This is the last segment of my three-part series on the Churches of Christ. In the first post, I gave a brief introduction to the fellowship and devoted some time to the term “denomination,” and in the second, we overviewed the history of the Restoration Movement, noticing how the Church of Christ has moved more in denominational directions.
Though slight at times, there is a steady theme of change in the C o' C (despite any claims from my peers otherwise). But that is a matter of the past; let us look at how the tradition is faring now and what we can expect.
I think the Churches of Christ are in a good position on account of two characteristics: no creeds and intense focus on scripture. Having no creeds gives freedom to the members of this particular tradition to believe a vast array of things and not automatically be condemned. An intense focus on reading the Bible means the Churches of Christ have unproportionately high biblical literacy among members—an obvious plus.
The greatest strengths of the tradition are also its greatest weaknesses. Having no creed means having no guidance which provides for some thoroughly heretical readings of the Bible. This in turn causes major difficulties with those who have a robust knowledge of what the book says. Knowing your book-chapter-verse is nice, but it only counts for something if you interpret correctly. The process of reading and interpreting God’s word—i.e. hermeneutics—can be a much harder enterprise than Christians often credit it.
These weakness and strengths will surely shape the Churches of Christ as we move forward, but if I had to guess, I’d conjecture that the fellowship will do two predictable things. First, I think it will keep doing what it’s doing—what we’ve noticed in the last two posts—it will continue to move towards mainstream denominationalism. For those who feel that the tradition has been overwhelmingly sectarian, this will undoubtedly be a good change. Second, I think the Church of Christ will do what the rest of the country is doing, which is become more polarized. Though people will certainly like one of the two polarized positions, I doubt that anyone will like the polarization.
So with these substantial weaknesses and these possible shifts in the fellowship, what can be done? Should we abandon ship now? Should we act as though nothing is happening? Where is the hope?
Well, as I said in the first post, I am deeply invested in this tradition—and I know that makes me biased—but I have hope. My hope is based in the force of the two strengths listed earlier: the freedom and the knowledge of the Churches of Christ. Those two traits mean the world to me. No creeds means I am free to explore this religion, use it for all it’s worth, not be chained by the will of men. And my fellowship’s love for Bible study allows me to be surrounded by biblically intelligent people—even if I disagree with their hermeneutic. These strengths will carry me as I continue to analyze the fellowship, push it, work within it, and hope that God will use it (and by the way, go check out me and my brothers’ podcast).
It was brought to my attention on Facebook, that a conversation on “What's Going to Happen?” requires a conversation on numbers.
The membership of the Churches of Christ (as the largest subset of the Restoration tradition) has declined in recent years. At first glance, this is disheartening, but it should be pointed out that the decline was on par with the rest of Evangelical Christianity in America, meaning the problem was not specific to the fellowship. The church as a whole will not fail, though evangelicalism may need to adjust. It should also be noted that if the denomination did fail, the church would be at no disadvantage.
Labels: biblical literacy, Church of Christ, creeds, denomination, foundation, hope, polarization, reading the Bible