Monday, May 22, 2006
Though unknown there has also been a steady stream of folks who have left the Churches of Christ for one reason or another. These "exoduses" from our fellowship were often quiet and unrecognized. Ironically some of the first to leave were those who thought we were not sectarian enough. John Thomas first brought the "rebaptism" heresy into the Stone-Campbell Movement in the mid-1830's but was vigourously opposed by Alexander Campbell. Thomas ended up leaving and founding the Christadelphians (perhaps the slippery slope is true after all!!)
The Churches of Christ received a rude wake up call in 1966 when a book called Voices of Concern: Critical Studies in Church of Christism was published. Many of the essays from this book can be read here: http://www.unc.edu/~elliott/VofC/ This book revealed that for a generation many of the brightest and best known of the Churches of Christ had in fact left or were in the process of leaving. So troubling was this book that James D. Bales was invited by Leroy Garrett to respond for an entire year in Restoration Review to this book. Names like Logan Fox, Norman Parks, J. P. Sanders and Roy Key were widely recognized and their departure (among many others) was a blow to our sense of identity.
In 1973 Dr. Tom Olbricht wrote a short article in Mission Journal reflecting on this exodus by especially the (then) younger people. He writes "It is no secret that a whole generation born between 1930 and 1950 has become Church of Christ drop-outs. Visit churches in St. Louis, in Houston, in Nashville and you won't see them" ("Is there a Message? Mission [June 1973], 357).
In the 60s and 70s many young people were disillusioned over the seeming disinterest of brotherhood leaders in issues of biblical justice. They believed many were simply mirroring the racial prejudice and lost in a maze of irrelevancies (institutional controversy, premillennial controversy, etc) but with no word on how a Christian should handle segregation, the raging war questions, how to address poverty. So they left. Most did not leave Christianity as such but they did leave Churches of Christ because they felt there was no place for them here.
Have things changed? There is still a brain drain in Churches of Christ. I know many preachers, extremely gifted men of God who have simply given up. From appearances it would almost look as if there is greater exodus now than before. Young people are more interested in spiritual matters than ever before and yet many leave. Is it because they don't love God? Is it because they simply have no respect for "biblical authority?" Is it because they have, possibly, discovered that Jesus may not be in our assemblies? I am just asking the questions not proposing answers.
These are musings . . . only musings. I am interested in your input. I believe we have a message even in our heritage. One that is relevant and vibrant. How can we connect with these Postmoderns before its too late?
I think we need to emphasize the cross of Christ afresh.
I think we need to emphasize the life of the Spirit.
I think we need to model prayer in our lives and assemblies.
I think we need to model compassion to the disinherited. Our churches need to be concerned about the sound doctrine of ministering to the poor.
I think we need to refocus the marks of the church on the marks of the cross . . . specifically in discipleship.
On the flip side (briefly) there are those who never left even though they had "a lover's quarrel" with "us." Some of these brothers and sisters others would have preferred for them to leave . . . but they never have. Leroy Garrett speaks of his trials and tribulations along his pilgrimage in his recent autobiography called A Lover's Quarrel. Rather than leave he vowed to be an instrument of God to bring about healthy change . . . as he sees it. Carl Ketcherside calls his life through the Church of Christ as a Pilgrimage of Joy despite his often critical observations on the life and teachings of the CofC. These make for interesting contrasts with those who leave.
What say you?