As I mentioned in the last post on this topic, 95% of the Churches of Christ would not have treated the reader so severely. However, I think this sort of conduct is going to become more common — not less. After all, their behavior is logical, given the false assumptions they start with — and lots of Churches of Christ share their starting assumptions. They just aren’t as ruthlessly logical in carrying them out.
You see, it all goes back to the ridiculous notion that violating a silence of scripture damns. I mean, we come up with some very questionable “logic” to conclude that instrumental music (or fellowship halls or church buses) are somehow sinful, and then we just leap to the conclusion that the sin necessarily damns, as though all sin damns. It’s absurd. And yet it’s what a lot of Churches of Christ teach. At least as to instrumental music, it’s the editorial position of every theological print periodical we have — other than the Restoration Quarterly.
Now, one of the truly serious problems with this kind of reasoning is that it knows no end. If God’s silence on instrumental music is a salvation issue, why not God’s silence on Sunday schools? school buses? orphans’ homes? Recently, in Memphis, Church of Christ editors and preachers have been damning each other over elder re-affirmation — in which elders agree to step down if the congregation no longer has confidence in their leadership. You see, the scriptures are silent on this practice.
So we take a doubtful proposition — that silence is always a prohibition; and apply it to a doubtful proposition — that elders may not step down if they lack the confidence of the church; and then draw a completely unsupported conclusion — that this practice damns. And then we even add to that conclusion the notion that being in fellowship with those who practice elder re-affirmation are also to be disfellowshipped as apostate. You see, a failure to disfellowship a known sinner is also sin and thus damns. There is no end.
It’s ridiculous beyond words. It’s an embarrassment to scripture and reason. And it’s getting worse.
It’s getting worse because there’s no way to limit the scope of this argument. If instruments damn because of silence, well, the Bible is silent about an awful lot of things! And the last 100 years show a constant accretion of things that damn.
And if, say, fellowship halls damn, then leaving to join a church that has a fellowship hall is just the sort of sin over which we should disfellowship each other. I’ve laid out my views on how disfellowshipping should happen elsewhere. But not many conservative Churches of Christ agree with me. Rather, they presume to have the duty to disfellowship entire congregations, not to mention former members gone astray.
And if you think you have authority to disfellowship former members, and if you think a former member is damned for attending the wrong church, how could you not disfellowship them? Maybe they’ll repent.
To me, therefore, the interesting question is why we don’t see more of this behavior, given the doctrine being taught? I think there are at least two forces pushing in opposite directions.
First, most well-adjusted people, seeing what happened to our reader, are revolted. I mean, the whole thing is just repugnant. Therefore, many conservative churches aren’t willing to act on their principles. They instinctively know it’s wrong.
Second, however, there’s a definite tendency among the Churches for moderate churches to become either conservative or progressive. There is less and less room in the middle because our doctrine isn’t moderate. Rather, moderate churches are churches with both progressive and conservative members and an eldership that governs by compromise. They have no unified doctrine. And that makes them naturally unstable. Over time, one side or the other predominates and the church moves one way or the other.
When a formerly moderate church becomes conservative, the progressive members either leave or find themselves silenced — which means the church fairly quickly becomes thoroughly conservative. And as the leadership is made up of men immersed in the teachings of the Gospel Advocate and its ilk, they figure that if we should damn over instrumental music, or the role of women, why not over fellowship halls and buses? And the legalism just spreads.
The congregation thus becomes ever more fearful. What mistake in doctrine will damn after next Sunday? What mistakes might we be making? What might we be overlooking? If kitchens damn, why not water fountains (yes, there really are churches that have taken out their water fountains!)?
There is a third dynamic. As young people grow up in conservative churches, many get a bellyfull and leave as soon as they can. The ones who stay are the true believers.
Therefore, I think the longterm trend is for churches to go either progressive or conservative, and for conservative churches — unless they find leadership that helps them find a path out — to become more and more conservative.
The church I grew up in is more conservative than when I was a child. Every church in my present hometown — other than my own — has become more conservative than it was 30 years ago.
And so, I think what my reader suffered through will become more common — until it becomes less common.
It will become less common eventually because conservative churches aren’t converting enough people to replace their own children who are leaving — in droves. Over time, these churches wil die. Literally. In fact, congregations are closing every day. Literally. And in states where conservative churches are the strongest, the numbers of Church of Christ members are in rapid decline. Already.