An Emerging Church of Christ? Part 6

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


The only baggage you can bring is all that you can’t leave behind.
-U2

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Genesis 22:2 (NIV)

Here is a modest proposal.

If we in Churches of Christ want to engage the emerging culture around us, while at the same time preserving the heritage we love, then we have to let go of the very identity we hold so dear.

This is God’s mission, not ours. We have neither the right nor the luxury to set our own terms in this matter. Saying the following is not option:

“We desperately want the people around us to start following Jesus. We’ll do anything God wants us to do in order to see it happen. We’re totally open to what God wants to do among us–just as long as we get to keep worshiping acapella, keep the name “Church of Christ” on the sign out front, and continue to do things the way we’ve always done them.”

Like Abraham, we must be willing to put our Isaac on the altar. We must embrace the paradox of letting go of our past in order to secure our future. Only when we are willing to let go of our heritage for the sake of God’s mission, are we ready to set on foot on the mission field just outside our front door.

The only way I can see this happening is one congregation at a time, in one community at a time. It’s time to make the most of our congregational autonomy.

Let us as leaders declare that our particular congregation exists for no higher cause than to bring glory to God by being a blessing to our community. Let us begin to listen rigorously to our community by doing the same kind of research foreign missionaries do when engaging a new culture. Let us come to know the nooks and crannies of our communities better than our community does. Let us identify the needs of our community that can best be addressed by the mix of passions, interests, and gifts in our congregation. Let us resolve to let nothing hinder us from addressing those needs. As creativity flows and opportunities arise, let us set aside the predilections of our Church of Christ heritage, much in the same way a 1st century Jew would set aside his in order to engage the Gentile culture around him. With reckless abandon, let us make mistakes that only Jesus-crazed missionaries can make. Let us push the boundaries of orthodoxy for the sake of the message. If we are going to sin, let us, in the words of Martin Luther, “sin boldly.” Let our descendants analyze our efforts and judge them harshly because we tried too hard and went too far, not because, in an effort to play it safe, we ended up doing nothing.

If we were to do such a thing, then like Abraham, we would discover that we are only able to secure that which we treasure the most, when we are willing to let go of it. The best way I know to preserve our heritage is to put it on the line.

Our acapella worship style is not our biggest obstacle to overcome, but our love of it, our desire to preserve it, dare I say our idolatrous attachment to it, is indicative of a larger attitude that will continue to hinder our participation in God’s mission.

Please don’t take this as a call for Churches of Christ to starting using instruments in worship as a way of expanding our mission. Trust your Uncle Wade on this one; such a move is not going to solve our problems. Take it instead, as a call to stop taking our heritage, of which acapella worship is symbolic, so stinkin’ seriously. The tighter we hold on to our traditions, the more likely they are to slip from our grasp.

The question is not: Should we set aside everything that makes a “Church of Christ” a “Church of Christ” in order to win some to Christ? The question is: Are we willing to set it all aside if that is what God wants and what the world needs us to do?

The answer each congregation gives to this question is going to determine the future of our storied fellowship.

Read Part 7

Comments

  1. Many people feel this way, Wade. It’s time for us to reinvestigate what being a Church OF CHRIST really means. I’m afraid that for many it means holding fast to a patternistic, Constantinian reading of Scripture to the detriment of the bigger picture, namely the mission of Christ. We cannot be a blessing (Gen. 12) to the nations if we think shuffling and reshuffling baggage is the answer to our dilemmas. We need to redefine OF CHRIST in terms of doing church (all of life) in the Spirit of, in the way of, with the attitude of Jesus. It’s time for us to become OBSSESSED with dropping every barrier that hinders this from happening. Sure, we’re gonna mess up royally, but you what happens if we keep doing business as usual . . . nothing. And that is unacceptable to me.

    Keep shuckin’ the corn, brother. God bless.

  2. David Hennessey says:

    Amen to these words, Wade. I’ve been silently listening in and appreciating the fact that I’m not the only one thinking these things. It may be a bit easier for me, however, since my roots do not fall in any church background. This conversation reminds me of the Rich Young Man in Matthew 19 – we must all be willing to sell all of our valuable possessions to truly follow the Lord. These possessions not only fall within material things – it is in the things that you value more than the love of Christ. And, yes, our hyper-focus on certain traditions and ways of doing church business may have become more valuable than Jesus. Let’s refocus on the Lord, open ourselves to His direction, and allow Him to lead. That leading may take us away from some things (and people) that we hold dear right now. But the most important thing is to have Him glorified in our lives, following Him without abandon, allowing Him to lead where He wants us to go (and not directing Him where we want to go). He has given it all… shouldn’t we?

  3. Wade, in the late 80′s I heard a relatively young preacher deliver a powerful message that was titled “What is your Issac?” He has since moved to some west Texas town that has a college well known to most of “us”. That sermon impacted this community……..big time.
    That was nothing unusual, as it happened every Sunday. As I recall, most of what he said that day we applied to ourselves individually. Your post today is a GREAT application of that question for us to answer in community.
    I appreciate SO much the spirit in which you deliver these deep, penetrating, and thought provoking posts. You are confrontational, without seeming adversarial. There is a very fine line there!
    So, I emplore you to maintain the spirit in which you challenge us, and by ALL MEANS……….KEEP challenging us brother!

    In closing let me say that I think you are DEAD ON with your suggestions as to how we can better impact our communities and the world for Christ! Not to be a pessimist, but my gut tells me and experience tells me that the hard line “institutional” folks amongst us will not have ears to hear the TRUTHS you and others are proclaming, and that REALLY makes my heart sad. The bottom line is that their allegiance to their heritage in this movement and fellowship is STRONGER than their allegiance to the Gospel. Is that judging? I hope not. I hope it is just looking at fruit and identifying it.

    God bless you Wade!

    DU

  4. Just wanted to share what ol’ Grandpa Bonhoeffer said: “The church is for others.” We have held on too long to the fact that Churches of Christ are “unique.” I’ll say it again….the only “unique” thing about Churches of Christ, or Anabaptist, or Methodists, or any faith community is Jesus Christ! It seems as if Paul has become our Master Teacher and put Chirst in a close second. Maybe we break the crystalization of our heritage’s practices and embrace our ancestor’s renewing hearts.

  5. Craig Jenkins says:

    I was going to write this long message about doing instead of talking but thought I would say Amen to all you have shared.

    Peace, Craig

  6. Dorlea Rikard says:

    How bold, and how right! Dave Underwood sent this to me and I’m glad he did. So many of us are on the same page–and I mean across Christendom. Thanks for pressing on and God Bless.

  7. Wade-

    I’ve followed most of your posts in this series with interest. I think that you’ve put your finger on a critical issue here, and there are a lot of people who instinctively know this is true, though they might not be able to articulate it as well as you do.

    The choice that these folks are facing is tough: stay within the CoC communities, flawed though they may be, and gently seek reform OR find a faith community that – though it will certainly have its own flaws – isn’t burdened with these traditions and is, therefore, engaging culture more effectively. Its a tough choice: many of us have family and college histories that with strong ties to the CoC tradition, and our children are already developing relationships within those communities – in youth groups and even children’s classes. Its hard to explain why they should make this change for reasons that they can’t understand, BUT…

    I already know a couple of people who have reluctantly made the former choice, and I sometimes wonder if it is only a matter of time until a critical mass is reached, and a larger exodus begins, leaving behind only those who see no need to put Isaac on the altar.

  8. Jon Spears says:

    Wade, great post. I really have enjoyed this series. Your post reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. You are are telling us what we already know….but it’s sure entertaining to have somebody tell us about our own intricacies (and inconsistencies). We all thought the dude down at the cafe was rude, but after “the soup nazi” came out we all got to laugh TOGETHER because now we realize it wasn’t just us who thought these things.

    Ironically, the emergent c/c will likely be a lot like the “left behind(?) c/c”, because the SPIRIT that made the church of Christ the way it is remains. As long as we reorganize the chairs on the Titanic, we are still going down…glug glug. The question has never been to define the problem. The question is, how do we find a new identity?

    Leadership isn’t talking about what needs to be done, Leadership is leading the way…not rhetoric but action. The civil rights movement was fueled by Rosa Parks saying, “not anymore!” She didn’t start a blog or even attend a seminar…she simply took action.

    Would you really be open to have your next post-modern sermon interrupted by a “Rosa?” Do you really want to hand your contribution over to widows and orphans? Do you really want the Holy Spirit to lead your church?

    The question has always been: Do we WANT TO BE HEALED?–Jesus.

    jonspears@earthlink.net
    (Just so all of my cards are on the table, I’m in category #2, at least according to Matt (post #7).)

  9. Wade. These words are so important, amigo. Everything in us screams to preserve the denomination/organization at all costs. It’s strange that a sort of neodenominationalism is forming among so many people. (Check out the ad in the new Christian Chronicle.) It’s disguised in so many ways. But the question is, When will we quit living for our own comfort and enjoyment and begin living for the mission of Christ in this world? Keep it coming! Mike

  10. Creativity is not a heritage value among c of c’ers. Hence, most creative people (and by this I mean, a spirit of creativity, not Picasso’s and the like) flee. We are not invited to sit in on emergent church discussions. We are not asked to help with church plantings. #1 – we hate meetings and #2 we’d rather be doing something than talking about. and #3, those that most say they want change have the most invested in things staying exactly as they are.

    Yet these same people are the most likely ones to do the things that are being discussed here. Physicians, heal thyselves. Learn to accept, embrace and get comfy being uncomfortable.

  11. We must not let our commitment to the church overshadow our commitment to CHRIST…yet that is what we’ve done. I love the apostle Paul, but we’ve turned him into our version of the Virgin Mary. If we could just look at Christ and model him…but we are so threatened by that. It scares the heck out of some members of my church just to let loose and act in a manner consistent with Jesus’ life. “We can’t worship with sinners”…”But where do you draw the line?” WHAT LINE??? So I issue them a challenge. Do you think you can be TOO grace-filled? Too loving? Too accepting? Do you honestly think those are bad traits? Try living that way for a month…forget your rules, forget the lectures, forget the judging…just love people and put them first. See what happens. I dare you.

  12. We are living in an increasingly post-denominational culture. “But, Steve — Churches of Christ aren’t part of a denomination!” you say. “Bull Honky,” I respond, politely.

    Wade, I agree with Matt — you are touching on a really tough issue here, one that may be too difficult for most churches in our heritage (and many others, it seems). I’d take your proposition one step further, however: Are we willing to leave behind structures and liturgies that we’ve come to know and love for the sake of the world? What I mean is this: What would happen if we felt God calling us to begin meeting in homes, reaching out to the neighborhoods where we live first? What if half our “church service” (I hate that term) time was spent edifying and commissioning each other, as is the New Testament purpose for church? How would our communities be affected if we freed people up to join the bowling league, take a dance class, or start a writer’s group to engage the culture around them?

    I agree that we need to be willing to let go of some of our “Church-of-Christisms,” but even more than that, we need to be willing to get away from our “come to us” mentality and begin really obeying the Great Commission — “Go.”

  13. Wade, your words are out there buddy, and I couldn’t be happier. I am glad you pointed out that the CofC sacred cow (acappella music) is not the problem, but rather our posture with it – how we got here.

    Also, knowing our culture and communities better than they know themselves is brilliant. We may know our own little religious coves, but we are not likely candidates to know people across the tracks – and where I live, there are literally tracks and life is very different over there.

  14. Good thoughts, Wade. Like our mutual friend, Rev. Cope, I’m always up for a good stirring of the pot. But there’s a fundamental flaw, I fear, to this proposal, which is anything but modest: the non-negotiable. I remember hearing John Ellas speak nearly 15 years ago about setting aside personal preferences and sticking to the non-negotiables for the sake of unity. The problem with that, then and now, is that things like a cappella music and the name “church of Christ” – while “Isaacs” to me and lots of others – are for some non-negotiable based on their reading of Scripture. Many of those people aren’t trying to be belligerent or dogmatic; they simply believe those issues to be clearly defined in the Word.

    And I’ve learned in my travels that everyone is dogmatic and exclusivistic (that can’t be a word, can it?) to someone. Even shedding denominational tradition and saying, “Just give me Jesus,” makes you a spiritual snob to those who believe faith is broader than Christ alone. For those people, Jesus is my “Isaac.” It’s true.

    How one takes a stand for those non-negotiables in his/her life tends to go a long way toward how one is received. I’d give a church full of theological conservatives devoted to loving and serving people a better chance of impacting its world for Christ than a congregation of spiritual libertarians who aren’t.

    By the way, I’ve entered your blog picture in the Chris Seidman look alike contest. Thanks.

  15. We’re too attached to out Isaacs and not enough to our Gomers.

  16. In fact, the ad in the most recent Christian Chronicle pretty much describes, Grant, what the signatories feel are their “non-negotiables.” (The text is online at A Christian Affirmation.)

    I blogged yesterday about the “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery” – and though there are some aspects of it that trouble me, there is an introductory paragraph that I whole-heartedly endorse:

    “Imprimis. We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.”

    If that is the spirit of the Restoration Movement, then we have strayed far from it.

    Which is really a shame, because it’s also the spirit of John 17.

  17. Scott Lybrand says:

    Wade,

    I came into this discussion a bit late, but have read the whole thing and want to comment. I think you are definitely onto something here and I certainly think you should continue to think through it and further formulate exactly what the problem is (your formulation needs a bit more definition) and what (practical?) steps should be taken.

    I see, though, a problem with your arguments. I think you underestimate the degree to which a revolution/reformation/restoration/reformulation is necessary. You want us to cast aside traditions and focus on what is really important, yes? I couldn’t agree more. In response to this, several have pointed out, quite appropriately, that we disagree on what is really important. How then do we as a body of believers come to agree on what is important? How do we then determine what defines us as a church (Not just as a ‘church of Christ’ in opposition to other denominations, but as a church period)? How do we define what is core to being a Christian?

    Part of my problem with this whole discussion is what I should do with a church that is still worried about instrumental/noninstrumental when I am worried about some of the following:

    What do I say to my gay friends when they ask if they will be welcome at my church? I say they should be welcomed, my church does not.

    What do I say to my female friends (both in church and out) when they ask why Churches of Christ continue to push women to the margins? When they ask why they cannot be ministers, though they are talented? Teachers, though they have incredible minds?

    What do I say to my friends of color when they walk in the door and see a lily-white congregation?

    What do I say to the poor and homeless when my congregations writes an enormous check each month to pay the mortgage?

    What do I say to friends who are concerned about the environment when they see a church parking lot full of shiny new SUVs?

    Instrumental music is not an issue. Its not even a bit of a speck of a drop of an issue, and yet Wade (and many others) have to spend their valuable time trying to open eyes.

    The problem, as you rightly pointed out, lies in our modern, Lockean origins. We (and when I say ‘we’ I mean traditional churches of Christ) want to be able to assign absolute authority to an inerrant text (the canon of Scripture) and then to formulate doctrine based on rational reading and deduction (command, example, necessary inference). In this formulation, we can be sure what right doctrine, right thinking, and right worship look like.

    The problem is, the first century church that we claimed to model ourself never even BEGAN to think about the text in this way. What’s more, the canon we cling so dearly to was still in debate 300 years after the death of Christ. It’s even worse than that. The first century church was wildly heterogeneous doctrinally.

    So, we can’t just rationally formulate doctrine, and we can’t blindly model ourselves after a fictionally homogeneous orthodox first-century church. How then do we define ourselves? What makes a Christian? What makes a family of Christians?

    This all sounds very nihilistic, but it shouldn’t. The answer, it seems to me, looks something like the following: start with the greatest commands (you know the ones I mean…just think of the devo song), then try to get to the core of the gospel message (the core isn’t baptism, people), and then, in love, let the light of God shine through you into a dark world. The good part is, the spirit is here to help you out.

    Put others first, yourself second. Even the woman. Even the gay man. Even the guy who doesn’t look like you. Even the prisoner, and yes, even the smelly, bawdy, homeless man that wanders into your church on a sunday morning. Beyond that, you should even be nice to the Baptists.

    Anyway, I’ll step down off my soapbox now and say just this: Wade, keep going. Think hard, pray hard, push hard. Don’t stop, there is much work to be done. And to the others reading this, do your part as well. The church of Christ, which I love beyond expression, has MUCH to do. People are in pain, people are dying, people need the peace that passes understanding.

    Faith, Joy, and Love. And the greatest of these is love.

  18. Neal Taylor says:

    Hey Wade,

    Wow! And here I was struggling on my own with these very thoughts in Australia! Great to see the discussion going and I will wade in by saying that much of what we hold dear was determined by Stone and Campbell as the saw the Bible as the only creed. I have seen many of the comments here refer to Campbell but few to Stone who, while he agreed on many issues, did not agree with Campbell on issues such as women and musical instruments I believe (some one correct me if I am wrong!)
    What I get frustrated about with the church of Christ in Australia is it’s lack of willingness to become part of the greater community around it. We seem to be Christ Over Culture and NOT Christ in Culture.
    This seems to be what is being echoed there in the USA but I am yet to meet other cofCer’s here in Oz who share my views!

  19. I am greatly offended by this post. Anti-instrumental music and women leadership in the church isn’t as a result of tradition. It’s a result of Bible study and seeing that it is either overtly forbidden or forbidden by example in the Scriptures.

  20. I think it may be presumptive to think that about which we disagree is simply a matter of culture or preference. Some things are very divisive among “Christians” such as baptism for forgiveness of sins, weekly Lord’s Supper, role of women, etc. Are these all matters of preference or culture? Not everyone who says Lord, Lord will be saved…

    God told Moses to speak to the rock, but he struck it and was forbidden to cross the Jordan because he did not hold God in reverence.

    The argument against/for instrumental music is not new. Indeed, it has raged for at least 1000 years. Why do we still hold to a capella singing, then? Could it be because it really is scriptural?

    I grew up in the Church in the 70′s and 80′s. I have heard many comments in recent times denegrating the Churches of Christ of the 1950′s on various issues. Nevertheless, one simple fact remains – the Churches of Christ enjoyed their greatest growth during that period. That fact is inescapable. The question should then become, “Why?” We know that was a period when Bible was taught and members “knew their Bible.” It was also a period when a woman would not think of going to service without a hat, let alone wearing pants. What happened about that? Nothing. It was not scriptural, but cultural and preferential.

    I am convinced much of the issues today revolve around one simple concept – selfishness. I want it my way! Whatever happened to the way found in the Bible?

    It is true no command is given regarding instrumental music. But that is not the issue. The issue is what are we trying to accomplish? Are we trying to worship God or entertain Him? Are we filled with the Spirit or filled with emotion? Why do we sing at all?

    Do you not think people the world over have wrestled mightily with these issues over the years just as Peter and Paul argued about circumcision? To simply write off these issues as “cultural” is wrong.

  21. Deborah Wheeler Morales says:

    I think that your mixed presentation of what we were/are called to do by Christ and what we are — by the pattern established in the early church and preserved in scripture–to do in worship are two different things. In meeting someone on the street and presenting the gospel to them, I have no scriptural responsibility to either lug a piano around or apologize for not lugging one around. At that point we are teaching Christ crucified. And, as in the infant church, when we meet daily for Bible study, we don’t know how they praised God outside of worship—they may have gone out and spent money on an instrument or two, but I can not verify that through any historical sources of information that I am aware of and I have direct information to the contrary in the scriptures. However, if you think that in worship the early Christians imitated the culture of the Roman temples-instruments of fanfare,noisy,boistrous,sexually laden,etc, then I believe you would loose me in your audience as the scripture teaches what it teaches and reveals what it reveals and it certainly does not teach us to be like that……..we are the ‘called out’ and reside in the resurrected body of Jesus Christ.

    Your perspective of the ‘go ye’ that means to supplant our call to worship the One True and Living God in a manner we know the Spirit established is just another form of ‘high places? so characteristic of the human condition when the authority of scripture is supplanted with doing what is ‘right’ in your own mind or in some cases doing what someone else does because it is easier or just ‘feels good.’ The community should be met by the Lord’s church and His people on a daily basis and saturated in such a way as to be ‘known by our works.’

    The call to evangelize and methods that humbly submit to the Word of God to accomplish evangelism would necessarily put you in the company of sinners other than the company of yourself (myself as well)–some of your email responders sound as if they forget that they too are sinners from some of their comments ( I believe that this perspective is the real enemy of the church). Forgiven is a humble bow and humble is in short supply, especially if one forgets that without the saving dimension of the beautiful CHURCH, that glorious dwelling place where we are privileged to reside in the resurrected body of Christ, we are nothing but a slowly rotting carcass doomed to eternal damnation (not my original concept, just paraphrasing multiple scriptures).

    In summary, when you start meeting daily and teaching daily as a church, and not just under the church rafters, you pretty much eradicate the symptoms of most problematic congregations. Of course if you?re just belly-aching about ‘being called out’ well then
    you can always invent your own form of worship—–it?s a very common approach and you will have lots of company amid the myriads of others who do not respect the copy write of God on His
    Word, the Living One or the Written One.

    May the Love of Christ dwell in you richly
    I think that your mixed presentation of what we were/are called to do by Christ and what we are — by the pattern established in the early church and preserved in scripture–to do in worship are two different things. In meeting someone on the street and presenting the gospel to them, I have no scriptural responsibility to either lug a piano around or apologize for not lugging one around. At that point we are teaching Christ crucified. And, as in the infant church, when we meet daily for Bible study, we don’t know how they praised God outside of worship—they may have gone out and spent money on an instrument or two, but I can not not verify that through any historical sources of information that I am aware of and I have direct information to the contrary in the scriptures. However, if you think that in worship the early Christians imitated the culture of the Roman temples-instruments of fanfare,noisy,boistrous,sexually laden,etc, then I beleive you would loose me in your audience as the scripture teaches what it teaches and reveals what it reveals and it certainly does not teach us to be like that……..we are the ‘called out’ and reside in the resurrected body of Jesus Christ.

    Your perspective of the ‘go ye’ that means to supplant our call to worship the One True and Living God in a manner we know the Spirit established is just another form of ‘high places’so characteristic of the human condition when the authority of scripture is supplanted with doing what is ‘right’ in your own mind or in some cases doing what someone else does because it is easier or just ‘feels good.’ The community should be met by the Lord’s church and His people on a daily basis and saturated in such a way as to be ‘known by our works.’

    The call to evangelize and methods that humbly submit to the Word of God to accomplish evangelism would necessarily put you in the company of sinners other than the company of yourself (myself as well)–some of your email responders sound as if they forget that they too are sinners from some of their comments ( I believe that this perspective is the real enemy of the church). Forgiven is a humble bow and humble is in short supply, especially if one forgets that without the saving dimension of the beautiful CHURCH, that glorious dwelling place where we are privileged to reside in the resurrected body of Christ, we are nothing but a slowly rotting carcass doomed to eternal damnation (not my original concept, just paraphrasing multiple scriptures).

    In summary, when you start meeting daily and teaching daily as a church, and not just under the church rafters, you pretty much erradicate the symptoms of most problematic congregations. Of course if you’re just belly-aching about ‘being called out’ well then
    you can always invent your own form of worship—–its a very common approach and you will have lots of company amid the myriads of others who do not respect the copywrite of God on His
    Word, the Living One or the Written One.

    May the Love of Christ dwell in you richly

  22. I feel like the emerging church is losing it’s focus on what real matters… TRUTH.

    I feel like everyone is so comfortable bringing their pleasure into their spirituality…. that the focus of what is really important & the sacrifice made to reach that is lost… Do you understand what I’m saying?

    Church should not be a contemporary culture.. it should be a body of truth seekers looking to be captivated by the love of God.