Why Church of Christ?

Why Church of Christ?

Why Church of Christ? 600 600 Andrew Hicks

I get asked by friends on a semi-regular basis. I ask myself regularly. It is an important question and how I answer it has great consequences. The question is: why are you Church of Christ? Some might articulate the question slightly differently: why are you still Church of Christ (CoC)?

I see why people ask me. I am NOT your typical CoC member. I do not hold rigidly to any of the standard party lines that have come to characterize our quirky tradition:

  • A cappella music – I love a good worship band!
  • Sectarianism  (i.e. believing we are the only ones going to heaven) – I do NOT think we are only ones going to heaven.
  • Diminishing the person and work of the Holy Spirit (especially the word-only controversies) – I lean more charismatic actually!
  • Legalistic hermeneutics (Command, example, and necessary inference or Bible-as-a-rulebook) – I have a more open and creative approach to the text.
  • Hyper rationalism – I am a rational guy, but I think we need to be open to mystical and ecstatic experiences. We also need more passion in our worship.

But I am still a proud member of my tradition because I think there are still some good things going for us as a faith tradition. There are some who have been terribly hurt by our tradition. If that is you, I am so sorry. If you used to be a member of the Church of Christ and are no longer and find yourself needing community I would recommend Ex Church of Christ Support Group.

This is actually a topic of much discussion within our own fellowship historically, but for different reasons than my own. Why I Am A Member of the Church of Christ was a book once given to me as a child. It has a popular reach in our tribe. I do NOT recommend it. As I remember it, the book’s approach was to condemn every other denomination by nitpicking minute doctrinal differences until Churches of Christ were the “last man standing.” Its approach is combative, arrogant, and defensive. No thanks.

A far less combative and more humble approach would be Why We Stayed: Honesty and Hope in the Churches of ChristThe essays are less polemical and more personal in tone. As a contrast there is the book Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Church of Christ. Richard Beck also has a provocative blog post about 4 reasons why he is Church of Christ. My friend Scott Elliott also has a blog post about why he identifies with the Churches of Christ.

I need to answer this question for myself though. Old answers do little to enlighten new questions. Unlike the first book mentioned above, I do not want to ponder why I am Church of Christ so that I can anxiously assure my fragile faith that it alone has all the right answers while all the others are wrong and going to Hell. I want to ponder this so that proudly claim the good that is still to be found in my tradition.

I ponder this question because I see why it might seem odd that I stay. Here are my reasonings. Beck offers 4. I offer 4 also because maybe that will make me as cool as Richard Beck one day!

1) This is my Family

This is the main reason. This is my faith family. My response to those who ask why I stay is in imitation of the words of St. Peter: “Where else would I go?” This is my family. These are my people.

It is similar to my identity as a Hicks. If I decided that I wanted to leave the Hicks family, I don’t think it would make much difference. I could go and have my name changed and functionally take myself out of the Hicks family, but I know deep down in my bones that I would never be able to get the Hicks family out of me. No matter what I do I will always have those memories, stories, and experiences. I will always be a Hicks.

It’s the same with the Churches of Christ. I will always be Church of Christ. I could leave, but I don’t know that it would make much of a difference. I could get out of the Churches of Christ, but I would never get the Churches of Christ out of me. No matter what denomination or tradition I went to, at the end of the day, I would just be “not Church of Christ.” Because I will always be identified by my relationship to that quirky tribe; to my quirky tribe. For better or worse. These are my folk.

I am reminded of the quote from Adam Levine: “She’s a pain in the ass…, but she’s my pain in the ass.”  That’s true for this tribe of a cappella singing, full immersion baptizing, weekly communion taking knuckle heads that I call home. They can be a pain in the ass…., but they are my pain in the ass. And I am hopeful for a better future for my tradition.

2) High view of the sacraments

We take baptism and communion (the traditional Protestant sacraments) very seriously. We practice a full immersion believer’s baptism and we practice the Lord’s Supper every week. I have come to believe over time that there are few things as significant in our lives of faith as baptism and communion. We need to be baptized because it is a sacrament and a deep symbol of the life we now have in Christ. We need to practice communion every week because we need a special measure of the presence of Christ every week.

At one point in our history – and still this is true for some in our tribe – we would exclude others for practicing communion differently or not baptizing by immersion. I work in a church where we have moved on from this silly exclusivism. We still practice full immersion baptism and we still take communion every Sunday (at least, but sometimes more!). But we do NOT condemn others for practicing differently.

3) A Lived Priesthood of All Believers

We have what I have sometimes called a “radical priesthood of all believers.” One buddy of mine used to say, “if you show up to church once, you’re a visitor. If you show up twice, you’re an attendee. If you show up three times, you will be asked how you would like to participate in the service because now you are a member and participant of this church.”

I like that. I’ve regularly invited people who only just started coming to our church to pray, read scripture, preside over communion, or even teach or preach. Other traditions believe that we are a priesthood of all believers, but their services sure don’t look like it!

I preached in the pulpit, lead singing, prayed, read scripture in regular worship services at the church I grew up at. This does not happen in a lot of traditions. Anyone was welcome to lead singing or pray or read scripture or even preach. That doesn’t mean it was always good. In fact, sometimes it was lousy, but we were always welcome to serve the Lord in His house. It was not left to the professional clergy alone.

4) Love of Scripture

Churches of Christ have produced an absurd number of Bible scholars for a denomination our size. We have an absurd number of colleges and universities for a denomination our size. This is owed partly to our tradition of enlightenment era rationalism and a strong belief in education. But it is also because we love the Bible. We were once known as a “people of the book.” I like that.

I like that so long as it does not lead into Bibliolatry. I love my dear friends in other faith traditions and denominations, but I have found few leaders in other traditions and denominations who could match the breadth and depth of Biblical knowledge that is represented by an average lay person in my tradition.

And it is not just biblical knowledge and scholarship. At its best, it is the determination to love God with all our minds.

I’d recommend the following Podcast episodes to anyone interested:

“Participating in God’s Restoration: The Story of Churches of Christ.” 

– Restoration for a New Generation part 1 & part 2

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