Missing the Point

As I’ve mentioned before, the church I’m a part of is an offshoot of the Churches of Christ. One of the things that attracted me to this church was it’s passion for thestandards and misson of God and for the restoration of first century Christianity. They were determined to get into their Bibles and get it right. Let’s set aside all of our preconceived notions of Christianity and look at the Bible fresh and see what it says. I learned that it said a lot of important stuff that I wasn’t aware of and that a lot of stuff that I thought it said just wasn’t there.
One of the side effects of this sort of passion can be an over the top stand on docrinal issues. In other words, an attitude of “This is right and there is no way around it and if you think otherwise you’re in sin!” In the CoC’s, we are unfortunately famous for such lines in the sand. Some draw a line on musical instruments in worship, some draw one over one cup for cummunion vs. many, sone over kitchens in the church building. A nearly universal line drawn by all CoC’s is on baptism for salvation.
We believe that the Bible clearly teaches that baptism is for salvation. Through it we receive the forgiveness of sin and receiving the holy spirit. There are plenty of verses to back this up, in fact I consider it God’s plan of salvation. The early Christians practiced it and it was only much later in church history (around 400 AD if memory serves) that the idea of any other kind of salvation came to be widely accepted. God wants us, no commands us, to be baptised to receive his forgiving grace.
But the point of this post isn’t the ‘rightness’ of baptism. I haven’t even pointed to scriptures or adequately researched the historical things I’ve spoken about (from memory of classes I’ve been in) No, it’s about the arrogance of my CoC family. Frankly, we’ve gotten many things right. The trouble is we look down our noses at the rest of mainstream Christianity as the only ones who’ve made it and Baptism is our litmus test for your salvation. I’ve been there. In fact, my church group, the International CoC’s, took that arrogance to a new level. We looked down our noses at the rest of the CoC’s as well as mainstream Christianity. We had a lock on Christianity, we were ‘God’s modern day movement’ (yes, that’s exactly how we described ourselves.)
We’ve missed the point. We’ve ‘strained out a gnat but swallowed a camel’. Yes, baptism is an important doctrine, crucial to our slavation. Yes, we ought to teach it to everyone we study the Bible with. Yes, it is God’s plan of our forgiveness. But no, it is not the most important thing. More important than that, it’s not the proof of one’s salvation. Even more to the point, deciding who is saved or not is not our role. That belongs to God and God alone. God has said that he expects us to be baptised in order to fellowship with Him, but it is His perrogotive to make an exception if He so chooses. Should we count on it? No. Should we treat baptism as trivial or unnecessary? Absolutely not. It is one thing to be ignorant of God’s commands regarding baptism, it’s quite another to understand them but simply ignore them.
This post springs from an interesting post at Radical Congruency on baptism. Aaron’s point was that it is not up to us to judge one’s salvation. We should, as Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18, insruct other on God’s plan for baptism, but if they refuse to listen it is God’s role to decide what that rejecton means. The post lay dormant for a few months, then exploded in a flurry of comments a few days ago. Many of those new posts were judgemental, condescending and mean. What’s more, it turns out that many of these posters were not strangers from accross the country, but members of Aaron’s own congregation. That folks who are supposedly so passionate for God can say such hurtful things – and in a ‘public’ forum to someone in their own church (would they stand up in the local mall and shout those same comments?) – tells me that perhaps they’ve missed (or forgotten) the point of Christianity.
And Aaron, in response to the pain inflicted, has decided to stop blogging for a while. What a shame.

8 thoughts on “Missing the Point

  1. I think part of the reason for the rudeness was that blogging is an unfamiliar medium to the anonymous commenters. Tact is not easy in a foreign culture, which is why confrontations that require the utmost tact are best done in a familiar medium (in this case, face-to-face).
    Nice post.

  2. Salguod: Just to clarify, you are in the “International Churches of Christ”? This is (or, was) Kip McKean’s church right? I just want to make absolutely sure before I file this away in my memory.

  3. Well, yes, the ICoC is the church that was founded by Kip. I’m not sure what the ICoC is anymore. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what has happened to the ICoC in the past couple of years. Henry Kriete, one of the prominent leaders a few years ago, wrote a highly critical letter concerning our practices, leadership, and finances. It really shook up the churches and individual disciples (myself included.) Many folks have left and most of the churches have gone through some pretty drastic rethinking of who they are. It was needed. There is no longer any leadership of any kind outside of the local congregations.
    Kip leads one of the (former?) ICoC churches (Portland, Oregon) and has been preaching much of the same message as before (big focus on discipleship, discipling and especially evangelism) from there. While he is no longer leading our churches as he was (and hasn’t been for several years), I am sometimes a bit concerned about the perception that he is and what that says about my own church. For anyone who actually knows us that shouldn’t be an issue, I hope.
    What is you knowledge of, or experience with the ICoC? We have a certain, um, reputation that you might notice that I’m sensitive about. 🙂

  4. I have a background in Christian apologetics, primarily specializing in pseudo-Christian movements and cults (i.e., Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, extremist “word of faith”, etc.). It probably comes as no surprise to you that among Christian apologetics circles the ICOC/Boston Movement has, until VERY recently roundly considered a cult. I agree, both for theological reasons and for reasons of having seen the after-effects of ICOC exclusivism, false teachings and outright spiritual abuse. Because of my research background, I know better than to trust the canned defense statements of indoctrinated members (although I can usually refute them) and I know to look to the actual teaching and actual practices in any given movement. For example, the Mormon Church teaches members to say that non-Mormon Christians are saved, yet this is a lie because “saved” means something different to a Mormon and the LDS doctrine has also not taught this in 160 years of oft-conflicted teaching. And so I do the same with ICOC: I look at the actual statements of the leaders, the actual teachings and my own real-world experience in helping an ex-ICOC member recover (which she never really did, she was hurt so deeply). I pray for Grace (yes, her real name) because, at a time of personal turmoil and early spiritual formation, she was deftly manipulated into placing her trust in an ICOC church… only to have them leverage that trust against her when she was told flat out that attending any non-ICOC church would cause her to lose her salvation. I pray and hope that the Holy Spirit continue to minister to her heart through the Scriptures that I shared with her concerning salvation by grace, the unity of the Body of Christ (I said unity, not uniformity), the personal relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit, and why (and WHEN) to be secure in salvation.
    That said, I know ICOC has seen upheaval lately. Yes, I’ve followed it a bit. But ICOC has only begun to understand what I means to have a grace awakening. Cult watchers and Christian apologetics specialists are often very wary of the “same movement, new terminology, new name” syndrome. In spite of Kip’s departure and all that entailed, it’s clear that ICOC is still in what could be described as critical and formative years in the life of ICOC. Unless and until I see solid, ongoing proof that Biblical reform has fully swept every ICOC church, and until I see that unrepentant “old school” ICOC churches have been disciplined out of the organization, then I will still keep ICOC on my list of unhealthy movements. While I won’t call it a cult at the moment, the members and organization continue to exhibit false theology in what I consider several (but not all) key areas, such that I cannot yet recommend it with the pale of orthodoxy. In fact, I probably won’t be satisfied until I see ICOC initiate a VERY public program to: 1) clearly renounce the falsehoods of past teachings, 2) make public amends to wounded ex-members, 3) give other Christians the tools to help undo the damage they (ICOC) have done, and 4) establish a system of internal and external accountability to ensure the ICOC doesn’t slip back into it’s old ways. You’ll notice these are the same steps required of an individual who is repenting, and so it goes with ICOC. Like with individual repentance, I’ll believe it and accept it when I see it in entirety.
    If you want to see a model of how to change cult into true, healthy, Christ-centered Christianity, take a look at what the Worldwide Church of God did. Formerly known as “Armstrongism,” the have completely turned around by honestly looking at their unbiblical exclusivism, manipulative practices and other cult characteristics. They has little breakaways here and there spawned by the “true” adherents to what we call Armstrongism, but those have been small bands of fanatics who are far more dedicated to the movement than the Gospel.
    I’m not going to get into a protected argument over doctrine here with you. I mainly wanted to confirm your ICOC participation since I see you post on Thinklings. When I’m dealing with someone in a group like ICOC, it’s always helpful to know since it helps me scale the language barrier (e.g., terms like “discipling”). But that’s not enough for me. To make sure that I’m “reading you right” I will actually go a read you — that is, read your blog. After all, it’s possible that you could be one of those ICOC members on the cutting edge of turning the church toward the truth and candidly facing the past.

  5. It is not a surprise to me that some considered the ICoC a cult. I’ve been a part of it for 16 years and I have heard that more than once. While I disagree with that label (obviously, or I wouldn’t have stayed so long), I will admit that there have been some serious abuses of trust and authority. Some very stupid things were done in the name of God. The ICoC took some very arrogant stands on who we were and what that meant for those who were not a part of the ICoC. I will also admit that I bought into much of it. There’s something intoxicating about the thought that you are a part of something radical, world changing and from God. The past year or two has been quite the wake up call for me. It has been for many of our churches as well.
    To be fair, many of those calling us a cult were hasty in their judgment and did not take the time to fully investigate the issues involved. Their judgment was frequently not based on attending our services and getting to know the members and their hearts. It was based on the comments of former members (who have an obvious bias) and snippets of information or teachings of certain leaders.
    Your desire for some sort of complete public apology or denouncement of past sins is not going to happen. Not because people or leaders aren’t willing or don’t see the sins of the past, but simply because there is no longer any single ‘voice’ for the ICoC. We have no leadership outside of the local congregations like we used to have.
    Many individual churches have issued apologies similar to what you’ve asked for, aside for perhaps #4. The truth is that the ICoC churches are full of people that simply want to be completely sold out for Jesus. That’s one of our strengths, the commitment of our membership. These people don’t want to be in a cult, they just want to do what ever it is that the Lord wants them to do.
    My heart goes out to people like Grace. It has broken my heart to see the truth of our past, that so many have over the years tried to point out to us, but we had blinded ourselves to it. Thankfully, I have not witnessed the kind of abuses she has experienced, either personally or in others (at least that I’m aware of). Toe fair to those involved, their intentions were nearly always noble, that is they desired to move people to God. However, as I pointed out in this post here, we’ve missed the point. We’ve jumped up and down on people over admittedly important things, but forgot that the focus of those things were the people themselves, not the rules or principals.
    If you want some information on what has happened to us over the last year, visit icocnews. It’s a site established at the beginning of the events that have transformed the ICoC. It was established by a then member of the Chicago ICoC church, now a member of the Naperville Church of Christ. It is not an official ICoC site.
    From my view, at least in my church, we are making significant changes. We are not yet where I hope we will be, but we are moving forward.

  6. Healing

    I’ve written in the past on the power of Christian reconciliation. I’m convinced that there is almost nothing that can match the glory given to God when His people are divided – sometimes deeply and bitterly – and then reconcile….

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