Archive for the ‘ICOC’ Category

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Back from the ILC

October 11, 2007

I’ve just returned home from the International Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. I was only willing to pay for one day of hotel internet access ($12.95) which I did on Monday, so I’m now backlogged on my blogging and email. Please bear with me as I get caught up. I plan soon to have some comments on the conference itself, the status of the ICOC PLan for United Cooperation, and some other unity-related observations from the conference.

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Church Autonomy

September 7, 2007

I still owe you a concluding article in the Proposal for Unity series. But today I am going to write about a different matter.

Two years ago, a group of prominent leaders from the former ICOC congregations began an effort to re-unite these churches on the basis of a doctrinal statement, a system of delegates, and regional discipleship groups. The response has been mixed, as some congregations questioned the wisdom of having a doctrinal statement other than the scriptures, as well as the biblical validity of the proposed organizational structure. The difference in the two perspectives centers on creeds and church autonomy.

Recently, a member of the group that drew up the proposal wrote an article about the current status of the proposal. One statement in the article spotlights the issue of autonomy:

We are not a movement of autonomous churches. We interact, encourage, correct, and love one another. While it was obviously time to put aside the structure of the 1990’s where one man was in charge world-wide, most of us did not want to revert to total separation and autonomy. We have functioned for years as circles of churches. The current arrangement of a brotherhood of churches looks promising.

It is my opinion that this perspective is an overreaction to what was seen in the mainline churches of Christ. But I think that overreaction illustrates a misunderstanding of autonomy.

Churches of Christ do not have a corner on the market of church autonomy. Baptists also have a strong conviction on this topic. We can gain a valuable perspective on the meaning of autonomy from them. Quoting from baptistdistinctives.org:

Autonomy means that each Baptist church, among other things, selects its pastoral leadership, determines its worship form, decides financial matters and directs other church-related affairs without outside control or supervision. Baptist denominational organizations such as associations of churches and state and national conventions have no authority over a Baptist church. For any one of these organizations to attempt to exercise control over an individual church is to violate a basic Baptist conviction about polity.

Comparing this Baptist concept of autonomy to the stark denial of autonomy quoted previously raises concerns. Under the Unity Proposal, who chooses leadership of the local congregation? Who determines the details of the worship service? Who decides financial matters? What church-related affairs would be controlled or supervised by someone outside the local congregation? Is it the goal of the Unity Proposal to take control of these decisions away from the local congregation?

As far as I can tell, based on this definition, even the congregations who ratified the Unity Proposal are actually operating autonomously, as much as they hate that word. Nobody outside these churches is making decisions for them. Although they deny it, these churches are clearly autonomous, by the generally accepted definition of the term.

And wherever that is not the case, it should be.

Act 20:28-31 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Note that the Holy Spirit appointed the Ephesian elders as overseers of the church in their city. Paul charged them to care for the flock, and to protect the flock from wolves. Notice the conspicuous absence of any organizational authority outside Ephesus. Even the apostle Paul himself would never see them again. These elders must give an account to God for the flock (Heb 13:17) They were under the authority of God, not some man-made worldwide federation. And so it should be today.

Part of the controversy over autonomy among the former ICOC is semantics. There certainly is a widely held desire to work together on world missions, to exchange visiting preachers, to maintain unity of doctrine, and to urge one another to live lives worthy of the calling we have received. Along with that, there seems to be an unhealthy desire among some to exert undue influence over other congregations. Those who seek that undue influence should redirect their energies toward the flock that God has placed under their care. All of the healthy goals of the ICOC Unity Proposal can better be achieved (and are being achieved in many places) without ratifying a man-made doctrinal agreement, and without organizing a man-made federation of churches.

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Progress Toward Unity in Omaha

July 2, 2007

I’ve been advocating for some time that Christians do not have to agree on every subject in order to do God’s work together. Here is a great example of how that can be done. The Omaha Church of Christ (a congregation from the ICOC) and the Southwest Church of Christ (an a cappella congregation of the mainline churches of Christ) cooperated together on a vacation Bible school. Quoting from the Southwest Church of Christ’s youth minister’s blog:

Two churches uniting to do something in the name of Christ (Omaha Church of Christ joined us this evening, and they are GREAT folks!!!)

Met more great folks from Omaha Church of Christ. Our members are building great relationships with them. Unity ran high.

Congratulations to these two congregations of God’s people for setting a great example in unity!

Thanks to Pinakidion for bringing this encouraging news to my attention.

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Conservative?

January 22, 2007

This past Friday and Saturday, the elders, deacons, and some other older men in our congregation shared in a retreat. On Saturday I spoke to the group about being devoted to one another, from Rom 12:10. Setting the stage for this passage, I shared some thoughts about the church at Rome which I also shared here in my previous post. Then I made the point that “one another” includes more than just congregations sharing our background as part of the ICOC. I specifically mentioned the mainline churches of Christ and the independent Christian churches as two groups that practice biblical conversion including baptism into Christ. Members of these churches have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection, just as we have. And if we are all alike united with Christ, we must therefore be united with one another. So therefore these groups are part of the “one another” to whom we should show philostorgoi, the kind of love that is seen in a close family.

The message was well received by all who were present. Then on the next day, one of the deacons spoke to me very briefly about that point. He indicated that the message caused him to reconsider his impression of me being conservative. He said that my comment about these other Restoration Movement groups was not conservative, but “aggressive”. Time did not permit us to discuss this in more depth at the time. But it made me think about what it means to be conservative.

I suppose his original impression of me as a conservative must come from my views on things like Bible study, the role of women, and children in worship. On all those topics I have publicly taught what he might consider a conservative understanding. And I think he regarded my comments on Saturday about the other Restoration Movement groups as progressive rather than conservative.

The primary definition of conservative at answers.com is:

1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

That definition presents a paradox in my case. In many areas I have advocated returning to traditional views that have been abandoned for a decade or two. I favor the traditional views, and therefore I advocate change. Is that being conservative?

Many of the beliefs I have blogged about on this site come from what I consider a conservative view of scriptures. The “traditional views and values” are defined by scripture, and we don’t have a right to change them. So I don’t think I have a right to make rules not found in scripture. And I don’t think I have a right to draw lines of fellowship not drawn in scripture. I make every effort to hold to those principles rigorously. To me, that seems very conservative. But those conservative principles lead me to positions that some people consider liberal. (permitting musical instruments in worship, for example).

In my opinion, the ICOC congregations in the past drew lines of fellowship in some unjustified places. (This area has been changing in many congregations, but it needs a stronger and more public focus.) Based on my conservative view of the scriptures, I do not think all the lines that were drawn in the past can be defended biblically. I strongly advocate change in that area. I guess that makes me a progressive-conservative.

Whatever the label, let’s aggressively work to take down walls that God did not erect.

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Beneath the Surface

September 21, 2006

I think there is another current running below the surface in the ICOC Unity Proposal debate.

On one side there are people who fear that, without structure and regulation, people will not do the right thing, and entire groups will wander off into apostasy. To prevent that, they seek a way to exert influence, causing people to make correct choices. Those on the extreme edge of this mindset seem to be trying to make the decision for the others, to ensure they don’t make the wrong decision. Those who have this mindset try to spell out what everyone should do, and use all means necessary to cause them to do those things.

On the other side are people who believe God wants followers who serve out of a cheerful and willing spirit, and not under compulsion. They reason that God certainly could compel us to be a certain way, but he has not. Since He has not done so, they conclude that it would be wrong for us to supply the missing compulsion. Instead they endeavor to set forth the truth plainly and let the Word do the work in individual people’s consciences.

Those practicing the former approach presume that they know what is best, but that others do not. They trust their own motives and wisdom, but not those of others. In that model, the leader becomes the benevolent (hopefully) monarch. The monarch exercises authority for the good (hopefully) of all. The good of the people hangs on the leader being right, and having the right heart. As the history of Israel illustrates, (see 1 and 2 Kings), human leaders in this model eventually go bad and lead their followers to destruction.

In the latter approach, there is a risk of chaos, as each individual follows his own conscience. But eyes of faith can see the Word of God creating order out of the chaos. Even while some people “go bad,” others are moved by the Word to seek and to obey God.

These two philosophies lead to two very different concepts of unity. The former seeks unity by aligning everyone with the orthodox beliefs and practices, using direct control and manipulation if needed. In this philosophy, the goal is compliance. The latter seeks unity by advocating patience and tolerance while each person works out his own salvation. The former puts the responsibility on a man or a group of men to make it happen. The latter relies on the Word of God to draw people toward unity.

Jesus allowed the rich young ruler to walk away. He presented the truth, and then let him make a decision. I believe that is the example we should be following. We should extend the freedom to choose and to learn, rather than demanding compliance. And we should acknowledge our own need to learn as well.

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Unity and the Former ICOC

September 19, 2006

I long for the unity of God’s people. I pray for it and blog for it. I search the scriptures to find what God wants me to do toward it. I strive to forgive and I appeal to others to forgive and to take down walls. Unity of the believers is a major aim of my service to God. Unity is my passion and my calling.

So why have I not consented to signing the Plan for United Cooperation (also known as the Unity Proposal) submitted by a committee from the former ICOC congregations?

In a nutshell, I believe the proposal is an effort of fallible human wisdom to condense the Word of God into a few pages, specifying the principles that really matter, in the opinion of the writers. It is being used to define a subset of churches that are alike in their views on particular issues. By definition, it forms a faction in the Lord’s church. The first sentence of the document says:

The purpose of the following paper is to affirm and enhance the unity of the family of churches known, since 1992, as the International Churches of Christ.

But biblical unity is not formed by signing documents written by men. The writers acknowledge that the churches they seek to unite are not the only Christian congregations. While they use the term “unity,” the thing they seek to create will unfortunately be a faction. And Gal 5:19-21 warns us that people who create factions in the Lord’s church will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Yesterday the committee published an article outlining the state of their effort to reorganize the former ICOC churches under that proposal. In October the initial meeting will be held of delegates representing the signing congregations. That meeting will be held at this year’s International Leadership Conference in Virginia. At this conference will be signers and non-signers. On the positive side, there will be several speakers from non-signing congregations. But unfortunately the non-signers who attend can expect to be lobbied to sign. Quoting from yesterday’s article:

We will continue to make every effort to reach out to the congregations that have not affirmed the Plan for United Cooperation, and we pray they will cooperate.

For some of us that would amount to pressure to violate our consciences. I hope they will refrain from that.

Also quoting from the same article:

Thank you for your faith in the call to respectful cooperation, your hope in a new and mature unity based on the humble acknowledgement that we need one another, and your ongoing love for the mission to go into all the world with the gospel.

This statement exposes the error in the thinking embodied in the proposal. Our faith is not to be in the call of these men but in the promises of God. Our hope is not to be in their definition of unity but in salvation. And the love that identifies the church is not the love of a mission, but the love for one another as Jesus loved us. When Paul wrote of faith, hope, and love, he had in mind something different.

A few weeks ago, congregations from across the southeast met in Columbia to talk about financial support for missions in Africa and the Carribbean. This meeting was not the result of signing any document. In fact, as it turned out, none of the represented congregations have signed the unity proposal. Instead, this meeting came about naturally based on relationships between believers, their common devotion to the Lord’s work, and their common need to determine the best way to carry out that work.

The Columbia meeting is only the latest in a series of things being done in cooperation between these congregations. Earlier this year a conference was held in Columbia which was attended by many from these same congregations. This summer our children came together from these same congregations to attend a summer camp together, as members from these congregations took time off work to work in the kitchen and in many other ways to make the camp experience a success. Later in the summer, the elders from my congregation spent a weekend visiting with the elders of one of these churches in another state to share experiences and encourage one another. Leaders from several of these churches are attending the Athens Institute of Ministry together to deepen their understanding of God’s Word. We have exchanged speakers from time to time with some of these churches. We have had joint services with some of the nearer congregations. We have had joint teen activities, joint campus activities, joint single activities… All of this took place without the need to sign a document written by men.

It is my deep desire to see our fellowship in the southeast expanded beyond the former ICOC congregations. Everyone whom God has adopted as a son is my brother, and I want complete unity with every such person. To see that come about, we need to take down barriers and to eliminate unnecessary distinctions. This document has the opposite effect.

I certainly want to be united with those who have signed this document. It is my hope and prayer that the distinctions they are now creating will quickly dissolve and the believers in Christ will all come together as one, united by their faith in God and their common Saviour.

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Baptized into One Body

February 7, 2006

1 Cor 12:12-13 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The Corinthian church was plagued with an assortment of spiritual problems. Several of the problems Paul addressed in 1 Corinthans revolved around a lack of unity in the congregation. They were divided over preachers (1 Cor 1:10-12), opinions about freedom in Christ (chapters 8-10), and also over spiritual gifts (chapters 11-14). In Chapter 12, Paul addresses the underlying problem. They did not understand that, despite all their differences, they were all one in Christ. They needed one another. None of them was dispensable.

The church today would do well to learn the same lesson.

At this moment, a committee from the former ICOC congregations is considering what Paul’s instructions mean for the future relationships among these churches. A recent paper from this group (“Hyper-Autonomy: Abandoning Independence for Interdependence”) points to 1 Cor 12:13 and asks, “How strongly do we truly believe ‘we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.’ ” The article appeals to these churches to be interdependent upon each other, rather than existing in isolation. Quoting from the article:

Decisions we make about the relationships among churches actually indicate our convictions about the church being the family of God and the body of Christ.

That is a strong statement indicating a deep conviction on the part of the writers. We must have relationships between congregations that demonstrate we are one Body and one family.

However the paper stops short of satisfying that conviction. The scope of interdependence advocated in the article extends only to the former ICOC congregations. Are there not many other churches in which people are being baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ? Of course there are. I am persuaded that these former ICOC congregations, and the members of this committee, realize that the Body of Christ extends to many more people than just the former ICOC congregations. But the parochial thinking among these churches still persists. We need to broaden our view. We must reach out to our brothers and sisters whom we have ignored in the past 25 or so years. Our heritage in Christ goes back much farther than 25 years. And our Christian family extends far beyond the borders of the former ICOC churches.

We were all baptized by one Spirit into one Body. We are one family. Let’s demonstrate our conviction in these things by building relationships with all our brothers and sisters.