WHAT ABOUT “HISTORICAL ROOTS”
T. PIERCE BROWN
I confess that I have been slightly disturbed over the years when I have heard those whom I consider great and good gospel preachers refer to “our historical roots” with the seeming implication that “we” would not know what “we” really believe if we did not study and know about our “historical roots.”
In no way do I mean to disparage the giants of the Restoration Movement. I have read almost all of every volume of “The Millennial Harbinger,” and almost everything else I can find written by Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and others of that era. But I have also read everything I can find by Guy N. Woods, Gus Nichols, Tom Warren, Roy Deaver and Garland Elkins. I owe a great deal to all of these. But the truth of the matter is, I was a Christian before I ever heard of ANY of them, and expect to remain such if they all turn out to be apostates!
This is to emphasize the fact that we in no sense need to deny or disparage the greatness and worth of men who have gone before, or are contemporaneous with us, nor to pretend that all our insights were gleaned only from the study of the Bible. At the same time, we need to realize and emphasize that if Alexander Campbell, Guy Woods and Roy Deaver had never lived, although the world would be a much poorer place, I would have been a Christian if I had done the things I did–follow the will of God.
The seed of kingdom was and is the Word of God (Luke8:11). If we are not “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians3:17) of that Word, it does not matter what we call “our historical roots” or how similar those roots may be.
A great and good man, now deceased, wrote some tracts or articles on “What the Church of Christ Believes.” In my judgment, all such does disservice to the Cause of Christ. I do not know how many times I may have heard, or even used, the expression, “The Churches of Christ have historically taught—.” The proper answer to that might be, “So what?” There may be a place and time for such a statement, but when and if it implies that the “Church of Christ Church” and the “Christian Church” are two churches with some common “historical roots” and that the doctrines and practices of these two churches may therefore equally relevant and valuable because they have some common roots in the Restoration Movement, great damage is done.
The truth of the matter is that the very concept of a “Christian Church” with a “Christian Church Preacher” teaching a “Christian Church Doctrine” is unscriptural, denominational, sectarian and sinful. But it is no less true that a concept of a “Church of Christ Church” with a “Church of Christ Preacher” teaching “Church of Christ Doctrine” is equally so. One person may belong to a “better denomination” than another, wearing a more scriptural name (such as “Church of God” or “Church of Christ”), but no matter what its name, if it is a denomination founded on another foundation than Jesus Christ and His authority, those who belong to it and persist in its sinful nature are lost.
How important it is that we emphasize the fact that the “church” as the Bible speaks of it is not simply an organization wearing a certain name and tracing its “historical roots” to some doctrine or practice of the “Restoration Movement.” The church is a group of persons who have accepted the authority of our Lord intellectually, spiritually, and practically and have demonstrated that acceptance by being immersed into Him for the remission of sins, and by accepting His authority for all we do in life, including worship and doctrine.
Although we are not suggesting or implying that the persons on Pentecost who were added to the church knew at that time whether or not they were supposed to take the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week, or sing acapella, they were sure that if Jesus authorized it they would gladly do it, and if He did not, they would not!
In no case was a man made a Christian by submitting to a man-made set of rules, even if those rules were: “In order to come into our church, you must be immersed in water.” And although it would be easier for a person to deceive himself and/or be deceived, it would not change that basic truth any if those man-made rules were, “In order to come into our church, one of our preachers must immerse you in water, as he says, `I now baptize you into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the remission of your sins’.”
Unless a person has “obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine” which Paul and Peter preached (Romans6:17, Acts2:38), he was NOT made free from sin and added to the Lord’s Church. And this is true no matter whether he thinks he joined the “Church of Christ Church” because he was baptized by a “ChurchofChristpreacher,” or whether he joined the Christian Church, or some other denomination with “historical roots” in the “Restoration Movement”! I might take a dog or an infidel and immerse him in water, saying, “I baptize you by the authority of Jesus into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” but that would not make him my brother, nor mean that I should have fellowship with him.
So one of the points I am making is that all the talk we may do or hear about “historical roots” or about a “baptismal formula” (whether they are “regurgitated” or not, as one brother put it) has no relevance in discussing the question of “Who is my brother?” and “Can I properly have fellowship with him as a brother?”
The desire for fellowship and unity is commendable, but any unity or fellowship on the basis of allegiance to ANY human being –even Peter or Paul– is unscriptural. The “unity of the Spirit” is not some unity of two human spirits who are tired of bickering, but a unity produced by both parties following the direction of the Spirit.
The bottom line is: Whatever a man’s “historical roots” may be, if he is not what he is because he submitted to the authority of Christ, and if he does not practice his religious activity by the authority of Christ, his religious roots are worth nothing! If you are rooted and grounded in love of God’s word and obey it, you have the right roots.