Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sola Scriptura

By Scripture Alone

For me, this boils down to two very simple truths: I believe that the Church of Christ is the best path to salvation and I am comfortable with the Church of Christ. So lets examine these statements.
Congregational autonomy and leadership
Church government is congregational rather than denominational. Churches of Christ purposefully have no central headquarters, councils, or other organizational structure above the local church level. Rather, the independent congregations are a network with each congregation participating at its own discretion in various means of service and fellowship with other congregations Churches of Christ are linked by their shared commitment to restoration principles.  For me, this is one of the strengths of the Churches of Christ, not a failing as some would say.  We do not have a national or international convention, no sole authority other than the Bible to tell us how to govern our churches.  Many Protestant denominations meet and form new doctrines or reinforce old one, some even have great arguments over doctrinal practices that cause divisions within the churches. This is not so with the Churches of Christ.  For me, this means within my church, that I personally can make a change within my congregation if I can back that belief with the Bible.  My congregation knows me and loves me, so they will not abandon me. This may not be true of all Churches of Christ, but it should be.  We are to love one another.
Variations within Churches of Christ
While there is an identifiable mainstream within the Churches of Christ, there are also significant variations within the fellowship. The approach taken to restoring the New Testament church has focused on "methods and procedures" such as church organization, the form of worship, and how the church should function. As a result, most divisions among Churches of Christ have been the result of "methodological" disputes. These are meaningful to members of this movement because of the seriousness with which they take the goal of "restoring the form and structure of the primitive church." At my church, we don't hear sermons on hellfire and damnation, we hear sermons on how to be a better Christian; how to love our fellow men and women, and how to encourage others to do the same.

“If it's not in the Bible, then these folks aren't going to do it.”— Carmen Renee Berry, The Unauthorized Guide to Choosing a Church
Churches of Christ seek to practice the principle of the Bible being the only source to find doctrine (also known as "sola scriptura"). The Bible is generally regarded as inspired and inerrant. Also, the Churches of Christ believe strictly that the New Testament is the new covenant with God brought by Christ. Jesus, through his teachings, brought about a change in Judaism, that discarded many of the laws of the Old Testament. Therefore, those anti-gay scriptures in Genesis and Leviticus do not pertain to us today. The harshest “Christian” critics of homosexuality use the damnations of Leviticus 20:13 that states “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them.” The laws of Leviticus and its punishments in Chapter 20 are ludicrous for us today.  The laws of civilized nations do not kill children for talking back to their parents, or any of the other myriad of capital offenses described in Leviticus 20.

Doctrine of Salvation

Churches of Christ are strongly anti-Calvinist in their understanding of salvation and generally present conversion as "obedience to the proclaimed facts of the gospel rather than as the result of an emotional, Spirit-initiated conversion". Churches of Christ hold the view that humans of accountable age are lost because of their sins. These lost souls can be redeemed because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice. Children too young to understand right from wrong, and make a conscious choice between the two, are believed to be innocent of sin. The age when this occurs is generally believed to be around 13, although it varies based on maturity.

The doctrine of salvation for the Churches of Christ is fairly simple.  Basically, it is to believe and be baptized for the remission of your sins, then live a life of example as given by Christ.  Churches of Christ generally teach that the process of salvation involves the following steps:
  1. One must be properly taught, and hear (Romans 10:17, Matthew 7:24);
  2. One must believe or have faith (Hebrews 11:6, Mark 16:15–16);
  3. One must repent, which means turning from one's former lifestyle and choosing God's ways (Acts 2:38, Acts 17:30, Luke 13:3);
  4. One must confess belief that Jesus is the son of God (Matthew 10:32–33; Acts 8:36–37);
  5. One must be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 1Peter 3:20–21; Romans 6:3–5; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16); and
  6. One must remain faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10).
A cappella worship

The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church's worship service to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services. And quite honestly, even if you have a church full of people who cannot sing, such as in my church, all of the voices together, and just their voices, is the most beautiful sound in this world. I have been to other churches, some that only use a piano or organ, others that have a full band: pianos, drums, tambourines, guitars, etc., and the musical instruments only drown out the beauty of the human voice. This is a personal preference of mine, but I do love a cappella music.

Personal Comfort

Also, the Church of Christ is my family. The small country congregation that I attend usually only has a maximum attendance of 25 on a good day. It is small and intimate. I have known these people all of my life, and though nearly a quarter of them are my family, the rest are like family to me. My grandmother was raised a Baptist, as so many southerners were, and she always told me that when she was baptized into the Church of Christ that it was truly like being welcomed home. I have always felt the same way. Some larger congregations of the Churches of Christ try to be more liberal in their practices to draw in a crowd, but at the same time are more conservative in their religious views. When I have attended such churches, I have not felt at home, but those churches that keep to the core beliefs of Christian love and fellowship do feel like I am entering a safe and loving place.

In the next post, I want to look at what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality.


Ipmilat said...

What do you believe happens to those of us who don't follow the six steps?

Joe said...

VS, though I think I know what you expect me to say, I honestly don't know what happens to those who don't follow the six steps. I teach about world religions in my classes, and I think all moral and/or religious belief systems have some merit. Though many would say that I am a very bad Christian for believing that. Religion to me is a personal journey. I do not (though a lot of members of the Churches of Christ do) believe that there is only one answer and those who don't follow that answer are damned to hell. I think there are many different answers and paths and the Church of Christ was what I was raised with and it is my answer, but I know that it is not the answer for everyone. I do not believe in forcing my beliefs on someone else, but if asked, I will talk about it. I think there are a lot of mysteries to the universe that we will never know the answers to, but I have faith and that is what I personally believe.

Ipmilat said...

I'm glad to hear you have some doubts. I have just unilaterally terminated a series of exchanges with a fairly articulate christian on you tube who kept on insisting my 'world view has no validity' because I do not believe in God, and like men. It didn't matter how many arguments I put forward for a secular morality, or for possible evolutionary benefit of a non-breeding segment of a population, they just glanced off him. I don't know anyone who is a christian any more. In England if you say you are an atheist, nobody bats an eyelid. If you say you are born again, most people will quickly change the subject. I wonder how you stand living amongst so much religious certainty and hostility.

Anonymous said...

New to your blog, Joe.

I've enjoyed your posts re the Church of Christ. I was raised in the Church of Christ. And while I left it at around age 18, there are parts of it that have stayed with me the past 30 years. (I seem to recall going to one of the A Cappella Chorus meetings in California when I was around 20, in the mid eighties - a lifetime ago.)

My spiritual journey led me to the Eastern Orthodox Church, which on its face is very different than a Church of Christ. But there are some similarities that I treasure: A cappella music, a service that does not change just to be contemporary, the quietness of a church without instruments, a connection with early Christians.

The struggle is the same, though, Eastern Orthodox or Church of Christ: Why do I stay in a church that is not accepting of homosexuals. I am out in every aspect of my life except for church. Surely those in the church know I am gay. But my committed relationship to my partner is what I must hide.

The fallout is that my partner feels excluded from my church life. (He does have his own church, a very liberal Episcopal church.) And I must be on guard in what I say, "roommate" instead of "partner," "friend's parents" instead of "inlaws."

I'm looking forward to your future posts. It's nice to hear your perspective from within the Church of Christ.

Best wishes.

Joe said...

VS, I wouldn't call it doubt, but I am open to other ideas. I don't have any doubt about whether or not there is a God. Personally, I believe God guides evolution.

You wondered how I stand living amongst so much religious certainty and hostility, well, that is one of the greatest assets to being a member of the Church of Christ. I can out God the "godly." A belief of the church (which I obviously do not hold any faith in) is that if you are not a member of the Churches of Christ, then you are going to hell. Therefore when the Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons, or even the Baptists come and try to convert you, the conversation stops and they wish you a "Blessed Day" when I tell them I am a member of the Church of Christ. They have long since given up on trying to convert us. Though it is not a belief of mine, they think it is and leave me alone. The best way to deal with intolerant Christians is to, in a way, be more intolerant and holy than they are. It's not really God's way (at least I've never thought), but it works and keeps them at bay and works for me.

I have to admit, the one thing that I cannot understand is atheism. I find it hard to fathom. It is not a criticism of you or any atheist, but because I find so much comfort in my faith, it makes it hard for me to understand someone not having that. It used to make me incredibly sad when people said that they were atheist, but I have some great friends who are atheist, and I just take comfort in the idea that their ideas have validity just like everyone else. Besides, most of the atheist I know are much more moral than most of the Christians I know.

As for the "possible evolutionary benefit of a non-breeding segment of a population" I agree with you and if you want to discuss it more, feel free to email me anytime (jec1918@gmail.com). It is one of the reasons that I believe God created homosexuals and approve of them because he needed population control.

Joe said...

Dan, thanks for the comment. I can completely understand the gravitation toward the Eastern Orthodox Church. It certainly has the history that the Church of Christ cannot claim, even though they do. I have another friend who is Greek Orthodox that has mentioned the ardent homophobic attitudes of the the church. However, I think that what matters is what we are comfortable with and what we enjoy and keeps us going to church to find that solace. Those things that you mentioned that you treasure are the same things that I treasure in the Church of Christ.

I do hope you enjoy the rest of this series of posts. It's wonderful to hear from another person associated with the Church of Christ, even if it is no longer your church. The rest of my posts move a little away from being mostly centered on the Church of Christ and instead focused on what the Bible actually says about homosexuality.

Thanks again for the comment,


Mack said...

Your tradition is certainly different than mine. Although, all Christian denominations have some common threads.

I am really struck not just by the passion you have for your church, and the way you can articulate it, but also by how you can be faithful to your religious upbringing while being faithful to yourself. This shows a lot of thought and integrity on your part.

I do wonder, within such a strong congregationalist polity, if there is room for a congregation that is open and affirming of the LGBT community. Would that support the tradition or go against its tenets?

fan of casey said...

Joe: Thanks for that short summary of your church, now I understand better why you retain membership.

Here in Hawaii, we have a big mega church called New Hope. It is a Foursquare Church, an evangelical Pentecostal Christian denomination. It has grown by leaps and bounds by appealing to younger families, using modern music, and a prosperity theology (God wants you to have material wealth).

I have been recruited a number of times by church goers, and they tell me that many people attend more for the social aspects, to network, and make business contacts. This actually proved to be big turnoff for me, and reinforced my already skeptical view that so many Christians were hypocrites.

This mega church has been siphoning off members from other churches, leading to tension between them.

They held large rallies at the legislature this year as civil unions was debated, threatening political retribution to CU supporters but the bill passed easily and was signed into law in March. It does go into effect until January 2012.

Joe said...

Mack, I just hope that my passion does not come across as fanatical. This Church has been a major part of my life for so long. I have really tried hard to learn as much about it as I can. Thank you for your comments. Though as far as I know, there are no GLBT congregations, I do believe that in a larger city you could have one. The Church is governed by the local elders, not an overarching ruling organization. There is no one that can come and tell a church that they are not practicing correctly and that they cannot call themselves a Church of Christ. Will it happen someday that there is an GLBT congregation? I certainly hope so. I think many within the church would see it as going against the tenets of the faith, but I would disagree. Furthermore, I would love to be a part of that congregation.

One of the things we believe is that Biblical language should be looked at historically to understand its actual meaning (though interpretations differ), tomorrows post will look a little at that aspect of the church.

Joe said...

FOC, those mega churches really bother me. I have always thought that a church should be about helping other and teaching God's message. A lot of the churches around here are building these million dollar Family Life Centers to attract members. I know of one that has its own coffee shop, video arcade, basketball court, and bowling alley at their family life center. To me that gets away from the message. They begin to compete with each other and care more about who can have the most fabulous building, provide the most stuff, and pay their preacher the most.

My minister gets paid about $400/mo. and our minister of music (song leader) gets paid nothing. I used to be the song leader before I moved away to grad school, so I know. However, when I was in grad school one of the local churches used to send me their bulletin and their minister made a salary of $100,000 a year and the minister of music made $75,000. I find it sad that they cannot get people to come for the loving message and community, but get people by socialization, social status, political clout, and money.

I do see this as a major problem with many Christians. They think that they can lure people with many different amenities, but really there is only one amenity and that is eternal life.

By the way, and no offense to Pentecostals, Holinesses, and other charismatic churches but they make me incredibly uncomfortable. My best friend growing up was a member of one a Pentecostal church and I used to go with her to church on occasion. I was scared most of the time, and I certainly did not find any comfort.

Mack said...

Believe me Joe, I've known enough fanatics to tell the difference between passion and fanaticism.

I'm really looking forward to your take on what the Bible says about homosexuality. There's an awful lot to talk about there. There's also an awful lot that gets ignored by the religious institutions.

Joe said...

Thanks Mack. I try to be passionate about the things that I care about. I hope that you are enjoying the other posts. They will continue through Sunday.

brotherdoc said...

I am just now getting around to reading this whole sequence of stories and started from the wrong end! When you started talking about the Church of Christ I (I think naturally) thought of the United Church of Christ which is mainline Protestant body, in the Reformed tradition, and which has in the last several years become openly welcoming to gays. I was therefore baffled by the repeated references a) citing the King James Version and b) referring to the conservative interpretations being practiced by your church. But now I am getting down to the earlier stories and I think I understand. I don't think I have ever heard of or attended a stand-alone Church of Christ, guess I just always assumed anything calling itself that was a member of the UCC. So I am learning something about the great diversity of Christian traditions in America. But: if you have no bishops, no ruling assemblies or whatever, why couldn't a group of elders in your congregation get together and, after reading some of the many Christian pro-gay writings you cite (and there are many others) just decide YOUR congregation would welcome GLBT people, that you don't see any problem with it. No General Assembly, or Archbishop, or what have you is going to come down on you for reading the Bible your way....? Really, and I have wrestled with this since I was 11, (many years ago!) I believe being gay is no different than being left-handed (which I also am) and it's how God made you. You can be stupid with it or wise, just like any other gift or talent. It is not a sin to BE gay and since I am not and will never be married to a woman I am far less likely than straight people to be tempted into fornication or adultery--both (hetero)sexual sins that are talked about A LOT in the Bible.
Covered a couple of things here, really do like your site Joe and am amazed how much you get posted on here and still have a real job! God bless.