Reader feedback: What is the future of non-denominational Christianity in the U.S.?
Are Churches of Christ on the decline in the U.S.? The numbers seem to say yes.
If that’s the case, why is non-denominational Christianity on the rise?
As The Christian Chronicle prepares coverage of the latest data from 21st Century Christian, the Nashville, Tenn.-based publisher of the directory Churches of Christ in the United States, we’re looking for feedback and insight into the numbers — and the legacy of Churches of Christ in America’s religious landscape.
Carl Royster, data compiler for the directory, made some observations about the numbers. Improved data collection over the years has contributed to a better understanding of the fellowship as a whole, he said. Royster also cited changing demographics in the U.S. population, declining “brand loyalty” among younger believers, growth of independent or community churches and an increasing number of Americans who consider themselves unaffiliated with any religious group.
(We covered several of these trends in 2009, when the previous edition of the directory was released. In 2008, Chronicle Managing Editor Bobby Ross Jr. reported on a Pew Forum study that revealed 44 percent of Americans have changed religions or denominations from the one — if any — in which they were raised. A few months later I interviewed teenage church members who told me that they’re looking for meaning — not entertainment — at church.)
What do the numbers mean to you? We often hear about the U.S. becoming a “post-Christian” nation, following the same course as Europe, but we also hear the term “post-denominational” used to describe Christianity in America. At the core of the Restoration Movement was a plea to move away from denominational creeds and embrace pure, New Testament Christianity, using the Bible as our sole guide (and, if you will, our “soul guide.”)
What does it mean to be a non-denominational Christian in a post-denominational world? How do you see Churches of Christ — and our call to reject human creeds — impacting the religious landscape of the U.S. today?
Please include your full name, home congregation, city and state in case we decide to quote you.
FeedbackWe need to preach Christ as we live for Him following His example. The idea of proving our “correct” doctrinal stance on a multiplicity of issues does not appeal to the loyalties of the boomers and later generations. That is to say, current generations will not respond to follow simply because we can prove our arguments well. The old adage, “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care,” needs stamping on our foreheads and on our refrigerator doors. When we live Christlike before people; When we walk in the joy of our salvation; When we confidently face trials including fiscal setbacks; When the world actually sees Christ in us by the way we live and the compassion we give, then we can begin where they are and teach them Christ. When they positively respond to the Good News that Christ came to take away their sin and provide them a home in heaven, the Lord adds them to His family. Then we can lovingly teach worship that is in Spirit and in Truth that is part of “loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
People will respond when we “love our neighbor as ourselves.” People will back away when we beat them down with their sin, with their gospel of men, or with their “vain worship.”Scott McCownFebruary, 9 2012Being a non-denominational Christian and in a post-Christian world means plain and simply living for Jesus Christ and being “Soul-ed” out for Him and Him only with the Bible as the instruction manual. I see Churches of Christ and the call to reject human creeds impacting the religious landscape of the U.S. today by living and becoming more like Jesus and 86’ing all of the petty things that have done damage to the Restoration Movement. It would also help that churches would preach and teach more about grace as a lifestyle and let us (Christians themselves) become ministers (not necessarily as a title) to the community around us.KevinFebruary, 9 2012It’s encouraging that non-denominational christianity is on the rise. What’s sobering is that so many who are seekling non-denominational christianity are rejecting Churches of Christ. It should be a wake up call for us to pursue Christ even if it means shedding our name and denominational affiliation. We may call ourselves non-denominational. but we won’t fool ourselves or anyone else if we act like a denomination.Joel ManersFebruary, 9 2012Churches of Christ should start by understanding what an incredible impact the movement had in America. That while the church is in decline it took many years to get to where Europe already was. This is in part because of restoration ideals that shaped the church in America. Don�t get me wrong, the Stone-Campbell Movement was not the only one. Many others came about during that same period but the result is unmistakable.
Churches of Christ need to stop comparing themselves with every other group out there. All are having the same struggles. Realize that the idea of simply Christianity, voices only, is a great and powerful way to keep the main thing the main thing. It is a reminder that putting on a good show isn�t the same as getting people closer to Christ or keeping the church from declining. Some would say it has helped with the process. Stop following the numbers and start seeking to be faithful. We have something good to offer. A love for the Bible, the belief that faith is active, that everyone has a part to play in the church, that the action of baptism is important and needed.
Have we had things wrong? Yes. Were we the one true church simply because we had some forms we claim came from the first century? Please, not even close, but none of that means we have nothing to offer the world today.
Stop wishing and start being. Recognize the need for simple Christianity. Love like Jesus. Look for ways to be a light in your community. Recognize who the true enemy is and stop apologizing for what we do.
P.S. who cares what being a non-denominational Christian in a post-denominational world means, if you are seeking to live and love like Jesus the names and classifications will take care of themselves.DarinFebruary, 9 2012The gates of hades will not prevail against the Lord’s church. However, numbers may drop just like they did in the ministry of Christ (John 6:66).Shawn PadenFebruary, 9 2012I agree that the church is facing unprecedented challenges from the forces of secularism, atheism, hedonism, and other evil influences in our society. No longer do the masses accept the Bible as the inspired word of God. In fact, the Bible is being attacked. Parts of the Bible are branded as “hate language.” Christians who stand firm by the teachings of scripture on certain issues are called “hate mongers.”
Yet, the gospel of Christ is still the power of God unto salvation. When we speak the truth in love, some people will hear the voice of God and respond. It is still true that God’s word will not return to him empty. It will accomplish what it was sent to accomplish.
Even if the church shrinks in size, the gates of hades will not prevail against it. God will always have a faithful remnant. Our task is to remain faithful and to keep telling others the good news about Jesus to those who will listen.
It is dangerous to speak the truth about Jesus in some countries today, and the time may come when we will be persecuted, tortured, and killed for speaking the truth in love. If so, God will say to us, as the angel to Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
As long as we are truly non-denominational, as long as we walk in the light as he is in the light, as long as we let God be the judge in matters of opinion, as long as we stand firm for truth when it is clearly revealed in scripture, God will use the church to accomplish his eternal purposes.Dick AdyFebruary, 9 2012Unfortunately, what most people seem to mean when they express an interest in “non-denominational” Christianity is really for each person to “follow their heart” and “find their own truth” with little regard for the truth revealed in God’s Word. Not only is that contrary to the “movement” started by Jesus and spread through the ministry of Peter, Paul and other first century Christians, it is also a far cry from the restoration concept promoted by men and women who were trying to get back to being just Christians.Larry WhiteFebruary, 9 2012Churches of Christ should be at the forefront of welcoming this trend toward non-denominational following of Jesus. After all, isn’t that what we have worked and prayed for for generations? (And isn’t it telling that some of us, at least, don’t really like what we’re seeing–which may belie the fact that, despite our protestations otherwise, we are more denominational in our thinking and acting than we care to admit?)
As I visit churches of various “tribes” and “non-tribes” alike, I’m witnessing much of the same thing: a focus on Jesus, an emphasis on the Bible and solid Bible teaching, an affirmation (or re-affirmation) of the meaning and significance of baptism, and a passion for excellence in expressions of worship, as well as families of believers engaged in meaningful service to and in their communities. I can’t help but applaud, endorse, and affirm all of those things.
Following Jesus in an increasingly complex world means that we must, more than ever, be simply, fully, and only Christian.Alan HendersonFebruary, 9 2012The Church of Christ is not growing here because of a lack of communication. The members have not communicated for so many years that they no longer even understand what the word “communicate” means.
The members of the body of Christ are supposed to support one another.
That requires communication. How can a Church survive like that? The answer is: It won’t! It is just so sad and disappointing to see.Leroy BeckerFebruary, 9 2012@Darin
I couldn’t read any other responses after yours, because you agree so closely with my own thoughts. Only in the last few years have I returned to studying and mirroring Jesus in the Gospels after growing up decades studying the Acts, Romans, Corinthians of the Bible.
It is simpler, in my extended family, to enumerate those who are still in the Church of Christ pews. Their reasons for becoming denominational after being raised by Christian parents, have to do with baptism, instrumental music,and, in the past, an understanding of grace. I am only concerned about their unbaptized offspring. Loving Jesus and trusting God haven’t left their lives, but some obedience, in my opinion, has. The Church is teaching grace in a biblical way, in my opinion, improving from its teachings as I was growing into middle age. Some of my relatives left while works were emphasized. Some 2nd generations are going into denominational ministry.
God’s Will in all things. May He be pleased with me. May I never offend a believer, but show him/her God’s love.JG CoxFebruary, 9 2012You can find our <a href=”https://www.christianchronicle.org/blog/comment-policy/” rel=”nofollow”>comments policy</a> here.
Basically, the policy is this: The <em>Chronicle</em> blog welcomes and encourages feedback that promotes thoughtful and respectful discussion.
Comments that begin by calling someone else a name or making a statement in a hateful way do not meet that policy and will not be approved. Just FYI to anyone wondering why a comment has not been approved.Bobby Ross Jr.February, 9 2012Romans 1:16 is just as true as it ever was–it just needs to be preached and preached and preached. That is God’s plan. Yes, we need to study the gospels and learn about that blood that was sacrificed on behalf of all–but to learn how to access that blood, study Acts. And then turn to I Corinthians 15:58. I believe we have allowed ourselves too often to be drawn away from the power of the gospel to “easier” ways to attract people.Don FischerFebruary, 9 2012Scott McCowan stated above “That is to say, current generations will not respond to follow simply because we can prove our arguments well.”
I would suggest that they do not follow because the arguments are not proven well. They are well rehearsed and often repeated, but that does not make them proven well. If our people can read and study for themselves, they will find the arguments are all too often right out of a playbook written within a reactionary context almost 2000 years after the inspired writers shared their Holy Spirit inspired letters to an original audience not burdened with drawing theological “lines in the sand” may not even find a sandbox. We do have much to offer all disciples of Christ and a world needing a Savior and our interpretations need not be thrown out with the bathwater. However, it is when we demand current generations to accept every conclusion gleened and compiled from mere men like themselves in order to belong to our gathering (or move on?)that the generations move on in compliance with those demands. When did we lose our trust in the Holy Spirit’s ability to still guide the disciple of Jesus the Christ amongst us in their search of the Scriptures as they discover the inspired writer’s message to the first century christian living in the 21st century? We label our “unresponsive” bible students as being disinterested in the truth, unwilling to yield to obedience and uncaring to the eternal security of their souls. Nothing could be further from the truth…unless, of course we unwittingly quench their spirit.Mike NanceFebruary, 9 2012Thank you, Dick Ady and Darin, for saying what is on my heart. In addition, I think our young people want a safe place to worship, and if we want to keep them, we must teach members to deal kindly, gently and peaceably with one another.
I also think we must examine our traditions to see which are truly biblical and which are of man. When and where change needs to occur, we need to understand that the process of change may be more important than the act of change itself in leading a people to maturity in Christ. To that end, it would be good if leaders were all trained in mediation and communication skills.Lyn Brown FarrisFebruary, 9 2012As a Christian who has moved around a lot, whenever I was looking for a new church home, I would open up the yellow pages and head straight for the non denominational section. I wanted to continue to grow in my relationship with God, and not become distracted by man’s traditions.J MarieFebruary, 9 2012I honestly don’t know what it’s like to be in a congregation that isn’t growing. I grew up in the church, left for a while, came back in 1987 and started preaching in 1989. I’ve never worked with a congregation that didn’t grow, yet I’ve never worked with a congregation that couldn’t be labeled traditional by those who label such things.
I haven’t found people and more unwilling to listen than when I started, and I’ve never found a biblical argument to be lacking in merit, although I have found a few folks, in and out of the church, who make up straw men to knock down.
I have found the necessity to knock on doors, meet new people in the community, visit the hospitals and myriad other things that Christians should be doing anyway in order to find an audience.
In short, preaching the gospel and caring about people is what we have always done – regardless of what some would like to think about the “bad old days.” As long as we do that, everything will work out.Jay KelleyFebruary, 9 2012There are numerous similarities between post-Christian America and the culture of the Roman-dominated first century. It was in that world that Christianity flourished. The hope that Christ represented stood in stark contrast with the emptiness produced by their pluralistic approach to truth, religion, and philosophy. This message of hope was taken by men and women of genuine faith who joyfully lived what they taught. The pure gospel- the grace and truth of Christ- turned parts of that world upside down.
It can happen again. Churches of Christ could be well positioned to lead the way. Our traditional message of un-denominational Christianity resonates today. We will have to not only voice it but live it- to get out of our church buildings, go beyond self-serving agendas, and engage people where they are: just like the missionaries in the book of Acts did. It is in the marketplace where the church grows- not the church buildings.
The trend towards nondenominational Christianity will just continue. Churches stuck in institutional, self-interest mode will continue to decline. The gospel remains God’s power to save. What a message of hope we have! If we can be faithful to share it God will use us to continue to make a difference in a post-Christian culture.
Sorry Bobby– did not mean to launch into to preacher mode here! 🙂
NLRDanny DFebruary, 9 2012Danny D, I agree with you! Thank you for your wisdom. I hope and will pray that your response will be taken seriously and put into action by members and leaders of the church. God bless you and everyone everywhere! Hallelujah! Amen.TerriFebruary, 10 2012The truth has not changed. Error has not changed except for the fact that the number of people who reject the truth and embrace some form of error has increased. I believe the validity of the restoration plea has not changed either. In fact, the more people and churches who embrace error, the more the plea of returning to the pure and simple truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ is needed.
Attitudes toward the truth, especially toward the source of truth, have changed both in the church and out. This is the real reason there is decline in churches of Christ. The Bible is no longer seen by many as the only source of truth about God and his plan for mankind. The Bible is no longer seen as the infallible inspired Word of God. The Bible is no longer seen as having one single interpretation that is what God wants for man but rather is open to many interpretations. Thus denominations with a myriad of interpretations are seen as viable options and not just outside out fellowship but inside as well. We�re just an option, or to use a word often heard; we are just one more religious tradition among many.
Fortunately for the church worldwide there are some bright spots. Though the church is still small in Brazil it is growing at a fast rate. We believe that the Northeast portion of Brazil can become what the Southeast region is to the church in the United States; the Bible Belt. The phrase, �at the core of the Restoration Movement was a plea,� found at the end of the article is sad. Maybe it is proper to use the past tense referring to the church in the United States and if so decline will certainly continue. But here people are still hungry for the pure and simple gospel and we are will continue to grow as long as that is what we preach.
Randy Short, missionary in Recife Brazil overseen by the Bellevue Church of Christ in Nashville Tennessee, member of the Church of Christ at Boa Viagem and president of the EBNESR ministry training school. Email: [email protected] If you post this I hope you do so with my email address as I would like to hear from people about what I have said.Randy ShortFebruary, 10 2012Jesus told this story: A farmer went to plant his seeds. Some seeds were planted along the road�Others were planted on rocky soil�Others were planted among bushes�Others were planted on good ground�When they came up, they produced a hundred times as much as was planted…His disciples asked Him what the story meant. Jesus answered �The seed is God’s Word� Luke 8 “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it but God made it grow.” I Cor. You plant the seed, others will water it and God will make it grow. youtube.com/watch?v=A7d3FWtyEog
We must plant the seed verbally, Bible DVDs, tracts, internet, Jesus movie, Bibles, etc. Are we really doing this? DVDs info: [email protected]ken hargesheimerFebruary, 10 2012Wither we like it or not Jesus died for only one church – His Church!
Jesus is the head of that church (unseen). But part of our problem is that we have lost sight and have allowed the seen to be our head (family, preachers, other church leaders, those we respect, possessions, money, etc.) instead.
When we hear the prayer of Jesus in John 17 we learn many things.
1. The relationship between the Father and the Son is the same relationship that we need to have with the Father and the Son (20-21).
2. Part of the reason that Jesus prayed for this unity is so that the “world may believe…”(21). (evangelism problem?)
3. We need to remember this prayer is also an example. We see Jesus praying for an intimacy with God and how our oneness with the Father and the Son are so important. But the question that comes to mind is are we following His example and sincerely praying a similar prayer?
For us to be a church of Christ Jesus must be our head. That means that we must put Him first as we demonstrate our love for Him and desire to do all things according to His will.
If I compromise in what Christ wants for me, do I really love Him? Is He really my head? God wants a people who really love Him and trust Him fully.
Let’s not forget that He is the Creator and we are the created. When I think about what is said in Hebrews 11:6, I need to remember that the way that I please God and draw near to Him is through my faith or trust. This is part of being united with Him.
If Jesus is truly the head of the church, then we would all be one with the Father and the Son as Jesus was with the Father… If this were reality, then what would happen to the church and denominations?
We also need to remember that if we are not one with each other it is because of one thing: Either one of us or both of us are not truly connected to the Head.Mark SharpFebruary, 10 2012I think it is important that the Churches of Christ realize they have become a denomination of a sort. Even though they follow the congregational and not the connectional model of church administration, one Church of Christ usually has a great deal in common with the next. I believe some of the typical restrictions in corporate worship are becoming increasingly problematic to defend scripturally, and will prove more and more to be at the root of our decline. Lack of gender equality and mandating accapella only are man-made laws and cannot be validated by an indepth look at scripture when you consider Paul’s cultural context. When you can draw the circle larger to include those who feel called by God to use their talents in worship and to honor Him, then artists of all kinds will feel welcome. I am heavily involved in worship arts for several congregations. Sadly, when I need musicians or dancers or dramatists, I generally do not look for them in Churches of Christ. They were made to feel unwanted there decades ago.Darla RobinsonFebruary, 10 2012Part of “our” problem is that we have lost sight of Him who is “Truth” and have elevated our formula for church membership, worship, etc. into our statements of Truth. In this we differ from those with the “creeds” we reject only in that their creeds are written down while ours are unwritten. If you say, “We only believe what is in the Bible” I reply that in many ways we have substituted what the Bible actually says with our interpretations – and we hold our interpretations more firmly than we hold the Bible.
I am impressed that in the comments, several (the majority) seem to recognize this and are urging us to take seriously the plea that launched our movement. This gives me hope. However, as I move among many congregations, I see a different spirit among preachers, elders, and members alike. Too often that spirit can be described as one of self-satisfied assurance that we have found it, and if they really believe the Bible they will accept it. If they reject us, we believe that is evidence they have rejected God.
I was reminded of a friend of mine who was talking with an elder who lamented that his children had “left the church” for a community church environment. My friend asked the elder why they had left, and what they preferred in the community churches they now attended. The elder told him of several things his kids liked. Then my friend asked, “Is there any Biblical reason we could not put those things in the envelope of the Church of Christ?” After thinking a little, the elder admitted that there really is no reason we could not do many of the things that cause people to leave us.
The question then must follow: If there is no Biblical reason we hold to “our” way of doing things, why do we hold to “our” ways so firmly? Why aren’t we willing to turn loose of customs and traditions of our own creation and share the vibrancy of the early Christians as they took the world by storm?
It is this reluctance to forsake our traditions and customs (or to even admit that these <strong>are</strong> traditions and customs, <i>not</i> the Word of God) that marks us as similar in kind to those denominations that have formally written and adopted creeds. It is this disconnect between our plea and our practice that is driving our decline.Jerry SFebruary, 10 2012We need to define what non-denominational Christianity is more clearly. In view of lessening “brand-loyalty,” we must make clear what is on offer as “non-denominatonal” is quite often inter-denominational in reality. Even among our own brethren we see encroachment of non-biblical religion garnered by preachers and teachers taking their que from what they discover from religious book sellers and from surfing the internet rather than depending upon a close exegesis of Scripture. This brings up the need to be settled in what is accepted as the final authority in our religious life. It is still the case that we require a “thus says the Lord” as justification for what we say and do.Orion MitchellFebruary, 10 2012Here are a couple of thoughts:
1. In or around 1906, churches of Christ (non-denominational) adherents numbered around 150,000. They had lost most of their buildings and all but a couple of educational institutions including Hiram, Drake, Butler, Lexington Theological Seminary, etc. 6 out of 7 buildings were gone. What remained was a fraction of what they had been as a fellowship just 30 years before. What did they do? They went out and church planted. They church planted in bars, in homes, in schools, and anywhere they could get a group together. By the 1970’s most reports had those in churches of Christ numbering at least 5x that amount and many reports up to 10x that amount.
Question: Why have we stopped church planting? Why are we now wired to fit everyone we can in one building and build a Castle/Kingdom instead of spreading God’s Kingdom. The age of the Castle passed suddenly in the late Middle Ages when weapons could reduce the castle to dust. Suddenly inviting everyone to come to the castle no longer worked. New tactics had to be developed. Why are we so reluctant to send 50 people in a congregation of 250 out to church plant? Are we after our own kingdom with a little k or God’s Kingdom with a big K?
2. The Early Restoration Movement preachers and earliest of Christians focused on simplicity. They did not need anything other than Christ, and that was the message they preached. One of their favorite texts was in fact John 17 – a message of unity in Christ…BUT…it was tempered with a clear message of true unity – one that required following what Scripture teaches.
3. We, I believe, fail to recognize the Restoration Plea is in of itself a plea for non-denominational Christianity. The movement toward this in America could have and still might result in millions more coming to ‘churches of Christ’ if we will once again adopt simplicity, church planting, and Christ. I am troubled, personally, that we are even referring to others as ‘non-denominational’ as if we have crossed the Rubicon and are no longer that ourselves — or no longer consider ourselves a part of that group.
4. I wish every Christian were intimately acquainted with the writings of Campbell, Creath, Jr., Walter Scott, Barton Stone, etc. We would discover two items: (1) They viewed themselves as part of a continuing reformation of God’s people that should not stop with them but continue. (2) They church planted everywhere and preached a message of unity in Scripture. (3) They, to a man, did not embrace any form of sectarianism but called everyone out to worship God together in a non-denominational fashion.
I believe if we get back to the roots of Christianity in the first three centuries – those who knew Jesus and the original reformers who crafted what we term the Restoration Plea in America, Scotland, etc., we church planted, and we connected with those seeking Jesus in a plea for unity in Scripture – churches of Christ could grow by millions within a generation.
It is not about the name on a building or how we worship per se that the world is interested in but rather, who are we? Do we seek to reach out in love? Are we sacrificing what we think is in our best interest (larger congregations with programs) for the interest of the Kingdom (church planting, fewer multiple staff ministries, fewer brick and mortar structures, etc.)?
God is able – if we are willing. This movement in America should be enabling us to reach millions without altering any distinctive or message of the Scripture.
The only question is – are we willing…
Are we willing to get out in the fields again, or will we sit on the sidelines, build castles, and wonder how/why the world is passing us by…when we in fact have the greatest message known to man – Jesus Christ and Him Crucified…CharlesFebruary, 10 2012The world is changing to a racially diverse america in order for us to make a difference we need to renite black and white together and once we do this others will see we are united and they will feel they are welcome. I still see too much of the separate and each to his own place. I know this is not what christ had intentions of. but thank God we are changing and don’t need to be separate. we can see the world has gone mad with this. the more we preach the gospel and baptize them according to Christ we have a change. Satan is not going to let up his whole function is to destroy and tear down. we get renited and satan can’t touch this.patFebruary, 10 2012I believe the movement in so many of our sister congregations is toward “worship teams”, “instrumental worship services” in addition to “Acappella services” is due to the encroachment of the “me first” mentality that pervades our culture. A lack of understanding of the purpose of “worship assemblies” lends itself to a “here I am, entertain me, feed me, make me feel good” attitude. We have lost the concept of worship being expressly for the pleasure of God the Father. HE is the only audience for whom we perform when we worship. Too many come to the worship assembly only to find fault, be the local critic, and end up leaving feeling “uninspired”, “didn’t get anything out of it”, etc.
The person who has that attitude will never be lifted up or built up from being in a worship service. Only by expressing adoration, love and praise to God from the heart and with the mouth (singing), is a Christian lifted up and drawn closer to God.TerryFebruary, 10 2012Terry, We speak as if there are clear directives for a “worship assembly”(I don’t think that term is even in the Bible). The Bible teaches, does it not, that in the gathered church we’re to do things for the edification of the body and that we actually do speak to one another (not just to God – He’s not the only audience)in our psalms and hymns. It might be us too that lacks some understanding of the purpose of assembly. Perhaps we would have fewer leaving our fellowship if we spoke with a less judgemental tone of their motives(ie.,”Worship Teams” are a symptom of a “me-first” culture)and were more charitable in our assessments of why they might be drawn to these non-denominational groups. We might learn something too!RonFebruary, 11 2012We live as a denomination while we preach the Biblical virtue of being non-denominational. Our actions betray our claims. We are, and have been, seriously divisive to the body of Christ; the kingdom of God in this world. Yet sheer pride and protection of investment prevents us from repenting. We gladly point out the specks in the eyes of other denominations even as we stumble from the planks lodged within our own. We do not have General Assemblies or Conventions. We have schools. These schools compete for influence, seeking to be the largest fish in a depleting pond. It is part of our denominational duty, we are encouraged, to send our children to these schools. Yet the farce is not subtle. The schools are the primary enforcers of denominational loyalty. This is all profoundly dysfunctional among a people who ardently claim to be non-denominational. My solution? Change the hiring policies of the schools. Dispense with formal affiliation. Create a faith statement based upon Biblical teaching which will allow “our” universities, yes, even “our” Bible departments, to hire, retain and promote Christians from beyond “our”-selves. If we are truly non-denominational … why don’t we live it out where our dollars are spent?Tim AlexanderFebruary, 14 2012I believe that the decline of the Church is directly related to the “entertainment” we have allowed into our homes. Almost everything coming from Hollywood is dark and or sexually explicit in nature.
Since we allow more and more of this “entertainment” into our homes and we except that it is not a problem in our hearts we do not have proper room for Jesus Christ. We allow God’s name to be taken in vain and we no longer even hear it.
The decline of the Church mirrors the decline of ethics and morality in society.Les HitchcockFebruary, 14 2012Re: Tim Alexander’s comments. The solution you offer seems to have an inherent problem. Who gets to draft the faith statement? Who gets to formally define the statement for autonomous churches? Who gets to “allow universities” to hire beyond our walls? The solution you offer seems to demand a hierarchy somewhere above our local churches that is united enough, godly enough, and scipturally astute enough to define what is essential and what is not for us, and then would have the weight of authority sufficient to enforce this faith statement. Has this ever worked any where? And is it accurate that “our” schools today are enforcing denominational loyalty? Many have significant portions of their student bodies that are not from Churches of Christ, and many of our schools are doing a good jobs of helping their students to challenge some of our basic assumptions and interpretations of scripture, and to read scripture for themselves.RonFebruary, 14 2012Re: Ron’s response. The schools are good schools; long may they live. No future movement has to take place which empowers “our” schools to become denominational enforcers. They already function as arbiters of denominational orthodoxy. Three examples. Consider the dismissal of Doug Varnado from Lipscomb in the late 90’s over the denominational issue of instrumental music. This had a chilling effect on congregational autonomy in middle Tennessee. Consider the recent statement from Harding from its board regarding emphasizing denominational distinctives. This only serves to reinforce denominational identity. Finally, consider the reality of resumes. It will be the exceedingly rare eldership of a Church of Christ who will even consider ‘hiring’ a preacher who has never attended one of “our” schools. Indeed, “our” schools sell themselves on credentialing “our” preachers. That is the bread and butter of their Bible departments at the undergraduate level. I advocate the schools, particularly in their Bible departments, hiring from beyond the denomination … why? Precisely because it will be a specific way of forcing an avowedly “non-denominational” denomination to be, in fact, NON-denominational.Tim AlexanderFebruary, 17 2012My folks came from the fundamental Christian Church and tried to save their congregation from the Disciples movement�s modernist teachings. They failed, so they and other families became charter members of a �non-denominational� church and named it �Christ�s Church.� After a few years of stagnant growth, they chose to place our membership with the church of Christ, whom they considered to be Bible-believing Christians. We put down our prejudices and decided we didn�t have to use instruments �the way David did.� We kinda� liked acapella music and agreed that it was �safer� not to add instruments to the singing with the �heartstrings� that Paul wrote about. We were Christians with a group who called themselves �non-denominational.�
I�m thrilled with the growth of non-denominational congregations and pray that it�s a big step toward the unity that our Lord prayed for before his crucifixion. I remember Hugo McCord�s words that he wished we could take off the words �church of Christ� from our buildings and just be the church. We say we�re not a denomination, but we are perceived as such by our neighbors. I cringe when I hear someone within our fellowship say, �Church of Christ doctrine� or �Church-of-Christer.� We are CHRISTIANS, aren�t we?
I wonder if our denominating ourselves, or separating ourselves, from other so-called followers of Christ�the way they also do�has robbed us of the blessing of rejoicing in our common beliefs and loving each other. Lately, I�ve had occasion to worship with two different congregations of a differing denomination. I was thrilled to hear a youth minister tell us of a young boy�s desire to �have his sins washed away� in baptism. Another youth minister baptizing two young people at the other congregation �buried� them in the waters of baptism and brought them up �to walk a new life.� Wow! The Spirit is truly working in Christians of other stripes! I feel the Lord put me there to see and hear that.
After worship, I felt moved to stick out my hand to the preachers and say, �Greetings from your brethren at Southside church of Christ!� I had a huge grin on my face, and so did they as we embraced! It was wonderful! I�d like to see us look at each other as Christians and �speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent.� For too long, perhaps, we�ve built walls where they should not have been and stopped talking to each other and showing love to each other. We�ve perhaps quenched the Spirit by our unkind and sometimes hateful feelings and words. AND our unkind actions have driven others from the Lord.
Names sometimes separate and build walls. Our congregation of the church of Christ recently planted a congregation in an outlying area. In coming up with a name, I was hoping that they might just call themselves �Flagstone Church.� They had good elders, a good Bible-believing preacher, good teachers. They wanted to reach out and love the community and bring them to the Lord. BUT our elders helped them write �Flagstone church of Christ.� Hopefully, that won�t prejudice some who might have been reached with the simple message of Jesus and then discipled to follow Him.
I really feel a wind of unity blowing in our world. A Christian brother whose stripes I do not know invited me last month to a prayer gathering. I prayed and worshipped with other Christians, some of whom I recognized as members of other fellowships. We prayed together in the unity of our knowing and following Christ and knowing He was the key to saving our country. It was wonderful! The Lord willing, I�m going back next month and taking others! Growing persecution in our country and the world might be moving us to unity under the simple banner of CHRIST to take up His cross and follow Him together, simply as CHRISTIANS.Rebecca Heffner HedgesFebruary, 17 2012In reading the entire article in the mailed edition, it is clear that many do not understand what the Lord’s church consists of. It does not consist of many so called ‘community churches’ that find their own ways of worship, many of which are vain such as in instrumental use, and plans of salvation. One must come to the Lord and His church, which are inseperable because the church is His body, on the Lord’s terms, not our own terms. Many want to have this attitude of ‘my way’ when it comes to Christianity as they do in other things. However, it must be the Lord’s Way that guides us through His written Word to the truth. Many say “I just don’t get anything out of the service anymore’. The misunderstanding here is that you are not supposed to except for being edified by being with your brothers and sister in Christ. Worship is a time of giving to the Lord, not getting. Many say ‘Let Jesus come into your heart’; where in reality we must go to Jesus, and obey Him to be pleasing to Him. Only when people understand that it takes more than sincerity to be pleasing to the Lord will they understand what Christianity is all about. Christ is the Saviour to those who obey Him. When we get the direction of worship and service going in the right direction-from us toward the Lord and not the other way around–will we be pleasing to Him.Gary HatmakerMarch, 8 2012The reason non-denominational branded churches are growing is not due to their evangelizing efforts, but more related to the ecumenical movement where every church is the same regardless of name. It is only natural for those who espouse this belief gravitate to the unbranded church. Their growth comes from the shrinkage of traditional, denominational churches. Just because some group is growing does not make it right to follow the crowd. I think in our effort to be just like everybody else we have succeeded in looking just like every other denomination. When we were growing in the mid-twentieth century, we presented the Bible as understandable and not something mysterious and unfathomable. We presented it without additional teaching or doctrine that the scripture did not support. I was baptized 32 years ago after seeing for myself that I could understand what God required from me and what He gave in return and after the dare we speak of it, fire and brimstone sermon. Yes, let people know that you love and care for them. Yes, do what you can to help them, but never forget the greatest gift we can give them is Christ. Mark 2:1-12.Kenneth MorvantMarch, 11 2012It would appear that our chickens have come home to roost, except that there are neither chickens nor roosting. A Gospel to which we add our doctrines and/or politics is no true Gospel, and those whom we would reach can sense folderol in religion as they can in everything else. They will walk away, mistaking it for the real thing.
Fairview Road CoC, Columbia, Mo.Bob BrandonMarch, 13 2012The first church was non-sectarian. Paul particularly insisted on the need for unity in diversity (Romans 14). The fundamentals were always the clearest concepts. Otherwise, personal understanding would vary; thus the need for tolerance. How can we identify the henotic first-century type Christianity today? Where those who accept Jesus as God (John 1:1) and those who accept that God is greater than he is (John 14:28) associate together in the same local congregation as brothers (just as both concepts are found in the same book)without provoking one another (Galatians 5:26), leaving the judgment in such cases (cases of conscientious Scripturally-based differences) to God (Romans 14:4); in such circumstances would true believers be found today.Sylvan JosephAugust, 7 2012