Monday, September 16, 2013

Sinking Into Union with the Body of Christ at Large

I've been wanting to say something about this for quite a while but just haven't done so. I'm basing what I want to say on observation not concrete facts. Nonetheless, I think this is something worth thinking about.

Remember the story about the frog in the kettle? Put a frog in a pan or kettle of water and increase the heat gradually until he's boiled alive. The point of the story is that small changes rarely get noticed. Ultimately those small changes add up to one humongous shift or change. That is a good picture of what is happening in the movement variously called the Nineteenth Century Reformation, the Restoration Movement, or The Stone-Campbell Movement. (Stone and Campbell would be livid at the latter designation!)

A few years ago one of the colleges supported by those in Christian Churches and Churches of Christ designated themselves a university. Because the school offered businesses courses or counseling courses it identified itself as an institution with several colleges. Thus, they claimed the university designation fit. Then someone said foreign students understood a college to be something other than the usual American concept of a four-year educational institution. Soon Christian Church/Church of Christ supported post-secondary education institutions began identifying themselves as universities: Kentucky Christian University, Lincoln Christian  University, Johnson University, Mid-Atlantic Christian University, Hope International University, and Cincinnati Christian University. With the designation university the Christian Colleges that once existed to train preachers and Christian leaders took a step away from the original purpose. Most of those institutions maintained some identification with the Restoration Movement or Christianity in general but they no longer saw themselves primarily as existing to train ministers and church leaders.

As this change occurred colleges began eliminating the designation Christian from their names: Crosspoint, Johnson University, William Jessup Jr University, Point University, Hope International University and so on. While most of these schools would insist they maintain their Christian heritage they have, for all intents and purposes, severed their identity with the Restoration Movement. In addition in some cases they have chosen to honor men rather than God. I don't think it is too far off when some school will identify itself as Stone-Campbell University.

For most of my life I've taught Restoration History in "our" colleges. I have a degree from Cincinnati Christian Seminary (part of Cincinnati Christian University) in Church History. I taught at Intermountain Bible College, Boise Bible College, at CCU, and online for the soon to end Consortium for Christian Online Education, Dallas Christian College, and Manhattan Christian College. With the exception of Dallas, I taught Restoration History and still do for the Consortium.

I taught World Civilization and Church History for Dallas. Then Dallas asked me to design a course called History of American Christianity. They did not want to offer Restoration History because most of their students were coming from other than Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. Within a year or two, Manhattan asked me to design a similar class for them based on the reasoning that they needed to do so since more than half their students came from non-Restoration backgrounds. More and more colleges are no longer offering History of the Restoration Movement. In doing so they continue to distance themselves from the heritage and beliefs of many supporting churches and individuals.

I don't mind teaching History of American Christianity as long as there is a strong Restoration component. In fact, I think there are some really good reasons to place the movement in its cultural setting so it can be better understood. Most historians writing about Christianity on the American scene virtually ignore the movement's contributions to American Church History. "Our" schools are traveling down the same path.

A student studying in one of the Christian Church/Church of Christ supported colleges or universities would be hard pressed to learn anything about the Restoration Plea or the principles of sound doctrine the movement espouses.

What do they find? In many cases they find an educational institution that pushes the movement's important principles aside in order to appeal to a broader potential audience. Their teaching staff and practices reveal this as well. While visiting Dallas Christian College a year ago, I attended a chapel service where a Presbyterian preacher spoke. Nebraska Christian College hired music staff who had no connection to the Restoration Movement and whose chapel presentation I attended was hardly one that could be identified as sound doctrine. I suspect this is not uncommon.

The colleges that once provided leadership for the Restoration Movement and held firmly to sound biblical doctrine and principles are adopting Evangelical doctrine and approaches. Students graduating from our schools have little understanding of sound doctrine. What they are learning is Evangelical (Zwinglian) doctrine, pragmatic leadership solutions, and a commitment to "what works!"

Years ago the signers of "The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery" stated they disbanded the presbytery so that the churches that comprised it could "sink into union with the body of Christ at large." That's happening today. Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are seen as Evangelical Churches indistinguishable from any other. Attending a service in the typical Christian Church mega church, of which the churches are so proud, is hardly different from that of any other mega church even to the point there is no communion service.

In a few more small steps away from the principles of the Restoration Movement, and there will be no reason to exist as a movement at all.