October 13, 2003
We all bow down

This week's church was the Culver-Palms Church of Christ. I went to this feeling blinder than usual -- I knew at least something about the other denominations I've visited, but I knew exactly squat about the Church of Christ. I didn't even know if this encompassed one denomination or not.

Fortunately, the sermon was largely about the history of the Church of Christ, so I could hardly have picked a better day to go. The preacher (yet another fill-in for yet another church that's between pastors) was doing a series on 1 Corinthians, specifically the issues Paul was dealing with in the early church and how they echoed in CC history.

The church had its origins in the Restoration Movement, an early 19th-century effort to unite Christendom (or Protestants, anyway) by focusing on the essential New Testament message and downplaying creedal and historical differences. The motto: "In faith, unity; in opinion, liberty; in all things, charity." They did, in fact, persuade many churches to toss their denominational identities and simply be churches of Christ (hence the ultra-generic name). But the irony (said the preacher) is that this effort to unify Christendom has turned into one of the most factionalized denominations in America.

He read off a mind-boggling list of some of the things Churches of Christ had split over. A lot of them had to do with reproducing the Last Supper. There are "upper room" churches, since the LS was depicted in the Bible as happening in an upper room. There are "after dark" churches, since the LS was, after all, a supper. There were even (the preacher admitted he couldn't quite say this with a straight face) churches that follow the Biblical pattern of eating, singing a hymn and walking out -- only to turn around and walk in again to finish the service.

Other New Testament ephemera has divided churches: whether women should be veiled in church, whether baptism should occure with still water or moving water (never mind sprinkling vs. immersion). Actually, that fits with my one previous brush with the CC, when my then-boyfriend attended one in Boston. He ended up leaving because they told him he should be rebaptized; his original Methodist baptism was supposedly defective in some way, though I don't remember exactly how.

Anyway, as I listened to this I could almost hear my Catholic blog-friends snickering. This is what you get when you think you can go at the Bible de novo, when you don't know your dogma from your doctrine from your theology -- you end up refighting the same arguments the Mother Church settled a long time ago, only even farther removed from the context in which the Bible was written. And the preacher admitted, in fact, that the Restoration leaders were rather naive about human rationality; they figured if everyone got together and talked things out in good faith, they would at least roughly agree on interpretations of Scripture. But, as he succinctly put it: "The Bible is hard."

But he did think the ideals of the Restoration were worth salvaging, and indicated he would discuss that in future sermons. I didn't have a hugely strong feeling about the church otherwise, but I'm interested in finding out where he's going with this. It's certainly a problem every sizable church has faced, including the one Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians. Or just about any organization of any size, really; but when this is the Body of Christ we're talking about, the divisions are rather more painful.

Posted by Camassia at October 13, 2003 02:53 PM | TrackBack

There is also a movement that went by the name of Boston Church of Christ (and now seems to call itself the International Church of Christ) that is commonly recognized as a cult, using tactics such as "legalism, twisting of scripture, exclusivism, and ... the well known mind-control methodologies of other destructive cults." It was known for preying on college students when I was in school back in the late '80s, and I think it's still at it.

Posted by: Tom T. on October 13, 2003 07:39 PM

You know, I think that was the same church. That was what he called it. And he mentioned later that somebody called it a cult.

Good thing he wasn't sucked in. And also a good thing the church I attended isn't related to it.

Posted by: Camassia on October 13, 2003 08:21 PM

Hey, I wasn't snickering...well, okay, maybe a little bit. But I really do find this stuff fascinating.

Posted by: Peter Nixon on October 14, 2003 10:33 AM
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