Addressing Declining Numbers in Churches of Christ 1 – Identifying the Enemy

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I don’t know about where you live but here in St. Pete we don’t have a bunch of inter-church battles. It makes me hope that those sorts of things are starting to die out. I do, however, see those things taking place in other places and it really disturbs me. We have been notoriously bad about airing our dirty laundry for the whole world to see (eg the quail ridge quarrel and the newspaper ad). I think more and more the old form of this is dying. It used to be that brotherhood publications would write people us for various offenses and call people out from pulpits and through bulletin articles. While the method seems to be dying, the spirit of such attacks seems to be alive and well and it always will be. It has taken on new clothes – negative blogging about other Christians and churches. Somehow hypertext emboldens people to write things they would never say to someone’s face. We have wrongly seen each other as the enemy and missed the mark entirely. That calls for repentance.

How not to define the enemy:

There are two things the enemy is not. First, that enemy is not each other. We have to stop fighting and understand that it is OKAY to disagree about some things. Second, the enemy is not the lost people in the world. If you look at the actions of groups like the AFA or Southern Baptist Convention you see an attack dog mentality that furthers the preconceived ideas in the world that Christians are a bunch of hate-mongering bigots. We cannot make up our own enemy. We cannot define our enemy as those we disagree with (who knows…we might just be wrong on some things!). If error is the defining mark of the enemy then we all must admit that the enemy is no further away than the tip of our own noses because we have all changed our minds on some issues in our lifetimes. If you haven’t you either will or else you are too arrogant to accept the fact that you don’t have it all together. We also cannot label the enemy in a way that is convenient to us our to our agenda. People have labeled the enemy as everything from those who use the wrong songbook to those who use overhead projectors and I am sure far dumber and more ignorant things than that.

Lessons from the playground:
It is important that we unify out of the fact that we are all fighting the same enemy. There is a unifying force that takes place when groups realize they are all fighting the same enemy. Do you remember those days on the playground when the bully finally got his due because all the little people realized their was power in numbers and they decided not to put up with it any more? The enemy wants for us to divide and bicker and fight and argue and make ourselves look anathema to the world we are trying to reach. The enemy wants to make our salt taste like lemon and pull the plug on our shining the light. The more we divide and the more we spin our wheels having inter-church disputes the less likely we are to be focusing on the lost and dying world we were called to reach out to. Remember – Christ did not commission us to go on a Crusade to fragment over being right. Christ did commission us to reach the lost. It is time for those who preach and teach Christ crucified to at the very least stop the arguing and start reaching the lost. If we tried to reach the lost as hard and with as much zeal as we have used to argue we could have reached millions more people by now. Don’t you think that makes the enemy laugh? Don’t you think it makes God sad?

Who is our enemy?
The only answer to this question has to come from scripture. Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Period. Not the church across the street or across town. Not the denominations. Not those who differ with us on how to worship. Paul specifically said our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Why have we gone directly against Paul’s teaching here? Why have we taken our eye off the ball? We will have many questions to answer for the opportunities missed because of the lost time and energy given over to infighting and not to reaching the lost. That fact alone should make us weep. There is a real sense of freedom when you stop fighting the wrong fight and get on board with the one that matters.

Action items:

This is going to take more than discussion and coming to some good opinions on how to fix.

  1. The fruits of the spirit have been rejected and replaced with a sectarian spirit of enmity. This is going to take a full-blown recovery intervention just like someone coming out of treatment for drug abuse or alcohol.We have been addicted to power struggles, arrogance, and argumentation.
  2. We all need to repent for any role we have ever played in being divisive.
  3. Call, write, or email someone you have had a doctrinal dispute with in the past and apologize for any wrong attitude, words, or spirit you might have brought into that conversation.
  4. Be slow to call someone out on error and understand that you have been wrong a time or two in your life. Then if you still feel the need to talk with that brother or sister, do so through an attitude of love, respect, and compassion. Also, don’t assume that you even understand their position or that you have all the right answers yourself.
  5. When you start to view another human being as the enemy to be attacked, take a breather and hold your tongue. It might just keep you from doing something you might later regret.

0 Responses

  1. Matt,

    Thanks for this post and your contribution. Like you in St. Petersburg, here in Minnesota we do not have this infighting either – and it is nice. That has not always been my experience, so I really appreciate it here. And I might add that there is a good deal of diversity regarding specific issues and everything but we understand that unity in Christ is not uniformity.

    I think you are right in pointing out what our commision is. We must learn how to celebrate and encourage missional outreach in whatever congregation it is happening, whether it is done through traditional or progressive approaches. But even internally, within a local church, sometimes the obsession with getting it all right gets in the way of the mission. I don’t think we need to become careless about whether what we are doing is right or not but we need to remember that we will never have it right in every aspect and that is all right. God is still the One who works through jars of clay.



  2. Matt, when I read on Danny’s blog that you were going to be doing a series of posts on this my heart rejoiced. That being said, you didn’t have to hit me right between the eyes like that. : ) I think that we must avoid being pious when addressing the sins of others as well. We should always let others know that without Christ, we are just as condemned as they are. Then we should point out how Christ has affected our lives and our thoughts on repentance through His great sacrifice. I think often the problem with responding and blogging is that the tone in which you are conveying your message is left out. I can write to you all day and say “I love you and because I love you I want to point out where you’re missing out.” Now read that sentence in different emotions. Unfortunately, the message gets conveyed based on how it made the reader feel, rather it is correct or not. I look forward to your future posts on this matter and thank you for being part of the solution of our declining numbers.

  3. Rex,

    You are so right on that balance in all things is so important. Being missional does not mean that we neglect doctrine. If you through out doctrine you have nothing to teach. Being missional means you get serious about taking what you believe out to those who actually need it. Instead, like we have already said a million times…one of the reasons we have declined is that we have neglected those who need to be taught and spent our time trying to teach those we disagree with in the church how we view doctrine.

    We have to stop reaching out to those who have already spent the last 30 years in church and start reaching those who are actually lost.

  4. Dave,

    Thank you for your encouraging words. I hope more than just the “choir” reads this. I know, we aren’t supposed to have choirs! But you get my point. I also hope they read what you and Rex just wrote. Tone is so, so hard to convey in hypertext! I look forward to hearing more of your response in later posts.

  5. Maybe I missed a post somewhere about research on CoC numbers? Is it more for CoC than other denominations?

    But I appreciate your topic and thoughts. One of the difficulties is that it’s always easier for the one in the “wrong” to say “It’s not that important, we should accept differences and get along.” But the offended party is the one doing the hard work and making the sacrifice in this instance.

    I don’t really like to use words like “apostasy” and “heresy” and “false teachers” very much, but surely they still exist! And don’t we all at some point have to decide where the line exists? I share with you the concern for the lost, but at the core of this discussion is the question of “who is the lost?” Should I feel a need to share my faith with a (generic) Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon? Should I feel a drive to reach out to ungracious, legalistic members of Churches of Christ and convince them of their need to trust the grace of God for salvation? Or should I only comb the streets looking for athiests and alcoholics to introduce to Christ’s transforming love?

    I hope this doesn’t come across as argumentative, but these are questions I have about this whole issue. I look forward to the discussion.

  6. It amazes me all the labels members of the Lord’s body puts on each other. As one who has been on both sides, I can see a lot of differences. There appears to be 3 types of cofC congregations. Those who ad some, those who take away some things and then those who neither ad or take away. I am shocked at the lack of love in both the so called ‘conservatives and the new and improved “progressives”(former liberals) groups. The so-called “progressives do not want to give up there social gospel programs and thus will not even for the sake of unity. They expect the so-called conservatives to ad those new and improved programs that initiated some 50 years ago, so love and unity may abound. Why is it so hard to give up those things for the sake of unity? Is it the taste of denominationalism that makes one seek all the jingles, bells and whistles? Israel wanted a King and be like all the others only to find it was not what it was cracked up to be. Since I worship at a so-called “progressive” church, it appears it would be much easier to give up a few things than it would be to ask the others to ad something. Why can’t the more progressive churches see this. I have been to about 30 so-called “conservative” churches and 10 “progressive”. Without love we are nothing. There is kind, loving and fruit-bearing members in either church. The danger is both appear to have the pride of “knowing”, a dangerous disconnection/disassociation with the head and the body. I really fail to understand why those who have appeared to ad to the chuch’s work feel so threatened to give up just a few things for the sake of unity in Jesus the Christ. It is not even logical to want the others to ad something that never existed in the church decades ago. Let’s all try and find a common ground because to deny our brothers is to deny Jesus.

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