The Ancient Faith
THE VOICE OF THE BROTHERHOOD
What is the brotherhood, and how does it speak? This question, though controversial, deserves a bible answer. The scriptures plainly teach that there is a brotherhood, for we are commanded to “love the brotherhood” 1 Peter 2:17. In a similar vein Paul commanded “do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith Gal. 6:10. From these and other passages, it seems evident that Christians are bound together by a tie that does not bind them to other men. We are to have an affection for the entire brotherhood of Christians, that is, the entire body of believers world-wide. But the question is “how does this world-wide body speak?” What is its voice? How does it function?
NO BROTHERHOOD PAPER OR WEBSITE
Often we hear such phrases as “the brotherhood has spoken,” or “the brotherhood will not accept that,” “that is our brotherhood paper,” or “you should check out our brotherhood web-site.” In reality I don’t believe there is any such thing as a brotherhood paper, web-site, not even a brotherhood church directory. Now I think I know what people mean when they say that, however, the idea is neither realistic nor scriptural. Anyone can have a religious paper, but no paper represents the thinking or beliefs of the entire body of believers. Any person can have a web-site, in fact many do, but none of them represent the thinking or work of the entire brotherhood. Church directories are very helpful. However, none of them contain all the congregations who serve the Lord world-wide. In fact it is possible that some who really belong to the Lord have been omitted, and some who have been included do not measure up to the divine standard.
THE BROTHERHOOD HAS NO VOICE
If the brotherhood doesn’t speak through these avenues, then how does it speak? The truth is the brotherhood has no voice. The church in its universal sense is only a spiritual relationship and not an organization. The church universal has no earthly headquarters, no earthly head, no ruling body of men (Mt. 16:18; Eph. 5:25-27; 1 Timothy 3:15). On the other hand the local church is not only a relationship, but an organic body as well, and this is the only organic form or existence Christ has given His church on earth Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23. In other words, the bible recognizes no organization larger than the local church. Hence the only way for the church to speak or its voice to be heard is through local churches.
NO ORGANIZATION LARGER THAN THE LOCAL CHURCH
Whatever problems may arise, and whatever solutions we may use in an effort to settle them, cannot in any way violate the scriptural teaching about the basic organization of the New Testament church. That means we cannot create an organization larger than the local church to deal with these problems. A few years ago when a preacher for the Assemblies of God denomination got into moral difficulties he was called before the “general council” of the church and stripped of his right to preach. They took away his credentials. The church of Christ has no “general council.” If a gospel preacher gets out of line either morally or by preaching false doctrine and thereby disrupts churches, the congregation to which he belongs is responsible for disciplining him. If they fail to do so then each congregation as an independent organic body has to deal with this individual in a scriptural way in order to protect the flock of God in that place. There is, however, no brotherhood “council” or “organization” for dealing with such matters. In the same way, if a congregation over steps the limits of bible teaching and practices those things not authorized, when such becomes known, other congregations, need warn their own members of the unscriptural practices of the wayward church. If such were to happen, would all churches do as they should? Probably not. As an individual I cannot control what other individuals or churches do. I can only control what I do, and as an individual have a say in what the congregation to which I belong does. We must always remember, however, that in all our dealings both individually and collectively, we must manifest the spirit of Christ. We never have the right to misrepresent any person or church. We never have the right to be mean-spirited or vindictive. We must deal honestly, fairly, and objectively with all men.
A CONGREGATION MAY CALL MEN TO HELP RESOLVE A MATTER
In some situations a congregation may call a group of men to come and examine their particular situation. This often occurs when a division has taken place. The men who are called go and examine the evidence presented and usually make some kind of statement as to how they view the situation. Is this a scriptural procedure? Do these men represent some type of organizational function unknown to the scriptures or do they only represent an effort on the part of individuals to help in the resolution of a difficult matter? In Acts 15 we have a case where Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles and elders in order to resolve a problem that had arisen over circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses. After much discussion the meeting there resulted in a letter being sent and read to the church in Antioch. The letter was joyfully received and its recommendations accepted. Even though some of the men involved in this matter were inspired, the incident itself emphasizes that through collective study and consultation it is possible to resolve very difficult problems. I personally see nothing wrong with a congregation asking faithful, objective brethren for help in the assessment or resolution of difficult situations. However, we must remember that men today are not inspired. Because of this, there is no guarantee that the decisions reached will be correct. Church autonomy therefore demands that each church decide for itself what they believe to be right, based on the facts of the case and the teaching of God’s word.
CHURCH AUTONOMY DOES NOT GIVE A RIGHT TO TEACH AND DISSEMINATE FALSE DOCTRINE
Some argue that church autonomy allows them to make their own decisions and that no church has a right to tell them what they can or cannot do. While it is true that we must respect the autonomy of another congregation, we must also remember that autonomy is a two way street. Other churches have the right to determine for themselves if they feel a church has gone too far and stepped out of line. For example, suppose a church begins to teach that one is saved by grace alone and that baptism is not necessary for salvation. When challenged they claim that autonomy gives them the right to teach what they view as being right. Does this mean that other churches must accept their teaching? Does it mean they cannot be challenged for teaching such an idea? Certainly not. They not only can, but should be opposed. When they are opposed that doesn’t mean those opposing have violated the autonomy of the teaching church. The fact that each church is independent of all others so far as their government is concerned, gives no church the right to teach and disseminate that which is contrary to the scriptures. Autonomy was never intended to allow or protect any church when they do that which is wrong. When differences arise between individuals and/or churches, often information intended to accurately portray the situation becomes misinformation as it passes from one person to another. This is regrettable. Every situation deserves to be correctly represented. A failure to do so greatly hinders the possibility of resolution. May God help us to approach all such problems in the spirit of Christ, in a way that respects the organizational structure God has given the church, and at the same time seeks to save those who may have disobeyed the Lord.
[This was originally published in the OPA].