What is Happening to Us?

By Matt Dabbs

By Joe Beam

We all try to understand the dynamics causing increasing isolation between brethren and churches in our brotherhood. To help me make sense of it, I developed a model based on observations gleaned as I speak in about 45 church events nationwide each year.

Perhaps brethren skilled in research will develop a clearer and more accurate model. We need a clear picture and common vocabulary so that we can understand the dynamics of our current tensions. If we do that, we can better deal with them.

The Model

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The model represents “mainline churches” and doesn’t include noncooperative churches (sometimes called “antis”) or churches not usually considered in our fellowship (such as instrumental Churches of Christ, Boston-related churches, and the like). It does contemplate churches that most people in the brotherhood consider in our fellowship—even if they don’t actively fellowship them.

Traditional churches generally follow the doctrines and practices crystallized in the Churches of Christ in the era of the 1930s to the 1950s.

Innovative churches feel close kinship with Traditional churches but do things Traditional churches question or reject—like using special singing groups or drama in worship.

Left Wing churches feel little connection with the brotherhood but haven’t yet introduced actions or doctrines that would completely sever them from the fellowship.

Right Wing churches not only follow the doctrines and practices crystallized in the era of the 1930s to 1950s but feel great compulsion to attack anyone who questions or differs from those doctrines or practices.

Each of these groups may be more accurately defined but the lack of space prohibits that.

CATEGORIES OF PEOPLE
The six categories of people within the churches explain more about what is happening to us. Exasperateds generally view our brotherhood as denominational and think the negatives of other denominations no worse than ours. Opens want to stay in fellowship with the Church of Christ but put greater emphasis on their own spiritual development than on the judgment of others in the fellowship. Cautious want new and exciting things and are excited about their own spiritual growth, but have enough fear of “innovations” to be uncomfortable and concerned. Searchers feel that changes have to take place to make the church vibrant but strongly fear making changes that may destroy the “identity” of the church. Satisfieds don’t see any need to change and question or attack any change perceived as different from what the church has been during their lifetime. Zealots, like their first century namesakes, make strong attacks against everything and everyone they see as a threat to their culture and cling tenaciously to what they call the “old paths.”

INCLUSION/EXCLUSION LINE
Since typing churches and categorizing individuals always leaves certain gray areas, I’ve included an Inclusion/Exclusion line to help us understand those gray areas.

As a congregation or an individual moves to the right on that line, they become more restrictive in whom they will fellowship and more condemning of those they don’t perceive to be in their fellowship.

Those who move to the left on that line become more open in whom they fellowship. They become less judgmental and more accepting of beliefs, actions, or doctrines that they don’t personally hold.

For example, Zealots don’t hesitate to condemn the Christian Church. Exasperateds openly fellowship the Christian Church. Opens offer limited fellowship to the Christian Church in any matter where they have agreement. Searchers neither accept nor condemn the Christian Church, claiming that God will make those judgments. Many Satisfieds hold Exclusionary judgments about the Christian Church but are less vocal (or honest) than the Zealots.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT US
While there are many more observations than can be written here, I share a few:

General Observations
Traditional or Innovative churches of any size usually have members from each of the six categories.

Because of our fundamental approach to Christianity, each category of people is more readily influenced by the category immediately to its right. For example, Zealots affect Satisfieds more than Searchers do.

Each category believes itself open to the Word without prejudice and that other categories are influenced by powerful, charismatic, or influential people in reaching their theological conclusions.

Image and Wineskins tend to reflect the views of some Exasperateds, most Opens, many Cautious, and some Searchers.

Gospel Advocate tends to reflect the views of most Satisfieds, some Searchers, and many Zealots.

Contending for the Faith, Spiritual Sword, and The Firm Foundation tend to reflect the views of nearly all Zealots and some Satisfieds.

Observations About Traditional Churches

Traditional churches by far outnumber all the other types combined.

Traditional churches tend to have an older membership and, therefore, are usually well financed.

Traditional churches tend to choose new elders who share the beliefs and views of existing elders, thus ensuring the continuing of traditional doctrines and practices.

Preachers in Traditional churches are more likely to PUBLICLY agree with traditional Church of Christ views or positions and to never PUBLICLY question them.

Observations About Innovative Churches

Innovative churches tend to be urban, with young memberships, and some are quite large in number.

Preachers in Innovative churches are more likely to PUBLICLY question or disagree with traditional Church of Christ views or positions.

Innovative churches lose Cautious members to Traditional churches as their congregations become more innovative.

Innovative churches lose Exasperateds to Left Wing churches or denominational churches because the Exasperateds feel they don’t move toward innovation quickly enough and are too focused on maintaining fellowship with the Traditional churches.

Innovative churches offer limited fellowship (certain shared activities) to those who have faith in Jesus and hold certain basic doctrines (deity of Jesus, etc.) BUT they ONLY offer FULL fellowship (membership, communion) to those holding these basic doctrines AND who have been baptized as an act of obedience to Christ.

Observations About Zealots

Zealots accept only members of the Church of Christ as saved and reject as lost any others who claim faith in Jesus.

By repeatedly assaulting the beliefs and actions of Opens and Exasperateds, Zealots influence many Satisfieds toward a more Exclusive view by making them afraid of potential apostasy.

Zealots unintentionally drive some Satisfieds toward a more Inclusive position as these Satisfieds react to perceived anger and bitterness in the Zealots.

In their move toward greater Exclusion, Zealots make things into matters of faith the brotherhood generally considered matters of opinion 20 years ago.

Zealots judge a person’s faithfulness by his willingness to condemn those not in agreement with the Zealots.

Zealots condemn anyone supporting or attending certain workshops (Tulsa, Jubilee).

Zealots condemn anyone who speaks on a platform with people they’ve condemned, regardless of the content of the speech.

Zealots condemn anyone writing in a journal they’ve condemned, regardless of the content of the article.

Zealots often influence Satisfieds in church leadership to make these same condemnations.

Zealots carry their Exclusion message to mission fields. For example, a new convert in Russia, influenced by Zealots, asked a group of American missionaries where they stood on the “Jubilee issue.”

Zealots create a vocabulary to label congregations or individuals they reject. They use phrases such as “Jubilee churches” and “Wineskins Christians” with disdain.

Zealots and most Satisfieds believe the logic and hermeneutic used to determine prevailing Church of Christ doctrine are beyond question. They view the doctrines determined by those processes as equal to the “doctrine of Christ” and refer to them as the “old paths.”

We all try to understand the dynamics causing increasing isolation between brethren and churches in our brotherhood.  To help me make sense of it, I developed a model based on observations gleaned as I speak in about 45 church events nationwide each year. Perhaps brethren skilled in research will develop a clearer and more accurate model.  We need a clear picture and common vocabulary so that we can understand the dynamics of our current tensions.  If we do that, we can better deal with them.

Observations About Exasperateds

Exasperateds tend to be people who feel they’ve been hurt by the Church of Christ and want to completely change it or, failing that, abandon it. No longer believing Restoration churches viable, Exasperateds are leaving our fellowship in increasing numbers, typically going to community churches or denominational churches.

Current Interaction Between Types of Churches:

Traditional churches whose leaders are Searchers invite Innovative preachers to speak for their churches.

Innovative churches whose leaders are Opens sometimes invite Searchers to speak for their churches. Innovative churches whose leaders are Cautious sometimes invite Traditional preachers to speak for their churches.

Effect on Openness and Honesty:

Brotherhood-sponsored schools and parachurch organizations tend to yield to the views or positions of wealthy Satisfieds (and Zealots whom they fear have the ear of wealthy Satisfieds). Faculty members of these institutions (especially Bible faculty) tend to be wary in their scholarship and teaching in direct correlation to the school’s fear of Zealots and/or wealthy Satisfieds. Preachers tend to be wary in their preaching and teaching in direct correlation to their church leaders’ fear of Zealots and/or influential Satisfieds. Any leader dependent on the financial or moral support of others to maintain his position of leadership will tend to yield to the views of those who provide the greatest support—no matter what their views are.

Conclusions

A.     More people will become Exasperated and leave our fellowship.  This especially will be true of those who refuse to accept something just because it is touted as an “old path.”  If they are not allowed to exercise intelligence and learning, they will simply go where they can.

B.     As Zealots introduce new tests of faithfulness, more preachers will be forced to make decisions that will preclude their being invited to speak to certain churches.

C.     More preachers will be forced from congregations as they refuse to accept increasingly exclusive tests of fellowship that their elders will adopt from the Zealots.  Many of these preachers will either leave our fellowship or leave the ministry.  They won’t have any pulpit in our fellowship to move to because the number of churches willing to hire them will diminish as Traditional churches continue to move close to Exclusive positions.

D.     If the current tensions continue to intensify, our brotherhood will crystallize into three groups.  Left Wing churches will leave our fellowship altogether.  Innovative churches will become a group unto themselves with little, if any, formal fellowship with Traditional churches.  Traditional churches and Right Wing churches will form a third group with Zealots controlling much of the doctrine and activities of that group through their watchdog mindset and poised pens.

E.     If this division occurs,
There will be much pain, division of families and friends, and general turmoil as the division becomes clearer and more pronounced.
Innovative churches will experience a slump as many leave them for Traditional churches where they feel safety and comfort.  Freed from the current brotherhood concerns, these churches will grow rapidly after the initial slump as they start implementing the progressive evangelistic and faith building programs they’ve been dreaming about.  Of course, that will only happen if their focus changes from the current one of freeing themselves from constricting traditions to a new one of actively reaching out to the world around them.
Traditional churches will gain dramatically as Cautious leave the Innovative churches to the more comfortable and “safer” haven of the traditions and beliefs they have always held.  But after a swelling period Traditional churches will begin to decline as they lose Exasperateds and Searchers who will not be able to tolerate Exclusionary positions the Zealots will force.

This division is now occurring and will be very pronounced within three to eight years unless wise leaders in Traditional churches disregard the Zealots. Neither Opens, Cautious, or Satisfieds are driving this division;  Zealots are.  They accomplish it through their continually tightening rules of fellowship that Satisfieds are accepting.  Of course, they believe the division is caused by Opens who lead their churches to become Innovative. Our greatest enemy isn’t going beyond clear New Testament doctrine.  It is making laws where God never did and chaining our great brotherhood from its task by those laws.

categoria commentoNo Comments dataMarch 9th, 2015
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About...

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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