Is This How We Want to be Known?

Many of us folks in churches of Christ are peculiar people.

RefuteYouThe problem is that, somewhere along our journey as a nondenominational nondenomination, too many of us have embraced the misapprehension that we are not only called to be a peculiar people — called out from among those “other” folks in the world — but that we are the One True Church That Has Everything Right and therefore The Only Ones Going to Heaven which means that Everyone Else is Going to Hell.

I guess that makes it incumbent upon so many of us to straighten out everyone who doesn’t see everything — and I mean everything — the way we do.

Considering the vigor with which we pursue that mission, you would think it was Christ’s Great Commission itself. Not so much to save the unsaved souls in this world, but to correct the souls in other churches who think they are already saved but are in fact mistaken on at least a point or two and therefore apostate and blasphemous and even more certainly bound for hell.

So the mission of many of us (whose church signs quote Romans 16:16 as if God had intended it to be the proprietary copyright-protected brand name of our group of believers) is not to salute, but to refute. We must refute everything that does not conform to the doctrines of our tradition.

All of which makes us about as attractive as Sheldon Cooper of television’s Big Bang Theory but without any of the personal charm.

May I just say this to the folks who have been so impressed with our peculiarly-misplaced mission: We’re an autonomous collective, like the peons of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We don’t have an overarching nationwide or multinational church structure. We don’t have imposed discipline for poor behavior. Each congregation does as it pleases, or hopefully, does as the good Lord pleases.

Therefore, I can’t apologize for the folks from churches of Christ who may have ambushed you in this way.

However, I can encourage you to forgive us and pray for us and hope that we will eventually perceive and wish to imitate the winsomeness of our Savior.

We’re not all that way. Some of us are not afraid to question the doctrines jackhammered into our heads and hearts from an early age and welded there by the terror of hellfire if we doubted. Some of us are willing to use logic that adheres to generally-accepted norms, and to imagine God and love and grace as more than Judge and correction and condemnation. Some of us are eager to see salvation as a gracious way of living Christ in this world as well as living with Him in the next. Some of us desire to be self-disciplined; to seek; to learn; to grasp; to embrace; to truly converse rather than just correct. Some of us believe that perfect love really does cast out fear.

Not all of us. The old ways die hard. And they feed our egoes. Some of us still want to get that better-than-thou rush. Some of us are convinced that the word “distinctive” is the most important word in scripture, even though it doesn’t appear there at all. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of browbeating and disciplining of others to maintain that level of certainty and arrogance, but it has persisted for many generations now in some pockets of our sometimes-fellowship, sometimes-similar-brand-name-only. Yet it can’t last forever.

Nothing that comes solely from the heart of man can.

I don’t think anyone can refute that.

I have lived in both camps. There are times — even now, while writing this — that the temptation is strong to leave the camp of the loving correctible and pitch a tent among the angry correctors. But I don’t dare.

There’s really no future in it.

And I still stand in need of correcting myself — frequently, privately, lovingly, and graciously. That’s how I’d prefer it.

But if it must also be firm and well-reasoned and communal and public, then so be it.

I know there will be those who will find this post ultimately offensive, hideously arrogant, and unforgivably divisive. Some of them will have written correctives more personally, more pointedly, naming those whom they judge and condemn without even once having made an effort to go to those folks singly or in twos or threes or even before the church before taking the matter before the whole world — first in printed publications and now digital ones. I refuse to do that. I believe Jesus shared the instructions of Matthew 18:15ff for good reasons. I do not believe that Paul failed to follow them, even if the details of that compliance are not recorded but assumed by scripture. So I do not believe those instructions are optional. Ever.

Let me make it clear: this post isn’t written to the people who will find it offensive, but to those whom they may have offended or condemned or turned completely away from Christ by an inaccurate and incomplete imitation of His just nature uncomplicated by His merciful nature.

I do hope they know this: that I love them anyway; that I want their efforts for God to be of a nature that He can bless them and make them fruitful; that I dearly desire for them to know Christ and the power of His resurrection: a sacrificial new life free of self and the shackles of man-made law and characterized instead by the freedom found in His Spirit to serve creatively and jofully. I wish that for everyone, including me.

Because I need to read and re-read; consider and re-consider my faith, and the way I practice it, and the Lord I seek to serve … more than anyone else.

I don’t think anyone can refute that, either.

8 thoughts on “Is This How We Want to be Known?

  1. As a child I attended churches in the South, every Sunday. A day we looked forward to. Then one day a preacher from the North came down. I remember that he talked with the elders. Before long, there were murmurs that the preacher from the North was teaching that all church of Christ congregations should have similar worship services. They said we needed to meet more often: Sunday nights and Wednesday night. He suggested we use “new” bible lesson books for the children and the adults, instead of the lesson cards, which I loved. I heard these changes needed to be made so people from all around could go to any church and everything would be same. After that things changed. More men came to teach why the changes needed to be made and before long the church I once knew was being led down a different path, one that “they” said was better, more like the North. I wondered why the churches in the North thought we needed to be like them. Looking back, the elders just did what sounded good and right after listening to the men who came from the North, but I purpose: they should have continued as they always had been, a local congregation. What right did the Northern churches have to tell the Southern churches that they were doing it wrong?

  2. Great point: “Some of us still want to get that better-than-thou rush. Some of us are convinced that the word “distinctive” is the most important word in scripture, even though it doesn’t appear there at all.”

    Thanks for writing.

  3. I always found the uniformity in the a cappella Church of Christ more than a little creepy. I expect there to be a shared language (terminology). That happens in all the different religious groups and is part of identity. The absolute consistency between congregations regarding the order of worship was just too weird for me.

  4. “Enter in by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate that leads to destruction, and there are many who will go in by it. Because narrow is the gate that leads to life, and there will be few who find it. Matt 7:13-14. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your Name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Matt 7:21-23. “But He (Jesus) answered and said, Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.” Matt 15:13. “In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and those who who do not obey the gospel of our dear Lord, Jesus Christ.” 2 Thess 1:8. And why will this occur? Verse 10 answers that question, “because our testimony among you was not believed.”

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