In my post of August 27 - Are-you-in-slump? I started sharing material from our Adult Bible class at Pinehill. This is will be of most interest to people fromwithin our "fellowship" or someone who is familiar with many of our "traditional" aproaches to teaching about becoming a part of "the body of Christ".
The theme of "back to the Basics" is taken from our experience in other areas of life where sometimes to make progress we have to first go back and deal with some thing we are missing in the basics. I found this carton that illustrates this need for some basic improvements (in this man's golf grip and swing)
The following was covered in classes September 3 & 10th. There is some overlap with the August 27 lesson but this is summary outlining "gaps" between "what we say we believe" and "what we practice" and giving "strategies" or approaches for closing those gaps.
Over past couple of weeks we have looked at our usage of the word “church” and “church of Christ” – how we understand it, how the world understands it and how it is used in the New Testament.
Our discussion has confirmed to me several things that I believe can “limit our growth”.
1. My first observation is that the word “church” as it is commonly used in the world and by many in the churches of Christ conveys something different than what most of us understand as the Biblical meaning
What do we say we believe? Most (if not all) of us here understand that the Biblical meaning of “church” is the “called out ones” (in other words it describes the status of our relationship with God. We also understand that that God does the adding (Acts 2:47) We believe that “being in the church” is of utmost importance.
What do we actually practice? We talk about”going to church” rather than “being the church”. We talk about the church as a building. We talk about “our church” or “the church” based on a the “label” (sign over the door) which we understand to convey a “standard” set of beliefs & practices There seems to be a “gap” between “what we say we believe” and “what we actually practice.
What is the consequence? This practice (however well intended) can limit our effectiveness in communicating that we want simply “to be a part of the church that Jesus died for” . It can also distract us from our main task of being “salt, leaven & light” to so that other people come to want the same thing. ?
How can we improve? (What can be done to “close the gap”?)
One way is to “go back to the basics” and change the way we talk about “church” -
a) talk about being Christians (no more – no less)
b) talk about being part of the family (of God)
c) talk about having confidence or assurance that God has added us to Christ’s body
d) talk about assembling with the church or about attending church services or going to do something with those in our church family. Talk about how we get together to honor and celebrate the relationship we have with God and with each other through Jesus
e) Above all, we need to avoid words and actions that make “attendance” equivalent to “relationship” and those that confuse “place” with” people”
2. My second observation is that we frequently use the term “Church of Christ” as a way to identify a specific set of beliefs & practices - This identifies us by "what we believe" not "who we are".
What do we say we believe? We describe ourselves as “non-denominational”. We say that we want to be ”Christians” only. We say that we want to use the teachings in the New Testament as the sole source of determining our beliefs and practices. (speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent)
What do we actually practice? We are very eager and ready to describe our understanding of what the New Testament pattern is for becoming a Christian and for worship. We have pamphlets, books and Bible study guides that describe these “core” beliefs backed up with lots of scripture “quotes” and explanations of why those scriptures mean what we say they mean. We have persuasive arguments to counter the views of others who see the topic in a different way.
What is the consequence? There are two possible consequences of our common practices
1. we become denominational in our thinking and practice. A denomination is a religious group that adheres to a specific set of beliefs and practices. When we talk about what the churches of Christ believe and reduce those things to a (relatively)small list of things that need to be believed and practiced to be accepted in our fellowship, this seems to make us a denomination.
2. In our passion and conviction that we need to be Christians as outlined in the New Testament writings, we start talking about “the church” or “the Lord’s church” – as if we are the “only ones” who understand what God intended about these things. We convey to others that we are the “only Christians” .
In general, I don’t think very many of us really believe we are the “onlyChristians” . (although I’m sure that some in our “fellowship” do). Certainly those who initiated the restoration movement called for people to be “Christians only” – (but so far as I know they never taught that this would made us the “only Christians”.).
Another consequence of the way we teach and talk about the “Church of Christ” is that (it seems to me) we are often “confused” and inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst when we talk to and interact with others who say they are Christians.
How do you respond to someone that says “I’m a Christian”, I believe in Jesus”? Do you have reservations unless you find out they attend a “church of Christ”
On the other hand, I wonder about passages like (Rom.14:4, I John 4:2 and Phil 1:18) – are we dishonoring Jesus when we reject those who are proclaiming him as Lord?
At the end we can be “torn” – we are “reluctant” to be seen accepting other Christians whose beliefs and practices are different from ours but we are also “uncomfortable” with thinking that we alone have got it right.
I think many of us who “grew up” in a church of Christ or who left a “denomination” to become a part of a Church of Christ have a “discomfort” in this area. We understand so clearly and are strongly convicted about those things that webelieve the NT teaches about “becoming a Christian” and about the “New Testament pattern for the church” that we find it difficult to accept (extend recognition as a fellow Christian) to anyone who believes and practices differently than we do. (Ironically this passion for "doing things right" also ends up creating a "Heinz 57 varieties" of "churches of Christ" as we fuss over over almost anything imaginable.)
There are two extreme responses to resolving this “conflict”
1. We compromise, “waterdown” or “sidestep” talking about our beliefs to avoid seeming “dogmatic” and “divisive”.
2. On the other hand, we can become very “rigid” and tell others bluntly that ”we are right (and by implication saved) and they are wrong” (and by implication lost).
Neither of these extremes is “sound doctrine” The first one fails the test of “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Roms14:23). The second fails the test of love (among other tests).
It seems to me that we so often, in our passion for truth, have missed the point of Jesus’ prayer (John 17:20-21)
“that they (those who believe in Jesus) may be one as Jesus and the Father are one so that the world may believe that (God) have sent (Jesus) .
Ephesians 4 reiterates the importance of
“keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” – of proclaiming “one body, one Spirit, one hope one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God”.
Yet we focus more on the things that divide us (within and without), we argue and fail to
“to live a life worthy of the calling (we) have received.
We fail to be completely humble and gentle; patient, and bearing with one another in love.”
How can we improve?
One way is to “go back to the basics” and change the way we talk about the “church of Christ ” -
I suggest that we
a) talk about being a group of Christians who have come together as a family (or community) in response to our common faith in Jesus.
b) talk about how those beliefs provide us assurance of God’s grace and the transforming power of his Spirit.
c) talk about how –regardless of what we experience – good or bad – in our daily lives we are experiencing “life to the full” (John 10:10) as God grows his fruit within us (Gal 5:22-23 )
d) talk about how we are diligent in searching the scriptures to come to know Jesus better each day and how we would welcome any one to join with us we continue to do that.
e) talk about how we are on a ”journey of faith and discovery” -- a journey we have found leads to a (growing) belief in Jesus and desire to know him better and serve him better. A journey, which gives us an increasing assurance of his saving grace & spirit being at work in our lives.
f) talk about the fact that we have developed deep convictions about what the Bible teaches about how we become Christians, how we live as spirit directed servants, and how we worship to honor God, and while we respect those who have come to a different understanding from the Bible, we must – to preserve a clear conscience before God -- teach and practice those things until we come to a different understanding.
g) talk about the “name” church of Christ as a (Biblical –Rom. 16:16) label of convenience that we use to describe congregations that have similar beliefs and practices – congregations where we can expect to feel “at home” if we need to visit elsewhere or move to a new community.
Well -that's it for now--I pray that as we think on these things and "reason together" we can come more fully into that "walk in the light" that God has called us to.