author note: I originally wrote this for www on July 19, 2011 at their request. Today I have an even larger view of the church and her health and feel even MORE optimistic about the present and the future.
Any article dealing with what’s good about the church should be gazed at through the lens of:
The reality that in the mind of God, the gift of Christ, the Pen of the Spirit and the design of the Godhead everything about the church is good, not just good, but great! There are no flaws in the heavenly design of this present bound rocket-ship to eternity (Matthew 16:16-18; Ephesians 3:10-12; Daniel 2:44-45; Acts 2:15-21, 41-47).
But to acknowledge that reality without being continually cognizant of the constant actuality that the church is flawed from the earthbound human side is nothing more than creating a Pollyanna outlook that will lead to a disappointment severe enough to sink your faith. I have personally been a part of eight wonderful but very real congregations from the time I became a Christian 40 years ago. Each of them blessed my life more than cursing it, and each nurtured my faith while challenging me with differing issues within them. Each at times have been remarkably encouraging causing me to soar, and each at times has disappointed me causing me to question my place in that congregation.
One of the real weaknesses I see in many in our brotherhood is an over-analysis syndrome that often leads to self-hatred. About a year ago, I attended a program on church plantings put on by one of the more progressive para-church organizations out there (Karios, I think they would agree with my adjective). It was a useful time but the highlight was one of the speakers who was not a member of the churches of Christ. He spoke of traditional strengths of the church which was rich because the things he cited as our strengths were the things that many in the room have been running away from. He talked about autonomy, about church governess (i.e. elders, deacons), about a’cappella singing, about the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper. Then he said one of “your” real weaknesses seems to be a “self-hatred of your rich history.” I had lunch about 10 years ago with one of the leaders of the progressive movement in our fellowship. He asked how things were going in my work and as I talked about how much I loved it he said: “That’s refreshing. So many of the preachers I spend time with are unhappy with their work and hopeless about the future.” I remember thinking: “I’ve heard you speak, it is not surprising you attract those who are malcontent.” Why is it that those who seem most progressive in our fellowship are also the most malcontent? I think it begins with a desire to change to make things better – but then it doesn’t know how to stop – so it feeds itself. I get most bashed when I talk good about the church by those at either extreme. Randell Matheny said it well about ten years ago: “From their bashing of the brotherhood, some seem to hate their spiritual inheritance, preferring instead to laud religious departures from the Word” (http://forthright.antville.org/stories/1001252/).
So with a sense of reality I want to write about what is good about the church.
Several years ago, Joe Barnett first put out a tract with the title “Churches of Christ, Who Are These People?” It was always one of my favorites and to this day is a relevant classic. I’ve been around members of the churches of Christ for over nearly 50 years now. I’ve watched them across our country and in over twenty other countries and I’ve noticed a few things.
The churches of Christ, who are these people? They are caring, loving, compassionate people of Christ who respond to any real need whether it be spiritual or physical (They have taken the lead in low maintenance relief efforts. Whether through the local church or para-church organizations like Disaster Relief or Healing Hands, by far the greatest amount of dollars given go to the individuals it was meant to help, not to pay marketers and for marketing plans). Witness the millions given to places like Ethiopia, Poland, Africa, India, Japan, Haiti: Find any disaster and nearby you’ll find members of the churches of Christ standing with loving and meaningful support. They give sacrificially and spontaneously. They give from the oldest to the youngest. They don’t like to see others hurt or oppressed because they genuinely love people like God does. Is it surprising? While we are not a “social gospel folk” our fervor for the Word has made us leaders in social relief!
The churches of Christ, who are these people? They love young people. Their biggest events in the local church and in the larger brotherhood are youth events (Lads to Leaders, Winterfest, CYC, VBS, Bible Camp, etc). We care about our children going to heaven and their faith.
The churches of Christ, who are these people? They are people who want to do right. My experience has been that members of the church of Christ want to do right. They make mistakes, sometimes gross and glaring and hard-to-forget ones, but not because the desire to do right is not there. I’ve never heard a single one of them say they were the only ones going to heaven or claim perfection. I have heard them say over and over that anyone who obeys God will be saved by His grace. Now, they strive for perfection, but isn’t that what we all ought to do?
The churches of Christ, who are these people? They are people who are forgiving. I’ve seen it time and again. Just when a situation looks out of hand, repentance occurs and God’s people rush to the aid and defense of the penitent one. They forgive and accept back people whom others would not. It’s not just a second chance, but a third and fourth and…
The churches of Christ, who are these people? They are people who sometimes argue. They argue because they are passionate about Truth. Seldom are the arguments that I’ve seen engaged in the result of either side not wishing to follow God’s Word, but on how to best follow the Divine Instructions. And they are patient: They may not like where someone lands but they are so slow to cut people off.
The churches of Christ, who are these people? They are not credal. Sometimes people will talk about the church being strict or narrow-minded. My experience is that since we have no creed but the Bible we offer greater freedom than most religious groups. Prove it by the Bible, and there will be no creed to keep your congregation from practicing it.
The churches of Christ, who are these people? They are people who wish to hear the Word of God held up as their authority. They get low marks sometimes in tact, an area where most are sincerely working on improving, but what they lose in tact is often made up for in sheer desire to be true to God’s Word. They want to hear preachers give Biblical evidence to support what they are saying. They are sincere and simple in their pure attempt to remain true to God’s teaching. Most of them are not condemning, or cruel, or judgmental; but patient and kind and searching for God’s truths.
The churches of Christ, who are these people? They are people who wish to see God’s Word preached around the world and will make sacrifices to see that it is done. They will give of their money, time, talent and energy to take that Word to the poorest, remotest village in the world. And they’ll wear a big smile as they go.
The churches of Christ, who are these people? They are my brothers and sisters scattered across the globe. They make mistakes, but they are only human and God knows that. He also knows their intentions and their hearts. I am thankful to be a part of such a people.
The churches of Christ. Why don’t you investigate further? Let me close with a few things I love about the church:
I love the church local. I love church autonomy. Willard Collins once said that “anything that God wants done can be done through the local church” and he was correct.
I love the struggling church. I love that we are aware that we are fellow strugglers.
I love the healthy church – that even when we struggle we still serve.
I love the young church - full of vigor and vitality. We have so many young people who have a noteworthy commitment to Her.
I love the church old - who give generously, who never give up, who add wisdom and depth to our fellowship.
I love the commitment to the Bible – something worth leaning on.