So where do we go from here? Assuming that the members of the Churches of Christ recognize and are willing to address the situation . . . then what to do? To be sure, this is not an easy fix. In fact, I am positive that it will be slow and painful, if it ever takes place at all.
Let’s start by recognizing that there are essentially four camps within the mainstream Churches of Christ. The first two are easy and obvious, conservative and progressive. The conservatives are so-called because they strive to conserve the practices and traditions that have for decades defined them. (Of course, they would say it’s because they are striving to conserve right doctrine in the face of change-agents). Conversely, the progressive group is seeking to progress beyond the traditions and practices that they feel are stumping their own spiritual growth and limiting the effectiveness of the church.
The second two groups are less obvious, but are nonetheless apparent. First there are folks who are caught in the middle. They are beginning to appreciate the thoughts and ideas that are being presented by people on the left. But because of their family, friends and the shame or embarrassment it would bring they are left silent, wading in the pool of confusion and frustration. The second of these two are the ignorant, apathetic and lazy. Is that mean? Maybe, but it reminds of John’s comments in Revelation 3:15-16. They are just showing up, punching the clock and expecting to collect a check.
Okay, so we’ve “recognized” the camps. So what? What good does it do? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure. But it does a lot of good to try to get to the root cause of any conflict. And I suppose the first step is identifying who is in conflict with one another; now on to the root cause. This may surprise you, but I don’t think that any of the arguments, bickering and disfellowshiping is really about doctrines, apostasy, worship practices, women’s roles or any other issues that we say we’re standing for. Just like nearly every other conflict between well-intentioned groups, this one is about miscommunication.
Huh? They seem to be communicating quite well as one group writes the other up in their magazines and chat groups; and they both speak disdainfully of the other groups’ inability to see the truth. That’s not communicating. That’s leaving the discussion table, finding people who agree with you and then blasting away. What good does that do?
There isn’t any communication going on because the two groups are speaking different languages. Here’s what I mean. The language of any group of people are the values that they hold to. Whether the members of the group recognize it or not, people are drawn to other people with similar values. That’s what generally unites, bonds and keeps them together. And that is exactly what is going on in this case. We have two groups of people with different values.
So what? Well, our values not only define how we communicate but also how we see the world around us. Just take a Muslim extremist for example. Their world view is one that I could never understand because their values are so different from my own. They are every bit as spiritual and religious as I am. But they define their faith in such a way that I can’t recognize it as such. It’s not too terribly different when we’re talking about the conservative and progressive groups in the Church of Christ.
So what are the values? Well, it seems clear that the conservatives’ greatest value is being correct. I don’t mean that as a derogatory mark against them—just an observation. It’s most important to them that they identify and cling to the doctrines that are correct. That’s not true for the progressives. Their greatest value is to love how Christ loved. Now, it’s important to understand that the conservatives value love, but just not as much as they value having the right doctrine. Likewise, progressives value right doctrine, just not as much as they value love.
This is the exact reason that these two groups can’t seem to get together and continue to talk past one another. When a conservative person encounters a progressive, he can’t understand, fathom and imagine why this progressive doesn’t value having the correct doctrine. Because of this he quickly labels him an apostate liberal and proceeds to dismiss any thoughts and ideas the progressive has until he determines to correct himself and get right. Similarly, when a progressive person encounters a conservative he quickly notices that he is not full of the love of Christ and is taken aback at how rude, legalistic and hateful he is. We now have a stand-off and conflict that will be difficult, if not impossible, to resolve.
Is this fixable? Can the two sides learn to come together for rational, loving dialogue? I don’t know for sure. But my honest answer is . . . not in this generation or the next. My kids’ generation is going to have to be the Elders and Shepherds with their kids participating in the discussion before anything productive will come to pass. It just seems that people are too dug in with their positions right now to even consider that they might be wrong. I once heard a man say that a congregation was going to have to have a lot of funerals before anything would start to change. I think he had the right idea.
The problem is that the Church of Christ is going to have a hard time surviving while it waits for the current group of leaders to die off, their kids to retire and then their grandkids to take over. Plus, that seems to be a fatalistic approach for mine and my parents’ generation. That leads us into our next post.
Until then . . . may God bless and keep you.