Serving an international
Vol. 10 No. 4 April 2008
The Voice of the Church
By D. Gene West
Frequently, the question comes, especially from those who are not members of the church, “What does the church of Christ teach regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage, church membership, church government, baptism or cremation?” Such questions are asked because people expect the church to have some kind of official stance on all these questions and many more. These people often innocently assume that churches of Christ are like denominations that have some special statement of faith, creed, manual or catechism that contains all we stand for religiously. They assume that churches of Christ have an official voice and an official creed because churches generally do.
If they were to ask these questions of other religious bodies, they could turn without hesitation to some creed, manual, confession or catechism and answer. This would be true of all the “mainline denominations” in our land as well as dozens of other independent denominational bodies. We reckon that in some ways that would be a very handy way of answering quickly almost any question put to these bodies.
However, when that question is proposed to members of churches of Christ, they must inform the querist that there is no organization in churches of Christ that can answer such questions. No one has ever formulated an official statement of faith, church manual, creed, confession of faith or catechism that contains even the most fundamental matters about what we believe. The reason this is true is because there is no assembly of delegates, council, convention or conference that comes together and speaks on behalf of churches of Christ. There is no over-arching church organization of any kind that has the right to draw up a group of statements and say, “Here are the beliefs of churches of Christ.” We are often asked why this is the case, and to this question we can only reply, “God never gave any man on earth the right to do that!” Consequently, when we are confronted with a religious question, we point the querist to the Word of God where all answers are found in a divinely inspired framework.
Due to the fact that this is our method of teaching the eternal truths of God, it may well be said, that the voice of God is the voice of the church. Jesus said, prior to his death on the cross, that his teachings were not his own, but those of the Father who had sent him (John 5:19; 7:17; 8:28; 12:49; 14:24). So it is with the church. Her teaching (what she proclaims to the world) is not hers, but comes from the Father through Christ, or from the Father through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:1-14). It is not our teaching, but that which comes from Almighty God as he spoke through his Son and his holy apostles and prophets. All the Scriptures are inspired (2 Timothy 3:14-17), including those of the Old Testament, since the men of God who wrote them were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21). Therefore, the Bible is a perfect book given by a perfect God; thus no greater or purer statement of religious truth can be found on earth.
It is, therefore, incumbent on us to teach the truths revealed in the Bible without either adding to them or taking from them. We are warned in both the Old and the New Testaments that we are to neither add to nor take from God’s divine Word, but teach it as it is. That does not mean that we are never forced to make interpretations of the Sacred Volume we call the Bible. However, we do our best to interpret the Bible by the Bible rather than by the thinking of men, for this is the only safe and God-respecting way to do so.
If it be asked what we believe about anything, we can do nothing more than point to the Word of God, helping to locate its teaching on that subject in order to answer the questions. Less or more than that we dare not do! Since Christ has all authority both in Heaven and on earth, and since He gave no command to write creeds, we always defer to his Word in regard to our beliefs and practices.
[Brother West’s article superbly represents how to handle aright the Word of God, and those who purport to be guided by it can do no less. All religious questions deserve only biblical answers. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]