I was born and raised in Churches of Christ. My family doesn’t have an exciting conversion story. That doesn’t mean that God has not worked powerfully in our lives. It just means that I had the privilege of being raised in a family like the young Timothy which fanned the flames of faith in me from an early age. My grandparents were in Churches of Christ and their parents before them. Both my parents were raised to love God and to love the church, and growing up we never missed a service. Even when we were out-of-town, we held our own services. My first time preaching was probably in my grandparent’s camper. Those at Oliver Creek church will probably be surprised that even around the age of ten, I was long-winded. While I was growing up, I saw my dad serve as a deacon and later an elder. As I have gotten older and reflected on my life, I have come to appreciate my upbringing in Churches of Christ. I love the emphasis in our churches on the importance of the Bible. I love the simplicity and theological beauty of our worship services. And quite frankly, I enjoy a cappella worship.
I can’t remember the first time I was asked if I was a “Campbellite” because it happened numerous times throughout my life. I always quickly denied any association with the term because honestly, I didn’t even know who this Campbell was. It was not until I was in college at Freed-Hardeman University that I learned that Churches of Christ even had a history. I had been taught that we are a “back to the Bible” movement. Since we seek to restore primitive Christianity, we usually say something like, “We are a non-denominational fellowship which dates back to 33 A.D. We have no creed and no man-made starting date.” I think we’ve all seen the cornerstone on a Church of Christ building which is etched with the words “Established in 33 A.D.” The truth is, I had never heard of Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone except when those named were hurled at me as an epithet. I was quick to deny any association with any 19th century human-led movement.
I resonate with the response of the church member to the student who went home after a semester in college. The church members asked the student, “What courses are you taking?” He replied, “Acts and American Restoration Movement.” The church member was shocked, “American Restoration Movement?! Who cares what Alexander Campbell said?! We just go by what the Bible says.” One of the things I have come to understand is that the reason that we want to “go by what the Bible says” is because of men like Alexander Campbell and their vision for the church. We are influenced by the past whether we admit it or not.
So, what do we do? Do we admit that our movement started in the early 1800s and forfeit our plea to be the church that seeks to go back to the Bible? Or, do we deny the reality of the American Restoration Movement (ARM) and the fact that we have a history filled with both successes and failures? I think the answer for me is somewhere in the middle. My faith has been strengthened when I have reflected on the successes of our churches, the faith of those who have gone before us, and the rich heritage of the ARM. On the other hand, if we fail to examine the failures of our past and present, we will be doomed to repeat them. The Apostle John said it best, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
The upcoming series of posts will reflect on the rich heritage of the ARM and Churches of Christ. For those readers who are in Churches of Christ and even those who aren’t, I hope this series will be informative and beneficial to you in your Christian walk. It will not whitewash our history, but neither will it degrade. I love deeply those in Churches in Christ and wants to see us have healthy, biblical, and reflective congregations. May God bless us in this venture.