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Church History: A Biblical View
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Part VI - The Modern Age: Lesson No. 43 - The Restoration Movement (3)

By 1906 the fissure between Disciples of Christ/Christian Churches and the churches of Christ had become distinct and widespread enough to be recognized in the Census of Religious Bodies. This division which began with differences of conviction with respect to missionary societies and instrumental music eventually mushroomed to the point that it involved many other permanently divisive issues. The census of 1906 reported a total membership of 1,088,359 for all of these groups, with 159,658 (14.67%) of that total belonging to churches of Christ and the remaining 928,701 (85-33%) belonging to Disciples of Christ/Christian Churches. Though churches of Christ were comparatively small in membership at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, by the last quarter of that century they had grown to a membership of about 2,000,000. However, this rather expansive growth was accompanied by other doctrinal controversies and divisions.

I. Ultra-Conservative Issues

  1. Teaching methods.
  1. Some brethren have objected to the church being divided into classes on the basis that such an arrangement involves separate organizations parallel to the denominational Sunday school or the missionary society, is not mentioned in the Scriptures, and is in violation of certain Scriptural principles (I Cor. 14). In responding to these objections other brethren have pointed out that classes do not constitute independent organizations, they are generically authorized in the command to teach (I Tim. 3:15) and are not in violation of the Scriptures cited.
  2. Some have objected to having women teachers at all, but the only restriction placed on a woman's teaching is that it not be done over a man (I Tim. 2:8-15; Tit. 2:3,4; Acts 18:24-26).
  3. Other brethren have objected to Bible class literature as though it were parallel to denominational creed books, but such is generically authorized under the command to teach the truths of God's word (I Tim. 3:15; II Tim. 2:2) and is not recognized as a standard of religious authority as the Bible is.
  4. Finally, some brethren objected to the employment of one preacher by a church to work with it for a stipulated wage. Such an arrangement is usually thought of by objectors as the "pastor system." Though there are certain dangers and abuses connected with such an arrangement, the Scriptures authorize churches to have preachers work with them and pay wages (Acts 18:27,28; 19:8-10; II Cor. 11:8,9).

B. One container for the fruit of the vine. Some brethren have insisted that only one container, as opposed to multiple containers, be used in serving the grape juice in the Lord's Supper. Their contention is based upon the reference to "the cup" (Matt. 26:27-29). This error results from a failure to understand that a figure of speech (metonymy) is employed whereby the container ("cup") is put for what is contained ("fruit of the vine"). The "cup" is the fruit of the vine which was distributed among the disciples. Whether they drank from one container or multiple containers is not stated and thus not bound upon disciples.

II. Premillennialism

Premillennialism is a broad and varied subject, but at the heart of it is the idea that Christ will return to earth to establish His millennial kingdom and reign. During the time between World Wars I and II it infiltrated a number of churches of Christ and became a hotly debated topic. R. H. Boll is usually regarded as the foremost advocate of premillennial views among churches of Christ during this period. Earl I. West represents Boll's views thusly: 'Substantially, Boll taught that Jesus came to set up His kingdom only to be rejected by the Jews. To meet this rejection, Jesus established the church, which was only one stage of a wider manifestation of the kingdom to be realized at the second coming of Christ. Christ, therefore, was not on David's throne now, but would be at His return. Meanwhile, the church was to teach a 'gospel of grace' but a fuller gospel would be preached for the kingdom when it would ultimately be revealed. Boll also believed that the Jews would return to Palestine" (The Search for the Ancient Order - Volume III, pp. 397,398). However, the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus was part of God's plan for human redemption (Acts 2:23). The church is not a stopgap measure but is part of God's eternal purpose (Eph. 3:10,11). It is the kingdom of Christ (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 16:18,19; Col. 1:13). Christ has been reigning as its king since its establishment (Lk. 1:32; Rev. 1:5; 17:14).

III. Institutionalism

A. General benevolence. Following World War II another rupture of fellowship among churches of Christ was caused by differences over a number of issues, one of which was the benevolent work of the church. Could churches build and maintain benevolent institutions? Could they contribute to them? Could they engage in works of general benevolence? In answer to these questions it should be noted that churches of the New Testament never built and maintained any institutions but themselves. Neither did they contribute to benevolent institutions. Furthermore, the only individuals to whom they made benevolent contributions were saints (I Cor. 16:1,2; I Tim. 5:5,16).

B. Centralization. Another divisive issue was the "sponsoring-church" method of evangelism in which one church or eldership would undertake a project beyond its financial capacity with the expectation that other churches would channel contributions to the sponsoring church to enable it to do the work it assumed. There are several errors involved in this arrangement. Firstly, it is not authorized in the Scriptures. In the New Testament church-to-church evangelistic contributions are never mentioned. Secondly, churches are not authorized to obligate themselves beyond their abilities. Thirdly, it centralizes work, funds, and oversight which really belong to many churches under one church.

C. Church-supported recreation and secular education. Though many churches of Christ have become involved in such activities, they are absolutely without any Scriptural authority. The church was established to provide the gospel (I Tim. 3:15), not recreation or secular education.

IV. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)

(1) May a church employ the following in its teaching program, and, if so, where is the Scriptural authority for them?

(a) divided classes?

(b) women teachers?

(c) class literature?


(d) preachers?

(2) Must one container be used in-the Lord's Supper? If not, why not?


(3) Why is premillennialism not compatible with New Testament teaching?


(4) What is wrong with church centralization and support of benevolent institutions, recreation, and secular education?


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