David Brown

ave you ever had a distaste for someone but inadvertently ended up acting like them anyway? When I was in high school in the late 1970s, there was a group of students known as "surfers." I despised their very existence, and didn't mind telling other people about it. Surfers were popular, didn't associate with "outsiders" (me included) and were noted for their wardrobe: alligator pullover shirts, brand name jeans (no belt) and docksider shoes with, of course, no socks.

After rambling about their perceived arrogance and exclusiveness for a few months, a good friend pulled me aside one day and told me to quit being a hypocrite. Shocked, I asked him what he was talking about. He told me to step back and look at myself in a mirror. I did, and was surprised at what I saw: pullover shirt (no alligator, however; I could only afford the generic variety), Levi jeans (I didn't even own a belt) and dock-ider shoes (no socks, of course). Without even realizing it, I had become just like "them", even to the point of rejecting those who were outside my own little group.

In reality, I was envious of their popularity and seeked to copy it, while at the same time pointing out our many differences.

The Church of Christ has had a similar experience. It was founded on a distaste for denominationalism, but instead of "surfers" it was "Baptists," "Methodists" and "Presbyterians." And each group was known by its dress: style of church building, method of worship service, doctrine. The Church of Christ told anyone willing to listen that they had a better way, one without the arrogance and exclusiveness (traditions) of the denominations.

The time has come for the Church of Christ to step back and look at itself in the mirror. Is it now dressing the same way as "them?" The reflection shows that the Church of Christ, through envy or other reasons, has forsaken its "speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent" philosophy and has begun to imitate the denominationalism it claims to be ferverently opposed to.

The chief culprit in the church's change is the building. The founders of the Stone-Campbell movement placed little, if any emphasis on the church building. It was not regarded as a necessity but as an expediency similar to the baptistry. Church buildings were put up as cheaply as possible so funds could be spent on higher priorities.

(The New Testament, incidentally, is totally silent on the subject of church buildings. Wouldn't the church's "law of exclusion" - if it's not OK'd in the Bible then it is not authorized and is therefore sinful - exclude ownership of a building altogether?)

The attitude of the 20th century Church of Christ is strikingly different, however. The building has become a monster that must continuously be fed less it consume the elders in bankruptcy court. When one bank note is burned in public ceremony, another is conceived for an "addition." Million-dollar collections are raised for a new "facility," but have you ever been a part of a million-dollar collection to help feed the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless or help care for orphans and widows? What is more important people or things?

Money is raised to send an evangelist overseas, and one of the first things he requests when a church is established is money for a building. It is considered a complete necessity, an absolute need, something no good church should be without. .

Could it be that Churches of Christ, upset by the rapid growth of some denominations, gave in to the pressure of having nice "facilities?

The church's vocabulary bears that out. Members speak of "going to church" as if the building instead of the people compose it. Even the most militant. Church of Christ preacher recognizes that the Greek word "ekklesia," unfortunately translated "church" in most New Testaments, should be more accurately translated "assembly" or "the called out." The true meaning is anything but material.

Others tell of "going to worship," as if Christians have to go somewhere in particular to praise God, as in Old Testament times. In years past, people spoke of "going to preaching," thus losing sight completely of the intended purpose of gathering as children of God the partaking of the Lord's Supper.

Calling Christians "church members," focusing on the preacher instead of Communion, and making the building No. 1 on the priority list are vast departures of Christianity as described in the Bible. Worship is individual, responsibility is individual and judgment will be as individuals. Packing a pew or a pulpit --in the Church of Christ won't get a person to heaven any more than filling the seats in a Catholic tabernacle or Jewish temple. The Israelites of the Old Testament worshipped God corporately, as a nation and a race, but even then Jesus had harsh words to say to those who weren't accepting their individual responsibility.

Fortunately, more and more Christians are beginning to realize that preachers denouncing "error" from the mighty pulpit need to take the beam out of their own eye so they can see the speck in other denominations. Compromise isn't the solution a correct understanding of the Word of God is.

I eventually made peace with the "surfers" once I realize that we were both after the same things: to make friends, to have fun and to survive our high school years. The Church of Christ claims to have a single goal: to evangelize the world. Most other Christian organizations claim the same goal. So when the church realizes it has become a denomination and makes peace with groups that honestly admit what they are the goal of teaching the lost world will be within reach.

God will be pleased only when we the Christians of today lose our institutional, sectarian attitude and become one in Christ Jesus.