Churches of Christ
Recently questions have been asked about the Churches of Christ. Are they Christian or cultic? Do their doctrines disagree with historical Christianity? Whats going on with the Boston Church of Christ? Why have people left the denomination? How do the Churches of Christ in Denver fit into the various divisions within the Church of Christ system?
In this two-part article, we will provide information and answers to these questions. In Part One, we will examine the Churches of Christ background, the Boston Church of Christ, and how doctrines agree or disagree with the beliefs of historic Christianity.
The Scottish Restitution provided the foundation for the Churches of Christ Restoration beliefs. Thomas and Alexander Campbell, father and son Irish Presbyterian ministers, began the Restoration movement in eastern America in the early nineteenth century. They emphasized returning to biblical and primitive church worship and organization.
The New Testament was to be the only authority for church government and worship. No human creed could supersede it. This kind of church government featured the autonomy of the congregation, especially as it was separated from political control by any form of civil government. Elders were to rule and teach, while deacons were to serve the needs of the congregation and assist the elders in what was basically a lay ministry.
In 1832 several churches joined the "Campbellites," including Barton Stones Christian Church, to become known as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Over the years divisions occurred, and by 1906 two distinct groups had emerged: The Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. Further disagreements and splits came about because of differences in how the sacraments should be observed, liberalism, and denominational structures.
In 1955, a second kind of Church of Christ emerged with its emphasis on its own Restoration-based beliefs exclusive of other churches, including Disciples of Christ. It disassociated with denominations who were not considered true believers. People could become Church of Christ members by adhering to "a particular set of doctrines and practices to submit and conform without discussion."
Leroy Garrett, in The Stone-Campbell Movement (Joplin: The College Press, 1981), identifies six divisions within the Churches of Christ:
1. Mainline Group: 935,439 members in 10,615 congregations believe in their church only, no musical instruments, and do not fellowship with those who do not adhere to their doctrines.1
2. Non-cooperatives: 100,000 in 2,800 congregations disagreed about supporting "The Herald of Truth" television ministry and missionary societies.
3. One Cuppers: 15,000 in 400 congregations use a common communion cup.
4. Pre-millennial: [no figures given] believe Christ will set up His millennial kingdom after the rapture and punish those left in the Tribulation.
5. Non-Sunday School Churches of Christ: 600 congregations do not have Sunday School because it is considered unbiblical.
6. Black Churches of Christ: [no figures given] are separated by race from mainline churches.
Marshall Legett, in Introduction to the Restoration Ideal, states that The Sand Creek Declaration in 1889 advocated no musical instruments in the church, no accompanied choirs, no minister from outside the congregation, and no societies set up to spend money on missions. "They have assumed an exclusivist posture in relation to other believers."2
Boston Church of Christ
The Boston Church of Christ has grown from a 30-member congregation in Lexington to over 1,800 by 1986. This growth has occurred under the aggressive leadership of Kip McKeanwith active recruiting, dominating discipline, and a network of one-on-one instruction for younger and newer members.
The Boston Church of Christ advocates a return to first century Christianity with its great conversions. The New Testament is the authoritative Word of God to decide any moral questions. The Boston Church of Christ plants and supports new churches around the world with plans to increase its number of churches to nearly 60 in 30 countries.
Most of the research supports the fact that the Boston Church of Christ should not be confused with the mainline Churches of Christ which practice more traditional theology and doctrine. In our opinion, the cultic aspects of the Boston Church center around its strict requirement of submission to leadership authority, its disciplining techniques, and its method of congregational organization.
Several former members of the Boston Church of Christ reported their dissatisfaction with that church in articles and letters which appeared in the Boston Globe.
Laura B. Wilson wrote to the Globe: "It is a neurotic system there, a bizarre arrangement that is psychologically unhealthy and damaging. Members are pressured to be dependent on the church socially, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It makes people group-dependent by subversion and coercion. The members life is dominated by the church; ones time, energy, and space are so monopolized so one is constantly indoctrinated, and there is no time to think, question, reflect, or evaluate. The system makes independence impossible."3
Susan Grundy, who left the Boston Church of Christ in 1984 stated: "I dont remember having a good nourishing meal We werent supposed to be spending enough time in the apartment to fix a full dinner They watched us very closely When they didnt know where I was, theyd ask other people to check up on me."4
Robert Ludlum, a member of the Boston Church of Christ for four years, left in 1984 and reported: "What they say is that if youre not converting people, there must be sin in your life It got to the point in my life that I felt guilty for everything that I did."5
The Boston Church of Christ takes an extreme position in its beliefs on authority, submission, and discipline that puts it outside the mainline Churches of Christ. In 1989 the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida, removed itself from any association with the Boston Church of Christ, claiming there was too much leadership control over the congregation. Crossroads also questioned the authority of Bostons church leaders, such as requiring obedience to an individuals discipler in every manner.
Church of Christ Beliefs
Frank S. Mead, in Handbook of Denominations in the United States, says the Church of Christ believes "the concept of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as members of one Godhead: the incarnation, virgin birth, and bodily resurrection of Christ; the universality of sin after the age of accountability and its only remedy is the vicarious atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, repentance, confession of faith, and baptism by immersion into Christ for the remission of sins."6
The Churches of Christ are generally anti-charismatic, anti-denominational, and amillennial (except for the pre-millennial division). Instrumental music is not used in the church because there is no New Testament mention of it in the Gospels and the Epistles, and supposedly it was not used in the first century or primitive church.
The autonomy of the local church is taken to extremes by some Churches of Christ, especially the Boston Church of Christ, where absolute leadership authority and control of members seems to be oppressive, causing some members to leave the church.
Some Churches of Christ do not have Sunday School because they feel there is no biblical basis for this method of teaching the Word. If the New Testament does not mention a specific doctrine, then the Church of Christ does not practice it. Again, the emphasis is on New Testament first century methods of worship and belief, such as observing the Lords Supper each Sunday and making contributions on the first day of the week.
Many Churches of Christ regard baptism by immersion as essential for salvation. Some of the Churches of Christ imply that only those who are baptized by immersion are considered "saved" in the Church of Christ manner. Salvation appears to include faith, confession of sins, repentance, baptism by immersion, a life dedicated to good works, which as one member said, "goes on into eternity." Salvation is viewed as a process rather than as a single experience of regeneration with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The Churches of Christ do not believe that a saved person has eternal security because they feel Christians would have a license to sin. Backsliding and unconfessed sin can cause a believer to lose his salvation according to their thinking.
It should be emphasized that, because of the local autonomy of each church, there are variations in some of the doctrinal beliefs and practices. Each church has to be evaluated, on its own system of theological truths, its form of church government, and specific sacramental traditions and practices.
With that in mind, in Part Two of this article we will be looking into several of the Denver area Churches of Christ in attempting to answer the questions posed at the beginning of this article. We intend to present objective information on some of the fundamental problems. Of particular focus will be the Denver Church of Christ. We will include a brief apologetic analysis of their doctrinal beliefs and practices based on actual visitation, researching the local church materials, and talking with church leaders as well as current and former members.
Footnotes: All Scripture references from: New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
The above article originally appeared in The Shield newsletter in 1991.