Round Up the Usual Suspects

21st Century Christian has published its latest directory of “Churches of Christ in the United States.” Two newsworthy items have come out as a result:

1 — The latest Christian Chronicle has several articles about how low the numbers are. Come on, people. Yes, the totals are off 1.5% from their 1980 levels. But when you’re talking about 1.2 million (or so) members and 1.6 million (or so) adherants, 1.5% is a rounding error. It’s not like there’s a paper trail where an independent third party has either conducted the count themselves or even set a standard about who should and should not be counted. There is even a significant number of individual congregation totals that end in 5 or 0, evidence that many (if not most) submitted a “best guess” rather than a hard count.

Memo to Chicken Little: Churches of Christ in America are not — I repeat, not — in decline. We have had about the same number of people in our midst for three decades. It’s not going up, but it’s not going down, either. The gospel is spreading like wildfire in places like India, Africa, and the poorer regions of Asia and Oceania. There is church growth out there; you just have to know where to look.

2 — The COC blogosphere exploded when the directory came out, because the editors at 21st Century decided that only those congregations that are exclusively a capella would be included. Now I’ve seen blow-ups like this before. And in the last 20 years, whatever the issue (role of women, Jubilee, instrumental music), there are those who will always be on the same side, and those who will always be on the other. What’s more, the program choices a congregation makes (Winterfest vs. CYC, Lads-to-Leaders vs. LTC, Songs of Faith & Praise vs. Praise for the Lord songbooks) are seen as “taking a side.”

This makes me sad.

The whole point of a unity movement is to give ideas a fair hearing. In my time in ministry in Churches of Christ, it seems that ideas are evaluated not on their merits, but upon who has them. I, for one, like CYC better than Winterfest. I prefer LTC over Lads to Leaders. I liked the idea of Jubilee, even if I had a bad experience there. Praise for the Lord is a vastly superior songbook over SFP.

Yet the very discussion of these questions seems aimed at pinning people down into a camp. Are you “one of us” or “one of them?”

If we in Churches of Christ were the fair-minded restorationists we purport to be, these camps wouldn’t exist. But as it is, the usual suspects are out in force.

I’m sad. But I’m not surprised.

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