Archive for the ‘ICOC’ Category

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Taking Risks for Unity

October 25, 2007

A mainline church of Christ is hosting a joint service with an ICOC congregation:

We are hosting the International Church of Christ congregation here at our building Sunday. Their minister and I have been talking for a long time. He’s a wonderful man and a lover of God and Jesus. This great church wants to make an impact in the world. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet I have heard from several in the community (not our church) how they can’t believe we are hosting them.

It’s a shame that some people are not open to this sort of thing. I am convinced that our Lord wants us to do things like this. Kudos to these two congregations for ignoring the flack and setting a great example. And thanks to John for bringing this to my attention.

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Observations

October 18, 2007

I’ve received a wide range of responses to my previous post, and to several private conversations about the topic of the ICOC Plan for United Cooperation.

By far most of the responses I have received have been expressing agreement with my concerns. That might be because of the type of folks who are regular readers of this blog. But regardless, it indicates that these views are shared by many people in many places.

One responder thought that I should have been more clear that I was only stating my own personal view, and that I was not speaking for anyone else. I thought I had made that clear, but perhaps I could have been more clear about it. Certainly, on a controversial topic like this one, people don’t want faulty assumptions to be made about their personal views. That is one reason I wanted to express my own views clearly and publicly.

Some of those who have ratified the Plan have nevertheless shown kindness and understanding toward me and my views. They have made a sincere effort to understand why I feel this way, and have not acted as though they thought my views are completely without merit. They have insisted that they will not let the Plan interfere with our relationship. They have acknowledged that the Plan document is imperfect and should not be a criterion for cooperation. Some ratifiers have even expressed that they believe the Plan document has outlived its usefulness.

Some of the responses from ratifiers puzzle me. They argue they had no intention of creating a faction, and that the cooperation they call for is a good thing. For them, it seems that the end justifies the means. I fully acknowledge that they did not set out to create a faction. But to me, it is an observable fact that there is a faction as a result of the Plan. As a result there is a line in the sand, with the two groups harboring uneasy feelings toward each other. There are disrespectful comments being thrown around in both directions over this issue. It does not have to be like this. I fully agree that there are worthy efforts on which we could cooperate. We can accomplish that end through better means. Let’s take the document out of the way so that anyone who wishes can cooperate on those good works.

Several of the ratifiers have indicated that they will call or otherwise communicate with me about the document, or have been asked to do so by third parties, but have not yet done so. I want to believe that they are just busy with other issues in their lives, and that they will make the effort to communicate in the near future. In my more cynical moments I fear that they are avoiding what they think may be a difficult conversation. Life is easier when you don’t have to communicate with people who hold opposing views. Of course a Christian (and especially a minister or elder) does not have the option of avoiding such conversations. But maybe they view this conversation as one they can avoid. I would like to encourage those folks to give me a call. It will not be a difficult conversation. I have neither delusions nor intentions to persuade them that their view is wrong and mine is right. I only want to discuss how we can cooperate despite the disagreement. My views are a matter of public record. If my paper persuades someone, fine. But I do not intend to be a pain about it. So please call. Let’s make every effort toward unity. I promise to be nice!

I have seen evidence that there is an undercurrent of unhealthy attitudes towards other congregations on the topic of the Plan, in many if not all of our congregations. Several speakers at the ILC made derogatory public comments about non-ratifying churches. That is the tip of the iceberg. What is being said publicly is also being said privately. Those public comments tend to spread and give legitimacy to those unhealthy attitudes, on both sides of the issue. We need to stop the unhealthy talk.

I will continue to support cooperation with other congregations. I would like to cooperate with the ratifying congregations on many levels. But I cannot give my allegiance to anyone but Christ, and I cannot endorse any standard for life and doctrine other than the Scriptures. With that in mind, I will cooperate with those congregations to whatever extent they permit.

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ILC and the Plan for United Cooperation

October 11, 2007

Update Sept 20, 2009: We are affirming the August 2009 revision of the cooperation plan.

Update, Tuesday October 30: I’ve posted a clarification and apology for leaving the impression that I was passing judgment on those who ratified the agreement.

Update, Saturday October 27: See my more recent article appealing for a solution, posted at Mission Memo.

The following is a paper I submitted this morning to be considered for publishing at Disciples Today: (pdf)

Why I Cannot Ratify

the ICOC Plan for United Cooperation

Alan Rouse


Introduction

I have just returned from the 2007 International Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. The past few days have been filled with inspiring messages, practical teaching, vibrant singing, and encouraging fellowship. As always, the fellowship with much-loved brothers and sisters was the highlight of the conference. I am very encouraged to confirm that we continue to share all of the important things in common. We hold to the same core doctrine. We are striving toward the same goal and are engaged in the same mission. We are facing many of the same challenges. We continue to learn from one another as we try various ways to meet the needs in each of our home congregations. I believe God is at work in every church. He is not finished with any of us yet. We are His sons and daughters, and for that reason we are united.

Throughout the conference, both in the scheduled sessions and in the fellowship, the Plan for United Cooperation was a frequently visited topic. Roughly 70% of the former ICOC congregations have ratified the Plan. Based on public comments by speakers as well as on numerous side conversations at the ILC, it is clear that many of those who have ratified the Plan do not understand why 30% of the churches have chosen not to ratify. The natural human tendency is to fill that void of understanding by assuming the worst. Those negative assumptions can destroy the unity between churches. While I cannot speak for all those who have not ratified the Plan, I believe it would be better for the sake of unity to explain why I cannot ratify. It is in that spirit that I am writing this paper.

Creating a faction

The first sentence in the Plan for United Cooperation states:

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.

To accomplish that purpose, the document defines shared doctrinal beliefs and a federated organization of churches. Those who ratify the Plan will make up a functioning organization within the larger Christian church, through a system of delegates and regional discipling groups. The Plan defines who is in and who is out. Those who are in will interact and cooperate in a defined way. Those who are on the outside will be excluded from participation in many important ways. By definition, this is a faction within the body of Christ.

Creating a faction within the church is a very serious matter. The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, warns us that those who create factions within the church will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).

The church in Corinth was going down this road, forming factions behind Paul, Peter, and Apollos, different leaders with different styles and methods. Note that these men all believed in Jesus, called Jesus their Lord, and proclaimed the same gospel. But there were differences of style and method. And factions were forming based on those differences.

This lead to Paul’s admonitions in the first four chapters of the first Corinthian letter. Paul wrote that they must have no divisions among them, despite their acknowledged differences in style and method. In 1 Cor 3:10-15, Paul lays down the standard for dealing with different approaches to church building. First, there can be only one foundation, and that is Christ. But there can be variations in the manner of building on that foundation. Some methods are superior to others. The superior methods are determined, not by short term results, but by being tested by fire on the Day. Then in chapter 4 he says:

1Co 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.


1Co 4:6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.


Paul admonished the Corinthians to stop aligning behind certain leaders, and to stop passing judgment on their methods. Likewise, we are to accept those who practice different methods of church-building, without passing judgment. And we are instructed not to form factions based on such differences.

Christian Unity and the Plan


Gal 3:26-29 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

It was wonderful to witness nine people being added to the church on Sunday afternoon of the ILC. Nine precious souls were added to the Lord’s church as they made Jesus their Lord and were immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Before being baptized, each person in turn was asked the same two questions. First, they were asked if they believe the basic gospel facts about Jesus. Then they were asked to confess that Jesus is their Lord. They were not asked their position on the Plan. They were not asked what they believe about the role of women in the church, nor about their position on divorce and remarriage, nor about any other issue on which we might have a strong opinion. They were only asked those two questions about Jesus. That is consistent with biblical instructions about salvation:

Mar 16:15-16 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.


Rom 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.


Making Jesus Lord encompasses repentance. It goes beyond simple repentance, because when Jesus is Lord you will continue to repent in the future, each time you become aware of a new area of sin in your life. Becoming a son of God does not require knowing every matter over which one needs to repent. What it does require is a commitment to continue to learn the Lord’s will and to obey what is being learned.

So Christian conversion involves three things:

  1. belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins;

  2. making Jesus the Lord of your life; and

  3. being baptized into Jesus.

As stated in Gal 3:26-29, when we do that we become sons of God. All who have done so are one in Christ Jesus, and are heirs of the promise of God. And all who are sons of God are our brothers in Christ.

The members of our family of congregations are not the only ones who have done this. We are not the only sons of God. In fact, we are only a small minority of those who have been adopted as sons of God. In particular, the mainline churches of Christ and the independent Christian churches teach the same conversion doctrine. Those who have obeyed that same gospel are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have no right to treat any of them as second class members of the family. It may well be true that we have discovered some more effective methods and materials for building a church (although our losses in recent years suggest that improvements were needed!) But as I’ve already discussed, we are prohibited from forming factions based on preferred methodologies. So we must not build walls between us and them. We must not define a faction excluding them.


To bring about unity among all Christians (that’s what we all want, right?), we need to take down barriers and to eliminate unnecessary distinctions between groups of Christians. The Plan for United Cooperation does the opposite.

As one who has made Jesus Lord, I cannot in good conscience ratify a document that, in my view, creates a faction in the church. This is a matter of conscience and a salvation issue for me. Those who would persuade me to ratify anyway are urging me to place myself under the condemnation of Romans 14:

Rom 14:19-23 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.


United Cooperation


The churches in the southeast never stopped being united and cooperating during the past few years, despite the fact that these churches have not ratified the Plan. We continue to take up special contributions to support missions. We meet periodically to discuss funding for missions in Africa and the Caribbean. We have sent members to visit churches we are helping in Africa. We have brought in speakers from around the world to share with our congregation. We have jointly organized and attended multiple regional conferences, both for leaders and for the whole membership. Each summer our children come together from these same congregations to attend a summer camp together, as members from these congregations take time off work to work in the kitchen and in many other ways to make the camp experience a success. The elders from my congregation have visited 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 had joint services with some of the nearer congregations. We have had joint teen activities, joint campus activities, joint single activities… All of these things continue to take place without the need to sign a document written by men.

The Way Forward


I completely trust the motives of those who proposed the Plan for United Cooperation, and those who have ratified it. I ask for the same trust in return. There were some important goals that I believe motivated the Plan, including a desire to continue providing needed support for missions, to sharpen one another through discipling relationships, and to encourage one another to continue carrying out the Great Commission. I think we would all be better off to stop talking about the Plan for United Cooperation, and to talk instead about those important goals behind the Plan. The Plan, while well-intentioned, is an obstacle for some of us. In the spirit of love, I appeal to the ratifiers of the Plan to include the non-ratifiers in the process, and to take the obstacle out of the way.

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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.