When I was in elementary school, I remember several conversations I had with my friend Terry. Terry lived around the corner from me, we played together almost every day. And I remember several times telling Terry he was not going to heaven because he didn’t go to church. I also remember telling Sherry across the street she wasn’t going to heaven, either. Sherry did go to church. She just didn’t go the right church.
This was the way I was raised.
We were focused on our Church of Christ distinctives. We were obsessed with what makes Churches of Christ different from everybody else. We took pride in it.
It’s “gospel meeting,” not “revival,” because “revival is not a biblical word. Although, it is.
It’s “preacher,” not “pastor,” because the biblical word “pastor” is really for elders. But we don’t call our elders “pastors” either because that’s what the denominations say.
Oh, the denominations! We are NOT a denomination! We’re different from everybody else!
We baptize by immersion. We do it the right way. And, yeah, we know there are some denominations that immerse the right way. But they do it for the wrong reasons. So we’re still more right.
We eat the Lord’s Supper every week and we only sing with the instruments God gave us in our throats. We call it an “offering,” not a “tithe.” It’s an “invitation song,” not an “altar call.”
Some critics have said, “If we’re so obsessed with seeing just how different we can be from everybody else, why don’t we put bars on all the church doors and go in and out through the windows?”
Well, no, that would be silly. But we call it an “auditorium,” not a “sanctuary.”
Our focus on our distinctives, our obsession with what separates us from the rest of the Christian world, has resulted in several generations of us referring to the CofCs as “The Church.” You know what I’m talking about. “She was raised in the Church.” “They’re members of The Church.” “Does he belong to The Church?” We say “The Church” and we’re only talking about us!
We’ll admit that folks in other churches are Christians, we’ll admit they’re saved. But we’re not so sure we should be calling them brothers and sisters in Christ. The way we talk and the way we behave, we’re claiming to be more saved. We’re claiming to be better, more correct, and closer to God’s will because of our Church of Christ culture.
If you want me to call you a brother or sister in Christ, you have to belong to MY group. You have to conform to OUR rules and adopt OUR customs and embrace OUR traditions. We’re saying that salvation and the unity of God’s people is based on methods and interpretations and not grace and faith.
When that’s the case, we are clearly in the wrong. In Paul’s words, we are not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a person is not justified by works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by the faith of Christ and not by works of the Law, because no one will be justified by works of the Law.” ~Galatians 2:15-16
We are not justified by perfectly obeying God’s Law or by being in the right group, we’re not saved by our own merits or works; we are justified by the faith of Jesus. That was true when Peter was differentiating between Jewish and Gentile Christians back then and it’s just as true today when we’re differentiating between Church of Christ Christians and Methodist Christians and Presbyterian Christians. We are all saved by the exact thing in the exact same way: by Christ’s death and resurrection through faith. Period.
If we are justified by the faith of Jesus Christ, then all Christians are included in the Christian community on no different level and by no different terms. That means we accept Christians with a different history, a different tradition, a different story to tell.
And, yeah, it’s not easy. It’s almost offensive. God’s matchless grace totally disregards human merit, his mercy and love totally break down barriers that are socially acceptable. And that kind of unity is hard to swallow.
Jonah got ticked off at God’s grace because the Lord showed favor to the Ninevites. The older son refused to join the family feast when the Father invited the runaway little brother. The Pharisee stands in the temple and thanks God he’s not like this other guy. But this is God’s way: He unites us as he saves us; he saves us as he unites us.
It is wrong to say your kind of church is God’s true church and demand that others come to your kind of church to find the truth and criticize other kinds of churches because they do things differently. That’s denominationalism and it’s a perversion of the Gospel. We can’t ever try to make people join a specific group in order to be acceptable to God.