for years my spiritual director has encouraged me to "study and experience the church at large and bring what you learn home." i've always been obedient to the first half of that exhortation by investing myself in ecumenical community, exploring the franciscan tradition and dabbling in episcopalianism, but i've often found the second half quite difficult since i've long suspected that i'm more of a third order franciscan or conservative anglican than i am a christian church preacher.
i suppose that some background here would be helpful. my ecclesiological home is the independent christian churches, churches of christ. i was raised in a Christian Church, baptized in a Christian Church by my Pa Pa who served as recognized elder for twenty years and still fulfills the role of elder in my home congregational, i attended a Christian Church Bible college - where my spiritual director continues to teach, and i have served in several Christian church congregations throughout the midwest and new england. for those of you who don't know (and i'm assuming that's a majority), the Christian Church is a tradition that grew out of the revivals (esp. the cane ridge revival) that fueled the second great awakening and was shaped by the leadership of thomas and alexander campbell (who reacted to their presbyterian backgrounds by embracing arminian theology and propagating an ecclesiology that was shaped as much by american individualism and democracy as it was by biblical precedent) and barton warren stone (who by most accounts was a hell of a preacher and a horrible theologian). our tradition is known for point blank primitivism (which means we're one of many groups who thinks we can restore the apostolic church), constructing a hermeneutic out of pithy sayings (including: "where the Bible speaks, we speak, and where the Bible is silent, we are silent;" "we are not the only Christians, but Christians only;" "in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love;" and "pimpin' ain't easy, but it's necessary") and a deep, abiding desire for church unity as it is expressed in John 17 where Jesus asks God to enable the church to "be one, even as we are one."
i have to be honest with you here, i've never felt a particularly deep connection to our tradition (which, defying our desire for unity has split into three distinct branches, including: the disciples of Christ (liberals!), the independent Christian churches, churches of Christ (lukewarm accommodators) and the Church of Christ, non-instrumental (fundies) ) but i my deep respect for my home congregation as well as the indispensable relationships i've built with people in "the restoration movement" (yet another one of our handles) has effectively constrained me from altering my affiliation. i suppose i should also note that the powers that be within my tradition have not always approved of me, since i am more calvinist than arminian, completely open to liturgical traditions and once had a tendency to wear shirts that read "stone sucks and campbell blows" and "ask me about the movement." the fact that the powers that be have often treated me a little like a loose cannon and have occasionally limited my ability to lead has really pissed me off on occasion, but, in all fairness, i've never been much of a "movement" man myself. i've never ducked my tradition or denied my affiliation, but i've never sought to distinguish our traditions contribution to the american church or sought to serve exclusively with our churches either.
"so what's the point of this?," you ask. good question. the point is simply this: for the past year or so i've really been interested in honoring the investment that churches and individuals within "the Christian church" have made in me by intentionally connecting with churches and individuals that share my theological background and, perhaps, even investing in our tradition's expressions of Christian mission. since i started seeking such connections, i've been surprised by the number of Christian church (i'm thinking here of the boston partnership, josh jackaway, aaron monts and the whole crew at his blog as well as many others who shall remain nameless) and church of Christ non-instrumental folk (including steve and chrissy) that i have been able to meet with and dream about serving beside. moreover, as i read about other organic expressions of our tradition, such as apex and the home churches featured in this intriguing article, i am beginning to suspect that these little communities might just be a wonderful incarnation of Christ's call to unity and hope that our tradition still has something unique to contribute to the catholic church.
"study and experience the church at large and bring what you learn home." these were wise words indeed. i am thankful for the new horizons of experience that l'arche, the emergent conversation and many, many personal relationships have provided, but, at the same time, i am still committed to honoring and investing (if not technically serving) in my ecclesiological tradition.
how has your journey influenced your relationship with your ecclesiological tradition? i'd love to hear your stories and any additional thoughts that this post might provoke.