2016: The Year of Defining Issues in Churches of Christ

ChristianDefinedThere are a lot of issues that are talked about these days in Churches of Christ. Most of these issues are not actually new issues. Many of them have been talked about for generations. I am talking about everything from women’s roles to how we worship to how we read and interpret the Bible. These issues are getting more and more volume lately and it is concerning that some of these issues could very well define the future of Churches of Christ for years to come.

The phrase “defining issues” is an unfortunate one because that is not how things should be. We were never called by the Gospel to be defined by various issues. We were called to be defined by Christ and our faith in Christ. We were called to be defined by the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. We were called to be a community of faith that has a common identity in Christ.

I believe these issues must be talked about. I do not believe that these issues must define us. So let’s start a conversation in 2016 on how we are to be defined as Christians and as a movement. However, let us never lose track of what truly defines us. Let us never be defined by something that does not define people in scripture. Let us always put our trust in God and in His grace because we will never get all of the issues right and He loves us anyway.

Let me mention a few key identifying factors in our Christian faith that we must come back to again and again. We should be defined by our faith in Jesus Christ and the community/unity that we receive from being integrated into his body, under his headship and joined together through a common sharing of the Holy Spirit. We are defined by our common mission and our common calling to seek and save the lost. We are defined as resurrected people…those who were dead spiritually and are alive again as new creations in Christ.

These things and a few others truly do define us. Everything else is secondary.

2016 is the year we tackle two things here at Wineskins. We are going to tackle what really should define us as Christians and as a movement and we are going to tackle the issues that we are tempted to make our defining issues and have open and honest discussions (from scripture) on these issues together.

As we kick off January let us start with what should most define us: “Our common faith in Jesus Christ”.

Blessings to you this year.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Rom 15:13

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  1. We are defined by other Christians not of our denomination by two characteristics: We think a person will go to hell for singing a hymn if a “mechanical instrument of music” is within earshot (usually expressed as “you are the people with no music”) and we refuse to cooperate with other denominations on anything (usually expressed as “you think you are the only ones going to heaven”). It would be so much better if we could be defined by our devotion to the word, our Biblical scholarship, our unity with all believers and our willingness to help others.

    • These are two areas of contention for sure. I think you are right in saying at some point we have to realize that we won’t all agree in these areas but we can still seek the Lord and try to please Him while recognizing that in many instances we are more unified in God’s sight than we recognize.

      One point of irony in our movement is that we are big about calling Bible things by Bible names and trying to speak where the Bible speaks. Then we go and make all sorts of things fellowship and salvation issues where we have no precedent of that in the very scriptures we say are so important. I think that can be, in some instances, a double standard that we should avoid.

  2. Matt, you did not name the thing that Jesus said should identify his disciples, though I believe it is included in the things you mentioned. He said, ‘By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

    If we really loved one another as Jesus loves us (and he said, ‘as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you – John 15:9), most of our issues that divide us would vanish.

    • I like to think that if we loved one another we would be tolerant of each other’s views on disputable matters but others think that if we love one another we must try to make other people think exactly as we do so that they will not be lost because, of course, we are the only ones having the truth, whether that be the truth on frequency of the LS, the role of women, the nature of the holy spirit or the name by which we call ourselves.
      I don’t want to be like the United Church of Christ or the Unitarians and allow every type of doctrine but we could at least be known as the church that can sit down in a civil manner and use good Bible scholarship and research to arrive at solutions to the things that divide us. And if one recalcitrant brother still refuses to see things my way I should be able to live with him in peace and wait for the definitive answer in heaven.

  3. Good beginning Matt. Wouldn’t it be grand to see this forum catch on and have some good discussion. Change comes hard brother, but I’m all in for learning and growing. So I look forward to hearing from brothers and sisters in Christ who may be more educated than I.
    Dad always said, “Never build a church on an issue.” I see more and more the wisdom in this. If the world is to see us differently, we must begin to see ourselves differently and especially as relates to all who have been saved. Grow in grace!

  4. Just thinking this evening about this introductory article, and several words came to mind which might be of some help…
    “Refuse” to be part of any efforts to further divide the body of Christ,
    “Remember” what Jesus prayed for in the first place,
    “Repent” of any personal bias and contribution to divide or promote division,
    “Re-Sign” (not “resign”) or “re-enlist” with those who seek to “keep the unity of the Spirit,
    “Re-focus” on that which is truly important and central to unity,
    “Repeat” what will build unity among brethren

    (Of course some of these come from Revelation 2.5 “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”)

    Dealing with “issues” has long been a problem within the church, and Dad noted 95 in his New Testament (although not all had resulted in division). Ninety five things over which churches had problems with. Of course this list goes back over 50 years. Things like wearing a head covering, women wearing pants, women working outside the home, shorts, serving in the armed forces, cards, movies, Bible classes, located preachers, and the list goes on and on.

    What indeed defines us? Are we defined as a group that used to debate at the drop of a hat? Are we defined as believing in “water regeneration?” What if we were listed in the Yellow Pages according to issues…

    Here are a few things which Dad said which might just help….
    1. Never build a church on ISSUES… NEVER SPLIT A CHURCH over ISSUES.
    2. Often an ‘ISSUE’ is not the ‘ISSUE’, it is HOW THE ISSUE IS HANDLED. How people are handled! How questions are handled.
    3. No one (on earth) has a perfect knowledge (understanding) of all truth. We need to study together, and understand the difference between opinion and non-opinion matters. Respect opinions, listen, share, agree, disagree, love each other anyway.
    4. We need to decide: We will not be a part of DIVISION/ Strive earnestly for NO SEPARATION WITHIN THE BODY OF CHRIST.
    5. Remember what put us into Christ is not based on opinions, nor do they separate us from Christ. Grace is big not small.
    6. Needed are strong leaders who understand grace, and know how to handle people, and preachers who have no axe to grind or hobby horse to ride. Just teach Jesus.
    7. Remember, “every battle leaves a scar”. We can heal, but it will mean learning to deal with things differently from how they have been dealt with in the past. Changes are not all bad… Christians are not perfect… We will never agree on every thing…. Can the church, a living body, the body of Christ, exist and grow stronger? Can we re-kindle the Restoration Movement again…. based on better learning and interpretation of scriptures? Why not? Indeed, why not?

    • Much wisdom in what you wrote here brother. Thank you for this! I am blessed and encouraged by your father’s thoughts on this.

      Division is enticing. There is something intriguing about looking intently into a campfire. There is something intriguing in stoking the flames of division. It appeals to our fleshliness, our pride and many other areas of our lives that we need not key into and would be better off to stay away from.

  5. Unfortunately, the Church of Christ is defined by others in how they see it in kinship with the political and social right wing. It would not be wrong to say that its leaders and ministers, for the most part, are more comfortable with the membership being listeners and fans of Rush Limbaugh than they would be if they were readers of someone like Cornell West. Compassion for those beyond its borders needs to be a goal.

    • What a narrow view! There are churches of Christ throughout the world! We have never heard of Rush Limbaugh or Cornell West. We just adhere to the Word of God. We don’t have any kinship with your political or social right wing. We just survive in the face of great persecution from majority dominant other religions (Hinduism / Islam). You have no idea of what we are like in our parts of the world. On most fora we see the church of our Lord being defined by the American (US) perspective and that is a real shame.

      • No doubt there are Churches of Christ in other parts of the world that desire, and are struggling, to simply be God’s people. However, that does not change the fact that in the United States, especially in the southern part of the nation, the congregations of the CoC are very right wing in their politics and social outlook; and I assure you, most of the members know who Rush Limbaugh is, and many listen and follow him; while those who are students of theology and social issues know Cornell West. I think your last sentence somewhat makes my point.

        • I am not sure how broad and sweeping generalizations help anyone move forward. It is best, in my opinion, to take people one at a time and actually get to know them. There can certainly be broad cultural trends, undoubtedly, but if all we do is get stuck railing against those things we never get to the real deal when it comes to reconciliation and unconditional love for each other.

          Genuine Christian dialog will avoid buzz words, fear mongering, and stereotyping because genuine Christianity means I have your best interest in mind, even if I think you are wrong. That goes both ways on the “theological spectrum.”

          • Cultural trends exist, some in certain areas of the country more than in others, and can be toxic. The spirituality of a culture can die from poisonous suicide the same as an individual’s. Besides, the number of CoC members, as well as in other conservative denominations, who are into angry talk radio and similar news stations is astounding; that cannot be denied. As long as this exists, the influence of the CoC will be minimal.