Family, our denominational identity, the story we live, and hermeneutics. It’s a tall order to expect any church leadership to successfully lead their congregation through so many barriers to change. The solution, I think, is to tackle these issues long before the church deals with such issues as female deacons or … well, you know the list.
If the leaders are talking about family resistance to change in the context of female deacons, then the members will weigh their Thanksgivings against the benefits of female deacons. And no matter how strongly you feel about female equality, your life is likely far more impacted by how your family treats you on Thanksgiving.
But if the impact of our families on our walk with Jesus is considered separate from doctrinal disputes, our members’ may find themselves richly blessed by learning how very deadly dangerous their family’s legalism is. You see, the real reason that we need to help our members’ cope with legalism back home is not so we can have female deacons. It’s so their family will be rescued from a false doctrine that not only makes people miserable; it can damn (Gal 5:2-6).
Church of Christ legalism — the teaching that error on such incidental doctrines as the role of women, instrumental music, and the use of the church treasury — this teaching is not just wrong, but potentially damning. Therefore, it’s not just that our members need to have thicker skins so their parents’ don’t keep them from accepting needed change. Our members need to be taught how to teach their families the true gospel.
I lay this out in detail in my eBook (free download) Do We Teach Another Gospel? The short version is this. Paul wrote,
(Gal. 5:2-6 ESV) 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Paul’s point is not that relying on the law for salvation damns. It does. But that’s not the point. The point is that only faith in Jesus saves. Nothing else does. Therefore, the law cannot save.
We enter the Kingdom through faith in Jesus. We leave the Kingdom by the same path by which we entered. If we give up our faith, we are no longer saved.
But the thing is, the Galatians Paul declared fallen from grace did not deny the necessity of faith in Jesus. Rather, they denied its sufficiency. They insisted on faith in Jesus + circumcision. But Paul says it’s either all faith or all works. We pick one or the other. When we require both faith and something else, then we’d better get the something else perfectly — because we’ve refused to accept grace through faith. We’ve asked God to judge us by a higher standard — and he does.
If we insist on faith + works of the law, such as circumcision, then we must obey the entire law — perfectly. In the modern Churches of Christ, many insist on faith + correct pattern of worship + correct church organization + correct teaching and practice on divorce and remarriage … and the list goes on without limit. So by that standard, who can be saved? And Paul’s point is simple: no one. No one can measure up to even the standards we impose on ourselves.
I mean, we damn churches that use instruments, and pray that we haven’t done something unauthorized and so damned ourselves. But we have. Establishing a standard for who is saved and who is not, other than faith in Jesus, is deadly dangerous.
And so, our teaching against legalism shouldn’t be: give up your legalism so we can appoint female deacons. Rather, we should urge our members to give up their legalism so they can be saved by grace through faith in Jesus — and their families with them.
If we have a problem with legalistic family pressure pushing our members to insist on legalistic church practices so they won’t be considered damned by their families — quite literally — the solution is to teach grace but also the dangers of legalism. The idea of submitting to legalistic demands should be unthinkable to our members. I mean, surely the fact that Peter stood condemned for doing just that (Gal 2:11) would motivate us to flee legalism rather than submitting to it. We do our families no favors when we pretend that we agree with their sinful attitudes toward who is saved and who is not.
We take great pride in our denominational identity even while we deny being a denomination. I’ve spoken to members who insisted that they saw no sin in instrumental music but were afraid that, if we used instruments, we’d lose our identity. “Identity”? As what? And where does the Bible ask us to have an identity other than as disciples of Jesus? What subset of the church are we supposed to be — according to the Bible?
This goes entirely against the teachings of scripture —
(1 Cor. 3:3b-4 ESV) For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
Our identity is in Jesus. If that’s not good enough for us, then we’ve misunderstood our salvation top to bottom.
So why do we wait until the church leadership wants to adopt some controversial change before discussing our identity issues? Again, this is an issue that should be discussed very directly and frankly long before any changes in church worship or organization are planned. After all, this is about much deeper, much more important issues than laying a predicate for female deacons. It’s about how we perceive ourselves in relationship with God and to other Christians. It’s about whether we build into our Christian identity a “holier than thou” attitude. And we have a bad case of the holier than thou’s.