Progressive Churches of Christ: Resolving the Tension, Part 2

progressiveWe come now to a challenging turn in the road. Imagine a Church of Christ that is well on the road away from sectarianism (the idea that everyone else is damned) and toward a healthy understanding of the Spirit and grace, but which insists on retaining its Church of Christ identity by being exclusively a cappella, keeping the denominational name, having no praise team, limiting the role of women, and engaging in fellowship only with other Churches of Christ.

There is a sense in which this congregation is doing extremely positive things for which it can be justly proud. It’s teaching a healthier gospel, a healthier doctrine of the Spirit, and doing many good works in the community. And it’s growing — but almost entirely by being a better Church of Christ and so attracting many Church of Christ transfers.

I’m not at all happy to say this, but my view is that the growth will end once this church has finished pulling dissatisfied members from the orbits of surrounding Churches of Christ. Someone will notice that baptisms are almost entirely the children of existing members. And the leadership will realize that to be evangelistically effective in today’s culture, the church cannot be a better but nonetheless sectarian Church of Christ.

What should the leadership do? I know of two approaches worth considering. The first is to lovingly lead the congregation away from its traditional identity toward evangelism and mission. The techniques are dialogue, love, and patience to persuade the members to give up their attachment to traditional Church of Christ identity markers and to instead adopt a more missional, evangelistic vision.

The second is to work with the congregation to transform its understanding of the gospel to an even greater extent, to go from a narrative of individuality and hence individual salvation to a communitarian, kingdom gospel — a bigger gospel.

I’ve seen plenty of congregations attempt the first approach with varying degrees of success — from highly successful to utter abandonment of change. I’ve not seen the second approach even attempted, but I have to say the track record of the first is not that good on the whole. There are success stories to be sure, but I’m not sure that even those churches that have transitioned effectively from a traditional Church of Christ identity to being more missionally minded have actually found great evangelistic success.

There are very few studies, and it’s hard to measure these things. I’ll be interested to hear what the readers have to share about their own experiences.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to Progressive Churches of Christ: Resolving the Tension, Part 2

  1. Kevin says:

    Jay wrote, “There are very few studies, and it’s hard to measure these things. I’ll be interested to hear what the readers have to share about their own experiences.”

    My experience may or may not be unique, but as one who is currently undergoing a significant adjustment along the inclusive – exclusive spectrum, there are other things to consider. For most of my life, I have been located toward the right margins of the “Satisfied.” At times, I have even perhaps been a Zealot on some issues, but I too have always been sufficiently wary of groups such as CFTF and Defender.

    Over the past 18-24 months, I have moved significantly left on the spectrum, and I would now characterize myself as “Open.” Quite a change. Additionally, I have recently moved from a small-city area with few choices in terms of a church home to a relatively large metropolitan area with dozens of Churches of Christ and still more choices that are unaffiliated with Churches of Christ. My first inclination was to find an “Open” or “Progressive” congregation in the area, and there are a few; however, the drive is somewhat prohibitive. I have visited a few “Satisfied” congregations, but I find that I am no longer satisfied with the “Satisfied.” I have worshiped several times with a non-institutional congregation that sort of splits the difference…i.e. they are somewhat “Cautious” but the unwillingness to get involved with evangelism (other than asking a friend to attend worship and hoping the preacher delivers a soul-stirring message) and community outreach (other than a strictly individual basis) just doesn’t do it for me.

    I have considered leaving Churches of Christ altogether. I am certainly not averse to that; however, I also recognize that almost every denominational congregation will have one or two issues that will be difficult for me. I have been a cappella all my life and that is what I prefer, but musical instruments are not a show stopper. I am concerned about the lack of an emphasis on baptism based on my familiarity with many Baptist and Methodist churches. I think far too many denominations are completely wrong on the OSAS / Perseverance of the Saints issue. I don’t subscribe to miraculously endowed Christians today. I tend to think that COCs have it right when it comes to church organization (i.e. Elders & Deacons overseeing a staff) vice a single Pastor who often tends to run the show. In my long experience with COCs and Baptists, the COCs tend to emphasize personal and congregational evangelism much, much more. I think the COC is largely correct regarding the end-times, but I don’t think it is a fellowship issue. Some other denoms with which I am familiar DO make eschatology a fellowship issue just as some COCs. Others spend virtually all their time on deciphering the headlines with respect to apocalyptic prophecy. Some denoms will require me to be rebaptized (just like many COCs), but I won’t agree to that. Bible study is also given more of an emphasis in the COC based on my experience. Some denoms are every bit as reluctant to have open fellowship as COCs. Clearly, there are many exceptions to these generalizations, but cutting ties with the COC is not as simple as one would think. Despite our flaws (and there are many) sometimes we forget that the COC does a LOT of things right. What to do??? I don’t know yet, but the decision that I am rapidly coming to is that I should suck it up and make the long commute to an “Open” COC on Sundays and perhaps do something at home on Wed evenings.

  2. Dwight says:

    Kevin, I am in much the same boat in way of thinking in regards to where I go to assembly. I love the people where I attend, but not so much the teachings that condemn others and expecting others to change without asking the same of ourselves. I am not content, but I am not a discontent either, I want unbiased truth to reign supreme. I will try to change things from within and if not, then we will go somewhere else or form our own assembly in our home. You are right there are many good things within the coC, but then again from what I have seen there are many good things about a lot of other churches as well. While the baptist might not be as evangelical as the coC, I do find them to be more open and expressive about Jesus, not just talking about Jesus at the church building, but elsewhere. We could learn a lot in this. Much of the preaching done in the coC is done to the saved in the church building…if that is evangelism. I am not too concerned about the lack of focus on baptism in the Baptist churches as that they do teach baptism within the context of Jesus the savior. I live in South East Texas…Bible Belt area. God Bless.

  3. Larry says:

    I have decided to stay. I left for several years. Came back. Still little change. “Growth though painful is worth the journey.” Pray. Give. Share. Love. Forgive. Speak truth in love. Suffer. No one is chopping your head off. He never complained. Be quiet and know Him. I’m 66 next week, however, I have just reached my teens in Christ through the Spirit. My wife, Vicki .and I have grown through reading, travel to workshops in Tulsa and Nashville over many years and the blessings of young, open-heart music which reaches deep within our souls.
    Vicki is blessed to share with other women in a Spirit enlightening class on Sundays. Pray for her and other women in our congregation who only now are being given a voice.
    We try to speak no evil of others who speak strongly against us without following Scriptural patterns of questioning us as “Change Agents.”
    We can move forward through forgiven of others without their asking.

  4. Price says:

    In my personal life, it seems that the things that were part of my “identity” that the Lord wanted to separate me from.. He did.. I learned that it is a lot less painful to walk with “open palms” rather than having my fingers pried apart concerning “things”.. He apparently wants to be my identity.. the rest, while not necessarily unworthy, should not take top billing and identify who I am.. I don’t know why things would be different concerning our assemblies or gatherings… As long as the focus is on retaining our identity as a “church of Christ” I think the focus is badly misplaced. Any restructuring or reorganization that attempts to keep God second and CoC first… will fail.. Besides.. which of the 30+ identities does one wish to associate with and retain… it’s so confusing.. Anti, conservative, progressive, one cuppers…LAWD !!! Let it go… open palms is the way to go.

  5. Mark says:

    I saw a cofC with long, proof-texted sermons, a heavy focus on Paul at the expense of Jesus, and no holidays. I always wondered why holidays could not be mentioned. I saw a flagship cofC have a real service of Christmas on the Sunday before (birth chapter, John ch 1, Hebrews ch 1, portions of Isaiah and Jeremiah) and the next year they did not even mention Christmas on the Sunday before. I was saddened. I figured someone had complained about it. I have seen a progressive cofC and attended there. I did not find the service very prayerful or respectful. I saw the Methodist church on TV on Sundays and heard some very good sermons either by a young woman minister or their long time sr pastor. Both were quite good though he had more years of experience than she had been alive. I liked communion every Sunday (though I found out some Methodists have it every Sunday). Later, I found conservative Anglican churches in different places and would go there for a liturgy fix and realized how much gospel they read every Sunday and priests who really could give a homily that had meaning, I have continued attending the conservative Anglican and am not the only person there who came from another denomination.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    Rachel Held Evans, a very popular Church of Christ blogger, has just announced that she’s become an Episcopalian.

  7. Mark says:

    I’m familiar with her (through her blog). Nadia Bolz-Weber grew up in the cofC and is now an ordained Lutheran minister in Denver with her own growing congregation, House for All.

  8. gt says:

    Rachel Held Evans background is not in the churches of Christ as far as I know. I believe she was raised in an Evangelical/Community Church

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