In the final class I taught in my series on the Restoration Movement, we discussed the previous week’s interview with Chris Bacus, a local Christian Church minister. Some of my comments may not have been thought through very thoroughly, so I clarified my thoughts with Chris. Below is our correspondence that I hope you find beneficial.
It seems I got myself into a bit of a pickle in class last night by stating that “I admired that it seemed that significant differences could exist between Independent Christian Church congregations that in Church of Christ circles would lead to disfellowshipping each other, while the ICC seemed to be able to still call each other brethren while disagreeing.”
That was probably an overstatement on my part. I expect Anchor would have a hard job working closely with a church that had women leading prayers, and the Lord’s Supper in a side room after the main worship service. I’m also sure that some Bible Colleges are pegged as conservative and liberal and some churches wouldn’t sent their kids to particular ones.
However, I also sense that Christian Churches are more willing to say that some of those issues are “opinion” rather than “faith” and are reluctant to write them off as unfaithful congregations. I also know that not all of the Christian Churches in and around my wife’s hometown of Kokomo, IN are a result of geography, so splits and disagreements occur. But I also get the feeling that the NACC provides a unifying focus that all these churches can, and do, attend and worship together. Whereas the CoC has several different lectureships and if you go to one you’d be out of place at another. I understand all groups have a spectrum of views, it’s just a question of how solid the divisions on the spectrum are.
Our CoC congregational directory divides churches into several groups. We also get a lot of newsletters come through the church office criticizing other congregations. I get the feeling this spirit of criticism is more prevalent among CoCs.
I have now finished teaching that class, so we’re on to new topics, but any clarification you’re able to add would be appreciated.
Your “pickle statement” is, to my knowledge, technically accurate. I have never heard of one congregation disfellowshipping another congregation among the Christian churches. However, I certainly know of churches that have done so tacitly. As you note, churches split. Beaver Rd Church of Christ split three times before I got here. And I’m sure the those churches had little to do with one another, at least for a cooling off period. I do recall that we played softball against one another and it was a friendly game for the most part. My home church was a less-than-amicable “plant” from a church down the road — there was a geographical component, not just hard feelings — but I heard very little about the existence of the “mother” congregation. I think the leaders bore some ill will to the church from which they immigrated. However, today (30 yrs later), they do quite a bit together. All those old leaders are gone.
I’m not sure that your wondering about Anchor Christian Church having a tough time working closely with another Independent Christian Church that had markedly different perspectives on issues is actually the case. The closest congregation like us is in Victor. They have had women ministry leaders (in the past, at least) and sincerely believe there is no problem with that Scripturally. While we were surprised that a faithful congregation could hold such a viewpoint, and while we discussed it among our elders and agreed that we disagreed with them, we did not cut them off at all. We still work in the Camp together, and offered to help them financially when they were having a tough time of it, etc. They are faithful in preaching the true NT gospel, and that’s what makes us one.
We might vehemently disagree on other things, but if that is the same, I guess we don’t feel like we have the luxury (or authorization from the Lord) to cut them off. So your statement that Christian Churches are more willing to say that some of those issues are “opinion” rather than “faith” and are reluctant to write them off as unfaithful congregations is truly accurate and the operational strategy.
You’re probably giving the NACC too much credit. It’s really an resource for inspiration and information, but I don’t know that people think of it as a force for unification. Maybe the Bible colleges do that some, in that the preachers have a common, shared, kind of “boot camp” experience, even if they didn’t attend the same college. They are all quite challenging and instill a sense of call and mission, and thus camaraderie. But it really seems to me that the unity comes from the shared Gospel message (including the 5 steps of salvation, though not under that name, label, or even schema). If we’re in agreement on the essentials, we are brothers and that’s it. If God accepts someone, I must accept them, even thought I may not like what they think about other issues. The issues of women’s roles, worship styles, even inerrancy have threatened unity on a wider scope than just intracongregational (where splits over issues do occur), but on an intercongregational range, those just don’t seem to occur very much. What unites us is much stronger than what divides us somehow. I know of no ICC paper or publication in my lifetime that has named another ICC person or congregation as one to be shunned.
Finally, let me add that my initial comments may better reflect the state of affairs between Churches of Christ in other parts of the country than here in Rochester, NY. I have ministered with a church in Mississippi that has been completely disfellowshipped by another Church of Christ a couple of miles down the road. (We also frequently receive newsletters to the church office criticising other preachers and churches.) In contrast, it has been my observation in Rochester that in many cases even where new churches have begun as a result of a church split, there continues to be support for each other’s Gospel meetings, and we now have a regular city wide ministers meeting that is well attended.
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