How about a rant for Friday afternoon? What say?
Go read this article from the Christian Chronicle. Now.
A few observations:
1) This is crazy. (But then again what isn’t crazy about Churches of Christ…sometimes.)
2) The Christian Chronicle can’t seem to make up its mind. (For any non-cofC readers here, the Chronicle is a news magazine published by and for members of mainline Churches of Christ).
**DISCLAIMER: None of what I am about to say should be taken to mean that I support the divisions that exist among Churches of Christ. I am simply trying to make some points about the power of language and the affect that it has among us.**
The question for the Chronicle is this: are non-institutional churches of Christ part of the Churches of Christ or not? On the one hand, the Chronicle features an interview with Ferrell Jenkins at FC in the “Dialogue” section of the paper (the tone of which runs like this: “look at those quirky little antis, aren’t they cute!”). They also include a link (now repaired) to the Florida College website. On the other hand, they’re clearly upset by missionaries from NI churches “causing division” (this is, after all, the anecdotal centerpiece of the article).
Yes, splitting congregations (“exporting conflict,” as they so aptly call it) is horrible. I’m horrified (but not really surprised) by the actions of Keith Sharp and Stan Cox — they are unconscionable and wrong. HOWEVER, should the Chronicle really, seriously expect anything different? Do they have any cause to be so righteously shocked at what is occuring? No.
To accuse someone or some group of “causing division” assumes that there was unity to begin with. There is not now, nor has there been for a half a century, unity between mainstream and non-institutional cofCs. To explain: NI churches are, to paraphrase Ed Harrell, a separate religious body with its own distinct religious agenda, which only rarely overlaps with that of mainstream cofCs. They were run out of the “mainstream” 50 years ago with a ruthlessness and a rhetorical paranoia worthy of the McCarthy hearings that were exactly contemporary with the split. The two groups today, as much as it pains me to say this, stand in relationship to one another in about the same way that Disciples and Churches of Christ relate to one another, i.e. they share a common history but not much else.
Regarding the question of missions, the complaints in this article remind me of nothing so much as reports from Disciples missionaries from the 20s and 30s complaining about non-instrumental missionaries creating strife on the mission field. How many “mainstream” cofC missionaries have not done this in their pursuit of converts in the mission field? Unfair, you say? Not true any more? The recent openness among mainstream cofCs notwithstanding, all branches of the cofC have a long and well-established history of exactly this kind of behavior in support of the “truth.” Some call it sheep-stealing.
Back to the Chronicle article. Rhetorically, the confusion about who is in and who is out is very useful for the Chronicle and mainline cofCers in general — all of the benefits of keeping a whipping boy around, none of the responsibility of actually treating them like brothers and sisters in Christ.
3) It’s extremely striking to me that the people they quote are Keith Sharp and Stan Cox. Are these really the best choices to represent NI churches? Is Stan Cox really the only person they could get on the phone? What about Colly Caldwell, Ferrell Jenkins or Ed Harrell? I suspect that the average Chronicle staff writer does not know their way around NI churches and the attendant politics therein and therefore has no way to be savvy or remotely representative in their choice of interlocutor. So, perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on them. Plainly put, Sharp and Cox are division-mongers, people who have no qualms splitting NI churches, much less “apostate” (to use their own term) “mainstream” ones, and should hardly be seen as representative of a movement within which they increasingly represent a minority.