Sunday - April 23rd
A short history of the Shafter Church of Christ
The Shafter Church of Christ finds its heritage in the American Restoration Movement of the first half of the 19th century. Although many Christians had come to America for the express purpose of religious freedom, the change of location did not change who they were. Catholics, Lutherans, Anabaptists, Antinomians, Quakers, Puritans holding to historical teachings saw one another as heretics. A new land did not necessarily include the capacity to make a reassessment of the causes of division. As a result the religious freedom often did not include a great measure of toleration.
The Restoration Movement of the early 1800’s brought together Christian leaders from various denominations seeking unity. They found that the very creeds, edits, doctrines and hierarchy which gave definition to each religious group to be the very things that caused separation. At the same time, they did not believe an ecumenical approach was the answer. The question was, “How can we in contemporary times have the unity of the church described in the New Testament?” How would it possible in any contemporary time to just “be” a New Testament church without the baggage added by humans as we have passed through time and culture.
Restoration leaders were familiar with ‘Sola scriptura” (Latin: by Scripture alone) is a Christian theological doctrine which holds that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule. This offered a logical starting place. What if we all only followed the Bible? But again, had Christians not done this from the beginning? Yes, but could the Bible, specifically the New Testament be recognized as total authority for governance in local churches in all matters of faith and practice. Could authority be shifted from human wisdom to God? Could it be possible to set aside the human foundations that support denominations?
It was seen that if it was possible for the Bible to offer complete governance of faith and practice, it would be necessary to consider the organization of the New Testament church, the worship of the New Testament church, the teaching given to the New Testament church as examples to be followed. Obviously theory must extend to practice and the question remained if it was possible to align the traditions of a given church with the traditions of the New Testament practice using them as examples to follow.
Let consider what this sift might involve. One group might observe the communion on a quarterly base, another weekly. If the New Testament is accepted as the sole framework for governance in practice, it should be observed that New Testament Christians gathered for communion on the first day of the week. Using the New Testament church as a pattern or considering actual practices as examples may not resolve all the questions. As with any approach it must be seen as an attempt to please God and not an attempt to somehow merit standing with Him. Also time has shown us that even using the Bible as the sole authority does not create ready agreement.
It was observed that each congregation in the New Testament was autonomous. Association and union congregation to congregation existed through common beliefs and practices and taught by the Christ, the Apostles and prophets as recorded in the New Testament documents. Autonomy, aside from existing in the New Testament examples, provides many advantages. It frees each local congregation to seek God through His word and proceed as they best understand the scripture. Autonomy allows their success or failure stands before God and not necessarily connected a notional or international organizations. The Shafter congregation recognizes that no single generation has the right to codify into creed what the next generation will believe, each generation must be free to appeal to the Scripture for authority.
Restoration leaders did not see themselves as establishing a new church, but rather sought a movement designed to reproduce in contemporary times the church originally established as recorded in the New Testament on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 33. A popular saying among early Restoration leaders was; “We do not seek to be the only Christians we seek to be Christians only.” From the Restoration movement the names "Church of Christ," "Christian Church," and "Disciples of Christ" were adopted because it was believed these terms were biblical, rather than denominational.
The Shafter Church of Christ, seeking to base doctrine and practice on New Testament; notes that in all recorded New Testament worship they did not use musical instruments. Following that tradition the Shafter congregation has chosen not to use musical instruments in worship but rather worship in song, a cappella. In our present discussions, the congregation (at large) believes this to be a better choice for many reasons. 1. It is consistent with following the New Testament for governance for worship. 2. In our experience it encourages learning of music and congregational singing in four part harmony, (Yes, I know we don’t know if they used four part harmony in the New Testament church).
New Testament Teaching of salvation.
The Shafter congregation understands Romans 3:25-27 and enthusiastically joins in the singing of “what can wash away my sin.” The Blood of Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for sin. Does this bring agreement and an end to the discussion among us or other churches as to the whole of the doctrine of salvation? No! Again, we choose to go to the New Testament and use the examples of conversion a a key to what God expects of us.
(May I say as an aside: God throughout recorded Biblical history has given instructions detailing “how” he desires people to come to Him or be in relationship with Him. He is loving, patient, and kind. When people by their lack of attention or even choice, choose their own ways over His ways He often seemed to exercise latitude depending on the heart of the individual and the circumstance. However, there are two things about His graciousness that should not be overlooked; 1. If and when He chooses to overlook ignorance or other reasons for not observing His instruction it is completely up to Him, He is God. 2. Such tolerance to does not remove or alter His instruction. Jesus, our Lord, has every right to say to the thief on the cross “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” But to another; “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Neither instruction may have any impact in other instructions given to Christians in general.)
It was observed in examples of conversion in the New Testament that there existed consistent factors regarding human response to the good news, the Gospel.
- In Romans Chapter one, Paul extolls the Gospel, it is the message of God, the good news. In Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
- There may not be any power to remove sin apart from the blood of Christ, but the message, the good news about salvation in Christ is how people came to knowledge of that salvation according to the New Testament.
- Romans 10: 12-17; Those who believe do not arrive at believing unless the word is delivered to them “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”
- One arrives or come to the point of belief (or not) upon hearing the gospel. If it is not this way, why would the scripture say; “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
- This is consistent with examples of people who decided to accept Jesus as Lord, Messiah.
- In Acts chapter 2 people who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost gathered together because of “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven.” “Then each one heard in his own language…the wonders of God.”
- The Peter stood up and preached a sermon, He confidently asserted that God had raised Jesus and that they were witness giving evidence to this as fact, that Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God, and that all Israel should “be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
- A number of about three thousand responded in belief that Jesus was the Christ.
- Were there ever New Testament exceptions where someone came to belief without hearing the gospel?
- How about Paul on the road to Damascus, was the gospel presented to him in the usual way?
- How about Cornelius, when Peter recounts to his peers what had happened, Peter says; “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.
- Form the context it is evident that in both of these cases there were special circumstances.
- With Paul he became a witness to the resurrection and his conversion to this day service as evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- In the case of Cornelius God supplied to the Jewish community the fact that the gospel was for the Gentile as well as the Jew, the pour out of the Holy Spirit upon them Peter says; “As it had come on us at the beginning.”
More to come…