By Darrel Rowland
Which do you perceive as the bigger danger: Christian churches and churches of Christ being overly exclusive and thus missing out on opportunities for real service and growth available by greater interaction with other Christian groups, . . . or brotherhood churches losing their scriptural distinctive, especially on baptism and weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, by interacting with other Christian groups?
Retired minister, Louisville, Kentucky
Twenty-five years ago I would have answered that the greater danger was that we were too exclusive—we isolated ourselves too much. Today I think the greater danger is we are losing the distinctives that we need to hold onto.
President and founder, Rebel Pilgrim Productions
I see exclusivity as a far greater danger than any sort of loss of distinction that results from inclusivity. One could argue that a true student of the (Restoration Movement) would always err on unity. I think our roots are as a unity movement.
Lead minister, DC Regional Christian Church, Washington, D.C.
I wouldn’t want to choose. I see the problem and the opportunity clearly on both sides.
But if I was pushed, I would say “losing the distinctiveness.” The reason I say that is I think the pendulum has swung. In a big sense, some of the battles the early restorers have fought have already taken hold.
We have to hold the line, but hold the line with open arms and love and humility.
Founder and president, Peace On Earth Ministries, Joplin, Missouri
I like to say, “We are some of God’s people, not the sum of God’s people.”
But I see dangers when we diminish the teachings and practices of Christ and the apostles in what some have called the two “ordinances” of the church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This is no time to “go wobbly” (to borrow a phrase from Margaret Thatcher) on the two practices you have mentioned.
The last verse in the Great Commission is the last thing I would want to disobey. “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).
Senior pastor, Crossroads Christian Church, Corona, California
It is crucial to know who we are and what we value. God desires unity within the body of Christ. “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22, 23). God desires to use us to bring unity in a way that does not compromise purity.
Minister-at-large, Harvester Christian Church, St. Charles, Missouri
I think the latter is a real danger now. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I think we have a lot of churches where the leaders are willing to do about anything to get the attendance up.
I still go back to what (Alexander) Campbell did: He associated with all of them but he didn’t give an inch. And we can do that, too. I’m afraid we have too many that are associating and wanting to become just like them.
Lead pastor, Pantano Christian Church, Tucson, Arizona
I’m not trying to be difficult but the fact is BOTH are dangers. The church has always wrestled with this—over inclusion or over exclusion. I don’t want to live in either camp. The balance is VERY hard and messy.
But we must engage in the messy balance. When I interact with others who don’t share our beliefs and practices, it does not lessen our stance. (It’s) the opposite: I get to explain who we are and why we do what we do or don’t do.
Lead pastor, LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado
Sometimes when you work so hard at protecting something, you run a greater risk of losing it. What are we afraid of to have dialogue and conversation and connection and relationship with others who don’t see it the way we see it?
I think we’ve created an exclusionist mentality that has hurt our churches.
Lead minister, West Side Christian Church, Springfield, Illinois
I view both as dangers that can prevent or negate ministry. We have to understand our times. There was a day when the divided Christian world needed a unique, clarion call to Christian unity based on biblical doctrine. While that kind of church will always be needed, we live in a time when such a church isn’t all that unique. There are many nondenominational churches that desire to follow the Bible (even if you disagree that they are successfully doing it).
If we think our greatest future lies in distinguishing ourselves from churches that are getting it wrong, we’re kidding ourselves. That’s a losing vision. Many churches in our tribe are repeatedly and forcefully answering questions that very few people are asking, which is why those churches are small and getting smaller.
I want to push back against the tension or dilemma proposed by this question. We don’t have to either (a) cooperate with other believers and churches outside our tribe, or (b) retain our doctrinal health. We can do both. We can lead our churches to baptize people into Christ, using biblical phrases for baptism, while participating in the broader kingdom that may not share all of our practices and views.
Lead minister, New Life Christian Church, Chantilly, Virginia
I don’t think it’s a valid question, to be honest with you. It’s all about honoring God, and there are Christians that dishonor God because they’ve been so exclusive that they’ve missed the opportunities for evangelism.
On the other hand, there have been those who have been so aggressive on evangelism that they don’t know who they are anymore. There’s a substance to what evangelism is, and once you lose that core . . . you need to repent of your loss of substance.
I see fault on both sides, and the reality is we all can fail on both sides.
President, Church Development Fund, Irvine, California
I am concerned about many things in our churches now, and I’d have to say that neither of those two things is at the top of my list. My concern really comes down to the lack of biblical knowledge.
I would have to say that in the U.S. we probably have more Bibles sitting on bookshelves of Christians gathering dust than the rest of the world has for all of its church leaders combined. It’s a scandal. It’s the scandal of the unused Bible. It’s the scandal of the unknown Bible. It’s the scandal of the unread Bible.
We were known as a people of the book. I hope we can say that about our churches in the future. That is my greater concern.
Darrel Rowland is an adult Bible fellowship teacher at Worthington (Ohio) Christian Church and public affairs editor of The Columbus Dispatch.