Church Co-Dependency & Naming Elephants: Fellowship

Did you know if you commented on the last post in the affirmative, chances are someone took note? There is a segment of our fellowship that marks people. They decide who is and who isn’t in fellowship. That idea isn’t entirely unbiblical when done biblically but it isn’t done biblically.

We have publications that make it their mission to write people up. They write up churches too. If you have a wayward preacher, he and the congregation can be marked. I may well be just for saying it. I won’t name them. You probably know who they are and there is no need to call attention to them. This isn’t personal for me, it is principle. I am sure, though for some the response to these articles will be quite personal back to me. That’s okay. That is all some people know to do and we will love them anyway. Maybe something good will come of it.

What I am about to say is a description rather than a criticism. That’s also what alcoholics and addicts do – make it unsafe to speak the truth. They make it so painful to disrupt the way things are that no one does and the group quietly dwindles away into irrelevance.

What is the addiction?

It is the addiction to self-righteousness. The mission is to prove yourself right. But that isn’t enough. One also must prove others wrong. It is a constant anxiety, a persistent pressure to prove something. You have to make sure the right people know you are sound. If they don’t think you are, it can be quite painful.

How do you know you are sound?

You have to uphold strict doctrine even if behind the scenes you are immersed in sin and addiction because it is right thinking that seems to save rather than right behavior.

You have to “fellowship” the right people and “disfellowship” the wrong people. Lines are drawn in the strictest possible way. This has bothered me for quite some time – that in an attempt to be as biblical as possible we draw lines where the Bible does not. How can you do that and be biblical at the same time? The Bible does draw lines. We should draw the same ones. That is being biblical.

You aren’t allowed to quote various people – either the “liberals” in Churches of Christ (which means anyone left of the watchdogs) and especially not quote people in the denominations. I noticed in older editions of Muscle and a Shovel that C.S. Lewis was quoted but that was pulled in the 6th edition. There is little wonder why. You can’t cite an Anglican as an authority and still be in the good graces of certain groups even if what the Anglican said was true. I am sure it was just easier to pull that quote and end the criticism than leave it in. I am assuming much with that one but I assume this because I have seen it so often that it is the only way I knew how to make sense of the quote being pulled. Maybe I am wrong on that one.

This mindset has insulated our people from some of the best minds Christianity has ever had to offer and some of the deepest theological insights imaginable. What a shame that we cannot speak truth based on the affiliation of the person who spoke it lest we be lumped in as denominational supporters. It is a skewed, unbiblical view of fellowship all in the name of being biblical. How sad.

It goes deeper. It isn’t just wrong, the thinking goes, to fellowship the wrong people. It is even wrong to fellowship someone who fellowships the wrong people. It is expected in some circles to publicly rebuke someone who has a wrong view on someone the first chance you get. And to be wrong on something doesn’t even mean the person practices the wrong thing but has the wrong opinion on it. Some will say if you believe instrumental music is ok will send you to hell as much as worshipping with an instrument. One is not supposed to go to a lectureship where someone else is present who is known to be “in error” without rebuking that person publicly. If you go and don’t do that, now you are in error!

This really happens.

I am happy to say that this isn’t across the board in our churches. Many are rejecting this kind of thinking. I hesitate to bring it up or draw attention to it and I certainly don’t want to make it seem like this is everyone or everywhere. It isn’t. But it is a major issue that comes from seriously unhealthy underpinnings and an anemic theology that should be brought to light so we can find healing and a better way.

If you are in the middle of this kind of thinking and believe something doesn’t seem right about it, you aren’t crazy. Crazy systems make people crazy for thinking the system is crazy. This protects the system from having to make changes. Unhealthy systems make healthy people unhealthy. It makes sane people feel like they are crazy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. None of us are stuck unless we want to be stuck. There are other ways of moving forward than being stuck in unhealthy systems but the system will do its best to suck you back in. They will berate you for trying to leave. Beat you up for asking questions. Call you names if you are a threat to their way of doing it. I know this because I have received these things in the past in some situations myself.

You aren’t supposed to say Baptists are Christians. You aren’t supposed to say there are Christians in other groups. Even if people believe this is true, and many in our group believes this is true, you aren’t supposed to say it out loud. I made a statement in class about how there are a billion Christians in the world. I knew someone would think I was in error. For many there are only as many Christians as there are members of the Churches of Christ.

This is why I liken this to the family of an addict – you cannot speak truth because of what will result if you do. Chaos. Disunity. Condemnation. Pain. If you are a minister, lost job, etc. I have had people in the past contact my elders over things I had said to try to get me fired. People I had never met. This is how hard people fight to keep these systems and addictions alive and if we buy into it and play the game we become co-dependents in a sick system. We have to resist that even if it costs us a lot because we won’t get to a healthier place until we do.

We have developed a culture where certain true things are not to be said. Ever. How can that ever be healthy?

When those cultures develop they must be brought to light. There is a price to pay for doing it but until people are willing to pay that price you will never uproot the unhealthiness from our systems and ways of thinking.

Let’s be in prayer for the future of our movement. I believe in our movement. I believe some bright days are ahead. It is going to be hard to work through a few things but God can help us with this. Part of getting healthy is going to be being able to talk about who the Christians are with the same lines the Bible draws and when we do that we will find we have far more brothers and sisters in the world than we thought or were willing to say openly. If you don’t think that is good news, I don’t know what else to say! Blessings.

This is the third part in a series. Here are the first two:
Co-dependent Churches – A Major Barrier to Change
Church Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: Tradition
Church Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: Fellowship
Church Co-dependency Characteristics

12 Responses to Church Co-Dependency & Naming Elephants: Fellowship

  1. bert thomas says:

    right on, my brother, right on!

  2. James says:

    Churches are not the only systems where people behave like that. School teaching, public and private also work this way. Sometimes the Boy Scouts. That seems to be human nature (when we are not being mindful) in many settings. It is amazing the things people can do in the name of “helping”. Like the Stanford prison experiment. Or the Spanish Inquisition. LOL, no kidding.

  3. Matt Dabbs says:

    Oh yes, a very human problem all in the name of doing the Lord’s work. Great observation.

  4. Travis says:

    Yes, yes, and yes to this! Let them mark me. I no longer care. I’ve found grace and peace. Sadly, I had to leave the CoC to get it. Not that I left for basic doctrinal differences, it’s the attitude of self-righteousness, the obsession with marking and dividing, and a host of other sins that the majority just can’t see in themselves – though they’ll see the smallest speck of sin in others. Keep up the good work, brother.

  5. Carolyn Harmon says:

    I believe our tenets of the Church of Christ have stood the test of time and remain: hear, believe, repent, confess Christ as your Savior, be Baptized (immersed) & be obedient to the word. We are here to Love GOD, Love Others, & Obey. If Fellowship with others that do not hold to those COC tenets is stressful & conflicting for you then praying to GOD for help through the Holy Spirit is your only hope for the right answer for you. It’s a very personal choice. You can never truly succeed at anything worthwhile without the right answer from the Holy Spirit.

    • Dwight says:

      Carolyn,
      It would be hard pressed to find a baptist that doesn’t believe in those same tenets, exactly as you posted.
      One of the shortcomings of those tenets is that grace and mercy isn’t mentioned, which was a huge part of Christ teaching. Many of the Jews obeyed the letter of the law, but rejected grace towards others, which I think is largely the point of this article.
      Notice you said COC tenets, not God’s or Christ’s tenets.
      We cannot place the COC or any other church institution in between God and the people.
      In regards to fellowship, fellowship is not that we hold to these tenets as a church, but that we hold to God as a person and it is God who decides our fellowship.

      We would not fellowship with those who have a name different than the church of Christ, but they had no name in the early years, we would not fellowship with one who calls themselves a Baptist, but God clearly had no problem with the Jews who called themselves Israelites (with respect to Israel), the church of Christ would not fellowship with those who used regular bread and not unleavened bread and yet they would have used wine in the early church as noted In I Cor.11. but we use grape juice. We would not fellowship with those who use instrumental music, per an inference, but those who believe in the wearing of a covering, per a command, fellowship with us and we with them. We would not fellowship with those who have a “fellowship hall” but we have a foyer or lobby where we fellowship with others.

      So in reality our litmus for fellowship goes way beyond those listed tenets and comes down to what we place in between others and God and whether we see them in grace or not.

      • Matt Dabbs says:

        We feel safe fellowshipping the difference that feels more conservative but that is all subjective. Excellent points. All in the name of following the Bible while not following the Bible.

      • Mark says:

        Even in the 1980s, the cofC would not fellowship with another cofC congregation that had a kitchen and a youth group but also branded their preacher as not “sound” and condemned them to hell. Besides that, some “good” cofC people did not even want the people in the pews toward the back because they weren’t exactly like the model Christian.

  6. Mike says:

    As a college student In the 70s I went on a “campaign for Christ “. It turned in to a campaign for a cappella music. I surely hope things have changed!

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