Friday, July 27, 2007

What is Happening to Churches of Christ

I am a preacher in a Church of Christ.
As such, I am a small player in the middle of a very special story. It is a story that began long, long before I arrived on this planet and will continue long after I am gone. While I am not talking about the blockbuster-mega-hit, the "story of God" unfolding, I am talking about a minor scene in that story that is often called the Restoration Movement.
After Christ's death, burial, resurrection and ascension, his followers went about spreading the good news of his life, mission, heart, and work all over the known world, which caused a variety of reactions within societies, nations, religions, and individuals. The greatest reaction was the wholesale belief in this Jesus Christ, and those that did so decided to follow him (that is, his teachings, his heart, his mission). When they did, their lives would obviously change and they would speak of all kinds of internal revolution...peace, passion, joy (even in the midst of suffering), compassion, self-responsibility, freedom, forgiveness (received and given), gratitude, and more. The word that was thrown around to describe it was often the Greek word "Zoë", that is "life".
These people who followed Christ considered themselves related ("the church" being one of their titles), not by family blood, but by the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed when he was martyred because his steadfast love for people flew in the face of the human governments, religious traditions and lifeless legalisms that were being followed at the time. The love and freedom of Jesus, if followed by humanity, would take the power away from men leading those groups, and they were very used to the perks of power and the emotional securities that came from attaching their eternal salvation to their rule following.
Anyway, the cliff notes are: the church repeated history by getting increasingly organized and institutionalized, and then packed with human leaders who (again?!) got used to the perks of power and emotional securities that came from attaching their eternal salvation to this new "Christian" rule following. Ever since, there has been a struggle among Jesus followers to figure out the "true way" of Christ. The universal (catholic means universal) church has always had it's true-hearted lovers of God and it's control-freaks with in, with representatives of every degree in between. But "The Great Reformation" is the term used to describe the public and dramatic battles between and among people who were, and I use this term loosely, "in the church". There was already a philosophical split between the East and West among the ancient Christians (Catholic in the West and Orthodox in the East), but within the Western Catholic church, a more stark and even more violent split occurred between the Catholic church and those protesting the Catholic church (called "protestants"). I will scoot quickly on to this very day by merely saying that the large group of protestors has divided and divided in the (mostly) honest pursuit of Christ's "true way" and there are now an astronomical number of "Protestant" movements and groups of churches.
The Restoration Movement was and is one of those groups. It's movements champions had little desire to be seen as the movement's "leaders" really (I'm being gracious here, they were, after all, men). Their truest heart was sincerely that Christ be its leader. It seemed to them that every division of Protestants had their individual statements of belief (or "creeds"), and desiring to unify all believers, they proposed that we use the Bible alone as our "creed". A beautiful and romantic idea that would hopefully lead to unity, agreement, and the fellowship of all believers.
While they (and I can start saying "we" now) never wrote down an individual creed, and we all had deep agreement to use the Bible as our source for discovering God's truth, we still found ourselves dividing over how to INTERPRET the Bible. Who knew that so many men, all seeing eye to eye on using the Bible, could have so many differing opinions and interpretations based on how they didn't see eye to eye on how to approach the Bible and plumb it's riches? This has resulted, tragically, in countless divisions among those of us who are in The Restoration Movement. It's over-simplifying, but generally speaking, there are three groups (Disciples of Christ, Christian Churches, & Churches of Christ) in the Restoration Movement, at least in America, and...
I am preacher in a Church of Christ.
I said all of that because I just read the very humble but observant writing of a man named Joe Beam entitled "What is Happening to Churches of Christ." I found myself so "explained" in his birds-eye-view snapshot that I am compelled to share it with you, my friends, in hopes of 1) being more understood, and 2) helping you explain yourself. Here's the link, if you are interested:
And if you are interested in that, you may be interested in posting your answer to this question (that will make sense to you only if you read Joe's thoughts):
What group (zealots, satisfied, searching, cautious, open, exasperated) are you in?
One final note: For those of you, my friends, who haven't the slightest idea about what Joe and I are speaking of, don't bother learning about our church history...only learn about Christ...his heart, his mission, his priorities, his character...his life. That's what we are trying to do.


Charles said...

Brian, thank you for the many "on-target" items which you share with us. I am 71 years of age, grew up in the Church of Christ, and now find myself in the "open" to "exasperated" area. I am currently attending a fairly large Church of Christ, which has an innovative worship service, but appears to not be sold out on focusing on Jesus and the need for spiritual transformation in each of us. I am quite unsettled to say the least on what God's will for me is at this point in my spiritual journey. For the moment, I do not feel led to make a move else where, but am trying to be patient and wait for His leading. Bless you my young brother for your love of our Lord and His people. Peace and grace.

mmlace said...

Hmmm...I was raised in a (for the most part, traditional) CoC...most of my extended family attends a traditional church, as do most of my friends from college. However, through the years, I've seen my mindset of my parents change, and I believe I've learned from that. When I was about 13, we moved from what I would call a traditional church to one that was more "searching/cautious."

Now I attend a rather large CoC...and I'm not quite sure how to classify it...perhaps cautious...but, seems to be, right now, in the very process of becoming more innovative.

I, personally, would say I most definitely fall into the "open" category, as I'm pretty accepting of most things. Yet, it also takes alot to make me upset...more than anything I try to be accepting of brothers and sisters, even if they are "satisfied" or even "zealous." So although very open, I would say that I'm nowhere near "exasperated" and ready to leave.

Sorry, that's probably alot more than you needed. What about you and/or your church?

Keith Brenton said...

I'm pretty much all over the map, Brian, depending on what's at issue and what's at stake.

I think I could sometimes (sadly) be described as a left-wing zealot and sometimes and sometimes a right-wing exasperated. I know those don't fit the graph.

If baptism or communion are at issue, I will not yield on their essentiality to the Christian experience. They are not optional.

If instrumental music or women using their gifts in evangelism are at issue, I will not accept that they are damnable defiance of God's will.

Yet I will insist that every person seek out his or her own conviction on all such matters in scripture, rather than taking my word or anyone else's.

In short, I am trying to be as I picture Christ to be.

And, for the most part, coming up very short of the goal.

Anonymous said...

i am a believer in Jesus Messiah.
i do not belong to a denomination.
i was attending a Friend's church for awhile and i am not attending now. the article is very interestng as well as your post. of course, there is no way of knowing how many believers are not taking part in a membership or sponsorship of doctrine. the physical is going away...the spiritual will remain. the spiritual body of Christ will live. i have questioned all these things and lately decided to give it over to God and trust in Him only. i do not understand all of His ways, however, i do understand enough to know who to follow.

Anonymous said...

I'm hovering on the line between OPEN and EXASPERATED, but worshipping in a TRADITIONAL church, held this way by it's leaders much more than it's members.
When discussions arrise about certain subjects, it always amazes me how many of the members are in the "cautious" to "open" catergory.
It saddens me, how much sway an outspoken minority can have.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I felt the weight of the strains of Christianity at a camp I go to every year. The Board is more conservative than their adult children.

In fact, many of the children of the Board members do not even attend CofC, but rather some other church, but they can't wait to get to camp.

Will this be a CofC camp or a Christian camp? It remains to be seen. But if it remains CofC, it will shrivel up and die as there are few CofC's in the North and NONE that are growing in my state.

I love this camp and have been attending it for 25 years and have no intention of stopping. I do not attend a CofC. I taught a Bible class this summer. I got to teach because of my camp history, not my church attendance. One day, there is going to be conflict unless a peaceful transition can be made form CofC camp to Christian camp.

Springfield said...

I wonder just how Christ and the Father respond as they review our "religious lines in the sand"? I am blessed to be in an assembly that represents all of the middle (with some adventure to the new ideas) and they have committed themselves to deal graciously with one another. Our goal is for no one to be satisfied; assuming they have arrived as long as they are on this side of eternal.

Pate The Great's Papa said...

I am Openly Cautious, or is it Cautiously Open... In any event, it can be very Exasperating... So I think I'll keep Searching until I'm Satisfied... It's a pursuit that at times generates a great amount of Zeal in me... I anticipate that on those days, some might think that my zeal is overbearing and misplaced...

But seriously, I think for me it varies from petty topic to petty topic... I think in general I'm exasperated... but it's more often with myself and not so much with the church... though, I can and do put on that critical "hat" and go to town...

Is one of these supposed to be more "Healthy" than the others?

I think if you look at Jesus’ disciples you could have found all of these categories of people represented... And, they all needed the Great Physician... I fear that sounds all together dismissive of the subject matter; I don't intend it to be...

Much Love,

preacherman said...

I believe what is happening to the Churches of Christ is a good thing. I pray that the Churches of Christ will become less I focused and more God focused. I am glad that they are more grace oriented and offer hope those who need Jesus Christ. I am glad that they are balancing law and grace as Jesus did. It is my prayer that in the near future that we will get rid of the terms liberal, progressive, conservative and be Christians only. I pray that will hunger and thirst after rightouesness. You hear the term "Change Angent". Well, Jesus Christ was the first, "Change Agent. He turned changed the world, turning it upside down. I hope in the future we will know God, understanding that Christianity is about having a relationship with God and know that there is a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. I am glad that we meeting physical needs of the poor, widows, and orphans. I am glad that we are supporting missonaries overseas and in the U.S. I am glad that we are worshiping God with all of our hearts instead of letting our worship becomming stagnant and meaningless. Simply going through the motions of a pattern that can be expected. I hope that we can focus on the form of the 1st century: one God, one hope, one faith, one baptism. Love being the center of our lives and motivation of the things that we do as Christians. Shephards loving and taking care of the flock instead of lording over it and abusing it. I see what is happen to the Church of Christ as a wonderful thing. I pray that God will continue to bless the Church.

Royce Ogle said...

I read Beam's article carefully and think he is right on target.

I am not sure what label to put on me or my church. I do know that recently I have had some front line experience with the "Zealots" and can honestly use the word "ruthless" to describe them and their tactics employed in an attempt to control others not exactly like them.

I have a theory that once the baby boomers have died off (I am one..) so will most of the more "conservative" congregations.

Grace to you,
Royce Ogle

craig said...

Beam's article has been out there a while, right? Maybe a couple of years? So can we subtract a few years from his estimates?

I have close family sitting on every position. My "Rubel" hatin' side is incredibly compassionate and concerned for the truly lost. I avoid Rubel conversations usually, but can't sometimes. Yet he still loves me like crazy. I wish others with this view could be so compassionate. And every year he seems to be more tender. And then it's fun to talk with my Open family members. Always excited about new ideas and sharing ways they are touching lives, often in those who never new Christ's love. They give me courage and energy. Then there's my satisfied brother. He's tougher to talk with than my zealous family cause his views are so unbudging. Never seems like there's room for the "I'm not totally sure". And then there's my "exasperated" sister, though I'd never considered her exasperated except in her definite stand to go and do what was good for the searching not-yet-believing folks.
She won't argue with the zealots, nor back down, nor leave. But me? Probably Open and on the inclusive side. I'm actually drawn more by Exasperated's than the Cautious. And I'm looking at ways all the time to serve the poor and hurting (and influence by reporting and inviting others to come who want this too) so that my life may speak even to the greatest skeptic of God's love.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thank you for this post, Brian.

I grew up among the Churches of Christ and also work among them today. In response to your question, I think that much of my answer would sound something like Keith B's (alas, without his flair).

On a related note, I understand the desire to simply identify, in a descriptive way, what is "happening." And I think that Beam's analysis is mostly on-target.

What I come back to is this: if the group being described is the group where I grew up, where I belong, where I worship and work, where (God, help me) I agree to lead, then honesty will finally compel me to not only observe what is happening, but to ask, "And what am I doing?"; that is, to take responsibility for the ugly sin of disunity in what is already a splinter group.

Amy said...

Through the years I've worshiped in both traditional and innovative churches of Christ. During that time I have traversed a path from Satisfied, through Searching and Cautious, to Open.

I am thankful to currently worship with an innovative church that has been innovative long enough that the innovations are no longer the focus. The Satisfieds and the Exasperateds left about 10 years ago and now we are seeking to glorify Christ as we follow where he leads. I'm sure that some people still complain when their comfort zones are challenged, but our leadership is willing to lead with wisdom while not allowing the "vocal minority" to hold the rest of the church hostage.

Honestly, these conflicts are not something that influences me much. While I personally have acquaintances in most of these categories, I rarely spend time with those who are significantly more exclusive. I'm not sure if that is intentional on their part or if our friendship has just drifted through the years.
With those that I do spend time, we have enough love and respect for each other that we don't criticize each other's worship preferences.

No matter where people feel most comfortable worshiping, I long for the day when the churches of Christ can be known for seeking Christ rather than known for their criticism of fellow Christ-seekers.

Todd said...

Thanks for continuing a voice that must be heard. Not because change is needed for change's sake, but because the world needs Christ! I attend church in the deep south, was raised in traditional coc but am making faith my own and have an allegiance to God rather than a denomination. However, this is not the consensus and I hesitate to have such discussions with my parents due to the fact that they might have a heart attack. But our church is currently being held hostage by the vocal minority. I love them and want to remain a part of this family but how do I become an agent of change without becoming an agent of division?

Resilient Hawk said...

Salvation is a hard thing to explain, as its essentials are few but extraordinary. With grace comes responsibility. With disobedience there is grave sin, but there is no loss of God's eternity.

I came to know Christ as my savior during a Roman Catholic Mass, on Maunday Thursday in 1983. Having grown up Catholic, I certainly heard, and knew the Gospel, but it was not until the reanctment of the Passion that I realized, without Jesus' death and resurrection, I not only sinned, but deserved death. By grace, not of works I am with Him today, and will be with Him when my body gives out.

I was baptized once for my parent's sake, and once in obedience to Christ, and neither time for salvation. I was saved, as it were, three year's prior.

Which group am I in? If I say I am part of a movement, am I not also then saying I am divided from those who are not? I don't mean divided from the Body of Christ, as I believe Roman's 10:9-10 is pretty clear about the basics. I mean any denomination (something that has a value sustem and a name), whether a 'movement', 'independent church', something with several churches, or an international collective of similarly organized and centralized leadership.

Must I be anything?

Whether among the zealots, satisfied, searching, cautious, open, exasperated, what will I learn that is missing from my walk with Christ? I am an INTJ (or ENTJ) as per the Myers-Briggs, but knowing the letters only reflected how the testers chose to group me. Must I be a spiritual demographic? Is not it enough to have my name written in the Book of Life? That's a worthy group, as your blog indicates you are in - in this, we are brothers.

As an American, I am in tune with my individual perspective on faith, but, really, I am not an American. My citizenship is in Heaven, and, with those carrying in their soul God's passport, I am in community, and, in certain contexts, I am in submission to some of that community. That may be the elders or pastors of my church, if matters covered by Scripture are involved (sinning against my brother and so forth).

The multi-edged sword of three phrases you used:

"I am a preacher in a Church of Christ."

"there are three groups (Disciples of Christ, Christian Churches, & Churches of Christ) in the Restoration Movement"

"For those of you, my friends, who haven't the slightest idea about what Joe and I are speaking of, don't bother learning about our church history"

That says to me that there are four tiers involved: the greater Body of Jesus Christ, an idealogy specifically separating Restoration Movement, your denomination, and your specific church. So long as the top tier is true, the rest are less important.

May we both be, as you say, "true-hearted lovers of God..." Sounds like the greatest commandment, at least in part.

Anonymous said...

I, too, was raised in a traditional Church of Christ and grew up thinking their tradition was the word of God. The church was secure in its postiion, but I was exasperated with the inconsistency that seemed apparrent only to me.

Recently, I moved to an innovative church and felt that at last I had found a wonderful home. I was satisfied.. Now this kind, non-judgemental church has bowed to the critism of a few elderly members thus our elders are feuding, our preacher is leaving and I'm back to exasperated!!