I grew up Church of Christ (CoC). More specifically, in one of the most strict & legalistic (“conservative” to use their terminology) churches of Christ in the region. Teachers and leaders said we were “right”. I believed we were “right.” We were right and everyone who didn’t agree with the Bible – as we interpreted it – was going to Hell.
Now I had a rough childhood. And while I wasn’t perfect all through those growing years I still went to church and participated as much as I could. I may have lived like hell but I was involved in church and desired to give it all my effort. When I was 19 circumstances occurred that allowed me to move away from bad influences (drugs, atheism, etc.) At this fresh start, I decided to really seek the Lord.
I now found myself living in a different town, 19 years old, and attending another strict CoC. With the desire of being a good, God-fearing young man, I set out to do what I was taught. I knew I needed to obey every command in the New Testament if God was going to love me and allow me into Heaven. I started from Matthew and went to Jude, noting every command and how it was to be observed. I didn’t just use my trusty KJV. I had an 8-version Bible that had New American Standard and even the Greek text. While I wasn’t a Greek scholar, I knew a lot about linguistics (okay, I was a nerd in school). Armed with a primer and dictionary on New Testament Greek, I prayerfully studied for hours each morning. If I didn’t understand what a word meant I went to the Greek source. One of the CoC’s reputable preachers taught a lot from the Greek text so I figured I was on the right track.
As I studied I learned something: When you read the NT as a whole, and the books as a whole, they read different. I was used to learning about a topic by looking at the selected verses that apply to it (“eisegesis”). In other words, taking scriptures that agreed with the argument at hand and reinforcing the belief by “cherry picking” verses. The problem with “eisegesis” is that it takes the verse out of context and screws up how it reads.
I also noticed that the NT was commanding things my churches never did. Such as:
- greet each other with a holy kiss
- lift hands when we pray
- have the elders anoint the sick with oil and pray for them
If my book-chapter-verse CoC was supposed to be following the NT example and doing these things, why weren’t we? I also found that the Greek revealed deeper meanings. Some examples: “Psalmos” means a song accompanied with a stringed instrument. Most CoCs are strictly a capella. Was it okay to use instruments? Also, “repent” means a change of mindset or thinking (which leads to a change in behavior), not simply changing behavior by “turning and going the other way,” as I had heard growing up.
The most glaring contradiction was in the fruit of the believers. “By their fruit you will know them.” Most – not all but most – the CoC members I knew, myself included, were fruitless. As I went back and forth through the passages I found that the CoC I grew up in resembled the Pharisees more than it did the early church.
I thought about talking to the preacher but I knew how that was going to go. He was going to give me the same reasons and arguments I grew up hearing. Then when I countered all of them, I was going to be accused of “going astray” and then I would be treated as a “lost sheep,” stigmatized as an apostate. They’re quick to condemn one as “lost” if they get too “liberal” in their beliefs.
So I started sneaking out.
It’s hard to sneak out of a church in a town of 1300.
I went to the next most familiar church I knew: the Baptist church. My family accused me of going there because it was more “fun.” Funny thing is, I was pretty certain these CoC relatives didn’t put in the hours of study I had to this point. They didn’t know that I really knew what the Bible was saying. I also noticed that some (some) Baptists had more fruit – fruit of the Spirit that I had read about.
After about a year out of the CoC I went to college. And after a year of silence from the CoC folks, certain men in the CoC – men that had rarely spoken to me previously – wrote me letters telling me why I was wrong. One invoked my deceased father and how upset he would be about my “lostness.” Another was even more of a jerk.
FYI: When you never talk to someone, and haven’t seen them in a year, don’t think you can write them a letter telling them why they’re wrong in their Bible beliefs.
Oddly enough, I later ended up at a CoC university, due to a program they offered. I minored in Bible/Ministry. The atmosphere here wasn’t as strict, and the Bible professors were great. It was here I realized that not all CoC members were like the ones I grew up with. One thing I did notice: A lot of those kids who came from CoC backgrounds seemed spiritually dead. No fruit or desire for God. Christianity seemed like a religious duty. Not because God loved them, but because they had to in order to avoid hell and being “disfellowed” by their family (yes, a few of them admitted this). It was sad to see them miss out on true love and life abundant for the sake of keeping a rule-filled religion as if they could earn God’s love.
I graduated from there in a few years. Aside from friends, funerals, and weddings, that was my last involvement in the CoC. That was over 10 years ago. Now I identify as a non-denominational Christian. In fact, I prefer to not label myself, as I am ever changing and growing to be more Christlike. I’ve now been married 17 years and have 4 kids. Getting out was the best thing I could’ve done for myself, my wife, and my family.
If you’re Church of Christ and reading this, let me say to you, as formerly one of you:
The New Testament isn’t a rule book. You cannot possibly keep all the commands, examples, or inferences. God’s standard is perfection. The men who first established the doctrine that would lead to the CoC didn’t have a full understanding of what the Bible was saying. But you can have a full understanding of Scripture.
First, ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you, to give you a proper understanding. Then start reading at Matthew. Pay attention when you get to Romans 4,7,8; 2 Corinthians 3; Galatians 3-5. Read what our Lord told the Pharisees in Matthew 15:8 & 23:13-28. Christ didn’t come to establish yet another religion where we have to work our way to God’s favor. He came to give us life abundantly. Grace is what will get you to heaven, and you can’t earn that. Like a old CoC minister said, “Don’t trust what your preacher says. Get in the Bible and read it for yourself.”
The God you seek to please, and you seek for an eternal reward… There’s more of Him outside your CoC congregation. It’s better; it’s real; it’s Biblical. If nothing else, now I know I have eternal life (1 John 5:13). If you die right now, do you know?
I’m not against the people who are still very much CoC. I am against the Enemy who lies and deceives (“deceive” means you genuinely think you’re right when you’re not). A person who’s spends their whole life in a prison cell doesn’t know what freedom on the outside looks like. I am against people going to church and still being separated from God because of the doctrinal system.
He came to set us free, give us life abundantly, heal our diseases, and give us a yoke that is light and easy, with no condemnation, and with the comforting knowledge that we are indeed saved from an eternity in Hell even now. Your church membership, where ever it is, should be affirming that.