“We are undenominational and have no central headquarters or president. The head of the church is none other than Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23).“
January 26, 2020, 11 AM
Having lived in Nashville, TN for a number of years, I was somewhat familiar with the Church of Christ. I knew they did not use musical instruments in worship, singing everything a cappella. I also knew of their male-only leadership model. It’s this aspect of the church which has always kept me away. Until now.
The Church of Christ believes that the Bible is the only authority for the Christian life and attempts to model its worship on the New Testament. Therefore, they do not use creeds, incense, candles, or anything that came about later in church practice. Their pastors do not use titles or hear confessions, they do not believe in purgatory, praying to Saints, or infant baptism. If it’s not in the New Testament, they say, then it’s not in their beliefs. (However, there is a New Testament precedent for infant/child baptism, as a sign of the new covenant and when entire households were baptized.)
Anyway, I kept an open mind when I entered this church right at 11 AM. The pastor was still leading the Bible study in the sanctuary. He finished about ten minutes later, asked another man to lead a prayer before we took a short break. During this time, several people greeted and welcomed me to their church. After another five or so minutes, the pastor came back in singing, “I love you, Lord and I lift my voice…” The twenty five or so souls began singing along to this familiar hymn. It was quite lovely, actually, to have nothing but the strength of vocal cords for singing. Perhaps because there is no accompaniment, it seemed like everyone sang as loud and as well as they could. I know I did. It helped that the pastor had a booming singing voice. I wondered if this might be a requirement for leadership.
After a few announcements and welcome (he welcomed me by name), the pastor asked us to stand and sing a few more hymns. Again, I was struck by the vigor of singing from the congregation. It was, by far, the best congregational singing I have heard to date. No slackers here.
The pastor was a white male, but all the other men in the church were black. Several had accents which told me they were not originally from this area. The pastor’s wife, and four other women were also white. But it’s clear that this church, located in the middle of a suburban town, draws from the minority community.
The communion time followed, led by two men in the congregation. They brought the cracker and juice trays to us, rather than us going forward. Another man went to the front to read the scripture; Genesis 3: 11-12: And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
There were a few chuckles as that man sat down and the pastor stood to speak. His sermon title was, “When it’s always about someone else.” He said that if we’re always blaming someone or something else, we have to ask ourselves a few questions. Then, by jumping around from Bible verse to Bible verse, from Old Testament to New Testament, he explained why we have to confront our own sin and live in a way that is pleasing to God. He emphasized that one CAN lose their salvation, and that they don’t believe “once saved, always saved.” He said we have to continually earn our salvation, by living a sin-free life…or as close to it as possible.
He had a number of good points. I just wish he’d stuck with one or two scriptures and expand from there. He never even went back to the original verse from Genesis. I think he just used it as an example of blaming others. But in its entirety, the man blames the woman, then the woman blames the serpent. Then, God curses them in reverse, first the serpent, then the woman then the man. It’s such a wonderful and weighty passage on its own, I wish he had spent more time just explaining and exploring this passage.
Overall, he made his point that Christians cannot be satisfied with just being saved. It’s not enough to sit back and say, “well, since I’m saved, I don’t have to change or improve.” He said God requires us to keep working on our lives, to perfect them toward Christ-likeness. I mostly agree with him here. Although I think it’s a bit dangerous to say we are saved by grace, but only if you work on it. So, is it a free gift or not? Can we then earn our salvation? He was dangerously close to saying that God’s redemptive work on the cross is only good if we then live accordingly. However, it seems to me that there’s a lot more to that story. I think he should have clarified that we are saved by Grace alone, we cannot earn salvation. However, and this is big, once we KNOW God’s grace to us in Christ, once we have received this FREE GIFT, we are COMPELLED to live in GOD’s light. It’s not so much that I have to earn salvation, it’s that my salvation implores me to live a life pleasing in God’s sight. It becomes my desire to seek God’s face and to do God’s will. It’s not a requirement for salvation, it’s an outcome of salvation.
I enjoyed the service, which surprised me just a bit. And they were friendly and welcoming. The pastor greeted me on the way out again, saying he hoped I’d come back. This church PASSED the WELCOME TEST.