Author Archives: Matt Dabbs

Four Major Factors for Anxiety in Churches of Christ

Have you ever felt a real sense of anxiety in our congregations? I think there are a few reasons for it and it is completely unnecessary.

First, going back to my previous post, we have created a bar that must be jumped over but the bar is theoretical. It is the bar of the Established 33 AD first century church. We are supposed to be like them but they weren’t like them. None of them had perfect doctrine (all the letters are written to correct doctrinal problems), all of them had sin problems, and yet Paul still addressed them as the Lord’s church (see his the opening verses of his letters). That tells me that perfect understanding and perfect imitation of that standard isn’t what defines God’s people. Jesus defines his own people. So anxiety comes from trying to attain a standard that is theoretical, not practical. The early church wasn’t as flat as we describe it. It had more variety than we appreciate.

If you set a standard for yourself that is in theory concrete but in practice nebulous and poorly defined then you have a recipe for anxiety. When we did that new thing last week in worship, was that like the early church? Probably not. Are we going to hell for it? Maybe so. Well we better not do anything new then, we better keep things like they were in the 1950s…er 50s. Then we will be safe because we know churches back then were sound and so if we stick to our roots from 60 years ago we are on solid ground because they were trying to be the first century church. Now we have another layer of complexity! We are imitating a generation we venerate for their zealous attempts at attaining the early church pattern. Guess what? The church in the 1950s didn’t get it right either! They goofed in some big areas but as long as we hold to their traditions and doctrine we can be sure we are sound.

Second, we are poorly differentiated from other Christian groups. Differentiation has to do with telling yourself apart from someone else. On one hand we seem extremely differentiated. We have done a lot of talking and writing on exactly why we are different from everyone else. But I think at times neurotically so…uncomfortably so…done so in a way that displays a lot of anxiety and hypersensitivity. That tells me we are poorly differentiated. If one must perpetually teach and demonstrate their differences from other people they aren’t secure in themselves. We have tremendous insecurity! And so we have a high level of congregational anxiety.

Third is autonomy that isn’t autonomous. We fear what other congregations think about us. We fear what they say about us. We fear what they will write about us. We worry they will tarnish our reputation and we won’t be considered “sound” by the right groups or people. It’s the wrong competition. We aren’t here to please people. We are here to please the Lord. This leads to more anxiety in our fellowship.

Fourth is an “everything you get wrong will send you to hell” mentality. If you want to be anxious make everything a heaven/hell issue. There are no higher stakes in life than that. You are lost if you are wrong on Instrumental music. You are lost if you celebrate Christmas. You are lost if you believe the wrong thing on divorce. You are lost if you [fill in the blank]. The problem is I don’t see any of that taught in the Bible itself. Here is the key – we have a view that God’s grace can forgive someone of moral failings but not doctrinal failings (things done in the body but not in the mind). That is not the Gospel of the Bible! In fact, it is quite the opposite. If you go to the “won’t enter heaven if you do these things” lists in the New Testament they are always about behaviors and not doctrinal opinions. Here is the other key – Doctrinal error is to be corrected. Sin is to be forgiven. There is a difference. This makes us tremendously anxious because there are hundreds of issues one can have an opinion on and we have elevated them all to as big of an issue as the divinity of Christ and so you can go to hell for having the wrong opinion on a long list of things.

All of these things are wrapped up in one other item that I won’t go into right now and that is how we read the Bible (hermeneutics) and CENI – Command, Example and Necessary Inference.

There are more factors that could be listed but I think these are the four big ones. What other issues might be included? I will talk about some paradigm shifts that help address this in the next post.

Our Obsession with Imitating the Early Church and Another Way Forward

Over time some of our number developed an idea that because God only has one church and that church is defined by the New Testament that the only way to become that church is to imitate the early church as seen in the New Testament. Once we do what they did and say what theyContinue Reading

Book Review – Paul: A Biography By N.T. Wright

430 pages of text. Less than ten citations of contemporary secondary sources. Roughly a dozen extra-biblical ancient source citations. Another dozen intertestamental/apocryphal citations. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of scripture citations. All of that to say Wright’s book, “Paul: A biography” is scholarly but not written in direct conversation with various theories of what isContinue Reading

What Keeps You Going?

My answer to this question has been developing and changing my whole life. When I was a kid, the excitement of learning kept me going. I was and still am to a large degree inquisitive. There was always more to learn and that drove me to seek out answers to all kinds of questions. InContinue Reading

The ISTJ Minister – Assessing How Our Personality Affects Our Ministry

I love the Myers-Briggs type inventory. It seems like the Enneagram is all the rage these days but I still haven’t moved on from the good ole trusty MBTI. This is partly because of the insights it brings out and it is also due to the fact that it was developed at one of myContinue Reading

The “Rolling in their Graves” Argument

Although we like to say that tradition doesn’t carry authority for us like it does in the Catholic church the truth is, in practice, many times it does. How many times have you heard an idea rebuffed because either “We’ve never done it that way” or “The people who started this church would be rollingContinue Reading

“Those Were the Days” – What Does the Future Hold for Churches of Christ?

Nostalgia is the first step in church life toward congregational death. “Nostalgia is an exile mentality. Fulfillment is contingent on the ‘once upon a time’ remembrances of yesterday. ‘I remember when’ stories become commonplace in organizations during nostalgic days. The golden days are remembered fondly. From an organizational perspective, nostalgia signals the beginning of aContinue Reading

Why Does it Bother You?

Why is it some things bother you more than others? It isn’t always a logical/analytical answer that is obvious. There are some pesky things that bother us more than things much more serious. Often we are bothered most by others on the things we struggle with the most ourselves. When those things rear their uglyContinue Reading

“Poured Out” By Leonard Allen

I just reviewed Leonard Allen’s recent book on the Holy Spirit called, “Poured Out: The Spirit of God Empowering the Mission of God” over at Wineskins. This is a book that everyone in Churches of Christ and beyond needs to read. The review is thorough. See if it interests you – http://wineskins.org/2018/11/13/book-review-poured-out-by-leonard-allen/

Book Review: “Paul – An Apostle’s Journey” By Douglas A. Campbell

A few weeks ago a friend recommended I read Douglas Campbell’s work on Paul. Since that time I have worked my way through his book “Paul – An Apostle’s Journey” and want to share some insights on the book, Campbell’s views, and the positives and negatives of the book as a whole. The first thingContinue Reading

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