Wineskins Archive

December 8, 2013

Coming and Going (May 2012)

Filed under: — @ 9:02 pm and

By Joshua Jeffery

As I have sat here and pondered my faith journey in “the church,” searching for the words to write, I have come to realize that the “Why I Left / Why I Stay” title of this month’s issue probably describes my life in the churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement more than I would like to admit.

My first recollection of church is as a very young child at the Tualatin Valley Church of Christ in Hillsboro, Oregon, which at the time was a new church plant that had been co-planted by a local congregation and a group from Missouri. My next clear remembrance of church is leaving that congregation because “error” had crept into the body. I remember my parents searching around for several Sundays, before we “placed membership” at a non-institutional Church of Christ in Forest Grove, Oregon. We stayed at that congregation for several years, until things returned to normal at Tualatin Valley.

I would have rather remained at Forest Grove, but the doctrinaire sermons on varied subjects such as not-supporting children’s homes, not holding potlucks in the basement kitchen of the little church, and on how the one-cuppers down the road were obviously legalists, all came together to push my parents back into the “institutional” church.

After we returned to Tualatin Valley, we stayed as members of that congregation until it closed its doors due to financial problems. We then became members of the Westside Church of Christ, several miles down the road, the congregation that had originally planted Tualatin Valley. My memories of Westside are bittersweet. It was where I was baptized into Christ at the age of 12, and where I met and made many friends. We remained at Westside until we perceived that “error” had crept in there, as well, in the form of praise teams and expanded women’s participation in the public service of the church. We then left that congregation, joined the largest congregation in the area for some years, and then returned to the non-institutional congregation my junior year in High School.

After high school, I went to Cascade College for a year, one of “our” colleges, where I more or less lost most of my faith. From the age of 18 to 24, even though I held Christianity and the Churches of Christ in high regard, I was not a Christian. It was not until after I had married and had a son that my wife—who was raised in Pentecostal churches—and I, decided it was time to return to church. Naturally, I insisted on becoming a member of the Churches of Christ, and we placed membership at a church several miles down the road. However, we weren’t happy there. My wife and I didn’t feel accepted by the young adult group there, and, following the pattern I had been exposed to as a child, I became very concerned about the “creeping error” that I perceived in the congregation.

At this point in my life, I had become very disillusioned with my career in law enforcement, and I had started to explore career options in Christian scholarship and ministry. I started blogging regularly about my opinions, found quite a few people who both agreed and disagreed with me, and I found that the arguments that were made by those who disagreed with me really struck me. At this point, I realized that maybe I should start doing my own search for the truth, rather than swallow what I had been taught by others.

Around this same time, we were invited to become members of a smaller congregation less than a mile from our home, which needed assistance in the area of worship leading. We quickly assimilated into the life of this troubled little congregation, and before long I was leading worship most Sundays and teaching the Sunday morning teen bible class. To make a long story very short, I became a part of the “worship ministry” committee, and after one of our two elders passed away and our minister left the congregation, we in the worship ministry found ourselves running the week to week operations of the congregation. At this time, the congregation was having financial problems, declining membership and a deteriorating building. The congregation decided to sell the rights to some land that it held in order to obtain cash to fix up the physical plant in an effort to shore up the image of the congregation. However, as many of us know, money has a way of corrupting. Many members were concerned about how the money was being spent, and I made several inquires myself after hearing about financial irregularities. We left after being blatantly and obviously lied to by others we thought were brothers and sister in Christ.

Once we left that congregation, my wife and I had a long discussion about what to do. We visited several local congregations, but none of them felt like they made a good “fit.” We started attending services at a large mega-church affiliated with the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, but didn’t feel at home there. After visiting a local coffee shop one day with a theological book in hand, the owner of the coffee shop invited us to church. He was the preacher of a small congregation close by that was also affiliated with the independent Christian Churches, and we attended there for some time. After a while, he invited me to become a member of the worship band, and I did back-up vocals for him as we led worship. When he was hired at the mega-church congregation, we left and followed him there, as he had become a good friend and an agent in our healing process.

While we have “left” the Churches of Christ, we have remained inside the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. There are several reasons: the weekly partaking of the Lord’s Supper, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and a deep respect for the authority of scripture, although certainly not as that term is often understood in Churches of Christ. The people in the Christian Churches make us feel at home. While a different group of individual people, they are certainly part of “the church.” As I finish my bachelor’s degree in history and look towards graduate school, however, we are making plans to return to the Churches of Christ. While the people in the Christian Churches made us feel at home, some of the theology does not. It may be the non-institutional blood in my veins, but singing “God Bless the U.S.A.” in services and heady tributes to veterans on National holidays does not agree with my understanding of the Kingdom of God.

The Churches of Christ have a strong, though not uniform, heritage of placing their allegiance with the Kingdom of God and not the kingdoms of this world. Our restorationist ethic has placed us largely outside of fundamentalism, and for many of our congregations, outside of out its cousin, religious nationalism. While in former years the worldview of Lipscomb and Harding was on the wane, this apocalyptic worldview, as Richard Hughes calls it, is on the rise again in the Churches of Christ. This, then, is why we are returning to the Churches of Christ: for all of the faults, the splits, and the legalism — all of which I have participated in — the Churches of Christ have always striven towards the truth, even when we have missed the mark big time. That is admirable, and that is why, even though we have left, we will return.

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