The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Part 8, Predictions

cooperation.jpgOnly God knows the future, and he’s not shared it with me. But here’s my best guess. And it’s part of why I’m so unhappy with how we progressives are acting.

This is, of course, the unless-something-happens-to-fix-it version.

* Many conservative churches will decline and die. It’s happening now. The trend will accelerate as the WWII generation dies out. The Baby Boomers are, by and large, leaving.

* Countless children who grow up in these churches, repulsed by the legalism, will leave Christ altogether. That’s been happening for years. It’ll get worse.

* Some conservative churches will hold it together by virtue of excellent preaching and programs, and a moderated works theology. They’ll support the conservative Church institutions.

* In a few places, where the conservative Churches presently hold large numbers, they’ll continue to be strong even though losing members. In North Alabama, for example, the conservatives could lose half their congregations and still have a significance presence.

* These churches will come to be largely held together by family ties, but as members move to other parts of the country for work or retirement, many will seek out other types of churches.

* The conservative churches will no more die out than the non-institutional or one cup churches have. But they will decline in numbers as a whole. It’s already happening.

* The Gospel Advocate and many other periodicals will struggle to survive. There will be a series of mergers of conservative periodicals to deal with a shrinking readership base (again, especially as the WWII generation dies). In 10 years or so, they’ll become Internet magazines because the subscriber base will be too small to support a print magazine. The Firm Foundation is already on its last legs.

* The Christian colleges that try to remain closely tied with the conservative Churches of Christ — or which try to appeal to both camps — will begin to fail. Or become something else. Faulkner will likely be first. Freed-Hardeman, Harding, and Oklahoma Christian will attempt to appeal to those churches remaining, but there won’t be enough support for all three.

* Some progressive Churches of Christ will remain a cappella and will continue to affiliate with Church institutions. At present, this gives them the ability to recruit members from conservative churches. They will still be “Churches of Christ.”

* Other progressive Churches will join with the independent Christian Churches, acting much like Churches of Christ except for having instruments. They may keep the name, but they’ll list themselves in the Yellow Pages as “Christian Church” or “Nondenominational.” They’ll lose most contact with a cappella Church of Christ institutions as they begin to join with Christian Church missionary and church planting societies, periodicals, and universities.

* Others will find the Church of Christ colleges too conservative or narrow and so send their children to seminaries in other traditions, and many will eventually become community churches with largely Baptist theology. Baptist theology gives a nice, simple answer to the baptism conundrum (one that I disagree with), they have congregational autonomy, and they are evangelistically effective. In fact, the Baptists are increasingly ordaining elders, baptizing for remission of sins, and minimizing their Calvinism. It’s an interesting convergence that’s going on.

* Some progressive Churches of Christ will become entirely non-denominational, change their names, and have little to do with Restoration Movement churches (it’s already happening). They will have individualistic theologies and may drift very far from their Restoration roots. They will have little fellowship with other churches of any kind, becoming not only nondenominational but isolated.

* The progressive churches will not create a new denomination, because there is no uniting theology or vision. Nor will we, as a group, merge with an existing denomination. We’ll just drift in different directions.

* Pepperdine, Abilene Christian, and Lipscomb will become increasingly non-denominational. First, they’ll market to the Christian Churches. Soon, however, they’ll test the waters of evangelicalism and surrender much of their connection with the Churches of Christ. After all, if the progressive Churches fail to coalesce as a movement, there won’t be a sympathetic denomination to associate with.

Is this a good outcome?

To some, this may look like an evolution toward the non-denominational ideal we’ve always talked about. And in a sense, it is.

As the conservative Churches will be left behind, this might seem a victory for the progressives. But victory is unity and love, not the death of one’s rival. And so this will be a defeat. It would be far better to bring our conservative brothers and sisters along with us — and to have some idea where we’re going!

Will the fate of the progressives be of any historic value to the Kingdom? Just what will we have accomplished? What is the good being done? Is it good from the standpoints that God measures things? Is it good for unity? Does it show the love of God? Does this outcome help accomplish the mission of God on earth?

It’s not so much that this outcome is sinful. Rather, this outcome just doesn’t take God’s Kingdom anywhere at all that I can see. Surely, we have something to contribute before we close the doors and turn out the lights!

You see, our historic view of autonomy as virtual isolation has always been wrong. Hopefully, we will mature to see ourselves as having a much larger mission and purpose than growing our local congregation through competition with the other churches in town.

It won’t be until we learn not only to cooperate but to do mission as a community of churches that we begin to fulfill Jesus’ prayer for unity.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Part 8, Predictions

  1. I'm not sure I see a problem with Churches of Christ re-establishing an affiliation with Christian Churches. In my experience, they may not be a perfect network of congregations, but they tend to be gracious and biblically solid. We are not a perfect group of churches either. If we re-establish our ties, we would not necessarily be repudiating or insulting our ancestors of the last 100 or so years. They were not happy about the division either. So if we could find a way to get back together, it would honor our heritage of trying to be united, to follow the intent of the inspired Scriptures, and to glorify God.

  2. Alan says:

    Hi Jay,

    I hope we can find a way to bring some of these fragmented pieces together. I don't think that will happen by trying to win the arguments that separate us. But many of us are so weary of those arguments that we are ready to find another way. We should unite on the core gospel. Not everyone will be willing. But hopefully enough will be, that we can bring glory to God by showing grace and mercy and love and brotherhood to one another. I like that outcome a lot better than the one you described!

    BTW it was great to meet you at the Atlanta Elderlink today. Hope you had a safe trip home!

  3. Mark says:

    I think this subject is where the rubber really meets the road. I don't think very many of us have a good idea what it looks like for the progressive churches to come together. Congregational autonomy, like most good ideas, has its strengths and weaknesses, and I think you are correct in your observation that many of us have learned more about isolation than cooperation.

    Regarding the schools, I talked to a friend who works at Lipscomb about a decade ago about this very subject, and asked him what he thought was going to happen to the schools as the progressives and conservatives move further away from each other. His reply was, "Those who position themselves as denominational ( meaning strictly C of C) schools won't make it. Those who position themselves as Christian schools will."

    When I consider our situation, we have a mission work that is about to suffer because we aren't "Church of Christ" enough. We will probably look to like-minded Churches of Christ to invite partnership, but we will also consider working with Independent Christian Churches.

    I agree with you concerning existing and potential problems, but I don't know that I have any solutions. I'm eager to hear what you and your readers will offer.

  4. josh says:

    "The conservative churches will no more die out than the non-institutional or one cup churches have. But they will decline in numbers as a whole. It’s already happening."

    lol. Nothing could be worse than remaining faithful to God rather than trying every gimmick under the sun and drawing in the mixed multitude of rebels like Korah, Dothan, Abiram and On. Noah just wasn't missional enough and didn't know how to relate to the people. He should have hired him a Patriarchal Rock Band to entertain the people. He could have filled the ark up then! The church of Christ was small from AD 30 to the Protestant Reformation, and yet we sparked the Reformation by coming out of the woodwork and being persecuted. We've been small from the Reformation to now, and yet I dare say our presence in the world has sparked the New Perspective on Paul. We're not leaving. We're going to be here till Jesus returns, and some people are going to just have to get used to it. Even when we seem to be accomplishing nothing at all, God is accomplishing so much by way of confounding the denominations through us that its hilarious. The confusing mess that was the Protestant Reformation–all of it came about by Luther and Calvin beholding the church of Christ, wishing they could join up, but knowing they would have to renounce infant baptism. So instead of submitting to God and being saved they chose to rebel and make a New Rome, with themselves as dead and yet ever abiding popes. God did verily send those who refuse to accept the truth a strong delusion in those two men. And yet many others joined the church, and payed for that 'mistake' quickly with their lives, being drowned in mockery of baptism or burned at the stake. So did God fill up heaven with his martyrs who rejected the sceptre of Rome which is infant baptism, and the hallucinations of crazy men which is justification by mental assent and rebellion merged together. God is setting up another great entrance into heaven for a great many through the church. Too bad you will all have to miss it.

  5. Mark says:

    Josh wrote:
    "The confusing mess that was the Protestant Reformation–all of it came about by Luther and Calvin beholding the church of Christ, wishing they could join up, but knowing they would have to renounce infant baptism."

    I will see your lol and raise you an rofl. Actually, you should have started your post, "I am Rod Serling, and you are about to enter the Twilight Zone."

  6. Daniel says:

    The historical success of churches of Christ have been our ability to take the simple message of scripture to the communities in which we are located. It has not been contingent upon our uniting under some umbrella, name, creed or institution. (That is the strength of the denominational world) It has not even been our effective debate with denominational philosophies. It has been people willing to sit down with the Bible, read together, study together, and discover together the power of the Cross in the simple language of scripture. It seems like the future of congregations, however they may be labeled by other congregations, will rest on the willingness of those local churches to be salt and light within the communities in which they are located. Whether we have instruments in our worship or have women to serve on the table or lead prayers seems to pale in comparrision to the tranforming power of the Gospel of our Lord to work in the hearts of individuals and families – now that's the stuff of Christ's church, past, present and future!

    How blessed we are to have been invited by our creator to be a conduit in that transforming process!

    Our focus need not be defining our position on a spectrum that was non-existant in apostolic times, but rather on the cross of Christ. May we never lose sight of that Truth. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." Heb. 12:2

    As for the Universities (having worked in one for 10 years), they will continue to be led by the decisions of their trustees. These boards are comprised of leaders within churches throughout the country. For the most part, they reflect the decisions of the leaders within those churches. Christian Universities do not choose board members from dying churches, but rather from vibrant and living churches, active and growing. As long as there are vibrant churches on different points of "spectrums" the Universities will reflect a cross-population of families within those congregations.

    May we not be so focussed on issues that your predictions come to fruition. Rather, may we preach "Christ and him crucified" to a world with an increasing population of people who do not know Him.

    May He be glorified in all we do.


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