Allow me to explain why I am writing. In short, here is what you may want to know: I preach for an “anti” church of Christ. I have been on a spiritual journey the last 2 years that has led me to a much more “progressive” position. Your blog has been a blessing to me for which I cannot begin to express my gratitude.
This journey has been liberating and terrifying. The reason I am writing you is because I have no idea what to do. I am at the end of my rope with my ministry. I have been trying for over a year and a half to patiently, slowly, and methodically, move this church toward an understanding of grace and love. A few members of the congregation know of my “new views” but most of the church does not.
I want to stand up and tell the church that it’s time for a drastic change, a different hermeneutic, a better understanding of the Holy Spirit, a Biblical understanding of grace and the gospel. Yet I do not want to cause a division in this church. I love these people. That’s what makes this so difficult. I want them to feel the freedom available in Christ, but what if they don’t accept it? I don’t want to cause problems between them. I don’t care if they fire me but I DO NOT want to hurt this church. I would love to see this church as a group move in a better direction, but I am afraid that the CofC tradition is too deeply ingrained here.
I don’t know what to do. I have thought about calling a meeting with the men of the congregation (we don’t have elders) and just coming out and telling them what’s going on. Then they could decide if their hearts are in a place that is willing to study these issues or if they would rather just get rid of me.
As I said, I don’t know what to do. I don’t like feeling like my beliefs are a secret, but I am confused as to what I should do.
Thank you for reading this email. I hope you can get back to me.
Here are my thoughts, but I’d love to hear from the readers:
I’m not entirely sure how to answer your questions. Here’s my first reaction. 30 years or more ago, the first series I ever taught on grace was based on the Restoration Movement’s history. I taught the class what Stone and the Campbells taught, demonstrating how far removed we are from the founding principles of the Movement.
This had several advantages.
- We weren’t talking about the Bible per se, but rather letting the founders of the Movement argue their own case. I wasn’t arguing for their views so much as reporting them — but doing so in enough detail to let them make their own cases.
- Most students had never studied our history and they were fascinated by it, even though some disagreed with much that the founders had taught.
- It was easy to show how the Stone-Campbell principles led to a merger of many churches into a growing fellowship, and how the departure from these principles led to a series of separations. (Earl Irvin West’s The Search for the Ancient Order Volumes 1 & 2 is not an adequate history, but does an excellent job showing this fact and has many other details not available elsewhere.)
- It was easy to demonstrate that we have a history and that some of our practices and attitudes trace back to the 19th Century, not the First Century.
As we considered this material, we discussed the merits of the Last Will & Testament of the Springfield Presbytery and the Declaration and Address. If I were to do it again, I’d compare those documents to Daniel Sommer’s Address and Declaration and H. Leo Boles’ The Way of Unity (both of which quoted the Declaration and Address out of context to turn the teachings of Thomas Campbell on their head).
Now, this would be a much easier class to teach today than when I did it, because (a) the internet gives access to the full text of these documents, which were next to impossible to find 30 years ago, and (b) there have been some great books published (Christians Only: A History of the Restoration Movement by James Deforest Murch and The Stone-Campbell Movement: The Story of the American Restoration Movement by Leroy Garrett especially).
Now, to me, for a church with a very legalistic perspective, this would be easier to teach than Romans or Galatians. Rather, you have to peel the onion of legalism off one layer at a time.
Of course, there are other approaches, one of which is to study from my book The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace (free download), which was written for exactly this purpose. But I’m not sure I’d start there with your congregation. Rather, I’d start with the history and then maybe do classes on grace.
And I’d certainly work through classes more than sermons. People get less upset when a teacher says something they disagree with, because they can respond and let the entire class hear their views. It’s more of a dialog than a lecture.
And somewhere in there I’d teach this lesson built on a survey of the class on doctrinal issues.
I wouldn’t up and announce my new position. I think that either gets you fired or divides the church. Rather, I’d reveal my views by teaching my views.
People need time to change and they need reasons to change. But prayer, the Spirit, time, love, and gentle instruction will change most of them.
And may God bless your ministry and give you courage and wisdom.