I grew up in churches of Christ. I unapologetically claim them as my family. But as a millennial, I recognize that many of my peers in churches of Christ are leaving or are incredibly critical. Of course, I recognize the truth in some of their complaints, but there are still countless reasons I love, appreciate, and remain committed to the congregations who identify as churches of Christ.
Please don’t read the following list in a holier-than-thou tone. I’m certainly not saying churches of Christ are without fault. Every church family has people and where there are people, there are problems. While it is good to acknowledge and address our problems, it is also good to reflect on the positives as well. So, in no particular order, here are five things I appreciate about churches of Christ:
1. Recognition of the Importance of Baptism
Scripture places a significant amount of emphasis on baptism. Baptism is said to be the moment a person is:
- United with Jesus and freed from the reign of sin and death (Romans 6)
- Raised up with Christ (Colossians 2)
- Adopted as a member of God’s covenant family and heir to the promises made to Abraham (Galatians 3).
In an age of deemphasizing baptism as an unnecessary “work,” I appreciate that churches of Christ continue to see baptism not as a work of merit, but as an expression of repentant faith and the moment at which a person is forgiven and becomes a member of the universal church. I appreciate that within churches of Christ, we can (as the apostles did) refer each member back to their baptism as the moment at which they personally decided to begin their walk with Jesus.
2. Scripture Takes Precedence Over Tradition
I love the fact that I grew up hearing phrases like, “Speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent.” And, “Do Bible things in Bible ways, call Bible things by Bible names.” That’s not to say that we have always lived up to those ideals. Like others, we too are susceptible to misunderstanding Scripture, getting caught up in traditionalism, and judging people based on our own inferences. But our deep desire to have a biblical understanding and biblical practices is a great characteristic.
No matter how longstanding the tradition or deep-rooted the idea, if it can be proven to us that something is not in keeping with Scripture, we are capable of changing our thinking and practice. Because our traditions are not etched in stone as formal creeds, it is possible for them to be somewhat fluid. This willingness to sacrifice “the way we’ve always done (or understood) things” in favor of the teachings of Scripture ensures that even when we get off track a bit, we are able to find our way back to Jesus.
3. Informal, But Reverent
There is no formal liturgy and ministers do not wear special robes or clerical collars. Even in congregations where there are full-time ministers, much of the service is led by what some would call “lay ministers” (men who work in other professions and have no formal religious or theological training). These brothers will simply speak from their hearts, voicing unrehearsed thoughts and prayers. In this way, you might say our assemblies are rather informal and emphasize a true priesthood of all believers.
But at the same time, our assemblies still maintain what I imagine is somewhat similar to the orderly synagogue-like environment the apostles instituted in the first-century church (see 1 Corinthians 14). One at a time, men will rise to share a prayer, read a Scripture, lead a song, or impart some teaching to the church family. There is an emphasis on reverence, an awareness that we are being humbly led before the throne of God. In our loud and chaotic world, I greatly appreciate a time and place for prayer, contemplation, and self-reflection.
4. Weekly Observance of the Lord’s Supper
In the early church, one of the most important parts of coming together was sharing the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper. It was a continual celebration of the forgiveness, fellowship, and freedom we have because Jesus laid down his life for us. It was a reminder that we are part of a family and we have an obligation to love them and maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (see 1 Corinthians 11).
I love the fact that churches of Christ continue to celebrate this meal every Sunday, the day on which our Lord rose from the dead. I love breaking bread with my local church family, knowing there are Christians all over the world doing the same thing. I love that we are being shaped by rehearsing the story of the cross, the way Israel was shaped by rehearsing the story of the Exodus.
5. Elders to Shepherd the Church
Finally, I love the fact that churches of Christ are individually shepherded by their own group of wise, experienced, and godly men. Flawed men, no doubt. But men who are willing to sacrifice countless hours wrestling with theological and practical questions, ministering to broken people, and making decisions that will affect the church beyond their lifetime. They do this because they love Jesus and they love Jesus’ people.
Every first-century church needed elders and every church today needs elders. Especially in our current age of hyper-individualism, every follower of Jesus needs guidance, insight, and accountability. We need shepherds, overseers, mentors, and role-models of the faith. We need to be part of a church family who reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and our individual choices affect the entire body.
I imagine some think I have gone too far with my appreciation for churches of Christ, while others probably think I have not gone far enough. That’s fine. You are welcome to your own thoughts, feelings, and observations. These are mine.
Because churches of Christ are an organic, sort of grass-roots movement, rather than a denominational body, I have high hopes that in the decades to come, we can move in the right direction. I believe it is possible to mend some of our divisions, focus on the things of first importance, and bring more people to Jesus. Those, my friends, are some things for which we should all be earnestly praying.
I love you and God loves you,