Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Restoration Roots

First off, I love that map loco thing at the bottom of the page--you guys come from all over, and it's really exciting to me to get visits from people in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, the UK, Japan, Korea, etc. Plus, every now and then, there's a hit from some place I actually know or somewhere I've lived (I was in Bethel Park, PA for about a year when I was six, and there's a regular from there). Sometimes I see places that I recognize because a friend lives there, and I always wonder, "Rachael? Is that you?" Anyway, leave a comment, let me know who you are, why you're here, will you come back?

Second order of business: My much-lauded Digg button has evaporated. It should be over there to the left. It was there the last time I checked...I'll have to look into that, but not right now, as my internet connection is acting weird.

JoEtta pointed out, correctly, that it was rather arrogant of me to insist that there aren't any good books on the Church of Christ, in a historical/theological kind of way. It turns out that there are several, but you only find out about them if you go to a Church of Christ university. She lent me several, and I just finished Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ.

It's a very interesting introductory look at the historical currents that brought about the Church of Christ, with a focus on other Restorationist groups (Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, Anabaptists, even Mormons) and how we all are different. The authors, C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes, were both professors at Abilene Christian University. They do a very fair and ecumenical job of presenting the Restorationist arguments behind each group's thoughts, and they argue repeatedly against the culture of historical blindness present in the Church of Christ. "The sweeping rejection of tradition," they write, "results not in a traditionless and culture-free faith but in a faith even more vulnerable to blind traditionalism." Brilliant stuff.

However, in the section on Anabaptists (Amish, Church of the Brethren, Hutterites, Mennonites), I was really caught off guard by what the authors described as the major difference between Anabaptists and the Churches of Christ.

"The [Anabaptists] paid
little attention to the various forms and structures that have been important to the Churches of Christ in America...There is, for example, little evidence that [Anabaptists] concerned themselves with matters of church organization. Their chief concern instead was for the rule of Christ in the lives of the believers. And while the [Anabaptists] said little about the frequency of the Lord's Supper, they spoke much of its meaning and significance. Further, while they often practiced immersion, their first concern was for the baptism of adults who would commit themselves without reservation to the way of the cross."
I hate to kick my own church, but doesn't the Anabaptist focus sound...better? We Church of Christ folks come out pretty legalistic in that offing. (By way of disclosure, I should mention that my best friend is Mennonite, I live in the Menno capital of Virginia, if not the Eastern US, and a large number of the people at Rosetta Stone are Menno). It's interesting, because we talk a lot in our adult classes about avoiding legalism, and how what Christ brings is freedom from a legalistic mindset--but I can't imagine anyone ever suggesting that, hey, we take Communion every week, we stop thinking about it, stop appreciating it. Let's just skip it this week and it will mean more next week. I think that would cause a riot. We've also got some messy legalistic stuff about whether or not you can clap your hands along with hymns (I don't, but I think that's a matter of personal preference...others make a theological argument against it). When I look at my church, which has made a very good attempt at restoring the forms and practices of the "primitive" church (I hate that term, and it was all over this book. It makes Jesus & friends sound like cavemen. What's wrong with .. "Late Classical"?), I wonder why we chose to focus on that. True Campbellites would argue that the Bible provides a blueprint for Christian forms, and if we follow it, everyone will join our church and we'll be a unified Christian body once more. I hate to say it, but that whole uniting Christianity in the one true church thing doesn't seem to be working. We're not exactly the fastest growing denomination out there.

I don't know if the Mennonites are growing at all, but I admire their focus on capturing the spirit and motives of the first-century church. I love their passionate servant mindset, their radical pacifism, their insistence on living in a community.

I guess my question isn't why am I a member of the Church of Christ, rather than a Mennonite? (Rob says, "You can never become a Mennonite!") I think my question is, why choose? Why do we have to have form or spirit? Why not form and spirit?

I don't get it.

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