A conversation with Harold Shank
Harold Shank, who grew up in an “unchurched” home in…
A multitude of ministers in Churches of Christ feel frustrated, disenchanted and discouraged about various issues in our fellowship. So claims Benjamin J. Williams, editor of “Why We Stayed: Honesty and Hope in the Churches of Christ.”
Williams, who preaches for the Glenpool Church of Christ in Oklahoma, asks what he describes as an “eclectic cast of authors, ministers and scholars” to answer the question of why they remain in the fellowship despite these feelings.
The volume, unfortunately, presents essays by 13 white men and does not include the diverse range of voices among Churches of Christ — women, African-Americans, Hispanics and other demographics.
Nonetheless, Christian Chronicle readers will recognize and appreciate many of the contributions from well-known names such as Everett Ferguson, John Mark Hicks, Chris Altrock, Ron Highfield and John Wilson.
The book aims to allow those who stayed in the fellowship to communicate both their frustrations in staying and their reasons for not leaving. We often think that people leave Churches of Christ because they disagree with various positions taken by our movement — non-instrumental worship and the role of women, for example. This book reveals that those who stay may disagree with various church practices but still see value in the fellowship’s call to simple, New Testament Christianity.
The book does not follow the pattern of Leroy Brownlow’s well-known 1945 volume “Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ,” which lists multiple reasons for staying. Instead, this book comes closer to Abilene Christian University psychology professor Richard Beck’s well-visited blog from 2011, “Four Reasons Why I’m Church of Christ.”
This group of writers believes the restoration plea should still be debated and does not want to close the door on our core beliefs.
I appreciate their honesty and their loyalty.
I happily found references to the positives of our fellowship, including our substantive stance on issues such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I heard a call for restoration renewal in the opening essay by Ferguson and an affirmation of our local autonomy. Thankfully, nobody says, “It’s just easier to stay than leave,” or “I stay because I like our fixation on tradition,” or “We’re right, and everybody else is wrong.”
I am disappointed that no author takes up the biblical concern for the poor, widows and orphans. Several point out that while we speak where the Bible speaks, we seldom are silent where the Bible is silent. I was surprised to read some of the authors’ statements promoting creeds and sacraments.
Three writers — Altrock, Wilson and Chris Rosser — express their views through autobiography. I expected more of this genre than I received. Some of the pieces had the ring of “I’ll continue to stay if …,” yet the book reveals some new reasons for remaining a cappella and maintaining local autonomy. Readers will encounter some voices from Churches of Christ of long ago (as in 1897) calling for women to take public roles in the assembly.
Those who enjoy what Hicks calls the “wild democracy” in Churches of Christ (by which he means “free and open discussions”) will find more of the same here. Those who wish we could just focus on the dozens of doctrines (or at least the ones in Ephesians 4) on which we tend to agree will find this book fanning the flames of fragmentation.
Whether these men, in Rosser’s words from the last essay, are “prophets or critics” is left up to you to decide.
HAROLD SHANK is a longtime minister for Churches of Christ and former president of Ohio Valley University, a university in Vienna, W.Va., associated with Churches of Christ. He is a former Reviews Editor for The Christian Chronicle.
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