A Christian Affirmation 2005 and The Emerging Church, Part One of ?

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I have been reading some books on The Emerging Church, but have not quite gotten through them yet, so I hesitate to offer up my opinion on it. However, I have been reading and thinking about A Christian Affirmation 2005, as well as being part of a discussion group on the document. If you have not read it, you should do so before reading the rest of my column. It would also be helpful to read Leroy Garrett’s Response to A Christian Affirmation 2005 and A Reply to Leroy Garrett. These will just be my initial thoughts and hopefully the start of a discussion.

 

I started out wondering why such a document was desirable or even necessary. One of my first inclinations was that it is a way to try to at least get some control over the direction Churches of Christ are going. With so many churches going to praise teams, some even considering instruments, and others really doing different things when it came to the Lord’s Supper, it seemed to me like a way to try and point us back in the “right direction.” While I’m not completely opposed to something like that, I just wondered about the timing. Why now? Then I started to read about the Emerging Church. This movement (though its main leaders, who don’t call themselves the leader of a movement and don’t call it a movement) is an attempt to reach the postmodern generations in ways that are very postmodern themselves. They are trying very radical ways of worshiping that really challenge mainstream Christianity, some things that sound a lot like what some of the more progressive Churches of Christ are doing, but this movement is doing them on a much larger scale. I began to think about how the two are coinciding and wondered if there was a correlation. I will have to save those thoughts until a future column, though, after I’ve read more about the movement itself.

So back to A Christian Affirmation 2005. It stresses the importance of restoration, baptism by immersion, weekly Lord’s Supper and a cappella music as part of our heritage in Churches of Christ. Although I cannot share what the discussion group said, I will say that as the introduction to the document states, it truly was intended, at least by many of the original signers, to be a way to start a discussion about what is important to our heritage—i.e. what we should seek to keep that is valuable, at least as I read it. I was actually quite impressed with the ability of people in the discussion group to disagree charitably and to still get along okay (as much as that can be seen in an internet discussion group). This is something I have not witnessed in Churches of Christ. It goes back to my article on July 24 about certainty. If I’m right then you’re wrong and you need to be taught the right way to look at things.

Here are my musings that I hope will generate a discussion. I understand as the document affirms that we have been about trying to restore the first century church. Many of our churches have that on their buildings somewhere in the form of “established in 33 A.D.” A question that has been raised is which practices are we trying to restore? Those of Corinth? Those of the Jerusalem church? Philippi? Colossae? Crete? That is just to name a few. I have serious doubts as to whether speaking in tongues was a regular part of the worship of the Jerusalem church, but it was clearly a part of the assembly at Corinth. The Jerusalem church was primarily Jewish and spent much time at the temple, worshiping and learning from the apostles (Acts 2:42-47). Philippi was a small, Roman colony and may have only had one church, rather than multiple house churches. I could go on. We also tend to view things through the lens of “Western” Christianity. Yet Christianity spread into Syriac-speaking areas very early, and there are certain reports of it spreading into India within the first two centuries as well. Though it is not as clear, Ethiopic Christianity is early as well as Coptic Christianity. So which of these churches are we trying to restore? Although there are at least some passages that seem to speak of widely-held practices (1 Corinthians 11:16), the language is so unclear that scholars don’t really know exactly what the practice was. Was it a veil women wore when praying? Was it that they just had long hair? The key phrase in question simply means “down the head” in Greek (although that is a quite literal reading). If we don’t know what it was, how to we imitate it?

The question I am raising is not whether or not our traditional understandings are important, but it goes deeper to whether or not restoration is desirable or necessary. The New Testament does not seem to indicate that Christians should seek to all worship alike according to some preconceived order. If such were the case, we’d expect something far more detailed like Hippolytus’ Apostolic Constitutions, which were much later. Or, perhaps we’ve even misunderstood restoration entirely. Luke tends to have a “restoration of Israel” theme in Luke and Acts, but it does not result in restoring the right worship practices for Israel. It is much more about Jesus fulfilling Israel’s hope and “getting it right” in the sense of actually being a light to the Gentiles, which was supposed to be Israel’s purpose all along.

Well, it is getting late and I need to post this. I would like us to dialogue about the desirability of restoration as a whole, what it should look like, and what are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith. I’ll also write more on unity, because that is close to my heart as well.

[P.S. Sorry this is just a bunch of ramblings, but we’ve had company this weekend and I’ve had several crisis situations at work I had to resolve this weekend. I’ll write more on the Emergent Church next week.]

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15 Responses to “A Christian Affirmation 2005 and The Emerging Church, Part One of ?”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, Duane. I, of course, could lose my job traveling down this road of thought, but I, too, have lots of questions in my mind about the “desirability of restoration as a whole.” I had an important (to me) dialogue with our old buddy, Juvenal, after reading Richard Hughes book, “Reclaiming a Heritage.” Juvenal helped me understand a bit more fully the perspective Hughes comes from, but I digress…

    I’m never been very evangelical in the sociological aspect of the word, but I was pretty happy with being a restorationist. Much of my CofC chagrin came at the lack of obvious interest in restoration, and after Hughes’ book, I was convinced: most of CofC-dom is interested in becoming “evangelical” instead of “restoration.” That left me in a quandary, wondering what to do (I worry about a lot of weird stuff). How could I help lead a church more interested in being evangelical, when I don’t see that as such a great way to go?

    But anyway, Juvenal asked me questions you bring up in your column, like, “Which one of the screwed-up 1st Century churches do you want to restore?” And, “why?”

    As is often the case, I didn’t have any good answers – which really confused me. I guess in my mind there had only been two options: (1) evangelicalism, or (2) restorationism. (I mean, I knew there were more options, but only two that were even somewhat feasible to me.) Now, with both options suspect, I felt lost – w/o direction. I’m big on needing a big picture – a destination.

    Juvenal helped me tremendously when he offered up a third option, one he termed “progressive.” Instead of focusing on restoring a baby, problematic church, why not begin to envision something that hasn’t happened yet?

    That’s a long path to explain something that has helped me at least: Maybe the 1st churches didn’t have it all together, so our destination might become something never seen before – living like Jesus lived as opposed to living like the 1st church did?

    This, of course, ties in to the second part of your dialogue request, the “non-negotiables” of the Christian faith.

    It just happens that my sermon yesterday morning delved into this area. I preached on the faith of Samuel and noticed something I felt to be important: His first words of Israel (1st Samuel 7) were a request to return to God “with all their heart.” His final words (sort of) to Israel at the end of his farewell speech (1st Samuel 12) were a plea to serve God “with all their heart.” Add Jesus to the mix: What is the greatest command? “Love God with all your heart.”

    Though probably necessary, I get nervous when we discuss non-negotiables. From what I understand the term “fundamentalist” came from a time in history when religion and science clashed, and religionists began to develop sets of fundamentals (read: non-negotiables) that we had to agree on. CofCs obviously joined this line of thinking along the way. The problem emerged that everybody has a bit of a different list. The bigger problem, I think, is that fundamentalism at its core is about minimum standards (what we “have to” agree on). I think Samuel taught Israel, and Jesus teaches us that if there was such a thing as a minimum, it would be to serve God with all your heart instead of a list of beliefs and/or practices.

    Okay, its Monday morning and I need to get some other work done, but I think I’ve at least attempted to engage the request for dialogue! (And I hope I don’t get fired for it!)

  2. A Devoted Reader Says:

    Al,

    I think it’s very humbling that you confess you’re not sure as to which option for the 21st Century church is the correct one.

    I recently read a comparative study on the C of C by Russell Paden first published in 1992. For the first time in my life, it dawned on me how the church has evolved over the last two centuries. I must say that I was somewhat disturbed in my reading. It seems that what started as an inclusionary movement became an exclusionary one toward the end of the 19th Century.

    I think it takes real courage to admit that you don’t have all the answers to your faith. In doing so, you open up a dialogue that I find to be missing from so many churches of today. What are the essentials to being a Christian in this modern age? Maybe I’m mistaken in my thinking, but I never for once saw the grace of God being turned away from someone who practiced instrumental music on Sundays. I think you’re onto something in your discussion of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject in the future.

  3. Duane McCrory Says:

    Al,

    Thanks for entering the discussion at the risk of your job. (I hope that is not really the case.) I, too, have very serious issues with our attempt in CofC to move toward evangelicalism. The fundamentals of which you speak came from that culture as an attempt to retrench rather than engage with the culture’s interest in how science could relate to Christianity (I am oversimplifying, of course, but you get the point). They ended up creating a Christian subculture, what I mean when I use the term evangelicalism, in which Christians tried to remove themselves from the world rather than engaging it. They would have their own church camps, their own Christian concerts with Christian artists and the like, mimicking culture, but doing it in a Christian-only way. One of the critiques of the Emerging Church is that the so-called “seeker-sensitive” churches really don’t attract non-Christians, but nominal Christians who may be trying to find their way back into church. This way of being “evangelical” does not appeal to me at all because it does not engage culture. I also have serious problems with much of its underlying theology (which is very Calvinistic, i.e. “God has a plan for your life”) and, at the risk of sounding heretical to our CofCers as well, biblical inerrancy (defined as there were no errors in the original copies of our biblical documents, but any errors have come through copying). I have done too much study in the field of textual criticism to believe that or need to believe it. Why do we need to make a claim for the Bible that it does not claim for itself? Is our faith in scripture itself (biliolatry) or in the God of Scripture? (Okay, enough of that soapbox.)

    I, too, have a problem with restorationism as it has been carried out. It has not worked. We have brought out some very valuable practices, some of which the Affirmation affirms, such as weekly Lord’s Supper, baptism by immersion, and even a cappella music is valuable. Yet we have made them tests of faith and have missed at least Luke’s point about restoration as I see it. True restoration is more about including the outcasts (which includes, by the way, us Gentiles) in the kingdom, loving God and neighbor, and bringing the good news of Jesus to the lost by being the light to the nations that Israel was always supposed to be. But I digress.

    The reason I brought up the non-negotiables is for purpose of discussion and because the Affirmation states, “While we believe that disunity and division among Christians are not according to God’s will, we also believe that unity cannot be grounded in minimal agreements among Christian traditions.” What minimal agreements do they have in mind that cannot be the basis for unity? If these cannot be, does that mean people need to agree with what the Affirmation states to have unity? What does that unity then look like?

    Here is where my biggest question is. Let’s say for the sake of argument that we and the Independent Christian Churches (to pick a denomination closest to us) could agree on what constitutes a Christian. What then would our unity look like? Would one ICC congregation and one CofC congregation start worshiping together? Would they jointly work to evangelize the neighborhoods that are closest to their buildings? Would they work together to provide a shelter for homeless people? What would that unity look like? What is substantive Christian unity?

    Most Christian denominations have come to terms with the fact that there is not and will likely not be a visible Christian unity among the denominations in this world, but they recognize the invisible church as unified, namely, that God knows and accepts all Christians into the one, true, invisible church, over which Christ is head. Is there a possibility of visible unity? Does unity not consist more in our accepting others as Christians who call themselves such? What visible unity would we be aiming for?

    These are some of the questions I have. Any other thoughts here?

  4. Joe Longhorn Says:

    This is a rabbit hole I’m not sure we really want to go down.

    You guys go as deep as you want, but I’m backing out here.

    “at the risk of sounding heretical to our CofCers as well, biblical inerrancy (defined as there were no errors in the original copies of our biblical documents, but any errors have come through copying). I have done too much study in the field of textual criticism to believe that or need to believe it.”

    You lost me right there. If you take this line of reasoning, you can’t believe anything written in the Bible.

  5. Duane McCrory Says:

    “If you take this line of reasoning, you can’t believe anything written in the Bible.”

    Joe,

    I can understand your way of looking at things, but that what you say does not necessarily follow from what I have said. For one thing, we don’t have the originals of any manuscript, whether Old or New Testament. So what we do have as far as the Bible is concerned does contain errors, mistakes in copying, some of which are so convoluted it is impossible to decide what the original text was. If it is so important for us to believe that Paul could not have had a slip of the pen where he either misspelled something, or that John (or another gospel writer) was trying to tell of a town Jesus went to, but did not live in Palestine and did not know the precise name of that town, he could have put the wrong thing. How does that make his message something you cannot believe? Your conclusion that these types of error cannot be part of the “original” Bible, which we do not have, in order for us to believe in anything it says does not follow. We don’t have the originals so does that mean we cannot believe in the Bible that we have because it does contain errors? Does that make its message untrustworthy? I don’t buy that line of argumentation.

    God clearly used people, people who can be prone to making mistakes, both in the writing of the original documents, the deciding of which documents would be part of the Bible, preserving those documents, and even translating those documents into different languages, such as English, for us to read. When one translator sees one English representation of a Greek word as most fitting to the context and another uses a different English word, does that mean one of them is in error? When one translation team translates one Greek reading in its text and a different translation team uses a manuscript that has a different Greek reading to translate its text, which one is wrong? What if it cannot be decided? Yet this is the situation we have. And still we trust the Bible and its message. In fact, we argue more about its interpretation than we do about which Greek word is behind which text, typically.

    I would ask as I did in the part of my comment that you did not quote: Is our faith in the Bible or the God of the Bible who decided to have it transmitted and preserved through fallible human agency?

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Two quick side notes:

    #1: To Joe’s comment, it sounds like you call for a future Duane column on textual criticism!

    #2: To part of Duane’s comment, it sounds like you should read Sandi’s article and add your thoughts!

    Okay, to unity: You raise some awesome questions, to which I’ll respond with my definitive answer – I don’t know.

    But that won’t stop me from talking…

    I struggle with this a lot. Paul blasted Simon Peter for acting as if certain folks were outsiders when he knew them to be insiders. Condemns a whole lot of us it seems…

    To prove that I think about what you write, I don’t think the NT call for unity envisioned the types of religious divisions and situations we’re talking about. My personal opinion is that the unity called for in the NT is a unity of “mind and thought” (1st Cor. 1:10), which to me, connotes an outlook on life.

    I see it as no longer having a selfish life outlook (citing the list of “carnal” things), but instead, a life focused on “love of neighbor.”

    The type of visible unity I’d hope for is the type that Jesus refers to in John 13 – “everyone will get that you guys are on the same side when you love one another.” (This is the type of unity I find with others in concepts like Habitat for Humanity.)

    So could different congregations communicate this by doing things together? Sure wouldn’t hurt… But my goal rises above ecumenism – or better yet, goes below it – and reaches the grassroots level.

    Just my thoughts…

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Okay, we were commenting at the same time. Ignore my first side note.
    🙂

  8. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Duane,
    We have got to have faith that God has shepherded and preserved His word through the many copies and translations. If we don’t have faith in that, then it follows that we can’t trust anything that is in the Bible. I have faith that the Bible I read today says what God wants me to hear. I don’t have a need to go back to the earliest texts and try to figure out what those transcribers “got wrong.”

  9. Whitney Says:

    God is perfect. If our faith is “in the God of the Bible who decided to have it transmitted and preserved through fallible human agency?” then I don’t really see a problem. I don’t think God in his perfection would allow a perversion to the extent to which you allude (although, to be fair, I skimmed your article instead of read it thoroughly, so my assumption about your allusion could be wrong (to be funny, I tried to think of an “a” word for “wrong” but I’m tired. smile.))

    Regarding Joe’s comment, it is really a matter of faith in God or faith in your own study and conclusions? Sometimes the two don’t coincide, and we have to make a choice. I think the choice is clear. We are not meant to know and understand every single thing about God. It is just not possible.

  10. The Viking Says:

    Actually, the “Bible” (The modern KJV) isn’t very accurate at all. How could it be after who knows how many translations and interpretations? I find it offensive when somebody quotes scripture out of context and singles out that one quote as “truth”. Anyway…..finally! A blog worth reading!! Thank you.

  11. Duane McCrory Says:

    Joe,

    I agree that God has preserved his word, and that is where my faith is–in God who preserved what we needed, but through human agency.

    Scholars since the Reformation have been doing just what you mention is not necessary–trying to find the “original text” by sorting through what transcribers got “wrong.” The Bible you have is a product of their attempts to do just that. So your trust is in them as well, or at least God’s guidance of them, though they disagree, which is why we have so many translations that differ. What it has come down to for me is that God has preserved the message we need for salvation and life in him. He is able to save me despite my misunderstandings of certain Scriptures, my inability to understand certain hard texts, and despite the errors in transmission that accrued over the centuries. I don’t have to have the “original text” to be saved. I have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died to save me from my sins and was raised by God on the third day, basically 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. I think the fact that God could have preserved the originals but didn’t says a lot about how he deals with us human beings. He trusts us not only with the preservation of his word, but he also trust us with the preservation and teaching of his message, even when we fail so often at trying to live that out.

    On a side note, I have an example of the “errors” that exist in the manuscripts of the Bible. One church, at sometime in the 10th century, had a manuscript we now label as 1739, a very good, but of course not error-free, copy of Acts, the general epistles and the Pauline epistles. This church probably also had a text of at least two or more of the gospels, but that cannot be determined with certainty. This text had errors in it, which can be proven, yet it was good enough for that church to be Christian and to live out their Christianity in their environment. Our ability to be Christian is not dependent upon the accuracy of the text that has come down to us; it is dependent upon the God who saves us and preserves his message through the agency of faulty texts and fallible humans.

    Al, I have been able to read Sandi’s article, but have been too busy to comment on it yet. You probably said most of what I thinking anyway.

  12. R&B Says:

    Thank you, Duane. There are quite a number of things that I do not understand about the CofC that you are making clear. Thanks, man.

    Like, I never really knew that the CofC was attempting to “restore” the first century church. As someone on the outside, who knew? I mean, the little plastic communion cups (which we also use in our church), like they had those in the first century … 🙂

    I’ve thought for a long time that the denomination closest to the first century church was the Greek Orthodox. How a denomination with its “mecca” in West Texas can claim this same closeness is an enigma to me. But I’m digressing the subject.

    “I started out wondering why such a document was desirable or even necessary.”

    This was precisely my first reaction. I was thinking the whole time I read the Affirmation, “I would never do this”. I would never force this issue when it wasn’t necessary. But, I’m not CofC, either.

    One of my first inclinations was that it is a way to try to at least get some control over the direction Churches of Christ are going.

    I’ve always been told that there was not a “master governing body” over the Churches of Christ. How can one exert control if there is no authoritative means for doing so? I’m not throwing rocks … I really don’t know. A church, regardless of the name on the door, can be identified as CofC simply by its remarkable similarity in practices. Who decides these practices?

    With so many churches going to praise teams, some even considering instruments, and others really doing different things when it came to the Lord’s Supper, it seemed to me like a way to try and point us back in the “right direction.”

    I sing in a praise band, so pardon me if I’m a bit biased. But what is wrong with “diversity” in worship? Why is there a problem with different congregations approaching God in different ways? Why, even in the CofC must there be a set, “sanctioned” way of doing things?

    And what about communion? Why does it have to be passed in little plastic cups? Why not intinction? Why not [name your approach]? As long as it is a part of the service, what is the problem?

    I too will save my comments on the “emergent church” until I’ve researched it more. I may be a part ot it. But I suspect I am merely wishing I were. I’m not sure yet. Here’s a pretty balanced article about it.

    I don’t really understand the anti-evangelical comments yet. I’ll just have to read and “grok” a while to understand this part.

    All in all I appreciate the opportunity to better understand the CofC. Every little bit helps.

  13. Duane McCrory Says:

    the Viking,

    Thanks for your comment and for reading our blog. I share the same annoyance/concern when people quote Scripture out of context. As you can see, we have a variety of opinions here, but seem to get along for the most part.

    R&B,

    You said:
    “I sing in a praise band, so pardon me if I’m a bit biased. But what is wrong with “diversity” in worship? Why is there a problem with different congregations approaching God in different ways? Why, even in the CofC must there be a set, “sanctioned” way of doing things?”

    I totally agree with you on that. I don’t think the NT prescribes a certain way to worship. If it did, we’d have something like the Hippolytus document I mentioned. The fact is we don’t and it is at least somewhat clear that there were different practices in the 1st century churches depending on where one lived.

    The “control” that I imagined was attempted by CA05 was not intended to have that function, at least that’s how it was expressed to me, by the signers. In a group of churches that are all autonomous, control is impossible. I think that is why many are nervous. They want definition. I think we can emphasize what has been important to us (in CofC) and explain to the larger Christian world why it is without requiring it of them. I would compare it to the contribution on one side, of the pentecostal churches, who keep us from ignoring God’s Spirit at work in the world, and on the other side, the high-church, liturgical churches who remind us of God’s majesty and mystery in the way they worship, which shows a deep reverence that is missing in many of our more casual churches today.

    I’ll have to explain more on the “anti-evangelical” stuff later. Maybe that’s worth a whole column. Al, what do you think?

    Al,

    Thanks for your approach to Christian unity, which is kind of where I am–love and accept one another as Christians. That makes a statement to the world.

    Sorry, gotta go for now. Keep commenting! Thanks, R&B, for bringing us back to the core discussion–CA05.

  14. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, Duane. The “anti-evangelical” stuff would make for a GREAT discussion topic.

  15. R&B Says:

    Duane said:

    “I would like us to dialogue about the desirability of restoration as a whole, what it should look like …”

    I don’t know how valid my thoughts on this subject will be, since it was the CA05 document that clued me into the restoration emphasis of the CofC in the first place. But let me give it a shot.

    I have wondered from time to time whether or not I should be attending a church that is closer in form and structure to the founding churches (note: my church looks much like a CofC only with instruments). A recent informal study of scripture on the subject led me to the conclusion that God has allowed us an enormous amount of freedom in this area. It seems to me that, so long as a church remains within the rather broad boundaries outlined in the NT, “whatever works” is the best approach.

    As to the validity of restoration in the first place, I have to ask: why? We are twenty centuries distant from the earliest of the Lord’s redeemed. Our lives are very very different from theirs. My initial thought is that our churches should be structured to meet the needs of the 21st century, not the first.

    However, people are people regardless of which century in which they happen to reside, so the really basic needs are likely to be similar. So maybe restoration would be the “what works” in some cases. It just seems to me, that as a big goal for a big group of people it’s kind of like swatting gnats with a hammer.

    As for what it would look like, that’s really interesting speculation.

    A guy named James Rutz has a book out called Mega Shift, the gist of which is that there are 707 million Christians world wide that are neither Catholic nor Protestant, but represent the fastest growing faith in the world. From the ad:

    Hundreds of millions of these Christians are simply not associated with the institutional churches at all. They meet in homes. They meet underground. They meet in caves. They meet, he says, in secret.

    I suspect the above is a fair description of what a first century church would look like. China, Southern Sudan, and other oppressed areas of the earth have churches that look like that and they have explosive growth. We don’t need to meet in caves or in secret in America (at least not yet), so the structure seems inappropriate here. Although, house churches seem to work very well for some, even in America.

    Thoughts?

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