I grew up in Restoration Movement churches in Upstate New York. During my “pre-memory” years (0-5 years old) my family attended a Church of Christ. I have only the vaguest impressions of this church: a basement with flaky-paint, cinder block walls; a kitchen with leftover grape juice shots; and a cappella songs in minor keys (“We Are One in the Spirit,” “The Lord Is in His Holy Temple,” etc.).
Around the time I started kindergarten, we began to attend a Christian Church, where I was baptized at age 9, and where we stayed until sometime in mid-elementary school (age 10 or 11, so 5th or 6th grade). Again, I don’t remember much about this church, except that it was instrumental (which did not strike me as either odd or exciting), and that they had children’s concerts and plays for me to perform in (which struck me as very exciting).
Then my family began attending a Church of Christ again – not the cinder-block basement church, but a traditional, “upside-down boat auditorium” church. I attended here through high school and on breaks throughout college. This is the church that raised me, taught me, shaped me, challenged me, and kept me accountable and faithful through the awkward and challenging middle and high school years. It was where I felt most at home. In this church, I learned about true community: the members of the youth group were my friends, the adults were my mentors and examples, and the younger children provided me opportunities for leadership and service. In this church, I learned to love and engage the Bible.
I have attended CofC-affiliated schools for undergrad (Rochester), graduate school (ACU), and now doctoral work (Lipscomb). My education has always been informed by Restoration Movement beliefs and values. Even as some of my opinions, beliefs, and perspectives changed, they did so in the context of Churches of Christ, which were the churches I attended throughout my education, and the churches I had in mind for my future ministry. My relationship with Restoration Movement churches is long and complicated, but committed. These are my people (whether they want me or not).
Of course, I have also always had meaningful relationships with non-CofC Christians. (“If there is such a thing,” says a voice from my past, a voice I deny but still hear.) At the beginning of fourth grade, I began to attend a private, non-denominational Christian school instead of public school. At this school, I learned and worshiped with students from many other denominations. So, very early I had to ask myself whether I really thought that the children on the playground with me were not saved just because they were not baptized (as an “adult,” for the purpose of remission of sins – although I would hardly call my nine-year old self an adult).
Throughout high school, I found myself needing to explain Churches of Christ to my other Christian friends. This is a position in which Jamey and I now regularly find ourselves, since we live in a community (Princeton Theological Seminary) made up of primarily high church (Presbyterian and Lutheran) folks.
If you have never tried to talk about Churches of Christ with “outsiders,” you should prepare yourself for a number of confused, befuddled, perplexed looks. Our friends understand how certain CofC practices result from the specific values and goals of the Restoration Movement. Their confusion comes one step before that: Why are those the values and goals? Why would you want to restore the New Testament church? These conversations are always in the spirit of seeking understanding. No one is trying to convince us to leave and join their tribe; they’re just trying to understand why we stay, especially given the fact that standard practice and belief in Churches of Christ creates vocational difficulty for me.
Nonetheless, these conversations always conclude with me saying something like: Restoring the New Testament church is not necessarily a goal of mine. But I stay in Churches of Christ because this is the church that raised me. I would be “Church of Christ” regardless of where I attended. We may not always get along, but I cannot deny that this is my family (any more than they can exclude me by denying that I am their family). I want to use my gifts to serve the church that shaped them. I know the minefields here, and would have to learn them anew in another group.
Really, the primary reason(s) I stay is because there are strengths here. There are aspects of the Restoration Movement that I love, that I think are healthy, that I think have the potential to facilitate communities of people that are joining God’s mission of reconciliation as exemplified most perfectly in Jesus. To name a few: congregational autonomy, priesthood of all believers, emphasis on scripture (although I’d like us to think a little different about what scripture is doing, but that’s another subject altogether), a cappella worship, and weekly (or at least consistent and frequent) participation in the Lord’s Supper. For these reasons, and others, I like it here! These are the aspects of the Restoration Movement that I wholeheartedly embrace.