Repeating Mistakes of the Past

June 20, 2006

A recent post at restorationheritage.com led me to an interesting article by Joe Beam titled “What’s Happening to Churches of Christ?” The article is a few years old but describes dynamics that are likely to persist for some time. He describes a framework for understanding the various points of view within these churches, which is worthy of our attention.

He describes four types of churches, made up of six types of people. These types (churches and people) range from very inclusive to very exclusive in their view of people outside their type.

Starting from the most inclusive (left) and moving to the most exclusive (right), the four groups of churches are: Left Wing, Innovative, Traditional, and Right Wing.

Similarly, the six groups of members are: Exasperated, Open, Cautious, Searching, Satisfied, and Zealots.

For a more detailed description of the groups and their relationships, see the original article.

Reading Joe Beam’s article, I cannot help but be reminded of the Sand Creek Address and Declaration. In the Zealot group we have a group of very conservative Christians with a very exclusive view of the “true church” and “ancient paths”, much like Daniel Sommer and his followers in 1889. The article suggests that the Zealots sometimes celebrate when the Exasperateds leave their fellowship. That also carries the haunting echos of Daniel Sommer in the immediate aftermath of the Sand Creek event.

Then in the Exasperated group we have a group that is, well, exasperated with the narrow views of the Zealots. And you have several grades of people in-between who would like to hold things together but are finding that to be increasingly difficult–much like David Lipscomb and others who wanted to find an alternative to division 117 years ago. It seems likely that the two extremes will part company, in one way or another. It remains to be seen whether the middle can hold together, and if so, what it will look like on the other side.

I see similar factors at work in the former ICOC congregations, though from where I sit it seems that these churches are not in the same degree of crisis as the “churches of Christ” now face.

Given my strong convictions about Christian Unity, I find this whole situation very distressing. As Daniel Sommer later said after his change of heart, in the proposal known as the Rough Draft, “Can’t we all agree on something?” Specifically, once God has adopted someone as his son, he becomes a brother to all the other sons God has adopted. It has nothing to do with how many correct doctrinal positions he holds, nor with how many of the “ancient paths” he has understood correctly. He may be wrong about many things. But he is a brother to everyone who has been adopted by God. It is not our responsibility, nor our right, to attempt to purify the church by division. That is as true for the Exasperateds as for the Zealots.

Let’s learn the lessons of history. We’ve seen this movie before.


  1. A member from here in Albuquerque moved to another city a few months ago and, perhaps like I would have done, tried the local ICOC, even though it’s more or less supportive of Kip. This person got grilled essentially about whether or not they were a Real Christian (ok, “Sold Out Disciple”) and is now attending an independant Christian Church. From where I sit, some in our Fellowship Of Churches look more and more like so-called “Antis”…Of course, I guess those of us not ratifying The Plan probably look more and more like Liberals to them.I guess what I mean to say is that I’m not sure we’re that far away from Joe’s description.

  2. Hey Mark,I agree there is a lot of similarity, especially in the “gatekeeper” mentality you described. I suspect there are only a handful of congregations where that sort of thing would happen however. And within individual congregations, I don’t think there is the same level of tension in the former ICOC congregations as is seen in many mainline churches.Signing or not signing the unity proposal is another potentially volatile issue among these churches. It remains to be seen what the longterm relationship will be between the signers and the non-signers. My hope and prayer is that it will be a non-issue. Alan

  3. If there is really only “a handful of congregations where that sort of thing would happen” then we in the ICOC have really changed. Years ago, there wouldn’t have even been a handful of congregations where it wouldn’t have happened.

  4. I come from one of those 4-generation Alabama church of Christ families and now belong to what they call a “denomination.” I have heard it asked many times “Why don’t the change agents just leave, rather than stay in the church of Christ and try to change it?” I believe I have an answer to that…because their families will shun them. In many cases out-and-out officially, and in many cases almost as badly. My own family shunned me and some still are. I have heard many say “I’ve never heard of that! That’s only a few families here and there!” Well lucky you then. In the Deep South branches that are so staunch from way back, shunning is DEFINITELY practiced. I have heard many people who still attend church of Christ say that the reason they don’t go to a “denomination” is because their parents and grandparents can manage to look the other way and keep a lid on their reaction as long as their kids attend a church that has “Church of Christ” on the sign, even if it’s in small letters and it’s one of the “changed” ones…but the real gloves come off if and when that adult child (even in their 50’s) attend what they call a “denomination.” The biggest “sin” of all is attending a “denomination” because to the parents and grandparents, that is like crossing a line that the parents cannot deal with.I don’t have kids so it was easier for me to disappoint my parents and grandparents. I got shunned but I didn’t have kids asking why Granny and Grandpa didn’t let them visit or send cards anymore. People say this doesn’t happen but it does. I have heard many people say the reason they stay in a “changed church of Christ” with a very “Exasperated” attitude, fomenting change in part out of exasperation, is because their parents and grandparents will shun their little kids. Again, people say that doesn’t happen but it does. And that’s why a lot of your “change agents” don’t “just leave.”

  5. Anonymous,Thanks for sharing your story. It’s sad that we can’t all just get along, especially within our own families. I can understand the concerns about conversion doctrine (“Will my grandchildren be Christians?”) but shunning your own family does not seem to be a constructive solution.

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