Where is Our Identity?

There will be those who will feel threatened by what I am going to say.  Let me assure you there is nothing to fear from truth.  Fear should only come when we miss the mark set by God.  Please spend some time thinking about the ideas I share with you today.

The church of the 1st century was identified by it’s belief that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of the living God.  Where is the identity of the mainline Churches of Christ today?  This is an extremely important question.  In order to determine who we are we must first know what we hold as our identifying marks.  Since there is no recognized earthly headquarters our identifying marks will be as varied as each autonomous congregation.

There are several characteristics  that generally are recognized as the marks that identify us.  Characteristics like:  correct church government, correct worship, perfect intellectual understanding and application  of Scripture, acceptance of the proper religious patterns, and accurate restoration of the first century church. 

The above mentioned items while most visable are only secondary elements of our identity.  There is an element in our fellowship that is more basic to our identity.   This  primary element of our identity makes it difficult for us to grow in Christ or to make any necessary changes allowing us to mature as Christians.

The foundation of our identity is based in the belief that we have the only true understanding of Scripture.  It has often been stated, “if man honestly reads Scripture then all will come to the same conclusions.”  Those conclusions will always be the same  as our conclusion since we have the true understanding of Scripture.  Our primary identity is based in the fact that our interpretation is exactly the intent God had when Scripture was  written.  If one disagrees with our interpretation they aren’t just disagreeing with us,  they are disagreeing with God as well.  The secondary identifying marks I mentioned earlier are based on this primary mark of identity.  

Tied closely is the fellowship issue.  Because our interpretation of Scripture is the only true interpretation we can’t afford to fellowship anyone who holds a different interpretation of basic Bible truths since they are disagreeing not only with us but with God as well.  The parameters of our fellowship are determined by our perfect interpretation of  Scripture.  This being the case, then only those who agree with us can be in our circle.

There are problems with allowing this concept  to determine our identity.  First, our interpretation of Scripture has become the standard by which everything is judged.  Scripture no longer determines right and wrong, our interpretation of Scripture becomes the standard.  This is similar to where the Pharasees were at the time of Jesus.

Second, this mark of identity elevates Scripture to a level equal with God.  To interpret and correctly apply Scripture is important.  Properly understanding Scripture matters.  That being said, as a result of our identity we have made it more than God intended. We see the perfect understanding of Scripture as the way to salvation.  Jesus becomes an afterthought.  This leads to many mistaken beliefs concerning Scripture, such as the teaching that the Holy Spirit only dwells in the Christian through Scripture. How many times have we heard it taught that God only calls us through Scripture?  On and on I could go.  Scripture is inspired by God but is not equal to the Godhead.  This identitfying mark places an importance on Scripture that God never intended.

Third, this idea of perfect interpretation  is never applied consistently.   If we applied this consistently we could only fellowship those who interpreted Scripture exactly as each of us interpret Scripture.  Since, no two men interpret the Bible exactly the same no one could be in our circle.  We would stand in the circle alone. 

Our identity of perfect understading doesn’t allow Jesus prayer at Gethsemane to be fulfilled.  Jesus wanted unity.  The belief that we hold the only perfect understanding of Scripture will always lead to division.  Scripture doesn’t lead to division, but our attitude concerning our interpretation leads to division. 

Salvation cannot be based on perfect intellectual understanding of Scripture.  There is only one way to salvation and that way is Jesus.  We need to examine this basic tenant of our identity.  This is something very basic.  If  salvation is based on  perfect understanding and application of Scripture, then our salvation rests on the shoulders of men rather than in the hands of God.

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6 Responses to Where is Our Identity?

  1. Todd Deaver says:

    Dell, I think you’ve put your finger on a striking difference between us and the first-century church. Thanks for speaking the truth in love, brother. We need to give these thoughts our careful attention.

  2. Wayne McDaniel says:

    Dell, You have thrust directly thru pride with this essay. We know that the earliest disciples did not have the NT books to argue over. Their faith rested squarely upon the “one mediator between God and man, man Christ Jesus.” – 1 Tim.2:5

    Many in churches of Christ today have never heard the wisdom of Barton Warren Stone, who was pivotal in the great revival at Cane Ridge, KY in Aug. 1801. That is known in American history as, “The Second Great Awakening.” Stone began his work a decade before the Campbells and he better understood the only basis of unity among believers. In ch. 3 of Distant Voices (c.1993, ACU Press), Leonard Allen records Stone’s long forgotten wisdom. Quoting Stone: “This plan of uniting on opinions, whether contained in a book, or in the head, is not worth a straw, and never can effect christian union, or the union of primitive Christianity.”

    Stone also understood that agreement on the doctrine of baptism simply will not keep believers united. Stone saw the only hope for unity lay a fourth approach that he termed “fire union”. Allen explains, “By this he meant the fire of the Holy Spirit by which hard and unloving hearts were softened and filled with a supernatural love.” Quoting Stone, “The great secret,… has been almost forgotten. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each believer and member of the church.” “Let every Christian begin the work of union in himself,” he admonished. “Wait upon God, and pray for the promise of the Spirit. Rest not till you are filled with the Spirit. Then, and not till then, will you love the brethren…[only] then will you have the Spirit of Jesus to love the fallen world.”

    “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”- Romans 8:9

  3. 1 Middle Man says:

    Great thoughts…last time I checked, we are still “saved by grace through faith,” which has multiple meanings and applications for certain, Jesus’ message in John 13:34-35 is the heart of the matter and Wayne’s last line is equally as critical — Romans 8:9. Blessings, Don

  4. June says:

    I think most are convinced that they are saved by virtue of sitting three times a week in a pew with the right name on the sign outside. Ie, saved through the church rather than by the Redeemer’s grace.

  5. Guy says:

    June to you I say AMEN!

    Good thoughts Dell. I agree we put too much before Jesus and in place of Jesus. We do this even when Paul said that all he wanted to know was Jesus. I see one side of the church as being very to the point and legal in their views and the other side of the church throwing the baby out with the bath water. Jesus is not in either camp.

  6. Definitely right on, Dell. Claiming to have the one and only correct interpretation of scripture is a blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, as well as a subordinating of Jesus to our limited, human understanding, that is, trying to put God in our box. The Spirit’s revelation of Christ through the scriptures is what is key, not any Pharisaic rules we may seek to impose on others. Christ calls us to transcend our box-thinking, as Paul says in Romans 12:2.

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