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Looking Ahead in the Stone/Campbell Movement

22 September 2006
Al Maxey’s request for our impressions of where the Stone/Campbell 
movement is heading caught me squarely in the middle of a season of 
life during which I have been considering this very set of questions.
 
(I must admit up front that much of my extrabiblical reading over the last 
couple of years has been narrowly focused -- D. Willard, E. Peterson, 
P. Kenneson, S. Hauerwas -- so you might wish to take this with a grain of 
salt for its inevitable bias.)
 
I see a schism coming, but not one like the Constantinian one or the
Reformation, or even the CoC/ICC/DoC split of the 1800s.  This soft
schism will be more of what you might call a "retrenchment," which will
result from and be guided and energized by a few key, related factors:
 
1.  Growing disillusionment with the megachurch and its big-box,
program-oriented, "seeker-sensitive," least-common-denominator,
consumerist religion;
 
2.  Growing disillusionment with the cults of executive/pulpit
personality that the megachurches have spawned;
 
3.  A growing realization that salvation and serious, self-denying
discipleship to Jesus are intimately intertwined;
 
4.  Within the Stone/Campbell movement especially, a broad sense of
boredom, emptiness and even exhaustion concerning the peripheral issues
that have so frequently and persistently provided flash points for
division over the past 30 years (that is:  "C'mon, I'm through worrying
about those issues; let's get on with the serious, difficult,
significant business of making disciples and quit fighting old, stale,
broken-record battles over pitch pipes and guitars and Bible schools
etc.");
 
5.  A growing appreciation for how remarkably irrelevant the question
of "traditional vs. contemporary worship styles" really is - especially
compared to the need for sustained, personal, spiritual discipline(s) -
for a deeply invested community of faith trying to make disciples
throughout the 165 hours per week we are not in the assembly; and
 
6.  A more critical persuasion that in order to preserve our prophetic
voice in the world, we must reject and resist identifying with
political entities on either the right or the left, opting instead to
focus our energies on the substantive inbreaking of the kingdom of God
among us, even when God's kingdom has clearly political dimensions for
the issue under consideration.  (Maybe a shorter way of saying this is:
 We will recognize that being coopted by any political party is an
abuse of God's church, and we will run from it.)
 
I think we face an era in which we will become "leaner and meaner," so
to speak, as we lay aside some of the major pieces of baggage that have
hindered our prophetic witness, our spiritual depth and the quality of
our discipleship.  I certainly hope so.  
 
One of the most important implications of this is:  it will be a bumpy
ride that will require that we raise up dedicated, humble shepherds who
can stand against the cultural forces arrayed against (and even
within!) us.

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