This is written from a friend who we were fortunate enough come sweeping through Ohio about eight years ago (has it been that long!) for a yearlong stay. Jason and Emily made Alum Creek their church home for about a year, and one of the best parts of living in a super-connected world, is that we’ve been able to remain friends. We even got to catch up last November while we were in California. Here’s Jason’s thoughts.
I came to faith in my last year of college at Pepperdine at the (then) Malibu Church of Christ after growing up in a non-Christian home. Thus, a Church of Christ was my first real adult exposure to Jesus and a fellowship of Christ followers and I’m grateful it was. I was baptized shortly thereafter, eventually graduated from law school and then began my legal career back east in Ohio, Washington DC, Boston; eventually moving back to Los Angeles where my family and I rejoined the university church.
Because of all the moving around (five times in eight years) we’ve had to learn to adjust quickly to churches and to maintain an open mind about certain things. But having been at a non-denominational mega church (McLean Bible Church) in the DC area, a small Church of Christ in Ohio, a Southern Baptist church in Maryland followed by a North American Conference Baptist church in Massachusetts, all interspersed with a number of very small Church of Christ congregation visits, I believe we have a good sense of what draws us to the Churches of Christ.
The first reason I am a member now of the Churches of Christ is the critical theological doctrine of beliver’s baptism by immersion. Assuming of course that a Christian is seeking a church that is “Bible believing” in the sense that they hold to traditional orthodox views as tested against Scripture — and I don’t mean everything has to be literal, but I do mean everything has to be considered inspired — that leaves in some ways a fairly limited arena of disagreement among Christian churches for critical things that matter. Because the Bible suggests to me that believer’s baptism is the central subservient act of obeisance in conjunction with salvation, it’s one of the few critical theological points on which I disagree with other brothers and sisters with whom I otherwise share much of the same fundamental theology. Churches of Christ are, in my experience, universally wedded to believer’s baptism by immersion and so I always knew what I was getting when we moved and found a new church. It remains a critical point.
The other reasons are more nuanced. I like the emphasis on Elder spiritual leadership but disconnect from a central governing body. I like the adherence to rigid Elder requirements even when they are inconvenient. It’s not that I haven’t known wonderful people with leadership qualities and hearts after the Lord who are divorced men, childless men, or even women. But because I respect Scriptural fidelity I need to be in a congregation that respects it too. And it’s easier to see Scriptural fidelity when it’s unpopular. It’s a testament to our scriptural fidelity that we maintain fairly consistent theological points of view without the systematic theology many other Christian denominations maintain. This sometimes worries me but that’s a subject for another time.
I like weekly Communion; I like the invitation; and I vastly prefer the a capella singing. This is not only because I think it sounds better (as no other church I’ve been in that uses instruments can — or even tries to — carry four parts harmony), it is also because it makes me feel like the congregation is more involved in the worship. Not all, but in many other worship services I’ve been to that employ instruments or a praise band, I end up feeling like I’m at a performance, rather than participating in worship. In those situations, I feel disconnected from the worship experience and instead feel like I am being entertained.
I don’t think our churches are perfect. None are — instituted by God and Bride of Christ though they may be, the Church is still staffed by human beings in a fallen world. But the combination of sound scriptural fidelity, the decentralized leadership, strong emphasis on believer’s baptism by immersion, and the worship style all make me most comfortable in Churches of Christ.
While I agree in removing impediments to faith, I don’t agree with doing so for the sake of harmonizing with 21st Century American social ideas, many of which run counter to clearly espoused scriptural standards. (And there are numerous other churches God can use, should He so choose, that have done so). Thus, it may be that exactly what makes me comfortable there makes our fellowships less comfortable to unchurched people. I’ll be interested to read everyone else’s perspectives on this point. It’s a discussion, I think, into which we should invite a healthy tension.