"I marvel that ye are so quickly removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto a different gospel...IŁ any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema." (Gal. 1:6-9)
The different gospel Paul refers to was the body of legalistic traditions of the Jews. Paul spoke of these traditions as an expert who had been committed to and caught up in them. Paul was "advanced in the Jews religion beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers." The Jewish traditions kept the Jewish people in a spiritual bondage. Jesus came to set men free from bondage. Paul said the legalistic Judaizers "came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage."
The traditions of the Judaizers denied the early disciples liberty and constituted a "different gospel." The question is, have we created our own legalistic tradition that replaces liberty with bondage and constitutes a "different gospel"?
The clergymen are our preachers and elders. They are the decision makers and teachers. The members are the laity.
The clergy receives "special" training at "our" seminaries ("Christian Colleges"). The preachers study, visit and preach. The laity-members listen. The elders make the decisions and the laity-members acquiesce.
This arrangement frees members from any feeling of responsibility. The members did not attend the "Christian Colleges" training program; therefore, how can they study? Why should members teach or visit? The members think "we have a full time preacher" and "this is what we pay the preacher for!"
Another result of the clergy-laity relationship is weak faith or no faith at all. Only the clergy can understand what the Bible teaches. Only the clergy can make profound decisions like what color the curtains should be. The "faith" of many members is like the relationship of a soldier to his captain -- obey, no questions asked. Faith is rated based upon how quickly obedience is rendered to the clergy who binds heavy burdens on men's backs. Ben Franklin, pioneer preacher, described this situation by comparing a Calvinist and an Arminian. The Calvinist did not know the five main points of Calvinism, the tenants of his faith. The Arminian did not know the opposite five points of Arminianism, the basis of his faith. Yet the Calvinist and Arminian could not fellowship each other because their "faith" was different. Likewise today the "liberal" brother cannot fellowship his "conservative" counterpart. Neither side can explain their position without charts that appear to be complicated football plays. And it takes the professional preacher to do that. The average member has little or no idea why one side supports orphan homes and the other side does not. They only know that their "faith" is "different" so they do not fellowship each other. What faith? There is not faith in God in this arrangement, only a faith in a clergy -- our preachers and elders.
God's word allows no clergy-laity distinction. Peter said, "But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." ALL Christians are priests...not just the clergy. It is a "different gospel" that puts us into bondage under preachers and elders who "exercise authority" that the "rulers of Gentiles" only dreamed about.
We betray our thoughts with our speech. We speak of "going to Church" and "Church Weddings" or "Church funerals." Many believe that the "Church of Christ" is a building or at least believe that they cannot meet properly except in the official "Church Building."
A result of this thinking is that "Church Buildings" are viewed as sacred and sanctified by God. Therefore, many will not eat in a building...others will not allow weddings or funerals in our "sacred" buildings. The buildings became sacred as a result of being built with "holy" money..."The Lord's Money," or "The Lord's Treasury"! The result is we do not view the Church of God as a collection of saints...as people. Instead of the church being "living stones" we see it as literal brick and stone. A definition of a church is "a structure of brick or mortar, often expensive, built to honor a carpenter who never owned a home."
The Christians of the first century met in homes or public places, (I Cor. 16:19). There is no command or example for Christians to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into real estate. The early Christians were concerned about people and their spiritual welfare. They sold their real estate to help others (Acts 2 & 5). They sold...we buy!
Philip Schaff, the famous Church Historian, noted that up to "the close of the second century the Christians held their worship mostly in private houses, or in desert places...This arose from their poverty, their oppressed and outlawed condition, their love of science and solitude...The apologists frequently assert that their brethren had neither temples nor altars (in the pagan sense of these words), and that their worship was spiritual and independent of place and ritual."
Jesus taught that the place of worship doesn't matter. There is nothing special about a temple or our buildings. Paul put it this way: "The God that made the world and all things herein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything..." (Acts 17:24-25).
The MONEY that built the building is NOT sacred! The expressions "Lord's Money" and "Lord's Treasury" are not found in the Bible. We like these terms so that we can distinguish between "our money" and the "Lord's money" for our own selfish reasons. We want to think that 10% is the Lord's and 90% is OURS!
Psalms 24 says, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein." If we're Christians then we are not our own, we have been bought with a price...the blood of Jesus. Thus EVERYTHING is the Lord's and NOTHING is MINE . When we accept these principles we act like the early Christians who "had all things common'' and "Not one of them said that ought of the things which he possessed was his own."
America is a country caught up in materialism. Our credo is that while money may not be the most important thing in life, it is way ahead of whatever is in second place. These attitudes and values have infected Christians. Materialism makes our principal concern SELF and our material prosperity. The result is that churches are filled with SELF-centered people who will give relatively NOTHING, yet profess to follow a Jesus who gave up EVERYTHING to save them! When the interest is primarily for SELF, we don't convert others...it would take some of MY time and my money. My time is given on Sunday (three hours) and Wednesday (one hour). My money is given on Sunday (only), 10% or less. If we do these things we are faithful and SOUND (asleep) disciples.
Jesus' attitude was different. When asked by John's disciples if Jesus was "he that cometh," a part of his reply was "the poor have the gospel preached to them." We, with few exceptions, AVOID the poor. We sell our buildings in "bad areas of town" and move to the middle/upper class suburbs. Thus, congregations like West Washington Street and Haldaman Avenue sell out to the Holiness or Baptists because it's a bad area and we can't grow there. Yet the Baptists or Holiness have thriving works in these "bad areas of town."
Jesus said, "Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth." James said that if we make "distinctions" based on wealth we "become judges with evil thoughts." James also noted that "God chooses them that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom." We have "dishonored the poor man" by avoiding him, by wearing "fine clothing" that would make him uncomfortable and by moving our buildings from his neighborhoods the moment it starts to become a "bad area of town."
Along the same lines, some churches of Christ have become racist. Since most monirity groops are poor we tend to have vertually no minority members in our churches...or they must meet in "black churches." It has been said that the "most segregated hour in America is the 11:00 hour on Sunday." We will cross thousands of miles of ocean to reach the black man in Africa but will not cross the street in Indianapolis to reach one.
Jesus taught such racial distinctions were wrong. The Jews were racist in their treatment and attitude toward the Gentiles and Samaritans. Jesus taught the Samaritans to the amazement of his disciples. Jesus then sent Paul to the Gentiles. Paul wrote: "There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all who call upon him," (Rom. 10:12). Paul also "withstood" Peter because "he drew back" and "separated" himself from the Gentiles. Peter would at least eat with Gentiles when no Jews were present...we will not fellowship the poor or minority at all. We want them in a "separate" part of town, meeting in a "separate" building, living "separate" from us. Jesus had excellent advice for the separatists of his day: "Go ye and learn what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." Our teaching is a "different gospel."
Insitutionalism occurs when Christians allow any institution or person to do what they as individual Christians should do. For example, if by supporting a preacher I feel that my responsibility to teach, pray, visit and think is thus discharged, then I've institutionalized the preacher. As a result of this kind of thinking we have institutionalized the ELDERS, PREACHER AND CHURCH to the point that members are responsible for nothing...except to give and attend three times per week.
Service to Christ has been replaced by a "Churchanity" of negativism. Church membership to many means that you don't drink, smoke, steal or commit adultery and "attend nearly all of the services of the church!" A wax dummy will not drink, smoke, steal o commit adultery and placed in a pew will NEVER miss a "service of the church." Many of our churches are filled with "wax figures" who glory in what they do not do. Serving God consists of what we do.
The concept of a Board of Elders (Eldership) is also institutionalized. Elderships serve primarily over MONEY and not over souls. The Board of Elders "decides" how all the MONEY is spent. (Or NOT spent in some cases.) The Eldership can hire and fire preachers at will. Elderships can decide a fair amount to increase the preacher's salary. (Often this increase is nothing or at most one to two percent. These same Elders then can talk about the generosity of Jesus in dying on a cross!) The members are welcome to toss out suggestions which "Elders" are under no obligation to take. What does it mean to "Lord it over the flock"? Peter should have skipped that warning because no Eldership has ever admitted to such a thing. (Nor has the Pope!) Remove the money and keys to the building from the Eldership and what does it do? Not much. Elders should be SPIRITUAL shepherds and leaders. They have no right to be a financial board.
The problem with this setup is that it REMOVES RESPONSIBILITY from the members. It is "a different gospel." If the Eldership makes all the decisions what are members responsible for doing? Why should they care? They are not allowed to contradict the Eldership without someone saying they are rebelling against God! Therefore, most members do nothing except give a little and attend a little.
God's Word teaches individual responsibility. Paul put it this way "for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God." This is not a group picture. Many cherish the notion God will judge us as a group...as a church. Paul said, "So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God." Our modern day view of the Elders and Preachers is destroying the idea of the individual being responsible. The idea of church or corporate responsibility is "a different gospel."
Realize that in Christ Jesus there is no clergy or laity. We are all priests and brothers and sisters in Jesus. No Preacher or Elder can answer for you at the judgment nor are they any smarter now unless their wisdom comes from the word of God.
It might also prove helpful to end our system of "fulltime preachers." Fulltime status removes most of their objectivity and places them at the mercy of Elders or Brethren who are often short on mercy. Can anyone really believe that a man with a wife and young children is as bold as a Peter and as fearless as an Elijah? How can one on the dole of a congregation "reprove, rebuke and exhort" knowing that one wrong move and he and his family are out on the street? The overwhelming temptation is to be "like people, like priest" J.D. Tant warned that our "Preacher factory" colleges would turn out hireling pastors seeking jobs! He was right. In addition, many preachers are like "hot-house plants" they have no idea what the real world is like or what people's real problems are. There are some godly men, preachers, who have not bent the knee to Baal but they are a minority. The temptations, pressures and rationalizations are too strong. Preachers should either support themselves or be able to do so. Paul is a good example for us to follow.
Sell all Church Property. We have millions of dollars invested in buildings and property that we use four to five hours each week. From a practical business standpoint this is senseless.
Many church fusses and divisions are not over the Word of God but over the building (not even mentioned in the Bible). As long as we have them we will fight over them and talk about "going to Church." The early church grew faster without them than we do with them.
We need the proper concept of the THINGS we possess. They ALL belong to God. We ourselves are the Lord's for we've been bought with a price.
Be RESPONSIBLE. No one can do it for us. No Preacher, no Elder, church group, no Institution. We must each, individually, give an account to God. We will answer for either the true Gospel of Jesus or a "different Gospel." What will your answer be?