I love my heritage, and I love the people within it. They have such a strong love for God, respect for the Bible, and care for what is right. At the same time, however, I feel that this zeal has been drastically misplaced which continues to produce devastating effects: families have been torn apart, people have lost their faith, and divisions have plagued churches.
Families have been torn apart in more ways than one. There are countless stories of elderships telling couples to divorce because of their interpretation of a few passages in Matthew. Others have been told to stay with their spouse despite it not being the best situation for them or their children.
Other families have been torn apart because of doctrinal differences. Disagreements regarding how to interpret scripture, how to worship, and how to live have brought about charges of heresy and excommunication. Fathers withdraw fellowship from their sons for going to a different church, and mothers cut off their daughters for wanting to go into ministry. Some Thanksgivings and Christmases will never be the same because of the Church of Christ (and similar denominations).
Many people who are mistreated by their families and friends from church end up losing their faith. Perhaps they’re so discouraged that they don’t feel like they could ever enter a church again. Perhaps the version of Christianity they were taught doesn’t line up with what they see in the world, so they throw away the whole thing.
It could also be that they were told that if their interpretation of the Bible isn’t true, then the Bible must not be true at all, so when they find one of the many flaws in the doctrine typical of a Church of Christ which takes after the Memphis School of Preaching or a similar institution, they feel like there are no other viable options out there, so they walk away.
Furthermore, one wonders how the Church of Christ could be the one true church of the first century while, at the same time, in some towns there is one on every corner, most of which have divided over something. They were told to ask the question, “Why are there so many churches?” And they don’t see how we are any different.
In my area alone there must be a dozen COCs, and most of the members drive past at least one other COC to worship on Sunday (I go past 2). The restoration movement was meant to restore unity, where is it?
These days I see within these churches even more divisions brewing. These divisions may have to do with Scripture on occasion, but most of them have to do with customs, personalities, and traditions which aren’t addressed in Scripture or perhaps the “biblical” arguments for them were forgotten years ago. People show up to church stressed. Leaders lay awake at night. And churches feel the pressures of decreasing numbers which come from aging, people leaving for a more open church, people leaving for a more traditional church, or simple disinterest.
In these situations it is hard to find a balance between introducing positive change that could rekindle excitement, church health, and growth while not alienating some of the membership, traditional or progressive. Perhaps finding a balance while the rules of the game are worded as they are is impossible. Perhaps the paradigm under which these churches operate is unsustainable. But will the leaders perceive this, and, even more difficult, will they be bold enough to challenge the paradigm itself?
But there is a lot happening within the Churches of Christ which gives me hope. More and more people are rejecting the idea that one must be a member of the Church of Christ to go to Heaven. Furthermore, women are being given a more active role in worship. Some members are even being allowed to exercise their musical gifts. And lots of the exclusive language and interpretations are being reworked.
Still, there’s a lot to be done, and while I am happy with the church I attend, which has the words “Church of Christ” on the sign, I don’t think that I would remain within this branch of my heritage if this congregation ever ceased to exist or if I were to relocate for some reason. While I think the heritage is redeemable, I sometimes feel that there is far too much baggage with the man-given name “Church of Christ” to overcome in many parts of the country, especially here in Northeast Alabama.
What are your thoughts on the state of the Church of Christ?