I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard “Simplicity” named as a value within Churches of Christ, yet it exudes from each and every historical pore. Perhaps the value is best represented in our pioneers’ pursuit of “common sense” theology & philosophy. Consider the numerous ways the Restoration Movement has sought to distinguish itself from other churches.
- We rejected human creeds as extra-biblical with with simple slogans such as “No creed but Jesus”, and “Bible names for Bible things”.
- We taught against denominational structures in favour of self-autonomous congregations (not a Bible term).
- The Restoration Movement has always emphasised the priesthood of all believers, and the ability of each individual to interpret Scripture for him/herself. This contrasts with denominations who have an ordination process for their clergy, dress them in robes, and call them by a title.
- The leadership of local congregations rests with elders and deacons appointed according to the Biblical criteria of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. There is no elected board or constitution to negotiate.
- Churches of Christ have seldom attempted to build cathedrals. Most church buildings have emphasised simplicity and rejected stained glass, paintings and ornaments as distractions and potentially idols.
- Congregational singing has been a historical value and the introduction of specialists, either soloists or choirs, has resulted in controversy. The reason for emphasising congregational singing is to allow each member to worship from the heart. (And I’m sure in some circles a belief that if anyone omits an act of worship they’re sinning.)
All of these customs reveal an underlying value of simplicity, whether this term is ever used or not. The Restoration Movement was all about Simple Church even before the book was written.
In my experience the church has rarely made the same application to Christians’ personal lives. Many preachers and church members have undoubtedly sacrificed a lot to spread the kingdom of God, but I don’t know that this has been widely preached as an expectation of the church.
Our Sunday morning Bible class is currently discussing Hicks and Valentine’s book Kingdom Come. In two chapters they demonstrate that James Harding and David Lipscomb (early 19o0’s) certainly encouraged personal simplicity. I believe this message has faded over the years. Harding himself claimed to have never had possessions that totaled more than $500. In turn, Lipscomb didn’t promote simplicity as a goal in and of itself, but championed the poor while teaching that,
“Our fellowship for one another must be of this character… The man that can spend money in extending his already broad acres, while his brother and his brother’s children cry for bread — the woman that can spend money in purchasing a stylish bonnet… merely to appear fashionable, while her sister…[is] shivering with cold…are no Christians… notwithstanding they have been baptized for the remission of sins.”
David Lipscomb (Quoted in Kingdom Come, p98.)
Both Harding and Lipscomb lived this way as a result of their conviction that God calls all Christians to live as pilgrims, or resident aliens in the world trusting in the providence of God. In The Cruciform Church (p169), C. Leonard Allen calls attention to 1 John 2:15-17.
“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” The Message
At the end of the chapter, Allen states that “The church – God’s new social order – can serve the world most faithfully and sacrificially by being the church.” (p179) He goes on to give four examples, the fourth of which states that the church should “Sound a call to greater modesty, generosity, graciousness, and simplicity of life – and look to leaders who model such a life. As “strangers and exiles” in this world, Christians are called to travel light.” (p180, italics his)
Jesus kingdom is not of this world. (Jn 18:36) We live in a society of gadgets. The advertising industry constantly entices us with the next hot thing: the thing that will truly make our lives simpler. Often we buy into the deception that more stuff will create more space. It doesn’t work. Removing stuff remains the only way to create space. When Jesus needed time with God he removed himself from his village, from his friends, from the crowds, and found the quiet space of a hillside.
I don’t want to use this post to suggest that Christians should sell everything and live under a bridge. I don’t want everyone to turn Amish. I don’t want to give the impression that God is simple, He’s not. I do want to call all Christians back to the fact that our faith and our lives orbit around God. He’s our centre. In a busy and materialistic world we need to create space to spend time with God. To listen to God. To talk with God. What have traditionally been called “spiritual disciplines” need to regain prominence in the lives of the church. It’s not enough to have simple church buildings. We need a simple faith, and a simple relationship, that allows us to tackle the complexities of life.
Hopefully, in the next couple of days I’ll put up a couple of posts on Spiritual Disciplines.
- Have you been part of a church that actively encourages members to practice spiritual disciplines? How did they do this?
- How important are personal spiritual disciplines in your life?
- Churches often promote prayer and Bible reading as standard disciplines. Are you content with the basics or is it important in your relationship with God to be creative?
- Does your relationship with God benefit more by practicing a variety of disciplines or a variety of approaches to the basics such as prayer and Bible reading?