It’s cold and rainy in Nashville. Good weather for lots of things — hot soup, staring out the window, sober reflection on the course of life.
Two things: I’ve spent a good deal of time over the past couple of weeks pursuing a couple of different ideas. First, the pacifist ideal among Churches of Christ. Second, I’ve been spending more time in Lipscomb’s library pulling from their collection of literature (debates, tracts, etc.) dealing with the institutional controversy among cofCs in the 1950s. I’ll take them in order.
1) I spent Sunday afternoon discussing some issues surrounding Christian participation in war and in government with some friends. One of my interlocutors is closely involved in the research that one of the Lipscomb profs is doing re: pacifism in Churches of Christ. He is attempting to show the continuity of pacifist thinking throughout the history of Churches of Christ. As we’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking about how this plays out among the various sub-groups of cofCs, including my own.
- Mainstream cofCs have largely rejected pacifism (although there is a bit of a resurgence of late, mostly it seems among young people).
- One-cup cofCs are (and have been for the duration of their existence as a separate communion among cofCs) staunchly pacifist.
- My own heritage (NIs) seem to have taken something of a middle road. Pacifism has never been proscribed in the way that it was in the “mainstream.” But, at the same time, it doesn’t — at least judging by the periodicals — appear to be a majority position. In other words, it is a viable option. Most often, it is seen as an issue that Christians can disagree on without breaking fellowship. (Perhaps the locus classicus for this view is Quentin McCay’s “The Controversy Concerning the Christian’s Relationship to Civil Government” in Their Works Do Follow Them, FC Annual Lectures 1982.) There are problems with this approach, to which I will return later.
My question is this: what accounts for these differences? Is it simply historical circumstance?
2) Reading Harrell’s Emergence of the “Church of Christ” Denomination (and other more or less contemporary works, such as the Tant-Harper Debate) has caused me to wonder: how would one go about reconstructing the doctrinal/theological history of NI cofCs?
The sources for such an endeavor are polemical to the core. Take, for example, the so-called “grace-unity movement” of the early 1970s. The surviving literature is disappointing. Neither side (esp. on the Truth Magazine end of things) seems especially interested in the concerns of the other side. What really happened there and what does it say about the NI movement at that specific moment in its history or over the span of the last half-century? Will there ever be any way to (even partially) objectively answer that question? The same thing obtains for the war question. Let’s say that I wanted to reconstruct the fortunes of the pacifist/non-pacifist positions among NIs. Where would I go? I read an article the other day in a 1993 issue of Truth which asked the question “Was Jesus a Pacifist?” The author’s argument was singularly unhelpful: his definition of “pacifist” seemed to be “wimp.” He doesn’t seem to have investigated the question at all really and came across as exceedingly emotion-driven. How sad. But that’s a digression. Why is the war question not an issue among NIs? You would think that it would be otherwise. War is a life and death issue. Abortion is a life and death issue. But no congo that I’m aware of would hire a preacher who thought that abortion was something that Christians could disagree on and remain in fellowship. Would they? Will some intrepid historian ever be able to recover what played into the development of this outlook?
That’s enough for now. I’ve got a headache.