Today, while exploring the Internet, being too lazy to explore a mountain, I discovered an article at The Christian Chronicle, regarding why members leave the Church of Christ. The article points to a survey being conducted by Flavil Yeakley, the director of the Harding Center for Church Growth, in Searcy, Arkansas. The following are my responses to the survey questions.
1. Why did you leave the Churches of Christ? I served in fulltime ministry for 14 years, including five years as a missionary. I was a member of the Church of Christ for 26.5 years, including four years before my fulltime ministry and 8.5 years after. I am still a member of Christ’s church.
First, I left the Church of Christ, finally, because I could not continue to associate with a group that -- by a doctrinal implication that does not understand grace fully -- concludes that the soul of my godly mother, who passed in 2000, is destined for hell, since she was a member of the Baptist Church. Silently, I disagreed with the implication for 7.5 years, uncomfortably taking my place on the pew, as I moved from lifeless congregation to lifeless congregation in the area. My mother was saved by God’s grace, and she lived her life as a humble and shining example of God’s loving grace in her life. She may have had sincere misunderstanding on certain points of doctrine, which the Church of Christ stresses, but she was saved by God’s grace. Her salvation was not determined by her perfect doctrinal understanding but by her sincere, if imperfect, faith response to God’s free gift.
Second, I left the Church of Christ, because I could no longer tolerate the arrogant hypocrisy of that body, which, by implication, denies the fullness of grace, by asserting that its doctrinal understanding is correct and that all who disagree are in need of salvation. The body of Christ is exclusive, in that it is composed of all who are saved by grace through faith, yes. The Church of Christ, however, in its legalistic and elementary understanding of grace, cannot, with straight face, lay claim as the exclusive body of Christ. My God and my God’s grace are bigger than that.
Third, I left the Church of Christ, because I realized that the standard hermeneutical approach of its members is a foreign imposition on scripture. The model views scripture as legal code and interprets scripture by legal method. Scripture, in particular the New Testament, is composed primarily of inspired and authoritative but occasional letters. Interpreting occasional letters as legal code represents the imposition of foreign scaffolding on the text. This scaffolding skews the focus from grace to legalistic accuracy in obedience. Certainly, grace inspires our attempt to follow Christ’s will as accurately as humanly possible. Our salvation, however, is not merited by how perfectly we follow an understanding of Christ’s law that is skewed in its understanding by a legalistic approach to hermeneutics.
Fourth, I left the Church of Christ, because its local congregations, at least in this area, are lifeless. The candlestick has been removed. The Spirit of Christ is not present. In His place, is a spirit of legalism, which expects unquestioned conformity to the legal code. There is no freedom, without consequence, to question, to explore, to discuss openly. I was shackled in my silence, feeling unable to openly engage in dialogue on the points in this commentary. I felt as if I would be ostracized, shunned, labeled as a “change agent.” I am thankful that this forum allows me to express myself anonymously.
Finally, I left the Church of Christ, because my brothers and sisters of so many years were not concerned enough to offer supportive inquiry as to why I had left fulltime ministry, after returning from my mission work. To this day, no one, not a one, has asked, “Why are you not preaching anymore?” Instead, their silence has greeted me. In sum, I left the Church of Christ, for the reasons mentioned, because I have matured in my theological understanding, unfortunately, as brought about by my mother’s passing. If the Church of Christ can move beyond its elementary understanding of grace, I can re-embrace it. Otherwise, I am now free to find and identify with a true non-denominational body of Christ.
2. Do you have any advice or suggestions regarding things Churches of Christ could do to improve and do a better job of meeting the spiritual needs of those who are still members? First, and foremost, church leaders should create a spirit of open, non-judgmental dialogue in the congregations. Allow members to feel free to question, to discuss, and to study, without fear of labeling. Through this renewal effort, churches could be revived, members could be retained, and Christ could be honored.
Second, local congregations should seek comment from those who have left. Of course, if relationship ties and brotherly connection were strained, this attempt will be difficult. Still, with open and honest hearts, leaders should attempt unbiased, non-judgmental communication with those who have left.
Third, leadership in these congregations, after receiving feedback from ex-members, should implement plans to address the legitimate reasons why their former members left.
Finally, the Church of Christ should rethink its hermeneutical approach, with a primary focus of exploring the amazing depth of God’s grace.
3. If, when you left the Churches of Christ, you joined another religious group, what church did you join? Also, please comment on what you have found in that other church that meets your spiritual needs better than what Churches of Christ were doing. Currently, I am attending a non-denominational, community church that has ties to the Restoration Movement. In this body, I have found a rich understanding of grace, a natural, exegetical approach to scripture, and an authentic sense of community. This church is not without its problems. (Name one that is.) It is, however, more truly in line with the purpose that Christ intended for his body.