I read a blog post today about members of the churches of Christ from the perspective of a Methodist. It was an interesting read, and the author really highlighted some of the things that I appreciate most about our tradition. What really got me thinking, though, was a few of the comments underneath:
“That’s the problem…They stay to themselves. Afraid to go outside. No real evangelizing.”
“No emotion…you got it right on there dude. Just punch the time clock , follow this list of do’s and dont’s and nobody gets hurt.”
“we are NOT spiritual people, we are boring and unattractive. The bride of Christ (His Church), boring and unattractive, for shame.”
The reason these comments got me thinking was because they are both completely familiar and yet completely foreign to me.
They’re familiar because I have had these same thoughts. After I graduated from high school, I didn’t have a whole lot of positive things to say about my church heritage. I complained because I was sure I understood how Church should be, and the Church in my head didn’t match up with the church I was familiar with. When I talked about the Church of Christ, I was talking about old people who were all legalists, worship services that were devoid of emotion, and church leadership more interested in their own power than equipping and protecting the flock.
I was 18 years old, and I was already a bitter, cynical old man.
But I graduated from high school seven years ago, and a lot changes in seven years. In that time period, I’ve taken multiple church history classes, I’ve worshipped regularly at 6 different churches, and gotten to learn a lot more about my heritage. My understanding of some of our doctrinal peculiarities has increased, as well as my appreciation for some of our traditions. As my understanding and appreciation has grown, a lot of my bitterness and cynicism about Churches of Christ has disappeared. While I’ve come to recognize some of the flaws in our tradition (and yes, like every other denomination, we have plenty), I’m now less inclined to shout a hearty “Amen!” to some of these comments that showed up in this blog, and instead leap to the defense of my heritage.
The Church I grew up in was filled with devout people. People who cared deeply about each other and about God. They derived joy from worship, and were actively involved in the community. Were there some people there who were just punching a time card? I’m sure there were, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any congregation in any denomination anywhere that doesn’t have a few of those people. Were our worship services sometimes boring to my 18-year-old self? Yeah, they were. But they meant something to the people who had attended that church for decades. And if I’m being honest, bored as I was sometimes, I came out of that church a relatively well-adjusted Christian, eager to serve God and to come to know him better. You don’t get that from 12 years in a dead church.
So today, as I read these comments from multiple individuals who were eager to point out the flaws of my heritage, I realized that I’m not okay with that anymore.
18-year-old Tyler would have agreed, and joined in the abuse. 25-year-old (in two weeks) Tyler can’t participate in that anymore. Because as flawed as my tradition can be at times, the Church of Christ is the bride of Christ. It nurtured me and countless other people to mature faith in God, despite it’s weaknesses, and I’m not comfortable tearing it down anymore.
This is my heritage. This is the bride of Christ. I should be working to build up the Church, not tear it down. I should look to affirm the Church and it’s traditions (in which many, many people have found Christ). We have so many things going for us. We take time every single week to appreciate the submission of Christ that led all the way to a cross. We encourage a deep knowledge of the scriptures. There are few denominations that have focused on mission work the way Churches of Christ have. Why are we so quick to dismiss all that?
Some of you reading this aren’t members of the Church of Christ, but you might be familiar with this mindset. You may feel frustration about your own congregation or denomination, or perhaps even Church as a whole. You may feel burned by Church, or perhaps you think that Church is archaic, irrelevant, and boring.
Don’t Give Up.
We don’t have to leave the Church where it is. There’s always room for growth. We need to examine our traditions and practices. We need to take inventory to see if we’re still accomplishing what we need to be accomplishing in the Kingdom of God. There are things that we need to update, and maybe a few other things that we need to leave by the wayside. Rather than abandoning or abusing our heritage, we need to work to sharpen it.
The Church is a beautiful thing, and it’s only going to get better. We can work together to affirm the people and traditions that have made us who we are today, and we can plan for the Church of the future.
The Church may be filled with broken people. It may cause frustration and even anger at times. There will be people in Church we don’t see eye to eye with. But the Church is our home. It shapes us, provides encouragement, brings us closer to God, and is God’s connection point with the world.
I’m done throwing my heritage under the bus. I’m done abusing the bride of Christ. I’m excited to see how my heritage continues to impact the world, and I’m so glad I get to be a part of it. Let’s be a people who are building the Church up to be what Christ created it to be, not a people who are tearing it down because of our frustrations with it.