Time was when the Churches of Christ (CoC), the vocal music wing of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, were a uniform body with a clear sense of identity. That time has now passed. Today this fellowship which began as a unity movement among Christians, but which generally came to regard itself as the exclusive “true church” of Christ on earth, stands at an historical crossroads, with competing voices echoing from many would-be guides.
A bold new publication titled The Crux of the Matter: Crisis, Tradition and the Future of Churches of Christ (ACU Press, 2000, paper, 267 pages) urges that the way forward will best be discerned by looking back — at this body’s origins and predecessors, but particularly back to the gospel story of redemption. Authors Jeff W. Childers, Douglas A. Foster and Jack R. Reese, all faculty members of Abilene Christian University’s Graduate School of Theology, affirm that “[t]ransformation is the work of God.” In that confidence, they urge their fellow-CoC members to re-examine a multitude of controversial doctrines and practices in light of the cross (“crux”) of Jesus Christ, including issues over worship, women’s service, the Holy Spirit, fellowship and biblical interpretation.
The authors of CRUX recognize that Churches of Christ are not the only Christians. They acknowledge that certain traditional CoC dogmatisms, such as rejection of instrumental music, do not reflect New Testament priorities. They insist that genuine “restoration” of New Testament Christianity is an ongoing task, which must include spirit and not merely forms. They do not allow the reader to ignore historical reality — showing in detail that the CoC did not fall fresh from heaven, but had roots in various earlier Christian groups and denominations from whom it sometimes borrowed and against whom it sometimes reacted. They point out that “tradition” is inherently neither good nor bad, and that it involves elements both human and divine.
My only criticism of this excellent book is what strikes me as its constant over-defensiveness about weekly communion and baptism for remission of sins. The authors seem almost to say: “We must re-examine everything by Scripture, focused on Jesus — except . . . . ” (That is not a quote, but my interpretation.) The fact is that I agree with both mentioned practices, but I believe that the way we understand and articulate those practices drastically needs to be scrutinized and reshaped in light of Scripture, the gospel and the cross. The authors also seem to allow their CoC readers the vanity of supposing that “baptism for the remission (forgiveness) of sins” is somehow unique to their movement, when in fact it is found in the Nicene Creed and is the historical position of Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism and even of the Mormons.
That said, this is a well-produced, timely and significant work. I join the authors and their publisher in praying for God to use it to glorify Christ and to bless that segment of his people known as Churches of Christ.