If Righteousness Could Be Gained Through the Law – Visit to a Church of Christ

While attending that bastion of learning, Southwest Texas State University in the late 70s, I took a course for credit taught at a Church of Christ by a Church of Christ elder. It was notable in that he “proved” Jesus made no wine, drank no wine, and would never have used wine instituting the Lord’s Supper. He also “proved” the Bible never says that Jesus will set His feet on earth again. Later I served with Church of Christ chaplains. Overall, my impression of them based on the above was that they were the genesis of the joke with the punchline: “Tip-toe past this room. The Church of Christ people are in there, and they think they are the only people here [in heaven].”

I wouldn’t say that now based on the church I attended. This was indeed a Christian Church. The vicarious atonement was sung about and mentioned in prayer. Scripture was read where God promises to do for you (Gospel), and the Words of Institution – which are all Gospel – were read from the Bible before their Memorial Meal of the death of Christ. Yes, Jesus was present with them, particularly in love, but He definitely wasn’t in anyway connected to what they ate or drank.

However, the closest the preacher got to mentioning atonement, justification, or the Gospel at all was this line: “God never asks us to do something without doing something for us first.” However, like the deniers of Objective Justification of all stripes, your faith is the deciding factor in everything God does. This preacher said that neither Communion nor Scripture were a power if you didn’t share your faith.

The sanctuary is called by them an auditorium, So, long before worship was contemporary, cutting-edge, bleeding-edge, or praise band-branded, the Church of Christ didn’t use such terms as sanctuary or divine service. In fact, all their hymns, they had six – five of them from the 19th century – were contemporary worship in style. They had more substance than “Shine Jesus Shine” but they were repetitive and more about what you could, should, would do for Jesus then what He would or had done for you. And even this Church of Christ elder, minister, speaker (I don’t really know what his title is) nodded toward the contemporary with purposely not standing behind the pulpit but to the side and reading his Bible from His smartphone. While it lacked the iconic appeal of Billy Graham striding around with his King James Bible flopped open in the palm of one hand and gesticulating with the other, it gains contemporary and technology street-cred. His suit and tie, which indicated to me he was serious and respectful about his task, was a strike against the aforementioned cred.

They were ethnically diverse and uniformly inviting and friendly, but the dark spirit of democracy stalks these halls. If you want to know what the Biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers when taken to extremes looks like, i.e. everyone a minister, everyone an evangelist, and every one interpreting the Bible for themselves, don’t look to the Voters Assembly of the Lutherans but to how the United Church of Christ is organized. Since multi-church institutions are not mentioned in the Bible along with instrumental music in the service, altars, candles, and underwear, you won’t find any of these – save I assume for the last – in their churches. You do find individuals using the Bible as the inspired Word of God and interpreting it for themselves.

I walked out of there knowing the holy Christian Church could and did exist here, but the weight of the doable law was palpable and onerous, and all the more so because the people were so happy and comfortable under the weight. It was liking coming upon a group of galley slaves just happy to be in the boat no matter that their work always hung over them. Two passages came to mind: Acts 15:10, “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” And Acts 13:39, “through Jesus everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.”

In the words of our Formula of Concord: “people can be damned by an Epicurean delusion about faith just as much as by the papistic, Pharisaic trust in their own works and merit” (Ep IV, 18). The Metropolitan Community “Church” is the first and this Church of Christ is in danger of being the second. I say “in danger of being” because at no time was it said, prayed, or implied that we should trust in our works for salvation. But as faith is activated by your love in Catholicism, by your decision in Armenianism, and by your good works in Calvinism, so here you couldn’t take refuge in simply believing what Jesus did for you. No, you have a refuge in Jesus to the degree you are doing evangelism and helping your neighbor. This is the fruit making the tree good rather than showing it to be.

If righteousness could indeed be attained by the Law, these people would have it. And as the problem with most Reformed, Evangelical, Baptist preaching that I have heard, I came away with the feeling that the guy speaking was a cheerleader saying, “I’ve done it, so can you.”

About Rev. Paul R. Harris

Ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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