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Tradition (2): Restoration Slogans


Much of the tradition of the churches of Christ is rooted in the 19th century Stone-Campbell movement. This is especially true of the “slogans” we use to describe our approach to Scripture.

Think of some of the famous slogans. I grew up with the following:

  • We speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent.
  • Back to the Bible in faith and practice.
  • No creed but Christ; no book but the Bible.
  • In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things charity.
Christians Only, Not the Only Christians

There is another slogan from those early days that I never remember hearing until I was in my 30’s – and then I heard it from my professor of Restoration History at the Cincinnati Christian Seminary: “We are Christians only,  not the only Christians.”
This one grated on my ears at the time, for my back ground was with people who believed very strongly that we were the only Christians – or if there were others, they were just like us! I remember teaching principles of “the restoration movement” once when I spoke of various restoration movements that had no organic connection with “our” movement. Then I asked the class, “If there were a group like that in our community, how would we recognize them?” One brother immediately raised his hand and answered, “They would have ‘Church of Christ’ on the sign on their building!”
Do you see the “traditions” in that answer? First, it is tradition that we have a building at all. It is tradition that we put a sign on it to identify ourselves. It is tradition that we use the name “Church of Christ” as our identification.
Jesus said that others would recognize His disciples by their love for one another, love that was to be as His love for us. He also said that His love for the disciples was like the Father’s love for Him. See John 13:34-35 & 15:9. Do you know any congregations that have that sort of recognition?
In fact, we prefer to identify ourselves by marks of the true church: its founder, name, time of founding, place of founding, terms of membership, manner of worship, and organization. At least, that’s the way we preached when I was growing up. I heard very little about what makes the church truly unique, not from the “other churches” around us but from the world of darkness from which Jesus has called us. I wrote on this in a series, Traits of the New Testament Church. This series of six posts began in July 2009. In the first post of that series I wrote:

Somewhere along the line, I began to realize that the most important things about the church are not its visible, external marks. In Ephesians 3:14-15, Paul wrote:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

God’s family derives its name, or its identity, from God Himself. He is the Father; we are His children. We are brothers and sisters because of our individual relationships to Him.

Most of us have difficulty recognizing Christians in other fellowship bodies. When I was a student at Alabama Christian College (now Faulkner University) back in the mid-1950’s, one of the recent grads of the school had a debate with a preacher from the conservative Christian Church on instrumental music. I don’t remember much about the debate itself, but I do remember some of the young “preacher boys” talking with the Christian Church preacher who stated that many of us in the Church of Christ did not even recognize his baptism – even though he and his fellowship of disciples preached baptism for the remission of sins.

Why is that? Is it because we had developed a way of thinking that said that our salvation depends on our getting everything correct – and that we have it correct, so if you want to be saved, you must become like us? What happened to our call to men to follow Jesus – and to follow us only as we follow Jesus. We are not the guides, except as we can point people to Jesus.

Yes, I want to be nothing but a Christian. No, I do not want to be the only Christian. The thinking that led us to where we were in my formative years began quite early in the movement, though it was no part of Thomas Campbell’s famous paper, The Declaration and Address. In it, he outlined an approach to Christian unity on which the movement led by him and his son, Alexander, along with Barton W. Stone and many others, went forth to proclaim the gospel. That was published in 1809. By the 1830’s, there were some who doubted that any could be considered “Christian” who had not been immersed into that body. By the 1880’s (nearly 60 years before I was born), the Church of Christ had become very exclusive in its thinking. That is why I never heard “Christians only; not the only Christians” slogan as I was growing up.

There are other slogans we used but our practice denied them.

We Are Silent Where the Bible Is Silent

We applied this selectively. If we opposed a practice, it is because the Bible was silent about it; if we favored a practice, it was “an expedient” that assisted us in doing something that we felt the Bible taught us to do.

Of course, one man’s banned practice was (and still is) another man’s “expedient.”

It is hard for us to realize that when God is silent, He is silent. If he says nothing about a matter, we are not at liberty to say what He would have said, had He spoken about it. We are not at liberty to add to His Word to clarify it, either to enjoin or to prohibit an activity about which He is silent.

We overlook the fact that Jesus participated in religious activities that were not commanded in the Old Covenant. The Synagogue developed during the Jewish Dispersion between the two testaments. The same is true of the Feast of Dedication (see John 10:22). This feast (now called Hanukah) celebrated the cleansing of the Temple following the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanies IV in the 2nd century BC. It was not one of the old covenant feasts, yet Jesus was present in Jerusalem at the Temple when it was celebrated – just as it was his custom to enter the Synagogues to teach and preach.

Yet, we feel justified in preaching against practices because “the Bible is silent on them so they are not authorized.” Is everything on which the Scriptures are silent forbidden? On what Biblical principle can we say that? Yet, our tradition leads us to think that way, many times assuming the very thing we need to prove. (More later)

PREVIOUS: Tradition (1): Separate and Apart from the Lord’s Supper

NEXT: Tradition (3): We Speak Where the Bible Speaks

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One Response

  1. Hello! I stumbled upon this website today and I must say I like it. You nail the truth of the Lord and scripture and stay true to it even if ‘tradition’ says otherwise.

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