Where Do We Go From Here?

Over the past quarter I have had so much fun teaching what I have entitled The Restoration Revisited.  I have also learned a great deal from the scholarship and ministry, not only from the great men and women pioneer restoration leaders, but from the scholarship of many today. Below is the final lesson in this series.  

 

From the very inception of restoration ideals in America at the turn of the nineteenth century, the pioneer leaders of this movement struggled to establish an identity as “Christians only”. In many ways, over many years, this struggle has never completely vanished. As we move deeper into the 21st century and face the theological and cultural challenges of our day- it remains a struggle. As a result, the question of “where do we go from here?” is being widely asked.

What We Face  

As with every generation within the Restoration Movement there are “issues” among the Churches of Christ that contribute to an “identity crisis”. At the core of these issues today is a shift among many in the basic approach to Bible understanding. This “new hermeneutic” has lead many congregations within the Churches of Christ to broaden their outlook on such issues as instrumental music, women’s role in public assemblies, when communion is offered, worship styles, evangelism, fellowship, baptism and who is viewed as a Christian.

 

While this diversity exists, the majority of the mainstream Churches of Christ have not- at least in practice- embraced many of these ideas and many within the Churches of Christ continue to oppose such as “innovations” of man. 

 

This illustrates what is at the heart of the identity struggle- and of our future direction. If the old traditional moorings are to be replaced, what will replace them? Who will we become? Is anything about our traditional restoration plea still valid? Where do we go from here?

Non-Growth 

To place even more weight on the current crisis is the fact that overall, Churches of Christ are not growing. Since 1980 the Churches of Christ have recorded a growth rate of 1.6 percent while the population around us has grown at a rate of 32.2 percent. (According to the most recent Christian Chronicle)

 

Some point to this non-growth as a reason to change and embrace new thoughts and vision. They claim the traditional approaches of the Churches of Christ are no longer relevant. Others, point to the changes as the reason for the plateau. They claim the non-growth is just a result of leaving the “old paths”.

 

Putting the different viewpoints aside, it is clear, that neither the more traditional nor more progressive among us is effectively evangelizing. “Where do we go from here?” may end up a moot point! Unless we share our faith we may end up nowhere.

Church and Culture 

Where we do end up will always- to some extent- be dependent upon the culture around us and how we respond to it. Since the church was birthed (Acts 2) within the Jewish community, her practices and worship has always reflected culture. Much of the struggle for identity has always revolved around cultural shifts (Just consider the continual Jew-Gentile debate in the New Testament church). The Churches of Christ in
America were born out of 19th century, modern culture and this influence even remains with us today.

 

But we no longer live in that culture and to connect and grow, the Churches of Christ must- to some degree- adapt to post-modern 21stcentury culture. This does mean change. Change in approaches to relationships, change in methods of evangelism, change in the language we use to communicate our faith, and yes, change even in how we do church. While the very thought of this is anathama to many, it is happening and it must happen. (The fact is it always has happened)  The great responsibility and challenge of current leaders within the Restoration Movement and in local churches is to navigate these winds of change and still remain faithful to the core truth of Christ, his death, burial and resurrection, while still offering to culture in a refreshing, relevant way the basic message of “Christians only” that has always been the hallmark of the restoration.

 

Changes are inevitable and the ability to embrace positive changes in order to connect to culture and further our opportunities to share the message of Christ will shape where we go from here. As always our future is about leadership, vision, and most of all, faith. By entrusting our future to God and walking by faith- not by sight, we can be assured we will go where he wants us.

One Last Voice from the Past 

In the meantime, how do we handle our differences on our direction? Will we continue with the “fighting style” and continue to reap the counterproductive results? Or will we learn to accept each other even in our differences and support one another on our continuing restoration journey?

 

Remember that we are not the first within our restoration heritage to face these questions. Back at the turn of the twentieth century when division was immanent, sides had been taken and hostilities were evident- one man stood out as a voice for acceptance and unity in spite of differences. In the current climate of the restoration and the Churches of Christ, the words of this wise man, T.B. Larimore, should be a beacon to guide us.

 

“I am for Christ,” he said, “and I believe I can do more for him, his cause and humanity without meddling with these ‘matters’; hence I let them alone, and just simply ‘preach the Word,’ ‘the gospel of Christ’, the power of God unto salvation.” Larimore refused to make the issues of his day a matter of fellowship. He stated, “Shall I now renounce and disfellowship all of those who do not understand these things exactly as I understand them? They may refuse to recognize or fellowship or affiliate with me; but I will never refuse to recognize or fellowship or affiliate with them- NEVER.” He confessed, “I am as apt to be wrong as my brother for neither of us is infallible.” And for this reason he concluded, “I must love my brethren, and never refuse to fellowship them- ANY OF THEM- simply because we do not always understand all questions exactly alike.”

 

This remains the exact attitude we need to have with us wherever God is taking us next. Any other way will only continue to divide and devour us. Any other way is truly not reflective of the spirit of our beginnings in the American restoration. Any other way does not reflect the “one another” principles found in Scripture.

Where do we go from here? God knows, and if we trust him, it will be an exciting, fulfilling and wonderful journey. As always he will provide  our identity as we seek to connect him to our culture as “Christians only.”

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8 Responses to Where Do We Go From Here?

  1. I will have to come back and read your lesson later, but glad to find your new place.

  2. Danny says:

    Glad you found me Tommy. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Donna says:

    Maybe dropping the name by appropriate….

    Great post Danny.

  4. benoverby says:

    Danny,

    Thanks for that! I’ve missed your perspective and the clarity with which you express it. You touched on some of the central challenges we face and pray that we are able to go on from here. I look forward to more and am glad you switched to wordpress.

    Ben

  5. Danny sounds like a good and profitable class you did at Gateway. I am convinced we need more of such classes. We have numerous questions to ask of ourselves and a look to the past can help both provoke those questions and frame answers.

    On a different note I am glad to see you up and running on your new blog. Looks good.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  6. Steve Lavin says:

    Danny,

    I attended a church leadership conference last fall and one of the breakout sessions that I attended was on growing a church. The speaker had grown a church in a southern state from 2 (he and his wife) to over 3000 in 10 years time. He talked alot about the constant need for adjustment and change in a church experiencing that kind of growth. I asked him how he introduced change to the church so that it would be widely accepted.

    His first response was, “I never use the word change!” He said I always introduce a change as “trying something new.” He said the church even jokes now about the minister “trying something new.” The second thing he said is that he never introduces trying something new alone. He always launches it at the same time he will introduce a huge new ministry initiative. He said, the church never leaves the assembly wondering where this change will lead. Instead they leave the assembly excited about the new ministry.

    I took away a couple of things from that session. One, people generally don’t like change – it is too permanent and holds too many unknowns that people must sort thru. We have to marry change and divorce isn’t an option. Most people are not looking for a scary long-term committment that they don’t fully understand. But trying something new is perceived as temporary – like dating. We can date a while and if it doesn’t work out we can go back to what is comfortable – no harm, no foul.

    The second thing I took away was the proper perspective I believe this approach gives the church. Ministry should consume much more of our thoughts, resources and energies than either fighting for or against change.

    When church leadership begins to fully understand, respect and appreciate the emotions associated with asking sheep to change, while recognizing that we need to try something new that will make us relevant to our culture, then perhaps they can begin to shift our concerns from an “identity crisis” to one of a “ministry crisis.”

    Steve

  7. Royce says:

    Excellent post Danny!

    I have been a member of a church of Christ since 2000. In these almost 7 years I have seen the slow but steady growth of the numbers of folks who have learned about and embraced the grace of God. And, the result is that more and more of us and our local congregations are becoming more Chirstlike and more centered on reaching those who are lost.

    The Holy Spirit never initiated a fight between brothers and sisters over any issue. He is what President Bush wanted to be, “A uniter and not a divider”.

    Loyalty to the historical Restoration Movement at the expense of loyalty to God AND His family is sad and wrong. Unfortunately, in the view of some being right is more important than being whole.

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  8. Josh Keele says:

    Genesis 6:8 says “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”

    What was the grace that Noah found? How did it operate? As a magic wand? Did God just *poof* and Noah was saved?

    No, but rather grace (1) warned Noah of the flood (2) gave him the plan for the ark (3) made sure everything necessary to follow the plan for ark was at Noah’s disposal, including the wood, the labor, and the animals (4) enabled him to persevere the taunts of the people of the age, and his time in the ark.

    Now ask yourself, does the grace that *I* preach work like that? Does the grace that *I* preach just dismiss all rule from God and say “do as you please and God will be OK with it” or does it follow this example of grace and have a logic to it?

    I will confess plainly that the grace I preach follows the logical mold of the grace that Noah found!

    God’s grace has (1) he warned us about hell (2) given us the plan of salvation, to believe in Jesus, repent of our sins, confess Jesus before men, and be baptized for the remission of our sins (3) made everything necessary to this plan available to us, the scriptures to make us believe, the law to convict us of sin so we can repent and the knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice so we can choose to repent, the people to whom we must confess, the water necessary for baptism and a person willing to baptize us (4) he has enabled us to persevere, that is to those who have passed 3 already, for he has given them the Holy Spirit.

    But does “grace” as commonly taught in this world fit the mold of the grace revealed to Noah? Certainly not. The “grace” that most people preach says “sin that grace may abound” rather than “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” The grace that most people preach essentially says “don’t build the ark–you’ll damn yourself because that’s a work!” But since grace told Noah to build the ark, doesn’t that make the building of the ark a part of grace? Certainly! And the same in modern times with baptism. But the “grace” that most people preach says “Let us continue in false doctrine” (or at least, “Let us excuse false doctrine”) and “let us continue in sin” and “let us do whatever we please–who is lord over us? Our tongues are our own!!! To teach as we please, to worship as we please. God has revealed nothing that is binding for us to follow! We may follow our every imagination!”

    Let us then ensure that we are truly teaching GOD’S grace, which fits the Noah mold, and not our own made up grace which can save no one. If we are teaching our own made up grace rather than God’s, we will have to answer for it on the Day of Judgment.

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