Five Church of Christ Myths or Facts?

Practically all of my life I have heard (in one form or another) these five facts about the Churches of Christ.  I now ask– are they fact or myths?

Members of the Churches of Christ know the Bible well. Just how true has this ever been? Were we a people of The Book? Did we know the Bible better than other churches? Or did we just know a certain set of proof texts very well?  And shouldn’t being a people of The Book be a given in any generation?

Members of the Church of Christ are the only ones going to heaven. Did we ever really believe and teach this? Isn’t this an arrogantly narrow position to take? How can anyone or any group claim sole possession of God’s grace and truth? If I can read the Bible and discover God’s will for my life then others can as well. Is this really what we want our identity to be?

Churches of Christ have restored the New Testament Church. I do know the significance of what we call “The Restoration Movement” to who Churches of Christ are (even today). I appreciate the courageous and noble work of those early American pioneer preachers in re-emphasizing the central importance of New Testament teaching and the New Testament church model. But is the New Testament church now completely restored? Or is it an ongoing and continual process as this teaching and model interacts with each new generation and takes root in different world cultures?

The Churches of Christ are not a denomination. Has this ever been completely true? I know from a structural point-of-view it is. That is, we have no overall church system and no formal denominational hierarchy. But attitudinally? When I hear statements like, “I am a Church of Christer” or “You are a Church of Christ preacher” or when one congregation tries to impose it’s will upon another, I wonder.

Churches of Christ were once the fastest growing church in America. I believe the timeframe for this was in the late sixties and/or early seventies. Was this true? More recently I have seen statistics demonstrating this was not the case. With all of my heart I wish we were rapidly growing today.

Myths or facts? Your input on my thoughts is welcome. Please be kind. I love the Churches of Christ. I have no ax to grind. This is no invitation to bash. The purpose of this post is simply for reflection- to get us honestly thinking about ourselves; who we are and who we want to be.

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20 Responses to Five Church of Christ Myths or Facts?

  1. Gene says:

    On your first question, I guess you’d need something/someone to compare that to. I think compared to many in formal denominations like Lutheran or Catholic churches, where the “reverend” or “father” orchestrates the service and the message, CoC members are more knowledgeable than the typical member there. However, with less formal churches like many Christian Churches, or “fellowship/friends” Churches, I think the knowledge is fairly comparable depending on what topic is being discussed. We know a lot of “proof texts” as you said, but haven’t developed a heart for all of God’s Word.
    Second question: I kind of believed this when I was a very young Christian (23 yrs. old) and I felt like that was the message taught in sermons and studies. Whether that was said outright, I don’t recall, but that is the impression I had. Now (31 yrs. old), I don’t hold to that belief anymore. I think it’s somewhat misleading, makes us look like a cult, and is a non-starter when in discussion with others.
    Third question: I think restoring and keeping the N.T. church is a continual process. I think it can be attained, but even then as leadership at local churches change and culture takes its toll, it has to be continually maintained.
    Fourth: I do believe it’s true that Churches of Christ are not denominations so long as they adhere to the teachings of the N.T. and do not become something apart from the church that Christ established.
    Fifth: I have no idea if this were ever true. It would surprise me a bit if it were true. If I were to guess today, I would guess we are in the decline. In the congregation I attend, in the last ten years of HS graduates, less than 10% have remained faithful followers with the Church. Many have stopped attending anywhere, most have opted for more popular choices with their friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, etc. I hope that is just a peculiar trend with us locally.

  2. 1) Members of the CoC know the Bible well: I believe the was true in the past, more so than today. We studied the Bible in church every week during SS and Wednesday night class. We studied it in depth and “knew” it, but I’m not convinced we “understood” it as well as we thought we did. But, yes, we knew the Bible well.
    2)Members of the CoC are the only ones going to heaven…Absolutely, positively, this was taught. My family has been CoC for at least 6 generations (we know at least from the later 1800′s). I have been affiliated with many CoC’s in various parts of the South…rural, “metropolitan”, “old South”, laid back tiny Floridian, etc. They all taught this, and most believed it. When my immediate family started attending a local Christian Church, we were afraid to tell my maternal grandparents. That was back in 1999, when my children were small. To this day, when we run into anyone from that congregation, they comment that they have been praying for us to return to “The Church”, or ask if we ever came “back into the fold”. We have had a few tell us they were jealous of our “courage” to leave. We have been back in the CoC in the next town over for 7 years, due to various circumstances (I still feel affiliated with the Christian Church and would prefer it…actually, my husband is a Christian Church minister and preaches in GA part time, while me and the remaining child at home attend a CoC in AL). The members at our current church are sort of split. There are many, some young and many old, who still believe this, even though they may be reluctant to say it out loud.
    3)The CoC has restored the New Testament Church…they think they have, do doubt. The older I get, and the more I study, the less I believe that to be true. Yes, they have got it “righter” than many others, but they are missing the boat on quite a few issues, especially as our world becomes more and more materialistic and “programs oriented”. There are recently more and more other non-denominational churches and fellowships springing up around the country, that have a whole lot right, also. I believe the one thing the CoC and the Christian churches have 100% right, that the others don’t is weekly Communion and immediate baptism for remission of sins.
    4)CoC’s are not a denomination…I think this is true for the most part, and believed fully.
    5)CoC’s were once the fastest growing church in America…I don’t know. I have heard the stories of the “glory days”. Seems hard to believe now, but maybe…especially if combined with the growth of the Christian Churches during the same time.
    6)Side note…Growing up in the CoC, we were taught that there were no others like us…not even close. We were not allowed to even attend special events with friends of “those denominations”. I once went to a concert *gasp*! at the local Baptist Church with some friends from school, but kept it quiet. I felt like a sinner, even though my very open minded parents had taught me otherwise. They were considered rebels by some, because we sang hymns while my mom played the piano at home and we were okay with “mixed bathing”. We also didn’t buy the “only” doctrine. However, my dad was a minister in FL as a mission work, and then later an elder in our home church. Back to my point…when my husband left me with 3 small children in 1999, I needed a change. The church’s graceless response to my husband, who announced that he was gay, left me miserably searching for something more. When I gathered my closest friends and church family, armed with Bible verses and specific prayer requests, I was told to forget him and move on while I was still young enough to find someone else. I am convinced that not one single person offered up a prayer on his behalf, and I know that no one reached out to him to try to bring him back to God. My Dad when out as a “scout” of sorts to find us a new church home so that we wouldn’t move my girls around from place to place. He found the Christian Church. We did not have any idea that someone just like us was in existence. They were literally the CoC, only with music and grace. I eventually married that same Christian Church preacher (he lost his first wife to cancer) who impressed my Dad and welcomed us into his very vibrant New Testament Christian Church. My CoC roots run deep and I love them dearly, but I now feel much more identified with the Christian Church. When my daughter graduates in 2 1/2 years, I will be permanently joining my husband as a Christian Church preachers wife, and I am longing for the day!

    • dannydodd says:

      Susan,

      I am go glad you posted and shared your story while addressing some of my points. I am sorry that you did not find the grace you needed in Churches of Christ after your divorce (I, too, am divorced. Was divorced while preaching in a Church of Christ, but thankfully found grace and support there), but am thankful God has blessed you with a godly husband.

      I think many can identify with your relationship (as a whole) with Churches of Christ.

      God bless you!

  3. AussiePete says:

    Danny, there’s a lot to chew on here, as the previous responses show. I just want to tackle #4. :-)

    As you point out, it really depends on how you define denomination. But here are some other questions to consider on that topic:

    1. Are “we” (see what I did there) less denominational than all the Community Churches across the country?

    2. Do we also need to be non-Association (eg. Willow Creek) and non-Network (eg. Acts 29)?

    3. Most importantly, what positive attributes are we attempting to highlight when we claim to be non-denominational? I would strongly prefer that we be known for what we are than what we are not!

  4. I’ll comment on #5. Never true. The growth rate in the 1950s was based on projections that turned out to be exaggerated.

    • dannydodd says:

      John Mark affirmed all that I have read about the stats that were mis-used to prop up our reputation as the fastest growing church– in the 50s.

      I thought it was a later timeframe since during the late 60s and early 70s- all kinds of workshops sprung up among us with hundreds and thousands of participants.

    • I think it would be good if we could move on from what was taught and look at what’s being taught. The Gospel, the death, burial and resurrection and obedience. The importance of grace and the problem with anything that causes division. And, division, most of the time will be matters of opinion.

  5. Saved by Grace says:

    When I was growing up, I thought we knew a lot about the Bible. Turns out, we knew a lot about what the Church of Christ believed. I think the Church of Christ has been a denomination for a long time. We bragged about not having a creed, all the while memorizing Leroy Brownlow’s book, “Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ”. I never heard anyone willing to say we were the only ones going to heaven, but it sure was implied. Certainly the doctrinal errors found in all denominations were “show stoppers.” It never occurred to me until years later that we might have some errors of our own. Could it be that we’ve been a bit sidetracked all these years trying to recreate the New Testament Church and neglected to follow Jesus? Thankfully restoration is an on-going process even in the Churches of Christ. If it weren’t I wouldn’t have stuck around!

  6. Jim Lawler says:

    Fastest growing time period was back in the 1800s.

  7. Dottie Graves says:

    Danny, We have discussed question #2 and even laughed at the fact that our Granddaddy Dodd and most of the generation he was so fortunate to live in, really believed that the people who attended the church of Christ were the only ones going to Heaven. I have come to embrace the fact that they were somewhat correct. The people of the church or body of Christ are the only ones going to Heaven. I have studied the Bible, and although I am not smart enough to remember book, chapter, and verse (except the ones everybody knows), I truly believe that if you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and repent and turn from your sins, and are baptized, you will go to Heaven. I had a Sunday school teacher, when we attended the coC in Greenville, MS, who told us we would never be able to get to Heaven. This confused me for a while (until I was in my thirties), when I learned about God’s grace. I don’t ever remember learning this in the Sunday school classes I attended as a child. I am just really sorry that it took me so long to learn about this. That would be the only thing about the coC that I would have changed back then. Although I do not attend a Cruch of Christ where I live because there is not one, I still think that the churches of Christ teach the Bible more thoroughly than any other I have ever attended.

  8. A Campbell says:

    As to your comment on the fastest growing church in America, I think there are some credence to believe that this was the case for the Restoration Movement in the decades prior to the Civil War.

    As far as being a denomination, I COR 1:12 shows what we have become, Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” We have become the “I of Christ” denomination.

  9. J D says:

    I think this is a good expression of the mythology that is accepted by many both within and without the Churches of Christ. I have believed all of those items at one time or another during my journey. When it comes to grace, I either was not listening, was re-interpreting what I heard through a legalistic mindset, or it was not being taught. The skill of being convicted in your own heart about the truths of God’s Word while at the same time allowing others the opportunity to follow God and be convicted in their heart – though they came to different conclusions – is one that has been hard to learn for me.

    I think that the mythology is exposed because of the internet. We no longer are being fed only from one source (a preacher) who comes from a certain perspective (a school or a brotherhood paper maybe) and who approaches the Bible in a certain way. Now we can interact with people of all faiths, receive the benefit of learning from teachers who are quite different than we are, and also realize that Christians are not made with cookie-cutters. Though there are dangers (don’t keep your mind so open your brains fall out!), there are also blessings. I have learned that there are devout Christians scattered among all the denominations … who are loving God, studying their Bibles, and following the Master. That’s not an original statement from me, but it is one that resonates with me.

    sorry to be so long winded!

  10. dannydodd says:

    Excellent thoughts JD!

    • My name is Lloyd and I attend First Christian Church in Albq. I attended Pepperdine in a travelling Masters program at Montgomery Cof C 8 yrs ago. I have a Masters from “your wonderful univ”, am, comfortable with the teachings from the wonderful travelling professors and thankful for all of COC…..

  11. Hope McKay Rice says:

    When I was growing up in Arkansas in the early 50′s I attended the cofc with my family and listened to many sermons and debates convincing me that the cofc was the one.true.church. The debates between the Baptist preachers and the cofc preachers were the entertainment for the community, and “you are going to hell” if you were not a member of the cofc was used in every argument. Just last week I attended the funeral of my beloved sister who remained in the church and the minister reminded the guests that those of you “with like faith” will be with her again. Now, that is a little more diplomatic than what I remember as a young girl, but the message is the same. I have decided that my church is in my heart and I feel more like I am pleasing Jesus by living by His ethics, rather than worshiping with a group of sheep, all believing that they and they alone can understand the most difficult book ever written and if you challenge this belief you very likely will be made to feel like you are lost and looking for something??? Well, aren’t we all? How can anyone be so narcissist to think that they have found the one.true.church;sorta like being a member of an elite country club, and if you pay your dues, you will be rewarded with the top prize. I feel so sad that I have lost two sisters who remained members of this church and there is no doubt that their “sisters in Christ” took precedence over their biological sister who loved and cared for them with genuine love. One thing I cherish and that is the truth and I recognize it when I see it and I have never seen that in a religion anywhere. And I will not barter the right to be myself just to be admired for someone I am not.

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