LeRoy Lawson is an international consultant with Christian Missionary Fellowship International, an agency that supports foreign missions. He writes,
1. We have made our point and it has been adopted by many who are not “us.” We do not now own the movement for restoring New Testament Christianity—if we ever did; and we’re no longer isolated from the larger Christian world—which we certainly were at one time. We find Restorationist soul mates scattered throughout the national and international church scene.
2. We don’t have a distinguishable brand. As has often been pointed out, “Restoration Movement” is a terrible label. So is “Stone-Campbell Movement,” since most people even within the movement don’t know about either Stone or the Campbells. To quote Professor Fred Norris, “Our distinctive is that we have no distinctives.” So, as I said, “they” have trouble figuring out who “we” are
3. We have outlived our enemies—and as a result have a dimmed sense of identity. Some of “us” have trouble figuring out who “we” are. By 1928 we knew we were not Disciples of Christ, not a capella churches of Christ, not Fundamentalists, not Pentecostals, not even Evangelicals. Instead, we boasted, we are “Christians only”—and don’t you forget it!
So we were energized and scrappy and sure of ourselves when we were fighting—Baptists, denominations in general, erring fellow Restorationists, and more. But without a fight, who are we?
4. We have a generation gap—a definite reason for our dealing with this issue today. Younger leaders are taking their cues from each other, not their forefathers. They’re convinced they face different challenges from any faced by those who have gone before them.
In short, we’ve been defined by our enemies — and this is certainly true of the Churches of Christ. The conservative Churches expend vast energies drawing lines between themselves and their perceived enemies. The progressive Churches went through a time of defining themselves in contrast to the conservative Churches — but that time is quickly passing.
As Lawson reminds me, my children have no interest in the conservative/progressive issue because they grew up in a progressive Church. They aren’t interested in rehearsing the old arguments from another generation.
Without other churches as enemies, who are we? Can we define ourselves by something other than our opponents within the community of believers?
Here are 10 specific values we have to offer within the larger Christian enterprise:
1. There is value in nondenominational connectedness.
I stress both: nondenominational stance, and connectedness. Interde-pendence [sic], not independence.
In this very secular and too, too religious world, individual Christians and churches, even individual denominations, aren’t strong enough to be effective alone.
I agree entirely. The Restoration Movement is no more self-sufficient than my right arm is self-sufficient.
2. There is value in not being merely Evangelical, especially since Evangelicalism has become so politicized. We must be broader, more inclusive than that. It really is better to be mere Christians.
Agree, but there really aren’t many congregations that hang “evangelical” on the door. There are lots of congregations that try to just be Christians who are, in fact, evangelical.
In fact, I doubt that 90% of our members can define “evangelical” — a word even scholars struggle to define. So we’ve never tried and aren’t trying to be evangelical — we don’t even know what it is. I’m not sure who does.
Worse yet, if we build our self-definition on such terms as “evangelical” we’ll just create a new super-denomination and find ourselves fighting over the boundaries of evangelicalism. Yes, we need to avoid the temptation to become generic evangelical churches, thereby creating the Evangelical Denomination.
3. There’s value in our entrepreneur-friendly environment.
Let our leaders lead; let our dreamers share their dreams; let our icon-smashers protect us from our own idolatry. Let the mavericks roam.
Again, I agree. Formal heirarchies turn movements into establishments.
4. There’s value in striving anew to be a youth movement.
In fact, we’ll survive only if we are one.
I suppose it’s true that we need to always be exegeting the culture afresh and being careful not to let tradition interfere with the mission. But if we decide to be uniquely tied to each other as an un-denomination denomination, aren’t we in fact not being a youth movement? The youth have no interest in denominational thinking … period. Hence, “we” cannot be some subset of the Restoration Movement. “We” has to become the church universal.
5. There’s value in acknowledging the authority of the New Testament and the preeminence of Christ over all other personalities and documents and theologies, especially systematic theologies.
We haven’t always correctly applied our slogan, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent,” but it does point us to the right source.
6. There’s value in continuing to aim for that elusive target, unity. We acknowledge it is helpful to be reminded of Calvin’s stress on the sovereignty of God, Luther’s on justification by faith, Francis of Assisi’s on love of all creatures. Likewise we do well to remember Campbell and Stone’s commitment to unity in spite of so many differences of opinion. “We’re Christians only, but not the only Christians.”
7. There’s value in stressing roots, even as we give our children wings.
We did not emerge from nowhere and were not birthed without cause. We are thriving because, remembering our origins, we have still been able to remain relevant to our culture, even as culture changes.
Kind of agree. I mean, our roots aren’t only in the Restoration Movement. As C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes showed in Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ, we have dozens of roots. (That’s an especially good book, by the way.) We also have roots in the Puritan movement, in the Baptist Churches, in Landmarkism, in the Enlightenment, in Methodism, in the Second Great Awakening, in Frontier Revivalism, in the Anabaptist movement, in the Catholic Church, in Zwingli … we have lots and lots of roots. It’s a mistake to limit our rootedness to the last 200 years.
And maybe we should instead be talking about the future of “we” as the New Testament uses the term. What is the future of the kingdom? Where does Christ’s church go from here? How do all churches find unity? After all, we (narrowly defined) can’t find unity unless we (biblically defined) find unity.
8. There’s value in constantly promoting the priesthood of all believers who use their individual spiritual gifts to build up and do the work of the church.
This teaching has the virtue of enhancing personal self-image without fostering self-centeredness. We’re gifted so that we may be gifts. We are called, all of us, to serve.
Amen. But what denomination would disagree?
9. There’s value in being held together by ideas, values, goals, and mutual commitments rather than by ecclesiastical structures and bureaucratic demands.
Amen, but many congregational denominations would agree. And who is that is to be held together? Surely, all Christians.
10. There’s value in offering what we enjoy to others all over the world. For their sakes we must keep teaching what we’ve learned and sharing what we’ve been given.
Ah … absolutely! But how do we share if we keep to ourselves? And how do we gain an audience to voice our ideas?
[to be continued]