An Emerging Church of Christ?

Sometimes I wonder how my tribe (Churches of Christ) will fare in the years to come. We came to be in the modern era. We are the product of modern assumptions.

We believed that we could objectively read the Bible and do what it said. We believed that all anyone needed was a little common sense to be able to figure it all out and therefore be assured of heaven. The only thing we couldn’t figure out was why so many of our religious friends didn’t possess the same common sense objectivity that we did. Why couldn’t they see it? Why were they so stubborn? Why did they insist on worshiping in error? Rather than reflect too deeply on these questions, we assumed the worst about them as we arrogantly held out “our” way as “the” way.

We aren’t the only ones who have made exclusivity our claim to fame. I’ve been surprised to run into representatives from other groups, who just like us, thought that they were the only ones going to heaven. It seems that even in our exclusive outlook we have been exclusive. Not only did we think we were the only ones going to heaven, but we also thought that we were the only ones who thought that we were the only ones going to heaven.

Still, it seems we have developed a reputation above all the others for being exclusive. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because we were bolder or because our arguments were tighter or because we had more persuasive preachers and writers. For a group that preached nondenominational autonomy as a mark of “The Lord’s Church,” we did a pretty good job of getting our message “out there” in a uniform way. For a season or two, the “Church of Christ” brand name had some value. It was a privilege to be a part of “The Lord’s Church.”

Now things have changed. A new era has dawned, with different assumptions. It turns out that objectivity was a myth. Most common sense readings of the Bible make no sense at all. Call it the postmodern turn, call it the emerging culture, call it French philosophical hogwash if you like. The one thing you can’t do is call it back. A change has come upon us and now a (non)denomination birthed in the modern era is beginning to ask a few questions and struggle with some initial answers.

As I watch this happen, and as I participate in it to one degree or another, I have a question or two of my own. Most pressing on my mind is whether or not a church with so many modern assumptions embedded in our DNA can effectively engage a culture that left our assumptions behind long ago. As I see it, the barrier is more linguistic in nature than temporal. It’s not so much that we’re behind the times; the problem is that we’re not even speaking the right language!

On some days I’m hopeful about our attempted transition. On other days, I have my doubts. I intend for this post to be the first of a number of posts in which I’m going to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly of what I see happening as those of us in Churches of Christ try to appropriately sync up with our surrounding culture. More to come shortly. . .

Read Part Two


  1. Changed lives change churches. I came into Sulphur Springs trying to speak the “right” language and failed the first 6 months because I was in the midst of a very “modern” community. I didn’t have to unlearn everything I learned about PM missions & culture but did have to be very discerning about when and how to use it.

    I went to NYC last week and immediately was swamped by a culture that demands many different languages.

    I look at Cymbala and Scazzero and others who have been used to penetrate that type of culture and it’s clear that the world could stinkin’ care less about the name of a “tribe” – changed lives change the world. People who really believe the message is never stop penetrating their culture and pursuing the right language for that given day. The “right” language changes every day and with every conversation – though the constructs are the same – absolutely relative but experientially true very fluid but solid at the same time.

    Changed lives change churches and commuities. We can always learn the new language, but you can’t learn the language of changed lives -that authenticity is what connects in every culture and in every generation.

    Several people who I thought wouldn’t survive the drastic chanes at Shannon Oaks are still here – and when I ask them why they are here, they all say, “you can’t deny the presence of God in all of the changed lives.”

    … slowly getting back into the blogging world – it’s good to visit your page and catch up with you… you are the one who introduced me to all of this pm stuff and actually helped me make it through one of the darkest times of my life – a time when I was struggling the most with frustrations about my disillusionment with God and the church…

    love you bro!

  2. Does this mean we should adopt some sort of cultural/linguistic hermenutic?

    Interesting that learning a language is most useful in the setting where the language is most used. So when I was learning some Romanian, I didn’t learn as much in the classroom as I did when I immersed myself in everyday Romanian life. I guess the question is, “How does our tribe, or other tribes for that matter, immerse ourselves in the culture to learn the language?”

    I might start with the idea of slowly erasing the separated worldview of “sacred/spiritual” (not easy) and see culture as a work of redemption; redeeming those structures that were meant for good in the world but have been corrupted by the Powers and Principalities. I think so many people are scared to be “of the world” so just don’t bother with being “in the world.” They listen to only Christian music or don’t watch R-rated movies or would never enter a pub. Reductionalism should be confronted for what it is, while holistic faith could be helpful in our search for learning the language.

  3. pardon…….”secular/spiritual” my bad.

  4. Wade,

    Do you think that we are very different from all of the other denominations? Especially the protestant ones? We all came into being in the same general timeframe. I think this is a lot bigger than the Church of Christ, which to me makes it harder and more exciting at the same time.


  5. Good questions, bro.
    I have a guarded optimism because through the years I have discovered that a large number of “our” folks never bought all our “certainties” anyway. I even have some optimism (albeit a little less) for the average cofc preacher. If a guy like me who was so confused that he ranted about the dangers of the NIV while taking romantic walks in the moonlight with his girlfriend can come around, surely the rest can. God will continue to work in every group that has even a modicum of faith (that has always been the key). We may be a “one talent” group for a season, as long as we don’t bury the treasure, we’ll bless some for the kingdom.

  6. Wade,

    I share your concern. It weighs on my heart. Recently I left a lecture by a relatively well-known/influencial CoC minister, and I was nearly in tears because if he doesn’t lovingly open up to the realities of the world around him, if he gets his way…the Church of Christ will die. Some people are asking, “Would that be a bad thing?” The church would go on. Christianity would survive if our tribe were to meet extinction. I could worship, I could minister in other contexts. But some muffled voice in the depths of my mind tells me that we’ve still got a contribution to make, a role to take in the conversation. But my sometimes illogical hope is that we will make the transition, and yes, it will be harder for us than for most other groups…but if we look to Jesus…along with all our brothers and sisters…we will make it.

  7. Amy LaMore says:

    I appreciate Neal’s comments and his ability to express himself so well… I’ve wondered for a while now if all of this “turmoil” in the Church wasn’t what God was wanting to happen all along. It would be pretty arrogant of us to say we know the total will of God concerning His people, and that the 50’s church I grew up in WAS the “only” one.My husband grew up in another tribe, and I don’t necessarily want us to take on all of their liturgies and rituals, but wouldn’t it just be the best if this was the time that God has chosen to bring all the sheep back into the fold. His will be done –
    Amy in Texas

  8. I visited a church that will most likely become my church home…

    What I realize is that again, c of c’ers think that they are the only ones having this discussion. They are not. In fact, many have stopped talking about it and starting “doing something” about it.

    When the c of c can embrace other cultures, other ideas, other creative ways and realize that the journey is one best shared, it might have a chance. My money is that it will not.

  9. Jon Spears says:

    Wade, I appreciate your words. Just to hear a c/C preacher see and acknowledge the trees and the forest is refreshing.

    Jesus asked us this annoying question. “Why do you seek the dead among the living?” Frankly, I don’t like this question because it forces me to see the dead things I want to come see come alive. This is our nature to want the dead to walk again, but usually “it” walks in a different form. Jesus said he’d tear down the temple and raise again in just three days. But never intended to form a construction company?

    We all have our Terri Shavios. So instead of hearing the still, quiet voice of Truth we take door #2: another “lectureship”, another conference, another label like post-spaghetti or another blog.

    This Truth is: The Word will not be enveloped inside tradition…and remain. Like David refusing to wear Saul’s armor, we must refuse to wear the tradition and opinions of anyone…

    Finally, I’ve always wondered what Jesus would say if we were tried to pin him down like the Pharisee did with their “who shall we pay, Jesus or Caesar?!?” question.

    What would be His answer if we asked him regarding our own issues? I feel his answer would be something like….

    “Let ALL who wish to teach and serve, teach and serve as though they were doing it for me.” or Maybe “worship ME, instruments or not, but frankly I love the banjo”

    Why do we seek the dead among the living?


  10. I’m going off, so beware.

    If our tribe is going to have a snowball’s chance, then we are not merely going to have to make lingustic changes, which frankly will be intolerable for many, but we are going to have to flat get unchurched.

    Our disease is that we are so churched up that we cannot see dead people. Heck, we can’t even see ourselves. We have no idea whatsoever how embedded we are into our church culture.

    For our tribe to think, even for a minute, that we are going to be able to continue to elevate trival and nonsense “issues” like instrumental music and communion correntness and be relevant to people who would love Jesus if they ever saw Him, we are out of our minds.

    Practically everything that distinguishes a Church of Christ from any other church denominations is a back burner issue compared to what Jesus did and hoped that we would do. Furthermore, what makes us the same as any other church tribe is even more disturbing than what makes us different. We are unified (whether we like it or not) with conservative evangelicals with a severe, chronic, and probably fatal case of churchitis.

    Without acting now and relatively decisively to change our direction, approach to scripture and people, if we do not expand our hermeneutics as it relates to interpretting the scritpure and interpretting people, we are doomed. They’ll put us in the church museum with the Amish.

  11. Once I recover from Fajita’s one-two punch, I’m gonna give Fajita a hug. Awesome thoughts there. Wade, I look forward to reading more.

  12. Wade, go ahead on brother! At the very least you are going to stir up dialogue, which is ALWAYS good! I am thankful for your willingness to confront things that some are unwilling to do.

    When our heritage says we prioritize in such a way that puts uniqueness and distinctiveness as higher priorities than the Gospel, then we need to confront that heresy.

    Your brother,

  13. Alan Norfolk says:

    I grew up in the ‘one true Lord’s church’ in 1950s Tennesee, but (praise God) found the Episcopal Church while i was a student at David Lipscomb College in the 1960s. What beauty! What music! What devotion! Was I in heaven already? I understand from friends who have taken a similar path that the c of C is trying to renovate itself, but the process is painful. I hope that whatever befalls, that tribe may lose its arrogance, its self-centrism, its belief that it speaks for the Almighty, and that it may recognize that ‘everyone who calls upon the name of Jesus’ will be saved.

  14. alrayna says:

    Wade, can you explain what you mean when you say, “my tribe” in reference to the church of christ? It implies that you think of the church as an individual denomination, though I’m not sure that’s what you intended. Also, is their specifical NT reference to the church as a tribe? Or is this reference merely a new phrase developing in your culture as a way to refer to the church or different churches.

    Thank you,
    Alrayna White

  15. brandon britton says:

    If Fajita can vent, so can I, right?
    For the record, yes I am the stereotypical, 1950’s, we’re the only ones going to heaven Campbellite (tongue firmly planted in cheek).

    I, like Alrayna, was curious about the eery, Stepford like, usage of tribe by virtually everyone who posted. I thought you guys hated that we (old fashioned conservatives) had our secret handshakes, club rules and coded language? Don’t you do the same? Beam and mote brethren. I assume this is the latest word that all of the cool kids are using. It used to be our fellowship, then our heritage, then our tradition and now apparently our tribe.

    I am not meaning to be unloving, only trying to point out that many of the things you dislike in the old fogeys, you are now doing too. Actually, I agree with several of the things you were saying. I do believe the church (Christians) has failed greatly in going about doing good. We have focused exclusively on doctrine and let things slide in practice. I do not think the two are mutually exclusive. Why can’t we agree that we must be doctrinally sound (i.e. speak where the Bible speaks, etc) and imitate Christ in our daily lives and interactions with those who have never come to know Him (1 John 2:1-3). It is not an either or.

    All of this reminds me of the bickering between Republicans and Democrats. The Dems say all Reps are against the poor and underprivileged and the Reps say the Dems are all liberal, hippies with no morals. Well in our “tribe/faith/heritage/tradition”, the Conservatives say the Liberals preach a social gospel and provide entertainment and pseudo spirituality (dim the lights, raise your hands and feel the Spirit move); the Liberals say the Conservatives are only about rules and commands, they sit in their buildings with people who look, act and sound like them, patting each other on the back and condemning everyone else and that they don’t have love or compassion. Truth be told, there is a whole lot of truth on both sides of the isle. The Liberals have gone overboard concerning doctrine and think nothing matters, but they are very Christ-like in their compassion and seeking the lost and hurting. The Conservatives are content to hold gospel meetings and lectureships which they advertise in the paper (if they want to be saved, we told them we’re here) and build fellowship halls instead of using the money to help the needy, but they are committed to being doctrinally sound and not just another brand of denominational Christianity.

    Don’t we all need to stop lobbing self righteous grenades at the other side and start strengthening that which is lacking?

  16. Bobby Murray says:

    This idea of language is right on. My family left the cofc 12 years ago. Of course I still try to maintain connections with my cofc family, but it is hard. If I don’t use the cofc language, they usually cannot quite understand me anymore. If I use the cofc language I cannot get my message across. There is such a deep wide chasm dividing us. It is not so much doctrine, but mostly in the language. In my new church language we say “we had several people saved today”. The cofc language will say “we had several baptisms today”. To the cofc baptism = salvation which may not be true, but to them it is. They will reject the baptism of anyone who says they have had a salvation experience including emmersion, unless they say they are a member of the “lord’s church”. To them that means true church. Anyway, I can still talk the language, but when I do, my message get’s watered down. The correct buzz words are necessary for many denominations, without the use of the correct buzz words many see red flags which cause division.

  17. Zack Krug says:

    This is all just Americanized Christianity. We have bludgeoned the real “thing” to death. To listen to most of you people, Christianity sounds just too complicated. It sounds far from the simplicity of Jesus’ teaching and the first gospel sermon of Acts two. If I could imagine myself being unchurched and happening upon all this discussion, I doubt religion or God would sound very interesting. So, I’ll take my Christianity the way Jesus and the Father designed – in it’s entirety. You can keep your names and tribes, and I’ll keep my faith. It is, however, understandable to a degree. God in His amazing wisdom designed a simple plan, a simple body, for a simple task. And we humans in all our education and great power have made one big mess so that many people cannot see Jesus for the “forest” of “churches”. The Bible says (through simple interpretation that everyone can understand without a college education) that God built and provided one Savior who died for all people to be saved according to one plan (of the Lord’s choice). And ALL people who do exactly as God desires will be added to God’s church by the same God who provided the grace and mercy through His only Son. What’s the name of that one church (since we are so bent on taking names that we have gone far beyond the problem in 1 Cor. 1:10-13)? Pick any one of the numerous possibilities found in the Bible, or make up your own that conforms to showing that we are willing slaves to the Savior that bought us with His life. How about no name? How about we just be the church? And here’s one you probably will not like – not everyone will be allowed in. That’s not according to human rules and codes, but according to God (Matt. 7:21-23). You really will not like this one – very few people will be in that group predestined for heaven as compared (miserably) to the many who will not.

    I am so glad God has given us the Bible. Look at the mess we’d have made if He’d whispered in our ears. I hope you all work through your confusion to the benefit of adhereing to truth and to the benfit of your salvation and assurance in the Holy Spirit. I pray you do not tire or lose sight before that time. God be with you all. I welcome any questions or comments at

    By His mercy and grace,

  18. Well, since no one’s given me any scriptural feedback as to why the church is now referred to as a “tribe”, can someone perhaps explain instead why it’s simply not being called the “church”? And why the desire to change the reference if it’s not something in the bible?


  19. Alan Norfolk says:

    Thou shalt not.
    The c o C tribe is/was such a negative group. I was in my late teens when I left it. Oh, the freedom. The stone being lifted. The freedom to see that there are millions of people who love the Lord Jesus, who are united with him and with their brothers and sisters, but who do not worship in a (non-scripturally authorized?) building that says “the Lord’s Church” over the door. The JOY and BEAUTY of Christian worship that is not frozen in the aspic of 19th C Kentucky frontier mentallity. The beauty of the knowledge of God’s grace which my works can not enhance nor merit. The realization that I will never ever have to say that ‘we are the only ones going to heaven’.

  20. What an interesting dialog!

    I must preface my remarks by admiting that I am a former Baptist and have been worshiping and working in a church of Christ for about 5 1/2 years.

    I have found much about the church of Christ very refreshing compared to the churches I had experienced in the past. Of course there are some doctinal differences and some traditions I have had to deal with to “fit in” with my new family.

    Hardly anyone who dares to be objective denies that churches of Christ could use an overhaul, both in culture, teaching, and attitudes. Most of the infighting between “tribes” (ug) have been centered on what happened inside the walls of some nondescript building where “the Lord’s church” meets to sing 3 songs, pray, preach, give, take the Lord’s supper, and thus have been “faithful”.

    I have been delighted to talk personally to many brothers and sisters who have been church members for decades in churches of Christ, yet only fairly recently have discovered “grace” and the precious work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

    I am 100% for the body of Christ doing whatever is not unbiblical or unwise to reach a contemporary society. However, I fear the dangerous temptation is to attempt to take of the rough edges off the message of the gospel so it better fits the palate of sinners. Christ promised the message would be an offence to the hearers.

    The challenge is to honestly present both the lost conditon of the unsaved using the law of God, and the good news of the forgiveness made possible by the death, burial, and ressurection of Jesus while not sounding like a recording from 1950.

    While for most of her history, Baptists and other non coC groups were only spoken of in very negative terms by “the Lord’s church” folks, in recent history, at least some coC people have started to see that while they were busy with trash talking, those who were the objects of their wrath were busy winning the lost.

    Churches of Christ are loosing numbers as a group every year because the communities you and I live in are not interested in what you are against and do not want to worship in a funeral like enviornment. They don’t know what they want, but what they need is to be loved unconditionally by human beings and to have the eternal life only Christ can offer. Our responsibility is not to protect a tradition but to join God in reconciling the world to Himself. Reconcilation is sometimes an uncomfortable task, requiring us to go where the way is not clear, and requires us to abandon everything that is not working.

    We, like the apostle Paul, should rejoice when anyone preaches Christ without regard for motives, methods, or the man. The important thing is that Christ be made known.

  21. Born in 1951, and reared in the 1950s church, I understand what many of you are saying about the “lost in the 50s” mentality. (A little wordplay on a more modern song.)

    Yes, many in the current Church of Christ are stuck in the 1950s version of the church–the bleak, funeral-like environment that many of you are discussing, and with which you are disgusted.

    The answer is not wholesale abandonment of the CoC, as it is often fondly called these days. As the former Baptist brother mentions, there was a reason that so many turned away from the denominationalism of the 1800s. In fact, many good Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians turned from their denominations in those days to this “new, old way” that came out of the American Restoration Movement. If you don’t know much about that movement, please read up on it. Your eyes will be opened. What those brothers of the 1800s desired was a dissolution of church names, creeds, and confessions in favor of unity and a pursuit of Bible truths.

    The Church of Christ of today has made itself into a denomination in its own right, although we dispute that–don’t we? The answer is to heed the call of the men of the Restoration Movement, drop all the name-calling and creeds–whether written, or merely orally passed along–in favor of unity and truth.

    God bless you all in your search for the truth. I have a Web site where I discuss some of the issues. Some of the articles are three years old and in need of revision as my own study opens my eyes, and perhaps younger folks will see them as a bizarre mixture of the old and the new. It is The truth doesn’t change, but sometimes our understanding of what is true does change.

  22. Dennis L Mann says:

    I am a member of the church of Christ for 38th years, and I feel that I will soon be a former member. I find it extremely disturbing that concepts that were Truth not so long ago are no longer Truth today (e.g. the role of women in the Church).

    My atheist friends are rolling in laughter at the mutability of our “beliefs”.

    Regardless of what people say here, the Church should be a bulwalk against the deprave culture of the world and should not bend to the world regardless of how incredibly painful and unpopular that may be.

    My faith consists of obeying the word of God as it is clearly stated, irregardless of the “new” discoveries and interpretations of Mike Cope, who I once revered, et al.

    If it is so convenient to re-interpret our “views” we held in the past because of “new” interpretations, what will keep us from adopting all sorts of culturally-influenced bastardizations of the truth in future?

    Dennis L Mann
    Harding Graduate, 1991

  23. Excellent post. I’m 49 and I have spent all 49 years associated with Churches of Christ. January 1, 2006 I left the Church of Christ denoimination, including my cozy job as a preacher and became a Christian at large. All I can say is “thank God its over.”

    I’ve been attending a Baptist Church and I’m absolutely delighted with it.

  24. I was raised in the Church of Christ but I am not a member these days. It makes me very sad that friends I grew up with in the COC will not even talk to me now. I didn’t understand for a long while, then it dawned on me that it is part of the COC culture to not associate with people outside the church. They will say hello, but not much beyond that. What a shame.


  25. Mary Daugharty says:

    For years the oppression was so intense I thought I would lose my mind. But thanks to God for his merciful love I have reached a point of forgiveness for the spritual abuse I endured as a child growing up in the COC. I look back and wonder why I had to go through what I did. And then I think of Jesus hanging on that cross for ALL OF OUR SINS, and I get off of my pitty-pot and go on with my life. I am excited to see other people speaking out about things I knew years aso. To God be the glory!!

  26. As a person who is a member of the coC and just starting to look at this concept/movement of the “emergent” church, what is faith in Christ then? I understand that many churches of Christ have argued over little things, but it seems false to me as well to say that we just need to agree that Jesus is who he said he was and that’s it. I don’t mean to start an argument as I too acknowledge that there are many divisions, but the attempt to be “unified” on our agreement that Christ died for our sins only seems to me to be shallow. All fluff and no substance. We easily acknowlege that we can be and have been wrong about things that we’ve held to in the past, but what if we’re wrong about out attitudes of those in churches of Christ. Don’t we need to be careful that, in attempting to not be sectarian, we end up breaking our own rules or “doctrines” of unity in the process? Still thinkin on this issue though.

  27. Jarod King says:

    “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death to the other an aroma from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15,16)

    For many people, heeding God’s word COMPLETELY is just too much to handle. This was the case with the rich young ruler when Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give to the poor. That was just asking too much, and the rich young ruler saw it as a great inconvenience. We should be careful about not identifying with a church, just because it inconveniences us. Is the old church of Christ message an aroma from death to death? Only if you’re a ‘glass is half empty’ kind of person. For the ‘glass is half full’ kind of person, a passage such as: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he that disbelieves shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) means that we are given the opportunity to be saved eternally. This is GOOD NEWS! It’s a GOOD MESSAGE! Take advantage of it! Don’t be like the rich young ruler who settled for a life of convenience in favor of the Lord’s offer.

  28. Fred Sykes says:

    Recently I’ve come to the realization that there are so many things we take for truth but not necessarily so. I believe the original scriptures were written through the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. However, since there have been many bible versions (example King James Version, etc.), and books of the bible intentionally left out, it’s not hard to understand why people are synical. Has the holy scriptures been crafted and arranged to suit those whose ideas have been put before the Lord’s purpose and intent. How then can any “Church” be so arrogant to believe they have the correct interpretation when all the books of the bible are not available to rightly divide the word. I think we must therefore turn inwardly and seek God in us and do the best we can to live and be like Christ to the best of our abilities.


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