My Thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Churches of Christ”

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I’ve had a blog post show up several times on my FB Newsfeed so I checked it out.  It was a post called, “An Open Letter to the Churches of Christ.”  You can read it here.

I don’t know the author, seems like a pretty nice guy, so before I get into this, i need to make something CRYSTAL:  I am not attacking this brother.  I really liked the article. I strongly agree and say, “Amen” to three of the 5 points he offers as a solution to get the churches of Christ moving forward again.

However, I couldn’t help but notice in 2 of the points some things that I felt I should reflect on.

The first point’s sub heading I agree with:  Stop Being Afraid

Amen!  But without detail the author goes into a vague statement that a lot of the “brotherhood publications” use, like “compromise your principles” or “strange fire” or *insert Church of Christ cliché here.”

So what does the author mean?  Well, I cannot know, I’m not him.  But the next paragraph gives a bit of an indicator.  The author writes:

“Congregation after congregation is adding instruments to their worship service. Why? Do they think God is more pleased with the sound of a machine than the sound of singing saints? No. They do it because they’re afraid. They’re afraid they can’t reach people without the instrument. They’re afraid young people will leave if they don’t add the instrument. Stop making decisions out of fear.”

While I won’t go into a debate on instrumental music, as I believe in and love A Capella worship, I must say that we too often try to simplify our woes and failures behind this one issue.  I think the horse’s name is Lazarus because we’ve beaten, resurrected, beaten, resurrected, and beaten this dead horse ad naseum.  I’ve heard all to many times, “That church is liberal because of (fill in blank). What’s next?  Instrumental Music?”

I understand the concern, I do, and I’m not trying to minimize it. But to simplistically blame our fear as a body on compromising to instrumental music?  I think that’s a tad bit of an overstatement and a stretch. Maybe the bigger thing we should remember about Stop Being Afraid! is this:

We hide behind our comforts and our traditions.  We beat and bully those who don’t share in the same points of view. We ostracize and push away anyone who questions the system. Why?  Because the author of this blog is right…We ARE AFRAID!  We’re so entrenched in our heritage, in our brand loyalty that we’ve gone into self-preservation mode.  When one enters self-preservation mode than one becomes inward-focused and we lose the urgency of the Great Commission.

Perhaps we would do better to evaluate our own traditions and things within our own movement before criticizing, condemning, and camel-swallowing others and theirs.  Remember the Lord said this,

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” 9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[c]your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[d] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[e] 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:5-13, NIV)

We need to evaluate what we hide behind and stop blaming the ancient horse of instrumental music.  That’s always the extreme we jump to, isn’t it?  Well, let’s look at some of our own practices in light of this.

Where did we get our “order of worship” from?  I mean, did Jesus hand down a bulletin from Home Office and say, “Opening/Announcements, Song, Prayer, Song, Lord’s Supper, Song, Sermon, Closing Pray, Golden Coral?”  I think not, but in so many of our churches if you deviate from the plan…you probably like instrumental music.

Again, I’m just trying to gain some clarity and perspective here.

I worked as a Campus Minister for 5 1/2 years…and the reason Young Adults were running out the back door wasn’t the lack of instruments.  It was the lack of flexibility and spontaneity in the service.  It was the same predictable prayers by the same men wearing the same suits who said the same things in King James English and the lack of explanation as to why we had to do it that way. It was the lack of compassion and caring.  It was the superficial relationships and pretend “I’m praying for yous.”  It was the refusal to present the timeless message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a relevant way, using current language and illustrations, and a complete lack of authenticity.

I digress.

The other point I wanted to reflect on is this one: 4. Stop Thinking Like a Denomination

Good thoughts. Amen!  I agree…so what does that mean?  I mean Churches of Christ pride ourselves in being the only truly non-denominational community.  In fact, we’ve created a word for it: “Undenominational.”  I think that’s great! It’s one of the millions of reasons I’m proud to be a member of the churches of Christ. But let’s look at this a bit more closely.

Sure, we don’t have a Denominational Headquarters or a sitting High Council, or even a Synod…but we have Nashville.  It’s the church of Christ Vatican…totally kidding, but really.  We have Magazines like “The Gospel Advocate” or “Firm Foundation” or “Spiritual Sword” that have dictated the ebb and flow of the entire American Restoration movement (probably to the chagrin of the men God used to start it in the first place.” If you get on their “black lists” you’ll never find peace again! They have bred a kind of Christianity that panders to their tastes and is for the most part, grossly out of touch with 2013 and is propagating a Christianity from 1869. IF you want to see what we’re currently arguing about check out one of these magazines…because they always print a variation of the same things.

What’s that sound like?  A denomination, perhaps?  I do like the author’s sentiments on what I’ll call “Brand Loyalty.” He writes, “And there may be churches that do not use the phrase “church of Christ” on their sign, but they are most definitely “of Christ.” Amen!  The problem so many of our congregations have is this:  we are so worried about what the other church of Christ is doing wrong that we focus on them.  I worked in large city with 50 churches of Christ…and only 3 of them EVER worked together.  The rest black-balled, condemned, and gossiped each other and then wonder why they aren’t growing but dying.

Our movement was God’s movement on the Frontier in the 1830’s and He used men from so many streams of Christendom to bring together the American Restoration Movement. There were Presbyterians, Republican Methodists, Baptists, etc.  They all came together under the banner of Christ to unify all the disunity of the church in the newly formed USA and man did God use them to do some incredible things!  But somewhere after the civil war…we lost our way and became nothing more than another denomination focused solely on brand-loyalty and devotion to “Our cause,” which was all of a sudden shifting from unifying all Christians under Christ alone to be “Christians only” to “believe our way or you’re going to hell.”  Parts of us are still stuck in this rut today.

It’s funny how we tout Campbell’s quote, “Christians only,” but leave off the other half, “but not the only Christians.”

Unfortunately, perhaps its time we admit the giant, stinky, polka-dotted purple elephant in the room…we’ve pretty much created a denomination.

But I want to stand with this brother and emphasize my absolute agreement with his last statement:  The Future is Bright!

God is still doing amazing things in our brotherhood…and we are growing!  God is moving mountains and transforming hearts daily – and I have the privilege of witnessing that daily!  There is nothing but glory ahead for us…but above all we’ve got to learn that it’s OK to not agree on every trite detail of everything.  Questioning is totally fine.  We will never agree on everything.  But if we agree on Jesus…that’s probably the best starting point I can think of.

Be Blessed.

Scott

2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Churches of Christ”

  1. I wish I could share your positive outlook, but I just can’t. I’ve seen what’s happening, and it’s not pretty.

    As long as Churches of Christ continue to value tradition over mission, treat women as second class citizens, ignore the poor, make “sinners’ feel unwelcome, and fail to understand and engage our culture — they will continue to decline and die. I understand that there are some CofC’s that have moved beyond these things, but they are few and far between. My family and I recently left the Churches of Christ for these, and a few other reasons. I know of many other families that have done the same. It is wonderful to now work and worship with a church that is not afraid to try new things in worship and allows my wife and daughter to do more than teach children’s classes and bring food to potlucks.

    All the Churches of Christ in our area have an average age of 55+ with very few children (some have none at all). The same is true for the vast majority of CofCs in our country. The writing is on the wall for these churches — they need to rethink some things and have the courage to make some major changes, or they will cease to exist. I am not optimistic about this. In many of these churches, there are some influential elders and members who will have to die before any change will be allowed. By the time that happens, it may be too late.

    As someone who was born and raised in the CofC, it is sad to see this happening. But it seems that churches held so tightly to the past (the 1950’s) that they could not adapt to a rapidly changing world. As a result, the people in their community now see them as totally irrelevant. Because they are.

    In one of the last services I attended, there were some college students visiting from the local university. The song leader led songs that were embarrassing. One of them had these lyrics: “I’ll meet you in the morning with a how-do-you-do…” I am not kidding. The only ones who had a leadership (or speaking) role in the worship were men — mostly elderly men. I wasn’t surprised that those college students never came back.

    And this very thing is happening in Churches of Christ all over this country every Sunday. Where will these churches be 20 years from now???

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    1. I’m sorry that you and your family have had to go through this. I know it is very, very tough. As a young minister it has been a challenge to some days no quit…but God has been moving in my heart, and as I’ve traveled and spoken at different places all over this country I do believe change is coming to our body. It didn’t get this way overnight, and it won’t change that way either. I don’t have all the answers, and unfortunately, I have been in too many churches where what you say is actually happening. It breaks my heart.

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