THE DOCTRINAL FOUNDATIONS OF CBS (CBC&S; CCU) — JACK COTTRELL, 1993
[While cleaning out my office and files after being recently “retired” from my professorship at CCU, I came across the following. It is a presentation I gave at a gathering of the faculty and students at “the school on the hill” 23 years ago, in August of 1993. (I don’t remember the nature of the gathering.) I thought it might be of some interest now in September 2016, in view of what has taken place “on the hill” within the past year.]
My missionary friend Greg Waddell reports that his mission is building the first worship house belonging to Churches of Christ/Christian Churches in Argentina. This 10 x 20 meter building will have eighteen foundational pillars three feet square by four feet deep. Nothing is more important for any building than a solid foundation. The same is true for a school such as Cincinnati Bible Seminary.
I. THE FUNDAMENTALS
When CBS was begun back in the 1920’s, it was built squarely on two massive pillars of sound doctrine. The first foundational pillar is what we may call the fundamentals. CBS did not originate in a vacuum. It began in the midst of the fundamentalist-liberal conflict, which was not unique to the Restoration Movement. Since the late nineteenth century, the floods of Liberal unbelief had been sweeping across the whole of Christendom, affecting nearly every denomination and group.
The basic point of conflict between Fundamentalists and Liberals was the reality of the supernatural—the very existence of a transcendent Creator-God who exists separate from the world, yet who controls the world and supernaturally intervenes in it, especially for salvation.
Liberalism denied the supernatural. It denied the very existence of a transcendent God. “God,” man, and the world are all part of just one sphere of reality. Now, what are some results of this denial? First, the Bible is not a divinely-inspired, supernatural book. It was written by ordinary human beings expressing the religious feelings of their hearts. It is not different in quality from the writings of Augustine and Mohammed. Second, Jesus was not God incarnate; he was not divine, except in the sense that we ALL are “divine.” Third, Jesus accomplished no unique, supernatural work. He did what any of us can do, thus providing us with an example and with the moral influence to imitate him.
On the other hand, Fundamentalists (the term had no objectionable connotations then) continued to teach and defend the foundational orthodox doctrines of the Bible: the existence of the transcendent Creator-God; the divine inspiration of the Bible; the deity and supernatural works of Jesus. These are summed up in what are called the “five fundamentals”: (1) The divine inspiration of the Bible, which at that time naturally implied its inerrancy. (2) The virgin birth of Christ, which implied his deity. (3) The substitutionary atonement of Christ. (4) The bodily resurrection of Christ. (5) The visible second coming of Christ.
How did this conflict affect higher education? Many colleges and seminaries that had once defended and taught “the fundamentals” were taken over by Liberals, and their teachings were changed to conform to the liberal belief system. Thus many religious groups began new schools, especially Bible colleges, to continue to uphold the “fundamentals” in the training of their ministers.
This is how CBS began. This is our heritage. It started when the Liberal element of the Restoration Movement, the Disciples of Christ group, took control of our colleges and seminaries. This involved the capture of our school in Lexington, Kentucky: The College of the Bible. Thus when it became necessary to establish new institutions for the purpose of training Christian workers in sound doctrine in this area, two Bible colleges were begun not far from Lexington: one in Louisville and one in Cincinnati. These soon merged to form The Cincinnati Bible Seminary.
Thus we can see that one of our foundational doctrinal pillars consists of the “fundamentals,” which embrace the supernatural realities of the Bible and of Jesus Christ. This pillar of doctrine is something we have in common with all conservative Christian groups.
II. THE RESTORATION DISTINCTIVES
The second doctrinal pillar of our school is the Restoration distinctives. This is not what we have in common with other groups, but what makes us different: our Restoration Movement heritage. This includes our distinctive Restoration doctrines—which we accept as the true and accurate understanding of Biblical teaching.
The major areas where our doctrines are distinctive are quite focused and limited. They lie basically in two areas: the doctrine of salvation, and the doctrine of the church. Regarding salvation, one main point is that we accept free will rather than Calvinistic determinism. This is distinctive but not unique, since Wesleyans and some others share this view. More specifically, we have a unique view of baptism: adult immersion for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Regarding the church, we stress such things as the following: (1) The name of the church should include the name of Christ: either “Church of Christ” or “Christian Church.” (2) Church membership is determined by a distinctive “plan of salvation.” (3) Regarding church polity or organization, we believe in congregational autonomy, with each congregation being led by a plurality of elders. (4) Our church worship includes a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to Christ’s death.
The Cincinnati Bible Seminary was founded upon the assumption that these are sound and faithful doctrines and should be taught as such, both in our classrooms and in our churches.
III. OUR TASK TODAY
My message for you today is that our task must be to continue to build upon BOTH of these doctrinal pillars in an even balance. First, we must emphasize the fundamentals, including the transcendent Creator-God, Biblical inerrancy, the deity of Christ, his substitutionary atonement, his bodily resurrection, and his yet-to-happen visible return. We can neither surrender nor neglect these great doctrines of the faith, doctrines we share in common with conservative Christendom as a whole. We cannot let our students and graduates assume that as long as they can faithfully teach “the plan of salvation,” that is all the doctrine we need.
Second, we must also emphasize the distinctives, including baptism for salvation, the weekly Lord’s Supper, and elders as congregational leaders.
I believe that the greatest challenge we presently face is maintaining and emphasizing these Restoration distinctives. There are tremendous pressures to “go easy” on them. Such pressures are arising in our brotherhood as a whole, as the spirit of tolerance is gradually replacing the commitment to sound doctrine, often in the interest of “church growth.”
But sadly, such pressures can be seen in our school itself, as the desire for institutional growth leads us to reach out more and more to non-Restoration groups for recruitment and other purposes. This is good when done for the right reasons (and I am glad we are doing it), but it can be disastrous if it causes us to hesitate to emphasize our Restoration distinctives so as not to offend these prospects and students. I have seen this hesitancy on two occasions, when I spoke on the Biblical doctrine of baptism at two of our sister Bible colleges [then named San Jose and Minnesota]. Some of the faculty and staff at each school were very upset because my strong stand on baptism may have offended their denominational students.
My concern is that we will never put our doctrinal distinctives in a closet here at CBS. This is one of the doctrinal pillars on which our school was founded, and our school will stay strong only as long as we continue to give these distinctives a strong emphasis.
We are not starting a new institution here at CBS. We are building on a foundation already laid. It is my prayer that we will continue to be true to that original foundation.