Editor's note : In the sentence which reads: "The doctrine of indulgences teaches that one can, by the payment of a sum of money to the priest, have the consequences of sin removed, and thus, in effect, get permission to indulge in sin without the Lord holding him responsible." I added the words, "have the consequences of sin removed, and thus, in effect,"
The dictionary definition of indulgences is: "Rom. Cath. Ch. a remission of the temporal punishment still due to sin after it has been forgiven." The church claimed the right to forgive sins with the imposition of certain "penances". Thus, if I understand correctly, a "plenary or full indulgence" meant the remission of all consequences of sin, temporal and eternal, at the whim of the pope.
Every religious organization has its own peculiar plea. The peculiar plea of the church of Christ is for a complete restoration of the church which was established on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2). Everyone familiar with the New Testament knows that the twelve apostles were the charter members of this church and that three thousand souls were added unto them at the close of the first sermon which was preached by Peter (Acts 2:41,47).
This church of which the apostles were charter members was not a denomination. What is a denomination? A denomination is a party, division, class or sect. The dictionary defines a sect as a faction of dissenters who have pulled off from an established orthodox church, holding to a particular creed or practice. If the church established by Christ and His apostles in Jerusalem on Pentecost were a denomination, I ask from what parent or orthodox church did they pull off? The church established there was the parent and orthodox church itself. Christ came into this world for the purpose of establishing His own church. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." He did not come into the world to simply pull off a group of dissenters from a church which had already been established.
Before Christ could establish His church, he had to die on the cross and shed His blood for it. Acts 20:28 says, "Feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." Since Christ purchased this church with His own blood, it is His and He is the head of it. Paul, speaking of Christ in Ephesians 1:23, says, ". . . and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all."
I do not know of anyone who claims that this church is a denomination, and yet it existed on the earth in a visible form and was free from all man-made laws, denominational names and machinery for some two or three hundred years. The growth of this nondenominational church has never been paralleled in the history of men. Thousands upon thousands obeyed the gospel, as it was preached by the apostles and other inspired men, and were added by God to His church.
The church in Jerusalem grew to somewhere around 60,000 within a very few years. By the close of the first century, there were around one million members of this church in the Roman Empire. The church grew so rapidly that many became members who were only half converted. Some of the Pagans brought into the church with them many of their old Pagan ideas, and some of the Jews brought in with them many of the old Jewish ideas and customs. Thus, it was not long until the simplicity of the church as given to the world by Christ and His apostles, was lost because so many Jewish and Pagan customs and doctrines had been added.
The apostle Paul clearly predicted a falling away. In II Thessalonians 2:3, he said, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." Again in I Timothy 4:1-3, we find these words: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils: speaking lies in hypocrisy having their conscience seared with a hot iron: forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats."
History reveals that this departure came as Paul said it would. The departure from the original pattern of things was gradual but continuous, until within a few hundred years there had developed the apostate church of Rome. This church so changed the name, doctrine, worship and practice of the church that if a Christian who had lived in the days of the apostles had been resurrected and attended the services and heard the teaching of the church, he would not have known what was going on! Gradually, this apostate church took the Bible out of the hands of the common people by allowing it to remain a dead language, the Latin. Then the people were told that they could not understand the Bible. They were made to depend entirely upon their religious leaders for all of their religious instructions. This brought on what is known in church history as the dark ages . Such false doctrines as extreme unction, purgatory, transubstantiation, celibacy and indulgences all came into existence during this period.
The doctrine of purgatory teaches that one who dies in sin can go on to heaven after suffering for a while in purgatory. According to the theory, if a loved one will pay the priest a sufficient sum of money, he can, by his prayers hasten, the escape of the deceased from purgatory. The doctrine of indulgences teaches that one can, by the payment of a sum of money to the priest, have the consequences of sin removed, and thus, in effect, get permission to indulge in sin without the Lord holding him responsible. While Martin Luther was serving as a priest in Whittenberg, Germany, John Tetzel, a Dominican priest, came through that part of the country raising money for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome by freely selling indulgences. Luther rose up in holy protest against this corrupt practice. In fact, the church had drifted so far away from the original order of things that not only Martin Luther, but Zwingli, John Calvin and others rose up and publicly protested its many corrupt practices.
These men had been members of the apostate church and by their protests had in mind to do nothing more than reform this church. Their efforts resulted in the founding of several Protestant denominations. True to the definition of a denomination already given, these sects were groups of religious dissenters who had pulled off from an established church, because of their objections to certain of its practices. But these denominations held on to many doctrines and practices which were foreign to the church of which the apostles were members.
Finally, it began to dawn on some that the apostate church had gone too far from the truth to simply reform it. They could see that the efforts of the men just mentioned to reform the apostate church had only resulted in the founding of other unscriptural institutions, known as denominations.
In the latter part of the eighteen century, a movement was launched in this country (United States of America) by Abner Jones, James O'Kelley, Barton W. Stone, and later ably championed by such men as Walter Scott, John Smith and Thomas and Alexander Campbell to restore the apostolic church in its purity and simplicity.
Because of the zeal and success of the work of the Campbells, the bigoted and prejudiced enemies of this movement gave these Christians the stigma Campbellites. But these Christians never accepted this name; they could not and be true to their plea. The plea of these men was: "We will go beyond denominationalism, and even the apostate church from which the denominations came. We will go back to the New Testament itself and restore the church as it was given to the world by Christ and His apostles." They said, "We will do this by teaching everything they taught and refusing to teach anything which they did not teach. We will do and practice everything which they did and practiced, but we will not do one thing which they did not do and practice." This is what Peter tells us to do in I Peter 4:11, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles [words] of God."
Now, this is the plea of the church of Christ today! We believe that this plea, if accepted and followed by all, will do away with the apostate church and all denominations and will restore the apostolic church in all its purity and simplicity. If not why not? If any man living on earth today does what the apostles told sinners to do, and lives as they directed Christians to live; if he does this, nothing more and nothing less, it will make of him what it made of them. If they were added by the Lord to His church then, He will add such to His church today. And if the Lord's church was not a denomination then, it will not be one today.
When some hear what I have said, they say, "Then Alexander Campbell founded your church." No! No! Alexander Campbell did not found a church of his own. He, along with a group of great and good men already mentioned, restored the church which was founded by Jesus Christ and His apostles in Jerusalem in A.D. 33. If Campbell had taught a doctrine of his own called Campbellism, then those who followed his instructions would, of course, have been Campbellites. If I should teach a religious system of my own, my followers may justly be termed McClungites! But if I, or Campbell or anyone else preach the same gospel that the apostles preached, those who hear, believe and obey it will be Christians . The church of Christ does not propose to follow Campbell, but rather to follow Christ, for some of Campbell's ideas were not consistent with the ideas of Christ.
It is said that William Jennings Bryan held in his hand some wheat which was two thousand years old. It was taken from one of the tombs in Egypt. If this wheat had been planted (providing it retained its fertility), what would it have produced? Black-eyed peas? Certainly not! It would have produced wheat, even if none like it had been planted or harvested during the intervening two thousand years. Seed always produces after its kind. Luke 8:11 says the "word of God is the seed of the kingdom." If the same word of God that Peter sowed on the day of Pentecost is sown in the hearts of men and women today, it will make of men and women today what it made then.
A few years ago I conducted some evangelistic meetings in Alabama. I ate some very fine watermelons while there. Suppose I had brought some of those seeds back to Texas and planted them, what would they have produced? Little McClungs? No! Watermelons. Why? Seed produces after it kind. Who carries or brings the seed to you does not have anything to do with what the seed produces. Then why argue that those who heard and obeyed the gospel preached by Mr. Campbell were Campbellites simply because he was the one who brought the gospel of Christ and His apostles to them.
We have a very popular game in this country called baseball. It is played according to certain rules and regulations. Let us suppose that people gradually lose interest in the game and quit playing it. But let us suppose that a thousand years from now, someone finds a baseball rule book. Would that be a new game, or the old game of baseball restored? If we go back then to the New Testament which was the rule book used by the apostles and early Christians in their religious activities and follow it to the very letter, adding nothing and taking nothing from it, will we have a new church, or the church of the New Testament restored?
Those of us who are members of the church of Christ claim that we are members of the same church that the apostles and early Christians were members of. We do not make this claim because we believe that we can trace a line of succession from the church here back through some other church and on back to the apostles. (Personally, I do not believe that any church can trace such a line of succession except through heretics). We make this claim because we believe that we wear the same name, have the same organization, and teach and practice the same things they did. If we are not just what the church was in the days of the apostles, we promise you that we will do our utmost to become such as soon as we learn wherein we differ. What other church will make such a promise, or offer such a plea? The only way I know to determine whether the church of Christ today is the New Testament church restored is to study the New Testament church as described in the pages of the New Testament and compare it with the church of Christ today.
The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, which means, "I believe." A man's creed is what he believes. The early church believed that Jesus is the Son of God. This was its creed, its only creed. This was the creed which Peter confessed (Matthew 16:18). This was the creed which the eunuch confessed before his baptism and becoming a member of the church. When the eunuch asked, "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" Philip said, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:36,37). You will note that nothing else stood in the way of the eunuch's being baptized. Thus, the early church did not come together first and vote on those who had made application for membership. Since the New Testament is silent on voting on those who desire membership in the church, we remain silent there also. We ask people to subscribe to no confession of faith today other than that which Philip asked the eunuch to confess - that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
The early church followed the inspired teachings of Jesus and the apostles, which we now have in the New Testament . This is exactly what we use today. If we use more or less, we would lack just that much being the church of the New Testament. This is also why we confine ourselves to what they did in the matter of voting on new members and the confession we have people to make.
A study of the organization of the church of which the apostles were members will reveal that Christ was the head of it. "And He is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18). He was its only head. It did not have a head on earth. The apostles were His ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:20). As such, the apostles could speak with authority to all the congregations. Christ is still the only head of the church and the apostles are still exercising authority over the church through their inspired word which they left us in the form of the New Testament (Luke 22:30). Each local congregation, when fully developed, had its own elders . Acts 14:23 says, "And when they had ordained them elders in every church." These elders were also known as bishops, pastors or shepherds (Acts 20:28;1Peter 4:1-4). They governed the church along with the assistance of the deacons . That each church had its own bishops and deacons can be seen from reading Philippians 1:1: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." Each congregation was separate from every other church or group of churches, subject to no authority outside the local congregation, other than Jesus Christ and the apostles. This is the exact organization which churches of Christ have today.
Nowhere in the New Testament do you read of the pope or the president of the church. Neither can you read of the archbishop, cardinal, nor of the general assembly, the convention, the conference, or the presiding elder. The church of the New Testament was completely free from all the denominational machinery, and ecclesiastical systems which can be seen all about us today. It is true that the churches of New Testament times supported evangelists or preachers, but there is nothing to indicate that they exercised control over the churches as pastors, or as a clergy. They were a teaching and not a ruling class (II Timothy 4:2). The New Testament is also silent on such expressions as Reverend, Father, Rector or clergy as applied to preachers. This is no accident. Neither is it because we just want to be different. It is a part of our determination to "speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where it is silent." If we should use any of the above mentioned expressions to designate our preachers, we would lack just that much being the church of the New Testament.
One of the names it wore was church of Christ. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, "I will build my church." If I should build me a house, I would speak of it as my house. If you were speaking of it, you would say that it is Paul McClung's house. In like manner, Christ says, My church. But when we refer to this institution, we speak of it as Christ's church, or the church of Christ. In Romans 16:16, Paul writing to the church in Rome, and sending salutations from the churches around Him, said, "The churches of Christ salute you." In Hebrews 12:23, the church is called the church of the firstborn. Jesus was the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18). Therefore, the church of Christ is the church of the firstborn. In I Corinthians 12, the church is spoken of as the church of God. Again, in Acts 20:28, it is called the church of the Lord. But from John 17:10, we learn that what belongs to God belongs to Christ and whatever belongs to Christ belongs to God. Christ says, "All mine are thine, and thine are mine." So it does not make any difference whether we call it the church of God or the church of Christ. Many times in the New Testament it is just called the church. But if ownership is shown, it is either of Christ or God.
The names worn by all churches have their significance. They either point to some person who originated them, or to some peculiarity of the group. The name Roman points to Rome, Lutheran to Luther, Presbyterian to a form of church government, and Baptist to the practice of immersion. A church intending to restore New Testament practices would certainly have to avoid the use of such names. All of these names had their origin several centuries after the death of the apostles.
The public worship consisted of: Observing the Lord's Supper, contributing of their money, singing, teaching the word of God and praying. Weekly observance of the Lord's Supper was a part of the worship of the early church. Acts 20:7 says, "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them." This shows that the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper was a regular practice of theirs. This will help you understand the admonition in Hebrews 10:25, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more as you see the day approaching."
Most all churches cite these passages to justify the weekly assembly of its members for worship. If they authorize theweekly assembly, they also authorize the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper. Others may observe the Lord's Supper at Lent, once a year, quarterly or monthly. But the church of Christ will observe it weekly. We are determined to follow the example left us by the early Christians.
How did the early church raise money for the carrying on of its work? I Corinthians 16:2 says, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." Nowhere do we find an apostle telling them that the law of tithing was binding; many gave far more than a tenth. Each gave as he was prospered, as he himself purposed in his heart (II Corinthians 9:7). Nowhere do we read of the early church taxing each member so much. Neither do we read of the early church staging pie suppers, rummage sales, or parties of any kind to raise money for the church. Community begging was not engaged in. Many have been gratified to find in the churches of Christ today the New Testament pattern of church finances restored.
In the worship of the churches of Christ today, you will find many prayers offered, just as they were in New Testament times (I Timothy 2:8). You will also find in our worship singing just as they sang then. A careful study of the New Testament will reveal that the singing of the early church was a cappella-that is, it was not accompanied by any mechanical instrument. Paul, in giving instruction to the early church, said, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). Their singing was "the fruit of their lips" and made a sacrifice that was well pleasing unto the Lord (Hebrews 13:15).
Knowing what the early church did in the matter of making music in their worship, if we are loyal to our plea, "We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent," we will use nothing but vocal music in our worship.
If we should use a mechanical instrument, we would be "going on and abiding not in the teaching [doctrine] of Christ." In II John 9, reading from the American Standard Version, we find these words, "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son." Any church that uses a mechanical instrument in its worship lacks just that much being what the New Testament church was.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He called upon the men of Israel to know assuredly, that God had made the Jesus whom they had crucified both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Here he was calling for strong faith. We know that these people did believe that He was the Christ, for verse 37 says, "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Even though these people believed in Jesus, they were not saved. At least, they did not think so. Neither did Peter, for, in answer to their question, he said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38).
From this, we learn that the apostles of the early church taught men to believe, repent and be baptized in order that they might be saved. This is exactly what churches of Christ teach today. Any church that teaches a plan of salvation that differs from this lacks just that much being the New Testament church.
Since the church of Christ today teaches the same things the apostles taught, since it worships in the same way, has the same organization, wears the same names and has the same creed, we believe that we are the New Testament church, and not just a denomination. Can this be said of the church of which you are a member?
Written by Paul McClung