The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: An Idea for a Dialogue

cooperation.jpgI get emails. This is from reader Alex Johnson —

Dear Brother Guin,

I was browsing your website earlier today, and I came upon an interesting statement in one of your posts;

“Our institutions should give some thought to where God wants the Churches of Christ to be going — and what is the strategy for getting there. Just imagine if our best thinkers and leaders sat in a room over coffee and prayerfully asked: What does God want next for the Churches of Christ?”

This is a wonderful idea! But I was wondering…has it actually happened yet? If so, what did they come up with? And if not, what’s holding it up? Let’s get this thing started! Who are our “best thinkers and leaders”, can they be convinced to hold just such a meeting (even if it’s through a blog like GraceConversation or by submitting papers to a journal) and if so, would anyone actually listen to them? And if people won’t listen to the best and brightest directly, who do they need to convince for that to happen?

These are excellent questions. The answers are —

Who are our “best thinkers and leaders”?

I have some ideas but don’t feel qualified to say for sure.

Can they be convinced to hold just such a meeting (even if it’s through a blog like GraceConversation or by submitting papers to a journal)?

If my plan is a good one, we’re going to find out.

Would anyone actually listen to them?

Well, we’re too cussedly independent to expect universal agreement on anything. But such a conversation would be be helpful nonetheless, because it would surely initiate other conversations along the same lines and stir further thought on a subject that I think is being largely ignored.

So … here’s the idea —

* Ask readers to nominate those whose thoughts on the future of the progressive Churches of Christ they’d like to read in dialogue with one another.

* Cull the list to something manageable (4 or so?)

* Invite the nominees to participate.

* Set up a live chat here at OneInJesus at an announced time — say from 7 to 9 o’clock on a Thursday night.

* Invite readers to follow along and comment live as the principals talk about the challenges facing the progressive Churches.

* Leave site open for a while for the principals to share additional thoughts or maybe set times for follow up discussions.

This seems better than asking a college to discuss the question at a lectureship, as lectureships are all about preaching and teaching, that is, not really about dialogue. You could have a panel discussion, I suppose, but these are rarely done all that well. It’s just hard to have a discussion sitting side by side in front of an audience. At least to me, live internet chat seems a good way to go. (And OneInJesus would likely produce a much larger audience than a lectureship panel discussion.)

But I’m very open to suggestions. Maybe there’s a better idea out there.

So, dear readers —

1. What do you think of the idea? Is there a better approach?

2. Who should be the participants?

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32 Responses

  1. I nominate Landon Saunders

    But I also suggest videotaping a face-to-face discussion, followed up by a GraceConversation type forum

  2. I think this is a good idea. The question I have is how does this get from here to there? How does it go from a fruitful discussion that would be beneficial for more people to hear it to be something people really do hear? Blogs can only do so much. Youtube might help along with David Himes’ suggestion. Maybe we get some people together who would be willing to package it onto a CD with some videos and pdf’s that would be made available to elderships.

    Just some thoughts about dissemination. I guess I am saying we can have a great discussion but if people don’t know about it or aren’t informed of any innovative, thought provoking, God-leaning ideas that are shared in the dialog then the mark may have been missed. For instance, how many people in the average congregation know about Grace Conversation and to how many of them would it have been helpful? How many elders knew about it and would it have been practical to them?

    So this needs to be practical, relevant, God-centered, and effectively disseminated.

    A few to be considered:
    Jay Guin, John Alan Turner, Wade Hodges, Terry Rush, John Mark Hicks

  3. Is this just about the conservative cofC denominations finding grace to accept the progressive cofC denominations, or is this about the conservatives finding grace to accept other churches?

    If this is about the conservative cofC denominations finding grace to accept other churches other than just the progressive cofC, then show that you are standing with other churches and have their best thinkers and leaders to be spokesmen as well in these discussions.

  4. This is about unification. Bringing (through the internet) all factions of the “Church of Christ” to one whole body. This is my forever ending prayer.

  5. Landon Saunders would be good, as would John Mark Hicks. Leonard Allen would also be a fine candidate. Patrick Mead also has a lot to contribute. Don’t forget Jay Guin and Todd Deaver, though we have heard a lot from both of them on Grace Conversation. Randy Harris is worthy of consideration. To give a little balance, you might want to include F. LaGard Smith.

    I am sure there could be many other worthy candidates as well.

    I like the idea. There are so many areas for discussion, though. Do these need to be narrowed?

    Perhaps a good goal would be to develop a healthy hermeneutic by which we can identify “salvation issues” in a principled, consistent way.

    Circulation of the discussion will be crucial. There will need to be a plan for broad discussion of points made – although there is a need to hold comments from the entire universe of viewers until the discussion has somewhat matured. Premature opening of such a discussion to comments will cause it to lose focus and many of us who will comment will be off on tangents instead of holding to the chief issues.

  6. I second Jerry’s mention of Patrick Mead. I also like the idea the fact that John Mark Hicks and Jay have been mentioned.

    Now for a nominee that (surprisingly) hasn’t been mentioned: Edward Fudge.

  7. Waiting to see if any who attend the cofC denomination think beyond their cofC denominations walls.

  8. That was tried in Tulsa by Marvin Phillips at Garnett Road I think in the 80’s. The ultra conservatives dominated by name caliiing and literly silenced anyone who opposed them.

    good luck

  9. Anonymous

    Good point. We even put God in a box. Our walls are not to keep peoplw from the outside coming in but to keep the insiders trapped by their legalistic teaching.

    I pray for your success because much of what we believe is good. We just don’t care for the outsider.whether they are christian or not if they differ with us.

  10. Do not accept reader comments, this will be disruptive. The key would be getting good conservative participants.

  11. Not allowing readers to comment in other words means don’t allow other perspectives but keep it within the cofC denominations walls.

    If there is a disruptive comment there is a button that can easily delete it.

  12. I would think it might be wise to include at least one of the men leading one of the largest progressive churches in the brotherhood.

    I seldom give much attention to “anonymous” commenters…but, I have to agree this time. Until churches of Christ admit they exist, and embrace believers in other fellowships our claims of “unity” will be hollow at best. How can we scold so called “conservatives” in the coC as sectarian while doing the same thing? (A few of our people do recognize and fellowhip with believers who are not Restorationists but only a few in my view.)

    There are almost constant references to Restoration history and series of lessons taught in churches on the subject but at least some of the most important lessons are not learned. “Christians but not the only Christians” has been largely fogotten like an epitaph on a tombstone.

    The future? Unless we preach Christ more than the church of Christ we will only repeat the past.

    Royce

  13. Unless we preach Christ more than the church of Christ we will only repeat the past.

    AMEN & AMEN!

  14. Freed Hardeman had a couple of well-done debates over the instrumental music question a few years ago. The discussion was only published in video format. How many people bought those and listened to the two or so hours each lasted?

    I may be unusual in that I don’t like watching sermons and classes on YouTube. I think I’m too impatient. I can read the discussion much, much faster. But maybe more people like videos.

    But here’s the biggest problem. How do you get the word out among the conservatives or the progressives?

    The progressives have no periodical, no newspaper, and just a few blogs. We don’t even have a mailing list. We may be a movement, but we’re sure not an organization!

    The conservatives are theoretically much easier to reach, because they have zillions of periodicals. (Why do the conservatives support dozens of theological periodicals and the progressives support none? There’s doctorate in there for some socialist, I think.)

    Ultimately, I guess the Christian Chronicle is the only place to go, and we’d have to buy an ad. I don’t think they’d see it as newsworthy.

  15. Anon,

    The progressive churches are largely headed toward acceptance of most other denominations or are already there.

    The real question is not just acceptance of the progressives by the conservatives, but hoping the conservatives can come to see grace in a way that frees them from the shackles of legalism. That would bring unity — but it would bring much, much more. Indeed, it’s a step toward having a truly scriptural view of the larger community of believers. But it’s one step at a time.

  16. If what you say is true then show that you are standing with other churches having their best thinkers and leaders to be spokesmen along with you as well in these discussion.

    Be a good example.

  17. Jay,

    What do you mean by “acceptance of most other denominations?” And “truly scriptural view of the ‘larger’ community of believers? Can you expound? I’ve only recently found your website, and, while I’m a member of what y’all refer to as the conservatives, I consider myself more moderate than conservative (people would accuse me of being a fence straddler, I guess), but I’m not sure I’m at the point of believing in the “larger community” yet.

  18. Anon,

    I’m at a bit of a loss. If the conversation to be had is about the future of the progressive Churches, what denominational leaders would I invite? Do I ask the head of the Southern Baptists to counsel us on the best direction for the progressive Churches?

    I’m thinking more along the lines of — do we merge with the independent Christian Churches? With others? Do we give up all denominational characteristics and become unaffiliated, autonomous churches? Do we remain a part of the larger Churches of Christ? Do we disappear into the larger evangelical world? Or do we have some principles that should keep us separate in some sense?

    Some churches have already left the Churches. Some have identified with the independent Christian Churches. Some have become nondenominational community churches. If the progressive Churches give up their identity of Churches of Christ, what happens to the institutions that they support?

    I just don’t see what leaders from outside the progressive Churches would have to add to the conversation, but maybe I’m missing something.

  19. Rachel,

    There’s not a sharp line between progressives and conservatives nor are all progressives or all conservatives the same. However, I think there’s a clear trend among progressives to accept as valid far more baptisms than the conservatives do. This has been going on for quite some time, but is still a matter of considerable debate among progressives. Nonetheless, the trend seems clear.

    My own views (and I don’t speak for progressives as a whole) is that God accepts all who come to him with faith and penitence, and I attempt to defend this view from scripture in Born of Water, on the site as an ebook at http://oneinjesus.info/books-by-jay-guin/born-of-water/.

    That is not to reject our traditional teaching that God means for baptism to be by immersion of believers. I think that’s plainly right. I just don’t think the scriptures insist that those who’ve been taught in error and who so are baptized improperly will be damned. Grace covers mistakes for penitent believers in Jesus.

    Now, when I was more of a moderate myself, I would have considered such a teaching ridiculous. But deeper study of the scriptures brought me to a different conclusion, and I urge to read the book.

    However, before I could grasp the Bible’s teachings on baptism, I had to first sort through grace. My studies in grace that caused me to reject legalism are in Do We Teach Another Gospel?, also posted as an ebook at http://oneinjesus.info/books-by-jay-guin/do-we-teach-another-gospel/.

    I urge you read these two texts and prayerfully test them against the scriptures.

    May God bless your walk with Jesus.

  20. If the disucussions are about churches having unity sharing grace why couldn’t another church partner with you in the discussions. I’m not saying stop being the unique part of the body of Christ that you are but to show the unity the progressives speak about having with other churches by setting the example in front of many church viewers. People can learn and grow when this takes place.

  21. Anon,

    I think it’s step at a time. We have to first have some notion of how we want to relate to other denominations. Then we relate. Make a plan; work the plan. We’re at the “make a plan” stage. But unquestionably one of the key questions is how will the progressive Churches relate to other denominations.

    We have a long culture of isolation (even from each other, to some extent). To change the culture, it helps to consciously decide to be something else. What is the “else”? How do we not be isolated?

  22. Jay, speaking of isolation that reminds me of a document written by the Faith and Order Commisssion of the World Council of Churches on issues involved with being in full communion between different denominations and they had a CoC guy talk about how it is almost impossible to be in full communion with the church of christ at least as a whole because there is no overarching organization, every church is completely seperate. Even denominations where churches are completely seperate like say the southern baptist church has at least the southern baptist convention.

    But since all churches are seperate, there shouldn’t be any issue with one singular church partnering with another church (even of another denomination) for some common goal, such as outreach.

    here’s a link with some interesting things about church unity from the Faith and Order Commission. i sometimes like reading this stuff when i’m bored http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/wcc-commissions/faith-and-order-commission.html

  23. Well obviously, I think that this is a good idea and I’m glad to hear that others do too.

    As for the format, I think that we should try to take advantage of as many platforms as possible. The discussion itself should be taped and placed online for the video-lovers. But people that prefer reading would probably benefit from something more…composed. So after the event, the issues discussed should be divided up among the participants, who will write a short essay on the conclusions reached. Then put that on a blog.

    Nominations? Yourself, Todd Deaver, Douglas Foster and Flavil Yeakley.

    The best way to get the word out would be to use what you’ve got. Pump it up on your blog, and email other bloggers you know and ask them to do the same. Writer a letter to the conservative periodicals etc. I don’t think we should assume that the Chronicle will overlook this, though. This IS news and shame on them for never having done an article on the progressive movement before this. Well now, here’s their chance.

    And you’re right, someone may have to get a mailing list going one of these days too..

  24. Someone actually thinks it is a good idea to ask so called conservatives about the future of progressive churches? I can save you some time. They think we are going to hell.

    Royce

  25. Royce,

    That is the one strange thing that keeps jumping out in this conversation…make sure to be inclusive of those who stand opposed to this. That doesn’t really make any sense at all. It also doesn’t make a lot of sense to get people from the Baptists, etc on board…I doubt many of them would be familiar enough with where we are coming from to really get it and be helpful. We don’t need people on board who we have to get up to speed. We need people who are informed enough to jump right into this conversation.

  26. And what seeing if New Wineskins would be willing to help out?

  27. Brothers and sisters,

    I’m encouraged to hear this conversation. I grew up in the CofC and now serve as a minister in the International Churches of Christ. As a brother in the restoration movement, I think our fellowship has some help to offer here. As we have matured over the past few years, we have grown to be atonomous churches who forge unity through cooperation. Don’t worry about getting every one represented. If you can get thought leaders in progressive churches who are willing to discuss how cooperation can be forged. Don’t worry about who’s excluded as much as the group that gathers agreeing to discuss things based on some agreed upon ground rules. Is the cooperation planting churches domestically and abroad? Is it benevelence? Is it writing papers to agree on scriptural convictions. Meet with those willing to meet in a spirit of cooperation and build slowly.

    Here are a few links that may have resources to consider.

    http://www.icoccooperation.org

    http://www.icocconference.org

    Most of the recent cooperation is transparent on these sites including lessons, discussions and decisions. We’re growing in this, but I believe we are further down the road in this area. Even though we still have much more work left to do. God continues to form us into a healthy restoration fellowship who is allowing the Holy Spirit to create non competetive unity and cooperation. It fills my heart with joy to hear these ideas. Don’t shackle yourself by making early conversations encyclopedic. Get the conversations going and know God will guide.

    I’d be happy to share more about my experiences.

    Grace, mercy and peace,
    Lannie

  28. Lannie,

    Thanks for that information. I had seen a reference to that effort on Alan Rouse’s blog, and was thinking just earlier today that this is an approach we should look at — just to see if the model fits us.

    I’ll definitely be taking a look at it.

  29. there are those more liberal than I that I think still have the holy spirit in them just as much as I do and so I dont think they are going to hell. how can you come to an informed logical position without all the ideas laid out to you.

    so in a way would something like this be looked upon as organization or a council or convention? what are the implications of that even if there is no authority behind it? what can you do if people are turned off by the idea of cooperation since that seems to go against the traditional CoC grain?

  30. […] and ideas about how to have discussions about it. You can read the post and following comments here. I didn’t want to hijack Jay’s comments with a long reply so, this post. My thoughts on […]

  31. Anon,
    Our church had a wonderful “Faith in Action” sunday yesterday where we interacted with the neighbors and non-member citizens around our church facility by soliciting food, clothing, bicycles, cash etc for those in need…… we didn’t even consider asking another cofC in town to participate or cooperate or join hands much less a NON cofC……..

    One step at a time…… we got a LONG ways to go……. until the cofC’s can at least be civil to one another, we can’t expect that other Christians to believe our love is remotely credible………

    Get some dialogue started among our own flock with the idea of it spreading as God changes us!!

    Pick a format and let’s raise the funds to promote it!!! Let’s do it!
    Scott

  32. Here are the top nominees so far. All other names were only put forward by one person.

    Jay Guin (4)
    John Mark Hicks (3)
    Landon Saunders (2)
    Patrick Mead (2)
    Todd Deaver (2)

    And here are the various format plans, presented Constitutional Convention style.

    The Guin Plan – A live chat at OneInJesus, open for reader comments. And buy an add at the Christian Chronicle to advertisement.

    The Starling Addendum – No comments (seconded by Short).

    The Himes Plan – a face-to-face discussion, followed up by a GraceConversation type forum.

    The Dabbs Addendum – Himes’ plan, plus youtube, and a CD mailout. Talk to New Wineskins about advertisement.

    The Madman Addendum – The Dabbs Addendum plus written essays by the participants placed on a blog. Create a mailing list of progressive bloggers to advertise.

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