Churches of Christ are different from every other religious institution in the world. The voices of compromise are threatening our distinctiveness. We in churches of Christ stand in two relations to our religious neighbors. First, there are those things that we have in common with them. Second, there are also things that mark us as different from them. Similarity is not identity, but it exists nonetheless. Difference by itself is no particular virtue. All religious groups are different in some ways. 1 Peter 2:9 identifies the people of Christ as a “chosen…royal…holy…special people.” Whatever is implied in these descriptive terms should be our goal in churches of Christ.
Sometimes it is said of a sermon, “That sermon could have been preached in any denomination in town.” The critic intends to let it be known that the address in question is hardly befitting the distinctiveness of churches of Christ. The critique covers the perceived weakness of a particular public address as a symptom of quasi-distinctiveness in the modern pulpit. A good question to consider along this line is if a person with denominational ties visits our services on any given Sunday, will they always hear something that will rattle a belief of theirs that is contrary to the Scriptures? The reality is that they may not, but should they?
I am certain that over the years I have preached many sermons that could be presented in any denomination in town and, with the exception of the gospel plan of salvation, be acknowledged without so much as a raised eyebrow. There are many sound Biblical principles that most religious people adhere to without any scruples. For example, if I preach a sermon on abortion and the sacredness of all human life what is there that requires me to shake somebody’s belief system if they believe the same thing that I do? And what if I should preach on the same moral evils that a denominational preacher might rail against and find that both of us are using identical Bible passages? Where does distinctiveness require me to do anything different?
Denominational teachers are in error on various distinctive teachings such as the gospel plan of salvation, church organization, the work of the Holy Spirit in redemption, New Testament authority and particulars of New Testament worship. Many such people, however, take strongly decisive stands on the moral issues of the day. Should we not be preaching the moral standards of Jesus Christ? There are elderships, however, that would quickly terminate a preacher’s services if he proclaimed the Bible’s teaching on moral issues with half the fervor of some denominational teachers.
The main point is that a gospel preacher cannot always drive home the Biblical fundamentals that make us distinctive from denominations in every sermon, except for maybe a phrase or two, including the gospel plan of salvation. The subject matter is not always that different from what others might believe and teach. If one preaches “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) he will be distinctive enough over the long haul.