What Is Ecumenism?

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In the Spiritual Sword, July, 1988, Thomas Warren was concerned about the Ecumenical Movement’s influences on the churches of Christ.  What is the Ecumenical Movement?  Why should we be concerned?
A Definition of Ecumenism
The word “ecumenical” is derived from the Greek word oikoumene which means “the whole inhabited world.”  The word was historically used of the Roman Empire.  The ecumenical vision comprises both the search for the visible unity of the Church (Eph. 4:3) and the “whole inhabited earth” (Matthew 24:14) as the concern of all Christians.  The word “Christian” is used in a very broad sense of anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  This is different from the Scriptural use of the word.  The name Christian is always used as a noun in the New Testament.  The word describes a person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:26).  It denotes a person who is redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 26:28) and a person who will suffer persecution for righteousness sake (I Peter 4:16).  A Christian is a person who has obeyed the Gospel (Rom. 10:16-17).  Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, obeys the Lord (Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 6:46).
Ecumenism refers to initiatives aimed at greater Christian unity or cooperation.  The word is used primarily by and with reference to Christian denominations and Christian churches who may be separated by doctrine, history and practice, but who seek to work together despite these differences.  These churches consider themselves to be in fellowship with each other as long as faith in Jesus Christ is expressed.  This distinguishes Ecumenism from interfaith pluralism that embraces all religions and approves of all religions as different pathways to God.
The Ecumenical Movement was initiated among Protestant denominations with the attempt to unify diverse religious bodies.  The World Council of Churches met for the first time in 1948.  The Council took place in Amsterdam.  The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures and seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The WCC brings together 349 churches, denominations, and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians (broad sense of the term Christian).  These churches include most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches.
Fundamental Errors of Ecumenism
First, Ecumenists practice “unity in diversity.”  They claim to be united in Christ even though they do not believe the same doctrines, have the same history, or practice the same things (practice is driven by doctrine).  One of the main problems is the basic understanding of what is required in obeying the Gospel.  Many Ecumenists believe that one is saved by grace alone through faith alone.  Consequently, they do not teach that baptism into Christ is essential for salvation.  Jesus taught, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:18-20).  Jesus taught that baptism is essential for salvation because of the design of baptism.  In baptism, a person dies to sin, is buried in water, and raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).  When one is immersed into Christ, his/her sins are washed away (forgiven) (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16).  Most individuals in the Ecumenical Movement do not believe this truth.  The reality emerges that two different “gospels” are proclaimed which of course is an impossibility because there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8-9).
Second, Ecumenists affirm that one church is just as good as another, but this doctrine contradicts the teaching of the apostle Paul that there is one body (Eph. 4:4).  The one body is the church of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18).  Jesus built only one church (Matt. 16:18).  He is the head of the body (Eph. 5:23).  He is the savior of the body (Eph. 5:23).  Jesus saves those individuals who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9).  He adds these individuals to His church (Acts 2:41, 47).  Modern denominations exist without biblical authority.  They arose as a result of the Reformation Movement and are now 500 years old or less.  The church of the New Testament was begun in the city of Jerusalem in the year 30 A.D.  just ten days after the ascension of Jesus into heaven (Acts 1 and 2).  Anyone can become a part of the New Testament church by obeying the one, true, Gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16).
The Ecumenical Movement obscures two important truths concerning the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the true church of Jesus Christ.  On these two grounds, it must be rejected.

Parachurch Organizations

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F. LaGard Smith in his book, Fallen Spiritual Leaders, has a chapter dealing with parachurch organizations.  Some of the thoughts he conveys in that chapter are given below.

Definition of parachurch organizations.  “Parachurch includes the hundreds of independent religious organizations throughout the country–sometimes involved in radio and television programs–and other church-related, yet church-distinct organizaions.  The parachurch phenomenon is a hungry beast which never stops being hungry.  Over and over again it demands to be fed.  It growls and threatens disaster if you ignore it. And even when you feed it, it can turn on you.  It can devour its superstar trainers and often bites the hands that feed it” (p. 84).

Distinction between parachurch organizations and the church.  “The very word “parachurch” ought to be a clue.  “Parachurch” is not the church (church of Christ-DS).  “Parachurch is something other than the church, something beyond the church.  It is the church Christ died for, not the “parachurch.”  It is the church that is the bride of Christ, not the “parachurch.”  It is the church to which the saved are added, not the “parachurch.” It is through the church that the manifold wisdom of God is made known, not through the “parachurch” (p. 84).  “There are essential and functional differences between the church and parachurch organizations.  For the church, there is a scriptural pattern of work and worship.  For parachurch organizations, human creativity is the limit of all possibilities.  For the church, financial solvency follows from biblical principles of cheerful giving.  For parachurch organizations, there is too much evidence of giving done from emotinoal coercion, guilt, and gimmickry.  For the church, financial accountability is the responsibility of grassroots spiritual oversight.  For parachurch organizations, financial accountability may be the sole responsibility of next of kin” (pp. 84-85).  “Parachurch means like the church, but not the same.  Similar but different.  And, just as with dangerous frauds, the greater the similarity, the greater the deception” (p. 85).

Dangers of parachurch organizations.  Speaking of Christian colleges, Smith remarks, “By virtue of sheer visibility, fiscal superiority, and scope of influence, Christian colleges can actually dwarf the churches with which they are tied.  It can happen when highly respected university leaders are perceived to speak on behalf of the church itself; when what is taught at Christian colleges influences the thinking of the church in the next generation; and when Christian college campuses become the “Mars Hills” of doctrinal discussion” (p. 87).  “The risks of parachurch organizatons, in whatever form they might exist, always seem the same.  When we look in every respect like the church, but are in fact different from the church, we are bound to confuse a lot of people, often even ourselves” (p. 87).  Speaking of various scandals found among parachurch organizations, Smith states, “The plain fact is that church-related organizations are far more susceptible to this kind of disgrace than is the church itself.  It’s a timely reminder that God set up the church as he intended it, in order to carry out his work on earth.  We have no reason to tamper with his divine plan” (p. 90).
Think on these things!

Why They Left

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A new book, Why They Left, by Flavil Yeakley Jr., was recently published by Gospel Advocate, Nashville, TN.  The book has some good information in it regarding the church of Christ.  However, it also contains some troubling doctrinal statements.  For example, the author states, “The instrumental music question is not as important as many other doctrines, but no doctrine or practice is really a “salvation issue” (p. 175).  II John 9 plainly states that if one does not abide in the doctrine of Christ he does not have (is not in fellowship with) God.  Sound doctrine is to be preferred over false doctrine!  Both do not accomplish the same thing or end.  I have written a thorough review of this book and posted it under book reviews.  Please read it.  I could not recommend this book without warning concerning the many weaknesses and false statements it contains.  Why would Gospel Advocate publish it??  Whenever I took theological library research, the instructor told us many times to get our “sifter” out when we read a book and separate the chaff from the wheat.  You will have to get your “sifter” out for this book!

One-Of-A-Kind

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     Would you pay 1.7 million dollars for a penny?  Well, you might if it was rare enough.  What if it was the only penny of its kind known to be in existence?  In September, 2010, Bob R. Simpson (founder of XTO Energy, based in Fort Worth, Texas leader in producing natural gas) purchased a 1943-D Lincoln cent mistakenly struck in bronze for 1.7 million dollars–a record.  It is graded: PCGS Secure Plus, MS-64 brown.  The purchase enabled Simpson to complete the 1943 set he had begun to assemble six years ago.  He now owns the only 1943 PDS set in bronze known to be in existence.  These coins are known as off-metal coins because they are made from bronze-planchets instead of copper. (Coin World, Jan. 3, 2011, p. 20).
     It is certainly no surprise to learn that these coins have been faked by many people throughout the years.  A fraudulent coin, however, is worthless. 
     A one-of-a-kind find such as this certainly affected the price or value of the coin.  It is special, unique and worth more because of it.  Consider the following Scriptural thoughts:  “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:3-6).  Paul gives us a collection of one-of-a-kind entities.  The one body is the church of Christ.  In Eph. 1:22-23, Paul uses the words “body” and “church” interchangeably.  In Matthew 13, Jesus relates two parables that emphasize the value of the kingdom of God.  The first is the Parable of the Hid Treasure.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matt. 13:44).  The second is the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matt. 13:45-46).  The value of the kingdom  of God (the church of Christ) is so great that it is worth sacrificing all to obtain it. 
     There is one Spirit.  This is a reference to the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the godhead.  His value is self-evident.  His worth to mankind is priceless.
     There is one hope.  This hope is everlasting life.  Everlasting life comes through Jesus Christ (John 3:16; I John 5:11-12).  “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”  Eternal life is the gift of God.  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
    There is one Lord.  Paul is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus is our savior and redeemer.  He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).  He is the only way to the Father!  His value is unspeakable (II Cor. 9:15).  He is a gift from God.
     There is one faith.  The one faith is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul speaks of the objective faith which is the Word of God.  How valuable is the truth?  Priceless.  “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23).
     There is one baptism.  The baptism of which Paul speaks is the “new birth” (John 3:3-5).  “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  The force of the word “except” is “if and only if.”  Baptism into Christ for remission of sins is essential to salvation (Gal. 3:26-27, Rom. 6:3-4; Acts 2:38).  Baptism results in sonship and salvation–priceless!
     There is one God.  This is the absolute, supreme Being. 
     Any one of these seven entities would exceed the value of the entire world.  All of them together constitute an inestimable spiritual treasure which is freely accessed by men through love for God and faith in God.  Yet, many rob themselves by rejecting these treasures.
     Fakes of any of these spiritual entities prove worthless.  A fake God is a false god and pure vanity.  A pseudo religious book will not take anyone to heaven.  There are many “lords” and “saviors” claimed by men but only one that is genuine as affirmed by Paul.  Many deny that there is only one church.  All but the true church are fakes to be discarded as worthless. 
     There is one God who has revealed His truth that salvation is only through His Son-Jesus Christ.  Faith in His name and baptism into His name will bring salvation and hope of eternal life.

Advantages of Small Churches

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     Are there any advantages to being a small church?  Bigger is better, right?  According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there are 177,000 churches in America with fewer than 100 weekly worshipers and another 105,000 churches between 100 and 500 in attendance each week.  On the other hand, there are only 19,000 churches–or 6 percent of the total–with more than 500 attendees.  That means that if there were 100 churches in your town, 94 of them would have 500 or fewer attendees, and only 6 would have more than 500.  Mega-churches (regular attendance over 2,000) make up less than one half of one percent of churches in America.  “We have allowed the ministry experience of 6 percent of pastors to become the standard by which the remaining 94 percent of us judge ourselves” (Brandon J. O’Brien, The Strategically Small Church, p. 25). 
     Sociologist Rodney Stark estimates that at the end of the first century there may have been only twenty-five thousand Christians in the entire known world.  By the fourth century, before the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity, there may have been as many as 20 million (O’Brien, p. 30).  This growth occurred primarily through the combined efforts of small churches.
     Many of the megachurches have swelled in size due to transfer growth (members from other denominations) rather than conversions (new converts to Christianity).  The flagship church of the evangelical movement during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was the Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California.  Over five thousand people made their way to the worship service each Sunday.  Chuck Swindoll was the preacher.  They had become a church growth success story.  However, Swindoll admitted that 80 to 85 percent of attendees were from other churches (William Chadwick, Steeling Sheep, pp. 70-71). Megachurches often have a crippling effect upon small churches much like a Walmart store does to a mom and pop grocery store in a small town. 
     Are there any advantages to small churches?   Since small churches make up the majority of churches among churches of Christ, this question seems pertinent to us.  Here are some things to consider.
     1.     Small churches are better at building intimacy.  In a small congregation, individuals come to know one another more intimately.  Megachurches are forced to find ways to break down into smaller groups.  In effect, they attempt to copy the intimacy and fellowship present in small churches by doing this.  In a smaller church, all of the members get to know the preacher serving them.  In a megachurch, most members only see the preacher on a big screen!  The level of fellowship and intimacy in small churches can provide strength through a sense of connectedness and unity.  Small churches are better at meeting relational needs.
     2.     Small churches are better at allowing ministry opportunities.  Most megachurches are run by staffers.  In a small church, the various gifts/talents of the members are put to more significant use.  This leads to a sense of  real meaning and purpose in serving the Lord and others.
     3.     Small churches are better at financial efficiency and consequently are better stewards of God’s money.  Smaller churches are generally more frugal with the money given into the church treasury.  They look for ways to cut costs and get the most value for every dollar spent in the Lord’s work.  Larger churches have more overhead, administrative costs, and tend to splurge to give the appearance of success.  After all, success is what attracts people to them in the first place. 
     4.     Small churches are better at evangelism.  There is a greater evangelistic energy on the part of the individual member.  In large churches, evangelism is left up to the experts.  In small churches, more individual members become involved in evangelism through the outreach of the church.  Members are involved in visitation programs, advertising church events, and inviting friends and neighbors to worship assemblies.  
      The size of a church does not necessarily mean that it is or is not more faithful to the truth of God’s Word.  Bigger doesn’t mean “more faithful.”  Sometimes “bigger” means less faithful as church leaders attempt to compromise the truth in order to have more people in attendance on Sunday morning.  Smaller churches may not be as appealing to the masses as they attempt to hold to the moral and doctrinal distinctiveness of the New Testament church.  Faithfulness to God should be the real measure of success in the work of the kingdom.  Jesus described two different “ways” in the Sermon on the Mount.  A “broad way” that leads to destruction and a “narrow way” that leads to life.  Many are on the broad way.  Few are on the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14).  We must give diligence to be found on the “narrow way” that leads to life.

Gospel Meeting With Memories

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Crum Ridge Church of Christ Building
Crum Ridge Church of Christ Building
Front View of the Church building
Front View of the Church building
Country Store, Marr, Ohio--1874
Country Store, Marr, Ohio–1874
Country Store--Inside View
Country Store–Inside View
Country Store--Inside View--Lee Gildow, elder at Crum Ridge
Country Store–Inside View–Lee Gildow, elder at Crum Ridge
Creighton Ridge Church of Christ building
Creighton Ridge Church of Christ building

I recently held a Gospel meeting at the Crum Ridge church of Christ located on Crum Ridge Rd., off of Rt. 260 outside of Caldwell, Ohio.  We averaged around 60 in attendance each night with the largest attendance on Thursday with 70 (Mark Bass spoke that night due to my mother’s open heart surgery).  I enjoyed being with the brethren at Crum Ridge and meeting Lee and Hester Gildow who kept me in their home during the meeting.  On Wednesday, May 5, we went to the Country Store in Marr, Ohio where I visited 40 years ago.  The store was still operating with little changes.  As a teenager, I remembered being in the store and seeing a wooden barrel full of salt fish.  The present owner, Bill Parks, told me that they could not get salt fish in a barrel anymore.  My brother, Steve,  preached at Creighton Ridge, Ohio on our first visit there and we went home on Sunday afternoon with Walter Parks and his wife, Mary,  for dinner.  Walter owned and operated the country store.  Now, his son owns and operates the store.  It is definitely a step back in time.  The theme of the meeting at  Crum Ridge was: Love: The More Excellent Way.  I look forward to returning to the area some time in the future.

Multi-site Churches of Christ

Apostasy, Church of Christ No Comments

     At present, I am aware of three congregations among the churches of Christ that have developed a multi-site arrangement for church government.  The first churches to form this type of governmental arrangement were the Highland Oaks church and the Pitman Creek church.  The Highland Oaks church is located in the northern suburbs of Dallas, Texas and the Pitman Creek church is located about 14 miles away, in Plano, Texas.  The merger will result in a congregation that shares a common staff, eldership, treasury and vision, but be located in two different places (see the Christian Chronicle, One Church, Two Locations, by Erik Tryggestad, February 21, 2008).
     Another multi-site church was developed in the fall of 2008 by the Southwest church in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  The minister at the time was Jimmy Adcox who called the congregation a “hybrid, multi-site, church plant.” The church started a separate worship service on the campus of Arkansas State University, a school of about 12,000 students three miles from the church building (Christian Chronicle).
     The third multi-site church is located in Michigan.  The Rochester church of Christ in Rochester Hills, Michigan launched a multi-site arrangement in March, 2008 when they developed a new site at Mohawk Elementary School in Macomb, Michigan.  The new group is under the oversight of the elders at Rochester and share the same staff, mission, and treasury.  Patrick Mead is the current evangelist at Rochester and does double duty between the two locations (check out the web-site for the Rochester church of Christ–www.rochestercoc.org). 
     Several observations concerning this new development among churches of Christ is in order.  First, we must ask before we implement any type of new organizational structure for the church, “Where is the Scriptural authority for doing this?”  In the apostolic age, each congregation was autonomous (self-governing).  Elders and deacons were appointed in each local congregation (Titus 1:5).  The wisdom of this arrangement is seen in that there is not a concentration of power in a few men who rule over many churches.  Also, it prohibits the rapid spread of error by forcing each congregation to test new doctrines by measuring them against the truth before accepting them.  Listen to the testimony of Mosheim as recorded by J. W. Shepherd in The church, The Falling Away, and the Restoration, page 56, “During a great portion of this century (second) all the churches continued to be, as at first, independent of each other, or were connected by no consociations or confederations.  Each church was a kind of small, independent republic, governing itself by its own laws, enacted or at least sanctioned by the people.  But in the process of time it became customary for all the Christian churches within the same province to unite and form a sort of larger society or commonwealth; and in the manner of confederated republics, to hold their conventions at stated times, and there deliberate for the common advantage of the whole confederation.”  These conventions developed into synods and church councils.  The laws agreed upon in these councils were called “canons” or “rules.”  A marked departure from the truth began by changing the organizational structure of the church which led to the change in the source of doctrine for the church.  Churches were now governed by synods and councils and not the Word of God.  In regards to apostasy, there must always be a first step!  Second, we see the audacity and arrogance of men who believe that they have devised a better organizational system for the church than what God has ordained.   Man’s good intentions do not trump obedience to God. This lesson is clearly taught in I Samuel 15:22-23, “Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”  Saul disobeyed God by keeping sheep alive for sacrifice rather than utterly destroying them as God commanded. Saul was rejected by God because he rejected the Word of God.  Will our church leaders reject the Word of God too!   
     A change in church organization without Scriptural authority to do so is a usurpation of the authority of Almighty God.  It can only lead farther away from the truth.
     (Update: 4/23/2009.  The satellite of the Rochester Church of Christ known as Christ Church: Macomb held its last service Jan. 25, 2009.  It continued to meet on the campus of Rochester College through February and then disbanded).

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