A Rock Too Big

One true Church: Is it an impossible dream?

By Arthur Barry

ArtySan Publishing, 62 Beam Hill Road, Dryden, NY 13053, USA. 2012.

ISBN 978-0-6155687-7-5, 108 pages paperback, £8.95 (through Amazon)


When a person takes a large portion of his or her time to write a book we can assume that it is a labour of love. When they take a course in self-publishing so they can produce their book and therefore they are prepared to spend their own money ensuring it is printed and its words reach the public, you know it’s more than simply a labour of love, it’s a consuming passion. This book, by our brother Arthur Barry, an ex-pat Englishman now permanently domiciled in New York State, is nothing if not passionate. It’s a tough book. It pulls no punches and he tells it as he sees it, as they say. It is therefore a very black-and-white book with little room for any shades of grey in its analysis. Sometimes the reader might not like this but he certainly  can’t ignore it. And Arthur is not too bothered whether the reader likes what he is being told. He is concerned that truth, biblical truth of course, is both understood and acted upon for the saving of his readers’ souls, if they are currently not following the truth in their spiritual lives.

             Essentially it covers four topics: the Lord’s church and the rôle and purpose of baptism in salvation dominate: evangelism and who can rightly perform baptism are sub themes. So why is this way beyond a labour of love (though it is that, of course) and enters the realm of a consuming passion? Because Arthur is deeply concerned that the Lord’s Church – which he equates entirely with the communion known as ‘The Church of Christ’ – is losing its way and is compromising more and more with popular, modernistic denominationalism, particularly evangelicalism as he sees it. Don’t forget, he is working full-time for an American congregation and is viewing things from the scenario being presented over there, and he’s not liking what he is seeing. By publishing this book he is hoping to help to restore our communion to its complete commitment to the faith and practice of the Christianity we see in the New Testament. There’s an irony in a book written by a member of the Restoration Movement to help members of the Restoration Movement get their thinking straight and re-restore the restored church! But from what I can glean from my contacts with the broader communion in America, he’s got a very valid point. Many young Christians have little or no knowledge of the history of Churches of Christ; we are currently losing numbers at an alarming rate (mind you this is not just our problem – denominations are facing this too) and quite a few of our congregations are apparently losing the plot. I don’t believe that most of the ‘diseases’ which concern Arthur have reached across the Atlantic and infected our shores, maybe because the liberal wing of our communion (the Co-operation of Churches of Christ – the British equivalent of the Disciples of Christ) were subsumed into the URC in 1980 and have effectively disappeared as a result. However, we need to be on our guard over here to ensure we can filter out any such tendencies.

             It is an easy book to read and is very well presented. I read it on one day. I found it difficult to know exactly who is his target audience: members of the church or denominational friends. I had to ask and Arthur told me it was mainly for the former. I wished he had printed most of the material he saved for his ‘Conclusion’ (chapter 13) as an Introduction; it needed an early definition of the ‘True Church’ as he would define it. I would have liked some specific discussion about ‘truth’ and the context in which this concept is being used at many points. Indeed there are quite a few ideas which I felt needed greater definition – but then I also know that Arthur had to prune his text to keep it to a certain number of pages, presumably because of the constraints of production costs.

             This book will raise many questions in your minds. Each chapter has a series of them included to assist constructive thought at the end of the chapter. I think I can guarantee there will be disagreements and challenges over some of the things he says – there’s nothing wrong with being challenged. I could see that using the book as a guide would be helpful in Bible study groups. It certainly would provoke a good deal of discussion for it will give us as the readers a good deal to think about and, if we are getting sloppy with our thinking in these areas, maybe it will pull us up short and help us re-energize our commitment to the tenets of the biblical church.

 Graham Fisher