Are we prime for revival or are we hopelessly stuck in the past? I don’t think God is done with us yet. Even though we are seeing decline pretty much across the board, I am hopeful that God is still going to use Churches of Christ in some meaningful and powerful ways.
Not all DNA is good DNA. A lot of what kills our physical bodies has markers in our DNA. Some DNA isn’t worth preserving – it is killing us! We also have DNA worth preserving. Some people want to jump ship. Many do (we are in decline overall). Here is some of what I think needs preserved for future generations:
- Our theology of the Lord’s Supper is something that needs to carry on. The weekly practice is not just biblical. It is beneficial to us.
- Our baptismal theology is an asset to the kingdom. So much of Christianity has relegated baptism to something that doesn’t at all sound like how the Bible sounds when it talks about baptism.
- Our zeal for the Word of God is admirable (even if the way we read it needs some adjustment – we are still serious about what God did and didn’t say).
- Our emphasis on obedience is important, so long as we don’t slip over into legalism (which isn’t just about obedience but it about what we believe obedience accomplishes in and of itself).
- Our view on church autonomy/lack of denominational structure and hierarchy. We have a bitter sweet relationship with this one. Our autonomy keeps some needed changes from happening and often prevents our individual congregational elderships from accountability but also keeps the whole ship from turning the wrong direction all at once.
- Our willingness to stand out and be differentiated from the world.
We could list more but these are a few things that need to be preserved. What is more, our people love Jesus. That is enough in itself to remind us that we are needed in this world to do the work Jesus would do were he here doing it.
What are some needed adjustments that might point us toward revival? First revival isn’t something that can be planned but it can be positioned for. You can assume a particular posture that makes revival more likely but it isn’t a formula guaranteeing a result like 1+2 always equals 3.
Here is my list, what would be on yours?
- A focus on making disciples – we mistook this for evangelizing the baptists and neglected our calling.
- A reliance on the Holy Spirit – we cannot ignore the Spirit if we want revival. The Spirit is always central to revival but it is hard to rely on someone for resources if you think they are unemployed. See Acts 2:2-4
- Fasting – Jesus never commanded it, otherwise we might do it. But Jesus assumed his followers would do it. He assumed it because that is what people did in his day. Jesus couldn’t imagine a child of God who didn’t fast, which is why he didn’t say “I command you to fast” but instead said “When you fast…” How can we have revival if we aren’t looking to God for direction and relying on God for his power? There is no greater way for us to tune into theses things than fasting. What would happen if we fasted once a week asking God to bring revival?
- Prayer – more and more prayer. We need to commit to praying every day for revival. Revival of our congregations. Revival of church in the West. Revival of the kingdom in the lives of the people in our nation. Revival doesn’t come without prayer and the Spirit – see Acts 1:14. Paul told us to pray continually. Do we or are we disobedient in this regard? What if we took Paul’s instruction seriously?
- Embrace grace – Grace isn’t about letting more sin in the camp. Grace is about recognizing God’s acceptance of us in spite of our imperfections – that we can be imperfect and God still accept us as He is working things out in our lives. We should extend that same grace to each other. A grace-less church is a revival-less church.
- A more biblically informed view of worship – to recognize the special nature of the worship of the assembled saints but to not obsess over that one hour a week in particular. Once we have a more holistic view of whole-life worship we will begin to obsess less over what happens on Sunday and get more interested in whether or not the reminder of our lives are lived in a manner in line with God’s will (Rom 12:1-2).
We could list more. You can list more in the comments. This is a start. There is much worth preserving. Unless we make some adjustments we might not be around to preserve these important elements of our theology and practice.
We could also list things we need to give up in order to have a meaningful future. I would like to hear what you would put on that list as well!
There is a simple, yet profound adjustment which could save us from dwindling away to a memory. We need to re-study Grace, really discuss what it means and accept a concept which flourishes in Christian groups all around us. Here it is: Because of His grace, “God forgives our moral sins AND because of His grace, God forgives our doctrinal sins.” Monroe Hawley wrote this paragraph on page 164 in 1992 in his book Is Christ Divided: “There are many Christians who err doctrinally because they have not understood some truth or correctly applied some biblical principle. The same grace that forgives when we morally fall short due to ignorance covers us when we miss the mark doctrinally by the same ignorance.” He had expressed this before in another book in the 1970’s. Somehow, we have missed this concept. It is crucially important for us to get this to be able to regard our Christian neighbors as part of the family of God. It is also crucially important for us to get it because each and every one of us is “missing the mark doctrinally by the same ignorance” in some way or another.
Good point. I am not personally convinced that all doctrinal error is sin. If someone is confused on something like whether or not the bread becomes the body of Christ or not are they in the same boat as the guy sleeping with his best friend’s wife? If you scour the scriptures for the verses that talk about not inheriting the kingdom of God the lists are all moral/behavioral failings – not failings of opinions/doctrinal stances. Now, there are core doctrines that if you don’t believe you just aren’t a Christian – resurrection of Jesus, for instance. But what we did in the CofC was we create a construct called the first century (perfect) church and anything that is off in any way isn’t that and is therefore sin, lost, etc. I just cannot back that up in full from the actual Bible.
Romans 6:1 was the license to deny grace. I heard many a preacher say that if there is grace, you will keep sinning because you can. Thus, there was no grace. None at all. It was also why “Man of Sorrows, what a name” wasn’t sung before the communion. In the hymn were the words full atonement and those weren’t to be mentioned.
I would add a moving away from professional clergy, and make members responsible for the work and life of the congregation. I heard a reference the other day, where a congregation is looking for a new preacher – referred to as :our new spiritual leader…”
I would add a moving away from the real estate business – and using the money for actual people-things. Support missions. Support those in need. Both as headliners, not opening acts.
I would add a moving toward a Biblical view of lostness. Not everyone who says Lord, Lord is part of that Kingdom.
I would move toward a better understanding of the concepts of unity and oneness in our congregations.
Inclusion. Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors for Rome, much to the dislike of the Pharisees. There is no benefit to excluding people for litmus tests such as partisan politics, marital status, parental status. Why make them feel excluded because they are not married couples with children and third generation cofC? When was the last time clergy or church leaders went to dinner with the groups such as college and graduate students, (young) professionals, etc. and talked with them and listened to them? I’m not talking about a youth minister who is the pizza party host but real clergy. Even the Archbishop of Washington went to a bar one night to talk to young professionals.
Appreciate younger people. I am not saying roll over and give them everything they want but the cofC needs to understand that younger people are not the future of the church but are the church now. They have immense pressure put on them to perform and ethical dilemmas which some older people and church leaders write off as ridiculous or merely offer canned answers. Someone will answer their questions. Do you want to answer them or cede to the atheist the only answer? Also, please stop this bit of different answers in different places. I saw Sunday school be moderate and the sermon be hard-line conservative. This causes nothing but confusion. They also want to work on big projects, not be told that the church doesn’t do those.
Holidays and life cycle events. The cofC has always had a weird relationship with Christian holidays (Christmas and Holy Week) and life cycle events, which were not discussed. Some railed against them in sermons while others just ignored them. The cofC members could frequently be found in the pews of liturgical churches around holidays when the cofC door was locked. Today, many younger Christians want something to celebrate. I feel like I missed out on everything. My Jewish friends got a bar mitzvah and confirmation and my Christian friends got a confirmation. All had a celebration afterward. Preparation for these meant learning the faith and face time with the real clergy.
Matt, the CofCs could start by putting a stop to “drawing the line” on each other. The different groups within the CofCs, One Cup, no class, Multiple Cups and classes etc. need to stop dividing over everything under the sun. People look at the CofCs and say, for a unity movement you guys have very little unity.
Thanks for all your efforts, God Bless!