I remember as a kid not really knowing what the sign on our church building meant. I knew that the people that were at that church, all ten of us, were kind people who cared deeply about scripture and obeying the Lord. But we did not all agree on what that looked like.
One of the men who preached would sometimes go on a tirade against women wearing pants in the church building. Ironically, this sermon was only done when there were women there wearing pants. Strangely enough, no woman ever responded to the invitation.
While I did not know much about our fellowship when I was young, my mom would tell me stories about how we started, what we were about, and why we where different. And to be honest it sounded so noble. The idea of being a part of a unity movement, where it did not matter if you disagreed on petty issues, we could unite around the reality of Jesus, that sounded really good.
Sure this was a bit more difficult in practice, people disagreed with one another, issues were raised, and women wore pants. But the idea still seemed like a good one.
Now that I have grown up, I still attend and work at a church of Christ. Sure, it’s different than the one I grew up at. For one thing it’s really, really big. It’s six flags over Jesus big. And for another thing we have a couple of services that have guitars. But we are still a church of Christ.
Or at least we thought we were.
Last week the directory of churches of Christ came out listing all churches in the U.S., and for the first time in my life I found myself in a church that was not listed in that book. This directory has always been intriguing to me. When I was young, I used to look up the ten person church that I went to just to make sure that we were in there. It gave us authority, made us legitimate.
Now a lot of talk has been going around about our exclusion from the directory, and the compilers told others that they did not mean this to be divisive, they just work for a cappella churches. There are a couple of reasons that this is crummy. First off, we still have an entirely acappella church, it’s actually around 2,350 people. It’s the biggest a cappella church in our fellowship. Second, we weren’t told about this move. No one let us know ahead of time that we were being excluded from the directory, we were not asked, nor did we want this.
Another problem is that there are plenty of disagreements within the churches listed in that directory. Lots of churches are listed that do not fellowship one another for a variety of reasons. Each of the distinct churches are marked with a special asterisks or notation.
For example, the church that I grew up in did not believe in Sunday School, a paid preacher, supporting children’s homes, and a variety of other common practices. We had more asterisks than a Barry Bonds record book.
But we were in there.
The reason that this matters, that I want to write about it all, is because of the volatile nature of the issue that is dividing us. About a hundred years ago the church of Christ fellowship divided because of this very issue. Now a hundred years later we are in the process of doing it again.
Richland Hills is not leading the charge for all churches to become instrumental. We believe that every church is autonomous. It has the freedom to make decisions for what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Jesus for that community and place. However, we also want to be a part of a broader fellowship.
In making the decision to not include us in the directory, it was not an innocent by-rule of the directory. It was a statement. They knew the crossroads that we, as a fellowship, are at. And they chose to draw a line that should not have been drawn. It would have been easy for them to denote that we, and 19 other churches, had a different worship style at a couple of services. But instead we were excluded.
Let me be clear on this, this post is not about instrumental worship. It’s about whether or not in one hundred years we have found bigger things to unite around other than the same old petty arguments. If a unity movement divides every time it is tested than the obvious conclusion is that we are not a unity movement.
There have been ugly moments in our history. We have sometimes been sectarian, sometimes legalistic, sometimes we have been known for being unkind and judgmental. I have been tempted several times over the past few years to leave the restoration movement, but I still remember mom telling me about the church of Christ movement as a beautiful thing. A movement of unity among people who did not agree on everything, but did agree on Jesus.
I still believe her.
It’s time to remember our better history.