Vol. 1 - No. 11
Segments Of The Church
by R. L. (Bob) Craig
For a number of years I have read, especially from the pens of such as Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett, of the various “segments” or “splinter groups” which go to make up the church of my Lord. Reuel Lemmons has also echoed those words and phrases and introduces us to what he calls the “main stream” of the church. I read further in the Foreword of “Sacred Selections For The Church” songbook this: “This book is not presented as an 'official' hymn book, nor is it designed for just one segment of the brotherhood.”
The most prevailing number of “segments” mentioned seems to be twenty-nine. It seems to be consensus thinking among those mentioned, and evidently others, that these 29 segments or splinter groups, along with the “main stream” make up the body of Christ.
I think it is high time we rethink concerning congregational independence. As we pursue a study of the New Testament we find the word “church” being used in two different ways. Sometimes it refers to all of those who have been saved (Acts 2:47), and at other times the word has reference to a number of the saved who are meeting in a particular locality. (Revelation 2 and 3). I am a little hesitant to use the words “local church” or “universal church” since some have objected. It has been suggested that there is nothing known as “the local church” in the New Testament and there is no such thing as “the universal church” either. I understand that those exact words are not found in the New Testament but we can find the EXACT idea. Read, if you will, Hebrews 12: 23: “To the general assembly and church of the' firstborn, which are written in heaven “ Paul was most assuredly addressing himself to the concept of ALL the saved of all time “whose names were enrolled in heaven” in contrast to a portion of the saved who were meeting in some particular locality such as Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem, etc. If someone knows of a better term to use than “general or universal” church or the words “local church” and will let me know, I will use your words, but until then I shall satisfy myself by using the above mentioned terms.
The “universal” or “general” church is not made up of groups of people. It is not “congregations of the church of Christ” as is so often written and spoken even by those who should know better. Congregations nor “segments” are not the units of the whole, but individuals, those who have been obedient to the gospel, the saved. These are the units that constitute the totality of the universal body of Christ.
As we search the New Testament, we find no organic structure through which this totality of people can be activated. I presume that the reason for this lack of structure is that God did not assign any work for these people to engage in together. As individuals who are saved, we are to conduct our lives as our King demands, and we are, to the extent of our personal ability, to teach others the gospel of Christ. But as for our acting together or collectively, we have no command, example, nor inference, either necessary or unnecessary.
God HAS assigned certain things for his people to do together in given localities and has also revealed the arrangement through which these works are to accomplished and that is an assembly of the saved in some particular locality of their own choosing. There is no authority of any sort for any arrangement through which the universal body (individuals) could or MIGHT be activated. Since the universal body is not made up of congregations nor segments, any and all attempts to bring them together in some kind of active structure could not even be excused on the basis that “this is the universal church at work.”
Now, what do we have? We have groups of saints meeting at various localities throughout the world. These congregations have no Bible authority at all to be tied together in any organic way whatsoever. Each is to carry on its work independently of ever other congregation. Each congregation's assignment is to do the Lord's work to the extent of its ability. When that is done, its responsibility is fulfilled. Should some disaster befall one of these churches that belong to Christ, then the bond of charity for “the household of faith” would cause other such groups to arise to their need and supply those material things that catastrophe has denied them. (2 Corinthians 8 and 9).
Now, if there are “segments,” then they are unauthorized and therefore, sinful, and the churches that constitute such are in danger of having “their candlesticks removed” if, indeed, it has not already happened. This can just as truly be said of the so-called “main stream” segment. If the church of which I (you) am a member is a part of any segment of the church, it is in an untenable position and needs to extricate itself as quickly as possible.
Of course, what these who use such words and phrases are talking about, are the churches that make up the anti-class segment, or the one drinking-vessel segment, or the Herald of Truth segment, or the anti-Herald of Truth segment, etc., etc. But, once again, every congregation must take its stand and be tried by those who constitute its membership or those who might desire fellowship with such, upon what its members believe the Bible to teach, not by whether or not it is a member of this or that segment. If a congregation is walking in harmony with God's divine dictates, it is one that the Master still walks with -- if it is engaged in unscriptural practices, then the Lord will soon depart, if he has not already done so, and “spue them out of his mouth.”
No, dear friends, the universal body cannot be divided except by the Lord, and that division will be by the fall of the individual, thus he will no longer be numbered among the saved. The local church can be divided by the people who make it up in so many different ways it would be impossible to enumerate them. But if they all have the right attitude toward God and one another, this will never happen.
Each local church is free, under Christ, to set up its services and works as it sees fit, but it does not have the right to make laws that God does not make nor ignore those principles that he has revealed, and under no circumstances does it have the right to enjoin its practices on any other church or “segment.” When such binding and loosing takes place, I can have no fellowship, individually, with that group, and I will, to the extent of my ability, expose that group as those “who have departed from the faith” and exhort them to return, not to the “main stream” but to the “old paths.”
I am not a member of any movement nor any segment nor any splinter group nor of the main stream. I am a citizen of the kingdom of Christ, having obeyed my Lord thus having had my sins washed away in his blood. I have joined myself to a company of disciples which I believe are working and worshipping in harmony with His will. This is all that I would or could ask anyone else to do.