Mike Cope's blog

Thursday, May 12, 2005

By now, many of you have read the "Christian Affirmation" that was plastered all over a full-page ad in the Christian Chronicle. I already mentioned how proud I am of many of my friends who are scholars who refused to sign the ad -- friends at ACU, Pepperdine, Harding, and Lipscomb. I'm sure there were others who decided not to sign, but these are the ones I know of. (If you never saw it, there is -- of course -- a website: www.christianaffirmation.org.) Here is one response from Leroy Garrett. I appreciate his willingness to give me permission to use it. (You can find this and other essays at www.leroygarrett.org.) RESPONSE TO A CHRISTIAN AFFIRMATION 2005 In the May, 2005 issue of The Christian Chronicle there appeared "A Christian Affirmation 2005" signed by 23 leaders of Churches of Christ –– professors, deans, pulpit ministers, elders. The intention of the document is "to clarify our Christian identity in a time of increasing uncertainties." The document expresses "A Word of Concern" that recent efforts to overcome a legacy of legalism and division has led us "to relax our commitment to practices that have been characteristic of our churches." In doing this these leaders have placed issues on the table worthy of critical discussion. I would like to join the conversation by questioning some of the affirmations set forth. In appealing to our heritage of unity in the American Restoration Movement, the leaders state that "we believe that unity cannot be grounded in minimal agreements among Christian traditions." They go on to say that substantive Christian unity is found "in returning to the clear teaching and practices of the early church." That unity can be realized only by minimizing the essentials, while at the same time allowing liberty in a wide variety of opinions, is the hallmark of our Stone-Campbell heritage. Alexander Campbell often referred to "the seven facts" of Eph. 4:4-5 as the grounds of unity, and sometimes he reduced them to three –– "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Barton W. Stone was equally minimal when he defined a Christian as one who acknowledges "the leading truths of Christianity, and conforms his life to that acknowledgement." They saw the "core gospel" as the basis of unity, not an extended list of dogmas and practices. This gave rise to an axiom that goes far in identifying who we are or should be: In essentials (as few as possible), unity; In opinions (as broad as possible without compromising essentials), liberty; In all things, love. W. T. Moore, one of our earliest historians, identified this unique appeal of our heritage in mathematical terms: "The Disciples have always contended for the greatest possible numerator with the least possible denominator." He meant by this the greatest possible liberty of opinion (numerator) with the fewest possible essentials (denominator). Robert Richardson, an associate of Campbell and our earliest historian, stated it even more succinctly: "That alone which saves men can unite them." All this conforms to the consensus of modern New Testament scholarship, that the early Christians had but one creed or one essential –– Jesus is Lord! This is what they lived for and died for. All else was marginal. What believers live and die for is what unites them. "Multiplying the essentials" has sometimes been named as the cause of our divisions. Campbell called it "the tyranny of opinionism." When the Affirmation argues for unity by "returning to the clear teachings of Scripture and practices of the early church" it is preserving the illusion of restorationism that has been an albatross about our necks in Churches of Christ all these years. If what these leaders call "The Original Design" of the early church is all that "clear," why have we divided into numerous factions over what that design or pattern is? Are the "clear teachings of Scripture" all that clear about whether we have Sunday schools, instrumental music, cooperation, societies, Communion cups, etc. Are they clear about the millennium, glossolalia, predestination, election, the Trinity, inspiration, interpretation, etc.? We differ on all these things –– and even baptism. Stone and Campbell differed on baptism. Our own people have never been of one mind about baptism, much more the church at large. We can no more see everything alike than we can look alike. But we don’’t have to! That is the genius of the Stone-Campbell heritage. We can differ on opinions –– and all the above are opinions –– while we unite upon the essentials, which are centered in the core gospel, Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is a weighty flaw in the Affirmation –– it has little place for unity in diversity, which is the only kind of unity there is. We can have churches that sing acappella and those that use instruments, and still be united. We can have congregations that have Sunday schools and join in cooperative efforts, and those that do not, and still be one in Christ. We are united in Christ, not by agreement on opinions or methods. It is a Person that unites us, not theories or theology about the Person. Another questionable affirmation in the document is that "God does not save individuals apart from the body of Christ." Who is this that knows the mind of Him who said, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Rom. 9:15)? God will save whom He will, in the church or out. Only God knows the heart, and only He knows how many Rahabs there are out there. This exclusive view of God’’s grace is the offspring of "the only true church" fallacy that has long made us sectarians. It goes this way: the saved are all in the church; we are that church; so, if one doesn't belong to the Church of Christ he is not saved. The document rightly urges that we preserve such practices as weekly Communion and baptism by immersion for remission of sins, and we may urge these as reflective of "the common faith and practice of the earliest Christians." But even here we cannot make our interpretation and practice tests of fellowship. We must recognize –– as these 23 leaders appear reluctant to do –– that there are multitudes of sincere, intelligent Christians who do not see "the common faith and practice of the earliest Christians" the same way we do. We can stand firmly for what we believe about baptism, and still accept as equals in Christ those who differ with us. This is consistent with our heritage in Stone-Campbell. No one was more zealous for baptism by immersion than Alexander Campbell –– debating it as he did –– and yet he accepted as Christians those referred to as "the pious unimmersed." He was himself an example of his own definition of a Christian –– "A Christian is one who believes that Jesus is the Christ, repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to his understanding." After a prolonged study of baptism, he was immersed, but he believed he had been a Christian all along. One is responsible only for such light as he has at any given time, he held. In defense of our singing without instruments, the 23 leaders point out that acappella music has been the position of numerous reformers and churches through the centuries, such as John Calvin and the Puritans, and 300 million in Eastern Orthodox churches. But that is not the issue. No case has to be made for acappella music. All churches sometimes sing acappella. The issue is making instrumental music a test of fellowship. John Calvin did not make acappella music "catholic," and the Orthodox churches do not make it an essential to fellowship, as we in Churches of Christ have done. A number of our congregations have recently gone public in stating they will not longer make instrumental music a test of fellowship –– not that they will no longer sing acappella. That is the issue. Do the 23 signers of the Affirmation agree with those churches, or are they saying that we should keep on making a test of what is but our opinion or preference? The Affirmation errs as much in what it does not say as in what it does say. In any effort to identify ourselves we should recognize that Churches of Christ are part of a movement "to unite the Christians in all the sects," and that we must get back on track as a unity people. We must reaffirm such mottoes as "We are Christians only, but not the only Christians." In doing this we must confess our sins –– that we have claimed to be the only Christians and the only true church, that we have often been sectarian about the nature of the church and legalistic about baptism. And that we have been wrong about instrumental music –– not in singing acappella, but in making the instrument a test for accepting other believers as equals in Christ. We must go on to affirm our intention to become a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled people desirous of enjoying fellowship with all other Christians, and to join them in labors of love for Christ's sake.

26 Comments:

  • Mike:

    Thanks so much for posting Leroy's wonderful insights and for continually calling us to a non-sectarian and Jesus-centered theology. Back in the early '80's, while a preaching student at Harding, God led me to a wonderful, grace-awakening discovery in the library -- Leroy's "Restoration Review" and Carl Ketcherside's "Mission Messenger." They helped me see the snare of legalism and the joyous freedom of the gospel of grace. I praise the Lord for both of them. -- Jim Clark

    By Blogger Jim Clark, at 5/12/2005 02:53:00 PM  

  • Leroy quotes founders and historians of the Restoration Movement, the authors of A Christian Affirmation quote Hans Kung. Interesting.

    Fear of Churches of Christ losing their identity seems to be driving this movement. It may even be influencing folks to do things that seem contradictory. Didn't Jesus say something to Peter about, "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

    One thing for sure, Leroy hasn't changed after all these years. He is still calling the church to the core gospel.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 5/12/2005 03:12:00 PM  

  • Amen to the views expressed in that response. I'm all for referring to church history and being influenced by a particular heritage, but good night -- the kingdom of God is so much bigger than one little 200-year movement. I hope this fact sinks in soon -- believers are walking away from churches of Christ in droves, heading wherever they experience life and community.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 5/12/2005 03:16:00 PM  

  • I haven't seen the Christian Chronicle in a while and thus did not see the Christian Affirmation ad. I'm sitting here trying to decide if I really want to read it. I did look at the list of people who signed it and was surprised to see several names I recognized. I'm afraid it's going to make me sigh and I'm not sure I'm up for that today.

    By Blogger reJoyce, at 5/12/2005 03:19:00 PM  

  • "Leroy quotes founders and historians of the Restoration Movement, the authors of A Christian Affirmation quote Hans Kung. Interesting."

    HA! That's awesome. I've always wondered how people who are at all familiar with the restoration movement could ever be as sectarian as some in our fellowship have been. And I was most offended when I read the affirmation by their hijacking of a quote from Kung, when he coined the phrase "Generous Orthodoxy."

    By Blogger Neal W., at 5/12/2005 04:39:00 PM  

  • Mike, thanks for adding some sanity to this conversation. Leroy's response is terrific.

    I just think these 23 and those who support their aaproach have got it 100% backwards from where it really needs to go. LeRoy says it great right here.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 5/12/2005 06:30:00 PM  

  • If I start writing...I might regret it. I'm not a loyal "C of C'er" anymore.

    I have watched many of my believing friends go somewhere else as they simply try to follow Christ.

    My statement of affirmation:
    Love Christ with everything I have.
    Be his hands and feet on earth.

    By Blogger Larry, at 5/12/2005 06:30:00 PM  

  • Great thoughts there. Honestly, as you already know, this whole thing just floors me. Thanks for sharing Leroy's thoughts though. I appreciated his spirit.

    By Blogger Brandon Scott, at 5/12/2005 08:19:00 PM  

  • Mike, I read Leroy's response before I read the affirmation. I really liked what Leroy had to say, and have often wondered how RM leaders and innovaters would look at the resulting bodies today, and whether or not they would just scratch their heads at what we have become.

    Then I read the affirmation, and maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see that the signers are anywhere making these positions articles or tests of fellowship within the document. It looks to me to be a statement that these things are important to these people, but I don't see them condemning people with other viewpoints. If we are to truly have liberty in matters of opinion, shouldn't these folks be free to say that these are positions they wish to hold, and even encourage others to hold them, as long as they aren't binding them on others? Is it the view of most of the readers of this thing that they are attempting to bind these on the body, and will not be in fellowship with those that don't?

    don

    By Blogger don, at 5/12/2005 08:28:00 PM  

  • All of this saddens my heart but it also gives hope for the future.

    What if. . .we rallied behind the gospel story one more time and united with other believers in the one faith. I believe God would be smiling because maybe we would be a little close to John 17 than we are now. And quite possibly the world would see a people of love not a people of division. Maybe the Newsboys paint the picture best with the song "He Reigns."--It is the song of every nation. . .

    I believe that day is not in the past but before us. And I believe that day is on the horizon. God be praised in all traditions and in all people of faith!

    By Blogger Matt Tibbles, at 5/13/2005 01:09:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    I have a hard time rejecting this affirmation, or the men who have given their names to the document. You and I have both sat at the feet of some of these men, and know them to be sincere and DEEPLY committed leaders. How, then, can we summarily reject their affirmation as merely "preserving the illusion of restorationism that has been an albatross about our necks in Churches of Christ all these years"? I am not suggesting that heritage or tradition should reign supreme here - quite the opposite. Aren't these men suggesting that we CONTINUE the plea of restoration theology? Haven't these men (or at least many of them) earned our ear with their compassionate and careful instruction? Isn't it possible that our generation needs the heed the warnings of the generation that taught us? These are just questions for your consideration.

    All this is written in the deepest respect. I love your preaching, your way of thinking, and your blog.

    In Christ's Love,
    Scott Self

    By Blogger Scott, at 5/13/2005 03:15:00 AM  

  • Scott, it just seems that the spirit of the signers is that of preservation, rather than restoration. Barton Stone signed a document which had as its imprimus: "We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling." That's restoration.

    The Affirmation states, "Many in Churches of Christ today are rightly concerned to overcome a legacy of legalism, sectarianism, and divisiveness. It is easy to suppose that opposition to these scandalous realities means that we must relax our commitment to practices that have been characteristic of our churches." That's preservation.

    It's the difference between putting vinyl siding on a Victorian home (preservation) and replacing its asbestos siding with fresh wood and a coat of paint in Victorian colors (restoration).

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 5/13/2005 05:24:00 AM  

  • I respect these signing scholars, but for crying out loud they put a full-page ad in the Christian Chronicle! You think they're not expecting responses?

    I love this denomination in which I live. I think we have much to offer. A high view of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Even some strengths in the acappella heritage.

    But to talk about how we must not reduce fellowship to a few essentials and to insist on the "clear teaching" of scripture -- well, that just sets us up to be the divisive little group we've too often been.

    Trust me: some day if I sign a full-page ad in the Chronicle, I'll be expecting responses!

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/13/2005 05:32:00 AM  

  • Thanks for posting this Mike. This is certainly a real breath of fresh air after grappling emotionally with the Affirmation issue for several days.

    By Blogger KentF, at 5/13/2005 05:58:00 AM  

  • One thing that bothers me about the Affirmation thing is that 23 individuals purport to speak for the rest of us in this fellowship. I too love our heritage, but we, as a whole, have lost touch with what is important in the Kingdom. It breaks my heart.

    Steve Sr.

    By Blogger MarkS, at 5/13/2005 06:43:00 AM  

  • Mike, Leroy is dead on.......and so is Keith with his observation that there is a HUGE difference between restoration and preservation. Chris Gonzalez linked us to Jimmy Shaw's response to the "Affirmation" yesterday, and it too was EXCELLENT! Here is the link:

    http://fluidfaith.blogspot.com/2005/05/response-and-observations-christian.html

    Although I personally know, love, and respect several of the men who signed the "Affirmation", it came across to me as a last ditch effort to circle the wagons one more time. I remember reading "Go".....not "Circle". One last question.......how many of us can actually see Jesus signing this document? I can't.
    Maybe I'm wrong. It wouldn't be the first time......even today.

    Keep challenging us my brother!
    DU

    By Blogger David U, at 5/13/2005 07:23:00 AM  

  • A friend of mine had something to say about unity, and I hope he doesn't mind me quoting him:

    "Unity is what the bible teaches, but how can unity exist? I think we need to combat the myth that unity = uniformity. How many times have I encountered the unwritten rule that if I don't agree with a position then I can't 'have fellowship' with the people that hold that position?

    If we really make a call for unity we are going to put ourselves in a position to be crucified; maybe not literally, but the call for unity places us in the crosshairs of people on every side of a conflict. Look at Paul, he was run out of just about every town in the known world. He was beaten and imprisioned and tortured, and if you look back through Acts it is because he is trying to unify the Jews and Gentiles. I believe that is the type of reaction that will await those who attempt to unify the church." - James Wood

    By Blogger Tim Lewis, at 5/13/2005 11:21:00 AM  

  • few are going to read my stupid comment, and even fewer are going to care about it, but here it is:

    people are going to disagree. get over it, and live with it.

    By Blogger ed, at 5/14/2005 12:31:00 PM  

  • I have read the ad in the Chronicle and really do not see it to be a big deal. It appears to me that some Christian men (professors) have stated their position without including anyone else...I honestly don't think they were speaking for anyone but themselves...Just as we want the opportunity to politely state our side, it is in the spirit of unity that we allow them to state theirs...
    Using words like "plastered" on the page seems equally biased. Having one's viewpoint is fine, but the spirit of unity allows the other side to make their point.
    I appreciated Garret's well thought out and gentle response.

    By Blogger Jonah, at 5/16/2005 08:20:00 PM  

  • Here's my Christian Affirmation:

    Jesus Saves.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/17/2005 12:36:00 PM  

  • Mike,

    I'm glad to see discussion of "A Christian Affirmation" continuing on your blog. You're quite right that the signers (certainly this one) hoped to spur people to reflection. In that spirit, I've written some lines in reply to Leroy Garrett's comments on the Affirmation, which can be read at christianaffirmation.org. In Dr. Garrett's own words, the Affirmation “rightly urges that we [Churches of Christ] preserve such practices as weekly Communion and baptism by immersion for remission of sins, and we may urge these as reflective of ‘the common faith and practice of the earliest Christians'"; and the sectarianism that concerns him is read into the statement rather than out of it. I hope this proves of interest to you and your readers.

    All best in Christ,

    Jeff Peterson

    By Blogger Jeff Peterson, at 6/02/2005 07:53:00 PM  

  • I would like to see someone respond to Jeff Peterson's essay responding to Leroy Garrett. My guess is that I will be waiting a long time.

    By Blogger Frazier Conley, at 6/07/2005 01:50:00 PM  

  • Frazier Conley said...
    I would like to see someone respond to Jeff Peterson's essay responding to Leroy Garrett. My guess is that I will be waiting a long time.

    3:50 PM


    See the response here:

    http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx195.htm

    If the Affirmation and the response to it by Leroy and Al has done nothing else it is causing people to THINK! Which is a good thing and much needed. I just pray that positions are not solidified and the body be split into another million pieces, each claiming they are the "True Church"! Leroy and Al both hit the nail on the head - we can only unite if we are FREE in Christ! There is no way unity will be achieved without freedom from a set of rules that Jesus has not CLEARLY set out - if brothers can disagree they are not clear! Let us get back to the CORE Belief - Jesus and Him crucified!

    Flint Garrison

    By Blogger Flint Garrison, at 6/13/2005 02:56:00 PM  

  • Frazier Conley said...
    I would like to see someone respond to Jeff Peterson's essay responding to Leroy Garrett. My guess is that I will be waiting a long time.

    3:50 PM


    See the response here:

    http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx195.htm

    If the Affirmation and the response to it by Leroy and Al has done nothing else it is causing people to THINK! Which is a good thing and much needed. I just pray that positions are not solidified and the body be split into another million pieces, each claiming they are the "True Church"! Leroy and Al both hit the nail on the head - we can only unite if we are FREE in Christ! There is no way unity will be achieved without freedom from a set of rules that Jesus has not CLEARLY set out - if brothers can disagree they are not clear! Let us get back to the CORE Belief - Jesus and Him crucified!

    By Blogger Flint Garrison, at 6/13/2005 02:57:00 PM  

  • I'm having trouble formulating a beginning here, so I guess I'll jump right in. I'm an American who grew up in American military congregations of the church in Germany. I never heard of Stone or Campbell till I attended Oklahoma Christian University in the '90s.
    I've been working fulltime with the church in Chemnitz, Germany, for nearly 4 years. The people here have no clue who Stone or Campbell are. In the church here, one of our major challenges is to convince nonbelievers that we are not a bunch of brainwashers. If we alluded to an "American Restoration Movement" that was brought to Germany in the post-WWII 1940s, we would be branded a cult.
    The Christians here know nothing of Stone-Campbell-Restoration-Movement heritage. We consider ourselves direct descendants of the church of the New Testament. We have no interest in the teachings of humans, whether those humans are Stone, Campbell, Calvin, Luther, or Leo X. The Christians here are interested in what God has to say, and they find out what he has to say by reading his Word. His Word, which is clear, concise, and easier to follow than most would have us believe.
    I think about my friend Vanessa, who isn't concerned about "issues" or "movements" or "heritage." She just wants to find her way out of the darkness and into the light.
    Let's forget the teachings of men, no matter what ideologies or influences they held in the past. The only opinion that matters is God's.

    By Blogger Court, at 6/19/2005 12:23:00 PM  

  • Court

    You are all over it! I've witnessed other "christians" study the bible over short periods of time...knowing nothing of "our movement" and come to an understanding of their need for Christ, through baptism into his blood for the remmission of their sins and that they may have the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide them in their lives and their walk with God.

    God's Word is clear! It only becomes confusing when we try to adapt it to our own prejudices. The Spirit led the first church, the church of the 1800's and the church today. God's Word is the same.

    By Blogger jim, at 9/25/2005 07:09:00 PM  

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