This article is long. Possibly too long for you to tackle it. I'll tempt you by telling you it has sat in my "drafts" box for at least 9 months now because I've been somewhat fearful of sending it out, which seems silly to me today for some reason. I've read it to some close friends, and in a couple of lectureship classes, and have had multiple requests for copies from some of those in attendance. It is affirming to have it's spirit resonate with a few, and it is refreshing to engage in lively but loving dialogue with those who may feel defensive. I'll remind all readers that I love the Church of Christ, and am living my life as a member of it, loving it with all that I have, and loving the world through it. Just start reading...those who are supposed to read this mess I'm confident won't be able to stop. I'd love your feedback...
I'd like to introduce you to a whole bunch of us who are members of the Church of Christ who live secret lives of discipleship totally separate and apart from our church practices.
We span the ranks of our churches...we are ministers and elders, deacons and "lay members", students and college professors, teenagers and senior citizens.
We live and move and act within Churches of Christ, and hold dear the idea of becoming more like Christ together, to become a church that is, in actuality, 'of Christ'.
We are not interested in change. We are interested in Christ, and whatever we must change in order love Him more truly, we are glad and anxious to do so.
We are immovably committed to the Bible. But only inasmuch as it teaches us about and moves us closer to Christ...and we believe it to be the perfect tool for doing so, a gift from God, the written Word that was preserved to lead us to the Living Word. We suffer from a growing intolerance for people who use the Bible merely to defend and maintain strict adherence to certain sets of worship practices, beliefs, or political positions. And most of us are long past satisfying our spiritual zeal by fighting with other attempting Bible-followers about who is right.
We are trying to find out how to pray, and our longing for prayer is intensifying. We are not motivated by duty, nor merely to "lay our requests before God". We pray because we long for actual God-contact. And in this area, in most of our churches, we feel impossibly alone and mentorless, and oftentimes even looked at as crazy or overly-emotional. We are looking to ancient monastics and mystics and their practices, and also to other denominations, to satisfy our need to be taught...we are not creative, we are desperate.
We are bright and honest and dedicated, but only some of us are educated. And those of us who are rarely point it out, and more often hide from talking about it. That's because we put very little stock in the educated merely because they are educated. We have met people who are much more devoted to the Divine Master than some who have a Masters of Divinity, and have found them more useful in our own becoming more like Christ. We are not anti-intellectual, mind you. We love smart people. But we have the innate ability to spot unspiritual smart people, and we would define them as those who run after smarts rather than Christ, and mistakenly confuse the two. We want and need smart, educated people. But educated people who expose a lack of self-awareness and humility by expecting deference from others because they know so much, we just leave them to their ivory kingdoms and sorrowfully attempt to pursue Christ's without them.
We are indignant sometimes, and defensive and rude on occasion, and every now and then, we are angry. For the younger among us, it's because we feel like we're being bargained with...asked to 'please stay in a movement that doesn't work' in exchange for job security, or hero status, or at the very least, tons and tons of gratitude and affirmation...and we sense that the strings attached are too costly. For those of us who are old enough, it stems from feeling duped in our younger years, agreeing with things that sapped us, our friends, our parents, our children, and those we tried to evangelize of the very life we said submission to our system offered. Some of us are the ones that faithfully did everything our churches asked of us, and if it asked for more we would've done that, but we ended up not looking like Jesus. Maybe it is too much to ask, but we must: Forgive us our inappropriate, un-Christlike reactions to our wounds...we don't mean to claim perfection of any sort, we only abhor those who seem to claim it themselves. And we are scared to death of becoming like that...and are angry at ourselves for ever being like that.
If you watch us closely, you'll see that we have stopped complaining about the Church of Christ that we see (for the most part), and have turned our energies to becoming the Church of Christ that we dream of. When we are at our best, we are ushering in a new world, not just yelling at the old one. We are envisioning a new society in the wake of the old, not one that puts a period on the end of the sentence and starts a brand new unrelated one, but puts a "dot, dot, dot", pausing long enough to look around at all of us, and wake up that it is already new, if we would just engage each other and the world we live in with true spiritual friendship.
That term, 'true spiritual friendship' really means something to us. It involves confession, transparency, and vulnerability. It involves mutual introspection for the purpose of personal and each others transformation. The word 'and' really means something to us, too. We distrust those who only want to transform us or others who lack the capacity to show that they too are in need of continued transformation. And mere intellectual agreement with the idea that "we all sin and fall short of the glory of God" doesn't show us anymore. We need to hear confession.
We give extravagantly to and through the Churches of Christ we attend, hoping desperately to play a role in redeeming them and ourselves. We figure that if the mission of Christ is to people, then bringing Christ to the Church of Christ people is as good a target as any. We constantly flirt with taking a few like-minded people and planting new churches, but keep faithful to our Churches of Christ either out of fear of new things, family love and loyalty, or a deep sense of calling, or all three.
We give much of our money to our Churches and to others in our life in attempts to not be bound by it, but by Christ alone. But when we get to give sacrificially, it acts almost as a drug, giving us a temporary high, proving to ourselves that are motives go beyond our own comfort. We hear Christ telling us that we can't be his disciples unless we give up all that we have, and we believe him, and want to do it, and respect anyone who does. We are tired of being richer than everyone else in the world, but are scared to do anything about it, because we think our churches will look at us as unrealistic, unwise, and bad stewards.
We give much of our time and energy, too. But we don't always give it to the church programs, because we see that as tending to the aquarium, which we agree needs to take place, but we long for our efforts to make a God-honest, actual, life-giving impact on those outside the church walls with no strings attached. We are honestly clueless as to how to do this, but we have our ideas and are trying and wish our churches would give us a legitimate seat at the table as we learn as a whole group...and even if our churches are clueless too, we wish we were all being clueless together out in the open, determined to keep trying stuff until it works.
We're taking full and total responsibility for our children, completely done with expecting from or blaming the church institution for their spiritual outcomes. We welcome anything it does to help, but we are picking and choosing and investing in relationships with the people that we want influencing our kids, and outright asking them to do so, thinking of anything positive that comes out of our churches children's and youth programs as only being supplemental, and hopefully useful. We are watching closely, however, for any residual teaching that resembles anything legalistic whatsoever and are preparing to help our kids unlearn it, explaining our love for the church that taught it, showing openly where that teaching comes from, but correcting them as to what discipleship really looks like. If a Church of Christ wants to run us off quickly, which it may want to do because our convictions can be hard to deal with, or hard to argue against, then all it must do is start teaching our kids to be legalistic rule followers instead of passionate Christ followers. We'll leave. We are already worried enough about what we are doing to them by trying to teach them discipleship at home while their church is trying to teach them why we don't have instruments in worship.
Our commitment to Churches of Christ remains as long as we can be totally honest (as opposed to being totally right) among them.
Indeed, we have much in common with the Churches we exist within, and yet co-exist with dramatic differences. We are both committed to the Bible, but our approaches to finding its riches stand at odds. We are both committed to the truth, but our definition of truth stands at odds. We are both in love with the church, but our view of who make it up and what it exists for are at odds. We both want to live in the Kingdom of Heaven, but our views of what that means and when that is to take place are at odds. We both want to see ourselves as primarily spiritual, but our comfort with embracing mystery are at odds. We both want to worship God, but our convictions on what the non-negotiables are, are at odds. We wonder if we can really co-exist. We wonder if we are going to have to wait for some funerals to expose ourselves and our thoughts openly in the Church of Christ. We wonder, sometimes, if we can really co-exist at all, feeling sometimes like we are tolerated by our churches only because we walk on eggshells concerning how we talk about what is going on inside of us.
But we sense there is one means of hope that exalts what we have in common, and minimizes where we are different. A focus that allows us both, different as we are, to continue becoming Christians in a way that does not condemn our historical Church of Christ roots, nor restrain or condemn those of us who want to grow beyond it's limiting beliefs. The means of hope is for all of us to focus seriously on following Jesus.
The Bible's overarching call is to follow God. Jesus' overarching call is to discipleship. Our hope is in our mutual agreement to pursue the Restoration of Discipleship. Once again, and all over again, and in a brand new way...following Jesus can be our salvation.
What is our secret life made up of? The pursuit of becoming more and more like Christ in our hearts. We are striving to be prayerfully dependent, like him. We are striving to live lives of uncompromising integrity, like him. We are striving to define our lives by loving relationships, like him. We are trying to live daily lives of true and spiritual worship, like him. We are trying to become sacrificial stewards of everything we have and are, like him. We are trying to become what Scripture says we are, like him. And we are wanting to share this life-giving pursuit with every human being on the planet who doesn't know about Jesus, like him.
We will baptize our children with water, fully immersing them in it as one of the many Biblical steps of coming into the life of Christ, but we will not have an obsessive, myopic focus on it ever again. We will no longer claim to believe in the "priesthood of all believers" when we actually mean the "priesthood of all male believers". We will not ever again treat other Bible believing, Jesus following fellowships as lost people...and not because we don't disagree with them on certain significant points...but because we have been humbled by our own disagreement with our past selves, and we hope people who died thinking like we used to were saved by grace, too. We will not write whole books explaining away the Greek word "psallos" to convince everyone instrumental music in unscriptural, we will not write articles and preach sermons focused on the churches down the street and what they are doing wrong, we will not draw lines of fellowship based on whether we should have Bible classes, kitchens, basketball goals, or multiple communion cups. The mere mention of such feuds embarrasses the fool out of us, and we swallow hard and remember our love when we have to be associated with those related to us who have or are.
We wonder if we'll get to stay in the Church of Christ. Our intolerance for our own personal past and our churches intolerance of us may foil what we feel inclined and called to do, but day by day we pursue Christ sincerely, with all of our hearts. The good news is that it doesn't take much to encourage us. Any step towards Jesus by any person at all fuels us to take our next one and we are anxious to use both as evidence that we are in the right place.
We want the Church of Christ to be a church that is actually "of Christ".