I'm Not the Candlestick Holder
In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul addresses the first of many issues going on in the church at Corinth. He says “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1Corinthians 1:10-13)
It’s typically from this very passage that we teach God’s disapproval of wearing different names. In John 17 Jesus prayed that His followers would be one as He and the Father are one. We all know the passage in Ephesians 4 where Paul reminds us that “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” It’s clear that there is only one New Testament church and that our Lord never intended for there to be many “churches” claiming to it.
What’s interesting though is that even among churches of Christ there still seems to be distinctions. While we may only wear the name Christians or Church of Christ it seems like we’ve created hyphenated names that we like to label ourselves with and other with. Names like: Conservative Church/Christian, Liberal Church/Christian, Traditional Church/Christian, Progressive Church/Christian, or Sound Church/Christian. These are really just the main phrases I hear the most.
I think scripture points out that since the establishment of the church, it didn’t take long before there were differing opinions and practices being taught that the apostles had to deal with. Though they had to deal with many of the same things we do today you don’t ever read of them using these kinds of terms. It always came down to two categories: A matter of authority or faith (opinion). For example in Galatians 1 when Paul writes to these early Christians who were adding elements of the Old Law, particularly circumcision, Paul didn’t say they were liberal or progressive. Because it was a matter of authority he defined it as a “different gospel.” In 1 Corinthians 11 when they had abused the Lord’s Supper he said he would not commend them in this and that in actuality it was not the Lord’s Supper that they were eating. On the other hand in Romans 14 Paul address some spiritual areas involving the eating of certain meats and observance of certain days as holy and yet Paul says these are more matters of judgment and opinion. The conclusion was not to judge or hold in contempt.
What I think we need to try and remember is that we’re not the candlestick holders. In Revelation 2-3 Jesus writes to 7 different churches. I think every congregation today falls into one of those 7 categories in some way (hopefully not Thyatira). While there is much to learn from each of those letters one of the things we need to walk away with is that Christ is the one holding the candlesticks and rightfully, deservingly so. He’s not asked me to spend time making determinations about the state of other congregations or those within it. Sadly brethren sometimes find themselves spending more time policing the brotherhood rather than reaching out to teach those who are lost.
Must we be on guard against those who reject God’s authority and seek their will over His? Absolutely. When deciding where to worship must we carefully consider and investigate any areas of concern? Yes. Is distinguishing between matters of authority and opinion always very clear cut? No. Will it take diligent study and prayer to reach a conclusion on those things? You bet! But let’s remember who holds the candlesticks and remember who He’s asked us to be.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:27)