Question:

Mr. Hamilton, in the last day or so, you received a question concerning congregations. The writer spoke about 'anti' and 'liberal' congregations. What does this mean?

What is meant by a sound church? I find all this to be very confusing. Jesus didn't want us to be divided, so what is this anti, and liberal, and sound 'stuff' all about? When I first began to realize that I needed to get back to my God and worshiping Him, I had no idea that these 'words', or thoughts, or actions, whatever they are, were a factor in going to church. I am now really confused.


Answer:

Paul stated, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10). But later on in the same letter he stated, "For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (I Corinthians 11:18-19). Christ's followers are to be united. That is our goal and that is what we strive for. But we know Satan is not going to leave things alone. We know people are going to stray from the truth.

Some see this and decide to have unity for unity's sake. They will accept anything and everything so long as they can claim that they are together. But the problem is that they don't remain in the truth. Sure they are united, but they are united without God. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:6-7).

Now people have a habit of classifying other people. In some ways it makes it easier to discuss a system of belief. For example, I might discuss the beliefs of Catholicism. Yet Catholicism isn't fully united. There are splinter groups who want women to be priests, priests to marry, abortions to be acceptable, and a whole lot more. I know that when I deal with an individual Roman Catholic, I might know roughly what he believes, but I don't know precisely what he believes until he tells me.

In the late 1700's and early 1800's there was a great push in this country to get back to only teaching what the Bible taught. As people focused on the teachings of the Scriptures an amazing thing happened. People from diverse backgrounds -- Baptists, Presbyterians, Methods, and many others -- realized that they were all teaching the same thing and it wasn't what their denominations taught. They joined in fellowship and took on a biblical name: churches of Christ.

But things didn't stay united. Later generations looked at the denominations and began borrowing ideas from them -- instrumental music in worship, missionary societies, church operated institutions, and the like. It caused a major split. The most liberal of the congregations took the name "Disciples of Christ" and went their way. The ones who wanted some, but not all innovations took the name "Christian Church." They compromised the majority of the congregations. But some refused to change, desiring to remain with the teachings of the Bible. They kept the name "churches of Christ." This all happened around the late 1800's.

But things still weren't solved. In the 1940's and 1950's there was again a movement to innovate. The desire was to accept the church support of institutions, but reject the rest of what the Christian Church had accepted. The problem has always been that there is no scriptural support for churches funding institutions, such as colleges or orphans homes. In order to justify their desire, supporters of these institutions had to take a liberal approach to the Scriptures. Here I'm using "liberal" in its technical meaning, where a person finds justification in a document based on what the document does not say. A liberal approach states that when something is not expressly forbidden, then it is allowed. A conservative approach is the opposite. Something that is not expressly allowed, directly or implied, is forbidden.

Like the earlier split, the majority of congregations took the middle road of allowing some things, but not others. They have taken to calling themselves "mainstream" because they hold the majority. They have also been called "liberal" because of the method they use in justifying their beliefs, and "institutional" because they believe churches can support institutions from the treasury.

The ones rejecting the innovations have been called "antis" by the mainstream group because they are against the innovations they wanted to support. They are also called "conservative" because of their approach to find biblical authority for their beliefs, and "non-institutional" because they oppose the support of institutions from the churches' treasuries.

There have been other divisions over the years as well. The mainstream group have long complained about the liberal elements among their own number. These take the same method of argumentation used to justify the support of institutions, but extend it further than the mainstream groups want to go. I guess you could say they are "ultra-liberal," in that they want to add instrumental music and other things that basically make them no different than the Christian Church that split off years ago. Some are even beginning to merge with Christian churches. A few have gone even further, rejecting even the necessity of baptism in God's scheme of redemption. It is the nature of liberalism to slip into further extremes.

There has also been a significant faction which rejects the use of multiple cups for the Lord's Supper, rejects the use of local preachers and the support of such preachers from the treasury, and rejects the idea of a church holding age separated Bible classes. Not all members in these groups hold the same set of beliefs, so they are usually distinguished by which ones they hold ("One Cuppers," "No located preachers," "No Bible class").

Each of these groups will refer to congregations that hold similar beliefs as their own to be "sound" congregations. That is, they believe that those congregations beliefs are right.

Is the division right? Of course not! It ought never to have happened. But the problem remains that it has happened. People are teaching things not in accordance to what the Bible teaches. Until people return to the one faith taught in the Bible (Ephesians 4:5), unity cannot be achieved.