Jerry C. Brewer
“Christianity” is practiced in mainstream churches of Christ by proxy—much like the Mormons who baptize by proxy for the dead. This allows the dead to be baptized without getting into the water, and certainly places no responsibility on them. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines proxy as “the agency, function, or office of a deputy who acts as a substitute for another.”
Within mainstream of Christ is a myriad of proxies that individuals have substituted for their own responsibility. They believe that by sending some kind of “contribution” to a radio or television evangelistic program (however small) they are fulfilling the Great Commission. They substitute and assign their individual responsibility to something (or someone) else. The means of conversion is no longer an individual effort to study God’s word and teach it to others. It is now a corporate project and the only effort made by individuals is to throw money at it.
Whenever there is a clamor for “church growth” or the cry goes up that “we are not growing,” so the remedy is usually some kind of proxy “program” to accomplish that end. Churches “hire” a preacher to preach as the proxy for individual members who should be teaching others. Churches “hire” a “Youth Minister” to teach and entertain the young people—a proxy for parents Eph. 6:4). Some churches even hire an “Outreach Minister” as a proxy for personal, individual efforts to teach others.
When the disciples were scattered from Jerusalem they “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). That was individual effort, not preaching by proxy. They had no organizations or “ministries” to which they could contribute a few mites and call that “preaching the word.”
Many of us well remember a time when churches of Christ were the fastest growing religious group in the United States. There was no secret to that growth. Individual Christians were then known as “walking Bibles” because they studied and knew the Scriptures. They then made individual efforts to teach their neighbors publicly and from house to house as Paul did (Acts 20:20). Their house to house efforts were called “cottage meetings” in which great numbers learned the message of salvation and became Christians. Their public efforts in Gospel meetings also reaped a great harvest of souls for the Lord, but large numbers of those began with individual efforts. In 1952, my Grandfather and two uncles were among the 25 who were baptized into Christ during a summer meeting of the Taylor church of Christ—a country church south of Elk City, Okla. Those were largely the result of individuals teaching their friends and neighbors all year long and the preacher coming along and reaping the harvest in a Gospel meeting.
But over the years, Christians have been brainwashed by money-collecting proxies organized to do what the individual child of God should be doing. Hence, money is the medium of evangelism. Although it is unspoken, and perhaps not even in mind, that philosophy says that a person can “buy his way into heaven.” In all of this, the idea that Christianity is to be practiced by corporate proxy predominates and far fewer souls are saved by the blood of the Lamb.
The same kind of attitude took root among Christians in the 19th century. The remedy then was an organized proxy for individual effort—the Missionary Society. In Volume 1 of his work, The Search for the Ancient Order, Earl Irvin West wrote “…the history of the church has well shown that the less zeal and devotion there is in the church, the more institutionalism and human organizations are needed” (1:170). West wrote that Benjamin Franklin also addressed that point:
…Franklin attempted to get at the very root of the weakened condition of the brotherhood…If the cause was languishing, it was so only because the preachers were not as fervent as they once were. He says, “If preachers lament that the cause languishes, let them cease scheming about some organization unknown to the New Testament, and go into the field and labor for the Lord’s sake, and for the Lord’s name, as brethren did years ago, and as we are doing now, and as certain as God is the author of the Bible, we shall prosper…Preaching is what is needed, fervent, soul-stirring preaching, exhortations, entreaties and impressive persuasions with the people to turn to God, and be saved.” Unquestionably, Franklin was hitting at the real cause. The history of the restoration movement shows that the less devotion men have to Christ the more they stand in need of human organizations (1:212).
Franklin and West zeroed in on the problem. The perceived need of human proxies to do the work Christ left for us, rises as individual devotion to Christ falls. The same problem today—Christianity by proxy—is manifested in the unnumbered, inane “ministries” touted on websites of mainstream churches. It has never been the responsibility of the church or its “ministry” proxies to fulfill individual responsibility.
God does not save in groups. He saves one at a time. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20) and “He that believeth, and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). No proxies for the soul that sinneth or He that believeth. Jesus’ parable of the talents teaches individual responsibility and our accounting in the day of Judgment shall be as individuals (Rom. 14:12). I cannot “buy” a proxy to do my work on earth for Christ, and I will certainly have no proxy to stand before the Judge of all the earth.