Radical autonomy and the disintegration of the Church of Christ

MergerThe Churches of Christ are falling apart. Actually, we’ve been falling apart for over a century, and what’s happening now is just a continuation of the same problems. We’ve not be able to hold together for a very long time.

One of the reasons we are so driven to split and divide is a false theology of grace. I’ve addressed this question elsewhere.

See Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace and Do We Teach Another Gospel?, for example.

But another problem that we rarely focus on is our radical autonomy. We’ve always taught against super-congregational denominational structures–no bishop, synod, or convention should be able to issue orders to a local congregation. But we’ve gotten to where we take this notion to an anti-Biblical extreme.

There is virtually no fellowship and no cooperation among Churches of Christ in the same town, even Churches that are doctrinally carbon copies of each other. There is some movement of members among congregations. The preachers may periodically have lunch together.

But Churches very rarely have a common communion service or fellowship meal. Imagine that! A ritual given to us to celebrate and declare our unity is virtually never the occasion for unity among congregations. The Restoration Movement began at the Cane Ridge revival, which was a communion service that drew participants from hundreds of miles–and we won’t drive 10 blocks to have a common meal with brothers and sisters in our own town!

Let’s just suppose that we got it into our heads that unity is more than a word. How would we go about doing it?

  • As I’ve previously mentioned, the first and most important change we’d make would be for elders and ministers from different congregations to spend time together in studying the word of God. After all, until this happens, we’ll remain doctrinally isolated. My church will participate in events and read periodicals that affirm what we already believe. Your church will do the same. Over time, we’ll inevitably be drawn apart. To truly be united, the leaders must go first.
  • Having common communion services seems the obvious next step. We tend to talk about communion as though it were the center of our assemblies, when in fact the sermon is. Therefore, we tend to think of joint services as being built around a common sermon, but the Bible points us to the table. If we are a spiritual family, then we should sometimes eat spiritual food together.
  • The love feast is an easy step. We call it a covered-dish meal. It’s obvious and enjoyable to eat fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and banana pudding together. If we spend a little time eating together, we might actually learn to like each other.
  • Singing together is, of course, important. Lifting voices to heaven as a body would be powerfully symbolic. It should be easy enough for the more progressive churches to surrender their clapping and praise teams for a week, while the more conservative churches yield to the singing of a few contemporary songs.
  • Even more important than worshiping and eating together would be serving together. Surely we can teach literacy, feed the hungry, and give medicine to the needy as one.

Now, some will object for any number of reasons. But there’s just not a good reason to be disunited. It’s like looking for a reason to commit adultery. These kinds of reasons just don’t exist.

Some will refuse on the assumption that those who disagree with their views of the Bible are lost in their sins and so are not brothers in Christ. Let’s just assume that they’re right. Then why would they refuse a common Bible study? I mean, if the local mosque invited your leaders to join their leaders in Bible study, wouldn’t you celebrate the invitation?

Some would argue that we are to disfellowship sinners. Well, we could talk about this one for a while, but by no means are we commanded to refuse to study the Bible with sinners–even heretics. In fact, if we think our brothers are in heresy, then studying with them is exactly what we ought to do!

Yes, I know it’ll take a lot of time. And I know we could find something else to do with our time that might seem more missional. But Jesus told us to be united and told us that we’d fail as evangelists if we weren’t. Ultimately, our effectiveness at our mission will depend on our ability to get along. And this makes a unity effort pretty important.

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  1. makes me glad you are one of my leaders…maybe we should get together for a common meal (lunch) ?? 🙂

  2. Jay

    I don’t want to sound negative, but right now so many churches of Christ means more jobs for preachers.

    When the splitting causes there to be so many that each has only a small number at each service and the result is also a small contribution and that affects the preachers salary’s then we will see a conserted effort at unity. The tide will have changed!
    We see it now in the cuttting back on support of mission preachers, but local cutting back is around the corner.