Monday, June 11, 2007

CofC Identity Crisis?

Rather interesting series of articles running at the Christian Chronicle on the lack of growth overall in the Churches of Christ. I've got to read through the whole enchilada at some point. (While sorting through demographic data on the CofC last year I found it rather striking that the number of CofC ministers increased in the past decade while the overall number of adherents dropped.) But right now, I'll be cherry-picking reader comments on whether or not the CofC is experiencing an identity crisis. Which are quite fascinating and express a wonderful diversity of opinion.

First, the award for most enlightened comment according my highly subjective evaluation:
Irie Session, former lifelong Church of Christ member who became senior pastor of New Life Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Dallas in October and still teaches a weekly Bible study at the Preston Road Church of Christ for former sex industry workers: I don't really see an identity crises as such. At least not in the sense of "knowing who we are and what we stand for like we once did." If there is an identity problem, it is trying to discover how churches of Christ can remain the church of Christ as we have come to know it, and still be relevant in today's society. This seems to be a big problem. How can churches of Christ continue to preach and teach exclusivity and at the same time, help women and other marginalized groups understand that there is neither Jew nor Greek, Male or Female, Bond or Free, but that we are all one in Christ Jesus?
Second, this one made me laugh with that special laughter known amongst Religious Studies geeks. Particularly the comment about the CofC's "special" formulation of the Trinity:
Shaun Casey, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and member of Fairfax, Va., church: As one wag put it, there are only three things left that all members of the Churches of Christ agree on: 1) There are three sacraments: the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and attendance. 2) There are at least two members of the Trinity. 3) There will be a collection on Sunday morning. This is an identity crisis. The only chance for an emerging consensus will be forged from the ground up and not by a top down imposition. Before there can be resurrection there must be crucifixion.
This comment speaks after my own heart:
Jeff Foster, minister, Cortez, Colo., church: Yes, there is an “identity crisis.” But, again, there are so many different groupings within Churches of Christ that it is extremely difficult to speak in a collective sense. I think it is passé to speak of “our movement/fellowship,” and I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing. I think the concept of “one church” has a much broader meaning than we have often argued in the past. I do not see a “model church” in the New Testament; on the contrary, I see a lot of diversity … founded on the principle of the Lordship of Christ and his death, burial, and resurrection.
And, MIT has a CofC chaplain, which I think is rather cool. And I can't argue with the theology of this comment. Also, if my little self migrates to the Boston area I might have to go check out Brookline. I have heard good things, based both in this short comment and from
Robert M. Randolph, minister of Brookline, Mass., church and chaplain of Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Many understand that some of the things we stood for are not as important as we once thought. We used the same arguments to support segregation (It is in the Bible.) as we did baptism (It is in the Bible.) When we changed our views on issues of racial exclusivism, it did not take much for some to question other markers of the "true church". Our identity tended to revolve around two things: our notions of baptism and our unwillingness to use instruments of music. We are more likely to view our notions today as simply "our notions" than we once were. There is a subtle arrogance present when we present our conclusions as if they were the 10 Commandments. Better to be known as the people who serve others in areas of need and who also practice certain forms of baptism/worship, than it is to be known as people who think that getting it right is a prerequisite to getting to heaven. It does not take much Bible reading to discover that God seems more tolerant of our mistakes than we are.
So, there's my entirely non-snarky (I think) cherry-picking for the night. Now, I do have to comment that it does stand out to me that there are only one -- maybe two, if the last Robin is a lady -- women represented in the reader comments. And the only definitely belonging to a woman voice has left the CofC for the more outspoken female friendly Disciples of Christ. Just an observation. It's a cycle, methinks.



Personally, and I really do not mean this as a slam on your post (ironically, I appreciate it), I am weary of hearing about "CoC Identity Crisis." It has been "the concern" all my life.

More thoughtfully, I see the concern as a postmodern issue. In the PM world, we all suffer to know who we really are. And this problem is a cultural issue. Therefore, for the church to suffer it shows the church to be following the culture rather than countering it or perhaps leading it.

The church is the body of Christ. He is our identity, after a fashion. If we live like/for him, who we are is settled. And the crisis shows that we have been about the business of something else (COC: being "the NT church" - which has now come into question since the NT churches have been shown to be quite diverse really, but within our present culture we have alienated ourselves from the rest of the Church (at large) based on the pursuit of that identity).


I really appreciate your willingness to think critically about the Church of Christ from within. Keep it Up!

Jesus is Lord.

WordK said...

No offense taken, MG. It might be the difference between Texas and TN CofCs, but this is the first time I've seen anything that blunt on the idea of what the CofCs identity is/should be/was. (But then, I've only been paying attention for eight years or so.) The only thing I really remember hearing is various folks involved in with youth and college stuff talking about the percentage of youth who left.

And, I just really liked that handful of comments.