Friday, April 29, 2005

An Affirmation of a denomination

A group of 23 leaders from the Church of Christ denomination have made a Christian affirmation. Although they do not consider themselves a denomination, they act like one in making a statement of this kind. They say that they do not speak for the denomination, but in making a statement of this kind, they express their creed and terms under which someone is or is not in the church - in the denomination.

I know a few of these 23 signers and have heard of several more. Of those that I know, I have a resepct for them that is real and true. So, please understand the tone of this response to be one of respect.

In sum, their non-negotiables are as follows:

1. Baptism
2. The Lord's Supper
3. Acappella Worship

First of all, I guess you could do worse than this list. Lots and lots of the obligations have been peeled away from the list of the past, so I do commend these people for their slimming down of the list. So, there's your kudos.

Second, there is a fundamental flaw in their position. It still smacks of pursuing being right as the highest Christian ethic. It's not that I want to be wrong or that anyone should aspire to being wrong, but being right is not the pinnacle of the Christian faith. Goodness trumps rightness everytime. Read about good and right here. The Pharisees tried to be right while Jesus was good. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

Third, although I highly value baptism and the Lord's Supper as among the most important Christian exercises, rich in meaning, tradition, and function, the way they are approached in this Christian affirmation is in ways overstated. "In the ancient church there were no unbaptized Christians," is one statement that stands out to me. No room is left for God's grace to cover anyone not baptized through ignorance, having been taught falsely, never having heard, or anything. Nope, no baptism; no salvation. I just can't get there from here. And as for the Lord's Supper, it's awesome and importnat, but using "necessary" as a place setting for the supper is inappropriate.

I think that people in the Church of Christ have to make something essential in order to shout loud enough for people to hear them.

Fourth, the acappella music thing is the place wher I make a dramatic departure from these signers. Yes, people need to worship from their hearts. Yes, people need to particpate in expressing their appreciation, their laments and so forth to God, but to make mandatory a specific kind of worship is blatant and obvious denomination protecting. Nothing makes the Church of Christ distinct from most of the Christian religion than their practice of acappella music. So, protecting that tradition is one of the most important things for these guys. Although they have no legitimate theological argument for mandating this practice, they include among the top three articles of the Christian faith. There may be some room for a conversation on this topic, but as a sub-sub-sub topic in worship discussions as it relates the corporate body. They elevate a very minor conversation topic to a way to divide people. For a people so bent upon unity, they have chosen a terrible thing by which to measure it. If there were ever an example of shallow ecclesiology, it is this topic.

This Christian affirmation has many blindspots, inconsistencies, and problems. It is a throwback to the old school Church of Christ, but with a sweeter flavor to it. However, I am not tricked. The deep ecclesiology it hopes to pursue is foiled badly by its own construction. Its goal (unity of all Christians) and approach (modernistic throwback collection of rules) are oil and water.

Finally, I do hope that the conversation following the issuance of this Christian Affirmation will be honest, open, and healthy. This is my first post in response to it. I may make other later.


Gabe said...

Thanks for pointing this out, it is the first I've seen/heard of it.
I think you make some good points in your critique, but I make take a little issue with a little us/them language.

I too know many of these men (3 very personally) and have conversed with several of them at times. Certainly this was written with the best intentions and is written in a concillatory tone; my only fear is that it could be watershed mark for the future of our fragmenting fellowship of Churches. Oh that we might embody Phillians 2.


Gabe said...

*Phillipians 2

Neal W. said...

I know many of the signers of the document, even agree with most of the theology (just not exclusively...), but I think the biggest problem with the affirmation is its intent. This is a pretty blatent attempt in in-group the "true" believers and out-group the "liberals" like myself who would dare to do anything differently than the model we were brought up with. This has less to do with scriptural interpretation than it does with the ability to process change. Are we fighting for anything worth fighting for?

Greg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Greg said...

Did anyone else follow the link to "Discuss" this thing? If it's intent is conciliatory and to have open discussion, why make folks identify themselves and apply to join the future "discussion"? Also, this "application" assumes anyone wishing to "discuss" this document is a "minister, elder or teacher"; I guess they are the only ones with anything of value to add to the discussion!
I see this "affirmation" as an attempt to "rein-in" and pressure the leaders of scattered congregations to toe the line. (sigh) The more things change, the more they stay the same....

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your response to the affirmation, and I think you make some excellent points. Want my 2 cents worth? Here ya go!

Working off of Gabe's post, I have some serious issues with the recent Affirmation.

First, it sounds like the whole deal was concocted as a way of improving the public relations of the Oklahoma Christian Uni bible department. It's an anti-witchhunter stunt. Call me cynical, but thats sure what it looks like from here and I know OC very well. Its not a coincedence that they secured a full page in the Christian Chronicle for their affirmation. I also think that some of the signers did so in good faith, and were not necessarily aware of its nature. Essentially, its purpose is to tell everyone that the signers affirm these things, because they obviously can't believe they're speaking for the Churches of Christ as a whole. It is intended to deflect accusations from the 'conservative' posse, and protect OC's donated cash flow.

Second, I have a serious problem with the rational espoused by Kung. The affirmation notes: "It is the early church that, in K√ľng’s words, provides “the essential norm” by which the church in every age and culture measures its message, beliefs, and practices." Do y'all see the glaring flaw here? The early church is not the 'essential norm' by which we are judged, Christ is! I can't emphasize this enough! Why do we form an ethical system based on Paul's teachings, when we could go directly to Christ himself? Paul is merely a guide to applying Christ, and he says so over and over again!

The apostles and their followers merely applied Christ's example to the situations they confronted. We can learn an awful lot from those early Christians, but we are judged by our devotion to Christ alone. In what way is using a musical instrument during praise an un-Christlike action? How does the nonuse of musical instruments merit affirmation, when many other important issues do not? Its silly to assume that each individual command given by an apostle to an early church applies to all churches equally, as they faced a wide variety of problems and situations.

Also, when exactly did the 'Early Church' cease to exist? At what historical point did it cease to become 'early'? Our knowledge of the 'early' Church is very vague, and dangerously unreliable. We spend a lot of time focusing on those 'early' churches it seems, and not enough time focusing on Christ himself.


Fajita said...

Ash, My favorite part of your response was this:

"The early church is not the 'essential norm' by which we are judged, Christ is!"

I do find that nciting non-c of C dudes in the C of C affirmation weird. OK, they did not call it the C of C affirmation, but who are we trying to fool anyway?