The first value I want to highlight in Churches of Christ is our commitment to congregational autonomy. Because it's the water I swim in, I haven't always appreciated this impulse of my movement. I guess I always assumed that every church had elders who made decisions for their particular body.
As I've gotten to know ministers in several different denominations, many of them would jump at the chance to minister in a church that had fewer hierarchical structures and complications. It would be difficult to work in a church that was forced to submit to decisions made from leaders at top who were not familiar with the contextual issues present in each congregation.
One of the greatest traits of Christianity is its contextuality. While there is a consistent story, God's good news works itself out differently in different locations and times. If Jesus were to be born in 21st century America, his ministry would have looked and worked very differently.
One of the key verses that speaks to Jesus' contextual ministry is John 1:14. The message translates it best, "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." Since then, God has called the church, his body, into neighborhoods throughout the world.
The Quran (Islam's holy book), when translated into languages other than Arabic, is not considered fully inspired. Only in its original language is the Quran considered Allah's inspired word. Islam, as well as other religions, are not nearly as contextual as Christianity is. But Christians do believe different versions of the Bible are fully inspired. Our best missionaries (those not involved in colonialism) have always shared the good news throughout the world in ways that are contextual to the cultures they find themselves in. Congregational autonomy is one of the best means churches have for doing the best on-the-ground, contextual ministry.
I value autonomy because decisions are left up to leaders who, when at their best, are making the best decisions for their sheep. No denominational leadership knows each congregation as well as church leaders do. If certain changes make sense for our church, our church's leaders are able to make a discernment that will impact us without impacting dozens of other churches.
Now, we do have to be careful not to equate American values with kingdom values. We have to be aware that our movement emerged in specific context. The American frontier valued rugged individualism a great deal. And many of our churches have taken this value to an unhealthy end. Our autonomy, at its worst, has devolved into a competitive spirit, which has kept us from working with other churches.
But no worries, next time I'll talk about another key impulse of our movement that allows us to retain our autonomy without sacrificing the ability to work with other churches.
Monday, July 18, 2011
I like Churches of Christ.
There...I said it.
There are some who would likely argue I'm an enemy of our movement. But I really like our movement. I've never called another church home.
In fact, I'm about as Church of Christ as one comes. I've got the pedigree. I'd put Paul to shame. By my count, I'm a 9th generation member of the Restoration Movement (a movement that birthed Churches of Christ, Independent Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ). I was named after Collin McKinney, an ancestor of mine who was baptized by Barton Stone and who planted churches in north Texas. McKinney, Texas and Collin County are named after my namesake.
I'm the preacher at a Church of Christ. I've been raised in a Church of Christ. I've been taught by Church of Christ professors. It's all I've known. And I'm grateful for it (most of the time)!
But I'm also critical of Churches of Christ. I've got enough skin in the game to critique us. I think I'm experiencing what Leroy Garrett described as "A Lover's Quarrel."
So, in an effort to work through my "daddy" issues (What do you call issues with a whole movement?), I've decided to begin a series to remind myself and others of the "things I like about Churches of Christ." Because while I'm a bit embarrassed about our quirky uncles and strange cousins, it's my tribe and I've got a lot to be grateful for.
Over the next few weeks, join me in a conversation about Churches of Christ. Whether you're an ex-member, enthusiast, or member of another faith tribe, please join me in a discussion about our history, present, and the hope we have for the future.
We're not the whole kingdom, but my prayer is that Churches of Christ have pointed people to the kingdom in the past and will learn to be more faithful in the future.
What are some things you value most about Churches of Christ?