Frank wrote in response to “Cutting off the Roast”:
“…Each of us is our own individual restoration movement in learning and applying God’s Word. Any of us can be sincerely mistaken, so it depends on how objectively and honestly and earnestly we study and apply Scripture. Legalism (salvation by perfect rule-keeping) was the Pharisaic approach to justification, but we are under the gospel system of grace accepted by obedient faith (reliance on the Lord)…”
You speak in Church of Christ code. Permit me to translate.
“Each of us is our own individual restoration movement…” This phrase pinpoints the particular philosophy in which the Church of Christ began: it was near the end of the enlightenment period, just past the Declaration of Independence, in a period of individualism. Such a phrase would scarcely have been uttered any time before the enlightenment in the history of Christianity. Yet the Churches of Christ insist that anyone could have taken the New Testament and come up with our philosophy at any time between the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and today.
“…so it depends on how objectively and honestly and earnestly we study and apply Scripture.” Translation: Salvation by self. More than that: We are the only ones who are objective, honest and earnest in studying and applying Scripture.
“…but we are under the gospel system of grace accepted by obedient faith (reliance on the Lord).” Translation: We are saved by our correct obedience because we are more honest and earnest and have studied harder. Grace is always offered and then taken back in the hard line Churches of Christ. It is classic Orwellian Doublespeak.
The problem is that we are studying the wrong things. We are looking for things that are not asked for and not looking for the things that are asked for. For instance, we just celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which was inaugurated during the Civil War to commemorate the first Thanksgiving celebrated between the Indians and the Plymouth Brethren in 1622. But most early thanksgiving feasts in the colonies were held after having successful raids killing Indians. In one such raid they brought the chief’s head home, hoisting it on a pike in front of Fort Plymouth and leaving it there for 24 years.
The Churches of Christ Restoration Movement began about 1801 and split over instruments and missionary societies around the time Lincoln inaugurated Thanksgiving. But read how many Restoration Movement preachers were writing or preaching about the genocide of the Indians and the land grabs of their day, or the evil of slavery: A total of four preachers. So while we were sifting the scriptures for authority or silence on the subjects of missionary societies and pianos, one of the biggest genocides in world history was unfolding with our blessing.
The colonies and the United States patted themselves on the back as Christians, of whatever stripe, while engaging in behavior that we now think of as more closely resembling Hitler’s Nazi regime. We are still heavily committed to preserving that image.
Did Jesus ever mention the worship assembly? Did he ever say, “I want the worship assembly to be a particular way”? No. He talked about our personal piety, devotion, obedience and personal worship to God; nothing about the assembly. Why then is the format of the assembly the most important aspect of Church of Christ theology?
In the letters to the churches, the New Testament writers seldom talked about the assembly. Perhaps 4 chapters in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, one chapter in James, two verses in Hebrews, and that is about all. And why hide commandments in letters to first century churches? Those were instructions to first century churches, not necessarily to us. Why assume all the churches were commanded to have the same format of worship?
The Israelites had a specific set of laws, laid out clearly to obey. Beyond that they were free to add spontaneously. If something good happened, they would erect an altar, or appoint a new feast day. They didn’t wait for a word from God. They just expressed their joy and appreciation, confident that God would accept a victory dance led by Mirriam, an altar erected on the west side of the Jordan River, and the new feast day of Purim. Even the organization of the synagogue form of assembly and worship (with elders) was completely unauthorized in the Old Testament.
We are equally free in the New Testament. We are free to take the rituals and customs of our cultures and use them to express our love and appreciation of God, as long as they build one another up, are edifying to everyone, are comprehensible, are socially equal, as Paul instructed the Corinthians to conduct their worship assemblies. (The only instruction James gave was to make sure poor people were treated with the same respect as rich people in the assembly.)
The hard line Churches of Christ are the present day Pharisees, straining out gnats (instrumental music) and swallowing camels (racial and social ills). In my opinion the purpose of most religions is to make selfish societies comfortable. And so the United States invented the Restoration Movement to search for the original first century worship service to distract and comfort us from facing the genocide and selfishness of our actions.