Human beings have an incredibly amount of diversity in our appearance, tied to variations in our DNA. I am out of my depth here but I think I understand the gist of how it works. There are various mutations in genes that are completely harmless. Other mutations cause significant problems. Still other mutations in our genes make survival impossible.
I believe there is a kill switch embedded in the DNA of sectarian churches of Christ that make survival of these congregations impossible and the survival of that side of the movement as a whole questionable.
Like humans, churches of Christ have incredible diversity so this issue doesn’t affect everyone or every church.
Some (myself included in years past) began believing that there could be no diversity within Christian DNA – that everything had to look exactly the same. That all mutations were deadly. In making that move (sectarianism) we embedded deep in our bones a genetic code that limited our lifespan.
In short, we picked the wrong goal. We picked a goal that we thought was humanly reachable – the restoration of New Testament Christianity. The goal should have been to become more and more like Jesus. If we truly understood New Testament Christianity we would have understood that their goal was to become like Jesus and we would have aimed at the right target.
I don’t have time to go into all the reasons we missed that mark for so many years but I do think that the move itself is lethal for two main reasons:
1 – We picked something we thought we could do without God’s help
Turns out the goal of us being them isn’t possible based on the criteria we decided on (uniform practices/imitation of actions). We decided that being like them wasn’t ontological (in our being – that is actually possible by the work of the Holy Spirit). We decided the criteria of being like them had to do with our practices – how we executed things. Not only was it a mistake to pick a goal we could achieve without God’s help…it was a mistake to ever believed we had arrived at the goal itself.
Once you believe you have reached the goal, change on any matter becomes near impossible. You box yourself into the corner of a made up room and eventually people come to see how unnecessary the whole exercise becomes. Many lose their faith entirely.
This put us (it seemed) more and more in control. When you have an obsession over control you aren’t operating out of faith. Our practices on Sunday do not in and of themselves unify us. It is God who unifies us by His grace through the work of the Holy Spirit.
2 – There was a huge amount of fleshly motivation to achieve these goals
The more sectarian you become the less fruit of the Spirit you will see. We will always have these fleshly temptations no matter how hard you try. That’s a given. But we need to be attuned to how this manifests. We took pride in winning arguments and being right. We should want to be right and righteous but we don’t need to rejoice in the downfall of those we disagree with. There is no path to kingdom living through fleshly motivation. We became obsessed with being the ones who finally got it right to the exclusion of all others, ensuring our fate. God has little room for branches who deny their connection with the plant as a whole. God is patient but it ultimately will not turn out well.
These two things meant that we didn’t really rely on God or the ongoing work of God in the world today to move forward. This is tied directly into the cessationist view of the Holy Spirit (that the Spirit only operates through the written word and in no other way today). Once we stopped relying on God and believing God was the one whose power and wisdom were helping us we were dead in the water.
And the reason we stopped relying on God was because we were operating out of the flesh toward goals we didn’t really think we needed His help with.
Some of these “dead” churches have people attending…they may not appear dead on the surface. Like the church in Sardis they may appear alive but aren’t…and the same prescription for the church of Sardis applies today,
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”Revelation 3:1-3
These churches often split themselves to death. The split isn’t the problem. The split is a symptom of the underlying issues we are addressing.
What Do We Do About It?
So let’s flip the script and embrace not just the idea that God is working but put our reliance in the God who is working by faith rather than flesh. When we surrender control to God and expect Him to help us, everything changes. We move to prayer. We move to fasting. We move to complete dependence – which our flesh tells us is not for us! Once we die to self in this way we will be able to see God working in ways we never believed possible! We will become disciples worth multiplying but only by the grace of God not due to our own ability.
We might just discover a whole family of God’s people out there we never knew existed who can help us grow to be more and more like Jesus! Not only do these “estranged” family members existed – we will be blessed to get to know them.