Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Problem with the Church of Christ leadership

Church of Christ theology misunderstands the role grace plays in salvation, seeing grace as a kind of necessary precursor to good works. The situation may be compared to a man needing to clean out his gutters. On his own he has no chance of getting the job done, but if someone were to show him grace and hand him a ladder, he would be able to climb up and improve his situation.

For the Church of Christ salvation begins with the grace of God forgiving you of your sins and continues on in the form of you keeping your salvation through good works. But it doesn't take long until the question comes, "Which good works?" The elder board answers, "All the good works necessary for salvation. You must avoid sin and attend church. You should also believe the same things as us."

This unity is only skin deep however, for while all the elders agree you need to keep your salvation each one has their own belief of which good works matters most for doing so. Invariably the member who isn't as practiced at doing good fails to keep the list and must be brought up for discipline. Or situations arise that breed arguments (like what color will the carpets be), and since these arguments pertain directly to good works, and good works pertain directly to salvation, the arguments grow like cancer until they split the church. Or the members quietly become fed up with being targeted and leave, not being able to put their finger on what's wrong, only knowing that they're unhappy.

This doesn't mean the elders are evil, only that they're people trapped by the consequences of a graceless theology.

Indeed, the very choice of elders is plagued by gracelessness. Who should be appointed as elders to help the church keep the rules? The men best able to keep them themselves of course. Men who are adept at not showing sin take up the job of purging the congregation of their sins so that they can be saved. This sacrificial duty is a heavy burden, but it also comes with the benefit of never having to face your own graceless presuppositions since you're busy staring into your brothers eye for debris. The paid ministry staff (particularly preachers) offer no solution to the problem either. In a religion where self discipline, dedication, and abstinence are of primary importance who is more virtuous than the man who's dedicated his whole life to preaching?

From top to bottom then the leadership is touched by the fundamental problem of not knowing how salvation works, which in turn multiplies fear. There's the fear of not being good enough for heaven, fear of being judged harsher as a teacher, fear of letting others slip away. The worst thing that can happen to a father is to see their children abandon the faith and the elders have to watch it happen over and over again. The philosophy doesn't work, so neither do the churches.

But the good news is that God has made it evident that the system doesn't work so that we would abandon that erroneous premise of faith-plus-works and trust in His grace alone. He pursues us (to correct us) and is continually calling us to heed the instructions of Paul in Gal 3:3.

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