Jun 30, 2006

summertime hiatus

Summertime = less posting + more time to hang around the lake with my trusty hound dog.

Jun 26, 2006

discussions with a pentecostal preacher

Recently I had the opportunity to engage in a candid conversation with a Pentecostal preacher that revealed some interesting thoughts regarding how he, and other "pastors," perceive the Church of Christ.

He was curious why COC ministers always refuse invitations to work with the local Ministerial Association in supporting their efforts to create a better community, and especially to promote Jesus in the community. Evidently all (or nearly all) local churches partner in this work.

This group (by his definition) does not set any rules that govern churches; it is an informal group with the goal of making an impact in their city by working together to promote Jesus, and in no way geared to promote any particular church, or agenda.

According to many in the COC it is unscriptural to join such organizations based on their interpretation of 2 Cor. 6:14-16:
"Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; ..."
These verses serve as proof-text for many in the COC for refusing to unite with other denominational groups for any reason, even when these groups are trying to better their communities by introducing Jesus to the unchurched. By twisting these verses into something not intended, we are insinuating that members of the Ministerial Associations are unbelievers, lawless, in darkness, in accord with the Devil, and not a temple of God.

Combining resources and working as a team with "denominational churches" has usually been taboo for the COC regardless of the situation, or the good that could be accomplished. Is it any wonder that in some communities the COC is viewed as cultic, isolationistic, and self-centered!

How can it be wrong for Christians from different "churches" to unite in a concerted effort to help their community? In the wake of Katrina many Churches of Christ did unite with other religious groups to help their communities, but it usually takes a full-blown catastrophe for this to happen.

Just wondering!

Jun 19, 2006

seeking unity as individuals

If any hope for unity (even within Restoration churches) is forthcoming, it will most likely occur because of individual effort rather than as a group.

We have sat around waiting for some sort of unification plan to unfold for years without success. This statement will probably get me in hot water with a few elders, but when you go for years and years with little, if any, plan to rectify our disunity problems, seldom hearing a word about our need for unity from the pulpit, or privately for that matter, I can't help but suspect that many of our leaders are too busy protecting our fenced-in position, and see unity as a low priority endeavor.

Perhaps this approach is oversimplified; but as individuals within a church, we need to find ways to seek unity, even when our church leadership apparently disagrees. It would be great to have our elders leading the way to unity, but my experience (along with many of my brothers and sisters in other RM churches ) give no reasons to believe unity is something being discussed, or pursued, by our leaders.

Rather than waiting for our "church" to initiate (which seldom happens) some sort of unity seminar (or whatever) focusing on drawing divergent churches together, we need to take the proverbial bull-by-the-horns, and within our own hearts have the courage to unite (especially with those we share RM roots) with our brothers and sisters who sport a different name on their "church sign."

I don't know how others approach this disunited mess, but when I talk to my friends in churches with different names on their signs, we discuss our positive feelings about our relationship to God, not accusing each other of our failings, but accepting each other as a part of the Lord's body with love, knowing we are truly brothers and sisters united in His cause.

Unity is certainly an attainable goal that Christians can strive toward without attempting to create every church into a carbon copy of what we think it should be, but with the realization that none of us are perfect (including us,) and we can all dwell together in peace and love fully recognizing each other as children of God; thus brothers and sisters.

Jun 12, 2006

crooked halo

The most visible, and stunning example of bad judgement in a person professing to be a Christian, I have ever witnessed, occurred several years ago in a combination restaurant/bar in my home town.

Many of the local church groups in our community formed a church baseball league, and the elders of the COC after long deliberation decided it wasn't unscriptural, or a known work of the Devil, so with their blessings we put together a rag-tag baseball team, and fought gallantly against the Baptist, Mennonites, the Church of God, and the champion Pentecostals.

Following one of the games a baseball player decided he was in dire need of something to drink, so the place he chose to sate his thirst was a local bar, and what he chose to drink was several bottles of beer. As he was mingling with the drunks he became loud enough for me to hear his distinctive voice in the adjacent restaurant. I casually and carefully walked over to the door leading into the bar, and much to my chagrin ... it was one of the baseball players. He was celebrating a victory with a bottle of beer in his hand while wearing a dirty baseball jersey with; "CHURCH OF CHRIST" written in big capital letters on the back.

Needless to say "church baseball" is no longer a popular subject with this particular church.

More than likely all Christians at one time or another have been guilty of hypocrisy (yep! even me,) but for some reason this incident of my brother wearing his "church jersey" in a bar while getting drunk has left an indelible mark on my mind. You may know of worse indiscretions by Christians in public, but the jersey incident has to be ranked rather high on the bad judgement list.

Jun 7, 2006

where's the joy?

Christians should display more joy in their everyday lives than any group on earth; sadly this is not always the case.

Our days should be filled with joy, not walking around wearing mugs that would blend right in with the wanted posters in the Post Office. Christian joy should translate to smiles and friendliness, not frowns and gloominess.

Christians are not excluded from many of the same problems that weigh-down all humans, we often find ourselves in the same morass as unbelievers, and bear many of the same burdens, sadness, and guilt. Thankfully, those in Jesus have an ever present help that we can bet our lives on, and this alone should cause us to overflow with joy.

The first century church had a ton of joy even during one of the worst periods of Christian persecution in history. A few of our "church" tribes believe they have captured the essence of the early church, but seem to have neglected to restore the joy of being a Christian.

As His children, we realize God loves and protects us, yet we often mope around looking in every nook and cranny for the negatives, while the obvious blessings that surround us escape our notice. Counting our daily blessings should give us all the incentative we need to express ourselves in a joyful manner.

Like most Christians, I fail miserably at times to possess the joy that Jesus gives, and certainly don't always reflect a joyful image as I should, but one thing I have discovered; if I start out each day with a smile and a kind word (even if I'm dying inside,) people respond with a tidal wave of kindness and joy.

Perhaps if we spent a little time in quite contemplation we might realize the blessings we reap daily as children of God; our sins are forgiven, we have a God who listens to us, we possess the Spirit of God within us, we are blessed with a Christian community, and finally we have the promise of eternal life in the presence of God...surely this is enough to promote an occasional smile.

Jun 2, 2006

variations of unity

Understanding unity when applied to uniting different "churches" into one united body often becomes a little confusing, at least to me. When we speak of unity with other Christians, just what kind of unity are we seeking?

Listed below are four variations of unity (there are many more,) each with a different set of circumstances that will require radically different approaches if we're honestly seeking to unite in fellowship with those we disagree with religiously:

Unity within a particular tribe ... All the believers at one location who proclaim themselves the body of Christ, and work together as a separate church, yet are part of a larger group of churches sharing the same "church name," and belief system.

Unity between the individual churches (as described above) who all share the same "church name," but retain their autonomy while being loosely knit together forming a larger body, or denomination, of those who together (occasionally at least,) share similar beliefs.

Unity within the Restoration Movement. Churches with roots in the Stone-Campbell Movement who have divided many times over the years, and now seldom recognize each other as a viable Christian body.

Unity involving all churches regardless of their denominational name, who profess Jesus as their savior, even if there are drastic differences in their belief system.

It seems unlikely, if not impossible, to have Christian unity when one tribe presumes they alone are perfect interpreters of Gods Word, and refuse to fellowship anyone with a different opinion. Unity in Christ will only exist if we recognize that each person, or church, will never be the exact clone of the other.

In a small community where I was raised, one Church of Christ split over time into three separate tribes each sporting the Church of Christ name over their door. Each of these churches claimed to be the ONE and ONLY true body of Christ, and each believed they were following the perfect pattern of the first century church. They were not bashful about bad-mouthing each other, and totally refused to recognize each other as a body of Christ. A multiplicity of churches, each proclaiming themselves as the one and only body of Christ, is totally confusing to the unchurched; confusing enough to those already in the Lord's body.

Sitting around twiddling-our-thumbs waiting for churches we feel have apostatized to repent of their folly and come running back to the original fold is just not going to happen. Many of the churches split from the COC are content where they are; they see no need to return and resume the same old bickering that caused the divisions in the first place.

Unity within a single tribe of Christians, while difficult, is usually realized to some degree, but unity with those outside our select group can approach the impossible!