A Chequered Past

It’s the one thing that churches of the Restoration Movement can claim to have in common. We were all separatists, whether Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Christian Churches or whatever.

We came from Baptist, Lutheran and Methodist roots, whether we own up to it or not.

As a movement, it almost certainly pre-dates Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone. And those guys had some peculiar beliefs.

It began in more places than just Cane Ridge, Kentucky. And a lot of truly weird stuff went on there.

We started in a lot of different places, geographically and philosophically. We sort-of started as an emergent movement, with some similar tenets and some that did not and could not be reconciled. Becoming a divergent movement was almost inevitable.

Almost. Because division, sectarianism, name-calling was what the restorationists railed against.

Not to mention the Founder.

We split, and we split and we split again and again and ….

“Emerging” and “emergent” are probably good words for the subtle and often cyber conversation that has begun. There are still too many old wounds that go too deep to begin calling it a “convergent” effort. But it has already begun to draw together people who have been able to see past differences in creeds and practices and what great-grandpa stood for.

(My great-great-grandpa, incidentally, was one of the Reformation preachers: Alfred Ellmore. He put the extra “L” in the name. My only other brush with history is attending church as a child at the same congregation in Indianapolis as a relative – probably a grandson – of Daniel Sommer, who in 1932 wrote a Rough Draft of a proposal to re-unite churches divided over his preaching in 1889. It has the distinction of being, perhaps, the most likely Church of Christ doctrine document that later generations would describe as a “creed.” The younger Sommer, Paul, though greatly older than me, was always glad to pull me aside in the 1970s and describe his voluminous latest writings on a very social justice-oriented incarnation of the church.)

But is the “emergent” conversation focusing too much on the problem of how to “do church,” too?

Doesn’t it make sense to go back beyond the 1970s, the 1890s, the 1790s, the 1500s and, yes, even past the late first century to find a model for fellowship?

Shouldn’t we rather be examining in detail the Kingdom of God described by His Son to his closest followers?

To the Kingdom that is “within” and/or “among you” (Luke 17:20-21)?

8 thoughts on “A Chequered Past

  1. Yes, I think that there are similarities in the origins of RM and emergent. That is something that concerns me. It concerns me not because RM origins are illegitimate, but rather because the excitment and out-of-the-boness eventually become stale, but addicitve.

    And yes, Jesus and his followers did community powerfully, meaningfully and effectively. At the same time, they were just doing community. I really don’t think they sat around strategizing like we do. Maybe I’m wrong – have been before; will be again.

    However, we are so saturated with artifiial that authentic is just not that easy to find. I think we tend to try to manufacture authentic.

    However, what I see emergent doing is stripping away superflous authority, like a snake shedding its skin. I hope that’s what is happening.

  2. Great post and thoughts Keith! There for sure is a fine line between focusing on how we can be improving on evolving into HIS likeness more as a body, and becoming obsessed with ourselves. There for sure is some tension in that noble effort. I think it may boil down to motive….duh. If we are searching and seeking so we can be more effective in impacting those around us who don’t know HIM, then I applaud our efforts. If it is just another self-help adventure, give my ticket to somebody who hasn’t taken that trip.
    To be honest, everything I am reading or hearing about the “emergent” church communicates to me that it is about how we can impact the lost in a more effective way, not the obession of self. Therefore, so far I am VERY excited about this stirring I believe God and his Spirit has put among us!

    Thanks again for challenging us with penetrating questions and wisdom!

    In HIM,

  3. Keith– We must originate from the same neck o’ Indiana woods. Your ancestor and mine met for lunch and D. Sommer baptized my mama.–Lee

    Fascinating article on Alfred–his life journey and personal philosophy so compelling and timeless.

    Makes me wonder how we inhibit the kingdom by limiting the children in our families and increasing the space (and affluence) in which we raise them.

  4. Keith,

    Another great post. I am grateful for my “Restoration” roots — for the thought processes and the direction it gave many of us.

    I also remember my great-grandmother who was born Deep Water Methodist, married Primative Baptist and died a member of the church of Christ. She was immersed 3 different times because each group of people told her she needed to do it to be saved. She said, “I don’t know which one counted. All I ever wanted to do was please God.”

    I am grateful that some of my forebearers were just simple people who were not caught up in theology, but just wanted to please God.

    My “roots” gave me examples of loving God with my mind and with my heart. And it is a great foundation, but only to the extent that it points me back to those original followers and to the word of God itself.

    But God gives us more than just a foundation; He gives us His Spirit. And with that, we are always “emerging”, if we do not quench that Spirit.

  5. Keith, I just read this post for the first time, and you have drawn me out of blogoshpere retirement with it. I think we, perhaps, ARE focusing too much on how to “do church” in our efforts to emerge from what can become stale, if that is all we focus on. I was in a conversation with a friend earlier today, and he bemoaned the fact that we are generally known outside our “brotherhood” by what we DON’T do (play the piano), and not by what we STAND FOR, or better yet, by the results of our lives. What’s wrong with this picture? We have, as a movement, focused on restoring the form of worship, thinking we would restore worship in the process. A noble and right goal, and in many cases successful, but not necessarily linked. We need to be about relationship with Jesus, and not just about “church” in order to be relevant and pleasing.

    There. I’m going back into my cave for another few months.


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