In 2011, I was working at as an Undergraduate Research Assistant during my brief time at Auburn University before I decided to go into ministry. One of the first things my boss had me do was pour chicken litter through this machine that weighed it, measured each clump of litter, and recorded all of the data in a spreadsheet. We were attempting to optimize the spread of chicken litter to reduce waste, and these samples came from boxes which were spread out on the ground behind a chicken litter spreader truck which was briefly ran so that an idea of the average spread could be captured.
One day, in an unrelated job, another one of my bosses asked me to count red flags in a field we were working in. These flags were positioned at the end of each row. After thirty seconds, he asked me how many I had so far, and I said, “Two.”
He was obviously confused and perhaps a little concerned that his research assistant couldn’t count.
Well, it turns out, I couldn’t see the red flags against the green backdrop of crop! This is probably one of the only times in my life where being colorblind actually affected me, besides the many times when I’ve picked out the wrong color socks, but I think that’s more of a man problem than a colorblind problem.
In this month’s (August, 2022) edition of Seek the Old Paths, a publication of the Leoni Church of Christ, Brother Ward wrote an article called “Red Flags.” This article points out several “red flags” one can look for when trying to find a church home or making sure that their congregation isn’t going down a dangerous path.
About six years ago, I would have agreed with every point, but now I find some problems with these “red flags.” Like my trip down a country road trying to count red flags against green rows of crop, these red flags seem more and more like green flags to me.
But, let me say this: six or more years ago, I was completely sincere. I loved God with all my heart, and I tried to follow Jesus regardless of what the circumstances were. Having only read this one piece by Brother Ward, I assume the same descriptions apply to him and his walk with God, and I commend him and the editors and writers at Seek the Old Paths for their sincerity as well, even if I have disagreements with them on questions which ultimately concern the nature of God.
The three red flags Brother Ward points out are (1) disdain for the name “Church of Christ,” (2) innovations in the assembly of God’s people, and (3) the use of modern translations.
Disdain for the Name
Brother Ward writes, “Does this not speak loud and clear that they are embarrassed or ashamed of what they perceive as the baggage of a narrow minded, exclusive, bigoted heritage, (the false assumption that the Campbells began the churches of Christ), and that we are just another denomination?”
Just last week, I was playing chess in a coffee shop when the question came up, “So where do you preach?” After responding, “The North Broad Street Church of Christ,” the inevitable happened: “Oh, are you the ones who…”
For those of us who believe that Baptists and Episcopalians are members of the body of Christ and who cherish our a cappella tradition while not condemning others who elect to use instruments, this line of questioning can be frustrating and is a roadblock to church growth.
However, this isn’t even among my main objections to this point. First, the author talks about the “name” in a few different places in the article. Forgetting the fact that churches didn’t have names in the first century, names of churches and denominations are an innovation, there is no official “name” for the body of Christ given in Scripture. Church of God isn’t a name. Church of Christ isn’t a name. And even church at Corinth isn’t a name. A better translation of Romans 16:16 would be something like “the assemblies of the anointed one…”
In fact, to suggest that the church has a name and to demand that other autonomous congregations bear this made-up name to be considered a faithful church is to think denominationally. In the Wikipedia article on denominations, the definition given is “a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity.” If one truly wishes to be non-denominational in the sense that many in the Churches of Christ do, then they would avoid using any name on their sign which would connect them to a coalition of churches identified by “a common name.”
I wrote more about this point a few months ago in an article where we “questioned the questions.”
Innovations in the Assembly
Brother Ward asks, “Where do we find the authority for Children’s Worship hour, praise teams, the casual approach of worship, cell groups replacing our corporate gathering in one place (1 Cor. 11:20; 14:23), women front and center (in any format)? Why is it so often the younger population that seeks change and does this not speak of their educational background in our sermons, Bible classes, church sponsored universities, home devotionals, etc.?”
I included both questions here because I wanted to point out the contradiction. In one breath, Brother Ward, by implication, condemns praise teams and children’s church as innovations, but in another breath, he advocates for Sunday school and church sponsored universities, both of which are modern inventions.
It’s interesting to me that we can justify churches pouring millions upon millions of dollars into privately funded universities which often put students into crippling debt for years to come, but we can’t justify having four song leaders instead of one.
Finally, the author writes, “It seems sacrilege to some members of the Lord’s church to even think of using only one or two reliable Bibles, (i.e. KJV or ASV). Yet, the scholarly Robert R. Taylor Jr., Foy E. Wallace Jr., Guy N. Woods, and many others held that position. This should be a huge red flag for the watchman of our day, if not, why not?”
It may be that you come from a Church of Christ background and find this point odd. Perhaps your congregation preferred the ESV or the NASB or even the NKJV as a pew Bible (the Bible the preacher typically uses that is provided for those who don’t have a Bible). But when I was growing up, the King James Version was held up above all the others. In fact, I remember a visiting preacher who brought an ESV. He was a bit shocked when my uncle questioned him about it all through lunch!
I was taught to defend the integrity of the KJV growing up, and I used it almost exclusively for the first four years of my ministry. Occasionally, I would reference the Young’s Literal Translation, but that was about the furthest I would travel from my KJV. My ventures into studying Bible prophecy led me to get a copy of the ESV to reference now and then only in private studies, and I did adopt the NKJV following my fourth year of ministry for a brief time before settling on the NASB since then. Recently, however, I’ve been trying out the NRSV as a study Bible, but the verdict is still out on it.
Why did I settle on these modern translations? Well, when we consider the different meanings of a single word (semantic range), the evolution of the English language, different translation philosophies (word for word versus thought for thought), manuscript discoveries, and the meaning of idioms and other figures of speech, among other things, we realize that (1) there is no perfect translation, (2) our knowledge of the ancient world is ever-increasing, and (3) words in our English language change their meaning and become obscure from generation to generation. This means that each generation requires a new version of the Bible.
Jesus and the apostles used and quoted from a translation which was produced during the “four hundred years of silence,” so certainly we can use a translation as well. And since there is no perfect or inspired translation, each person must do their own research to determine which translation works best for them. If you want more information on Bible translations and the reliability of the manuscripts, I recently read How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot, who received his PhD from Duke, and he gives great introductory information on the transmission and translation of the Bible. (If you want a summary of the book and the themes of each chapter, message me. I can’t post it to my website or the university will think I plagiarized my own essay!)
If you believe these red flags are really red flags, then they are red flags to you. Paul said, “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand” (Romans 14:4).
If for your own sake, you need to attend a place that boldly displays the name “Church of Christ” and isn’t a “subtitle Church of Christ” as I jokingly called it several years ago, then go for it. If you prefer a place that has some innovations, such as Sunday school and church-supported private universities, but doesn’t have other innovations like praise teams, then find it. If you only want to hear the Bible read in King James English, then find that place. All I ask is that you do not condemn others over these things that have nothing to do with one’s salvation, and, if you can, study these issues for yourself. Sometimes, getting to the root of the argument or tradition will reveal that it is not really something to fight about.
We can have unity without uniformity. We can work together as Christians without having total agreement on these matters.
What are red flags to you might be green flags to me since I’m colorblind, and that’s okay because all of the issues listed in this article are matters of personal opinion.
In the first century church, some churches had women who prophesied while women kept silent in other churches. Some churches observed certain days while others didn’t. Some groups of Christians were zealous for the law while others weren’t.
But all of these groups spoke the same thing because all of them declared that Jesus is Lord.