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Churches of Christ: Why They Left:, “Good News and Bad News”

Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.We’ve been considering Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr. We can think of this as a sequel to his Good News and Bad News: A Realistic Assessment of the Churches of Christ in the United States 2008, which provides some additional statistical insights we should reflect on.

For example,

The general trend since 1980 has been for Churches of Christ to grow in”U.S. Mission Field” states, but to decline in states where the Churches of Christ have the greatest concentration of congregations, members, and adherents [unbaptized children].

Of course, this is consistent with my recent series taught at the Tulsa Workshop, questioning why established Churches don’t grow like church plants. Indeed, the evidence is that, on the whole, our established Churches are in accelerating decline.

The number of congregations that have closed their doors from 1980-2007 is the highest in many of the states where the Churches are the strongest.

States Congregations Closed Percent of Decline
Missouri -98 -18.0%
Texas -85 -3.8%
Oklahoma -45 -7.1%
Illinois -18 -5.9%
Kansas -17 -9.3%
Michigan -16 -7.5%
Arkansas -15 -2.0%

Oklahoma has long had a strong Church of Christ presence, and yet it’s lost 7.1% of its total number of congregations in 28 years.

And this is no statistical glitch. The total number of adherents (baptized members and their unbaptized children) declined by 11,011 (12%!) during the same time. You see, the loss of congregations is less dramatic than the loss of people. Indeed, despite the closings, the congregations that remain have, on average, a lower membership than in 1980.

Meanwhile, Tennessee Churches lost 10,187 people, representing 4.5% of their adherents — despite being the home of countless schools of preaching, colleges, and other institutions affiliated with the Churches.

Let’s be honest. These numbers are sheer disaster. When the states with the largest numbers of members and with the strongest institution are losing members and congregations, the denomination as a whole is in deep, deep trouble.

And these numbers are only through 2007 — five years ago. The pace of loss gives every evidence of accelerating. For example, while Tennessee lost 10,187 adherents, it only lost 5,479 baptized members, meaning that nearly half of those lost were unbaptized children. And when churches begin to lose their young families, they are ready for the church equivalent of hospice. They are terminal — absent dramatic changes.

In fact, many of congregations have chosen to dose themselves with spiritual morphine, to dull the pain of this disaster. Rather than dealing with the real problems, they’ve chosen to anesthetize the pain with nostalgia, denial, and blaming everyone but themselves.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better. I see few signs that many of our more conservative congregations are taking any steps at all to deal with the problem. And as I’ve said, the progressive Churches have their own related problem — being that they are used to growing by attracting unhappy sheep from the conservatives. That pond will soon fish out.

I do appreciate the courageous decision of the Gospel Advocate to publish Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ even though Dr. Yeakley takes positions contrary to the Advocate’s recent editorial policies. Perhaps the Advocate is taking this news seriously.

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Churches of Christ: Why They Left: Chapters 11 & 12

Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.We are reflecting on Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.

In chapter 11, Yeakley addresses the role of women. Seven of the 325 responses were from women who left over the issue.

Yeakley criticizes those who wouldn’t allow a woman to pray aloud in the presence of men in a private setting, such as a small group setting.

Yeakley is a complementarian rather than an egalitarian, that is, he sees men as spiritual servant-leaders in a marriage.

In church affairs, Yeakley also sees a principle of male spiritual leadership. However, he argues strenuously against any notion of the inferiority of women. Continue reading

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Churches of Christ: Why They Left: Chapters 8, 9 & 10

Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.We are reflecting on Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.

Chapter 8 deals with elders, ministers, and other leaders within the Church. It’s a good chapter.

Yeakley argues that elders should see the preacher as a partner in ministry, not a mere employee. They should work together as a team.

Amen.

Indeed, one of the largest reasons good men leave the ministry is thoughtless treatment of our ministers by the elders.

________________

Chapter 9 deals with personal evangelism. He criticizes the legalistic view that you can’t go to heaven if you’ve not converted someone to Jesus. He argues strongly against manipulative methods — such as using fear and guilt as motivators.

It’s another good chapter.

_______________

Chapter 10 is about instrumental music. He reports that the instrumental music issue was mentioned more than any other single issue in the 325 survey results. It’s obviously a big deal for those who’ve left!

Yeakley advises that many Church of Christ leaders argue —

They regard [having both a cappella and instrumental services] as being like a congregation that keeps its baptistery for those who prefer immersion, but also installs a “baptismal font” for those who prefer sprinkling — and has one worship service for those who prefer immersion and another for those who prefer sprinkling.

And here’s the core of the instrumental music controversy. Many of our leaders see a cappella music as essential to salvation — and this is utterly destructive of the gospel.

Yeakley next argues for the Regulative Principle (authority is required for all church practices), and against the Normative Principle (all is permitted that is not forbidden), ignoring the many other possibilities — such as that the question doesn’t turn on authority at all.

Thankfully, however, Yeakley argues that instrumental music is not a salvation issue but an obedience issue (“thankfully” because you can’t really teach salvation by faith in Jesus while teaching that error on the instrument damns). Indeed, he reiterates that perfect doctrine is not required for salvation.

This is truly a remarkable concession — and a very healthy one. Yes, we should be deeply concerned to obey God’s word as best we can, but, no, we should not damn those who disagree with us over the instrument.

Yeakley argues stridently against instrumental music, but at least he has the scriptural understanding to recognize that we’re arguing about a work, not faith in Jesus. And this is a big, big deal.

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Spam, Part II

The good people at Theobloggers have fixed my spam problem — and so I’ve removed the password feature. Commenting should be back to normal now.

They’re still having server speed issues, but are working hard to accelerate their response time.

Thanks for your patience.

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Churches of Christ: Why They Left: Chapters 6 & 7

Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.We are reflecting on Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.

In chapter 6, Yeakley speaks to the psychology of church. He speaks to the fact that humans have different kinds of personalities, using the Myers-Briggs personality test as an example.

He also addresses the need for differing styles of communication for preachers, because people respond differently to differing styles.

Finally, he critiques the Boston Movement Churches because his psychological studies reveal cult-like trends not found in other Churches. Continue reading

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Churches of Christ: Why They Left: Chapter 5

Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.We are reflecting on Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.

Chapter 5 is called “Lost by Neglect.” It’s a vitally important chapter.

Yeakley first describes the many survey responses he received complaining of unfriendly Churches. People visited, attended the entire service, hung around afterward, and no one spoke to them. No wonder they weren’t interested in that congregation!

This is not a doctrinal problem so much as a heart problem, and it’s hardly unique to Churches of Christ. But it’s chronic. I’ve heard countless people voice the same complaint about a great many churches. Continue reading

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Churches of Christ: Why They Left: Chapter 4, Part 4

Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.We are reflecting on Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.

Yeakley next addresses the complaint of many former members of the Churches of Christ: “Churches of Christ Do Not Believe in the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

Yeakley responds, as I would,

Some claim that in Acts 2:38 the Holy Spirit is the giver and forgiveness of sins is the gift. But it is clear that God is the giver, and the Holy Spirit is the gift (5:32). …

[However, some] went so far away from Calvinism and Pentecostalism that they adopted a “Word Only” doctrine that limited the Holy Spirit’s indwelling to nothing more than the influence of the Bible in our lives.

Amen. And — at last! — Yeakley concedes that many within the Churches of Christ have indeed been in error on this point. Continue reading

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Churches of Christ: Why They Left: Chapter 4, Part 3

Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.We are reflecting on Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.

Yeakley next deals with the complaint of many former members that “Churches of Christ teach that we cannot know that we are saved.”

Yeakley responds that, yes, we reject Calvinistic perseverance of the saints, but “a doctrine of ‘If saved, barely saved’ is just as wrong.” Indeed, he is exactly right.

He continues, Continue reading

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Churches of Christ: Why They Left: Chapter 4, Part 2

Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.We are reflecting on Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.

In dealing with a survey of former Church of Christ members, Yeakley next addresses the complaint of many that “Churches of Christ do not believe in salvation by grace through faith.”

Yeakley denies it, asserting,

There may be a few Churches of Christ where that position is what one hears, but that is not what most of us believe.

He then argues for a very orthodox and, I believe, sound understanding of grace. Good. But he knows his Bible far better than he knows his denomination.  Continue reading

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