“We have no creed by the Bible” is a slogan I have heard from childhood. And it is a noble slogan. We have been a fellowship of sloganeers. “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.” That is one of my favorites. I only wish it were true. If we have genuinely lived by these kinds of directives then why all the splits and divisions within our religious movement over matters about which scripture has usually been deafeningly silent? No, slogans do not make us a people of God’s own choosing.
Leaders among the “restoration churches” have for years been saying that we have no creed/creeds. It appears to me that we have fooled ourselves into believing that if we repeat something often enough and loudly enough sooner or later people will believe it. It’s sort of how creeds are developed in the first place. In other words, if we practice or teach something long enough it will become an “old paths” tradition. Then, if the tradition doesn’t die, it becomes canon law (a creed) and is now a vital enough matter to debate.
Of course not all of us are guilty of accepting all of the creeds that will be here mentioned. So we may pick and choose those of which we are guilty of obeying and enforcing. Not all of the creeds “we” have sired will be here mentioned for two main reasons: 1) I can’t recall them all, 2) Lack of space and/or literary license from brother Charles. Now, if your kindness, dear readers, will allow, I shall launch into my laundry list of ecclesiastical creedalisms developed over myriad of decades of institutional evolution. These are not necessarily listed in order of importance.
First is the matter of the liturgical (orthodox) prayer of the churches of Christ. Our forms and expressions of worship can easily become crystalized. Involved in our prayer creed is the business of who to address. One must direct his prayer to God the Father and to Him alone; never the God the Son, Jesus Christ. Forget that we have a biblical example of Stephen praying directly to Christ. Forget that Jesus is our intermediary to the Father (can you imagine a client never getting to talk to his attorney?). Forget that some may occasionally desire to slip in a small, “I love you, dear Jesus, for what you did for me!”
Not only must we pray exclusively to the Father and never utter a word to Christ or the Holy Spirit (who also mediates on our behalf), but we must at home juncture within the prayer speak the words, “In Jesus’ name.” It is preferable to say this at the closing in a public prayer so that the congregants may Amen in agreement without distress.
Oh, I almost forgot, there is the matter of prayer “language” to the ultra orthodox. Majestic pronouns are often preferred over other, less regal, words (thee, thou, and thy over you and your). Somehow these pronouns are able to convey respect and humility to God in spite of the fact that there were no royal pronouns in the biblical languages. To add to this dilemma, there are also preferred cliche expressions to top things off (of course I try to avoid cliches like the plague. Expressions such as: 1) Guide, guard and direct, 2) Ready recollection, 3) Molestation, 4) Another portion of thy word, 5) Sick and afflicted, 6) Next appointed time, 7) Respective places of abode, et al.
Aside from the matter of “holy” pronouns and catch phrases is the business of regressing into Elizabethan English to speak to deity. Joseph Smith used this technique when he penned his Book of Mormon and “Inspired” version of the Bible. He assumed that if he wrote, “And it came to pass” some 2,000 times that the story would have an obvious ring of divinity. He, as we, used phrases with ancient words like wouldst and couldst and hast and loveth and coveteth. Really brethren, is a prayer more sincere if we say, “Holy Father, we loveth thee and coveteth thy bountiful grace” instead of”Dear Lord, we love you and ask for your generous mercy?” Besides, I tho’t coveting was a sin.
Second is the matter of the Lord’s Supper only to be taken on the first day of the week. If it’s taken any other time it’s got to be wrong. Forget that Christ instituted it on a “Thursday” (Thor’s day by our calendar) evening. Forget that there is no direct command found anywhere in the New Testament that requires Sunday (Sun Day) only observance. Forget that Jesus said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup.” Forget that in Acts 2 the disciples “broke bread” daily. We have legislated a creed (or simply held on to a vestage of Romish theocracy as many denominations unwittingly did) that demands the communion of our Lord to be experienced/enjoyed only on one day of the week every week.
Third is the creed of unfermented wine. That’s right. Jesus turned water into Welch’s grape juice. Alcoholic wine was not and “cannot” be used for the Lord’s Supper, period. (As fascinating as it seems, there is even a group in our fractured movement that believes only “fermented” wine can be used.) Who says so? Keepers of the creeds, that’s who. Forget that the Corinthian brethren got drunk on Lord’s Supper wine. Forget the prohibition to elders not to be given to much wine (why prohibit the consumption of harmless juice?). This scribe wrote a simple essay on the Lord’s Supper several years back and made the “mistake” of concluding that the fermentation, or lack thereof, of the communion wine was a matter of personal preference or circumstances. Letters poured in from both sides. Letters of disgust at my blatant liberalism. Yes, I’m a teetotaler, but our teetotaling mentality has foisted upon us another creed.
Fourth is the creed of unleavened bread. If the wine must be pure then it follows that the bread must be pure. Forget that unleavened bread was present at the time Jesus originated the Lord’s Supper because it was the only bread available at the moment because of the Passover feast just commemorated by Christ and His disciples. Forget that there is no command to use unleavened bread exclusively anywhere in New Testament scripture. If one doesn’t think we are hard line about such matters then attempt the use of fermented wine and store bought bread in most of our services.
Fifth is the matter of what form our worship singing will take. Form becoming tradition becoming creed again! This position (creed) is that all singing must be congregational (everyone singing at one time). There is no room for quartet or chorus (too much like a choir and everybody knows choirs are sinful) singing. There is no quarter for solos even though we sit mute while a paid orator (usually) tells us (in solo) what we want to hear but somehow we know that nobody has the right to sing (solo) what we want to hear.
Forget the fact that the New Testament is practically silent about the “form” of our singing and rather focuses upon purpose and intent (“with the spirit and understanding”). Forget the fact that Paul said of a group of Christians that each one had a song. Forget that many of our congregational songs have alto and soprano and bass leads that are sung while the rest remain attentive but silent. Who knows how much damage this one narrow minded creed has done to our creativity in developing songs and musical praise to God. And where is the scripture found for such a hard line position? Right next to the one that says we can sing in four part harmony.
Sixth is the matter of elders not needing to answer to the flock but the flock having to answer to the elders. This creed is directly tied to the concept of elders comprising an “eldership” which is more or less a “boat” that carries a decision making board of directors (see Bob West’s “I’ve Learned Better” in The Examiner, Sept. 1988). Forget that elders aren’t elders without the members first desiring and acknowledging such. Forget that elders are to be shepherds and sheep feeders rather than Lords and sheep herders. Most of the trauma concerning church leadership can be directly traced to elder-ships that suppose that somehow or other such servants are endowed with power to rule and reign over institutions called churches. Jesus died for indigents, not for institutions!
Seventh is the creed that worship consists of five (count’em) acts to be done in an assembly hall (usually an expensive edifice that helps maintain the institutional image). Five acts, mind you, is what worship is all about. And usually they must be done within the framework of an opening prayer (which begins worship) and a closing prayer (which ends worship).
This is one reason we have group singing (even choirs) after the dismissal prayer. You see, this makes it all scriptural. It is against our creed that “listening” is an item (act) of worship during singing. Forget that worship is an expression of the heart. Forget that there is no command to perform (engage in) five items of worship.
The five acts of worship, as if anyone would forget, include: 1) Prayer, 2) Lord’s Supper, 3) Money giving, 4) Singing, 5) And most important of all, a religious speech (usually by a professional lecturer) delivered to the very ones who provide his salary. That’s it, folks! Worship! Forget the bedtime Bible stories told by a loving mother to her little ones. Forget the hard work father does to provide for his family (and his tithe). Forget hospital visits, death sympathies, kind words of encouragement and letters to the lonely. There are only five items of worship.
Sadly, we do have an unmentionable “sixth item” of worship which has not yet received full canonical acceptance, namely, the announcements. Yet Goad is serious in making the point that even announcements can be very worshipful and vital to a family of God’s worshippers. So can foyer holy hugs and kisses.
Before I continue, I can hear some of you now. Please love me in spite of my mouth/pen. I love you all. Jesus loves us all. We be brethren because of Christ and not because of unanimity of opinion. As verbal as I am, I am trying to be brief. Every one of these creeds could be a ten page essay. So at least be grateful for my condensation of thoughts. That always leaves more room for ambiguity and misunderstanding, but I would love to hear from all who wish to write in response, whether in agreement or to set me straight.
Eighth is the creedal matter of how we interpret the scriptures. In a nutshell our modus operandi in such areas is simply: 1) Direct command, 2) Apostolic example, 3) Necessarily inference. This “necessary inference” is the one that has gotten us into big trouble throughout the years. Just who determines what is necessarily inferred for another person? If we were Catholics then it would be easy to answer that question. Again, this might assist us in understanding why we have developed elderships. They determine these matters.
Anyway, this three-pronged creed is an exegetical tool of understanding “who said what to whom when” and “is it binding for me?” Of course, there is no scripture that says this is how we define divine truth for the ages, but you couldn’t prove that by the decibels and syllogisms of some of our better known keepers of truth. Tools (formuli) to assist in understanding God’s word ought never to become ends in themselves. We all have differing vantage points from which we view scripture. The command-example-inference approach has its strengths and its weaknesses.
Not to undermine a help in understanding but to enable us to see that that is all it is, a tool, I mention just a few weaknesses. Our fellowship has loosed direct commands (holy kisses & feet washing for examples) and has bound inferences (Sunday only Lord’s Supper, congregation accapella singing for examples). I could list several examples but that is not my point. (I’d be delighted to hear from those with lists where we have inadvertantly or on purpose bound and loosed in such fashion.) My point is this, there are myriad ways for truth seekers to come to a knowledge of truth. I use one rule of interpretation that works for me better than any other. I’d be glad to share it. But I do not hide behind it as though it is an inspired creed revealed from God.
Ninth in our list of creeds is the one that says women can’t serve in a public way without usurping men’s authority. Let me give you an example. A woman can’t serve the Lord’s Supper emblems in assembly. I won’t bore you with other examples. This is sufficient. Forget that a woman can prepare emblems before the “worship begins” and bring them to the table. Forget that she can cook and serve at home without usurping her husband’s authority. Forget that serving has nothing to do with usurping in the first place. She can’t do it! Why? It violates this feminine creed.
There’s more. A ten year old boy who has just been baptized can pass the emblems up and down the church aisle, but a saintly seventy year old elder’s wife cannot. Get this. A woman can pass the emblems from side to side while sitting in the pew, but she can’t pass them up and down the aisle. And she had better be careful about standing up when she passes from side to side. Silly? You bet it is.
We have unknowingly (I’m being charitable) stifled the spiritual growth of countless female disciples by our insensitive and creedal approach that says to women, “Shut up and be quiet.” Please don’t 1,000 watch dogs write to me and remind me to read 1 Corinthians 14 and I Timothy 2. I already have. But my example has nothing to do with those passages in their context (spiritual gifts in assembly and men able to pray “everywhere” tho’ we have loosed the matter of holding up holy hands in that passage).
Tenth is the creed that fellowship implies (confirms) consent of the error of those we fellowship. Nonsense! I could fellowship the pope himself in helping rescue a beggar from his plight. That would not mean I accepted Roman Catholicism or Papal infallibility. Fellowship is a mutual sharing and joint participation. It is not a pot luck. It does not prove endorsement or error. If we could fellowship only those who fully agree with us on every doctrinal matter we’d all be lonely souls indeed. So simple and yet we miss it. We’ve been programmed and conditioned to accept ideas we haven’t even prayed over or thought through to their logical conclusions.
Eleventh is the implied creed that in order for a church to grow it must acquire an edifice and secure a paid edifier. That’s correct. To start a church one must get some land, build a building, put the sheep in debt for years, hire a F.T.P.G.P. then we’re in business. Somebody forgot to tell Peter, James and John about such methods. The Examiner has dealt so thoroughly with this idea that I’ll be quiet, such a task as it is.
Twelfth is the belief that the genuinely restored church of the first century A.D. is one that can be traced to a pioneer American religious movement. Religious movements can be productive when they force us to think ourselves out of indifference and creeds and point us back to the source of life. Yet we have a way of canonizing our restorationists.
Campbell no more had a monopoly on truth and understanding than did Luther in his time. We ought to be grateful for the contributions of both of these men. But to say, “Campbell’s movement has it!” or “Luther’s movement has it!” is a big mistake. Christ has it. Christ is it! We must learn to stop funneling our thinking through movements and men and focus on what makes us children of God.
Thirteenth is the notion that faithful preachers of the gospel are men graduated from our schools. True, Jesus operated a preacher training school for three years. But, again I say, nobody (body of teachers especially) has a monopoly on truth and faithfulness, not even us.
Fourteenth is the unwritten (I’ve even seen it in print) creed that deacons handle physical matters and elders decide on spiritual affairs. Forget that to be a true servant (deacon) of God is a highly spiritual matter. Forget that among the first deacons were found great evangelists. Forget that in many churches the elders are so bogged down with administrative trivia that they have precious little time left for the feeding and tending of sheep. Being a deacon is not merely a matter of physical administration.
Fifteenth is the notion that true New Testament preaching of the gospel is any talk or sermonette or homily delivered on Sunday from behind a wooden box or “pulpit” regardless of content. A sub notion is that if it’s out of the box then it falls under the classification of teaching. I am of the persuasion that most if not all of New Testament preaching was done without benefit of the clerical pulpit of today.
Did Peter have a pulpit when he used the keys of the kingdom on Pentecost? Did Paul have a pulpit on Mars Hill? Did Phillip, while riding in the eunuch’s chariot? It seems apparent that the proclamation of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and how sinners can participate in it is the heart and center of the gospel and that it can be delivered with an open Bible from across a kitchen table or while riding in an automobile. Few souls who have never heard of Jesus seem to be clamoring to attend our religious services so they can humbly sit at the feet of professional clergy. Probably less “conversions” take place in our stained glass cathedrals than we would like to admit.
Sixteenth is the creed that unity in Jesus can be had if the sectarians would just agree with us. In other words, unity is achieved through unanimity of opinion. Our opinion, of course. Just which of the many segments of the Restoration Movement possesses this truth (sound doctrine) remains to be seen and depends on who one talks to. Jesus prayed for unity in John 17. It must have been achieved because Paul wrote that it was something one could endeavor to keep or maintain. It was not had because everyone thought exactly alike but probably because all those in Jesus were of like mind…a big difference. Unity? Yes! Robots all thinking alike? No. We’re correct and you are not! Come join us and we can be one? Never!
Seventeenth is a creed already mentioned as we began this trek into reasoning, namely, the creed that says we have no creed but the Bible. It may be the noblest of all our creeds. I admit, I like it! It acknowledges a standard an authority. It points us to the liberating word. Yet it misses one glaringly fundamental point. The doctrine truth seekers encounter in the word are always open to individual interpretations. Our brains are different. Our backgrounds vary. Thus we often end up drawing dissimilar conclusions. Do our conclusions alter truth? No. Does a first impression understanding of a doctrinal matter mean one is correct? No. Does changing one’s mind or altering a position as maturity and insight are achieved suggest that truth is in a state of flux of the seeker of it is without proper understanding? Of course not.
Deciphering the mysteries of God’s divine revelation to humankind is a challenging and humbling experience. No one has an edge on how to come to grips with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To say one has a hot line to Biblical interpretation smacks of popery and apostolic prowess. We deny papal right to speak ex cathedra yet some of our brethren come frighteningly close to it in their pronouncements and their efforts at keeping the brotherhood pure. Beware!
Eighteenth is a creed held by many that the Lord no longer divinely intervenes m bodily healing through prayer. We pray for the sick, often in token fashion, then usually add a disclaimer after a request by saying, “If it be thy will.” To me this implies that it is the Lord’s will that cancer ravage bodies and babies lives are snatched in infancy by sickness. Who of us really believes such? Do we pray believing the power of the universe is at our disposal? I confess that I have been programmed for so long that I wonder if I have the capacity to completely utter a prayer with childlike faith and trust, especially regarding the healing of the sick and infirmed.
Faith as a grain of mustard seed is all that is required but we have been taught such things ended about the time John penned his revelatory “Amen.” Perhaps we are afraid that if we teach and pray believing that this will lend credence to charlatans and frauds who dupe desperately ill and gullible people out of their money all in the name of divine gifts. Do frauds and fakers really detract from the promised blessings of Almighty God?
Nineteenth is that somehow God authorized a particular English translation of the Bible, namely the King James Version (or insert your choice). Someone jokingly said, “The KJV was good enough for Paul so it’s good enough for me!” Absurd, you say. Who believes such? Then why all the commotion and writing and debating about which translation is authorized? Authorized by whom? Sadly some people still don’t possess any Bible in their own native language yet some among us have created disturbances (even splits) over versions. God should be thanked, and linguists too, that we have so many good committee translations in English. Can you imagine French Christians arguing and splintering over the KJV when they can’t even read it in the first place?
Sometimes it appears our church leaders spend overtime deciding which topics we can debate over and quarrel over rather than focusing their talents and energies on the message of a redeeming Saviour. Brethren, no modern translation of the Bible is inspired of God (excluding the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation and Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of course).
Twentieth is a widely held creed among so many of us that the proper and divinely designated name for God’s kingdom on earth is (little c) “church of Christ.” Can you believe it? Yes. Try to alter the name. Just suggest such a thing. The ekklesia was called so many things that an obvious conclusion an open mind could draw was that there was never given (or intended) a proper name for the body of Christ. The “way” has always been described but never named. “The church of God” identifies the “bride of Christ” ten to one over “church of Christ.” Come to think of it “church of Christ” is found only in the plural and refers to congregations of the Lord’s people. We are so hung up on pigeon holing people. They all must have a name. We must have a name! The family of God transcends such legalism.
Twenty-first is the creed that only members of the (little c) church of Christ will be saved. Forget that all those who are in Christ Jesus will be saved. Our narrow understanding of that is to equate being in Christ with being in the church of Christ (our particular branch thereof). “One cannot be saved outside the kingdom of God and obviously the kingdom of God is us, the church of Christ.” What answer would one have received had he been able to ask a 95 A.D. disciple of Christ, “What is the name of the church?” Would such a question have made any sense?
Whew! I understand this seems negative. It could have been presented much more gently. But, alas, I have at my disposal only the writing skills thus acquired. So be patient with me. Forgive me for not quoting or scripture referencing every allusion to the Bible but I deliberately left those out to encourage you to search the scriptures personally. Those familiar with the word are aware and could easily quote appropriate scriptures at proper places within the text. The Lord bless you.