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.