Losing Our Way in Churches of Christ and Finding the Answer in the Gospels

I intend to spend a lot more time in the Gospels this year and I would like to tell you why. In 2015 I tackled N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I started it while on jury duty via my kindle app and when I first downloaded the book it told me I had over 60 hours to go! I am over half way done and will finish it in the next few weeks and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I also did a lot of studying, teaching and preaching from Paul and from Acts this past year. After thinking through a lot of that in 2015 I have decided that I am going to dedicate a lot more of my time and focus on Jesus and the Gospels in 2016. That will be reflected here on the blog and I look forward to engaging in discussions about Jesus with you this year!

I am going to kick this off with a brief thought on the Gospels in Churches of Christ. I can only reflect on my own upbringing and experience so that is what I am going to do here. What I say here will not be universally true but I can only imagine that it is generally true on some levels across our movement.

The Gospels (Matthew – John) have traditionally not gotten much airtime in Churches of Christ. We would say we preach the Gospel and that the Gospel is what ends every sermon (e.g. – the five steps to salvation) but that is something entirely different to what I am talking about and I believe what Paul would have said the Gospel was all about as well.

Why did we give more time to Paul than to Jesus? I believe the Gospels lacked airtime because of the kinds of discussions we were engaged in and the sorts of verses and tactics that are needed to win the discussions we believed were most important. We leaned more heavily on Paul than we did on Jesus because our discussions were often attempts to convert other groups to a Church of Christ understanding of scripture and how to read scripture. Jesus just didn’t help us out there as much as we would have liked and the proof texts for the points we had to make were slim to none in the Gospels so that is where Paul stepped in for us. Paul was helpful to our cause because in our minds Paul was addressing church stuff and that is (so the thinking goes) the kinds of disputes we were having with “the denominations” and so Paul provided us the ammo for our “war for unity” that was actually quite divisive and sectarian. Ironic, I know.

Now, if you take a good look at Paul and even at the verses we like to quote from Paul it is not always as straight forward as we made it and he is not always saying what we thought he was saying. We constructed a Gospel that didn’t need the Gospels. If we really read Paul we would have known better but in my experience and as best I can tell it that is what happened and we were not better off for it.

In a sense I believe we really lost our way and are struggling to find it back. We are struggling because we knew ourselves to be a “people of the book” but our approach to the book didn’t land us on solid ground. Our hermeneutic (method of interpretation) was broken and the fruit it produced wasn’t always in line with the Spirit. There is a better way forward and I think it walks backward from Paul to Jesus. We should have learned that from our study of Paul as Paul constantly pointed us back to Jesus but somehow we still missed it. But the past doesn’t have to dictate the present or the future. There is a better way forward in our movement and I believe that way forward is founded on the bedrock of Jesus Christ and his life, teaching, actions, death, resurrection and impending return. Let’s not miss it this time around!

4 Responses to Losing Our Way in Churches of Christ and Finding the Answer in the Gospels

  1. Mark says:

    I’m glad you have chosen to return to the Gospel. Granted, it won’t win you any arguments against the Baptists or the Catholics, but the people who hear your sermons will get to hear what Christianity is all about. This lack of gospel in most churches of Christ led a lot of people (including me) to go to the liturgical churches just so they could hear the Gospel.

  2. When I was in my mid-30’s (40 years ago), I determined that at least 1 sermon every Sunday would be about Jesus: his life, prophecies of him, his teaching (especially the parables), what the apostles said about him, and the significance of his death & resurrection. I did not restrict myself to the gospels, but to preaching “Jesus and him crucified.”

    Almost immediately, my preaching took on greater depth and the church began to grow. Now that I am “retired” from full-time preaching, I hear more sermons than I did 40 years ago. Too many sermons I hear give Jesus a passing nod as the preacher wends his way through his topical presentation of some doctrine or other.

    Many sermons I’ve heard (even some really good ones) jump all over the Bible, not just for illustration, but for the chief substance of the message. This is often done with little consideration for the context of the passages they use, and sometimes with very little connection with the topic under consideration.

    On the whole, I believe preaching today is much better than when I was growing up. I’ve had to “unlearn” some of the things I was most certain of. I’m glad to be able to say that this process was based on the principles I had learned while young: deep respect for the Scriptures and a desire to serve God faithfully. “Let God be true, and every man a liar” is a guiding principle in my continuing commitment to and search for truth.

    So, I’m thrilled that you are making this determination. It will bless you – and those whom you touch, including the readers of your blog and of Wineskins as you function as its editor.

  3. John says:

    Preaching the Lectionary in which the passages from the Old Testament and the Epistles were brought to their final fulfillment in Jesus of the Gospels was ignored by the Church of Christ to its peril and starvation. The boast of being a people of the book came from memorized proof text; not coming to a passionate awe and appreciation of the words and interaction of Jesus in his world. It was more exciting practicing for debates than in surrendering self, the very message of Jesus’ teaching and the key to understanding it.

  4. Greg England says:

    I preached in coCs for over 30 years. Toward the end I spent about 18 months in preaching thru Luke as if we’d never heard the stories. It literally changed the heart of our church. Wish I’d done that the entire years I preached. Sounds like your church family is in for a blessing.

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