It seems to some that this blog is fueled by animosity towards Churches of Christ in general, and more conservative churches in particular. Some people sense very personal pain. Well, yeah, there is that! There is also emotion. I have an intellectual approach to faith and history, but as a human being, I am necessarily emotional as well. I receive very interesting responses from readers. The posted comments are the mild ones. The emails are more personal and to the point! I have been called arrogant, divisive, petty, emotional, hateful, angry, judgmental, disrespectful, and immature. I have been accused of stirring the pot, feeding the fire, having impure motives, and wanting to introduce instruments into worship! And, that my blog is a tribute to Jefferson seems to be lost on almost everyone. Jefferson had complete disdain for the religious conservatives of his day, calling them “theocrats.” So, if I am so frustrated, the big, obvious question is, why stay? Why stay in a church that I have called “dysfunctional?” So many people have left already. We are losing our young people as well as the best and brightest. People very close to me have left. So why don’t I go? I don’t take this question lightly. I wrestle with it. Why do I swim upstream? Here’s my answer.
Firstly, I am not alone. There are many out there who send me encouraging messages, who feel many of the same things I do. We have seen too much and heard too much and been through too much. We feel the pressure of a prophetic voice burning inside. People see injustice, they know that things could and should be better, and they see an imperfect church - and pray for the perfection of Christ. These people want to speak out, but know there will be consequences. This reminds me of the prophet Jeremiah. We often idealize Jeremiah’s words about God’s word being a fire set in his bones that he cannot get rid of. We see this as a good thing, and assume Jeremiah is welcoming and thanking God. But who wants fire set in their bones? I believe Jeremiah’s words are words of complaint. Yet the fire is so intense inside of him he has to speak, regardless of what might happen. I believe many in Churches of Christ identify with the prophet (no, I don’t have prophetic delusions, I said “identify”). There is a burning inside of us to say something, to do something, that we know will rock the “establishment,” and perhaps even destroy friendships, family relationships, and employment. But we can’t shut up. It is as if God has put this unquenchable burning inside of us.
I am not the first to speak, or take risks as an agent of change. Our movement (Churches of Christ) was born out of prophetic love when good men and women would not be satisfied with the way things were, desiring the church to become something greater. Our movement was born out of a desire for Christian unity and recognition of our common humanity across denominational lines. We were not born to segregate ourselves from other Christians; we were born to call all Christians together to celebrate the one Lord, one faith, and one baptism we all share. But we quickly grew into rebellious adolescence, and alternate voices sprung up. People began preaching that we got it right and others have it all wrong; that we had finally “restored” the NT church in the modern day. This rebellious, arrogant voice grew and grew until the rebellion seemed to be the norm. Many believed that the segregation from the “denominational” world was the way things were supposed to be. For some of us, this is the norm in which we grew up. This was the doctrine handed down to us. Many unsatisfied with this rebellion believed that this was the only voice in Churches of Christ, and they chose to leave this tradition behind. And that’s why I don’t leave. I know this has never been the only voice in Churches of Christ. We were born with a different spirit, and that spirit has continued to live on, in spite of our greatest efforts to silence it through the doctrinal and hermeneutical tyranny of people who remind me more of the mafia than church leaders (SEE MY JEFFERSON QUOTE).
Though our movement has never been perfect, we have always been very diverse. Though one could tell the history of Churches of Christ by telling stories of fights, debates, withdrawals of fellowship, name-calling, church splitting and other forms of divisiveness, this is only one side of our history. Since our beginnings in a small Kentucky church in 1804, spurred on by a large charismatic revival, our movement has been a voice of hope. Though hope has at times been challenged by bitter and narrow-minded sectarianism and legalism, it has never died. It is the legacy of people who have had the courage to swim upstream that makes me proud to be a part of the rich and diverse tradition of the Churches of Christ.