Available on the Internet is a document entitled "The Bible versus the 'Church of Christ'" by "Pastor" James L. Melton. The opening paragraph is as follows:
This article is a slightly condensed version of a small booklet that I wrote a few years ago. It's [sic] purpose is to expose the false teachings of the so-called "Church of Christ." If you attend a Church of Christ, or you know someone who does, I challenge you to read this study carefully, checking out all of the scripture references in your Bible and praying for the Lord to show you the truth (Jn. 16:13). Remember, Jesus said SEEK and you shall FIND (Mt. 7:7).
The alert reader has probably noticed already that the first two Scriptures cited in this "study" are taken out of context, which does not bode well for his handling of other materials, which he cites but misapplies.
In John 16:13 Jesus is speaking to the apostles, telling them that the Holy Spirit will "guide them into all truth." The passage involves revelation, not interpretation, and Jesus did not tell His apostles to pray for it; He promised them they would receive it. To imply that John 16:13 teaches all Christians to pray for the Lord to show us the truth is to misunderstand this verse by a country mile.
Matthew 7:7 is not spoken in the context of understanding the Scriptures, either. Rather, it deals with seeking good things from God (see v. 11). Anyone who could so misunderstand and misapply the holy Scriptures can scarcely be expected to understand what mere men (members of the churches of Christ) teach.
Mr. Melton has taken the time to read some of the materials we have published, but he apparently does not understand what he has read. He has divided his "analysis" into several subheadings, the first of which is "What is the Church?" The very first sentence shows his inability to grasp what we teach: "The Church of Christ people fail to realize that the 'true church' is a spiritual organism, NOT a physical organization."
Had he read us a little more closely, he might have discovered that we are the ones who have taught over the years that the church is the body of Christ, a living spiritual organism, over which Jesus is the head (Eph. 1:22-23). We are the ones who have insisted that the church is not a man-made organization. Furthermore, we do not have any such organization. Ironically, "Pastor" Melton does belong to a man-made church with a national organization. Now, who is it that does not understand the nature of the church?
Melton could not justify the concept of denominationalism if his life depended on it, but he finds fault with those who want to be only Christians--whose desire is to follow simply what the Bible teaches, including not having a man-made, unauthorized denominational structure, concerning which the Scriptures are silent.
After quoting from tracts written by faithful brethren, he then attacks what these men did not say.
These people believe that the true Church ceased to exist for about seventeen centuries, and that THEIR church has restored the true faith for today.
Exactly who made such a statement? No one of us has ever taught that the church ceased to exist for 17 centuries. How preposterous! We do teach, however, that the church which our Lord established became apostate. The teachings of Christ and the apostles were changed. One of the changes involved the structure of the church. The Scriptures made no provision for a pope, but in A.D. 606 Boniface III proclaimed himself universal bishop, or pope.
Now, in all honesty, Mr. Melton, tell us if you regard the pope as the head of the true church. Do you submit to his authority? Why not? Your argument against us is just a tad disingenuous--especially when we share some of the same perceptions about Catholicism.
We have never claimed that the church (or Christians who compose it) ever ceased, but they were obviously not in the majority, and we know very little about them. We also know that there were "underground" Christians during the period of the Iron Curtain days in the Soviet Union. The Russian Orthodox Church may have been the only one officially recognized or sanctioned, but people with other beliefs existed.
The fact that there was a highly observable restoration movement in the early 1800s does not imply that the church did not exist for seventeen centuries. Mr. Melton should be careful in the "deductions" that he makes. Following the last sentence quoted above, he says the following:
This would mean that such great Christian men as John Wesley, Martin Luther, John Knox, and George Whitfield were not really members of the "true church" because the "true church" didn't exist in their lifetime.
This constitutes nothing more than a blatant attempt to "beg the question" and "prejudice the case." What nerve--to conclude incorrectly that we teach the church ceased to exist and then to name people that could therefore not have been in it. To repeat: No one has taught that the church ceased to exist.
The question of whether those men were in the "true church" or not is irrelevant. Truth is not determined by what religious men think; it is determined by what the Bible teaches. Jesus was criticized consistently by the religious leaders of His day. Those Pharisees made the same argument that Melton does. "Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed in Him?" (John 7:48). Such is the equivalent of saying, "If Luther or Wesley didn't believe it, it must not be so."
Who is a Christian or how one becomes a Christian is not decided by the latest public opinion survey. The Word of God reveals these matters. If we obey the Scriptures, we are Christians and part of the church for which Jesus died. If we reject them, we are not.
If you have received Jesus Christ as your Saviour, then you are a member of the true church, no matter WHAT denomination you are associated with, and if you haven't received Him, then you are NOT a member of the true church, regardless of how many religious groups you join. Salvation is not in a church; it's in a PERSON--the Lord Jesus Christ.
Several observations are in order about this paragraph.
1. There are no Scriptures to corroborate any of what he says here; perhaps that is the reason that he gives none.
2. The New Testament does not speak of denominations; why would anyone therefore wish to be part of one?
3. What would a person who obeyed the gospel have been made part of in the first century? The third? The tenth? The fifteenth? Besides the Roman Catholic Church, there were no man-made denominations in those centuries (including the one to whom Mr. Melton belongs. Obedient believers in the first century were just added to the church (Acts 2:47). Why should it be any different today? Apparently the simplicity of such an idea eludes this critic of the Lord's church, who evidently cannot see beyond the system of denominationalism which he prefers to the Lord's plan.
4. While it is true that salvation is not in a church, it is the case that salvation is in the church. "For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (Eph. 5:23). If one is in Christ, he is in His body, the church. If salvation is in Christ, it is also in the church. One should have no desire to separate Christ from His church any more than he would desire to separate his head from his body or a husband from a wife. The two belong together.
Next Melton says: "The Church of Christ claims to reserve for itself the ONLY scriptural name for a New Testament church, although the term 'church of Christ' is found nowhere in the Bible." It is difficult to tell where Melton came up with this bit of misinformation. Although he freely quotes from many of our tracts, the reader will notice that once again he did not cite a source for this claim.
None among us has ever claimed that "church of Christ" is the ONLY Scriptural name; most sermons and printed materials teach that there are several Scriptural terms for the church, such as "church of God" (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 11:22; 15:9). Many religious groups have opted for a "church" name in harmony with the Scriptures ("Church of God in Christ," for example), and most commentators speak of the universal church of Christ, thus recognizing the legitimacy of the designation, which Melton would know if he had ever studied.
The only point that we have ever made is that calling ourselves after the names of men, such as the Wesleyan Church or the Lutheran Church are not Scriptural. They are obviously not found in the Bible, nor is the Baptist Church, which is a man-made institution. How ironic that any person who belongs to a man-made religious organization would accuse us of the very thing in which he himself stands condemned.
All we want to do is be pleasing unto God, call our selves Christians (instead of some non-Scriptural, unauthorized name) and be part of the church for which Jesus shed His blood.
Now what about his quibble that the term church of Christ is not found in the Bible? He admits there is nothing particularly wrong with it. How generous! Melton knows that Jesus built His church (Matt. 16:18). He knows that Jesus shed His blood for it (Acts 20:28). He is aware that Jesus is the head of the body, the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). He is not ignorant of Romans 16:16: "The churches of Christ salute you" (referring to the sum total of each individual congregation or church of Christ). Melton is patently guilty of trying to make an argument where none legitimately exists. But, it gets worse when he takes up the subject of salvation (to be continued).
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "MELTON'S SKEWED VIEWS (11/16/97)."