An Emerging Church of Christ? Part 2

Part One

One side of the coin says:

Churches of Christ are positioned to do well in the emerging culture. We never really jumped on the seeker-service bandwagon so we don’t have to unlearn worship as production rather than participation. Acapella worship invites participation. It is simple and portable. It works with groups of all sizes. It can be ethereal. In a culture plagued with non-stop noise, our worship style offers the ultimate “unplugged” experience.

We are big on baptism and communion. We are able to invite our neighbors into the mysterious world of the sacraments. We immerse them into the life of God and feast with them at the Lord’s Table. Our congregations offer tangible experiences of spiritual realities.

Because our roots are in a “back to the Bible” movement, we are always ready to re-examine the Scriptures. We know from experience that traditions can’t be trusted. The message of the gospel is easily encrusted. So we willingly go back to the headwaters of our faith to look for ways that the good news has been polluted somewhere along the way. It comes as no surprise to us that our modern version of the gospel is just as distorted as the medieval version we moved beyond so many years ago. We are quite comfortable subjecting even the most orthodox of orthodoxies to the scrutiny of a fresh reading of Scripture.

When an incongruity between what Scripture teaches and what we practice is identified, our autonomy allows each congregation to conform itself to the will of the Lord post-haste. We do not have to negotiate the politics of conventions or synods. Under the guidance of Spirit-led Shepherds, every congregation is free to be the kind of church God is calling it to be. This allows each and every congregation to be a Christ-flavored version of itself, free to respond creatively and appropriately to the needs of its surrounding culture.

In a post-denominational culture, where the name on the sign outside the building is less important than it used to be, our message of a simple, Bible-based, non-denominational practice of Christianity ought to resonate with those looking for more than empty religion.

Perhaps we are who we are, where we are, when we are, for just such a time as this?

Read Part Three


  1. Great post!

    I think these aspects of our tradition serve us well, and it’s ironic that some of the so called ’emerging churches’ have been adopting similar practices.

    While there is certainly lots to be critical of in the Stone-Campbell heritage, and espicially our particular family branch, one thing I think we also need to recover (or to use our language ‘restore), is the spirtuality and apocolypic, counter-cultural mind-set of Lipscomb and espicially Stone. While I may take up a small issue with the premillienialism, I don’t think we count our eschatology and the eschatology within our own particular heritage as we face the challenges of displaced Christian culture in the new ‘post-modern’ era. Recovering/restoring the idea of a pilgrim people (resident aliens) on a journey back to God will be diffcult, but I think it could be one of the most important for the coming years — and we don’t even have to look that far back!

    God bless,

  2. It is refreshing to hear the positive side of our “tribe”. I am frustrated and ready for relevance as much as anyone, but I slip into the negative so easily. There is hope for us if we can return to seeking God’s will and putting behind us all of the “rules” we have hung our hat on for the last 45 years! I pray that this will happen. I am not ready to see our demise, but am ready for us to lose our negative reputation in the broader family of God.

  3. Wade, I like your optimism, and we’re going to need it when the puke hits the fan (you can thank Doug Pagit for that one). The ideas you ahve are refreshing, but will be ever confronted. Man, you’ve got guts.

    You are right that we are unburdened by may things that other denominations are burdened with. All of that rings true and It is something to very much appreciate.

    At the same time, some of your statements are things I hope are true and are not just rhetoric. I am speaking about our tribe, not you personally. I get the feel that you live these statements. Statements such as:

    “Because our roots are in a “back to the Bible” movement, we are always ready to re-examine the Scriptures”

    “We are quite comfortable subjecting even the most orthodox of orthodoxies to the scrutiny of a fresh reading of Scripture.”

    Yes, we are a “Back to the Bible” people, but the reason why we keep going back has got to take a 180. Too many of us go back to prove and confirm what we already “know.” Seldom do we head back to the Bible to learn something new. And rarely if ever do we go back to unlearn the wrongs we’ve learned.

    In A New Kind of Christian, Brian McLaren said that we should not merely read the Bible, but to let the Bible read us.

    I’m glued to this series. Keep it coming.

  4. “Because our roots are in a “back to the Bible” movement, we are always ready to re-examine the Scriptures”

    This sentence stood out for me because of any experience I had a few years ago. I was part of a committee at a Christian college and we were discussing issues related to the relationship between the college and the church. In drafting a document, someone suggested we put that we are “committed to a re-examination of the Scriptures.” One member of the committee objected because he did not like the word “re-examine” and instead wanted to use the word “examine.” Maybe I read too much into it, but I thought it was telling. As long as we can “examine” to confirm our prior conclusions, that is okay. However, to “re-examine” meant we might have to change some prior conclusion and that was simply too scary of a thought.

  5. I am an occasional reader, Fajita sent me over to this series. On the first post I was thinking some of the same things that you said so well here.

    As I have read and listened to the conversation regarding the Emergent Church, I have been encouraged. We have in our tribes DNA some remnants of the things valued by this culture. We were once interested in vintage christianity, but we bacame antique collectors instead of makers of authentic reproductions. The furniture we made didn’t get re-made and before long was too precious to throw out.

    I do think that MANY are willing to be Back to the Bible people, but yes Fajita there are too many that want to prove what they “know”.

    I guess I will end with God Bless those who are truely willing to lead.

  6. I feel like this whole post/emerging-whatever has made me more negative than positive. More pessimisitic than optimistic.

    Thanks for a refreshing look into our heritage. I would add the basic belief and practice of nonviolent living from our founders to your comments, especially from Mr. Lipscomb himself.

  7. Just last night my wife and I were anguishing over the future of the CoC, wondering if we needed to abandon a sinking ship or get to work bailing and patching holes. We want our daughters to grow up with a faith that’s bigger and wider than the typical CoC allows. We think that we are in a time of transition that will lead either to death or to fantastic growth. We decided that maybe this is why we’re here…maybe after 150 years of searching for our identity…maybe we’ve found it?

  8. There is a place for the CoC in today’s culture. We have overlooked the tremendous possiblities that congregational autonomy and a continual re-examination of the Scriptures bring. There is tremendous power in the (to quote Brian McLaren) “story we find ourselves in.” However, in order to tell, explain and live that story, we must move outside of our self-created subculture.

    As Leroy Garrett has stated, “the dream need not forever fade.” There is still hope!

  9. pinakidion says:

    Hello Wade,

    As a member of a descendant of the Chuches of Christ (ICOC), I was refreshed by what our churches can be. We were not autonomous, but have become so in the past two years. Touted as a “Back to the Bible” group, we have been given a chance to examine and implement locally as you have suggested.

    However, our removal of a ‘top man’ has created a vaccuum for other top men instead of a tremendous opportunity to look to the Bible. I’m afraid that our opportunity to be a true “Back to the Bible” movement ended with our collective search for someone to tell us what to do.

    I believe that there is still hope for us – especially with the discussions in Abeliene and steps taken in smaller congregations. I believe that you have described the CoC and ICoC that I hope my children can be a part of.

  10. david cady says:

    Please let my gentleness be evident to all -Amen

    OK, here goes, so find a comfortable pew. Being the good rabbi he is, Wade’s stirring us- even making me reply. Why not chime in earlier? Because I’m weak, reluctant, and scared. Add to that that I’m TIRED of being weak, reluctant, and scared and you see my quandary. I also have the sniffles this morning, so I’ve officially joined my mom in the ranks of the ‘sick and tired.’ (Just kidding. I love my mom. Hi mom.) It’s an arrogant assumption that anyone would care, but if this gets me in trouble, I’m going to blame it on that. Being sick – not my mom. (I told you I was weak.) My parentheses are getting annoying (so I’ll stop.) Great blog Wade.

    Be wary of brother Hodges’ “optimism.” I chuckle as he raises it over his head to whack us all a hilariously disturbing good one.

    Well, God has heard my prayer for gentleness. (It?s tough to be like Jesus when you?re talking about church.) So instead of ranting, I?ve decided to share a few random comments and questions:
    1. We talk of our restoration heritage. Are we restorationist or neo-restorationist? Do we hold up the principles of a movement or defend a particular expression of the principles?
    2. Is it possible for some part of an organism?s or organization?s DNA to fossilize? Can an organism become immune, allergic to, even hostile towards its own DNA? Would this be called institutionalism, cancer, or idolatry?
    3. Since we never jumped on the change bandwagon, I think the post-mod movement might bring emerging groups around to looking more like us. Does opposing change yesterday prepare us to embrace change tomorrow? Or is our change allergy at the heart of it? Change was a core proponent of the restoration movement. Today, change is seen as the core opponent of restoration. We might look like the emerging movement. Does that give us the heart of the movement? Somewhere I read that heart mattered.
    4. What if ?marks of the true Church? was replaced with ?marks of the true Christian?? And then let the ?mark of the true Church? be that it?s full of true Christians?
    5. God?s way has always been to use broken, unlikely, minutely faithful people. Might he do it again?
    6. Are there hints to the ?new language? in dialects already familiar to us: a combination of youth ministry and international missions.
    7. If the Creator called us to faithfully follow him into extinction, would we follow?
    8. Are we uncomfortable leading people toward the unseen? Someone called that faith.
    9. When ?we? hold the offices, who will we blame for holding us back?
    10. If something emerges, will ?we? support what emerges from that or repeat history?
    11. Might we be able to continue some practices without needing to defend them?
    12. We have so many practices. Is it better to get in the game and play?
    13. Is there hope for us in our own words? hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized
    14. Are we willing to lay down current expressions to hold up long standing ideals?
    15. How tightly are we holding onto the once stabilizing rock of institutional legitimacy, traditions with a only a brief history, and self-preservation? Someone threw the rock in the water.
    16. If love is blind, I must be really loving.

    I couldn’t come up with 95. 16 will have to do. Feel free to add.

    I like questions and Wade?s asking a good one. I’m going to propose that ‘questioning’ be added to the church’s list of core values. Not the list on the website, the real one. Questioning leads to seeking. Seeking leads to finding. And it’s not necessarily answers one finds, it’s dependence. And I’m finding that to be point. And the only real (non)answer. That’s troubling to those of us who would rather have a root canal performed through the nose than surrender the myth of independence. It’s not even too liberating for those of us who are aware of our dependence. We?re aware of it. We?re just not any good at it. We?re not good enough at being dependent. That just makes us more dependent? No wonder we opt for the myth of independence. Dependency is just too hard, so unsure. To not ask the question is to risk being unfaithful. To definitively answer it is to risk being independent. So the goal is to ask questions that can?t be answered which leads to relying on God? How disconcerting.

    If we can get OK with being dependent, we will do less ‘coming to OUR senses’ and more running toward the Father or at least let him run to us. What I think we know is that God commands the impossible. If we obey, it?s because we rely on him. If we don?t obey, we have nothing but to rely on him. How…dependent. I think it?s like leaning back in your chair to the point right before its going to fall, the point that takes your breath away, and learning to get comfortable there. In the hands of the Holy One, there is always hope. And hope does not dissapoint.

    I’ve started beginning lessons wiht, “Today, I will share scripture as truth and my commentary with conviction, but in the end, I could be wrong.” So for the end of this sermon…”But I could be wrong.” Please Pray for Mrs. Smith’s upcoming colon treatment and remember the potluck immediately following services. Shall we stand and sing.

    uncle dave

  11. Before we all started chirping on this thread, Randy Harris did this topic fair justice (oxymoron or redundant?), though without the emerging vernacular we now all comfortably use, a few years ago at Pepperdine’s Lectureships. If I remember correctly, his 3 days of lessons were…

    Why churches of Christ are Destined to Succeed in the Future
    Why churches of Christ are Doomed to Fail in the Future
    A Balanced Perspective of Our Strengths and Weaknesses

    Apparently, this question has been around for a while. It’ll be interesting to see how the destination of this journey coincides with those who have gone before us.

  12. Another Dave says:

    Uncle Dave, you struck a cord with me when you sai, “So the goal is to ask questions that can?t be answered which leads to relying on God? How disconcerting.” In the movie, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” the seer observes to the reporter. “You come seeking answers. Dere are no answers.” We have been too fixated on being the “answer” people. The Rabbis were also drawn to this heady state during the time Christ walked this earth and He let them know that the world did not revolve around them.

    In Phil. 3, Paul tells us that it is all about the journey. Too many operate from the position that they have arrived and they can help others arrive also. The church will never be “restored” on earth. But it is our job to keep learning and keep trying to do God’s will.

    One more point or agreement, Uncle Dave. If each of us focused on being the type of Christian that Jesus wants us to be, the church matters would take care of themselves. In reality, I can only be fully accountable for me. I am no position to elevate or condemn you. I am responsible for developing a personal (not institutional) understanding of God’s will and being able and willing to articulate it. That is all I can do.

    Wade, thanks for stepping out there. I have not heard many preachers willing to rock the boat. You are raising excellent questions.


  1. […] hurch of Christ? Part 3

    Filed under: Church — Wade @ 10:25 pm

    Part 1 Part 2 Here’s the flip side of the coin: Church of Christ Pride Our rigorous “back to the Bible” ef […]

  2. […] hurch of Christ? Part 4

    Filed under: Church — Wade @ 10:42 pm

    Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 I write the following as one who has done the very things I?m lamenting. I speak from regretta […]

  3. […] ed the worst about them as we arrogantly held out “our” way as “the” way. (more) Part 2 Churches of Christ are positioned to do well in the emerging culture. We never really jumped on the seeke […]

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