Somewhere Back We Jumped the Track

The title of the post is a line from a song by Bread, “This Isn’t What the Governmeant.”

But the post has nothing to do with the state.

It has to do with the church.

For those of us in the Restoration Movement fellowship, we can look back at a time when our track diverged from the Presbyterian Church. From there, we sprouted a three-way switch throwing folks onto Christian Church, Disciples of Christ and Church of Christ sidings.

Sidings? dare I say. Yes, sidings. We are not the main track, and we are not the only ones going to heaven, and in fact, going to heaven is not the whole point anyway. But that’s a different post for a different time. (So please don’t start singing “I’m Goin’ Home on the Morning Train.”)

I don’t know church history well enough to know when we first jumped the track. But we did. Oh, I know, we weren’t alive then; we’ve just been following the track laid down by others.

Well, guess what? The track dead-ends. All but the Main Line.

When we got off track, I don’t know.

But I do know where.

We left the main line when we started being more concerned about church than Christ. You know it. I know it. We started fretting about this doctrine and that doctrine; works vs. grace; choice vs. election; what name is on the door; who’s got the authority; who’s in and who’s out; what must we do to be saved instead of what He has done and is doing.

We invented a new religion, Christianity. It was kinda like Christ. Kinda. On Sundays, anyway. Between the hours of 8:00 and noon, generally. As long as we were in the right building, doing the right things, and living lives that were self-deceiving enough that we didn’t feel motivated to confess our sins to one another while gathered. We would graciously part with a few minutes of our lives to remember Him, at least ceremonially, if not soul-deep in our hearts.

And we decided it was all about church.

Getting church right.

We thought: If we could just get church right, we’d be right. So we’ll figure out how to do it right. We’ll solve all those clues buried deep in the scriptures under ancient languages and customs and history about what God wants us to know and do, and we’ll know them and do them, and earn our way right back into His heart.

At least us Restoration folks concentrated on it to pretty much the exclusion of everything else, everything that matters. For the most part, we still do. We still want to restore the church of century one. Not the heart of Christ, or His Spirit living in us, or God working through us. Not the Way that early followers followed. Or the Truth. Or the Life.

Not the Main Line.

Somehow, soul-deep in my heart, I am persuaded that Satan could not have been happier when we built each switch and laid each set of tracks and followed them faithfully … because our eyes were no longer on the Main Line and where He leads, but on us, on each other, on our guilt and on failure and on imperfection and oh-what-the-bloody-blue-blazes-why-bother.

“Exactly,” Satan says; “got those bloody blue blazes right here for ya.

“Come on down the tracks.

“And build some more switches and sidings to accommodate all the others, willya?”

13 thoughts on “Somewhere Back We Jumped the Track

  1. Keith, while you oversimplify the make-up of our track (a lot more than just Thomas, Alex, and Barty folded into our dear conglomerate in the aftermath of the burst of political and religious freedom at the turn of the 19th century), I think that for purposes of the narrative and the emphasis you’re trying to make, it is a fair oversimplification.

    What I’m trying to figure out now is — am I being the one-talent guy? I know all this stuff, but I simply can’t figure out how, as a “mere” bible class teacher, how to nudge my congregation back on track.

    We’re rather comfortable and a bit apathetic as a group, and our leadership believes in the “Just Preach The Word” method of holding things together — if we just stay doctrinally pure, preach the word, pray, and be dedicated (mostly to doing what we’ve always done, but nominally to kingdom work), we’ll explode with growth.

    It’s awfully comfortable to just sigh and say, “I do my part,” etc etc. while I work my comfortable state gov’t job and plan on using my retirement income as support for kingdom work (24 years from now when I hit full retirement).

    But sometimes, like when people with insight share blogs like this, I don’t see any hope in just staying the course. I mean, God does do miracles, but he lets most churches (even churches with a few people who really want to teach grace and freedom and the kingdom) reap the bounty of their decisions for legalism and mediocrity. Do I stay here, or do I start making plans to prepare myself to move on and look for a place where I might be able to preach and share the good news of freedom? I mean, more and more places are going to need preachers in the coming years.

    I don’t know – this comment is awfully scattered — not very thoughtful. But it is what you made me think about, again.

    in HIS love,

  2. Nick, you’re right; the metaphor might be more accurate to say that the Restoration movement began as a siding merged from several others (the purpose, after all, was unity).

    I work at a metro church with 2,000 on the roll, though I’m not a minister; I do communications work. I face many of the same questions you pose, though presently I’m not even teaching a class.

    I think the answer for me is that I’ve hoboed into town with my partner (in my case, Angi) and we talk about Jesus to as many people as will listen. When people stop listening or will not welcome us, we wipe the dust off our feet and hop a different freight. It’s a Luke 9 philosophy. It seems to work for us.

    Most folks really don’t mind hearing about Jesus. If they do, it’s time to move on.

    One thing I’ve discovered in communications work at a church is that there is often a lot more going on than we realize – or than the participants want publicized. Not letting the right hand know what the left is doing seems to be just fine with them. It may seem to be an abandoned line at the station, but down the pike a ways, there may be lots of construction going on.

    Sometimes it’s folks just like you, Nick: gently, patiently, laying track curving back toward the Main Line.

  3. I’d be interested in seeing the post about heaven not being the point. I’m sick to death of hearing Church of Christ folks (and evangelicals in general) get this wrong. It’s about resurrection and New Heavens/New Earth. It’s the new creation that already now is breaking into the world system being fully revealed.

    As for the “track”…I’ve become tired of the fight and am not sure I’m the right soldier for the battle. Rather than take my ball and go home, I’m playing a different game.

    And yes, I know it’s more than a game.

  4. I agree with the line about becoming more interested in church than Jesus – that’s a conclusion I came to a couple of years ago myself.

    I’ve studied our history as well as our present, and believe God has big plans for what the world knows as the Restoration Movement, and believe our best years are ahead of us.

    Of course this won’t be by our own power or talent, but that of Jesus. You’ll see. 🙂

  5. I’m not silly enough to think that just preaching Jesus will bring together all of the folks on all of the sidings … but I think it’s a good start.

    So, Adam, I’ve tried to stop seeing it as a fight and start seeing it as a mission. (Just as you are completely and utterly sold on Ubuntu and preach the good news of it to whomever will listen! That’s not a “fight” you can win against Microsoft – but you can help a lot of people with a cheaper, easier-to-use, less-troublesome OS!)

    And Wes, if the Restoration Movement spearheads a return, not to just the Bible or just the first-century church, but all the way to Jesus, the Christ and Son of God – YES! The best years are ahead of us in this world and the next.

  6. Keith,

    There’s a much bigger picture to what I’m trying to do than what you have portrayed. I think you know that, though. 🙂 The connection to the mission of God will hopefully become apparent over time.e

    Also, I’ve found quirky, unpleasant geeks to be easier to deal with than most church people.

  7. Keith,

    Thank you for sharing that link in your last comment. Excellent article. Painful. There’s a place for joyful praise, but also for painful, questioning lament.

  8. “I’m not silly enough to think that just preaching Jesus will bring together all of the folks on all of the sidings … but I think it’s a good start.”

    No, you’re right. Nothing can force all off the folks off of all of the sidings. One might say, “they’ve already received their reward.”

    But just preaching Jesus will offer a beacon of hope to all the hobos who have been knocked off the train by the bulls and the Pinkertons of the different railroad lines. I believe there are so many people out there who avoid church, not because they stopped believing in Jesus, but because they were broken and dumped in the trash bin by the church. And there are so many others who are craving what the real Jesus offers, but they can’t see Him because of the walls and stained-glass windows we’ve erected to protect Him from them.

  9. Nick,

    The “discussion” going on over on John Mark Hick’s blog under his post about NT Wright on justification is a demonstration of why I’m keeping a lot of church people and their rancorous debates at arms length. I have to wonder why the nastiness doesn’t turn more people off on the church. Probably just the sense of obligation and a feeling that it can’t get any better, so just deal with it. Such a shame.

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