Friday, July 31, 2009

What's a Church of Christ boy to do?

I recommend the post of a new blogging acquaintance, entitled "What's a Church of Christ boy to do?", found here. Dissatisfied with the limitations of Restorationist theology, he is contemplating Orthodoxy, among other options. Where he is now, I once was. His is a well-written essay, and he invites response. For those unfamiliar with Church of Christ issues, this is an excellent primer. By all means, check it out.

19 comments:

Kirk said...

Wow!

John said...

Thought you would like that one :)

s-p said...

Oh boy... did you tell him to keep his hands and feet in the gondola while the roller coaster is in motion? :)

Milton T. Burton said...

I had never before seen this particular quote by Chesterton: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”

It reminds me of what my favorite Southern writer, Florence King once said of Southerners: "When newcomers come to town we always ask ourselves, 'Who ARE they?' What we really mean is "Who WERE they?" because the Southerner instinctivly knows that the Best People are long dead."

This brought me an epiphany of sorts, an understanding that I have always been---in art and literature at least---a defender of the deceased.

Milton T. Burton said...

One commentor over there said this: "The Church of Christ believed and taught that if one came to the table without presuppositions, unencumbered with traditional assumptions and biases, then one and all could understand the clear meaning of Scripture—the blueprint—alike."

The problem here is that reason itself is a "traditional assumption and biasis" when applied to religion---traditional to the Post-Aquinal West and the Enlightenment and apparently to the C of C as well. The Medieval Roman Chruch put little stock in reason, and Jews never have. With them ALL is tradition and revelation. This unnatural elevation of reason is, I am convinced, is rooted in a retroactive application of the notions of evolution to the human past. Since evolution postulates that things get better and better all the time, it just "naturally follows" to some people that mankind today is somehow superior to his ancestors for having discovered science in the seventeenth century and rationalism in the 18th.

John said...

Good points, Milton. Most any discussion can be elevated by a quote from Florence King.

And that is my comment that you reference, by the way. You are absolutely right--the appeal to reason itself is a particular bias. Looking at it now, it seems the height of arrogance to assume that it would take enlightened 18th-century Lockean scientific rationalism to "restore" the church.

And, at last check, there are 23 comments at the above-mentioned blog. He seems to have hit a nerve.

Milton T. Burton said...

I don't doumt that he did hit a nerve.

On the subject of reason, Einstein once remarked that he spent about ten percent of his time reasoning, and the rest was dominated by instincts, urges, the mental image of the last pretty girl he's seen, and how his stomach was handling his lunch. The point being if Einstein only thought he was ruiled by reason a tenth of his waking time, it is the very essence of hubris to think the we lesser mortals are doing any better. And this includes Alecander Campbell.

Clint said...

I saw this a few days ago when you first linked to it. Sometimes I wish I were a fly on the wall and could watch folks from the CoC (at least for now) as they encounter Orthodoxy.

John said...

Clint,

Come to find out, this really started with a posting of Fr. Stephen Freeman from about July 24th. John, the CoC defender, weighed in on that discussion. This led, I think, to subsequent posts by Fr. Stephen, and somewhere in the midst of that exchange, the young man who posted the essay contributed as well. It seems his expanded essay grew out of that exchange. One thing that has surprised me is just how weak was the response John made for the CoC (I know, I know, I'm prejudiced. I'm just saying...) Somehow, I expected more than just a few variations of the "pattern theology" defense, which is weak tea, indeed.

Meanwhile, the comments are still coming--40 at last count. I have a theory that the CoC can prime people for Orthodoxy, and the interest level at that posting bears that out.

James the Thickheaded said...

Ex-Anglican, I'm curious about the CoC's "mind thing"... and how much this is the approach?

As someone whose nephew's suffered and suffers "issues" or "special needs" depending on how you view things, I just couldn't accept a faith that only served up a Heaven as a sort of Mensa Club extension meeting. "Beatific contemplation" ain't gonna do it, nor twenty-five slices of grace either. And let's not even deal with those who suffer depression... for whom simply just lifting their heads and not shooting themselves is a major act of faith.

So do they operate on the thesis that in truth, Heaven grades on a curve or something for these folks? Do they have a God who gives "To each according to their needs" and judges "each according to their abilities"? I know it's Marxist sort of god... but hey...it gets confusing. Or do they just not deal with it, and leave these folks to their own outer darkness like the those wandering outside Hell in Dante's Inferno somehow unworthy of contempt, care, or whatever?

Or have I just missed it entirely?

John said...

James, it is actually hard to say. I say this because the Church of Christ is many things these days. You have some right-wing congregations holding to what they think is what the Church of Christ has always believed (though actually it is more akin to just the way they did it in the 1920s) and then you have other congregations, while still singing accapella and observing the “Lord’s Supper” every week, are actually no different from the nondenominational big-box churches, singing “the Days of Elijah” and “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” As I have stated elsewhere, the center doesn’t seem to be holding. That said, the “mind thing,” as you put it, is how they approach their faith. The importance is on a particular understanding of scripture, using a specific hermeneutic, believing that the New Testament is both understandable to all and self-interpreting within itself. Although perhaps only the most right-wing congregations still use the terminology of the “pattern,” that is the understanding underlying it all—namely, that the New Testament is a blueprint from which true “first-century” Christianity can be restored. This “mind thing” carries over to the Church of Christ understanding of “being saved,” or in CoC lingo “obeying the Gospel.” They teach (rightly) that baptism is for the remission of sins. If they left it there, there would be no problem. But the important thing in that event is the understanding of the one being baptized—did they know that they were being baptized for the remission of sins—the “mind thing” as you say. Often some of our good Church of Christ boys would marry Baptist girls, or visa-versa. The non-CoC spouse would be attending services regularly. The question would always come up as to whether they were a member or not, for while Baptists obviously practice believer’s baptism, the general understanding is that they were already “saved” by their profession of faith, and baptism just added them to the church. So, often the elders would have “studies” with the non-CoC spouse, usually hashing-out the whole baptism thing. Sometimes the former Baptist would readily agree that they were baptized to be saved, at which time the elders’ response was generally akin to “close enough!” But, if they persisted in believing that they were saved before baptism, then they would not generally be considered members of the Church of Christ. This approach highlights as good as anything I can think of how everything is conditioned on a particular mental understanding in the Church of Christ. Now, in answer to you question about those who have “issues” or are disturbed, mentally, most in the CoC where not so inflexible that they could allow for this—with consideration given to a person obeying to the extent of their ability to do so.
I don’t know if I have answered your question adequately or not. Hopefully, our friend Kirk, whose associations with the Church of Christ are more immediate than my own, will see what a mess of things I’ve made of this, and jump in with a better answer!

James the Thickheaded said...

John:

That's a pretty good start. And it's pretty good for me. Not looking so much for a perfect definition, as to understand what I've read in your comments, and on the linked blog.
Thanks!

Kirk said...

John, I'm going to both agree and disagree with you. (I have to be difficult.)

First of all, yes, the Church of Christ believes that the New Testament contains a pattern for the church, which is clearly understandable to all who would seek the truth. ("God is not the author of confusion" is the passage used to support this notion. I Corinthians 14:33) Hence, if two people study the Bible, they should be able to reach a consensus. If they do not, then one of them is not really seeking the truth in good faith, but desires only to support his presuppositions. ("For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." II Timothy 4:3-4). So, yes, the Bible is self-interpreting and easily understandable. (according to their way of thinking)

Having said that, a candidate for baptism is required to understand very little. The person is asked, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" (Notice a person is not required to believe that Jesus IS God.) Too, they must understand that baptism is for the remission of sins. There's a so-called "five-step plan of salvation": Hear (the gospel), Believe (that Jesus is the Son of God), Repent (which necessarily requires an understanding of the fact that a person is separated from God by sin, that they need to turn from that sin toward God), Confess (this is not a confession of sin, but the confession that Jesus is the Son of God), and be Baptized. Some will add a sixth step, "Continue to study and grow."

The Church of Christ "salvation process" is a very short one. No catechumenate or RCIA. You can hear the gospel, respond and "be saved" in one night. As a consequence, a low percentage of conversions "hold." Also, adherents may hold a variety of beliefs, and may not understand why they believe what they believe.

As to people with limited capacity, as you can see the standard of belief is pretty low. If a person is incapable of grasping these concepts, the Church of Christ would deem them, as it deems infants and children, under the grace of God, as God would not require for salvation something of a person that they are incapable of achieving.

John, what facts do you think a person is required to understand to be baptized in the Church of Christ?

John said...

Kirk, we are not really in disagreement at all, for I did not mean to imply that great understanding was required. I agree that a candidate for baptism in the Church of Christ is not required to understand much. Basically, little more is expected than that they confess Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and understand their baptism to be for the remission of sins. But even that little understanding is all important in their view of things. If a baptized believer were wanting to join the Church of Christ for instance--if they had been baptized "to be saved" then their baptism would be accepted, but if they understood that they were "saved" prior to baptism, then the Church of Christ position would be that their baptism wasn't "scriptural." So, even with the limited understanding required, the key is what the candidiate understood about their baptism.

Clint said...

I am fairly recent from the CoC...

I think you guys are actually agreeing in principle. Any disagreement is merely semantics, I do believe.

John,

as to the "defense" by pattern theology, I agree. It is not a strong defense at all.

Kirk said...

John, I realize we don't really disagree. But it is interesting that while hardly any knowledge is needed to enter "The Lord's Church," correct knowledge becomes extremely important once you are in.

John said...

Clint,

Kirk and I aren't really disagreeing--we just like to pretend we are-ha!

John said...

Excellent point, Kirk. And something you wrote earlier made me suddenly realize something. The confession one makes upon baptism in the Church of Christ: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" could just as easily be made by an Arian, couldn't it?

s-p said...

Kirk and John, Ed Wharton at Sunset School of Preaching had a whole semester on "the pattern of the NT Church" which used as its basis the word pattern Greek, "tupos" (Tupper (tupos)-ware) in the epistles (do all things after the pattern I delivered to you, etc.) Hence, the 5 acts of worship, church structure, and all the rest. It made good sense to me because we did all that stuff. The problem was, while we did the "acts", HOW they were done began to be a sticking point for me. You can have the Lord's Supper, but who says it has to be with 6 men passing out trays, you can speak to one another in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, but who says it had to be with a "song leader" and 3,prayer,sermon,invitation song? When I encountered ancient liturgy it was the same "acts" but done differently because of the sacramental nature of them and their roots in Jewish worship. So Ed Wharton was essentially correct, that we can kind of "forensically" glean from Scripture (which was largely corrective of error and issues) what the Church did in general, but it gives us no clue about the "inner life" and how those things were actually done on a day to day basis. It would be like trying to reconstruct even a church of Christ worship service in all of its nuances and traditions from the Church bulletin handed out on Sunday with the hymn numbers and order of service. You'd get the tupos or elements of the service, but not HOW it is done.