5. Reflection: Finally, “How is it going, and what’s next? Where do we adjust our course?” The congregation should always pause for thanksgiving, absolution, offertory, and celebration. The insights and prayers of the membership guide the evaluation of how they are doing.
I keep tossing that idea around in my mind to see whether it (a) makes sense and (b) is true to the Bible. I think it easily passes both tests. And it’s possible that, over time, it leads to a radically different way to be nondenominational. The “community churches” would no longer be city-states competing with the denominational churches. They wouldn’t be islands at all. They’d be sister congregations working together with other churches to redeem their communities.
We’d have to surrender our American approach to competition (what matters is how big our church is) and learn to think in Kingdom terms (what matters is how big the entire church in my hometown is).
And we just might radically change how the world sees us — as the church of Christ, rather than competing storefronts selling salvation for the price of a attendance. Indeed, it just might change how we interface with the world of politics. It might change everything.
What would it mean for the future of the Churches of Christ as a denomination? I’m not sure. But here’s what might be optimal —
i. For a time, Churches of Christ would share ideas, experiences, and training on how to catalyze this transformation in American Christianity. We’d have to work on unlearning the old ways and false doctrines. And we’d have to re-envision who we are and why we cooperate.
ii. As some Churches make these efforts, they’ll share their experiences, first with other Churches of Christ, and over time, with all churches that are interested in giving this approach a try.
iii. As Churches become deeply involved in their communities and in working with other churches across denominational lines, they’ll lose much of their denominational identity. They’ll take offense at the notion that we should be particularly concerned with “brotherhood” issues, when the brotherhood is the body of Christ on earth, not the Church of Christ denomination.
iv. However, we’ll still have doctrinal differences from Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians. We won’t want to be under the rule of a bishop like the Episcopalians or vote on new members like many Baptists. But we’ll think more in terms of mission than doctrine, and the old Reformation questions about predestination and transubstantiation will be no more interesting than the question of whether Paul made more than three missionary journeys. Such questions will make for interesting Bible class discussions but won’t create lines of fellowship.
v. This will lead to some tough questions about what happens to national and international missions, benevolence, and educational organizations. I think they continue, if they’re effective, but in radically different forms. They’ll have to learn to work in the new trans-denominational world. And some won’t make it. But the best-led ones will thrive.
But they’ll have to thrive by finding a market niche other than denominational loyalty. Rather, they’ll either serve a particular geographic area or else become truly expert in a particular field.
There will naturally be a lot of consolidation, as the need for 20 competing mission organizations all serving the Ukraine evaporates with the breakdown of denominational distinctives. They’ll merge, they’ll become better at their work, and they’ll spend less on overhead and more on mission.