* The progressives are moving so rapidly into a generic evangelicalism that we may lose the Godly parts of our Restoration Movement heritage. We have much to contribute to the evangelical mainstream — but not if we forget who we are.
We’ll consider what we have to contribute in a later post. The goal here is just to argue that we are losing our group identity (for good or bad). Now remember: we’re looking 20 or 30 years ahead. This isn’t going to happen this year. Here’s the evidence —
* First, many progressive Churches have already changed names, often becoming a “community church” or “Family of God.” Some have adopted entirely individualistic names.
* Second, in the absence of a defining theology, we are beginning to find ourselves drifting just all over the place doctrinally. Some are teaching once saved, always saved. Many are beginning to talk about baptism in Baptist terms. A very few are drifting into theological liberalism — denying that only Jesus can save. But mainly, it’s not so much that we teach error as we just aren’t sure what to teach.
* Third, we are less and less loyal to Church of Christ institutions. How many progressive Churches donate to a Christian college? How many encourage their members to subscribe to the Christian Chronicle? How many continue to support their state’s church-affiliated orphanage?
We do participate in youth events and attend college lectureships. But we feel little ownership of most other institutions either because they are tied to the legalism that we’ve rejected or else because we are so focused on our congregation’s vision that we have no vision for the Churches of Christ as a whole.
And so, what institutions will remain that will help tie us together as a community of churches?
Which brings us to —
* The progressives have few means of meaningful fellowship or cooperation among themselves — and little thought is being given to the costs of that omission.
The only way we can cooperate is through common institutions. Why cooperate? Well, to send missionaries. Few would be willing to support a missionary with different doctrinal views, even if within grace.
Why else? To prepare Sunday School literature that reflect our views. Or to hold teen events that reflect our views of grace. Or to provide fellowship events for Christian singles.
Progressive churches are having a problem finding good children’s literature for their classes. Either it reflects rejected, traditional teachings or else it’s too vague, being aimed at a trans-denominational audience that the publishers are afraid to offend. Where’s the progressive class material for 5th and 6th graders that teaches what we believe on baptism? As a result, many of our churches create their own children’s and adult material. Why is no one publishing it?
And we have to cooperate to educate the next generation of preachers. We can send our students to Lipscomb and Abilene, of course, but are they teaching what we’re teaching? How would you even know? Where’s the communication?
Oh, and to train elders. We don’t do that very well now. It’ll just get worse if we don’t work together. We’re an elder-led movement that only provides training for preachers. Where’s the progressive periodical aimed at the urgent need for training our elders and other volunteer leaders?
But cooperation requires either (a) institutions or (b) a congregation that provides leadership for the rest. Among the progressives, nearly all cooperation is handled through the Christian colleges, particularly the invaluable ACU. Abilene writes many of our best books, teaches annual one-day seminars for elders (ElderLink), and offers churches in conflict invaluable aid. Abilene works with institutions that are experts on missions, which support many congregations’ mission efforts.
Oklahoma Christian helps produce WinterFest for teens each year. Many other events are provided by our precious colleges.
But most of our colleges have very limited vision, serving their own interests but not the interests of the Churches at large — much less the interests of the progressive Churches. Indeed, many prefer to sail behind the winds of change, rather than utilizing their immense talents and resources to further the gospel of grace.
Among congregations, the Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, Arkansas is helping train teams to go to unchurched areas to plant churches. How rare is this? The best I can tell, fewer than 1 in 10,000 congregations takes on a task like this.
Who is taking the leadership in providing internships for ministry students? (I don’t know that anyone is.) Who acts to focus our campus ministry efforts (which are collapsing in many places)? Not a single one of our colleges offers a major in campus ministry.
The reality is that nonprofits (such as AGAPE), for-profits (such as most of our publishing houses), and colleges coordinate 99% of the cooperation we do. Very few congregations take on these tasks. They’re busy trying to find volunteers for the nursery. And few have the expertise to oversee missions, develop housing for the needy, or provide care for the destitute.
And so — do we create our own institutions? Work with the existing Church of Christ institutions? Or join with existing institutions put in place by other denominations?
If we have no progressive institutions, we’ll have no progressive Churches of Christ. We’ll become something else.
And here’s my question: why isn’t anyone talking about this? Who is planning and visioning at a denominational level? Who is even asking if we should?