The Tema “Churches of Christ Association” is A Denomination That God Will Root Up in the Last Day
By Nana Yaw Aidoo | Accra, Ghana
Decades ago, specifically the year 1992, when Dan Mcvey was serving churches of Christ in Ghana as a missionary, he coauthored a booklet entitled The Church of Christ in Ghana, along with brethren Samuel Twumasi Ankrah and Augustine Tawiah. Brother Mcvey’s assignment in this work, which is subtitled Where Did We Come from and Where Are We Going?, was to trace “Our Place in the History of Christianity.” In this booklet, which was evidently written with Ghanaian Christians or members of the church of Christ in mind, brother Dan Mcvey would begin to trace our history from the garden of Eden, where “The story of God’s plan for saving man started…” (Mcvey 1).
After speaking a lot about the scriptural origins of the church of Christ, Dan Mcvey then cautioned, “However, we must understand that the church of our King Jesus is made up of people, thus its history is going to be affected by the pressures, stresses, weaknesses and misunderstandings of man” (Mcvey 2). The apostles knowing this, wanted to stem apostasy as much as possible, gave “many warnings about false teachers and corruptions – Acts 20:29-30” (Mcvey 3). Brother Mcvey would then spend time speaking about these corruptions, the first of which was centralized control. He wrote,
Although we may strongly disagree with such organization, we should understand that those terrible pressures and many attacks against the faith of Christians were putting them into difficult situations and their concern was protecting the faith. Therefore, they centralized the leadership to preserve the practice of the faith as they saw it (4; Emph. NYA).
I have highlighted this very point to show that in the 1990s, the churches of Christ in Ghana strongly disagreed with centralized control. Mcvey would then point out that as a result of these corruptions, “The Roman Catholic church gradually developed with the bishop of Rome claiming all authority” (Mcvey 5).
But all was not lost, for “From time to time, there were those who spoke out for reform and a return to more biblical ways of faith” (Mcvey 6-7). Certain men,
began to teach that Christianity had been corrupted away from the teachings of Christ and the apostles, and that the truth must be restored. This marked the beginning of what is called The Reformation. They began teaching that man is saved by grace through faith, not works of merit. They also began going back to more Biblical patterns of church organization and worship. They did not always agree among themselves, and at times their followers even fought one another. Little by little, they began to understand Christianity more as it had been established by Christ… (Mcvey 8)
These ideas would begin to spread like wildfire in Europe and eventually end up in America. But alas, among these “protestants,” “There were often sharp disagreements…, different interpretations of the Bible and differences in church organization and worship” (Mcvey 10), and, thus, the Protestant Reformation would itself eventually succumb to “human weaknesses and extremes” (Mcvey 11).
However, among the reformers, there were some “who were not satisfied with the progress made toward a pure Biblical practice and faith” (Mcvey 11). These “sincere seekers of truth,” most of them in America, where the landscape encouraged new ideas, “began calling for a more complete return to New Testament Christianity” (Mcvey 11), which necessarily required “a more complete overthrow of manmade doctrines and denominations” (Mcvey 12). These people would come to be known as the Restoration Movement among students of religious history.
At this point in the booklet, brother Mcvey inquired, “What issues did they [the Restoration Movement] emphasize?” In response to this question, he wrote,
They realized that we must know what really makes a person a disciple of Christ; also, how should we worship and organize the church so that Christ receives all glory and man’s tendency towards selfishness is minimized. They realized from the Scriptures that the true Biblical pattern of church structure is congregational with no manmade systems to confuse that like headquarters or human authorities above the elders and deacons of the local church…They stressed simple Christianity and the rejection of man-made names, creeds, organizations and doctrines as they were able to identify them…” (12-3).
But, as is common with humans, the Restoration Movement began to have problems by the 1870s to 1890s. Mcvey’s assessment of the issue was that,
There were some who insisted on strict congregational autonomy, while others believed the Bible allows a conference or missionary society to see to mission work on behalf of the church. This issue along with instrumental music and certain social issues brought controversy into their ranks. By the year 1900, there was open division. Those who held more firmly to the original ideas of the movement and took a more conservative view of the Bible generally referred to themselves as “Churches of Christ,” while the others took various names and moved into a more denominational pattern of things (13-4).
Dan Mcvey would end his essay with this piece of advice for Ghanaian churches of Christ:
Let us truly do our best to be the church that was founded by Christ and upon Christ. Our loyalty is not to any men or set of traditions, only to our King. Let us be diligent that we do not fall into the trap of denominationalism – that spirit that glories in divisive thought – but rather let us give diligence to be the reflection of Christ’s love and truth in this world of darkness…Let us be committed to truth and the importance of submission to Christ with full confidence that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…Let us be faithful until we welcome our Lord from heaven when He comes to take us away… (16-7).
You would be forgiven for wondering the rationale behind the aforementioned review. I have deliberately gone through brother Dan Mcvey’s essay on church history for three reasons: first, because of how much he is held in high regard among Ghanaian Christians; second, to show what the churches of Christ in Ghana believed at one point in time; and, finally, to prove that history is wont to repeating itself and that those who fail to learn from it are bound to repeat it. Just as some in the American Restoration Movement moved away from the original ideas of the movement, and thus brought controversy into a movement, which I believe with all my being was a providential intervention of God in history, some churches of Christ in Ghana have appropriated some of those same controversial ideas, having fallen in love with a more denominational pattern of things.
I have in my possession a document with the title Momeranda (sic) of Understanding for Tema Region Churches of Christ. At the tail end of the first page of this document are the words Tema Region Churches of Christ Cooperation MOU. Then there is the preamble which states,
We, members of the Tema Region churches of Christ, united in our quest for improved spiritual growth, physical well-being and the development of our various congregations and its individual members, hereby agree to be bound by the tenets of this memoranda of understanding [MOU from hence] for our common good (2).
I know that someone is probably thinking, “What could possibly be wrong with churches cooperating and being united and seeking improvement?” I can assure you that if it were all about cooperation and unity and seeking “improvement,” I would not be writing this article. If I know my heart, then I am not scared to say I am a stickler for unity and cooperation. The Psalmist wrote, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psa. 133:1). So, surely, being united is a good thing. However, even though we have a responsibility to seek unity, we also have an equally God-given responsibility to be concerned about how local churches of Christ are to engage in such co-operation and unity practices. We need God-given authority in the way we act in these matters, for not all unity movements are pleasing unto God (cf. Gen. 11:1-8).
What the churches of Christ in Tema have come up with isn’t merely about cooperation and unity and seeking improvement but is actually a headlong dive into rank apostasy and denominationalism. It is a plan that centralizes their cooperative and unity efforts in an organization that the Bible has not authorized and knows nothing about. It is the exact kind of organization that Dan Mcvey said churches of Christ, at least at the time he was in Ghana, strongly disagreed with and exactly the kind that stoked controversy in the American Restoration Movement and brought about open division in its ranks.
Under Article 1 of this MOU, the originators of this document note that “The name of this association shall be called TEMA REGION CHURCHES OF CHRIST ASSOCIATION.” Then, in Article 2, they state their aims and objectives, which include, among other things, improving membership in the Tema region churches, enhancing cooperation in finances and edification, improving infrastructure of churches in the region, conflict resolution among churches in the region, helping members with employment, promoting “the image of the church through marketing and public relations,” etc. As a member of this association, you are to contribute dues (specifically 5% of your weekly giving) to the association, attend meetings, and abide by the MOU.
So well-oiled is this machine of an association that it comprises nine organs – a general assembly, a coordinating committee, a benevolence committee, an infrastructure committee, a financial committee, an evangelism committee, an arbitration committee, an edification committee, and a secretary – with the functions of each organ very clearly stated.
I do not need to delve further into this document for the discerning Christian to be alarmed. This association isn’t just about cooperation and unity and improvement; it actually is rivalling the church of our Lord in its mission. Not only that, but it wants to treat the church of Christ like a “Fortune 500 company,” since it wants to promote the image of the church through marketing and public relations. How in the world anyone (elders, preachers, deacons, so-called “church leaders”) can read the Sacred Writings and think this is Scriptural is simply beyond me. Is this what Jesus Christ died for and what the early faithfuls were martyred for?
If, as Dan Mcvey noted in his essay, we strongly disagreed with this kind of organization back in the 1990s, then what changed? If back then we realized from the Scriptures that the true Biblical pattern of church structure is congregational with no manmade systems to confuse that, like headquarters or human authorities above the elders and deacons of the local church, then where has God made changes to His requirements in His word today? Or did we pretend to believe something we really didn’t believe? If we were right then, then we are wrong now. And if we were wrong then, then we really have a lot of apologizing to do to the denominations, whom over the years we have denounced for organizing themselves after the “commandments of men.”
I do not believe we were wrong. I am certain the Bible teaches that the true Biblical pattern of church structure is congregational with no manmade systems to confuse that, like headquarters or human authorities above the elders and deacons of the local church. And thus, the so-called Tema Region Churches of Christ Association is an unauthorized, yea, sinful institution with no right whatsoever to exist. Please take note of this. The issue is not about whether churches of Christ should be united or can cooperate. Rather, the issue is about whether churches of Christ have Scriptural authority to form associations in order to centralize their cooperative and unity efforts, with those institutions supplanting the local churches in the work that God has given them to do. I believe the Bible’s answer is a great, big, no, and, thus, the path our forebears in the faith traveled was the right one.
What is wrong with the Tema Region Churches Association? Following are the reasons why it is wrong:
First, it is not authorized by God’s word. Paul wrote, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). To do something in the name of someone is to do that thing by the power or authority of that person (cf. Acts 4:7). Thus, we see from this text that whatever we teach and practice must be by the authority of Christ. Where God has authorized in His word, He has done so explicitly (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:12), implicitly (e.g., Matt. 22:29-32), or by example (e.g., Acts 20:7). Where is the explicit statement in the Scriptures for an association of churches of Christ? Where is it taught implicitly? And where is the example of the early church in this regard? Then again, Scriptural authority necessitates respecting God’s silence or not going beyond the things that are written (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 John 9). God is not an idol who cannot speak for Himself. Hence, His silence or the silence of the Scriptures is not permissive. It is prohibitory (cf. Mark 7:1-7 – notice that God was silent on the issue of religious handwashing in the OT). The Tema Region Churches Association does not respect the silence of God or the Scriptures.
Second, it presumes to do the work of the church or act as a church when it is not the church in any sense of the word but a denomination. The association calls itself Tema Churches of Christ Association, thus, applying a Scriptural name to an unscriptural thing. The old restorers were saying, “we should call Bible things by Bible names.” This association is doing the exact opposite. The word church is never used in the Bible to refer to a manmade organization. It is used to refer to the blood-bought body of Christ, either in a universal sense (cf. Matt. 16:18) or a local sense (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2). Other uses of the word to refer to the Jews or an assembly are irrelevant to this discussion. The universal church is all of those whom Christ has saved in the entire world. Of that number, only God knows certainly (2 Tim. 2:19). The churches of Christ in Ghana alone do not constitute the universal church. I do not think those preachers who say we should go beyond the local church and set our sights on the universal church really understand what it is they are saying. The universal church comprises all whom Christ has saved in the entire world and not just in Ghana alone.
Furthermore, the universal church is a combination of heaven and earth (Eph. 1:9-10; 3:14-15). And so, the very idea of working through the universal church is as possible and feasible as counting the number of hairs on your head. It is for this reason why in the New Testament, the universal church is given no collective function. “It does not have a collective work, time of assembly, or meeting place” (Bailey). And certainly, it does not convene to decide its affairs or clamor “for improved spiritual growth, physical well-being and the development of our various congregations and its individual members.” The only religious organization in the New Testament is the local church (cf. Phil. 1:1). And as I have already pointed out, the word church is used in reference to the universal church or the local church alone. The Tema Association is neither the universal church nor a local church. It is an association of churches, larger than the local church but smaller than the universal. Hence, it is a denomination. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a “denomination” as, “A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and administratively organized.” This is an accurate description of the Tema Association. Yet, it goes by the name churches of Christ and presumes to act as the church.
Third, since it presumes to act as a church, it also presumes to be the realm where God receives glory when God has already specified where He wants to receive His glory. Paul wrote, “unto him, be glory in the church [not in the association] and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever” (Eph. 3:21).
Fourth, it presumes to improve the efficiency of the work of the local church. The association says its quest is “for improved spiritual growth, physical well-being and the development” (Emp. NYA) of the churches in the association. However, it goes without saying that any organization designed to give greater efficiency to the work of the local church is an attempt to improve on God’s plan, which makes humans wiser than God and also makes God a liar for saying the Scriptures thoroughly and completely furnish the church unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Fifth, it violates the autonomy of the local church. It does this in at least three ways, first, by making decisions for the churches. According to the MOU, “the General Assembly shall be the highest decision-making body of the Association” (4). Also, the Assembly “shall have the power to make by-laws which shall bind the Association” (4). Second, by overseeing portions of the Lord’s treasury that has been contributed by church members and is to be under the oversight of the local congregation. Third, by planning evangelism for the churches in the Tema region. According to the MOU, it is the responsibility of the evangelism committee, to “plan an execute all evangelism program(sic)/projects in the Tema region” (Emp. NYA). One wonders what the point of the local church, then, is. There is more, but I believe these drive home the point.
Sixth, it leaves the world with the impression that the churches of Christ support an ecclesiastical hierarchy. We are Christians only, folks. Jesus Christ is our only Head (Col. 1:18). And each congregation is self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.
Seventh, by its actions it preaches the social gospel. The Tema Churches of Christ association says in its aims and objectives that it is going “to assist members in the area of employment.” I know that brethren need to work, and certainly if a brother or sister has connections, he should help a brother or sister in need of work. But, please, if we are going to speak as the oracles of God, then give me the book, chapter, and verse that says it is the work and mission of the church (not the individual Christian, mind) to seek employment for members.
Eight, it has its own rules of order. The Tema Churches of Christ association have put the New Testament aside as the only rule of faith and practice for the church of Christ and organized this MOU, thereby eliminating Christ as Head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:22- 23).
Ninth, it could be a recipe for doctrinal disaster. Since it is the work of the edification committee to “develop literature and printed (sic) for use in contracting churches especially for integrating new converts, children bible classes,” who is to say that error at the top, among the “specialists” (MOU 9), wouldn’t lead all the congregations astray?
Last but not least, it is going to get brethren to compete with each other for positions of authority in the association. But our Lord said,
Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:25-28).
The foregoing reasons are what is wrong with the Tema Region Churches Association. I do not know if this organization is already in place or is in the pipeline. Either way, I hope the brethren, elders, deacons, and preachers, many of whom were taught by Dan Mcvey, would reconsider this course of action and heed his advice to be diligent that we do not fall into the trap of denominationalism – that spirit that glories in divisive thought.
When all is said and done, the Tema Churches of Christ Association is an unbiblical, man-made, denomination. The axe is laid to its root and it will be cast into the fire (Matt. 3:10).
Bailey, Kent. What About The Church of Christ Disaster Relief Agency?
Mcvey, Dan. “Our Place in the History of Christianity.” The Church of Christ in Ghana, World Literature Publications, 1992, pp. 1-17.