Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pt. 3 - Centrality of Jesus & Scripture - What I Like About CofC

As we reviewed last week, our penchant and reputation for sectarianism could have been stopped had we lived into unity, which was one of the key instincts of our movement from the beginning. So, the question that ought to be asked is: How did a movement of Christians who were focused on unity become known as such a sectarian institution?

I believe it happened because we failed to live into another key instinct I'd like to highlight today.

The third key instinct in our movement that I appreciate is our commitment to Christ and Scripture. One of the early identifying statements in our movement is that we have "no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the divine." Not a bad vision worth pursuing.

It's hard for any group of people to say they have truly held to Christ only. Our actions often seem to betray that desire. But this motto is a vision we ought to live into.

One of the earliest sermons I preached at Littleton was entitled "Becoming a Church of Christ." I likely angered people on both sides of the congregation with that title for a couple of reasons. For those that wanted to jettison our past, the title brought back memories of a painful past with our movement. Why would we want to hang on to a title that reminds us of so many painful memories? On the other hand, some were likely excited by the title, but disappointed by the sermon. It was a hopeful moment to think their 24 year-old new preacher wanted to take the movement back to its "glory days."

But that wasn't the point of the sermon. The sermon was not an argument for keeping the name "Church of Christ" on our signs and title deeds.

Now, before you get your panties in a wad, I wasn't set on changing the name because it was embarrassing to me with all of the baggage the name carries. That might be an issue in some areas, but not in Denver, Colorado. I was clear that we must take "Church of Christ" off of our name if our church is an embarrassment to Jesus. If we fail to reflect Christ, then we'd be better taking the name off than continuing to do harm to his name.

I have to admit...I kind of like our name. It explains to everyone that the body that meets at 6495 S. Colorado Blvd. belongs to Jesus. He's our head and we intend to put him on display in everything we do as a church.

But too often, our name has come to stand for things that have nothing to do with Jesus and his central message of the kingdom of God. And when that happens, we're better off hedging our bets by taking the name off of the sign than continuing to do business as usual with his name being equated with traits that turn people away from the good news.

When's the last time you remember saying, "Oh, you're from the Church of Christ, huh? You're those people who do your best to live exactly like Jesus did, right?"

I talk to more and more people who are fascinated by Jesus, but they're continually repulsed by Christians who serve as roadblocks on their path toward Christ. If we could return our focus to Jesus over every other pursuit, I think there would be more interested in joining us on our journey.

So, I think we should pursue this original vision. Let's make Christ our creed. Let's make Scripture our script. Let's make love our only law. And let's bear the name of the divine one, Jesus Christ.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Pt. 2 - Unity - What I Like About CofC

In the last blog, I highlighted our value for congregational autonomy. However, the downside of our autonomy has been our unwillingness to work with other congregations for the sake of the kingdom.

The second instinct I want to highlight from our movement is unity. When coupled with autonomy, our movement's emphasis on unity should allow us to bridge the gaps between ourselves and other independent churches and denominations.

Unity was the glue and engine of our movement from the start.

Barton Stone and five other key leaders wrote an important document in 1804 called the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. These leaders of the Presbyterian church near Caneridge, KY chose to put a stop to their particular denominational ties in order to join with the larger body of Christ, which has no distinction.

They wrote: "We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling." These powerful words were instrumental (pardon the pun) in our movement's beginning."

Another key phrase of the early Restoration Movement was "We are Christians only, but not the only Christians." This important distinction has been eclipsed by a more sectarian vision in the late 19th and 20th centuries. But a return to the original instincts of our vision must include a call to unity to be lived out in tangible ways.

Lately, I've heard some who have asked me: "Are we just wanting to become a community church?"

Now, I want to unpack that question because it's loaded. In an effort to be generous with the question, I believe there are some who see the American megachurches' self-critique of being "a mile wide and an inch deep" as a possible result of such a move. Let's be honest, I don't know of a church leader in our movement who desires to see spiritual shallowness as a result of any changes.

The question takes an intentional shot at community churches. I believe the question itself is sectarian in nature and reveals the fact that we've become more of a denomination than we often admit.

Some might interpret the question to mean that we don't want to lose our distinctives in an effort to become all things to all people. But remember Barton Stone and the others from the Springfield Presbytery left their own distinctives in order to pursue Christ without the boundaries of their previous traditions.

Is it possible that today's community church trend is a move similar to our own movement's instincts from the very start? Are community churches pursuing the Restoration Movement's plea toward unity and autonomy more faithfully than we are in Churches of Christ? These are questions we must grapple with in an increasingly post-denominational world. Because our original impulses would set us up perfectly for the coming world in the 21st century.

So, how did a movement that started based on a plea for unity get a reputation for believing we were the only ones going to heaven? I'll address that next time with the third instinct of our movement that I appreciate.