Weaknesses of the Churches of Christ: Tradition

I believe the Churches of Christ are the best place to be for any Christian. But, the Churches of Christ are an amazing group but like any group of people they have flaws. We must continue in our persistent desire for truth and we must continue in our pursuit to be part of the church that Jesus built. We must also refuse to lift up traditions on the level of scripture and we must abandon prejudice for people just because they don’t attend a church with “Church of Christ” in the name. 

The Churches of Christ historically were a product of the Restoration Movement created in the name of following God’s word alone, particularly New Covenant teaching, without creeds or any structure not found in it.The core identity of the Churches of Christ has been to be part of the church built by Christ and none other, but in so doing they have, by necessity, established their own manifestation with their own practices and creeds (or required doctrine for mainstream fellowship). It is debatable whether any Christian group can be established that does not develop its own creeds or traditions. But the Churches of Christ has begun to focus on, instead of God’s word, 1) “isms” and traditions and 2) their separation from denominations.

  • Traditions

Many people of the Churches of Christ have made the mistake that all groups make at some point: they conflated their traditions and/or interpretations with doctrine. The Jews established all manner of additions to the Law of Moses out of expedience and these additions later in time became as authoritative as the Law (Mat. 15:1-9). 

  • Jesus and his disciples did not practice the tradition of the elders with a type of hand-washing, v.2

[Mat 15:1-2 ESV] 1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”

  • Jesus accused them of breaking the word of God for the sake of their tradition, v.3

[Mat 15:3 ESV] 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

  • Jesus accused them of having hearts far from God and worshiping God in vain, v.8-9

[Mat 15:8-9 ESV] 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me…

  • Jesus accused them of teaching commandments of men as God’s doctrine, v.9 

[Mat 15:9 ESV] 9 … teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

More than the Jews fell into this trap like the Roman Catholics, the Methodists, the Lutherans, and many more, where tradition became authoritative. Their manmade additions ascended to the level of inspiration. 

God has made it clear not to add to his word (Rev 22:18-19; Deu 4:2, 12:32; Pro 30:5-6), so why is this such a common event? Because these additions to God’s word did not start out as additions—they began as convenient aids to obey or understand God’s word born out of honest intentions. Every single convenient aid created is a double-edged sword that may become conflated for inspired doctrine.

I would say it is impossible to fully avoid these aids. Whether it is practices like meeting in a church building, hosting a second Sunday Assembly in the evening, and offering an invitation in the Assembly, or traditional beliefs like the five steps of salvation, the five acts of worship, and the manner of interpretation (command, example, necessary inference). All of these are born of convenience or assistance to obey or understand God’s word, but they must never be assigned the status of inspiration. Is it wrong to not have an invitation in the Assembly? Is it wrong to shorten the five steps of salvation to three, “believe, repent, and be baptized,” if Scripture permits? No.

It is, therefore, the everlasting responsibility of the Church to analyze scripture, to distinguish that of human origin from that of inspired origin, to be completely unafraid to alter or remove the traditions and creeds of human origin, to be utterly petrified to alter, to add to, or to subtract from the word of God. 

Thomas Campbell wrote on this principle, 

“Lastly. That if any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of Divine ordinances be not found upon the page of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose should be adopted under the title of human expedients, without any pretense to a more sacred origin, so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the Church.” 

In my words, Additions made to aid the Church are to remain as of human origin, impermanent and unable to cause division.

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