I’ve been out of college for over a year now, which means that I’m working 8-5 and no longer going to Bible classes almost every day. In some ways, I miss that, and in others, I don’t. I love tackling the big issues that come up in Bible discussions, probably because of my competitive nature. I’ve always wanted to figure out what’s right and then prove that I’m right to everyone else. That’s not always the best way to prove your point, as I figured out, so as I’ve matured, I have learned that most people don’t respond well to simply being told they’re wrong. It also doesn’t help that I’m actually not always right.
Still, I do have my opinions on what many Christians perceive to be the big issues and challenges we face today. Unfortunately for my branch of the Christian faith – the Churches of Christ (I’ll capitalize “Church” here for the sake of simplicity, even though we CoC folks insist we’re not a denomination)- many of these issues have been issues for the better part of fifty years. We’ve crossed certain bridges like racism (not without some resistance), but there are a lot of other areas where the CoC differs from the rest of Christianity.
I started attending at a CoC congregation as a middle schooler and have no plans to “leave” the Church anytime soon. I studied at a school with ties to that particular group, and I share the same fundamental belief in using the Bible as the foremost and only true authority for Christians. Churches of Christ are unique in a lot of ways, many of them good, but a handful of differences (or perceived differences) exist that make attending one of our churches an experience that is different from that of any other denomination.
The most noticeable differences are evident from attending just one Sunday worship service. Part of the service will be dedicated to the Lord’s Supper (partaking of bread and wine), and most will take an offering in conjunction with this portion of the service. There will most likely be a sermon based on some Bible text or topic, and there will be a cappella singing (without instruments).
If you visit more than once or try to learn a little more, you’ll realize that you’re not considered a true member of the Church until you’re baptized. Only “adults” are baptized, and it’s done by full immersion; most churches will have facilities for this. You probably will also notice that all of the leadership roles are held by men, and not women. In some churches, you might eventually hear someone mention that it’s best if you not dance, and most members will choose not to drink alcohol.
If you stick around long enough, you’ll catch on that some of these issues are topics of debate among the church members, and that’s the direction I’d like to take with this discussion. As someone who has spent the last 10 years now attending church services and Bible classes taught from the Church of Christ perspective, but not having that perspective ingrained in me from my early days, I naturally questioned some of the most bizarre characteristics of CoC worship and practice. I pretty much ruled out the no-dancing “rule” from the start, since that’s the most difficult case for which to prove the tradition is correct (though I must admit, as a terrible dancer, that I don’t often challenge it in practice).
Not all of the traditions are without merit. In fact, most of them have some pretty strong reasons, like baptism by immersion and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. However, I’ve found through my own study and the wisdom of others that some of the others stand on shakier footing than most CoC folks would have you believe. Issues like instrumental music and women’s role in the church would fall into this category.
I could spend some time on those issues here. God knows I have on my own and in discussions with my friends. However, I’m not so sure that’s the best use of my time or yours. I’m writing this as if you have no idea about the Church of Christ, but many (if not most) of you reading this probably already do. So, let me be on the record with the following suggestions for me and my fellow Christians regarding these purportedly big issues.
First, every young Christian will have questions about these issues because they’re what makes our church unique. Kids will wonder why we’re not like the Baptists, or the Methodists, or anyone else, and they deserve some straight answers. We need to acknowledge our traditions but let the Bible dictate our path for the future, which may mean that we also consider changes that diverge from those traditions.
So, we should address these issues with every young Christian, but – here’s the kicker – we need to move on after that. Even as adults, we rehash these issues, and the discussions and disagreements typically do nothing more than reinforce our preconceived notions. For every person who believes that the Bible doesn’t prohibit (and may actually encourage) the use of instruments in worship, there are several who are not going to see it that way. For every woman who has been frustrated by a man telling her to pipe down or submit to him because the Bible says so, there are others who simply let it be. These arguments which are often so petty, in my own opinion, get us nowhere as a body of believers.
Again, this is just one person’s imperfect opinion, but I think this an important enough problem in our churches to get it all out in the open. What’s really the point of arguing over these things? I’m not gaining anything from pushing my own minority viewpoints, and I think we would be much better served as Christians if we expended some effort teaching others how to be more like Christ on a day-to-day basis, not to mention trying to do so ourselves. We waste so much of our time speaking for God on tiny details that we lose sight of what’s really important: our faith and the well-being of others.
It’s easy to get involved in these core Church of Christ issues, but to me there’s not a significant benefit from doing it past a certain point. We divide our own base of people, and everyone becomes convinced that everyone else is going to hell. Instead, we could be using our resources to actually do something worthwhile. The vast majority of the things we argue about do not have an impact on our salvation. I think Jesus would see this and call us on it if he were walking among us today.
I will still be willing to take a stand on these issues when they come up, but there are certainly better ways for us all to spend our time. If I can convince you that we could reach a few people by feeding them or giving them a new pair of shoes, then what does it matter if we disagree over whether something is classified as dancing or choreography? If we can agree to serve others before ourselves, then we have something to build on.