Monday, February 2, 2009

Commiting to Community

I was raised in the church of Christ. My parents theologically brainwashed me in the fundamental beliefs of church of Christ doctrine. I hold no ill will for that. I'm ever thankful that my parents shared their faith with me. I'm probably the only person thankful for brainwashing.

My upbringing differs slightly from many members of the traditional Churches of Christ. I was raised in a church plant in a small town in Idaho. We were too small for elders and my dad was central in making many decisions for the congregation. Unlike mainstream churches in the South, we were able to cancel services on Sunday nights when the snow was up past the car door. I'm sure many eldership's of the day would have cooked my dad's gizzard for that one.

Regardless of our surroundings, our church resembled its parent churches. Bible class started at 10AM every Sunday. Worship started at 11AM, where we typically had the traditional two songs- prayer- communion- song- sermon every week. I do remember a story about my grandmother when she visited once. She was greatly disturbed that the worship closed with a song that particular week. I believe my dad received a tongue lashing from her for that. It would appear he was leading the church down a slippery slope with that closing jingle.

When I was eight I distinctly remember visiting the ACU lectureships. It was fascinating to me that so many Christians existed, and all in one place. You see, in Idaho, being about a 1000 miles from the bible belt, we didn’t often see other believers…much less members of a Church of Christ. That was an exiting trip for me. I remember hearing 'There is a God' sung by over 1000 people. That sound changed my life and perspective, and I treasure the memory still.

Upon moving to Arkansas my perspective changed again. I witnessed two friends of mine fighting over doctrine…Baptists versus the Church of Christ. I remember watching them face off, getting red faced and hostile over scripture. I suddenly wondered what Christ would have truly thought about their dissonance. At that point I received an education in the failures of my faith tradition. While we were deeply steeped with the nuts and bolts of scripture, we also became judge and jury determining who went to heaven. We often forgot grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy. We made believers our enemies because they had a different interpretation of worship practice. Instead of recognizing a common goal of heaven and team in Christ, we secluded ourselves in our own painted world of narrow salvation…ignoring the minority of Christendom in general and sacrificing many dear friendships on an alter of tradition idolatry.

In high school I swore to never ever marry a minister. I witnessed my parent’s hearts break time and again over matters of church work…whether it was not feeling supported by elderships, losing loved ones to a world view, witnessing countless ministers abandon the ministry, or simply suffer the oftentimes lonely road a ministering family faces. With all that said, I was and am relentlessly proud of my family, sores, battle scars and all.

I love the Church of Christ.
I love the smell of old church song books.
I love the sound of acapella singing.
I love the faithfulness of our older believers who put full trust into scripture.
I love being a part of a tradition that was once praised for their bible toting verse quoting.
I love pot lucks.
I love that in nearly every congregation there's an old man missing a finger do to a farming accident, and an alto that carries the tempo for the whole church during the song service.
I love that there are most definitely alpha females who run most of everything that goes on, but that they stay in the shadows out of their deep adherence to tradition and devotion to honoring scripture.
I love that there is always a supply room loaded with countless bulletin board ideas and old flannel graph pieces.
I love that we sing old hymns.
I love the guy with the tie too long on one Sunday, too short the next that still says “guide guard and direct us” in prayer at the close of every worship.
I love that we share communion every Sunday.
I love that we baptize and ask for a physical sign of commitment from believers.
This is my family.
These are my people.
This is my heritage.
These are my roots.

Family’s change. Traditions are lost in time and die silenced with a generation gone home.I’m not proud of my generation. In fact, I’m quite disgusted with us. There seems to be a movement to neglect our past and mock it dwelling only on its failures. We seem to pat each other on the back for denying our heritage.

Don’t misunderstand me…loyalty should be to Christ not to the sign that is in the front lawn. However, we have forgotten our community. We have forgotten how important it is to have community. In our country it is so easy to get what we want when we want it. We have fast food of every variety and clothes of every style. We treat marriages like underwear and leave jobs because we can. We are not loyal to much of anything…except ourselves. This plays out in how we treat our churches…our faith communities. We float here and there abandoning one place because they sing too much, another because sister so and so didn’t smile. We can’t go to that place because they have old hymnals. We’re going to leave this church because it doesn't seem as spiritual as the one next door. There are too many grey heads at that congregation. They have a choir at this one. This church body sells coffee! That one has a huge membership.etc. etc.

The Church of Christ isn’t the only fellowship that is shrinking. They all are. I think people are beginning to figure out that imperfection runs deep throughout ALL faith traditions regardless of worship styles or demographics or brand labels. So we leave…because after all... we’re loyal only to Christ…and ourselves.

I’m not bothered that people leave the Church of Christ like I used to be. I am bothered by a generation of people who think it is OK to abandon their roots with pride; to wave goodbye to communities of believers for foolish selfish reasons. I’m more disturbed about the acceptance of a worldview that teaches the ‘happy doctrine’. “Jesus wants me to be happy so I’m leaving. I’m sinning. I’m forgiven. I’m on my own…I’m happy.”

I haven’t completely sorted this one out yet. Here’s what I’m leaning toward God is our parent, right? If that is true, let me share a parent’s story. My son only ever wants to eat cookies and milk. He also neglects to watch when he runs into the church parking lot. He’s nearly been hit FIVE times. FIVE. Now…it does not make him “happy” when I put peas on his plate or yank him up from the ground and protect him from certain death. In fact, often times he screams and kicks me directly in the kidneys. BUT according to the "happy doctrine" I should let him only eat cookies and milk and run directly in front of a mini-van…because that makes him “happy”. Somehow…I can’t reconcile that kind of happiness. If you have a better idea…you tell me.

I guess, what it comes down to is this. I don’t want to abandon my roots because I’m frustrated. Frustration seems to follow people. I don’t want to adhere to a “happy” doctrine and believe that the world and Christianity revolve around my preferences or hang ups. I don't want to be ignorant and disrespectful of the wisdom of a generation that put a priority on scripture and once memorized great portions of it out deep reverence and out of fear that it would be taken away. I’m just not willing to walk away from my family.

In our culture Christianity isn't easy. We are bombarded with indiscriminate sexuality. We are justified in our gluttony. We are hypnotized by good marketing. We are praised for selfishness. We are ridiculed for having standards. We are scorned for believing in ancient theology. We are mocked for being faithful. I'm willing to ignore it...because I need community.

I need to be surrounded by people who know me. I need to be surrounded by people who witness the terrors of this world and can still come together and sing on Sundays. I need to have relationships with people who love me because Jesus does too. We all need that and we can't find that when we aren't there. We can't find community alone.

In a world where the traditional family is no more, you CAN still find a family of believers. Jesus came. He found a community with twelve. They traveled together. They ate together. They worshiped together. My guess is...they irritated each other. Jesus loved them, regardless. Jesus rebuked them. He was loyal to them. He saved them. They went on after him...together...for Him.

Please don't buy into individualistic salvation. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but Christianity is not an individualistic tradition. Yes, your faith is your own. Yes, your salvation is up to only you. BUT facing this world alone never works. It is never fruitful. Find a community. Get plugged in. Commit to it. Make them your family.

Families are not perfect because you and I are not expect that. I find that I can appreciate imperfections because I recognize I also have many of my own. You may find a deeper faith than you ever had before when you love and forgive regardless, and when you are loved and forgiven in return.


  1. Hmmmm, this reminds me of a recent conversation :)
    Amen, girl!

  2. Caryn,
    Good blog. I'm not as brave as you are to put everything out there for who knows who to read?!
    I have to say that I think Churches of Christ have something unique to offer those seeking God. Our A Capella singing is definitely paticipatory, and in an age when everyone wants to be involved (isn't that the idea behind reality TV), such singing is a plus.
    Our weekly communion together around the Lord's Table is just the reminder I need of who I am, who God is and who the body is.
    Our belief in the necessity of water baptism by immersion is not something to excuse, but something to share and celebrate.
    We have a rich heritage of men and women whose commitment to Scripture, to prayer and to community has made the life I now live possible. They weren't perfect and we aren't perfect today.
    But I do believe that we in Churches of Christ have a unique message in this world of self-focus, 'what's in it for me?' attitude.
    Grace and peace on your journey,

  3. Probably the thing I struggle with the most in terms of church...I'm a progressive that loves new music and loves passion and excitement in worship because it's hip, it's exciting, it makes ME feel closer to God, helps ME worship...BUT at the same time, we have a long history with many traditions that many of us are ready to sweep aside with nary a second thought -- all in the name of making it appealing to outsiders. This is a tough nut to crack, and, like you, I struggle constantly with it.


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