"I remember growing up hearing so many people mock other churches where all the preacher ever talks about is love. Given that love is THE trait that God defines himself as, it is truly sad to think about how little this group knows about the subject of unconditional love and compassion for a lost world. I can promise you this—once you get away from the teachings of men, your understanding of love will grow and will change your life. You're just going to have to trust me on that."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Are you Christian or Christlike?

3 comments:
As any adult can verify from personal experience, words change meanings over time as their contemporary usage changes. What used to be "groovy" in my older siblings' day became "radical" in mine, then "cool" or "bad," and now "sick" or "tight." As fewer and fewer people use the word "sick" in the way it was used even 5 years ago, so fewer and fewer people use the word "Christian" to simply describe someone who is Christlike. In fact, most of us probably have never considered that the two words should be synonymous.

To the English teachers reading this, I know—the former is most often used as a noun, while the latter is an adjective. But think about this for a moment. Wouldn't the term "Christian" be more meaningful when used as an adjective, rather than a noun? Shouldn't "Christian" describe someone's behavior, not just be a label on some box we want to put them in? Isn't that what the whole "salt, light, and a city set on a hill" thing is all about? What's the point of labeling someone as a Christian who does not, in fact, act "Christian?"

Before Christians were first called such in Antioch, they did exist in the eyes of God and men without that name. The term was later applied to the Jesus-followers who were already in existence, but it's not like God created a "Christian" label. Men did, and the writers of the New Testament scriptures adopted it in its common usage. The first Christians were first described as disciples, or followers of Jesus. A Christ-follower, or disciple of Jesus, ought to be one and the same as a Christian. In fact, it would be a misuse of the term "Christian" to apply it to someone who did not at least attempt to pattern his life from top to bottom—including thoughts, words, and actions—after the Master.

So it turns out that "Christlike" is the forgotten synonym for "Christian," and where we find a Christian in name (used as a noun), we ought to find a Christlike person in deed where "Christian" can be used as an adjective to describe him. This means a person called a Christian should not engage in unchristian activities. Gossip, slander, and backbiting should be put away from our lips. Every word spoken should be done with the motivation to encourage someone in Christ or bring them to Him.

We can probably all attest to the fact that this is not always the case. I myself fall short of my own goals for goodness every day. As C.S. Lewis so brilliantly pointed out, humans almost instinctively know right from wrong, and still as instinctively, usually choose the latter.

Rather than write in the safety of the third person, I'll take a big dose of this medicine by asking myself how many years I've been a noun-Christian without necessarily being an adjective-Christian? Have I always made a concerted effort to emulate Christ's character traits such as love, compassion, forgiveness, and patience? It's my life's regret that I can't answer in the affirmative. But I can say without hesitation that I want it to be the primary focus of my life–to pattern my life after Jesus Christ.

I fail at it miserably on a daily basis. It's a high standard to hold to. But I truly want to become More Like the Master, not just sing that old hymn every once in awhile. I want the word "Christian" to mean more than just the fact that I've obeyed my five point checklist of things to do. I don't want to use it as a noun, but as an adjective. Sure, I'm a Christian. But I hope to be more than that and actually be Christian.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Procrastinating truth another year

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Truth is timeless. It is unchanging. It maintains its value through the always-evolving marketplace of ideas, like the gold standard in a world of paper currencies. Trends in human thought come and go, and philosophies rise and fall in popularity like fad diets, but truth is like a rock, never succumbing to the pressures of relativistic philosophies or changing "understandings." It is what it is, and what it always has been. The Truth.

It also doesn't need to wait another year for us to acknowledge it, either. Or figure it out, or agree upon it, or agree to teach it. Truth just needs to be discovered and immediately taught. This is why Christianity in the first century thrived and turned the world upside down--because people didn't wait for their synagogues to adopt this new doctrine. They recognized the truth of this man named Jesus, and consequently, the errors of their Pharisaical Teachers. They chose Jesus in droves.

It's important that we put our trust in truths that are firm and unchanging, and stand confidently in them, not "hiding them under a bushel" until next May Week. How exactly is basing one's hope for the future of the church on the whims of changing May Week "judgments" different from Jehovah's Witnesses basing theirs on the latest Watchtower dogma? How is it different from Mormons basing theirs on the latest teachings of their Prophet or their Apostles? How is it different than Catholics basing theirs on the latest papal decree?

In a world with precious few enduring truths, it only makes sense to build our hope on nothing less than Jesus. When our faith is in men, or in human institutions such as "the church" (as you understand it, at least) or "May Week" or your Teacher or Preacher or Evangelist, it will always come down like a house of cards at some point. Fallible men and women always fail eventually. Always. You can count on it as surely as death and taxes.

Can we agree that the latest May Week rulings, or the latest opinions of respected Preachers, Teachers and Evangelists, are at least fallible? And don't these May Week rulings (or judgments, if you prefer), and counsel from respected Preachers, Teachers, and Evangelists, constitute the doctrines (teachings) of the church? So aren't the doctrines of the church, then, fallible?

Let's diagram it something like this:

HUMAN OPINIONS < JESUS

Or better yet:

JESUS > HUMAN OPINIONS

So why is there always such excitement in the air around May Week each year? Why, when people recognize that doctrines need to change, do their hopes and aspirations for that change revolve around the fallible human opinions expressed in May Week? Why do they revolve around having purportedly unofficial delegates discuss questions in an unofficial gathering (church council, anyone?) to send back revised unofficial doctrines to the home congregations to be unofficially adopted? Why not just unofficially start teaching the truth now, and let the chips fall where they may?

Why is it that if something didn't get fixed this year in the church's doctrine, we have to hope and pray that truth prevails next year? Shouldn't truth prevail now? If not, why not? And if not now, when?

Don't keep procrastinating truth, my friends. The time to accept, face and teach the truth is now. Stop letting the fallible opinions of men rule over your faith.

Monday, July 28, 2014

After further consideration

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After further consideration, I've decided to remove my "open letter" regarding the aforementioned blog. Even though the author remains completely anonymous to me, and I honestly thought I was vigorously protecting their anonymity, I can see how my letter may have discouraged them or anyone else from communicating privately with me. I also made some assumptions about the author's intentions regarding the blog being private. I had no business doing that, and want to apologize on that count as well.

I want to reassure everyone that I will not make this mistake this again. What you email to me remains between you and me unless you give me permission to write about it on these pages.

#notperfect #willingtoadmitit

Monday, June 23, 2014

The need for "Pure Doctrine"

3 comments:
Many people can attest to the fact that the church has taught for years that doctrine must be "pure" for it to lead one to salvation. If a person believes impure doctrine, even if it's 99% right, Stanton says they will not be saved.
"They can be teaching everything 99% correct, but if salvation is not taught correctly then sin is not forgiven and you are not added to the church of Christ."
Source: http://whatisthedoctrineofchrist.blogspot.com/2012/05/church-of-christ.html
This is not a straw man that I'm trying to set up in order to smack down easily. This Doctrine of Pure Doctrine is a staple of church teaching, as just about anyone who has spent any time in the group can attest, and it is used to deny that the baptisms of 99% of the Christians in the world today are valid. One must, according to their teaching, be baptized by the One True Church (theirs, of course), identified by its supposed 100% Pure Doctrine, in order to be saved. Anyone who believes that, doesn't truly understand what the Doctrine of Christ really means.
The problem with this myth of Pure Doctrine is that it condemns the very person who teaches it. Is Stanton foolish enough to claim that it's teachings over the years have been 100% correct? I'd like to see anyone try to make that case with a straight face. If they cannot, their Doctrine of Pure Doctrine is self-condemning.

There is no denying that Stanton's doctrines have been changed, revised, modified, updated, tweaked, and otherwise upgraded to the new and improved doctrines we see today. Since truth never changes, we know that either the original doctrines were not "the truth;" the current doctrines are not; or neither are. Those are the only three options.

In other words, it was never "pure doctrine" to say that women shouldn't wear pants with zippers on the front. That was an untrue teaching of fallible men and women. It was never pure doctrine to say that Christians couldn't visit another congregation on Sunday, or take a family vacation, or refrain from going to bowling allies, or any of the other changing doctrines Stanton has taught.

If we are at all to believe Matthew 7:2, then the rule Stanton makes for others must be applied to itself. Any untrue doctrines being taught today, or that have been taught in the past, completely de-legitimize the church's authority as the One True Church, and negates the validity of all its baptisms over the years.
Matthew 7:2 - For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Of course, my real point is to illustrate that no human understanding of a doctrine can be "pure" because our understandings, no matter how enlightened by the Holy Spirit we may think them to be, are subject to human error--as Stanton's own history attests. If truth is an all or nothing proposition--either we have all of it in 100% pure form, or it's useless to us--then we are doomed, brothers, because last I checked, we were all human.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Suitcase of Books

3 comments:
One of the best teaching tools the Stanton Church of Christ had going for it in its old Non-Member Classes was the infamous Suitcase of Books. Eventually the inconvenience of passing it around to the next Non-Member Class Teacher, or perhaps the hypocrisy of it, led to its demise. Nevertheless, The Suitcase of Books played a convincing role in many conversions to the sect, because it truly was a unique and effect visual illustration of the confusion caused by the doctrines and traditions of fallible men.

I'm not positive the Suitcase of Books has been retired completely, actually. If it hasn't, it most definitely has lost some of its rhetorical power, because alas, the point made by the Teachers using the Suitcase has come back to point the finger at them.

So what was the Suitcase of Books, and how was it used?

Prior to each Non-Member Class (traditionally on Thursday evenings), a big suitcase would be passed to the next teacher of the class. When I was growing up in Stanton, California, there were several who took turns teaching the class, and each passed the suitcase on to the next Teacher.

At the beginning of the class, the suitcase was always sitting, either on the table, or next to the Teacher's chair. At some point during the class, the Teacher would start talking about all the religions out there that have arisen due to men's fallible and changing doctrines. As each sect was brought up, the Teacher would display a book by the founder of that sect.

You had Charles Taze Russell's Watchtower writings, which led to the eventual founding of the Jehovah's Witnesses. You had the teachings of Joseph Smith, and the subsequent formation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You had Ellen G. White's teachings, which led to the Seventh Day Adventists, and Mary Baker Eddie's teachings, which led to Church of Christ, Scientists.

The list went on and on, and the rhetorical impact grew, as the pile on the desk (usually a T.V. tray) grew larger and larger. Then, the illustration would culminate with the idea that we don't really need all these teachings of men. We just need the Bible alone, and all these religions may change and update their teachings, but the Truth never changes. Therefore, any church which changed its teachings could not possibly be teaching only the Truth. The Bible, it was concluded, was sufficient for learning all of what Jesus taught. We didn't need the Bible plus some other book or audio of the teachings of fallible men and women.

So why has the Suitcase of Books perhaps fallen out of use? Maybe it's because now, a large amount of the teachings of the Stanton churches cannot be found in the Bible at all, and in fact, can only be defended based on the "doctrines and commandments of men;" mere opinions, usually couched as "judgments" of the church, and often formed based on the church's founding documents or a long tradition of May Meetings. To add to the weight of hypocrisy, while other religions were excoriated for "changing" and updating their doctrines from time to time, Stanton gets a free pass to do this each May (or March, as the case may be).

The hypocrisy of waging rhetorical battle against the writings and teachings of men in other sects, while passing around their own writings and teachings of men as the basis for church doctrine, was not un-anticipated at the time, either. I clearly remember the objections of members at a discussion in the home of my best friend's mom, over sending church funds to help publish Merie Weiss's book Put Up Thy Sword, while the church regularly taught that it didn't need men's books plus the Bible--it just needed the Bible alone.

But the objection, as far as my young memory serves me, was overruled, and the church did support the publishing of Merie's book. While the hypocrisy in that case was blatant, the more subtle hypocrisy was (and is) that the church continues to publish and distribute the lessons of its current crop of Teachers in the church with 21st Century vigor. Distribution of these teachings of men is accomplished with CDs, carefully organized Dropbox accounts, iPods, and MP3 players. The buzz following each meeting always builds around this person or that person's talk at the most recent meeting.

Am I saying it's wrong to publish sermons? Of course not. If we truly believe what we are saying, we should want our words published, albeit publicly, not secretly to protect them from criticism. But when the teachings of men become so devoid of any valid Biblical basis so no one can point to book, chapter and verse for any of the church's controversial teachings, rules or judgments, isn't it clear that the real lesson of the Suitcase of Books has been lost?

The Suitcase of Books showed that followers of Jesus only need the Bible to learn about his life, example, and teachings. Perhaps this is a good time for "members" to re-learn that once-foundational "non-member" lesson.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Should Christians go to college?

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One of the teachings of the Stanton Church of Christ that goes way back to the early days is that Christians should not send their kids to college. The reasons I've heard in defense of this teaching are more practical than scriptural. A verse like 2 Timothy 2:4 might be thrown around to suggest that going to college is "entangling" oneself with the affairs of the world, but this is a tenuous argument at best. Why is college "entangling," but studying to learn a trade and advance through certifications is not?

The most common defense of the anti-college teaching I've heard is that colleges promote a lot of anti-Christian rhetoric, and there is a statistically large number of kids raised in Christian homes who depart from their parents beliefs when they get into college. With this basic fact I wholeheartedly agree. It's Stanton's conclusion--"Let's make a rule about it"-- that I disagree with.

Because of Stanton's extreme legalism (rule-keeping), their first response to a question like this is to seek to find or make a rule, law, or judgment (whatever they want to call it) for all Christians to follow. This is not a scriptural approach. In fact, it's completely unscriptural, because it necessarily requires one to teach doctrines which are the commandments of men.

While I can't answer definitively the question of whether all Christians should or should not go to college, I believe there is wisdom the Bible offers that will direct us one way or the other. This wisdom cannot be applied universally in the same way to every family or every teen. Let me explain my own approach to this subject--both scripturally and practically. I have seven kids, most of whom are teens or early 20's, so this is something my wife and I have given a great deal of thought, study and prayer to.

The college experience

First, I'll stipulate right away that I don't have romanticized ideas about wanting "The College Experience" for my kids. I see the typical "college experience" as nothing to be wished upon any teen unless he or she needs it.

In my opinion, college is a means to an end, not a required step everyone needs to take to "grow up" or "be responsible." Some of the most financially successful business people either dropped out of college, or never went. College uses a cookie cutter approach which tend to create cookie cutter employees. Of course, there are exceptions, and I'm not going to try to even argue this point. You are free to believe what you wish about the quality of the education most colleges offer.

However, Stanton is not alone or even radical in it's recognition that college and university campuses can be the graveyard of a teen's faith if he or she is not grounded and convicted. Therein lies the problem, I believe. Most Christian parents (inside and outside of the Stanton sect) have entrusted the church with the spiritual training of their kids, and have failed to take responsibility for teaching the philosophical foundations for Christianity themselves.

Have you ever talked about atheism with your kids and openly discussed challenging questions? I mean hardball questions, not puff questions that are easily shot down? If you don't provide sound, persuasive reasoning, you can bet they'll be persuaded by the many secular and atheist activists on college campuses. When my teens are challenged by tough questions--like "How can a loving God allow evil to exist?"--I don't want them to suddenly have a crisis of faith and throw God out the window. For that to happen, we have to educate ourselves on what the secularists are teaching and ground our kids deeply in real arguments that counter them.

What about the immoral cesspool that is the modern college campus? From frat parties to the prevalent hookup culture that exists, college is not some wonderful oasis of learning that I want or need all my kids universally to have to put up with. Even a firmly grounded Christian teen can face significant temptations on campus.

Homeschooling

Many of the reasons my wife and I are not big fans of the "college experience" are also reasons we're not big fans of public schools, or group schools of any kind, for that matter. We are not judgmental about how anyone else has chosen to educate their kids, but we have chosen to home school, and have never regretted it. Of course, there are a million different approaches to home schooling, so please don't judge me for that if you had a bad experience home schooling. We love it, and our college age kids, with minor exceptions, appreciate the benefits of how we approached it.

Our philosophy about college has grown out of our experience home schooling. Just as we bring in whatever educational tools and methods we need to reach each of our kids based on their unique personalities, we believe in a very individualized approach to college as well. Each child is different in how God made them, what they enjoy, and how they will use their education. It only makes sense that their education itself should be tailored to those unique needs.

Our individualized approach

I believe that our worldly education, whether that's reading, writing, math, nursing, engineering, or a skill to pursue a trade or specialized job, is a means to an end. Since each person's personality, talents, interests, and therefore desired "end" will be different, each person's educational needs will thus be radically different as well. Most Christians have only thought about college for the purpose of a career or earning money, but what about the "kingdom purpose?" I know using something like a career for showing God's love to the world is a foreign concept in the Stanton churches--how many members have you heard of who have learned a trade or pursued a degree to be able use it in the service of God or people?--but it's a noble goal to think about. Paul used his tent-making to further the kingdom. Why can't we use an engineering or nursing degree to do the same?

What this looks like for our kids is that during the last year of high school (remember, we home school), we encourage our kids to get a job, buy a car, start saving money more aggressively, and start going through what we call "life purpose planning." We were introduced to this term by CollegePlus, a Christian-owned organization that coaches college students on getting the bulk of college credit through "credit by exam." There is a Life Purpose Planning booklet that asks teens a lot of questions about their interests, and how they see the rest of their life unfolding. The information gleaned from those questions can serve as a guide when making future career or educational decisions.

I have a 20 year old daughter who will graduate with a B.A. of communication before she's 21 following the "credit by exam" approach, without having spent single day on a university campus (except to take the exams, which she does at Boise State University's testing center). I have a 21 year old son who will be graduating with a B.A. in business management following this approach.

I have an 18 year old daughter that is very compassionate and wants to become a nurse. She hopes to have the opportunity to serve kids in a third world country before she settles down to start a family. Because you can't get a nursing degree using the "credit by exam" method, she is going to a community college for that.

We also recognize that some of our kids are not college bound at all, nor should they be.  I have a son who hates the thought of college, but he is a very hard worker and extremely entrepreneurial. He is working hard while saving money to start his own business, and devouring books that will teach him the skills he needs to do so.

Some of our teens' educational stories are not written yet, but I expect each story to be very different. The bottom line for each of them is that they are all baptized believers and are pursuing the gifts and talents God has blessed each of them with. For most of them, that doesn't mean a traditional college campus, but when they feel God is calling them to a career that requires time on a college campus, that's what they'll do, and we'll be fully supportive of that.

I am not unconcerned about the temptations and anti-Christian ideology promoted on-campus, but if God is leading the way in their lives, their time on a campus will be an opportunity to let their light shine, not a time to party and get away from mom and dad. The key is to teach our kids young to love God deeply, not because their mom and dad want them to believe the same things they do. I want my kids to be critical thinkers and to own their own faith.

Resources that have helped my family

  • CollegePlus (Christ-centered coaching service to test out of 90% of college credit to get a Bachelor's degree)
  • Reasonable Faith (Podcast that counters atheist arguments against God with deep reasoning to give adults and teens an unshakable foundation for their faith)


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Matthew 5 - Rules and Regulations For The Church

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One passage of scripture in Matthew 5 has been substantially misinterpreted by the Stanton churches, in my opinion, and I think it will be useful to provide an alternative point of view here.

Matthew 5:23-24 - Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Stanton teaches that one must "take care of sin" (meaning confess it privately and/or publicly) prior to partaking in the Lord's supper based partly on this passage, and partly on their out-of-context teaching about taking the Lord's supper unworthily.

The passage in question was preached by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 through 7), obviously prior to there being any "Sunday church services," or Lord's supper, or any other common practice in our Christian assemblies. There was no established Christian faith or church at this time, only the Law of Moses plus the traditional synagogue assembly on the Sabbath. (I think it's important to understand that Jesus fully participated in these synagogue traditions, even though they were not part of the Law of Moses--they were purely traditions developed during the period of time between the Old and New Covenant scriptures.)

Whatever Jesus is saying to his audience assembled before him, we have to be careful not to interpret it as being a one-to-one application to us. We can draw some principles from it, which I believe is all Jesus was trying to teach in the first place--principles that would undermine the Pharisaic practice of relying on external law-keeping for one's righteousness. It is absurd to suggest Jesus was intending to lay down a new set of laws and regulations for the church on how to properly "take care of sin," to use Stanton's terminology.

The context of the Sermon on the Mount

Let's start off with the context of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus' main method of teaching in this sermon is "you have heard this, but I say this." The examples he used were hyperbolic ones meant only to illustrate the New Covenant's focus on the heart rather than external law-keeping.

Thus:
  • You have heard that you shall not murder, but I say not to even be angry with your brother. Does this mean it will never be appropriate to be angry with a brother? Of course not, sometimes it's both possible and necessary to "be angry and sin not."
  • You have heard not to commit adultery, but I say don't even think lustfully after another woman in your heart. if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.
  • You have heard that it was said 'an eye for an eye,' but I say don't resist an evil person.
  • Etc.
I contend that it's abundantly clear, if we read the full context of this sermon, that Jesus was not intending to create the Matthew 5 Chapter of Rules and Regulations For The Church. Instead, he was making hard-hitting points to the Jews of his day and their Pharisee leaders about how hypocritical they were in their external law-keeping. He is hammering home the point that God is more interested in the heart than the external keeping of commands, and consequently, that one must surpass this form of superficial righteousness of the Pharisees in order to see the Kingdom of Heaven.

Thus he's not laying down new laws about gouging out one's eye, or cutting off one's hand, not resisting an evil person, or marriage and divorce; but bringing the listener to the understanding that abiding by the rules we think God has in mind for mankind is not the measure of righteousness we are to be striving for. Hear me carefully: God wants our hearts in the right place. Then and only then will we (a) understand God's laws in the first place, and (b) bring our external actions into alignment with God's nature in a meaningful way.

So with that as the backdrop, let's look at what the verses in question actually say. Jesus said that if you're on the way to bring your gift to the altar, but remember that your brother has something against you, first reconcile with your brother before offering your gift.

It's important to note that Jesus said "if your brother has something against you." He did not say "if you think someone MAY have seen you break a rule of the church by going into a movie theater," or "if your brother MAY have possibly been aware that you sinned," or "if someone, somewhere COULD have misunderstood you to be sinning or breaking a Church rule." This is how Stanton interprets this portion of the verse, and this is completely foreign to what Jesus is teaching.

By contrast, he's talking about an actual rift between you and a brother; hence the need to be "reconciled" with that brother. If there is no break in the relationship, there is no need for reconciliation. Calling someone on Saturday night to confess a supposed sin that the other person didn't even know about or doesn't even believe to be sin is not reconciling with a brother, because there was no break in the relationship. In Jesus' example, you have genuinely wronged your brother.

To understand this fully, we need to understand the Greatest Commands..."love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." The Greatest Commands are made up of a vertical expression of love: that between man and God; and the horizontal expression of it: that between fellow human beings. Clearly, what Jesus is REALLY saying here is that worship is not purely a matter of our vertical relationship to God, as the Pharisees interpreted the law, i.e., performing all the commands just as we think God has prescribed them. The additional component is that God cares about our horizontal relationships with our fellow man, our brothers and neighbors. If those our broken, our relationship with Him is therefore also broken.

Maybe making the analogy as parents is easier for some to understand. If one of my kids has really sinned against another one and broken that relationship with his or her sibling, but continues to try to pretend that their relationship is perfectly fine with me, I'm not going to buy it. I want my kids to get along and to love each other. I'm going to tell the one, "go and be reconciled with your brother or sister," then we'll talk about all the fun things you want to do.

Jesus is simply pointing out how hypocritical it is for us to approach God in worship as if everything is just fine, knowing that there is a rift in our relationship with our brother that needs to be mended. THAT's the real point Jesus is making here.

What does it mean to bring our gift to the altar?

The only other point I'll add here is that it's completely inconsistent to pick out the Lord's supper as the only analogous "act of worship" to equate to Jesus' phrase "bringing your gift to the altar." I believe "bringing our gift to the altar" is a 24/7 action on our part involving virtually anything we do in expressing our love for God. We "bring our gift to the altar" when we pray, sing, serve orphans and widows, or do anything else that proceeds out of our love for God.

There is no reasonable way to interpret "bringing our gift to the altar" as simply taking the Lord's supper.  The principle Jesus is teaching is that we are not to pretend we're justified by all of the external acts of worship we may engage in--even if those things are good things--while our relationship with our brother is broken. Said another way, we cannot justify an estranged relationship with our brother by the fact that we have a pristine record in all of these other external acts of worship. As soon as we recognize that our relationship with our brother is strained or broken, we need to stop what we're doing, reconcile with our brother, and THEN "bring our gift to the altar."

The major irony here is that Stanton appeals to this passage to justify its rules, yet their rules-based righteousness is exactly what Jesus was preaching against in the Sermon on the Mount.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The doctrine on doctrine

11 comments:
March Week 2014 delegates: Reaching what you believe to be wise conclusions on the questions you're considering is great. But don't heap error upon error and proceed to bind your opinions, no matter how wise you think they are, on others. This is no different than the Pharisees "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

doc·trine:
  • a set of ideas or beliefs that are taught or believed to be true
  • teaching, instruction
  • something that is taught
Perhaps it's time to consider the Bible's doctrine on doctrine. Before we can teach anything, we should give thought to what can and can't be taught, right? What the Bible teaches about teaching should be what we teach about teaching, should it not?

"Doctrine" as used in the Bible is just a synonym for "teaching." There is no separate meaning of "doctrine" as distinguished from "teaching" or "judgment." Whenever something is taught, whether that's a private opinion or supposed "judgment" of the church, it is a doctrine. The fact that it's taught is what makes it a doctrine, not the fact that it was run up the flagpole and approved by superiors at a previous May/March Week.

Of course, the corollary of this is that any doctrines that have been taught in error--whether personal opinions or "judgments"--were erroneous doctrines. If they were taught by someone who wasn't fully convinced of their veracity, then I believe that is the Biblical definition of "false teaching," which is "disingenuous teaching." Even more problematic for the church is the inevitable conclusion that the church, via its various spokespersons through the years, has in fact taught certain false (incorrect) doctrines. To argue that it hasn't, is to argue for the infallibility of the church on those doctrines, which I don't believe anyone is prepared to defend.

So what is the proper Biblical teaching about teaching? The meeting's stated goals can be spun all they want to put lipstick on the pig, but it seems that any fair analysis would conclude that May/March Week is really about individuals discussing their private opinions, and bringing them back to the local congregations with the expectation that they will be adopted as the new "official doctrines."

This line between private and "official" doctrine is not really Biblically supported, though. I believe there is no such thing as "official church doctrine," Biblically speaking. We only have personal opinions--i.e. the beliefs we personally hold, as we individually understand them--and we are individually accountable for their truth and merit. We can't slip responsibility for the veracity of what we believe or teach to "the church," or "tradition," or "our teachers," or "May Week 1986." Our opinions are ours alone, and if we choose to teach them, the buck stops there.

Because private opinions are fallible, they have no guarantee of being true. They may be true, of course, but they may not be. We arrive at various conclusions in life by adding to our knowledge, experience and maturity--physically, intellectually and spiritually.

This is a really important point. Since our opinions change throughout our lifetime (at least they should, if we are growing intellectually and spiritually), we can know that our private opinions have not always been true. We can therefore project into the future with a high degree of certainty that our opinions will never be 100% true. As long as we are encased in human flesh, we are likely to hold incorrect opinions.

However, each of us obviously believes that the opinions we currently hold true right now are in fact true, or we wouldn't believe them. What are we to make of these two seemingly contradictory conclusions? We know we're wrong on some things, but we're not certain which things are wrong. We also believe and teach those things we think we're right on.

What we need, then, is a proper sense of humility. We should not think so highly of our own opinions, believing them so strongly to be true that we take outlandish risks and preach them as if they were proven, verifiable fact. We have to acknowledge the possibility that we may grow in our opinions next week, next month, next year, or ten years from now, as long as we are not speaking infallibly directly from the Holy Spirit (and I know no one in the church who claims this).

We may have numerous logical or interpretational roadblocks in our path to apprehending what is actually true on a particular point, and this is true whether one has the Holy Spirit or not. As evidence, we just need to look at the sect's history and see a series of many changed doctrines and opinions over time. These same people are believed to have had the Holy Spirit, so how did they arrive at different conclusions in 1978 vs. 1998? Because they're human, that's why.

Our opinions should not be forced on other people as a condition of fellowship. What my conscience allows or does not allow is not my job to enforce on my brothers. We can hold opinions, of course, but we must hold them as our own private property, as Alexander Campbell once said.

So at what point do our private opinions become doctrines? They become doctrines precisely at the time we teach them. This is true whether the "church" agreed that this opinion is the correct doctrine, or whether outside counsel was sought and approved it. The minute I take my opinion on, shall we say, whether a Christian may share a prescription contrary to the laws of the land, and teach it as the "official doctrine" of the church circa March Week 2014, I have made my opinions into my doctrine.

Instead, what Christians ought to do more of is share their opinions for the consideration and investigation of their brothers, and let their own consciences apprehend their truth (or not). "Let every man be convinced in his own mind," right? But as soon as they go about teaching it, they are "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

The reality is that we may believe our opinions are true with all our heart, but that doesn't make them true or infallible. The whole concept of "official church doctrines" is impossible to define without making a creed of some sort, whether that's a written statement of faith, or a body of "official thought" that is passed down verbally through teachers, evangelists, and May/March Weeks.

Does the church have a creed--a body of "official doctrines" outside of the Bible alone? I would suggest it does. It is embodied in 45 years of tape recordings, notes, May/March Week conclusions, judgements, and teachers' counsel. It is, therefore, a house of cards:

Matthew 15:9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.
Colossians 2:22 - These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.
It's much better to build our doctrines on a solid foundation of the Bible alone. We've always told other religious organizations to do that. Stanton, remember the Suitcase of Books?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The problem with May Week

10 comments:
The annual May Week (or sometimes March Week, as in 2014) is the third rail of church politics. Touch it, and you are toast. Criticize it, or question its similarity to the Baptist Convention or any other religious body's annual doctrinal meeting, and you'll be promptly corrected, rebuked and/or withdrawn from--and perhaps all three. If your name is respected enough in the "brotherhood," history shows you probably won't even get a chance to defend yourself.

One would think that May Week, if the attempt is to truly follow the example of Acts 15, should be reserved for weighty subjects of earth-shattering importance to the unity of the brotherhood, i.e. the brotherhood is literally divided (separating from one another) over this issue, so we need to figure out what the Bible says about it. But here are some of the weighty doctrines discussed at past May Weeks:
  • Whether women can wear pants with a zippered fly in the front
  • What constitutes a Christian's own "personal time" vs. the time he's obligated to do "the work" (usually this means personal work/knocking on doors, but this phrase can be a catch-all to mean any church function).
  • Under what circumstances does a Christian traveling to another town where there is a church have to "keep the calendar" of that local church instead of his own church's "calendar" of "work." In other words, if you drive to another town on a Friday to pick up a trailer for business (because your local church doesn't have an obligation for you on Friday, but the congregation in the town your visiting does), do you have to join with them in their church function? Must you tell them you're in town, or can you pick up the trailer and slip out of town with no one knowing?
  • Must a woman wear nylons with a dress on Sunday or when door knocking?
  • Are there 2 types of punishments the church can implement on disobedient members or just one. Withdrawal/ mark and avoid... are they the same thing or separate punishments.
  • Should Christians be allowed to attend 4 year colleges or should their children be allowed to attend a 4 year college?
  • When is a divorced person free to remarry?
  • Where does the Church stand on spacing children/birth control?
  • Should preachers use electronic devises while preaching? ie: laptop, iPad, etc.
  • Should Christians have Facebook accounts?
  • What is the most acceptable way to make confessions- face to face, by letter, by text, by email. 
  • Is it allowable in scripture to break the bread of the Lord's supper more than once? (to break it into smaller pieces)
  • Is is acceptable to use gluten free flour for the unleavened bread of the Lord's supper? Can the Church use two different types of bread at the same time? (one wheat the other gluten free?) Can a gluten free christian take only the grape juice and not the bread?
  • Is it acceptable to use grape juice that has vitamin C added to it? (for the Lord's supper?)
Is it OK to discuss our opinions on these and other questions? I suppose, as long as we speak only where the Bible speaks and truly remain silent where it's silent. But is it wise to attribute such importance to matters of personal opinion, and to do so on an annual basis? Not at all. Sometimes wisdom is in not doing what one has the right to do.

I'll be the first to acknowledge we don't need a Biblical precedent for gathering together as individuals to study and discuss any subject. It's the binding of those conclusions on the "brotherhood" under the assumption that unanimous agreement is necessary and equals unity in the first place. That, and the ongoing annual nature of it give me a scriptural problem with. The honest truth is there is a tremendous social pressure to swallow the doctrines "brought back" from May Week, and the event has achieved near sacred status in the minds of followers.

The congregations listen to the recordings of the "proceedings" each year when the delegates get back, and discusses the subjects as a congregation. Each congregation is expected to come into agreement with the conclusions reached each year. There is intense pressure to agree with those conclusions, because everyone knows the consequences of disagreement. Depending on whom one disagrees with, and how vocally that dissent is expressed, one could end up withdrawn from easily.

May Week is an unscriptural tradition. That's not so say it's wrong in and of itself, I'm just saying it's not in the Bible as a regular event the church is supposed to hold. Take from that what you will, but the tradition of holding this unity meeting every year to solidify the church's stance on often downright silly questions is yet another tradition of men.

It's one thing to randomly get together to discuss a pressing question. But the habit of doing it every year and funneling all doctrinal questions through it makes it take on a life of its own. It underscores the idea that May Week is "the place" where doctrine is decided. May Week reinforces the unscriptural belief that unanimity of opinion is necessary to the unity of the church, and that any change in doctrine, should individuals reform their opinions during the course of the year, needs to wait for yet another May Week to "legitimize" them.

One of the most oppressing things about May Week is that people who have concluded that certain doctrines of the Stanton churches are wrong feel they must wait years, sometimes decades, for more influential teachers to change their minds and bring the subject up at a future May Week. Until then, it seems, the conscientious objector must continue violating his conscience, remaining silent when unscriptural doctrines are taught and preached in his local church, for fear of being cast out for dissenting too strongly with what was previously concluded at May Week.

If the conscientious person is an official teacher, he is in even more of a moral quandary. Should he teach a doctrine which he believes is incorrect? If he does, he's violating his conscience. This is the scriptural meaning of false teaching which really means disingenuous teaching. Yet if he doesn't teach what came back from May Week, he's not toeing the official line and can come under scrutiny and distrust from the "brotherhood."

What's a guy to do? Either continue teaching disingenuously, or step down from teaching. Hence, you find many older teachers no longer teaching, because they've tarnished their reputation, perhaps, by questioning various teachings for too long. They could never get enough momentum to persuade others of their changed opinion, so they've had to resort to keeping it to themselves for fear of being withdrawn from. Thus the teachers who remain are the "true believers" who accept the May Week conclusions and teach them wholeheartedly.

The antidote for May Week is to make sure the leadership of the local congregation is a scriptural eldership, as directed by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Under scriptural leadership, the congregation can function as intended as a local body of believers in unity with other believers, whether they agree with all the opinions of those believers or not. Unanimity of opinion is not a requirement of unity.

Thoughts on Acts 15

If Acts 15 is supposed to authorize church meetings (councils) for the purpose of establishing unanimity and doctrine, then it is only fair to notice a few important points:

  1. In Acts 15, delegates from multiple churches were NOT sent to a meeting to decide the correct doctrine. The May Week practice is to send delegates from all congregations to discuss and agree upon doctrine, and bring those doctrines back to their home congregations. This is clearly NOT what happened in Acts 15. The attendees were the Jerusalem apostles and elders, possibly (but not definitely) the rest of the church at Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabus from Antioch. That's it. There were no delegates from the churches in Seleucia, Salamis, Paphos, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, or Attalia, which all were in existence after Paul's first missionary journey in the previous two chapters of Acts.
  2. Antioch sent Paul and Barnabus to talk to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Merie taught that the whole congregation was present and participated in the deliberations in Jerusalem, and that we have as much authority and guidance from the Holy Spirit to decide doctrine as they did. However, this is making some assumptions that are not at all clear by a plain reading of the scriptures. What we do know is that the Antioch church appointed Paul and Barnabus to go see the apostles and elders at Jerusalem about the dispute.
  3. Paul and Barnabus conferred with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to solve the dispute. Acts records that they met with the apostles and elders. Yes, they probably addressed the whole church at some point as well, but there is no evidence that the whole Jerusalem church was involved in deliberating about this question.
  4. The letter sent to the brotherhood was from the apostles and elders. It's true that the whole church authorized their spokesmen (Judas and Silas) to deliver the letter to the other churches, but the letter itself was FROM the apostles and elders.
In conclusion, while I do believe that the church at Jerusalem was probably, though not definitely, present for some or all of the deliberations, it seems abundantly clear that the authority behind the doctrinal "proclamation" that went out from Jerusalem was the apostles and elders, not the supposed "church council." If this was a church council, any two congregations can get together and issue their doctrines to the rest of the brotherhood, because that's exactly what happened here if you don't add the apostles and elders into the equation as the authoritative figures.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Telling your story

29 comments:
We all have stories to tell. Outside of the Church of Christ culture, people call it your "testimony." I like that. My testimony has been largely told here on these pages, and others have undertaken to tell their own stories of how this sect has affected their lives, and how they've found their way to a closer relationship with the loving and forgiving God of Scripture.

Please use the comment section of this page to share how God is working in your life today. You can tell us how God has brought you out of legalistic thinking, or how you've come to have a deeper relationship with God, or any aspect of your story that you feel will be uplifting to those still struggling with the "doctrines and commandments of men" that have consumed the sect for the past 45 years.

I just ask that if your story involves other people, please refrain from using names where it would be hurtful, even if those people have hurt you. I believe the people who have hurt others through their abusive teachings and discipline methods know who they are, and my sincere hope is that they may one day change their hearts and work to make things right with those they've hurt. If ever there was a proper application of Matthew 5:23-24, it would be this: If you've hurt your brother by abusive teaching or improper church discipline, go and reconcile with your brother before another minute passes.

Not sure what to write? Try answering one of these questions:
  • How did you first come to realize that the sect's teachings were wrong?
  • What caused you to realize that God is alive and well outside the sect?
  • How have you sought fellowship with other believers after leaving the sect?
For some, you may not be ready to share your story. It may be too painful and too personal for a public forum like this. For others, sharing your story may be the perfect way to stand up and be counted. You can say to the world fearlessly "I belong to Jesus."