Friday, June 20, 2008

Being Defined By What We Aren't

On Wednesday's post, I made the following statement: "It's very easy for a church like Otter Creek to get defined by what we aren't: 'we aren't a conservative church of Christ.'" As I read back over that, it felt like a fairly significant idea. I've talked previously about the idea of the "liberal/progressive Churches of Christ:" Why Go to a Liberal/Progressive Church of Christ? and The Future of the Churches of Christ

There is a lot of baggage that comes with being in the Church of Christ. Some of it good, some of it not so. In towns that have churches of Christ, opinions about us can tend toward negative, and for those of us, that don't want to be associated with that, but still want to bear the name "Church of Christ," it can be a constant struggle to 1) not be defined by that and 2) convince people that we aren't defined by that. Back many moons ago, Adam Ellis and I did our Postrestorationist Radio podcast, with the subtitle, For People Who Don't Go to THAT Kind of Church of Christ, which I think speaks to that problem. If we are in a progressive Church of Christ, it seems that one of our biggest issues is always going to be being defined by what we aren't: We aren't a conservative Church of Christ.

But to me, that's not good enough.

In the past, a church like Otter Creek has been defined this way. And to some extent that's ok. Some people come to a church like that because they are still in a Church of Christ, in a comfort zone. Sometimes it's a time of healing. But if in our minds, we constantly define ourselves by what we aren't, that becomes our crutch and the Spiritual Superiority comeplex. What we have to start doing is seeking what we are, who we are. What are our pursuits? What specific things are we doing to be the Body of Christ? How are we equipping and exhorting our members to be "Little Christs" in our everyday lives?

We HAVE to be able to leave behind the baggage of the Churches of Christ, we have to break fee of the inertia of the status quo, we have to press on: As Paul puts it in Philippians, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." If we do that, we're not going to have to worry about the baggage or what other people think of the name "Church of Christ," and we can be Jesus to the world, in all its messiness.


Tony Arnold said...

Phil, I have discomfort over any type of label. I hate the fact that I have to be defined by a church type by my fellow Christians and by non-Christians. I don't want to be a member of a conservative church. Or a member of a progressive church, or a liberal church, or an old-school church, or a reformed church, ad naseum.

I want just want to be identified with Christ, as a proclaimed disciple. And then admit freely that I fail repeatedly in being a good disciple.

I go to a Church of Christ because I was raised in this environment and have some comfort zones there (I also have some discomfort zones). When I meet other Christians, I never ask them what type of church they are a member of or what denomination they follow. I don't relate to others in such contexts.

I ask them where do you worship. And, I am asking purely in the context of finding a link we can share such as, "hey, I have several friends who worship there, do you know them?" My boss worships there. Or, I did some social projects with some members there." Something common that promotes developing a communication point.

I don't care what denomination or ill-defined stereotype it may be.

One thing I have liked about the Church of Christ is our theory of being non-demoninational. I want that. But in practice we have failed.

You hear so many people say that you can't put God in a box. Ironic however, is that religion seems to crave a box, to need a box to be comfortable. It's as if there is some natural law: religion and Churches need a box.

But the box then limits our ability to be optimal disciples.

Jim Voorhies said...

One of the reasons I prefer a more non-denominational church, is my impression that denominations tend to focus on doctrinal differences in worship and teaching as much or more than they do Christ. Unfortunately, you also find that in non-denoms too.

Ben said...

I think I am hearing that we should be more willing to share claim of the title "Church of Christ" with all denominations and believers and refer to ourselves as a congregation of Christians instead.

I like it.

Justin said...

I think it would be interesting to talk about the distinction that's emerging between contemporary c of cs versus progressive ones.

I think when I say I go to a church of christ, I want to tell people its a progressive one (though the one I go to is not) because there's a whole new set of presuppositions that I don't want to be a part of. The contemporary churches are essentially trying to be a typical evangelical church, while i feel like progressive churches, like OC, Woodmont, Highland (Abilene), and others are starting to address a whole new set of issues. Progressive I don't think defines us by what we aren't, but by what we are. We are about helping those in need. We are about the mission of God, rather than our own self righteous attempts to be "relevant".

This is random, and probably off topic. But your post spurred these thoughts, so here they are.

Tony Arnold said...

Well said Ben.

Tiffany said...

Hasn't the Church of Christ always defined itself by what it isn't (non-instrumental, non-sprinklers, etc)? Interesting that we're still defining ourselves by separating ourselves from fellow believers, just different believers this time.

Anonymous said...

Oh to be so enlightened as you who claim to be "postmoderns." You accept everything and every wind of doctrine with the exception of conservative christians. Reminds me of liberal politics.

Keith Brenton said...

anonymous, don't be too sure about that. There are a whole lot of folks who may worship a little differently, who disagree with your views, and yet still respect your privilege to hold them - and who still love you deeply. We're your brothers and sisters in Christ.

We don't claim to be post-moderns, just Christians.

We don't claim to be enlightened, just seeking.

We don't claim to know all the right answers and do all the right things; we just pursue the right Way, who is Christ.

As a general rule, most of us don't leave sarcastic labels and accusations and insults on blogs of folks we don't agree with. Some do, but they should work on their fruits, by which they are known.

We love you. We'll pray with you. We'll pray for you to work on your fruits, too - and we hope you'll do the same for us.

Anonymous said...

To get a few laughs and to understand what it's all about google "Postmodernism and the Emerging Church Movement." Then go down to the 'glossary of emergent terms for those new to the conversation.' I think that pretty well sums it up in a light-hearted way.

Chris said...

My favorite:

Liberal-- A term that is not useful in describing those in the emerging church conversation since we are beyond that.

Keith Brenton said...

But do articles like the one you've cited, anonymous, convey the loving and generous Spirit of Christ?

Or is their purpose to differentiate and divide and mock?

Do they promote the desire of Jesus that He prayed for in John 17?

Anonymous said...

The emergent movement has done more to divide the body of Christ than anything I have experienced in the last 50 years, and yet there are so many people who are not aware of it. Any movement that says there is no absolute truth should be exposed for what it is. If you read many blogs, most of them, to one degree or another, are in bed with this "conversation." It should be exposed and I am willing to do it.

Anonymous said...


Keith Brenton said...

Link for me, please, a citation of any emergent conversation/movement site which says there is no such thing as absolute truth, and I will find more credibility in what you say, anonymous.

How much credibility and influence will you have on those sites if you begin as you began here? As a strident, prophetic exposer through sarcasm and accusation, rather than as a fellow believer? Will you persuade those who believe differently sooner that way, or the way Paul approached Athens: "I see that in every way you are very religious!"?

It's possible that where you will disagree with them is over what constitutes absolute truth - and that they may find some of your interpretations are extra-scriptural and not absolute truth at all. That's very different from saying there is no such thing.

Anonymous said...

See the article---"Emerging Church-Distinctive Teachings and Goals." It's under the same source you cited.

Keith Brenton said...

Oh, for crying out loud. Any site that identifies itself WITH the emergent conversation. The articles at Apologetics Index quote secular postmodernists and attribute the same presumptions to quotes from folks in the emergent conversation that bear little or no similarity.

Those articles also attribute broad beliefs without quotes at all.

That, to me, is evidence of an axe to grind.

Anonymous said...

Apologetics Index (AI) purpose is to research cults, sects and other religious movements, doctrines and practices to inform christians and others with their beliefs. There are many quotes from Brian McClaren himself. Note the title--Emergent Church---(not secular)

What a lame defense you offer

Phil said...


You seem very intent on continuing this conversation, which I have no issues with. However, the rest of us have been open with who we are. Would you be willing to offer us the same courtesy? Thanks.

Tony Arnold said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Well, I had to wait my turn at our computer. My name is Chris and I hail from near Houston, formerly of Woolverton Mountain Arkansas, next door to the farm of Clifton Clowers.

Phil said...

Thanks, Chris.

So is your purpose here to inform, to convince, or simply to stir things up?

Chris said...

All three, actually. I am trying to educate people to the fact that this is a very dangerous movement.

Keith Brenton said...

Chris, my point is that you can't rely on one source for all your information, especially one that quotes someone and says, "What he really means by that is this ... " and then interprets it the way they want to.

Go to the source. Read the original in context. Don't take someone else's word for what it says. You would do that with scripture, I hope.

Would you automatically take the word of someone on CNN for what someone on Fox News meant by what he/she said? Or vice-versa?

Though I disagree with you, I'm trying to help. I just don't believe you can be effective in persuading people - as I have already said - by relying on one source, by labeling and assuming, by asserting without proving, by being condescending and sarcastic.

Even if you're right - which I have cause to doubt for the reasons above.

Chris said...

Over the past couple of years I have read a lot about the EC movement. From what I read on AI, it corrosponds exactly with the personal thoughts of those involved.

AI researches various cults and movements and they don't just make things up.

Keith Brenton said...

Chris, have you read the personal thoughts of those involved from their own works, in context?

Until you have, fully, researched the movement, may I recommend the wisdom of Gamaliel from Acts 5:33-39 - without the flogging that the "others" perpetrated in the next verse?

And in the meantime, could you find some evil that you know from scripture to be evil - like greed, obscenity, racism, or violence against the unprotected - and battle that with all your heart ... still loving and respecting those who have fallen prey (like all of us) to sin?

Chris said...


I think we have beaten this horse to death. Thanks for being a good sport.

You probably know a relative of mine at PVCofC--Dr.CR. Give her my regards.

Keith Brenton said...

Yes! She's one of my wife's dearest friends.

Well, you never know who you'll meet online!

Blessings, Chris.

Fajita said...

The emerging church isthe postmodern version of the restoration movement - no more and no less philosophiclly influenced, no more and mo less culturally infleunced. The difference is that the emerging church accepts and is aare of its cultural influence and the restoraion movement is only in a few little corners willing to accept any responsibility for its cultural and philosophical embeddedness.

I am not afraid of postmodernism any more than I am afraid of the enlightenment.

What I like is that the kingdomstory of God is bigger and better than our contextual flaws.

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