With the United Methodist church under the microscope right now on their affirming of their traditional view restricting practicing homosexuals from the clergy and banning gay marriage there have been a lot more questions floating around on what is the future of Churches of Christ on this issue.
If you are following the discipleship track on this blog, please allow me a moment to discuss this and we will be back to our discipleship conversation in the next post.
First, we are autonomous. We don’t have denominational hierarchy. We don’t have denominationally tied funds or debt. There is no denomination to break away from or denominational doctrine of higher authority than local leaders in our congregations.
This gives our congregations freedom to decide their views on the local level and no one can force them to believe and/or teach something else. This is one of our strengths as we don’t have all of the baggage we are seeing unravel with the Presbyterians before and now the United Methodists.
I don’t think a split is coming.
I don’t think it is coming because it already happened. This issue in particular may cause some readjustment for some on where they worship but the split happened several years ago between the more progressive churches of Christ and the more conservative ones. They split over instruments, women’s roles, clapping, Bible class, kitchens in the building, the necessity of baptism, and many other issues.
The reality is we didn’t split over the issues. The fault lines were in our hermeneutics. When you see an earthquake split the ground it isn’t just the ground you see that split. What split was far deeper. What is underneath these issues, where the real split came from, is how we read the Bible.
Some believe we have two camps: Those who take the Bible seriously (conservative) and those who don’t (liberal/progressive). That is not a fair or accurate assessment of our situation. We actually have very few true theological liberals in our movement. Theological liberals don’t believe in the inspiration of scripture, for instance, but people on both sides of these issues typically do. The difference is usually not whether or not the Bible should be the authority but in ascertaining what the various texts on these issues actually mean. The belief or assumption that you don’t take the Bible seriously and I know because you disagree with my position doesn’t hold up. It is hubris.
We can take the Bible seriously and come to different conclusions. The breakdown was the demise, for one side, of CENI (Command, Example and Necessary Inference). I have written about that repeatedly over the years and won’t get into that now. Search the blog on the right sidebar if you want to read my thoughts on CENI.
Some still accept CENI and those people would most typically still be on the conservative side of these issues. Some have rejected CENI but still acknowledge traditional views on many things. Still others have rejected CENI and have come to conclusions outside of our traditions on various matters. Our conclusions are driven by our interpretation methods. We often aren’t even aware of what these are – we just swim in them our whole lives and take them for granted.
This is the fault line of our division and it happened years ago. We are just now seeing the symptoms of the underlying issue being played out and where it will play out next is with the LGBT issue.
Another element that hasn’t entered the mix, it was always in the mix is culture. We cannot say things got messed up recently just because culture changed. Culture has always been changing. We equated biblical culture with early to mid 1900s American/Western culture. We sent missionaries to other countries and cultures to establish churches that looked like ours even though it didn’t fit their culture and only considered them “sound” if they did things from our cultural perspective and assumed that was Bible culture. That was egocentric but we didn’t know any better at the time. We now have a more heightened awareness of culture and its affect on how we see things and what we believe. This is an important step in understand how we read and interpret scripture. I don’t have more time to go into it but my point is it wasn’t that we were outside of our culture when we embraced modernism and then somehow culture started influencing Christianity when post-modernism came about. Both influenced Christianity, just in different ways. We need to be aware of this to converse on this properly.
What will change?
Very little will change in our fellowship due to the fact that the division wasn’t about this issue, it was about how we read the Bible, and it already took place. We have separate lectureship, universities known for which way they lean theologically, congregations that are typically theologically homogenous, etc. So when we begin to have more and more congregations come out affirming practicing homosexuality, practicing homosexual ministers, performing weddings for gay couples, etc it won’t push away those who have already disfellowshipped the same congregations (can you disfellowship a congregation?) over other matters in the past. I seriously doubt we will see churches that have been known for their conservative leanings come out affirming these things. This is why I am saying little will change in our movement other than the fault line that is already there getting wider. It will, in the more conservative perspective, reaffirm their past views on how far some have gone (and from that perspective how lost they really are).
I hope we can have this discussion in a loving a productive manner but if the past is any predictor of the future I am not hopeful about that.
Jesus once said, “This one only comes out by prayer and fasting” – I think our deep divisions can only be healed by serious spiritual disciplines and prayer if our unity is salvageable at all. The truth is whether we acknowledge each other or not, God knows who His people are. Only God can fix this because only God can fix our hearts and help us see things as they are. This is more than an issue (as the title of the post puts it), these are real people. So no matter what our view is on this let us say and do everything out of a spirit of love and mercy.