Churches of Christ: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century

Yesterday: a message for those who aren’t members of churches of Christ. Today: a reality check for the rest of us.

A message to my friends in the churches of Christ:

Nancy Grace is not our problem. She is a symptom of a much bigger problem. Our uncomfortable experience in the national spotlight earlier this week was not an isolated incident that will eventually fade away, allowing things to return to normal. It was only the beginning. Possibly, the beginning of the end of our fellowship of churches.

A few of our leaders have been warning us that this was coming. The world is changing. People don’t know who we are or what we are about. And when they do find out, they aren’t going to like it.

The questions that are being asked by Nancy Grace – and a lot of other questions – are not going to go away:
Why aren’t women allowed to participate in leadership and worship?
Do you think that God is going to put everyone who doesn’t agree with you (or with Christians generally) through eternal torment? Even people who live good lives?
Why are those with gay and lesbian sexual orientations excluded from your churches?
Why are all of you white?
Why don’t the other denominations like you?
You say you love everyone, but I don’t see you doing much to “help” people, other than those who look and act similar to you. Why?
Do you really believe all of those stories in your bible?
Isn’t the bible sexist?
Do you think God cares about global warming?
Do you care about people with AIDS?
What was Jesus really like? Do you even know?

If our effectiveness during the twentieth century was defined by our ability to answer abstract, theological questions, our effectivness during the twenty-first will be defined by our ability to put our theology to work, responding in tangible ways to the larger social and political issues of our day.

If we offer sixty year-old answers to questions like these, expecting that sensible bible-oriented banter will impress people, we will be treated the same way as Rubel Shelly on Wednesday night. And we will ultimately be tossed aside into the margins of our culture, written off as a crazy cult.

The time has come for a serious dialog about the questions that people are asking us, reexamining everything in the light of a fresh understanding of scripture and of the nature of Jesus. We no longer have the luxury of coddling those among us who are determined to keep everything – our teachings, our organizational structures, our practices, our worship and bible class formats – frozen in the 1950s. We no longer have the luxury of sitting around in bible classes and small groups – recirculating the same tired, old discussions and occasionally bemoaning the fact that we don’t get out in the world and do more. We no longer have the luxury of endless whining about how wrong people were in the way they did things fifty years ago, content that simply by disagreeing with the past, we have somehow gotten our own acts together.

People don’t see the love of God in us. They see a bunch of whackos who are despirately clinging to bizarre ideas that have very little to do with the real Jesus. And in some cases, they are right.

The time has come to finally get serious about discipleship and begin moving into the world to demonstrate the love of Jesus not only for those that we deem worthy of it, but for everyone: every race, every gender, every income bracket, every tongue, every tribe, every nation. In short: during the next fifty years, we must either become more like Jesus or fade into history.

Welcome, my friends, to the twenty-first century.

(Note: I won’t be posting or commenting late Friday or Saturday.)

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