It’s a People Thing, Not a 'Church of Christ' ThingOver the years I have seen my share of complaints about the "Church of Christ." There was a time in my life when I made some of the same complaints. Now, it almost seems fashionable for people who used to "members of the Church of Christ" to come out and talk about some "CoC" culture that doesn't allow for discussion, questions, or any diversity and variety. Any effort to question or discuss is squelched, and the "CoCers" are a bunch of Pharisees who don't love others, don't try to help others, and are more entrenched in tradition than anything else.
The poor and unbiblical use and concept of "Church of Christ" aside, there are local churches with members that need to be called out for their bad attitudes, traditionalism, and hypocrisy. There are those who call themselves Christians who have mistreated others and demonstrated a lack of love for their brethren and fellow man. Sometimes the mistreatment can be bad enough that it causes others to turn away entirely from the Lord. We will always do well to remember that the Lord taught His disciples to love each other because it is by this that "all men will know that you are My disciples" (John 13:35). Failing to unite, we will teach the world not to believe in Jesus (John 17:21). That should weigh heavily upon us.
However, the attitudes and issues that are often raised in connection with the "CoC" is, in reality, not a "CoC" thing. Rather, it is a people thing that characterizes all kinds of groups, organizations, and agendas. It's not as if the "CoC" (as characterized) is the only group of people who struggle with their people skills, how to express their faith, and how to approach their activities. For example:
How do Republicans and Democrats treat those who question and differ with them? How do evangelicals treat those who differ with their doctrines? How do liberal theologians treat those who differ with them? How do atheists treat theists? How do drivers look at others who cut them off on the road? How do people sometimes act toward each other in stores when they perceive they've been crossed or cheated? You get the idea. Name a place or a group where you will never find attitude issues (both good and bad), mistreatment, and hypocrisies. It's not a "CoC" thing. It's a people thing, and Christians are people who are hardly perfect.
I'm not arguing that bad attitudes are justified anywhere or under any circumstances. I'm simply saying that this is what you find when you find people. Some of the more insulting remarks I've ever had made against me, aside from atheists, have come from those who left the "CoC" because they believe they were enlightened by a more loving way. Sadly, they became the very thing they believe they left. I've seen terribly insulting and abusive comments from those who fancy themselves as free thinkers arguing for a looser interpretation of Scripture. It's not just isolated in one group or one tradition. It's everywhere because people are everywhere, and people are often sinful, proud, and foolish.
"But the CoC doesn't allow for differences or questions." I've heard that all my life, though that hasn't always been my experience. After all, how does such a concept square with the fact there are many differences among Christians over important matters like:
The Lord's Supper — second serving? All partake in second serving?
Elder and deacon qualifications
The War question
Indwelling of the Holy Spirit
Women's roles, speaking in class, etc.
Limits of Romans 14
Grace and Works issues
Marriage, divorce, and remarriage applications
A variety of applications in personal life matters
The list goes on, and I'm still not sure where that alleged unbiblical creed is that forces all of us into agreement on all matters. To argue that all "CoCers" don't allow for differences or discussion is just plain wrong. Maybe those who think that have been around bad churches all their lives. I don't know, but I've seen plenty of differences among members in the same congregation who continue to work and worship with each other, even when occasionally having a "lively" discussion. This is not saying that differences don't matter; it's just reality. Most Christians desire unity. They typically don't like the differences, so they will argue their conviction, sometimes rather forcefully. We all do it, and leaving the "CoC" doesn't change that. Further, people's understanding and spiritual growth runs across the spectrum, and I believe most (though not all) Christians are happy to be patient and tolerant as long as people are striving to learn and grow (cf. Eph. 4:1-3). And yes, sometimes the differences are too great, and there will be divisions. But again, as undesirable as this is, we find it everywhere.
I admit that I've only lived in California, Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, and Alabama, so maybe my experience is pretty limited and I'm a bit naive. Even so, for the most part, I've found that Christians in all these places are striving to be genuine and loving, even when they differ. Yes, I've run into the bad attitudes, and I've had bad attitudes myself for which I've begged forgiveness. Through the years I have worked to fight against mere traditionalism and faulty views of the church (including the bad terminology). I'm not saying that there aren't problems that need addressing. I am saying that this doesn't entail having to give up.
The one thing I've always tried to remember is that I can't quit the Lord because imperfect people did some stupid things or insulted me in some way. A view of religion that bases it on what others do, rather than on the Lord Himself, is going to be shallow at best, and will almost certainly set ourselves up for failure.
I believe what it really boils down to is conviction. If I decide that I don't like the "CoC" because they don't use instruments in worship, then I can't blame the people for their convictions when I decide to walk away. That's a cop-out. Opposing a practice out of conviction is not in itself a bad attitude. It might be expressed or defended poorly, but that's another issue. If I leave the "CoC" because I don't like what is taught about baptism, then I can't say, "Those CoCers are just a bunch of Pharisees." It is not self-righteous to have a conviction about what Scripture teaches on baptism or any other matter. Sometimes the conviction can be expressed in a self-righteous way, and bad arguments are sometimes made, but that is not sufficient reason to overgeneralize.
The point is this: leaving the "CoC" because of bad attitudes won't get one into a situation where there are no more bad attitudes. The attitude thing is a people problem, not a "CoC" problem.
What we need to do is decide where our convictions and commitments lie. When we do that, we can move past the "those people" types of arguments to a foundation that is grounded in the Lord Himself (cf. Matt. 7:24-27). Then, when we come across poor concepts, bad attitudes, and faulty arguments, we can work together to address them, not wavering in our commitment to the Lord because of imperfect people or threatening to quit. After all, we are the imperfect people for whom Christ died.