Three Stages of Spiritual Life (May – June 1996)

By Matt Dabbs

by Mike Cope
May – June, 1996

Stage One of child/parent relationships: “My parents can do no wrong.” Ah, those were the days, weren’t they? The adoring eyes, the confident look, the trusting hand. I have a three year old, and what a joy to be in the “if the whole world thinks one thing and my daddy thinks another thing the whole world is wrong” stage! When my first son was at the same early stage, he asked me if Michael Jordan could jump as high as I can. “Why yes, he can,” I smiled, not bothering to add, “at least that high.”

Stage Two of child/parent relationships: “My parents are so dumb.” Did I mention that I also have a fourteen year old? This is the stage where we can see our parent’s faults as if they were projected on a jumbotron. The problem is that we parents can’t help it. Our parents were dumb. And so were their parents. We come form a long line of dumb parents.

Stage Three of child/parent relationships: “My parents have both strengths and weaknesses, and I’m thankful for their love.” This is the mature view that we parents of adolescents long for, hope for, pray for! (If it doesn’t really exist, please don’t tell us!)

Aren’t these the same three stages many of us have experienced as we’ve come to terms with our heritage in Churches of Christ?

For many years I blindly defended my religious heritage: it could do no wrong. It was the fully restored first century church (a scary thought, if you’ve read the New Testament!). I believed that we and we alone were God’s people. By my early twenties, I was speaking on radio and television to “defend us.” (I hope none of those tapes have survived in some dusty archive.) I published an article in Contending for the Faith. (I’m still in there, I understand.)

I’m so glad God wouldn’t let me remain in this stage of under-development. It’s childish. And yet all over I hear people who go ballistic any time our heritage is challenged and prodded. Are we that fragile? Are we really so afraid of rethinking something? Are we alone God’s people?

Then I flip-flopped into the second stage: my religious heritage could do no right. It was small-minded, prideful, and guilty of questionable biblical study methods. I understood those who thought they had to leave Churches of Christ in order to faithfully follow Jesus Christ.

I’m so glad God wouldn’t let me remain in this stage, either. He convicted me of my own self-absorbed, adolescent attitude in many ways. But he especially used a Tennessee minister I’d never met. A little pamphlet he’d written came across my desk in North Carolina, and I consumed it. Here was a man who knew our faults, yet didn’t hate us. He also knew our strengths and our healthy roots. He loved this heritage despite its short-comings.

I made a blind call to him, assuming I probably wouldn’t be able to speak with him because of his busy schedule. But even though he’d never heard my name, Rubel Shelly answered. In our brief conversation, he said that he understood my frustrations but encouraged me to reexamine our strengths.

Very slowly since then, God has brought me to the third stage. I now can see our weaknesses without despising our heritage. I now understand that every religious group—no matter how wonderful it may look from the outside—has its failings. Until Jesus returns, no one will fully arrive! We are imperfect people whose reading and obeying of Scripture is imperfect. Future generations who may look back on my sermons and writings will find themselves asking, “How could he have said THAT?” just as I’ve wondered about men and women before me. We are all limited in our understanding.

Now I’ve also been able to see again the strengths of our heritage. For example:

    • We have encouraged people to go back again and again to Scripture, believing that it is authoritative;

 

  • We have focused on the gospel-proclaiming events of baptism and communion;

 

 

  • We have called for Christians to be united, claiming to be “Christians only, but not the only Christians”;

 

 

  • We have taught the priesthood of all believers, exhorting all Christ-followers to minister in Jesus’ name.

 

Which stage are you in? Are you childishly stuck in the first stage where you can’t stand to hear anyone challenge us or mention the “c-word” (change)? Or are you caught in the adolescent stage where all you can see is how “dumb” we are?

Get over it! Then ask God to help you mature. Churches of Christ have a heritage that is a mixed bag (like all groups). But haven’t people—maybe someone like YOU! – learned about our Lord in this heritage? Haven’t some been immersed into him? Haven’t some been encouraged to read Scripture? Haven’t some been called to holy living?

May God himself teach us to love our brothers and sisters—living and dead—who share this heritage. And may he guide us to keep growing and to keep being transformed into the image of Jesus.Wineskins Magazine

Mike CopeMike is the preaching minister for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. He and his wife Diane have two sons, Matt and Chris; their daughter Megan perished at age nine. Chris survived an automobile accident, with serious injuries, in 2004. Mike has written a number of books, teaches Bible at Abilene Christian University. and is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer. [Mike Cope’s Blog]

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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