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Big Questions
Graphic by Chellie Ison via wordclouds.com

God defines what a Church of Christ is; we don’t

Survey respondents above age 60 stress that, despite divisions, there is only one church

‘Speak where the Bible speaks; be silent where the Bible is silent”

What is a Church of Christ? Part 6 of 8. Click the logo for the full list.

That mantra, credited to 19th century Restoration Movement preacher Thomas Campbell, appeared most often in responses from Chronicle readers above age 60 when asked to define a Church of Christ. It was, perhaps, apropos for a group sometimes called the Silent Generation, plus the first half of the baby boomers.

Most respondents pointed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God and stressed the nondenominational nature of the fellowship, which emulates the first century church “as closely as possible” (a recurring phrase in the responses) and does not “add to or take away from” Scripture. A few respondents took issue with the question itself.

Linda Sneed

“I don’t like the wording, ‘a Church of Christ,’ to begin with,” said Linda Sneed, a member of the Church of Christ at Borger in Texas. “It is the Church of Christ … a body of faithful, immersed believers who not only believe the teachings of the New Testament, as modeled and commanded by Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, but also live it out in their daily lives. …When we say ‘Church’ erroneously, we only promote the world’s belief  that there is more than one church.”

Defining Churches of Christ outside the parameters of the New Testament is “tantamount to acknowledging that the name … is being used to differentiate one denomination from another, rather than referring to the church Christ built,” said Bob Taylor, who worships with the Clear Creek Church of Christ in Hixson, Tenn.

Bob Taylor

More so than the other age groups, respondents over 60 saw the decline in the fellowship’s numbers as part of a countrywide trend in church attendance — and as a consequence of a decades-long decline in the nation’s morality.

Some expressed concerns about Churches of Christ adopting denominational practices, but more lamented a lack of Bible training for children — in church buildings and at home  compared to years past. Several said they’ve been members of Churches of Christ that were forced to close their doors due to dropping attendance. Many cited infighting, legalism and a desire to be “right” in everything as contributing to the decline.

Now, the question, “What is a Church of Christ?” is nearly impossible to answer definitively, said Don Campbell, a member of the Puryear Church of Christ in Tennessee,  “because many are breaking out of molds of their past. Some see this as apostasy; some see this as progress.”

Today, a Church of Christ “is a body of like-minded believers who recognize one another as children of God,” he said, “free to define itself however it understands the word of God to lead it.

“If the question were: ‘How does the New Testament define the church?’ the answer, of course, would be different.”

NEXT: Beyond the numbers, an identity crisis?

PREVIOUS: Baby boomers see fading sense of family in Churches of Christ

Chronicle readers over age 60 respond to the question, “What would you say defines a Church of Christ?” The largest words appear most frequently in their responses.


Filed under: Big Questions Big Questions National over 60 Survey What is a Church of Christ

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