The "The EXAMINER" Phenomenon

Art Thompson

As you read these last pages of The Examiner, I believe it's an excellent time to reflect on the significance of what I call "the ĎEXAMINERí Phenomenon". Since the inception of this paper eight years ago, strange and wonderful things have been happening around the country that are very difficult to explain, unless they are simply attributed to the effect on the minds and hearts of people by the work of The EXAMINER.

A Unique View

For several years, my wife Alice Ann and I have been in a unique circumstance for observation. Many readers wrote to or called Charles Holt, asking him to help them contact others nearby with whom they could meet for fellowship and study. The numbers of requests became so overwhelming that Charles and Jewel together simply could not respond to them all. They asked us to take that responsibility. We did. We started with a comprehensive atlas and a large map we filled with colored pins. People volunteered to be "contact people" - to allow us to give their names to others who wanted to be in touch. I need to mention that many did not want us to give their names to others since they had a real fear of real reprisals from churches and church leaders. Don't let anyone kid you that there are no churches of Christ in existence whose elders/preachers are not dictatorial. They are there and there are a bunch of 'em.

Because of this contact with thousands of people, both in this country and out of it, and through several years, I can attest to all (and even more) of the following observations.

"l Will Call My People By A New Name"

Early in 1986, I noticed that some people began to call other people new names. (Wasn't it Isaiah who prophesied that God's people would be called by a new name?)

And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name (Isaiah 62:2).

One of those names was "Holt-ite". But, it wasn't the LORD whose mouth named them that. Some people who were called "Holt-ite" had no idea what one was and wouldn't know one if they met it. They would never have guessed what it meant to be one. In time, they came to learn that Charles A. Holt edited and published The EXAMINER. They found that he had some unorthodox ideas about the church: its doctrine, its worship, its organization, its leadership, its preachers, and many other major points of its doctrine. Suddenly, people placed the "Holt-ite" label on ones who asked a question which made "church leadership" uncomfortable. Instead of responding to the question, the label was stuck on them quicker than a peel-off, stick-on label. Thus, some Christians were not getting answers to questions which troubled them. It seemed simpler if people were labeled and isolated by the group.

"Closet Examiners"

Another early and continuing reaction is what I call the "closet examiner." There are many who read The EXAMINER regularly, who agree with many, if not almost all, of the ideas it has propounded or challenged. Typically, these brothers and sisters do not want their church leadership to know who they are, nor that they are regular readers. They also prefer that the church leadership not know some of the things they wonder about. Some of these meet in homes and conduct Bible studies and enjoy the fellowship of others who do not subscribe to the "orthodoxy" taught by their churches. One example I can cite is a professor of a "church-related" school whose job was threatened if he continued to read The EXAMINER or to question church doctrines. There are several professors who are or who have been in that same position. May God bless 'em!

Some of these closet examiners are preachers. Some are elders. Some are deacons. Many are just people "in the pews". Some have written in this paper using pen names.

"Join The Church"

Another interesting phenomenon is that the doctrines of the Churches of Christ began to change quite suddenly.

An example is the doctrine of church membership. When I was in the church, preachers usually encouraged Christians to "identify with" a local congregation. What this usually meant was that on Sunday, while the congregation stood to sing an "invitation song", someone would walk to the front of the auditorium. (Why do they never sit and sing the invitation song?). These would be new people in town. They would walk to the front with their family members (who had been baptized. Younger children were usually left on a pew to fend for themselves). They would extend their hands to the preacher who would seat them on the front pew. After the song was finished, the preacher would announce that those people wanted to "be identified" with that congregation, and to "place themselves under the oversight of" their elders (if they had any).

In days that I easily remember, "placing membership with a congregation", and placing oneself "under the oversight of the elders" was optional. Families could choose to assemble in their homes. As long as they called themselves a Church of Christ, they could "enjoy the fellowship" of other members of that church in the area.

With The EXAMINER taking a closer look at the questions about church membership however, this doctrine changed. Preachers began to preach and to write, claiming now that scripture requires Christians to "place their membership" with a local church. To prove those points, pointing to Paul and the Jerusalem Christians in Acts 9 became the politically correct thing to do. It is now claimed that when Paul moved from Damascus to Jerusalem several years after his conversion, the first thing he sought to do was to join the church at Jerusalem. It used to be that people joined only other denominations - not restoration churches. The only way one could gain admission to such a church was for the Lord "to add one to it" (citing Acts 2:47 which in the original, by the way, Luke never mentions an ekklesia). Now they teach that the members of a local church are "authorized" to extend or to deny membership to anyone requesting it. (I guess that since The EXAMINER started, God must have relinquished control over adding people to His family and must have surrendered it to "the local church,")

And arriving at Jerusalem, he was trying to be joined to the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas, taking hold of him, led him to the apostles, and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that he had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase (Acts 9:22-31).

Now Iím curious. Does that sound like Paul joined the Jerusalem church? Does it sound as though he placed his membership with the Jerusalem church? If so, did he take his membership with him when he went to Tarsus? Did he have it with him when he was lowered through a hole in the Damascus wall? No. The modern Church of Christ has built the placing membership doctrine out of nothing, where none existed before.

Some Fall Through The Cracks, Others Are Pushed

Another direct result of The EXAMINER is that people have begun to leave Churches of Christ in larger and larger numbers. There are multitudes of their former members meeting in homes, in motel conference rooms, with other churches, some not meeting with any one at all. I can remember not long ago when losing members was a real concern to them. Now, many are hardly noticed when they drop through. They just disappear.

I've observed that there are several broad categories of people who have left these churches. Some have drifted away. Others are "marked" or "withdrawn from". Still others are asked to "just go away." The first are some who have simply drifted away, because other church members seemed to care little, if anything, about them and their problems. They don't get answers to questions that are troubling them. They search for a deeper relationship with the Lord and with other Christians, but cannot find it "at church". So, they just fall through a crack, never knowing that there are many others just like them who have done the same thing.

A couple we have come to know quite well were pushed. For some time, they had been asking questions and getting few answers in their Church of Christ. Their questions must have become a source of irritation to the church leaders. One Sunday while they were away meeting with a group of other disciples, they were "marked." When they returned home, they found themselves in that "neverneverland" where they were neither fish nor fowl. They were members of that church, but they werenít. They were pushed through a crack and have never returned.

We know many more people like this. They love the Lord. They follow Him. They give Him first place in their lives. Once, I had thought it would be just the opposite, but after being pushed or falling through a crack, these brothers and sisters are finding each other and generally are becoming much closer to the Lord than they ever were as "members of the church".

"The Emergence of the Church of Christ Denomination"

The Church of Christ is a denomination. The sooner its people see that, the sooner they begin to experience freedom in Jesus Christ.

Iíll never forget my own reactions when that truth dawned on me. I began to realize that the only difference between the Church of Christ and those "other denominations" was purely in my own mind. The only contrasts were in the peculiar doctrines we believed and taught.

Many readers will have heard of a book by Ed Harrell several years ago: The Emergence of the Church of Christ Denomination. Back then, many preachers, elders, and other members of that church shook their heads in sad agreement with Harrell, that the church they had known and of which they had been members was changing into a fullfledged denomination. But it's fascinating to me how Satan has such a subtle ability to cloud men's minds from the truth. Back then, twenty years ago, many were lamenting the loss of the simple plea of the church of Christ and were telling their congregations that without doubt, a denomination was emerging. Today, those same people get fighting mad if you deign to suggest that the Church of Christ denomination has completely emerged - that they did not hold back the tide - or that they helped to push it forward even more rapidly.

What that realization did for me was to cause me to come to grips with several realities:

l) Church organizations are all made by men to conform to their own peculiar views about serving God, therefore

2) One church is indeed as good as another.

3) Christians are in any or all of them.

4) No church with its attendant organization(s) is necessary to salvation and to having a personal relationship with the Lord.

The Battle Threatened And (Almost) Fought

Long after The EXAMINER had made major inroads into the membership of churches around the world, and after people had begun to ask questions with which their church leadership was quite uncomfortable, the battle cry was sounded. Fully three years after The EXAMINER was born, in an article in The Guardian of Truth (December 1988), J. Wiley Adams finally sounded the alarm. The dike had a hole in it. Everyone had chosen to ignore the effect The EXAMINER was having on the "people in the pews", until Adams' cry was heard.

Following the publication of Adams' article, two major events were planned. My Alma Mater, Florida College, scheduled their 1990 Lectureship to "deal with" the issues raised by The EXAMINER. Later in the same year, The Guardian of Truth published a special edition to "deal with" the perceived issues as well. These events would apparently "put the questions to rest", never to disturb anyone again. Few readers of The EXAMINER noticed any changes after that, except that there was less noise of opposition. Also, apparently, the leadership of neither organization comprehended that they had not "dealt with" nor squelched the issues, but that they had simply fanned them into a brighter, hotter flame. Former members of churches were holding meetings and Bible studies on their own - without benefit of clergy (preachers nor elders) to "interpret" for them. As they did, many began to discover that they couldnít find in scriptures the doctrines they had been taught in the church.

Many even discovered what Jesus was teaching Nicodemus in John 3 about being born from above. And about Paul's encouragement of the Philippian disciples (Phil. 2) to emulate Jesus. Christians are to "empty themselves" as Jesus did. His followers are to turn their lives completely over to the Lord. What a refreshing transformation! What a contrast to church doctrine. Many readers of The EXAMINER have even discovered that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit were never confined to India paper and Ink between Moroccan leather covers after all. They have found that they are alive and well and are enthroned in the lives of children of God.

The Churches Respond

Churches, where preachers claimed there was no organization, began to get even better organized than they had been. Closer watch was kept on members, especially on what the members were reading.

Elders Tighten Control

Elders who had been shepherds, leading God's flock, suddenly became convinced that they must exercise greater control and to rule over the people in the pews. Where many had not been authoritarian rulers, they now became such.

The Late Church of Christ - May She Rest In Peace

The Church of Christ is in its death throes, Iím not the son of a prophet, but I will venture a prediction that unless drastic changes are made, and soon, the more legalistic franchises of the Church of Christ will be nonexistent with the passing of one more generation.

The church leaders have kept defining and redefining doctrine and terms of fellowship, drawing ever smaller and smaller circles around ones who are acceptable to their fellowship. As the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, is credited with saying, "It's deja vu all over again." It's the Pharisee syndrome again. Defining law down to a gnat's whisker. Creating church law impossible to keep - just like their Jewish kin of the first century.

I believe that the death of the church of Christ is concealed in its own doctrine - a type of poison pill taken years ago that is only now bringing about death. That poison pill doctrine is the church's own unique "hermeneutic". I don't know if I can identify where it came from nor when, but I'll share my own theory.

It was during the heartrending battle of the late 1940's and 1950's that the Church of Christ refined and honed its hermeneutic. Combatants on both sides used primarily the same method of interpretation. Good, eloquent, God-fearing men joined the battle on both sides. I believe that possibly to a man they believed they were waging God's battle against evil - against doctrinal error. But hidden in the depths of battle, disguised by its fervor, lay the Church of Christ hermeneutic.

The "approved" method of interpretation had not been so sharply defined before that church-rending, heartrending battle. But the battle cry of the "conservatives/antis" was that the church's actions and the individual Christian's actions must be "authorized" by either generic or specific authority, derived only from commands, examples or necessary inferences. In the continuing debate, that method of interpretation matured into law that few preachers and elders, if any, ever question anymore. Generally speaking, the "liberal/mainliners" never questioned it. That is the main poison, killing that body. Continued interpretation by those methods makes an ever narrower set of rules.

What Lies Ahead?

The Lord has done an amazing job through Charles and Jewel Holt and The Examiner. I believe there is no way to measure the amount of benefit done nor to count the people who have been blessed. The Examiner has had an intentionally limited mission -- to sound the wake up alarm to "people in the pews" of restoration churches. Many people who were awakened by The Examiner have already outgrown its mission.

I urge you to continue (or start) to reexamine the tenets of the restoration church's religion which The EXAMINER has examined. They include: Worship, The Worship Service, The Five Acts of Worship, The Collection, Congregational (only) Singing, Acapella (only) Singing, The Lord's Supper On Sunday Only, The Lord's Supper With Grape Juice Only, The Lord's Supper Every Sunday, Membership, Placing Membership, The Authority of Elders, God's Grace, Marriage-Divorce-Remarriage, Church "Officers", Today's Function(s) of the Holy Spirit, Spiritual Gifts, The Preacher (Professional) System, The Role Of Women, Interpretation of Scripture, Prayer, and all others you can identify.

The major difference between disciples of the first century and many church members today is that today most are logicdriven. Then they were spiritled! Which are you?

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances, but examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil (1 Thes. 5:16-22).

Exalt Jesus Christ

With these final lines, please let me encourage you to enthrone the Lord Jesus Christ in your life. He died for you. He is your personal Savior. He will save you. He can save you only if you place Him first. Not a church. Not a worship service. Not your elders. Not your family. Not the "work of the church".

Even though churches with a restoration heritage preach repeatedly that we cannot save ourselves, heavy emphasis is placed on the phrase "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling..."

What a contrast!

I knew a faithful Christian woman who lay on her bed a few months ago, dying. She cried in mortal fear that the Lord would not save her because she had "not done enough" for Him. How sad beyond words. It's profoundly sad because so many of us have (or have had) that same chilling fear of death.

Why can't we see that we cannot possibly "do enough" to tempt our Savior to save us. There is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation. We can't buy His love with our good works. Neither can we pay back His limitless grace.

The only thing we can do is to love Him. Because we love Him, we can turn our lives completely over to Him. We can be filled with and led by His Spirit. We can have His mind as our own. We can empty ourselves of anything we want for our own selves. We can search for (seek) Him. We can ask Him to work through us.

Two Contrasting Concepts

Recently, I discovered the existence of a major difference between two approaches to God. The first is that I work hard, doing things for the Lord. I decide what those good things are to be, then I do them and pray that He will bless my works. The other concept is that without Him, I am absolutely nothing. That I must turn my life completely over to Him and let Him work through me. I must give myself up to be His hands, His feet, His mouth, His heart.

Please, do that with me.

Let's pray.

"Oh, Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, forgive me for being presumptuous and for being selfcentered, even when I thought I was not. Help me to give up everything that I am and everything I have to you. Help me to be willing to give it all to others who need it. Help me honestly to hold back nothing, but to give up myself completely to you.

Then Lord, work through me. Use me for your hands, your feet, your mouth -- use me for whatever you need me to be. Bring people across my path whom you want me to help, or who can help me. Open doors when you want me to do something specific. Close those doors when I've headed the wrong way or am attempting to do the wrong things by not following where You are leading. Help me to know clearly and without any doubt what you want me to do and when you want me to do it. Then give me the faith, the trust, the strength, the courage, to follow wherever You lead me.

Thank you for Jesus Christ. I thank you that He gave up everything He was and had for me. Let Him reign in my spirit. Help me enthrone Him in my own life. Help me to be like Him. Help me to love as He loves. Help me to give as He gives. Help me to be like Him and to "grow up to the fullness of His stature."

We can please God only when we enthrone the Lord in our lives. I don't know any way to do that of my own strength, experience, or cleverness. I can enthrone Him in my life only if I pray and ask Him to come in.

"Look! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter into him and will eat with him and he with me." (Rev. 3:20).