Why Stay?

The Pepperdine Lectures were truly incredible. I was challenged, uplifted and encouraged. The quality of the classes in such a beautiful setting makes this- for me anyway- the best gathering in our brotherhood.

Of course, much was said about our brotherhood in the Churches of Christ. One presenter posed a question that fits quite well into our recent discussions. He asked, “Why Stay?” (in the Church of Christ)

Here is what I hear now when I ask this question:

“It is my church heritage”
“It is were I am most comfortable”
“All my friends are here”
“I like” the preacher, youth ministry, children’s ministry, etc
“This church has a good reputation in town”

Those are honest reasons, but I cannot help but wonder- is that it? Is this what passes for church loyalty today? Don’t misunderstand me. I am not longing for the days when the answer to this questions was “because we are the only ones going to heaven”, but shouldn’t there more to our answers than just preference and/or a sense of pride?

Does there remain any validity in our traditional plea of simple Christianity? Are there any of our teachings that still generates a sense of loyalty? And what does this say about our identity? Are we just another church on the block for consumers to sample or do we have something distinctly special to offer?

I realize I am asking several questions here, but these things have been buzzing through my mind since my return. I do think our traditional identity in the Churches of Christ has been shaken and many are now on a journey to reshape that identity. My prayer is that we all go in God’s direction on this journey.

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15 Responses to Why Stay?

  1. Danny says:

    Seems like forever since I posted. Thanks to all of you who continued to visit. I truly love my fellowship in the Churches of Christ and the fellowship of this blog!

  2. Gary W. Kirkendall says:

    Danny,

    My impression has been that the fellowship of believers known as the “churches of Christ” was born out of a plea to seek truth. The moment we abandon that search we cease to honor our heritage. This is the struggle that continues — do we possess an identity of family heritage and comfortable traditions or do we pursue truth and engage a lost world?

    I have no family history in the Church of Christ, so I am spared the burden of honoring my parent’s faith. I stay, not because I beleive the “Church of Christ” is the vehicle that transports me to heaven, but rather, I stay because I do beleive that my fellowship with Christian brothers and leaders (like you) grant me the opportunity to honestly search and learn.

    It seems to me that the ties of our fellowship historically have been the process of searching, learning, and wooing the lost to come to Christ. But for far too many it has evloved into a requirement of orthodoxy that tolerates no variation, nad an unequivical demand of blind loyality to the religious institution. For me,this is an accurate description of the religious world of Jesus’ day that had no use for him, and the creedal world of denominationalism that had no place for men like Barton W.Stone and others.

    I can only hope, pray, and believe that the Churches of Christ will forever have room for those who chase after God’s will and who will cry out for unity based on the process rather than the institution.

    gk

  3. TCS says:

    Danny,

    Those are truely sad reasons to stay. Not that they are bad, but if there is not more, when real trouble comes that’s not much to lean on.

    This may become too long and I may have to blog about it myself. So I will try to keep it short.

    This discussion is of a denominational nature. The question is why stay in this denomination. I think that that way of thinking is flawed. We need to hold on to the idea of individual congregations (autonomy) because I believe that most postmodern minded folks don’t care about a denomination they care about what you on your spot on this earth are doing.

    Granted there are some commonalities and quirks and behaviors that are common to this heritage as in all heritages but I think its easier to dicuss the CofC in the US than to say are we being the hands and feet of Jesus in our community.

    Sorry if this sounds in any way sharp. It isn’t aimed at you.

  4. Danny says:

    Seeking truth is a noble endeavor Gary and it is my prayer that we still are committed to that. But as you stated we must emerge from a patternistic conformity that deludes and damages this truth quest and destroys our credibility.

    Because- as Tommy pointed out- that does get reduce it to denominationalism.

    Thanks to both of you for sharing your wisdom.

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple says:

    I think we all have to ask searching questions about who “we” are as a people of God.

    I personally believe “we” have something to offer to the rest of the family of God. Likewise I think we have some learning and growing to do as well. If truth is what we seek, and we freely admit that we have not arrived, then either of these truths should not be difficult to admit.

    Danny I do appreciate you coming to my classes and picking up our book, Kingdom Come. Perhaps you can tell us what you think of it. Is JD right that I will make a lot of money off of a book on PM? 🙂

    BTW, I wrote a blog today about my travel experiences to Pepperdine you might be interested in.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine
    http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/

  6. KylerCole says:

    There is an interesting article in the April Christian Chronicle about this topic. I agree with the conclusions of the author in that there needs to be a unity movement and expression of reconciliation between those who have moved to other denominations such as the Christian church, and not such a condemning spirit as there has been in the past. I also agree that Churches of Christ shouldn’t feel compelled to drop the name to try to be more appealing. The church can be appealing, but it has to “want” to be that. I think we have tended to isolate ourselves too much in an effort to remain committed to traditions, comfort levels, and personal preferences instead of keeping the big picture in mind–it’s not about me! I think we can do a better job of reaching out to other denominations. The church I attended when I lived in Houston was and is now still actively engaging in co-ministry operations with Christian churches. We have a similiar mission, so why not pitch in together? I have met many different people of different faiths, in my current situation especially, but just like most of you have in your lives. When it comes down to it, and you can’t be where you want to be (in church with your family and friends), you’ll find that there really are a lot of things in common between people of different faiths, and it alters your perspective on life completely. When I go to church here, I sit at the feet of a Methodist minister. The brother beside me is Baptist, there’s an Eastern Orthodox, “non-denominational” Christian, etc. etc. We all sit together, sings songs of praise (to musical instruments here), encourage and pray for each other, take communion, and we all get along. I think our views of denominations and worship practices are a tool by the enemy to keep us separated, and we spend a great deal of energy fighting ourselves and others over trivial matters. So why stay? If a church itsn’t always caught up on meaningless matters, you won’t have to worry about that question.

  7. Nancy says:

    Hey Danny!

    Glad you had fun in Malibu. I was at a Church of Christ on Sunday (we taught a class!) near Nashville, and they had the people who went to Malibu to stand up and applaud them for their service. (I think some of the worship was led by 4th Avenue CoC in Franklin.) At any rate, I felt absurd applauding people for going to Malibu. The ones who didn’t get to go should’ve gotten foot massages from the ones who went or something.

    Anyway, good questions. I think there is validity in a plea for simple Chrisitanity is always one that resonates.

    However, anyone in the CoC knows that “simplicity” is not the name of the CoC game. Simplicity is reading the Scriptures and believing them to be true.

    You practically have to have a degree from Lispcomb to learn all the complex reasoning behind why the Holy Spirit is simply your conscience, why the Holy Spirit doesn’t work now like He did then (the cessationalist argument), why instruments shouldn’t be used in church even though they’re used throughout the Bible — and apparently in Heaven — to praise, why people are inherently “good” and can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and all the Scriptures to the contrary. The list goes on and on and on.

    And I say this with all respect, in an attempt to get to the heart of the matter. The CoC is not simple. (I frequently have people ask me, “now, WHY did you do that in church?” Or, rather, “Why not?” They’re bewildered at the interpretations.)

    I love the CoC church I grew up in. I love the people, the minister, the congregation. In fact, in my upcoming book, I have a chapter devoted to the sweet CoC in TN who helped teach me about God.

    But the question still persists.

    First, you should be loyal to God.

    Does the CoC do the best in understanding and preaching the truth of God?

    I really wish the answer was yes. It would’ve made things much easier.

  8. Danny says:

    Nancy,

    I hear from you what I have heard in many others whose journey has led them away from the CoC.

    But I also am hearing refreshing sounds within my beloved CoC from folks whose journey is leading them to stay and work to sort through the complexities back to the simple. It is ofen not an easy journey but it is a worthwhile one.

    Bobby, your thoughts are excellent as always. Thanks for your scholarship.

  9. Nancy says:

    Yes, it is worthwhile.

    All the best.
    N

  10. Danny says:

    Always good to hear from you Kyler. You bring a welcomed perspective from someone totally removed in some ways from the normal church sturcture.

    I have also heard missionaries say similar things.

    When we are physically removed from the choices we have at home church begins to look a little different to us.

  11. Larry says:

    The reasons given to remain in the COC seem very superficial, but I have heard some really strange reasons some members stay, so this may be normal…hope not.

    There are just as many, if not more, problems in other “churches,” so we don’t accomplish a whole lot by moving to a new “church.”

    We all know the Church Jesus died for is perfect, but populated with less than perfect humans who often get things tangled-up, warped, and thrown out of kilter. This will always happen, and changing churches will often just reveal a new set of problems.

  12. Stoned-Campbell Disciple says:

    Larry,

    We all have some very “superficial” reasons for even the most important decisions. As proof you should hear some of the reasons given to me as to why some sweet sister wants to marry some guy . . . or remain with him for that matter. The heart has reasons that the head can never quite understand.

    Churches of Christ are not evil incarnate though. I grew up in an incredibly narrow and legalistic and even racist enviroment. But I know that is not the CofC at its best.

    One of my concerns is that some of our brothers and sisters refuse to examine themselves with the same rigor and honesty they demand of “the denominations.” We may need to change. But healthy change will not take place if the adolescent is abandoned.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  13. Ben Overby says:

    Part of the reason I stay is that even though we’ve developed a lot of denominational attitudes and practices, and even though there’s an undeniable sectarian spirit that dominates a large contingency of our tradition, there’s still room for freedom without jeopardizing fellowship with the whole group. At this very moment I’m sitting at my kitchen table waiting for the rain to slack off so that I can get outside to pass out some more flyers inviting my community to a discussion of reality from a Christ-perspective. In all my communication associated with this evangelistic effort (Signposts) there’s not a single word about the “churches of Christ” or any of the issues that the sectarians promote. Yet, I feel fully a part of the churches of Christ (though I’ve been kicked out of as many as I’ve enjoyed fellowship with). Within our body, there’s a growing diversity, and I sense a growing acceptance of the diversity, which says to me that no small number of us are letting go of the political/ego/social identity agendas, and celebrating oneness in Christ. It used to be really important to me to promote the churches of Christ. Now I could care less. I think many of us are just content to promote Christ. When you can turn loose of that drive for a socio-denominational identity, you can stop fighting over the indetifiers (which tend to always be something other than the fundamentals).

    Let me put it this way. In a lot of our congregations, we’ll disagree about a zillion things, but agree to the fundamentals (even getting the fundamentals more or less right). And we don’t have to agree on the zillion issues in order to fellowship. We can debate the issues, and have our preference, but I’m sensing a growing tolerance in those areas where tolerance is essential to keep hold of unity. I see it especially at the Broad Street church where Gary Kirkendall preaches. The people are all over the spectrum, but they genuinely love each other. They’ve experienced the pain of division over the “issues,” and are healing some of those wounds. Maybe part of the cycle toward unity is the experience of division. Maybe, like a lot of other things, our best teacher is our own failures in the hands of the Spirit.

    When every thing shakes out, we might just be a people who stands for something (the gospel of the kingdom), and who tolerate much (differences over the side bars like worship style, when to eat the supper, etc.). I can’t see how that any other denomination actually accepts, at core level, an attitude toward unity with the potential with as much balance as we might very well strike when the smoke clears.

    Maybe I’m too optimistic. For now, I’ll go meet some folks, talk about God, without a denominational agenda to promote, and while enjoying fellowship with more members of the churches of Christ today than five years ago.

    Ben O.
    http://benoverby.podomatic.com/
    http://simplechurch/squarespace.com

  14. Nancy says:

    Great post, Ben O and others.

  15. Danny says:

    What Nancy said Ben! We need your shot of optimism throughout our churches.

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