"Church of Christ": False Advertising

Several mornings a week, especially in winter, I drive to the office in the pre-dawn darkness. Living in a small town means there's not much traffic on the main drag through town, and most businesses have not yet opened for business. That's why one particular building, something that looks a lot like an auto service garage, always grabs my attention. In one of its window blinks a neon orange light reading "OPEN." Though the rest of the shop will be closed up and dark inside, the establishment still claims to be open. One morning as I drove to work and saw the sign glowing, I realized that I had never seen that place of business open at all. Every time I've driven by, it's been closed. The thing about signs for business establishments is that they identify the place of business, but it also sets expectations for the consumer. A sign identifies what a business stands for and what a person can expect. When I see golden arches, I know I can delicious (if not disastrous for your health) French fries. When I see a green mermaid within a circle, I know I can expect fantastic coffee. When I see an "OPEN" sign, I expect an establishment is ready for my business.

The place where I work also has a sign out front, one that identifies who we are, what we do, what we stand for, and what people can expect. It says, "Church of Christ." I've seen literally hundreds (if not thousands) of such signs in my lifetime. But it was only recently that I thought about what such a claim really means. God forbid the day when such a distinctive sign becomes no more trustworthy than the "OPEN" sign for a closed business a few blocks west of downtown Bowie.

1. Being a church of Christ means we do what Christ said.

In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked, "“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?" A church of Christ is radically committed to doing what Christ said, to being obedient to the words of Jesus. Being a church of Christ means taking his commands concerning personal relationships as seriously as those on religious doctrine, that loving your enemy and believing in the resurrection are equally important.

I know churches, and you do too, that take a very rigid stance on Matt. 19:3-9, but are rather lax in enforcing Jesus' commands for conflict resolution in Matt. 18:15-17. But the Jesus commands are not a buffet from which we get to choose. A church of Christ is radically obedient to her Lord, regardless of the circumstances or the cost.

2. Being a church of Christ means we live as Christ lived.

In 1 John 2, we are confronted with the incompatibility of someone who claims to know Jesus, but does not live like it. In v. 6, we are told, "Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did." Earlier in the NT, Peter says, "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps" (1 Pet. 2:21).

Living as Jesus lived can mean many things. I'm not suggesting we let our hair grow long, wear a blue sash over our shoulders (if my Sunday School coloring sheets can be trusted), and walk everywhere we go. Rather, living like Jesus means we develop an unwavering commitment to accomplishing God's will for our life (John 17:4), even if it leads us down a path of suffering and affliction. In 1 Pet. 2:21, Peter says "For to this you have been called," meaning the suffering and affliction that comes from obeying authority figures who are abusive and unjust.

In many places, the church has become synonymous with law-abiding citizens who nonetheless show an unholy scorn and disdain for those different from them. If the early church was called to honor an emperor as immoral as Nero (1 Pet 2:17), then perhaps Christians can and should do better about respecting the Oval Office while at the same time bearing the prophetic mantle and calling for repentance.

This is just one of the many ways we can perhaps do a better job of living as Jesus lived. In a more general sense, the church is obligated to bear up under mistreatment with a profound, other-worldly spirit of grace instead of screaming about "rights" or whining about persecution. "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (1 Pet 2:23). As did Christ, so must his church do.

3. Being a church of Christ means we make much of Christ.

If she is not careful, a Church of Christ can become of a church that promotes everything and everyone else but Christ. These do not have to be bad things, but good things that are emphasized to an unhealthy degree. Some churches with a sign out front that reads "Church of Christ" are more well-known in their communities for things other than Jesus. They are the "You're the only ones going to heaven" church, or the "You have to be baptized to be saved" church, or the "Democrats and Gays are evil and the U.S. needs to get out of the U.N." church, or the "You can't read anything but the King James Version of the Bible" church, or the "You have to wear a nice suit and tie to worship or they won't talk to you" church, or the "You're going to hell if you worship with instruments" church, or the "You can't eat in the church building or support orphans' homes" church...

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. Some of the things in that list are not inherently bad. They are, in fact, good things to which we must be faithful. But churches can major in minors; I've seen churches become consumed with one or two pet issues that all else was eclipsed, and Jesus was forgotten about. A blistering political ideology was espoused from the pulpit or echoed in public prayers, a particular doctrine was taught over and over and over, but Jesus got little billing and, usually, personal holiness fell apart in that congregation because Jesus wasn't glorified.

When a church makes it her primary pursuit to make much of Jesus, she will still speak of baptism and proper worship and will articulate a biblical worldview and morality, but it will always be under the banner of "This is what our Jesus has asked of us, and we glorify and love him by doing just that." Christian doctrine and living divorced from Christ becomes a toxic, ghastly shell of its former glory.

4. Being a church of Christ means we look forward to Christ's return.

While researching and writing "Living & Longing for the Lord," I was convicted of my personal failure (as well as the church's) to live expectantly of Jesus' imminent return. Repeatedly in the NT, Jesus' return is likened to the coming of a nighttime thief. In 1 Thess. 5, Paul pleads with his readers to remain sober and awake. Even Jesus himself once told a story about five foolish virgins who were unprepared for the arrival of the bridegroom.

A church that has identified itself with Christ will live in eager anticipation of his imminent return. Not to the degree that she fails to plan for the future, but neither to the degree that she carries on as if the future is guaranteed. Show me a church that has grown lethargic in its missionary activity or lazy in its quest to root out sin in the camp lest a little yeast leaven the whole lump, and I will show you a church that doesn't really believe that Jesus could return at any moment.

One of the saddest things that can happen is for a church in a community to earn the reputation of "playing church in Jesus' name," but not living as if they are a true church of Christ. May God help us to live and work and speak as the church of Christ, not in a petty sectarian way, but in a way that magnifies the King of kings in our communities until he returns for his bride.

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