Thursday, September 13, 2007

I'm Really Not Against 'Distinctive'

But I really am against churches trying to be distinctive from each other to the point that they will not share in the fellowship of Christ with each other, or make arbitrary matters of distinction a test for that fellowship.

A commenter recently wondered why I do not leave the churches in the heritage we share because I don't believe they should strive to be "distinctive." I think it's a legitimate question, and it deserves an answer.

This commenter felt I was rejecting 2000 years of church history. The fact is, the last 200 years of church history in our fellowship - churches of Christ - began with the re-founders' desire (expressed in The Last Will and Testament of Springfield Presbytery)

"We will that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large: for there is but one body and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling."

I do not at all reject the fact that for a couple thousand years before that, and after, churches of all hues, colors, faiths, beliefs and practices have divvied up the "Body of Christ at large" in order to be distinctive from each other, but I do not believe those instances to be examples that should be imitated.

Churches sometimes look for distinctiveness in all the wrong places ... for instance, in arcane practices and beliefs that have no real basis in scripture.

And for some reason incomprehensible to me, the members of those churches feel that God wants that.

"Come out from them, says the Lord" is an encouragement to not associate with idolators, not believers.

And I think it's worth noting that a word translated "distinctive" is not found in any of the major translations of the Bible.

As a general rule, I find that churches and fellowships who insist on being distinctive do so because of a mindset that believes that they are doing all the right things in all the right ways according to scripture.

A cursory examination of Romans 3 will put the lie to that perception.

As a general rule, I also find that an insistence on being distinctive results in an exclusionary mindset that can become judgmental, accusatory, condemnatory, and divisive.

A quick perusal of John 17 will prove that is not at all what Jesus prayed for His followers.

So how can Christians be distinctive?

By imitating Christ, to begin with. By proclaiming good news to the poor. By living simply and giving sacrificially. By accepting others as He has accepted us.

That will be sufficiently distinctive from the rest of the world as to cause people to take notice.

And, hopefully, for them to be drawn closer to God through His Son.

12 comments:

Ray Fleming said...

Yes. I agree. The word "distinctive" in current church-speak seems to me more a matter of marketing than anything else. But, Christianity, by itself, all of it, in all its manifestations, IS and cannot avoid being "distinctive" from the surrounding culture. Or, it should be.

Pegc said...

It seems churches are in competition with each other, which is so wrong to me. We should be glad to have someone just going somewhere they can have faith family and allow God to work through them in that family family.

I use to be of the mindset all things had to be done right and perfect or God was not pleased. I have moved away from that form of thinking realizing that God works with individuals and as individuals we will do things one way or another and be wrong and yet God will still work through us, just as he has done for ever, accomplishing his Will.

You are certainly right in saying distinctive should be "from the world" not from each other. Thanks you this series that has given me fuel for thinking.

greg said...

I recall a conversation with one of our ministers a few years ago in Alabama. I was starting to read a Rubel Shelly book - The Jesus Proposal, I believe - and he'd just finished it.

He made some comment about something Shelly had written about one of the big CoC issues (baptism, women or music - I can't recall). He said something to the effect that "if we changed that, how would be be different from anyone else?" (i.e. other denominations).

I said, "Why do we need to be?"

Blank stare...

Jeff Slater said...

Keith,

You have had some terrific posts lately! Keep 'em coming!

David U said...

KB, I had faith that you wouldn't let this one lay dormant! You NAILED it, brother. Thanks for that foot-washing.

Hence, another chapter in that up-coming best seller! :)

Love you bro,
DU

Anonymous said...

When I read that quote from the Last Will and Testament, and other materials from the people who left their denominational ties to start a non-denominational group, it is beyond my comprehension how, in many cases, that movement has fostered some of the most "distinctive" and denominational groups one can imagine. How did this happen?

dutro

vic said...

It’s hard to change our view to a biblical use of “distinctive” when we have entire series in Bible classes (if this is what you call a Bible class) on “Understanding the Community Church Movement” and the entire thrust of the class is to show the reasons that community churches are wrong and that they create problems. Even the week purportedly said to discuss the “strengths” of the community church movement was used to refute every strength. Some teachers/preachers keep misleading people by saying that it “diminishes the body of Christ” and “creates strained relationships and loose ties to the church universal.” Some even resort to the use of the old yellow pages argument and confusion about who is who. Some are so bold to say that a universal name is needed in order to have a “worldwide fellowship”. And, finally, “who is my brother” will become an “increasingly difficult question to answer”. No wonder we are so conflicted when some leaders insist on teaching this hogwash.

What can we do when church leaders do this?

Keith Brenton said...

Jesus once said (Mark 9:40 & Luke 9:50) "... whoever is not against us is for us," and on another occasion (Matthew 12:30) "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters."

I know there are plenty of opportunists campaigning for wealth and/or power supposedly on Jesus' behalf, but I can't believe that the vast majority of churches are involved in this kind of subversive conspiracy. More likely, they're all just populated by well-intentioned but imperfect people like you and me, who don't get it all correct any more than we do.

vic, I think we just share that part of the gospel with such church leaders.

john dobbs said...

Excellent, Keith. Thank you.

Alan Gable said...

Good stuff, Keith.

In our attempt to be set apart or distinctive, I'm afraid we've become culturally insignificant. The church buildings keep getting bigger while church influence dwindles because we've got to be different..."in, but not of"

k2 said...

another great addition to what you have said ... well, what others have said and most of us have not acted on.

on a personal note, how do you get your blockquotes to have that background? i think that is really cool. i remember seeing that for the first time when you had a different theme, or is it the same theme as before with some changes?

Keith Brenton said...

k2, it's a custom template that I wrote with CSS (cascading style sheets) and a little JavaScript magic, based on the one I wrote for New Wineskins. It's a different version of my earlier blog template.