The Future of the Churches of Christ: Dealing with the Numbers

Let’s think about the statistics we discussed a couple of posts ago. At the current rate of decline — assuming no acceleration — the Churches of Christ will hit zero members in 121 years.

But, of course, for at least a while, the numbers will accelerate, because the numbers show the church becoming disproportionately older and the rate of decline is going up. We aren’t keeping our own children, much less bringing new children in.

Moreover, as congregations become smaller, they’ll struggle to hold on to their members. It’s hard to attract even Church of Christ members without enough children for a children’s program or teens for a teen program. The decline will accelerate.

And it gets worse. You see, you have to look behind the figures just a bit. The most conservative Churches are losing their children to Christianity altogether. They’ll be the first to die out. In fact, I’d guess they reflect most of the decline.

If you apply the rate of decline to the rightward 1/3 of the Churches, then they’d disappear in 40 years — less, really, because the rate is accelerating. Now, it won’t happen quite like that. There will be rightwing Churches of Christ 100 years from now, just as there are still Christadelphian congregations. But the numbers will surely plummet over the next few decades if current trends continue.

The moderate Churches aren’t losing their children as rapidly, but in my experience, there are fewer and fewer moderate churches. The leadership and membership are beginning to realize that moderate congregations are usually political institutions — with the leaders busily negotiating compromises among the various factions.

Moderate churches don’t stay moderate. They either split, lose the right or left faction to another church, or pick a direction. I don’t think there will be many more moderate churches in 10 years.

The progressive Churches often lose their children to community and other evangelical churches, as their children are raised to be more loyal to Jesus than to a denominational label. Until lately, progressive Churches grew by attracting disaffected members from other Churches of Christ. It’s still happening, but there are fewer and fewer sheep to steal.

The better progressive Churches are growing by actually converting the lost. But this requires a fairly dramatic change in how we “do church.” You can no longer be fixated on serving tradition when your goal is to reach out to those who care nothing about your tradition but may care greatly about Jesus.

Thus, the Churches of Christ find themselves in quite a fix. Give the churches another 10 years, and the moderate Churches will have largely disappeared, the most conservative Churches will be well on their way toward disappearance, and the progressive Churches will be looking for how to survive with no sheep to steal from the rest.

Now, as challenging as these observations are from the perspective of a congregational leader, imagine being the leader of a Church-affiliated college or publishing house. What does your 50-year plan look like if you’re a college? How does a publishing house stay afloat when its readership is in numerical decline and aging rapidly? The same-old same-old?

I observe that our more conservative colleges are moving toward the progressive spectrum, and our most progressive colleges are moving toward a generic evangelicalism. Indeed, the Christian Chronicle has recently run articles reporting that less than 50% of the students in our colleges are part of the Churches of Christ.

Now, if all this were a result of our intense devotion to Jesus and were happening despite serious efforts to live like Jesus and spread the gospel, then “God gives the increase.” But I’m not so sure that we’re planting and watering.

Indeed, I think we’re seeing the last gasp of our particular brand of sectarian, institutional, denominational Christianity. The nation is heading into a post-denominational era rapidly.

But that’s not entirely a bad thing. Indeed, we’re not far from seeing the realization of Barton W. Stone’s dream from the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery

Imprimis. We will that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large: for there is but one body and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.

That’s the earliest document of the Stone-Campbell (Restoration) Movement, primarly authored by Richard McNemar but signed by Stone with others.

Kind of scary to imagine actually doing what it says, isn’t it? What would it be like to really, actually, and truly “sink into union with the Body of Christ at large”?

You see, we’ve never really meant it. Rick Atchley’s efforts to merge the Churches of Christ with the independent Christian Churches never really caught on — in part because many of our congregations consider instrumentalists damned. And in part because, well, why bother to merge denominations in a post-denominational world?

Crazy, I know, but the older leaders finally got ready to merge just about the time merger became irrelevant to most of our younger leaders.

Yep, I think the biggest problem with the merger effort was the fact it was so, you know, last century. The younger preachers really just don’t care about merging since, in their minds, we’ve already sunk into the larger Body of Christ. Or should have. Why merge with only a very small subset of Christianity in America?

But that’s a silly fiction. A self-delusion. We are not part of the larger Body. We’re just not. We may shop at their bookstores. We may go to their seminars. We may even buy their Bible class materials. But that only means we’re part of the same stream of commerce. That’s a capitalistic definition of “union.” We buy from each other. Not good enough.

So what would the realization of the original dream of the Restoration Movement mean on the ground? If we truly ceased to be a denomination and were “Christians only but not the only Christians,” how would life in the Churches of Christ change?

This entry was posted in The Future of the Churches of Christ, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to The Future of the Churches of Christ: Dealing with the Numbers

  1. Price says:

    I believe the pendulum will continue to swing back and forth from large to small, denominational to non-denominational because it’s just too hard for that many people to die to self..We all want what we want and we all think that we should have what we want.. It’ll drive “church” structure and programs until Jesus comes back and takes over.

    But, my guess is that the little white church in the wild wood is history. I like the idea of bigger churches with better and more diverse programs. More ways to engage, more people to befriend, more money to put into a single mission.

    To me it’s sort of like Wal-Mart. They combined what all the other mom and pop stores did all in one convenient place and the mom and pop places had to close down. Not everybody was happy about the change in culture but Wal-Mart met the need more effectively and efficiently. I can only imagine how much more effective and efficient the mission of the church would be if we found a way to live and work and worship in harmony. Perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit emphasizes unity so much in scripture?

  2. Doug says:

    Jay,

    It would help me if you would put together a list of behaviors and/or identifiers that distinguish between the 3 church types you mentioned: Conservative, Moderate and Progressive. I am not a CofC lifer and have really only visited 3 CofC congregations in my lifetime. I’ve been told that I attend a “liberal” i.e., Progressive, I guess, CofC but it doesn’t seem that progressive to me and I suspect that it might be somewhat moderate rather than progressive but I really don’t understand the identifiers of these 3 groups. Thanks!

  3. laymond says:

    Price said; “To me it’s sort of like Wal-Mart. They combined what all the other mom and pop stores did all in one convenient place and the mom and pop places had to close down. Not everybody was happy about the change in culture but Wal-Mart met the need more effectively and efficiently.”

    Price, I believe there are more people who worship Walmart, than there is that truly worship God now, as you seem to be suggesting (the church should follow the world) not try to get the world to follow the church. It is easier that way since they are headed that way already.
    Price maybe if we offer the new I-phone on sale ? but be careful not to get crushed in the rush.
    Mat 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in there at:

    Price I would agree with what you said, if I could find somewhere in scripture that all we get in the building will be saved — but it is just a plain fact, harsh though it may be, those who are there to be served will not make the cut, no matter how effective and efficient it is.

  4. Todd Collier says:

    So good to be having this conversation on St. Patrick’s day for he is the Christian example we need to follow. Everyone on the blog has been exposed to the modern/post modern issue with society and if you recall the folks talking about the postmoderns have reminded us repeatedly that “post-modern” is a “place holder” as we didn’t really know what society was becoming. Well, not we are much more clear and the term you will begin to hear in many discussions isn’t flattering. Our society is headed for “neo-barbarianism.” This is a situation where extreme individuality rules the day (even if the horde is all individualistic in the exact same way.) There are many many things about the society that is rising that should cause concern, but there is nothing we can do about it other than evangelize. That is they way we changed the world the first time. So, our questions about conserving or protecting what we have are irrelevant. The institution will change. Denominationalism is fading to its proper place, rigid structures are opening up while ritual (meaningful ritual anyway) is becoming more valuable. We are the Romans of the early 400′s AD and we will hang onto what we have for as long as we can, but massive changes are at the door.

  5. Todd Collier says:

    Separate issue: From any of my conservative friends, how do you see this whole situation developing as we move forward? Most congregations simply ignore what is happening but being men of deep devotion and committment to Christ I know you cannot. So what do you intend to do?

  6. James says:

    “We may shop at their bookstores. We may go to their seminars. We may even buy their Bible class materials. But that only means we’re part of the same stream of commerce. That’s a capitalistic definition of “union.” We buy from each other. Not good enough.”

    Truth.

  7. JMF says:

    First, some responses to the previous posts:

    Todd C: I really like the question you pose in your second post. Hopefully you’ll get something in response more thoughtful that the common, “Well, God only saved Noah and his family in the flood.”

    Doug: When I first read your question (How do we define conservative/mod/lib?) I chuckled at the simplicity of it. And then I realized I couldn’t answer the question. And then I remembered why I hate labels.

    Here is my best foot forward, based on what I think is the commonly accepted (though skewed IMO) definitions of these terms:

    Ultra-progressive: VERY post-mod. Resist taking firm stands on many things. May feel their only obligation as a Christian is to give love. Possibly teetering in some ways towards Universalism, although most probably don’t. Could worship with literally anyone that worships God. (This, incidentally, would be the position I’d put myself in many respects.)

    Progressive: Still caught up in defending their “non-COC” heresies. Okay with instruments, women, etc. but still look at everything through a COC worldview. Healthy view of grace and the Bible, have moved beyond law-keeping as a work. Made of largely of: 1) Thoughtful COC’ers that aren’t/weren’t afraid to ask tough questions and 2) Damaged COC’ers, usually divorced.

    Conservative: Jay distinguishes a bit differently than I do. I’d view conservative and moderate as the same thing in regards to COC. This type of COC is the proverbial ostrich with it’s head in the ground. But make no mistake, they are very theologically conservative, and their fallback response would be “Why risk it?” or “Let’s not rock the boat.” Of course, these responses will all lean towards the conservative member. They stay out of the editorial fights by avoiding anything that would get them written up. So basically, this is simply the non-militant wing of the very conservative COC.

    Ultra Conservative: This was the COC of my upbringing, so I am intimately close with it (parents are still a part of it). The main difference between this and the former is that the Ultras take the “…mark them that cause divisions” and “…no part in the unfruitful works of darkness” scriptures seriously. And by seriously, I mean that they spend a huge portion of their time marking false teachers and writing them up. Avoiding darkness would mean that any non-COC person isn’t even treated as a believer since they aren’t really even a Christian (flawed baptisms, etc.). No problems with damning other denominations — or even the COC down the road.

    In fact, the COC of my upbringing (before it split from 40 to 20 a couple years ago) had recently split off from the Contending For The Faith faction a few years prior since the CFTF had turned liberal. Yes, you heard me. How, you ask? From what I understand, it was a disagreement as to whether a woman could “sign language” a sermon, or if the “signer” needed to be a man. Of course, none of the people involved had deaf people in their congregation, but hey, what this country needs is a good war, right?! :)

  8. JMF says:

    Jay,

    I’m not sure that I agree with your conclusion(s). I recently left a post at my church where I was in charge of Community Awareness. Or Advertising. Of course, the complex part of that is to have a palatable message, and no, just saying “Jesus” isn’t going to cut it. (Unless you are going to become a JW just because of their campaign.) Things must be wrapped nicely.

    Our group remained motionless during my tenure because we were stuck debating things like, “Should we change our name from COC to Community Church?” or “Even if people come, 90% are instantly turned off by the accapella.”

    Here was my view: We are followers. We see what the Southern Baptists started doing 20 years ago (becoming non-denom), we see it worked, and we want to plug-n-play that model into our COC…20 years later.

    (Here is where I differ with you, Jay): I project that about the same time we become non-denominational, denominationalism with become retro-cool. I’m serious. I’ve already seen several young bloggers talking about their annoyance with the “big show” church, and they talk about how they went out to a country church with a bunch of old people and loved it.

    Look at the Mars Hill success. With Calvinism!!!! I mean, talk about an unattractive system of theology!!

    So I actually think a progressive COC or Christian Church can be well positioned for the future pendulum swing. I think they teach a far healthier theology that anything Calvinist-leaning, and the progressive RM has (mostly) remained a-political, which will be a huge positive going forward. The evangelicals will regret their political involvement within the next 10-2o years. The progressive RM tends to be thoughtful with some depth, as opposed to fluffy religion. I’m 35 and I’m far more self-aware than my parents, much less my grandparents. Kids from 15-25 are even more self-aware. This will lead to a desire for depth. I think the COC has that.

    But thankfully, we agree that fundamentalism is dying and will hopefully continue to die.

  9. JMF says:

    *I SHOULD NOTE, I’m not defending the COC as a brand. I fully affirm “Christians only.” We should fellowship with (in EVERY way) all believers. THAT SAID, this is merely what I see for our particular tribe.

  10. Doug says:

    JMF, I’m not a very complex person so my questions might be pretty simple too. But, I’m not sure your guidelines help me place my congregation. We’re certainly not Ultra-Progressive or even Progressive by your scale and we aren’t Ultra-Conservative either so I guess that leaves us in the Conservative camp. But, somethings don’t place us there either as in our community we are apparently regarded as Liberal (Although nobody has taken out attack ads on us …yet). For sure we have no women doing anything in worship and we don’t have a praise team and although we have Life Groups on Sunday night we still have a service at the building too. The “don’t rock the boat” description seems to fit our leadership pretty well though. Do you have any idea as to the percentage of the CofC’s that would fit into each of your categories? I’m guess that a large percentage of the CofC fits into your Conservative category while maybe it is less in Jay’s thinking? If your description is the same thing that Jay is talking about, it would seem to bode very badly for the CofC future. I’m thinking that Jay might consider your Ultra-Progressive category as totally outside the CofC to begin with.

  11. Bob Brandon says:

    Todd, “neo-barbarism,” eh? For, one thing, I don’t see “American civilization” in collapse around me; the drop in overall national crime rates from the past few years suggest that if we’re becoming more “barbarian,” we’re certainly nicer about it.

    Second, “neo-barbarism” just seem like so much “neo-Hellistic” chauvinism; a term folks who think they should be in charge of our culture lob at those who don’t share their conviction and vote accordingly.

  12. JMF says:

    Doug –

    At the end of the day, here is the COC rule-of-thumb for placing your congregation: If they are to your left, they are liberals. If they are to your right, they are rigid legalists that try and make laws where laws don’t exist. So that is why I imagine you are struggling with where to place your church; because the labels get in the way.

    Your COC sounds pretty mid-road. But here is the point I was trying to get across earlier: mid-road is theologically the same as the ultra conservatives (when push comes to shove).

    Would the members (leaders?) of your church attend an ultra church if out of town? My guess is “yes”. Would the members (leaders?) attend an instrumental COC if out of town? My guess is “no.”

    Ask your leadership to define their theological or doctrinal differences from an ultra conservative COC. My guess is there won’t be any…the difference is merely in the execution of the markings, write-ups, etc.

    Another important nuance: Ask your leadership if they consider the ultras saved. Next, ask them if they consider those to your left saved.

    If they DON’T consider the possibility that many to your left are saved, congratulations! You are a member of a conservative COC! :)

    As to your question about percentages, I can only offer guesses. Yes, I am shooting from the hip, but I also have 35 years (since birth) in the COC, COC college, and lived in Nashville (COC mecca) for ten years.

    1) Two big differences here: NUMBER of congregations, and NUMBER of people. I’d guess conservative congregations outnumber progressive ones 20:1. This is because conservative COCs split a lot and will often only fellowship people in a tiny circle. Lots of churches with 20-80 people.

    2) As far as number of PEOPLE, my guess is that this number is getting close to 1:1. In the southern COC mecca cities (TN and TX), I’d guess that number to be higher, as in more progressives than conservatives. When you start getting out of town into the country, there will be more conservatives.

  13. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Doug,

    Yeakley’s study is based on self-identification, and so his categories won’t necessarily line up with mine. That is, a Church might self-identify as “moderate” and yet be something else as I’d use the terms.

    I use “conservative” to refer to Churches of Christ that damn over eccelessiology, that is, questions about worship, or church organization, the building, or the church treasury. Conservative Churches have no uniform theology defining what are in fact salvation issues, but they all make at least some of their views re ecclessiology tests of salvation or fellowship. The classic example is, of course, instrumental music. Historically, it’s the issue that was most loudly proclaimed a salvation issue. Over the years, many other like issues have been found to be salvation issues by analogy to instrumental music.

    I use “progressive” to refer to Churches of Christ that have a Christ- or grace-centered theology, that is, that truly believe in salvation by grace through faith, and not by works — not merely the words but the heart and spirit of the idea. Thus, they do not damn over instrumental music or like issues. But they may well be a cappella in practice.

    I use “moderate” to refer to a Church that has both elements in substantial numbers. In such churches, the leadership has to make a concerted effort to create a congregation where both conservatives and progressives can be members and in leadership.

    In my hometown, my congregation is the only progressive church. The only moderate church has recently gone conservative. Their preacher declares my congregation damned because we clap. Seriously. Another church in town has disfellowshipped us because we participated in a Wed night pulpit exchange with a Baptist and Methodist church.

    10 years ago, there were far more moderate churches in Alabama than there are today. Most of those churches have now either split or chosen a direction. Until then, the leadership was heavily engaged in making decisions based on politics — choosing a path that would not run off one side or the other. Eventually, an event arose forcing a choice — typically the need to hire a new preacher. Both sides insist on getting a man who is of their stripe. It’s impossible to make both sides happy. And so the church picks a direction with the new hire.

  14. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    JMF wrote,

    So I actually think a progressive COC or Christian Church can be well positioned for the future pendulum swing. I think they teach a far healthier theology that anything Calvinist-leaning, and the progressive RM has (mostly) remained a-political, which will be a huge positive going forward

    There are Calvinist churches that are doing quite well — usually led by a charismatic pastor, a Mark Driscoll or Tim Keller or John Piper. The pastors can be very doctrinally strict and yet the churches thrive. But it takes much, much more than being doctrinaire!

    Mars Hill (Driscoll’s church) does not carry a denominational label. Redeemer Presbyterian (Keller) and Bethlehem Baptist (Piper) keep their denominational names.

    But the Churches of Christ carry the burden of a name that carries a very negative perception, not merely as a denomination but a denomination with strongly disliked track record. There have been plenty of surveys that show that the “Church of Christ” name carries a lot of baggage.

    However, I entirely agree that the progressive CoCs teach a largely healthier theology than would be found among the Calvinists or among many evangelicals. We should not throw away the good that we have.

    On a national scale, the only group of churches that are growing are the community churches. The Baptists and Presbyterians, on the whole, are in decline. While there are notable exceptions, on the whole, non-denominational churches do much better in the current culture than denominational churches. And yet many non-denominational churches succumb to market-driven teaching and shallow theology — which means they won’t last long.

    And so seems to me to indicate that the ORIGINAL Restoration plea remains both right and effective. Denominations are anti-scriptural and therefore not something to be pursued. But isolation and autonomy are wrong, too. We need to find a better way to organize than is evident in contemporary American Christianity.

    Our thinking is trapped in the denominational vs. independent box. It’s not a good place to be. I think we’re there because we see churches as businesses — either parts of a chain or independent mom and pop storefronts. And that comes from our insistence on competing with the church down the road. And that comes from Satan.

  15. Todd Collier says:

    Don’t think I used the word “collapse.” My comparison with the Romans of 400AD has to do with a seachange taking place around us that we are trying to deny. American civilization may not collapse – but it will change and it will change in radical and permanently transformitive ways. Look around, read a newspaper or better yet a news digest. We no longer look at things the way we used to. We don’t even have a clear definition of what is an American anymore. The people we evangelized twenty years ago think, act and prioritize in very different ways. Besides, whether you agree with it or not, neo-barbarian is the term we will be hearing. It is the term the same folks who gave us post-modern have determined best describes modern culture.

  16. Todd Collier says:

    Sorry- the people of today respond to very different impulses in evangelism than the young folks of twenty years ago.

  17. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    You and JMF (and others) are interesting fellows. I suspect JMF will suggest that I am one of those folks who is the ostrich with head in the ground — because I believe that what folks believe matters and can be a matter of good or evil!

    So, as an “ostrich”… let me offer that one of the most important looks at current trends is worth you attention, Jay. I’ve mentioned it before and I will raise again here. MacArthur’s The Truth War gets at the heart of much that is going on in America. MacArthur’s comparison of apostolic teaching to pop religion in America is insightful; he sounds much like a Restorationist of a previous century. He gives no ground to the broad “Progressive” movement beyond the Restoration Movement definition of the term. What he raises makes me wonder if JMF’s would be as comfortable with worshipping and embracing Neo-Gnostics as much as he thinks he would be. And I also wonder how his a definition of Christian love can include speaking derogatorily about others — including Conservatives. From my experience, when I hear such posts, I hear bitterness, not Christlike love. A dangerous trap….

    Jay, you urge ONENESS, so how about investing time in studies such as Ferguson’s study of baptism. I think that is what you are about. Right? Better than letting Satan spread fear, uncertainty, doubt… and bitterness.

    And let’s read Colossians 2:9-15 with others; they will then begin to understand how they can be made alive with Christ (had that very conversation with someone recently and he told me it meant a lot just to sit for a few quiet minutes to read the Bible). What a thought? Jay, how about our brainstorming how congregations can encourage more and more reading of the Scriptures… and less and less pooling of ignorance and “I thinks.”

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  18. laymond says:

    “Is the Church of Christ a cult”

    I hate to say this, but it seems to me to be true. more people on this blog writers, and commenters seem to agree more with David Martin, than Kevin Cauley, I don’t understand why.

    http://www.biblebelievers.com/david_martin/martin_church-christ.html

    I agree with an article written by Kevin Cauley linked below

    http://preachersfiles.com/is-the-church-of-christ-a-cult/

  19. Todd Collier says:

    Bruce my brother, quoting and discussing the “numbers” from Yeakley and then asking tough questions isn’t shoing a lack of love. Also, unless I misunderstood something the numbers seem to show that neither conservatism nor progressivism is “working” to secure our future as a movement. I also have not seen any love from Jay for those who profess to have “secret knowledge”or who see Jesus as a way to heighten their own sense of self. (Gnostics). We are where we have always been people deeply devoted to Jesus and to living out the Bible (but in that order as men’s ideas about the Bible can be seriously off base). We disagree with the conservatives on how to apply that devotion, not on whether that should be our devotion. I find it odd that – extremes aside – progressives tend to allow disagreement on that point while conservatives tend to condemn.
    And this leads me back to a question I asked earlier… The numbers are the numbers, they represent the actual facts on the ground and many of us have seen those facts in real life in shrinking, dying congregations that refuse to adapt to the changing demographics or mindset around them. What will the conservatives do to address these situations, what is your plan? You may not agree with where the progressives are going (and in truth I don’t agree with all of it) but at least these are folks who have seen the problem and are trying to address it. The first century church was a dynamic living entity that managed to adapt to widely differing local needs while maintaining the central integrity of the Gospel. This dynamism continued through the next four centuries unil the power of Rome was consolidated and local variants were mostly eliminated in the West. As society endures great change the true Church will return to that dynamism, holding to the central truths of the Gospel while adapting methodology and praxis to local needs.

  20. eric says:

    I wonder if the attraction of a Church without an * beside it(denomination) comes from a desire for truth. What I mean is it’s hard to talk to someone who never really owned their own faith or read their Bible and just sought a relationship with the true God, the true Christ. Not the God created however well intentioned by someone or a group of someones years in the past. What if they made a mistake? What if you can lose your salvation? What if you can worship God with all your abilities including instrumental gifts? The point being when I read the Bible I see no mention of not using musical instruments in worship. Nor do I see a salvation that can’t be turned away from. I have no problem worshiping beside those that disagree and I think that’s where the attraction of a Church without an *. It’s more humble in a sense. The person next to me isn’t a Baptist or CoC, their just someone who loves Christ and knows they don’t have it all figured out. I know I don’t. I want to. I want to know Christ in every way. I have opinions and I have convictions. There are very well defined things most in Christ can agree on. It seems to be the other things that compel us to separate. The Head of the Church wants us unified. So I want us unified. Maybe it starts with me saying I’m sorry for thinking my brand of Christ is better than your brand lets just go worship however you feel comfortable worshiping.

  21. Bob Brandon says:

    Todd wrote: “Don’t think I used the word “collapse.”

    You did not; I did, and, in doing so, didn’t express myself well. That’s my fault.

    However, the term “neo-barbarian” is too pejorative, and, from a brief excursion into Wikipedia, is one that is exclusively to the rightist wing of the American civil religion and politics. Put another way, those who are apt to describe what is happening in American culture as “neo-barbarian” are precisely those who are apt to consider other peoples’ civil rights expendable in the name of not offending their own religious beliefs. They won’t win.

  22. JMF says:

    Bruce Morton said:

    I suspect JMF will suggest that I am one of those folks who is the ostrich with head in the ground — because I believe that what folks believe matters and can be a matter of good or evil!

    JMF says: STRAW MAN

    Bruce Morton said:

    What he raises makes me wonder if JMF’s would be as comfortable with worshipping and embracing Neo-Gnostics as much as he thinks he would be.

    JMF says: I have no idea what a neo-gnostic is. I suggested my boundary is faith in Jesus, nothing more. Are you really arguing on boundary issues? Again, I’ve been in the COC rodeo my entire life. I know the boundary debacles that face the conservative COC. Let’s put this to the test, Bruce: Please list the beliefs of the institutional ultra conservative COC with which you disagree. You’ve often accused Jay of not answering your queries, so I trust you’ll “be ready to always give an answer” to my questions. :)

    Bruce Morton said (about JMF):

    And I also wonder how his a definition of Christian love can include speaking derogatorily about others — including Conservatives.

    JMF says: Excuse me? Please paste anything “derogatory” that I have said. And Bruce, disagreeing with me or being uncomfortably convicted by something I’ve said does not rise to “derogatory.”

    I’ll re-ask my question of you, Bruce: Please list the theological/doctrinal disagreements you have with the conservative institutional COC, namely those COC’s to your right.

  23. JMF says:

    Bob Brandon –

    I am confused by your description of “neo-barbarianism.” If it is an extreme individualism (as Todd seemed to suggest), then I’d think the right wing of American politics would be all for it. You seem to suggest that the right wing uses in pejoratively against the left wing. Am I understanding this correctly?

    By the grace of God, I got out of the political hoopla about three years ago. I wish I could get back all the time I wasted, and repair the damage to my arteries from the high blood pressure! Total waste IMO.

    That said, I recall that extreme individualism was the gospel of the right wing, and I totally bought it. What Todd said made sense to me; I definitely can see that as the path we are on.

  24. Charles McLean says:

    Bruce suggested: “Jay, how about our brainstorming how congregations can encourage more and more reading of the Scriptures… and less and less pooling of ignorance and ‘I thinks.’”
    >>>
    Ah, but this is the problem wrapped up and presented as a solution. As soon as the scripture enters your mind and then exits your mouth, “I think” has become involved. Faith is not mathematics. In mathematics, if we can just get everybody to agree that the number of fingers on your right hand is “five”, then we have unity on that definition. This Campbellian fantasy that if we will all just read the Bible to each other then we will have unity is just that… fantasy. Never has worked, never will. No evidence to the contrary has ever been presented. You can always gather a few folks around any religious POV, but that’s not unity in the Body of Christ. There can never be a unity of interpretation, for this is generated by men. There is only a unity of the faith, a unity of the spirit, both of which are works of God in us, not works of the Bible on us.

    I appreciate Jay’s description of the times as “post-denominational”. The rise of the independents began when some believers simply could not get their historic denomination to accept what they were learning and experiencing. (I have lost count of the number of these groups which sprang from the Methodists.) But these believers were also not comfortable with simply being recruited into another local club. So, they did a scratch-start outfit of their own. Lather, rinse, repeat. These days, independents keep popping up more because of a lack of denominational identity, not in reaction to it. Believers are less and less connected to a brand and more connected to people or to activities or to mission.

    Now, it is true (and I fear always will be) that there are folks out there who do their own kingdom building because their club has become popular. The new “denominations” more generally call themselves a “Brand X fellowship of churches”, have far fewer members, and are generally regional.

    I would think that if the CoC were truly non-denominational– as it still claims to be in most places– it would find the easiest path. A local CoC, without the denominational requirements for continued membership, could embrace things new to them– musical instruments, gifts of the Spirit, ministry to the poor, non-traditional meeting models. But the fact is that most CoC’s are far MORE bound to the denomination than the local Methodists or Nazarenes. In the other groups, the line of “in or out” is distinct and somewhat separate from a specific belief. If a local Methodist church decides to leave its denomination, there may be a scrap over the real estate, but the district superintendent is NOT going to come in and declare that they are all going to hell. There IS the possibility of being something different and still being in Christ.

    When a local CoC gets to this point in its beliefs, it has lost its most powerful distinctive, and has left the denomination already, no matter what the sign out front says.

  25. Bob Brandon says:

    JMF:

    You wrote: “I am confused by your description of ‘neo-barbarianism.’”

    I suppose you have a right to be confused as I didn’t meant to offer one except to suggest that to describe another as barbarian of one sort or another, whether paleo- or neo- (or even mezo-) is per se insulting and highly unlikely to lead to meaning conversation.

    (Oh, and one correction: I was Googling instead of Wikipediaing.)

  26. Todd Collier says:

    Ok, Bob, forget the term I have been encountering in the literature in actual books and not on google since you can’t seem to get past it. Our society is becoming radically “individualistic”- self focused, self serving, self centered. The concept of being together as a group in the national sense (or community sense or denominational sense) is fading and being replaced with a focus on “tribe” which oddly enough may or may not be defined by “family” connections.

    Forget political websites, read some basic sociological studies or better yet talk to a professional family counselor. They will tell you exactly what they are seeing and its far reaching and permanent results. This is not scare mongering, it is a fact for millions of families – the American family unit is taking huge hits and this will impact how we handle evangelism and what future churches will look like. We must retool to emphasize long term discipleship instead of expecting relatively short Bible studies and weekly attendance to fill up our churches. We must rethink our teaching emphasis away from denominational indoctrination and more towards day to day living. We must stop making accusatory excuses for why helping the poor will be bad stewardship because they should work harder (even though maybe they really should) and develop a visible concern for bringing Jesus into social issues. This last is both a conservative and a progressive issue. I was having to keep from biting my tongue off this morning while visiting a Bible class at a very progressive congregation and hearing them find every excuse in the book not to follow Jesus into the homes of the broken.

    Bottom line the world is changing, Jesus is moving to join them, figure out how to follow Him or think about changing your sign.

    So for the third time- the numbers are real- what are my conservative brothers going to do to address them?

  27. Doug says:

    Todd, I hear your frustration brother. What I see myself is a church that is mainly concerned with itself. There is little outreach generated from the church enterprise itself and when I express concern over that, I’m told that I just don’t see what all is going on behind the scenes by individuals in the congregation. And to a certain extent, that is true. But, I still feel that if the church is really being the Church, there should be a lot of caring and outreach being generated by the entire body, led by the church leadership, and not just a hit-or-miss dependence on individuals in the congregation. I know that I would like to participate in community care with my brothers and sisters and not just do it by myself. From my perspective, your conservative brothers aren’t going to change… they aren’t going to do anything different, and they will eventually disappear. It’s a bit strange that these people would like to count my work as the work of their congregation but never do any work that incorporates the entire congregation and is led by the leaders of the congregation. All they seem to want to do is sit in classes designed to teach them how to do some sort of work but they never seem to get around to actually doing work together.

  28. Norton says:

    I think there is much to what Todd writes. America is becoming more individualistic. Chalk it up to movements in following jobs and the general break down of the close-knit family. The population pot is being stirred so throughly that communities, families, clubs, and churches are continually being scattered. And we don’t need help from others close-by to survive and enjoy live as much as we used to, or at least we don’t think we do. Loyalty to your “tribe” is becoming a thing of the past. Having stayed in the rural area where I grew up with a large family, who has for the most part, returned, tribe life is still hanging on for me. But for most of those who move in to this area from the cities, they want more than anything, to be left alone and not bothered with attempts to get them into any of our tribes.

  29. Bob Brandon says:

    Todd:

    I apologize for being frustrating. I’m not trying to insult. When you write: “forget the term I have been encountering in the literature in actual books and not on google since you can’t seem to get past it,” I would appreciate you advising me in what books you’re finding this. The closest I’ve found – on Google -is some FreeRepublic article attributed to R.C. Sproul concerning the Schiavo matter. It’s certainly not coming up on the Internet. My point stands, however, that to use a term with the word “barbarian” in it to describe a opinion held by another is highly unlikely to generate a discussion intended to inform or reflect.

  30. Bruce Morton says:

    Charles:
    I saw your post. Problem wrapped up and presented as a solution? Campbellian fantasy? Whew! The importance of reading the Word of God together is part of MacArthur’s suggested solution as well in The Truth War. I will suggest that his strong critique of Evangelicals is worth hearing by many others. If you pick up MacArthur’s volume, you will find that what I wrote is other than a “Campbellian fantasy.” Indeed, I hear the same commitment and encouragement to read Scripture often from others beyond the Restoration Movement (e.g. Mark Driscoll). And typically in the context of just how real is a spiritual war that surrounds us. I, for one, agree fully with John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll in their observations about the reality of a spiritual siege and the importance of the Word of God in the face of darkness (e.g. Eph. 6:10ff.).

    Charles, you have penned an excellent summary of what many call “Christian mysticism.” It is indeed an alluring option in a nation that generally does not believe in spiritual darkness (per a recent Barna Group survey). And perhaps you have really gotten to the heart of what you believe in your response to me. And it also is at the heart of much of what Scott and Carmen have recently written in Wineskins (Fellowship topic). You provide further evidence of just how on-target MacArthur is in The Truth War.

    I will offer that 1 Timothy 4:13 should get our attention as part of Paul’s antidote to 4:1ff. And together with our searching the Scriptures, we need to pray often. Also, doesn’t Jesus show us the importance of the Word when it becomes his clear, pointed response to Satan in the siege of the Wilderness of Judea?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  31. Bruce Morton says:

    Todd:
    I appreciate much of what you have written and your urging that we seek others out, and agree with your assessment (and that of others) regarding the U.S.. And I walk the talk about reaching out to others; it takes up a good bit of my time.

    However, I question your suggestion that, “We must rethink our teaching emphasis away from denominational indoctrination and more towards day to day living.” We do indeed desperately need the day-to-day living teaching. However, the “denominational indoctrination” (or whatever term we use) aspect is also crucial — especially when our nation is drenched in a popular religion that is growing more mystical.

    Indeed, I encountered that very situation this week regarding an individual who now realizes he was seeing only “the ritual” side of baptism into Christ. He soaked up Colossians 2:9-15 and said he “got it” — how we share in Jesus death and resurrection. How immersion baptism is more than “the water.” So, part of what the U.S. faces is related to simply having spent little time reading the Word of God. The individual I talked with (20′s) indicated that he had spent VERY little time reading the Word of God in his former life (which included hearing death metal, etc.). So, day-to-day living topics are indeed important for him. But so also is an understanding of what might fall under “denominational indoctrination.” He told me he really appreciated my taking time to read Colossians 2:1-15 (and Ephesians 2:1-10 and think through it with him.

    No, I do not know all that you are thinking re “denominational indoctrination.” But I suspect at least part of such seems to be baptism into Christ — at least for a segment of those who read One in Jesus — and decided to share a “life example.”

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  32. Todd Collier says:

    on I-40 and via Kindle so patience and forgiveness requested in advance.
    Bob start with The Celtic Way of Evangelism and then do your research from there.

    Bruce only an ardent denominationalist sees baptism as a denominational doctrine. I talk to lots of brothers in other groups who say and do pretty much what we do because they see it in the Bible. That`s why I do it as well.

    But again for the fourth time: my unfortunate choices of terminology are not the issue. I have suggested what I am doimg as a “progressive” to change Yeakley`s numbers… what are my “conservative” brothers going to do?

  33. Bob Brandon says:

    Todd:

    Thanks for the reference; let me be clear that I don’t think that you coined the term, “neobarbarism.” Someone else, somewhere else, created that term. Any criticism is not directed at you, or anyone else for that matter; my concern remains the pejorative nature of the term.

    Bob

  34. Bruce Morton says:

    Todd:
    I think I have now been called “an ardent denominationalist.” Whew! Well, I can think of others (including Jay) who would suggest that what many churches of Christ have taught about baptism in Christ being a washing away of sins is “just” our denominational thought. So, not convinced your assessment announces the conclusion of all who chat in the blog. But I am glad you are hearing from other groups an openness to apostolic teaching regarding what baptism into Christ means.

    What then is in “denominational indoctrination” for you?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  35. Charles McLean says:

    Bruce, if my declining Campbell’s scientific rationalism in favor of, “He (the Holy Spirit) will take what is Mine and make it known to you” is mysticism, then plead me guilty. “Biblical scholarship and a dedicated study of the Greek texts will lead you into all truth” is a phrase missing from my bible somehow. I suppose it could have been an oversight.

    But if you want to accuse somebody of rejecting the idea of spiritual darkness, you may want to pick another target. I have cast out demons, up close and personal. I have seen that darkness firsthand. You can label me in order to dismiss my view, but that’s not necessary. The labeling, that is. Your associating me with views not my own should be sufficient to muddy the waters. “Insert straw(man), stir vigorously.”

  36. Charles McLean says:

    “Also, doesn’t Jesus show us the importance of the Word when it becomes his clear, pointed response to Satan in the siege of the Wilderness of Judea?”
    >>>
    Er, Bruce, Jesus IS the Word of God.

    Funny, this idea that the Son of God became somehow more authoritative when he quoted the Talmud. As if the Most High had to say to Satan, “NOW you better listen; I’m giving you BCV!”

    Oy.

  37. Bruce Morton says:

    JMF:
    You wrote: “This type of COC is the proverbial ostrich with it’s head in the ground.” Not derogatory? No, I do not buy it. That is the kind of stuff that Jay ought to pounce on you for writing. I hope you consider; it sounds like bitterness.

    But I will answer your question — at least partially.

    1) I am not convinced that a “KJV only” stance by some churches (churches of Christ and others) represents the will of Christ. Can we learn from the KJV? Yes. But seems to me that we can learn from the ESV, NIV, NASB and NBV as well, for example.

    2) Also, the issue of congregations working together has precedent in the early churches. So, not convinced by the discussions of those who challenge such.

    A little more about “who I am.” I remain open to simple worship — and agree strongly with churches of Christ and many Mennonites in that respect. So, not really bent out of shape with “ultra conservatives;” I actually am okay with a broad spectrum of folks — and even worship in “Progressive” (by their own definition) churches of Christ.

    What I do find dismaying are the growing commitments to sensationalism that are penetrating some of our assemblies and also experiences such as a recent one among “Progressives:” I heard a sermon with NO reference to the Jesus of the Gospels. NONE. It was about the “God who loves,” but no Scripture. NOT ONE VERSE. The message would have been as fitting in a Wiccan assembly of priestesses. That, JMF, is part of what is in the term “Neo-Gnostic,” by MacArthur’s definition. And it is a growing situation. Why? Because according to a Barna survey, it is what most Americans are ready to hear. They are NOT ready to hear “Jesus only” anymore.

    I will offer that what Jay comments on regarding “demise of churches of Christ” is far broader — and darker — than his weblog is allowing. He is carefully steering toward a FEW ISSUES he has a passion for tackling. He writes as if some of the really big ones facing churches of Christ are not there. Nope, do not believe it. Churches of Christ are caught by a young generation (and more) in the middle of one of the biggest issues we have ever faced: “Christian mysticism.” (glad to discuss with you more at MortonBLSL7 at earthlink dot net). Jay needs to tackle, but not sure he wants to do so.

    I could go further, but you have asked a lot of me. And I find it challenging — and out-of-place — to lay out pages and pages on Jay’s weblog.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  38. Bruce Morton says:

    Charles:
    The fact that you took issue with my simple comment about reading the Word and would call it “Rationalism” astonished me. And your post that takes issue with my comment about Jesus’ actions in Judea? Hmmm. Your response genuinely baffles me. No, He is not more authoritative by quoting Scripture. But He is showing us the importance of Scripture in a spiritual war.

    Also, your flippancy angered me. So, I think I ought to halt the dialog with you for awhile.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  39. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Todd,

    I’ve added The Celtic Way of Evangelism to my wish list. (And I have a birthday coming up!)

  40. Todd Collier says:

    OK back home in Virginia. Bruce to my way of thinking – and for some here it will be heretical-what the Bible clearly teaches about Jesus, how to get to Him and how to live with Him, including constant study, prayer, fellowship and good works are part and parcel of basic Christianity. Baptism is squarely a part of this and is so obviously so that among those who claim a high view of Scripture the debate is usually over what baptism means or from a different direction when grace “attaches” for salvation, not whether a disciple should be baptized. All of the non-denom folks I know immerse for remission of sins so the disciple may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit because that is what Peter says. Then they argue about what it means.
    Denominational indoctrination- as I experienced it growing up in the Memphis area consisted of three large portions:
    1. The correct Biblical doctrine but taught in snippets of text and memory verses that were removed from their contexts and which when time proved that context did not support some of them tempted the thoughtful student to discard all of them and start from scratch. As a teacher, if I mislead my student in one area can he be sure he can trust me in other things?
    2. Teachings which I place under the scholarly heading of “Made Up Stuff.” For instance- weekly communion. A great idea and probably the best way to do it (if not every day) but in no way, shape or form commanded anywhere in the text. We made it up out of whole cloth, and then condemned everybody else for not agreeing with us. Church name- now this is a funny one – when I was a child I was plainly taught that there were many acceptable NT names for the Church but we had adopted CoC as most clearly communicating what we believed. Then in the late 80′s when folks started changing their signs to “family of God” or “community of God” or just “soinso” church the gatekeepers went nuts and CoC was the “only name by which we must be saved.” IM has a longer history but is another picked fight where the appropriate Biblical answer was to let your brother alone.
    3. A totally messed up view of God and Jesus. I never heard of grace in a positive sense till I was twenty. The God that was hurled at us from the pulpits was always angry and ready to pounce. Jesus was little better. We would have never dreamed of having one of those icons of the scowling Jesus in our buildings, but we recognize that Christ immediately. We were better off to keep God and Jesus as far away from us as possible and to take our weekly communion to innoculate us from the effects of sin. This was the common image presented to me by eight different preachers I was old and aware enough to pay attention to.

    Sunday morning I visited with a “progressive” congregation which frankly amazed me. In one of the most starkly segregated cities in the south this Body has integrated- their eldership, staff and membership reflect this and a wing of their facility is given to a Hispanic group so they can learn in their own language. The congregation was also integrated accross the financial strata of the city. Amazing. They adopt babies, help single parents with childcare, help retrain the homeless and those on welfare to help them find and keep work, they teach ESL at a local elementary school and invite the parents to the above mentioned Hispanic work. They are moving to take their city for Christ.

    Oh, and the gnostic doing the preaching relied heavily on large contextual chunks of Matthew to remind us that Jesus would expect an accounting for the talents He has entrusted to us and showed us how the disciples struggled under that trust and how we had better get busy because the wait won’t last forever.

    Sunday night I had the benefit of visiting with a conservative group very much on life support – and it kills me because they used to be so strong and vibrant – and the message I grew up hearing had not changed much aside from tacking grace on to the end of it along with a warning not to count on it. Sigh…

  41. Paula says:

    Hi Jay – I know you are traveling but I thought I would chime in here. In your article you stated, “We are not part of the larger Body. We’re just not.” I don’t understand this. If Jesus is the head of the church, and we belong to Him, how can you/we take the position that we (CoC) don’t belong to the larger Body? Wouldn’t it be Jesus who determines who is and who is not part of His Body?

  42. Todd Collier says:

    I don’t believe Jay was stating that we are not properly part of the greater Body but simply that our actions prove that we do not believe we are. If the larger Body consists of all those who belong to Jesus and yet we do not share life with them then we are acting as if we are the whole Body and not merely a part. The same thing is true of individual congregational members who refuse to participate in the work and activities of the local Body. By our choices we are not a part of that larger Body, not because we are right, but because we are self-centered and rebellious. And no this is not just a CoC issue but is true for all who view their particular sect as the end all be all of Christianity.

  43. Paula says:

    Thank you Todd. That clears it up for me.

  44. Mark says:

    Perhaps far too many people have not paid attention to the old 2-line hymn “God works in a mysterious way.” Maybe this time it is not so mysterious. All the moves to Community Churches, which seem to be similar to the cofC without all the baggage, may be trying to tell the leaders of Christianity something. Those churches can be nimble and not have the entrenched politics and PR problems left over from old times when everyone else was damned and the leadership was beholden to the big donors. In the new, nimble community church women can be allowed in the pulpit and IM can be utilized without the condemnation from our “brothers” via big one-page ad in the newspaper. This is almost like a bankruptcy where the old company is left with all the debt and the new company emerges debt-free with new, cheaper labor contracts. Perhaps this is what is happening only without a court order.

    The whole argument about conservative-moderate-liberal is all relative to where one is when he/she looks to the right and then the left.

Leave a Reply