DWELLS/OPERATES-ONLY-THRU-THE-WORD" CREED. No scripture says this. Many esteemed and respected brethren teach it. We admire them no less. But this relegates the Holy Spirit personality of the Triune Godhead to the status of little more than retired author. If any doubt what the pneuma of God does for us, yea even apart from the word, just pick up any exhaustive concordance and read every scripture under "Holy Spirit" or "Holy Ghost." It's as tho we've come full circle.
How does an expedient/idea/method become a tradition? Slowly. Time. How does a tradition become a creed? Repetition. How does a doctrine become a creed? Repetition. If we say, "The Holy Spirit operates only thru the word!" long enough and loudly enough some people will believe it. They will believe it so strongly that they will almost always forget to say, "Oh, really? Where does 'the word' teach that?" But let anyone hint that salvation is by faith "only" and we (rightfully so) come unglued.
The Lord Jesus bless us all!
Editor's Note: Yes, dear readers, the author of the above article is really and truly named "Goad." He is not using a pen name. He is a Goad in more ways than one; spelled with a capital "G" and with a small "g." His name is Goad, and a goad ("that which prods or urges; a stimulus or irritating incentive") he is!