(This article was written in about 1981 while I was still a member of mainline Churches of Christ—soon after I first encountered the discipling type churches.)
Churches of Christ are receiving adverse publicity in the mass media of our nation. Shocking! Recently, I listened to a couple of taped messages by a brother in California who is highly disturbed by this publicity. He was quite upset about the congregations who were the focal point of the controversy, and unquestionably viewed them as heretics. Although he dealt with a number of areas in which he believed them to be in error, it seemed to me that the unfavorable attention in the media was the catapult that launched him into orbit! Reproach has been brought upon the name of the church!
Certainly no one of us wants to see negative publicity about God’s people, but there is more involved than what we may want. My comments in this article relate directly to the publicity issue itself, and not to the controversial issues that spawned it. I am neither defending nor disapproving any movement among us in this particular article, but rather addressing the issue of adverse publicity. Frankly, I marvel that those who claim to know the Bible have jumped to the conclusion that highly negative remarks by newspapers, radio, and television prove that certain brethren have become heretical! If they have, the publicity surely cannot be taken as proof of it. Some other criterion will have to be used—for example, the Bible.
Well, what about the church and the world’s evaluation of us? In Acts 2:47, we find that our early brethren were “having favor with all the people.” Favorable publicity. But for how long? By the time one reads up to Acts 7, he finds folks with blood pressures going off the top of the sphygmomanometer. They were screaming, gnashing their teeth, and throwing rocks at a Christian. Adverse publicity. Stephen must have been bringing reproach on the church!
Paul and Barnabas were well received at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14¬43). Favorable publicity. For how long? In this instance, only one week (vs. 44ff). Then came adverse publicity. Paul seemed to have a penchant for creating this sort of negative reaction. They became so angry at Lystra that they stoned him (Acts 14:19), although earlier he had been received as a god! In Acts 16, he and Silas were thrown in jail. I wonder what the headlines in the Philippi Morning News reported about Christianity? The Athenians mocked him as a babbler, according to Acts 17. He managed to get the great city of Ephesus in such a turmoil that a large multitude screamed their lungs out for two hours. Now how in the world could Paul hope to build a church in a city when such adverse publicity had occurred?
The book of Acts has a good deal more to say on the subject and the reader would do well to study it with this emphasis in mind. By the time Paul arrived in Rome, the Jewish leaders said that they knew little about Christianity, but they were sure of one thing—it was a sect everywhere spoken against (Acts 28:22)! Our brother Paul must have really been something, or all of the criticism directed toward him by those in and out of the church surely would not have occurred. After all, where there’s smoke, there’s fire!
It is a matter of historical record that the world in which the early church grew was set against them. The mass media of that day claimed that Christians were immoral (practicing holy kisses), cannibalistic (eating flesh and drinking blood—the Lord’s supper), and atheistic (did not believe in the gods). How did that church grow with such adverse publicity? Sure¬ly their joy buses must have been nearly empty.
At one time in America, we were the sect everywhere spoken against. Now, however, we have finally achieved a degree of respectability. Thus we are shocked by adverse publicity, and assume that it proves we are departing from the Bible. Have we so soon forgotten what Jesus taught on the issue? “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household (Matthew 10:25)!” “And, ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake (Mark 13:13)” “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (John 15:19).” “Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).”
Whether some of our brethren are using unscriptural methods, or scriptural methods in an unscriptural manner is a different issue than the publicity issue. Adverse publicity may be directed at evil works or good works, as the Bible amply demonstrates. Biblical Christianity will stir up Satan and his ministers, if Christ’s teaching on the subject is trustworthy. Unbiblical works will often stir up controversy also. The presence of controversy itself proves nothing. The traditions held sacred by many of us likewise proves nothing. The Bible is the only guide to whether or not a work is good or evil.
In conclusion, we do confidently affirm that a lack of adverse publicity demonstrates all too well that we are doing little to disturb Satan. If we were wreaking the kind of havoc against his kindgom that the early church did, we could not stay away from adverse publicity any more than they. Let us not come unglued when the world doesn’t like us—it never has.
—Gordon Ferguson (1981)