Mike Cope's blog

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Since my college days I've been plagued by this thought: I belong to the denomination known as Churches of Christ because I was born into a Church of Christ family. Now, "plagued" is too strong a word, for certainly I'm thankful for the heritage. But out of all the world religions that I could have been born into, I was born into Christianity. Out of all the versions of Christianity, I was born into Western Protestantism. And out of all the tribes of Protestantism, I was born into Churches of Christ. I didn't sit down one day and figure out which was right. It's an illusion to think that we can create a vacuum for such contemplation. We've all been deeply informed by our upbringing--in ways we are aware of and maybe more profoundly in ways we are oblivious to. So the exclusivistic version of some churches -- "we got it right" . . . "we're the only Christians" -- always seemed very unlikely to me. FOR . . . if I was born into an Islamic family, wouldn't I be pretty convinced about the Koran? If I was born into a Mormon family, wouldn't I be sure about Joseph Smith, the tablets, and Salt Lake City? If I was born into a Lutheran family, wouldn't their way of reading scripture make sense to me? Was I really that lucky . . . to be born into the one small little group that happened to nail interpretation? This doesn't (most of the time) make me throw up my hands in complete agnosticism. I have found -- more than ever before -- the Way of Christ to be true. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. (Better: That's our story and we're sticking to it.) But it does demand a bit of humility. Don't you think?

34 Comments:

  • Thank you for voicing what I have thought many times!

    How can I condemn someone who is only doing what I have done? That is they are only going by what they know ~ what they were brought up to believe. And even when I told my kids they must make their faith their own, they have stayed within the bounds of what we taught. So......I am like you, were we just really lucky or what?

    To go along with that, then you can only be a Christian if you live in the Bible belt states?!? At least that would be the conclusion, huh? I know, in the past, I have wondered how people in other countries, who have not been as lucky as me, go to heaven? Afterall, if they have not had the correct interpretation of the scriptures, like me, then how in the world are they going to get there?

    My conclusion has come for me to do the best I can in my daily walk, taking Christ to others as I go and telling them what Jesus has done for me. (Notice I didn't say what Jesus can do for them!) It is then up to them to see what Jesus can do for them. This allows God to determine who is in or out, not me.

    The only struggle that leaves me with is am I becoming too accepting of anything!?!

    By Blogger pegc, at 6/09/2005 06:00:00 AM  

  • I was "unchurched" until my late teens when my wife to be invited me to church with her family. I was baptized at 27 in our COC. So I'm very blessed that I was led to the choice of Christ in the Church of Christ.

    thank you for the great posts Mike

    By Blogger Jim, at 6/09/2005 06:22:00 AM  

  • Mike --

    As one who was not born into Churches of Christ, let me add my perspective to your good, thought-provoking observations.

    I was born into a "decent moral" American family. Our family's faith extended only as far as attending a Presbyterian church (as a parental compromise), on Easter, every two or three years. We regularly said grace at meals, in keeping with the tradition of the Grandmothers. We avoided the worst expressions of profanity, and were law-abiding citizens. But we had no abiding love for God, his Son, and no faith community.

    In high school, a young lady invited me to go to Wed pm church with her at the Church of Christ. I didn't know anything at all about the Church of Christ, except that one of my grandmothers used to go to it, and her next door neighbors whom I admired.

    I have been there for the past thirtysomething years. The teaching and emphasis on Scripture did and still does appeal to me. (We HAVE gotten better at teaching some things!)

    But those people did not teach me into the church (though for years I thought they did). They LOVED me into the Lord, and I am grateful for them all, to this day. May we all do likewise.

    Michael

    By Blogger mchristophoros, at 6/09/2005 06:33:00 AM  

  • To paraphrase Timone from the Lion King 1 1/2, "Look at Mike, gettin' all existential on me!"

    In most of my spare moments these days, I'm devouring McLaren's "Last Word", and one of the things he suggests is how its easy to use the idea of hell to exclude people - "they're doomed sinners anyway, so why should I care about them?" That sort-of thinking.

    The idea of hell becomes a lot tougher to wrestle with when I stop long enough ask myself questions like yours. Certainties about whose "in" whose "out" whose "got it" and who "doesn't" become much more poignant.

    I'm like you. I can't imagine any way other than the Way of Christ, and I'm grateful that I was born into a place where I could learn it from my early childhood.

    But your words are a good reminder to me this morning.

    By Blogger Matt, at 6/09/2005 06:36:00 AM  

  • I think it's worth noting, too, that a lot of folks "convert" to other religions from the ones they're "born into."

    At some point, every believer needs to "own" her/his own faith. Dive deep. Ask tough questions. Weed and winnow. Be born again.

    And - though it's not the only criterion for choosing a fellowship - it really influences your choice if your community of faith sticks by you when you've been through the worst of times. Sometimes more than doctrinal correctness, or theological soundness.

    Because you can't get a lot more "correct" or "sound" than sharing the passion of Christ for others.

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 6/09/2005 06:48:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    It does demand humility; of that there is no doubt.

    My journey has been very similar. My roots in our common heritage go back over 150 years and I am the next to the last Campbellite in my family left standing. The pressure I feel to stick with it is immense.

    I preach once a month for a small country church of Christ but find myself floundering the other three Sundays because no place feels right. I want to be a part of a community of believers where my spouse can be a real participant and where her spiritual needs can be met. I wish I could find that within my own heritage here in Cleveland but I am striking out.

    My church heritage leans more toward Stone than toward Campbell even though I grew up in the conservative “Bible Shoestring” of the Ohio Valley. So when Ruble wrote “I Just Want To Be A Christian” while I was in college it had a huge reinforcing impact on my own beliefs. It just resonated through me.

    And while his little book seems pretty tame today - given how far we have come – I still go back and reread it to remind myself that our heritage is broader and deeper than what many (including myself) will allow.

    Thanks for striking a chord with me this morning…

    By Blogger J A Pierpont, at 6/09/2005 07:05:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Being a foster child at 7 and eventually adopted into a Church of Christ family gave me a very similar perspective. Growing up I often thought how fortunate I was that a Baptist or Methodist family didn't pick me and my siblings up. However, I also began to change my thinking when I was in college.

    During the summers I would sell books somewhere in the southeast (Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia). I started meeting some incredible Christians who attended many different denominations.
    (Sadly, it wasn't unusual for the Church of Christ folks to be the least friendly -- probably just to door to door salesman).

    These Christians had a different language than back in the Church of Christ in Texas where I grew up. "Witness, testimony, Holy Spirit, saved, born again, God told me, spirit filled, etc." It was even more difficult to have an attitude of "we are the only ones" after meeting so many spiritual people who attended many different denominations.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 6/09/2005 07:05:00 AM  

  • Mike,
    You have a way of bringing to the surface, thoughts that grumble around under that surface. Bless you!

    As a PB, cofC pracher's brat [not "kid" - I've been a brat all my life. LOL], to ask or question the 'only ones going to heaven' stance was to call down the wrath of my earthly father, so I avoided it until well into later years.

    When first I heard Max Lucado mention how believers of other denominations had influenced him, had helped mature him, I was scandalized, but the long-surpressed questions began to surface.

    As it turned out, I found myself in a community church, formerly an independent Baptist. I thank God and praise Him for those nearly nine years. Imagine my shock and surprise to find the Bible was loved and taught correctly, that members were actually saved through the blood of Christ. :>)

    Scott Memorial's teaching pastor opened the doors to a fuller and deeper understanding of God's Grace, which in turn, brought me to my knees in gratitude and thanksgiving.

    I'm also grateful and thankful for my return to a c of C fellowship, although I must admit to a nostalgic yearning for the accompanying beat of a praise band while singing some of the more joyous praise songs.

    I'm literally eternally thankful for my dad's teaching and love of God's word - for his example in reaching out to the lost, but am even more thankful to my Heavenly Father for His teaching that His Church really doesn't have a sign over the door, rather has the sign of Christ's blood on believers' hearts.

    Bless you Mike, for bringing these thoughts out into the light of blog discussion!!

    By Blogger Kathy, at 6/09/2005 07:48:00 AM  

  • Good thoughts, Mike. I know what I'm goig to say is a bit off-topic, but I really need some input from the Blog Faith Community.

    I was raised cofc. I am currently the preacher for a middle-of-the-road 250 member cofc in the heartland. Like many of you, my wife and I have grown past the exclusivist nature of our fellowship and often yearn for a more open, accepting and progressive fellowship. We came to the realization that if I were not the the preacher, we would not choose to attend this church. It is sometimes hard to invite unchurched people to our assembly, because it is often so irrelevant. I do my best to preach relevant sermons that connect with our changing culture and foster life change (while keeping the "sound brethren" happy), but increasingly it just seems like we're in the wrong place.

    What do we do? My wife and I struggle with this. This church provides my family and me with a good living, and I know I'm making something of a difference in the lives of some in our congregation.

    I'm in my early 40's and have thought of getting out of full-time ministry so that we could work and worship with a progressive, dynamic, growing community of faith. But I've found that most secular businesses are not real keen on hiring a former preacher.

    Please understand, It's not just about my wife and me and our "preferences." We don't want our children to grow up in this church.

    Any help and advice would be appreciated.

    J.M.

    By Blogger Reaching and Searching, at 6/09/2005 07:49:00 AM  

  • Three quick thoughts:

    1. Tribe is a good term for us.

    2. You used the word "unlikely"...so you're saying there's a chance?

    3. I'm telling you that if I was born a Mormon I wouldn't buy into that whole "tablets" scam.

    Of course that might require a little bit of stupidity on my part.

    By Blogger Joel Quile, at 6/09/2005 07:51:00 AM  

  • david reminds me of many conversations I heard growing up. In one case I overheard two women talking about a young woman from our congregation who had been married recently. Evidently, her husband was a stranger to one woman as she asked, "Is he a member of 'the church'?" Of course, 'the church' meant the Church of Christ. I honestly couldn't begin to count the number of times I heard that phrase. I guess the assumption was that if x was, indeed, a member of 'the church' then other things didn't matter.

    It also reminds me of my mother telling me that she was glad my grandmother hadn't lived to see my uncle join a Baptist church. My grandmother had been disowned from her family when she married and left the Baptist church to become a Campbellite. Interesting turn of events. Oh, my uncle had not been active in any church for about 30 years prior. I guess it's better to not be a part of any community of faith than to be part of the wrong one, eh?

    By Blogger abileneblues, at 6/09/2005 07:54:00 AM  

  • J.M., I know you didn't ask me for advice, but I'm going to give it anyway. Unless the leadership and the temperament of the flock there at your congregation are actually stifling your moves toward your own growth (are they "quenching the spirit" or allowing it to grow), I would hope that you would stay. They need you. You may not feel that you are making a difference, but these are believers we are talking about, and their growth may be the reason you were placed there. You say you don't want your kids to grow up in that group, but they may see more real growth as a result of watching your reaction to this situation than in any other way.

    God Bless! I hope you are able to come to a resolution of your dilemma in a way that will give you peace with the situation. Hang in there.

    By Blogger don, at 6/09/2005 08:03:00 AM  

  • Thank you so much for these thoughts, Mike. I am glad I am growing up in a generation where people are beginning to realize the broader scope of the body of Christ. I have several very influential Christian mentors in my life who help me to grow and mature in my faith. Of the most prominent ones, one is Methodist, one is Baptist, and one is Church of Christ. I grow and benefit from all of these women, and I love every one of them dearly. Highland is my home, and I enjoy worshipping and serving there, but I am also fed by a prayer service I attend on Monday nights with a majority of Methodists. I am blessed to be nurtured by all these faiths and am thankful that God is a whole lot more gracious than I usually am.

    By Blogger Heather A, at 6/09/2005 08:10:00 AM  

  • JM - I think Don's words are wise. It's so hard to know in the ways of the kingdom what's happening. Seed gets sown. God causes increase in the strangest ways. I have a dear friend who's preached for a LONG time (don't want to say how long lest I give away his identity) who said someday he may write a book called PREACHING FOR A CHURCH YOU DON'T WANT TO ATTEND.

    Having said all that, I'm not saying it's wrong for you to move. There are so many things to consider: your marriage, your children, your joy, your inner stirrings.

    Don is making the very good point that you're doing more than you can imagine. Many of my preaching heroes are people just like you: people living faithfully for Jesus in places just like you described.

    But if it's time to go, then go. Go without guilt. Go with a blessing for those you're leaving. Go with an appreciation for where the journey is taking you and where it has already taken you.

    I don't expect a sign. There doesn't seem to be much success with fleece--at least in my mind. God will allow you to choose -- as you seek to make a decision in community (with your wife and wise friends, including friends where you currently are) and in prayer.

    Peace on you, brother.

    By Blogger Mike, at 6/09/2005 08:21:00 AM  

  • I truly hope you will respond to J.M. While I am obviously not a minister I struggle with some of the same questions...

    By Blogger DJG, at 6/09/2005 08:25:00 AM  

  • I couldn't resist, I have to comment. I am a Christian minister living in Salt Lake City. I work with teens that live in a Mormon-run world. It is easy for them to discount Mormon people as simple minded, fooled, weird people.

    So, your post today is the basic content of my first summer here. The teens liked to sit around and make merry of Mormons and their weird beliefs. I just couldn't sit there and let that happen. I had to point out that we are weird too. If we had been born into a Mormon family we might be in the same place that they are.

    For that matter, what if I'd been born in Uganda to a group of people that fears their ancestors?

    This line of thought seems to lead away from arrogance toward respect and understanding. I desparately want my teens to think, and I prefer that they think along these lines. It's good to see others in my tribe on the same path.

    By Blogger jimps, at 6/09/2005 08:25:00 AM  

  • Reaching and Searching,

    email me - abattist@gmail.com
    I want to talk to you.

    By Blogger Drew Battistelli, at 6/09/2005 08:42:00 AM  

  • JM,

    I agree with Don and Mike. I experienced something similar, however, I wasn't as patient as I should have been. It is amazing what may happen in the next few years as you preach Jesus. It is amazing how God is working in churches like yours with a similar story.

    Maybe your children could do some activies with some of the other churches in town or be a part of a group like Young Life?

    By Blogger David Michael, at 6/09/2005 09:18:00 AM  

  • oops thanks, our comments must have passed in blog-o-sphere!

    By Blogger DJG, at 6/09/2005 10:20:00 AM  

  • I've always found it interesting how much we detest the fanaticism of many Muslims when we cheer it on it other Christians. We look down on their devotion to their faith- a faith they have because they were born in another part of the world. Somehow, though, them fighting for their beliefs is different than us fighting for ours (and at least they are actually fighting for their religion- we're fighting for democracy, which is not Christianity). I can't help but admire devoted believers of any faith- and pray that we can show them the truth so their devotion may be used for the true good!

    By Blogger trying, at 6/09/2005 12:18:00 PM  

  • I've always said when we're in sunday school saying we can't understand why they don't get it, they are in sunday school saying they can't understand why we don't get it. They believe what they believe as strongly as we do. Everybody wants to take the bible and search, translate, add, etc till we think we have it figured out. We have it figured out, we're right, you're wrong, why can't you see it, it's right there in Jude 15:3. I hope I'm never conceted enough to think that God gave me and select few people a special ability to figure it all out. I'm not smarter than most. Most of us do believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God and the only way to Heaven is through him. Good enough for me.

    By Blogger Tommy, at 6/09/2005 12:58:00 PM  

  • J.M. of Reaching and Searching,
    I went through and am going through a similar situation. I would love to share thoughts and encouragments with you. Please email me at perrysims@verizon.net

    By Blogger PBS, at 6/09/2005 01:19:00 PM  

  • I think I used to figure, Hey, if there's a single best contemporary expression of Christianity, SOMEBODY has to be born into it, right? (Unless, of course, it's a celibate sect).

    And about Joseph Smith's tablets, here's a better one: from about 95-1812 A.D., there's no Christian history.

    By Blogger Frank Bellizzi, at 6/09/2005 01:30:00 PM  

  • JM -

    In a sense, I'm a rookie, but I'm going through a similar experience...not sure what to tell you...Don and Mike's advice sounds like the right thing...if we can only DO it. If you want to, you can find my e-mail through my blog...

    By Blogger Neal W., at 6/09/2005 01:36:00 PM  

  • The right doctrine with the wrong
    spirit will turn people away from Christ every time.

    Thankful for you Mike and other believers who have the right spirit.

    By Blogger Hoots Musings, at 6/09/2005 07:01:00 PM  

  • When I was young my mother always told me that the Churches of Christs traditionally have believed that they were the only ones with the true interpretation of God's word, that in a sense we had a reputation for thinking we were going to heaven. I was raised thinking that it was old thinking and only old people and people from tiny towns still thought this way. As I got older I realized that this was not only false, but that I took issue with even more stuff that the CofCs believed or preached. Specifically, the way that this tradition impaired the growth of so many churches. When I got to ACU it was really pretty hard to find people my age who still bought into this mindset, but I was keenly aware of that presence. Like you, Mike, the thought of having been born into a different faith has perplexed me. I also wonder why I was privilaged enough to be born a middle class white male in the U.S. It was like winning the lottery. With this said practically my entire family found other avenues of worship than the Church of Christ. I think based on the fact that the majority still have those old school overtones, even if the mindset isn't prevailant. My wife and I, both raised CoC are attending a Baptist church, mainly because it feels more like the church we both really liked in Abilene (Highland), than any Church of Christ. And it doesn't feel baptist. It just feels like Jesus worship, which is what I love the most. I do miss some things, like the fact that no one knows of anyone who went to ACU or may not have even heard of ACU. (Isn't that where Hardin Simmons is?) But what I love is that no one assumes that because I was raised in a particular congregation that I have a defined doctrine up my sleeve.

    By Blogger Kyle, at 6/09/2005 07:33:00 PM  

  • Perhaps Jesus' remarks about the kingdom of God are not church related at all. Perhaps "church" and "denomination" are ideas that would be so foreign to him. On the other hand, at one point in his ministry, it was customary for him to attend synagogue; and what he built on Peter's confession was some form of a band of brothers. We see God in people - person by person, region by region, not by names of groups, not by winds of particular doctrines. We see actions and the particular souls of people being bared. I cast my lot with them wherever, whenever I see them.

    By Blogger WDS, at 6/09/2005 09:15:00 PM  

  • Though fearing the attack of the some what thousands of readers Mr. Cope’s blog has, I will post this comment anyways as a thought looking for open-minded responses:

    So if the born-into-Christianity Christian is “right” and the Morman born-into-a-Morman family is “right” and the Hindu born-into-Hinduism is “right”...then can they all be right? Would that mean that the atheist born-into-atheism is “right?”

    I know most of the readers of this are thinking at this point, “well of course, not. CofC is ‘right.’” I mean as Mike mentioned...there is that “exclusivistic version of some churches.” But as I suggested earlier, this comment is for the “open-minded” readers; the ones willing to imagine themselves in the others positions. Imagine yourself as the “Hindu born-into-Hinduism” or, if you are Hindu, the Morman “born into-a-Morman family.” In those cases, it’s just as easy to say you are “right” and CofC is not “right.”

    I don’t know, but the gist of this just makes me think this is some religious form of ethnocentrism. Is there a term for that that I’m just ignorant of? Religocentrism works for me!

    I think it is in the college years that one can not help but question their religion and their up-bringing. Whether one comes from Christianity or an Islamic background, it is during the college years that one is faced with the questions of “who am I?” and “what is my purpose?” And in answering those questions and searching for an identity, questioning one’s faith is almost a MUST.

    I find it interesting to see how many people, college-aged specifically, actually do “throw up [their] hands in complete agnosticism” during this identity-crisis when asking themselves questions such as “Was I really that lucky . . . to be born into the one small little group that happened to nail interpretation?”

    So I don’t know. I don’t know which religion is “right.” Maybe the uncertainty does make me “throw up my hands in agnosticism”...but having said that I’ll end with this thought...

    A friend once said to me, “how can you (or anyone for that matter) say there is no God, and be ‘right,’ when there have been for years millions of God-believers around the world?” To that I would have to respond with this, “Look at all the people that thought the world was flat for many years versus the people that thought it was round. Just because one group outrageously out-numbers another doesn’t mean they are “right.’”


    P.S. Mike, for someone who wrote “I've been braindead recently” only 24 hours earlier you, sure went above and beyond the “deep-thought-provoking blog” today! Thanks for the GREAT discussion piece!

    By Blogger FeedingYourMind, at 6/09/2005 09:43:00 PM  

  • Denomination.

    Is that what the Church of Christ is?

    By Blogger Ted Mathis, at 6/09/2005 10:37:00 PM  

  • It strikes me as arrogant to think we got everything right...at the same time I know I am blessed being born where I was, when I was. Can we strike a balance somewhere between humility and arrogance that just leaves us grateful?

    By Blogger Holly, at 6/09/2005 11:03:00 PM  

  • Mike,

    Maybe it was due to a glare on my contact lens, but I read your last line as "But it does demand a bit of HUMANITY. Don't you think?" Rather than "...humility..."

    That small error really started me thinking about how appropriate that word would be (though humility also works quite well).

    I taught the Bible in Italy for a few years, and I was often very humbled by the fact I was asking people to do something I never had to do: to turn their backs on their families, history, and tradition in the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, that feeling was almost so strong at times that I could have been immobolized without conscious effort to let God work out the details for them.

    The HUMANITY involved is that we need to realize, beyond spiritual truth, there is a physical truth that we all share this planet and must treat each other with decency and respect. It shouldn't change our message, but it definately changes how we choose to present it.

    By Blogger Blaine Tucker, at 6/10/2005 12:12:00 PM  

  • I am not sure if you read other blogs or not, but Rick's blog
    talks of almost the same thing from another denomination's standpoint. Thought it was interesting.

    By Blogger DJG, at 6/10/2005 12:13:00 PM  

  • Mike, so glad you posted this on your blog. I was born into the cofC and now attend a non-demoninational church...(i can almost see my grandmother rolling over in her grave now). I, too, have pondered these thoughts many times and wondered who's right, who's wrong, etc.

    The fact of the matter is that we, as Christians, should be more interested in fighting the devil than each other.

    By Blogger courtney, at 6/15/2005 07:38:00 AM  

  • What I have never been able to understand is how an honest CoC student of the Bible can live with the belief that their doctrine is anything more than preference. If we hold our own doctrines to the same fire we apply to other denominations, they quickly wither.

    The NT is very loose documentation of the life of Christ coupled with a scattered early church history (that identifies as many goofs as successes) and a few pointed letters that dance around moral and operational issues. The honest student must conclude that either it's all a sham, or church practice and most doctrine was just not important enough to preserve in the holy writ.

    There's no description of worship practices (only motivation and focus). There's only cursory mention of leadership, and that appears to be comments on the traditional or opportunistic. There's no training guide for soul winning, meditation points for soul development or FAQ for problem situations. With such a lack of explanation, you'd be drawn to assume that Christianity was merely a moral reformation of Judaistic practice - except for Paul's nasty habit of telling his Gentile cohorts to ignore the people pushing that belief system on them.

    I think if you're a traditional CoC patternist and continue your studies you're going to come to the conclusion that either Christianity is a sham, or you're dead wrong about things. The only alternative is to admit that God is a lot more inclusive than we've traditionally pictured him to be and is honestly focused on our hearts and not our denominating.

    By Blogger Seeker, at 7/15/2005 09:44:00 AM  

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