Fulford, Hugh. “Why Rebuild What We Have Destroyed?” Gospel Advocate 153 (March 2011) 29-31.
Mr. Hugh Fulford concludes his article by stating, “Let us learn from Paul that even when error has been destroyed we must exercise continued vigilance because there are always those who will rise up and seek to rebuild those unscriptural doctrines and practices.” I believe he is correct. As many have explained, the “Restoration Movement,” also known as the “Stone-Campbell” movement was undertaken as a means to throw off the yoke of denominational ism and seek out primitive Christianity. Not soon after this “movement” began, men have undertaken to tear away at the work of men such as Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone and J.W. McGarvey.
However, there are two problems with Fulford’s argument. First, by ascribing to these men such an iconic status, are we not the culprits who stand accused of undoing their work (which was tearing down denominationalism)? If one of the foundational errors of denominationalism is that it takes on the name and follows the teaching of a specific man or group of men . . . what are we who call ourselves Church of Christ? But this is for another day. The second problem is that Fulford fails to recognize and deal with all the errors that have come to light. Instead, he highlights only those that are contrary to his opinions and interpretations. It is this discrepancy that I will attempt to address.
Fulford laments that while “faithful congregations have resisted the introduction of musical instruments into worship, along with special singing or the effort to entertain.” At first thought, it seems odd to condemn special singing. Exactly what singing is being called into question? And what is so special about it that it would bring reproach upon the congregation? This leads into the problem that Fulford has ignored – ritualistic, repetitious and tradition-based worship. To turn a blind eye to the sin of not worshipping in “spirit” while condemning others who do not worship in “truth” is hypocritical and serves only to widen the gap that exists in the Lord’s Body. I affirm that the use of musical instruments in worship is not keeping with the teaching of biblical writers. However, I also affirm that worship that is treated like a check list, that becomes routine and where the Holy Spirit is denied access is just as sinful and disappointing in the eyes of our Lord.
The author then criticized those congregations and preachers that in an “effort to be seeker-friendly,” are “catering to the wishes of the culture around them. They are downplaying preaching in the assembly and featuring so-called “holy entertainment” instead.” He then asks the question, “will we allow modern-day enemies of the Lord to occupy the pulpits of the Lord’s congregations?” My first reaction is to say shame on you sir for accusing men (who have made it their life’s work to serve God) of being enemies of the Lord. Who are you to make such a determination? Is it possible that preachers err and are in need of correction? Certainly, that would also include you and I. This type of judgmental attitude is neither helpful to the problem nor Christ-like in nature.
Further, there are two specific problems in this criticism. First, the suggestion is made that we ought to not cater to the culture around us. It would be naive to think we could live without any cultural influence. After all, Jesus lived within the influence of the Hebrew culture. And Paul had to minister within the pervasive Roman culture. Which culture should we then cater to? The culture found in the New Testament? If so, which culture represented in the New Testament? The one found in Judea prior to the fall of Jerusalem; or perhaps the one of Judea after the fall of Jerusalem? Perhaps instead we ought to cater to the culture of Asia Minor which impacted the Christians in Ephesus where Paul labored. Or perhaps the culture of the promiscuous Corinthian church would be more appropriate? Maybe I am wrong and Fulford was referring to the culture of our many brothers and sisters who live in villages scattered throughout Africa. All sarcasm aside, he was most likely referring to the culture that is represented in the deep south of the United States where he lives and is most comfortable. If this is the case, then it would seem that the criticism of cultural-based worship is unfounded and unnecessary.
Secondly, the author referred to “so-called ‘holy-entertainment.” It is the author himself that is labeling such worship as “holy entertainment.” Why then the use of the phrase ‘so-called?’ Furthermore, what exactly is holy entertainment and how are these congregations practicing it? To attack nameless congregations and Christians without citing any evidence or support is a waste of time and does not help anyone else. What then is the reader of this article supposed to conclude and gain?
The author states that “many elders have abdicated their responsibility to the preacher or ministerial staff and are little more than a board of directors who approve or disapprove initiatives brought to them by the staff. The ‘new breed’ of elders in some congregations have little, if any, biblical concept of the true work of elders as set forth in the New Testament. Then they act surprised when faithful brethren oppose their actions or their use of unsound men for various programs they have planned.”
It is an unfortunate reality that many elders do not have a biblical understanding of what it means to be an Elder or Shepherd. It is sad that so many spend their time functioning as a management team running a non-profit organization instead of acting like God-ordained Shepherds who are called to spend their time shepherding the Lord’s flock. As opposed to the “new breed” that Fulford points out, this “old breed” treats the position as a life-long appointment to a supreme court that requires a Top Secret government clearance to join and requires them to either make every decision or micro-manage every decision so as to render the Deacons of the congregation as useless drones. This breed, whether old or new, is neither biblical nor sound in practical leadership. Yet Fulford has ignored this problem and instead focused his attention on attacking more nameless Christians that would support his biased agenda.
This article is indicative of a lack of balance within many churches of Christ. There are errors being taught within congregations. And those errors need to be addressed by those congregations. The Church, after all, is made up of autonomous congregations. God has not ordained hall monitors to make it their business to spend their own time condemning autonomous congregations instead proclaiming the saving Gospel of Christ to a lost world. We must not look past one set of errors in order to see another set. We must seek out the Word of God, only the Word of God and all of the Word of God. It is time to leave behind our cultural interpretations of a movement that has long sense died and once again restore the Church to primitive Christianity which is found not in man’s initiatives and opinions, but only in the Word of God.