If members of churches in the restorationist tradition no longer embrace the basic tenats of restorationism, why remain within that tradition?
I posed this question a couple of posts back, and its one that is worth asking.
For those who consider themselves post-restorationists (as I described in my last post), there is some reason to stay. If you think the movement can still go somewhere, but that it needs to change its perspective on certain issues, you should be welcome to stay and engage in conversation about reform.
However, my suspicion is that most of the people who are uncomfortable with restoration principles are more like me – they are ex-restorationists. For us,the basic issue is one of respect. It is one thing to reject a set of beliefs. It is another thing to remain within a tradition that exists to articulate those beliefs after you have done so. Those who wish to remain in the tradition begin to lose their voice and influence when their numbers are watered down by non-adherents.
There is visible evidence of this within my faith tradition. I would say that – among the churches of Christ – there are numerous local churches that are virtually indistinguishable from a typical independent, evangelical “bible church.” Many even use musical instruments and allow women to assume leadership roles, two traditional markers of identity in the churches of Christ. This understandably creates confusion among outsiders about what the churches of Christ stand for, and it is creating increasing frustration among those who want to continue within the restorationist tradition. Such people are not always mean-spirited or judgmental; they even offer well-wishes on anyone who wants to leave. They simply want our churches to maintain their primary identity within the restorationist movement.
If you no longer believe in what this faith tradition stands for, they say, you need to leave – either change your church’s name or attend a church that is outside of the restoration tradition.
So…why do people stay? Three reasons, all of which are difficult for ex-restorationists (such as myself) to admit:
1. Institutional ties. Many of us are tied to “church of Christ” institutions, particularly educational institutions. These institutions require that their employees and board members maintain membership within the churches of Christ. We do not want to break those ties.
2. Relationships. Many of us have (many) strong relationships, both friends and family, within the churches of Christ. In some cases, family members find it important that we continue within this tradition.
3. Absence of reflection. Some of us simply don’t think about these issues. We just keep doing what we have already done, even though we don’t really believe in the central tenats from which our tradition derives its identity.
For the most part, none of us want to be subversive or disrespectful. But the truth of the matter is that certain principles that are very important to some of our members are slowly fading away because our churches are overrun by people who no longer buy into them.
The question, though difficult to face, is well worth considering: is it appropriate for churches whose leaders do not embrace restorationism to use the name Church of Christ? And is it appropriate to remain within such a tradition for non-theologcial reasons (institutional employment, etc.) when you reject its foundational principles?
I don’t have a complete answer to this, but I’ve been reflecting on it quite a bit during the last few days, and the only valid reason I can come up with is this: one might stay within the tradition for purposes of providing transitional ministry to the members of such churches.
Here is the grim reality. The population of our churches is aging and shrinking every year. The churches of Christ, as we currently know them, will very likely not exist within one generation, and I would not be surprised to see major signs of this decline (e.g., significant churches and/or educational institutions closing their doors and/or changing names) within the next decade.
I often remark that anyone who is thinking about going into ministry in the churches of Christ should be prepared to think of their ministry in terms of hospice care. Since ex-restorationists are about neither continuing nor reforming the tradition, they can only see their role as one of providing comfort and hope to those who are saddened to see the end of the tradition and by helping those who need to move on from these churches (whether by necessity or by desire) to find more vibrant and time-tested spiritual and theological traditions.
Children’s and youth ministers are the most critical. The emerging generations that are moving through our churches today may be lucky to find any vibrant Christian community in an increasingly post-Chrisitan culture, much less one within the restoration tradition. It is important that they learn to have a generous orthodoxy, and that they come to know, respect and accept different belief systems and practices within the Christian tradition. Adaptability – both in theology and praxis – strikes me as the key.
This post is already waaaay too lengthy, so let me stop and summarize: the reality of the situation is that most of the younger generations don’t “buy in” to the restoration tradition. For that reason, it is unlikely that restoration traditions will continue to exist within the lifetimes of our children. Ex-restorationists need to be honest with ourselves and others (particularly, with our churches and with the church-related institutions to which we are tied) about this situation, and we should either transition ourselves into other traditions or at least come to think of ourselves as ministers who exist to assist others in transition.
I know from some of the comments to prior posts that this is an issue that many of you are thinking about, so I’m eager to hear what you have to say.