This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Distinctiveness and the Church of Christ

Historically speaking, the Church of Christ has a few doctrininal positions which have become distinctive hallmarks of its identity. Ask someone, "What is the Church of Christ known for?" and you can expect some fairly predictable answers. In particular, i'm thinking about:

1. Weekly Observance of the Lord's Supper
2. Baptism by Immersion for the Forgiveness of Sins
3. The Absence of Instrumental Music During Worship

i've met a lot of people my age who have become generally disenchanted and even mildly irritated with historical, "traditional" Church-of-Christ-ism. i've spoken to many among my generation who speak of their congregations as though they are elderly people who are decrepit and have dementia. You have to repeat yourself very loudly a hundred times, you have to walk extremely slowly and still don't get anywhere, but you still patiently put up with it because you feel duty-bound to do so.

it's true--to some degree i sympathize with that experience. What strikes me as very unfortunate though is that prevalent among that same group is that notion that all of the distinctive CoC doctrines are somehow silly rules made up by old people. --That even the three things i listed above really aren't all that important, and if so many old people didn't get red-in-the-face about those things, we should really relax all those views.

(What has been even scarier in my experience is meeting a lot of people my age who do not have any tenacious commitment to the Bible. i've sat in classes with people who gave opinions and others agreed and not one time was any text referenced or asked for. --Just whatever was to that person's liking and to the liking of the hearers must be decent stuff.)

Yes, i personally hold to the three distinctive positions mentioned above. But i'm not bringing them up to defend or dispute those ideas in particular. What i'm thinking about right now is the general notion of distinctiveness. Isn't it important as a Christian community to be distinctive? Isn't distinctiveness conducive to the quality, security, and allure of a community?

If we walk away from all our distinctive doctrines, then what's so special about us? What's unique about us? Why be a part of us rather than a part of some other group? What would be the difference in going to a CoC versus going anywhere? At that point, why even be a "Church of Christ" anymore? Why not just be the next Life Church or any other of your run-of-the-mill, trendy multi-campus, glossly production community churches?

This really amounts to two different points i think:

(1) It is our unique characteristics that make us who we are. Do you like sports? Star Trek? Chess? Hand-gliding? Polka-music? Wearing suspenders? What makes you you? What are the things that are very uniquely you? What tastes or habits or characteristics? Do you think you should have to apologize for those things? Should you have to feel ashamed about them?

Maybe this sounds totally cheesy, but i'm serious--why then, if you're a member of the CoC, feel apologetic or be ashamed of the very things that make the CoC unique? If you're so unhappy with 'who' the CoC is, then why not go be a member of something else? (Believe me, i've thought about it; but it's precisely these distinctive doctrines that keep me here.)

i think there are things that legitimately need to change, many people see that as a fact, but as a result have concluded that just about anything distinctive about the CoC needs to change. The Let's-throw-the-baby-out-with-the-dirty-bath-water approach: "if old people were too fuddy-duddy to see how much they were de-emphasizing community and loving one another and caring for the poor, widows and orphans, and if they couldn't see how wrong they were for excluding the poor or the foreigner by preaching that 'modesty' and 'reverence' demands that everyone must look and dress like a white-middle-class-republican, then they must also be wrong about stuff like baptism for salvation."

(2) If there's no high standard, what is there to aim for? What incentive is there to grow? What incentive is there to be something great or to risk or be daring?

To be quite frank, i find in contemporary culture the rampant popularity of a breed of Christianity which gives the impression that it really doesn't take any balls to be a Christian. i almost put "(no offense intended)" in the middle of that sentence, but that very thing illustrates my point. It's like a lot of people are way too scared to be offensive in a good way.

i hope you read the piece on divorce i posted a few blogs ago. It's from an Eastern Orthodox bishop, i believe. But that article was so clear, straightforward, and uncompromising. i didn't find it rude or harsh or belligerent. But it was unashamed and unafraid of the truth of the matter. It wasn't afraid to say without apology and without blushing the very distinctive Christian assessment of divorce. That piece is what really inspired my thoughts here.

Derek Webb has an excellent song entitled "Medication" that you should give a listen to. The gist of the song: God, don't make things easy for me. If you make things easy, i'll get comfortable and forget you and forget what you're trying to teach me, and i'll forget how dangerous sin is. I'd rather have bruises all over my face from the back of Your hand than to look pretty and not have the deep blessings of being a real follower of Christ.

Christianity is too easy nowadays. It doesn't cost anything. If anything sounds too crazy to believe, well, then no one really expects you to believe it ; just show up and have a good time. If any teaching sounds like its too demanding, we can always find some way to explain how the scripture in question couldn't possible mean what it clearly says.

But really ask yourself--that sort of compromise and dilution and "filing-down-the-sharp-edges," was that characteristic of Jesus' ministry and message? Was it characteristic of that of the apostles? i think if you read Acts carefully, you'll see that it was just this refusal to water down or compromise a message which made early Christianity so radically successful. So why be ashamed or afraid of doctrines that just might offend someone? Do we know better than God where lines in the sand should be drawn? If He's drawn a hard line, why do we feel the need to soften it? Are we smarter than Him? Does He need our 'help' to make Christianity more appealing? If He's made some doctrines and standards hard, it can only be for our good and to our benefit to regard those lines as sacred.

All in all in my experience lately, it seems too many people are unwilling (afraid? unmotivated? uneducated?) to stand boldly for much of anything, and then, are also unwilling to boldly adhere to the particular distinctive traits that identify the CoC. i wish it weren't so.

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