by Berry Kercheville
If you were to Google “Church of Christ,” you would discover the above sentiment repeated in numerous ways by former members who became disgruntled with a local church of Christ. Unfortunately, many of their complaints are justified and there is no doubt I would struggle working in such churches. Are there churches run by harsh elders or a few men who act as bullies? Yes there are. Are there churches that are inflexible, insisting on manmade rules and traditions? Yes there are. Are there churches who believe “soundness” should be defined exclusively by doctrinal correctness? Yes, there are those churches too. Are there churches who ignore the need to save souls or are clueless to their responsibility to love outsiders? Yes, those churches exist as well. I’m sure you could add to this list. The letters to the seven churches offer even more examples (Rev. 2-3). Christians are a collection of imperfect people, and sometimes, stubborn, unloving people. When we are in the midst of such a group, life can be frustrating to say the least.
Corinth was such a church. In fact, it was probably worse than any church you or I have ever experienced. There were divisions, lawsuits, fornication, abuses of the Lord’s Supper, eating meat in the idol’s temple, arrogance, denial of the resurrection, and worse, paid preachers in their midst who entertained them with worldly wisdom. Would you have joined the Corinth church of Christ? Would you have encouraged Christians traveling or moving to Corinth to join that church? Paul did (1 Cor. 16:10-21). Does that mean they didn’t need to change or were acceptable to God if they remained in that state? Of course not. That is the reason Paul wrote the letter.
But consider, can you imagine the hard work Corinthian Christians had to do to correct their sins? There were no elders we are aware of. I think of the hours of meetings, both small and large, in which the brethren had to talk out their differences, repent of their wrongs, and resolve to humble themselves to the Lord’s will. Paul describes their repentance in 2 Corinthians 7:11, “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!” The fact that they were fairly new Christians may have given them an advantage over churches today who are hardened to any needed change. But the changes Corinth made stands as an example of what men and women who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ ought to do and can do.
Mistakes Made When We Are “Fed Up”
No doubt there is a time and a place to say, “I must move on from this local church.” However, even when that takes place, we must give careful attention to the Lord’s requirement that we all be one (John 17:20-26) and that we love one another even as he has loved us (1 John 3:16; 4:11). Too often, these commands of the Lord are disregarded, placing Christians in a dangerous spiritual condition before the Lord. How can we say we love God whom we do not see if we do not show God-like love to our brother whom we do see (1 John 4:20-21)? The following are three typical errors:
- Gross generalizations. As the saying goes, “All generalizations are false, including this one. The very statement, “I’m fed up with the Church of Christ,” or other such comments, exposes a belief in the Lord’s church as a denomination and suggests that I know about every local church in the world and have considered every one of them to be unfaithful to the Lord. It is a mistake to believe that whatever is happening in my area is also happening throughout the country. It just isn’t so. Even in Corinth, there were those approved (1 Cor. 11:19), and the errors at Corinth were not the errors at Ephesus.
- Fighting one extreme by going to another extreme. So you are fed up with the traditionalism in your church? Here’s a common answer: let’s start a church where anyone can run the worship assembly however he wants. Let’s make our assemblies about our personal needs and let members share whatever they would like about their lives. Let’s have all the men take turns sharing their favorite passage. After all, we are tired of hearing sermons; we are tired of formal worship.
What just happened? Yes, you have discarded the traditions on which some have insisted, but do you now look with disdain on any worship that follows a traditional pattern no matter how scriptural? Will you even go so far as to see your own brethren in “traditional” churches as inferior? That attitude is exactly what went on with those who divided from the brethren in 1 John. John accused them of not loving the brothers. Further, have you determined that your new tradition of throwing out all semblance of previous traditions will somehow make you and your new church more spiritual than brethren in the old tradition? Worse, have you created a church built on your new traditions instead of a church that has the goal of equipping saints to save a lost world? Is all about you and all about exploring different ways to create new traditions that have nothing to do with growing in the knowledge of Christ? I might add, the above style of worship places the focus on us instead of Christ and has been proven to produce Christians who are eventually destroyed for lack of knowledge.
- We Don’t Care What Other Churches Say About Us. Yes, I understand. When criticism and hearsay mounts, accusations abound that soon become wild, unfounded assertions. The affect is the desire to withdraw from brethren everywhere. But the desire to avoid judgmental brethren can also become a way to avoid honestly confronting unscriptural practices. This leads to the “inbreeding” of ideas that soon result in serious errors. Solomon said, “A man who isolates himself, seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (Prov. 18:1). All of us need to allow others to confront us when they believe we are in error. That is a healthy accountability that can save us from moving away from the pure gospel of Christ. Besides, to do otherwise is not loving the brothers.
What Is the Solution?
Are you fed up because of a few who are enamored with controlling the church to fit their personal agenda? Are there sinful attitudes that are weakening the church or leading to division? Whatever it is, Jesus had a scripture for that. Matthew 18:15-17 offers the solution. Go to the brother, even if it is an elder. If he doesn’t listen, bring two or three with you. If he still doesn’t listen, bring it before the church. Do it gently. Do it with love. Do it with patience. Above all, do it to save a soul and to save the church. But where are the Christians willing to do this? “I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren” (1 Cor. 6:5)?
Let’s talk about what we ought to be fed up with. I’m not fed up with churches of Christ. I am fed up with division. I am fed up with churches five miles apart who will not have anything to do with one another because of some breakup 30 years ago that had to do with personalities or even a doctrinal difference that did not affect the practice of the church. I’m fed up with brethren who will not love, and I’m especially fed up with myself when I do not love. I’ve had it. I’m done with it. I will always stand for truth as best I can understand it, but if I have not love, I am nothing. If you are going to be fed up, be fed up with the right things.