In light of my last post--Four Reasons Why I'm Church of Christ--some of you wanted me to clarify the distinctions between the Churches of Christ and evangelicalism.
Let me start with Dana's comment about Scot McKnight's definition of evangelicalism. According to McKnight evangelicalism is defined by four things:
- The centrality of the Bible.
- The centrality of the atoning death of Christ.
- The centrality of the need for personal conversion.
- The centrality of an active mission to convert others and to do good works in society.
But as I noted in my comments to Dana, Scot's definition of evangelicalism is intentionally trying to create a "big tent." And he's to be commended for that effort.
Still, when a lot of people hear the tag "evangelical" they have a much narrower conception in mind. I like the way qb looked at it, a contrast between "formal evangelicalism" and "popular evangelicalism."
So in this post, while there is no distinction between the Churches of Christ and formal evangelicalism, I'd like to make a few contrasts between the Churches of Christ and popular evangelicalism.
Contrast #1: Evangelicals are more politicized than the Churches of Christ
I mentioned this in my prior post. The Churches of Christ tend to be apolitical. This, to my mind, is one of the biggest contrasts with popular evangelicalism. Let me give a couple of illustrations.
First, as noted in my last post, the Churches of Christ don't have flags in our churches. Nor do we have patriotic displays in our worship services. For example, a couple of years ago there was an outcry on the ACU campus about a patriotic display being used as a part of our start of school opening ceremony which is a chapel service. You'd expect to see this sort of outcry at an Anabaptist school. And that's my point. There's an Anabaptist strain in our movement that pushes back on "God and Country" conflations.
A second illustration: we don't preach about religious values issues. I've been a member of the Churches of Christ my whole life and have attended conservative and liberal churches within our movement and I've never heard, not once, a sermon about abortion or gay marriage.
A third illustration: We don't talk about Presidents or political parties from the pulpit. I've never heard a sitting American President--Republican or Democrat--discussed from a Church of Christ pulpit. I'm sure it happens, but it's not the norm. More, Church of Christ preachers tend to speak to their congregations assuming that both Republicans and Democrats are in the audience. When we criticize one party we tend to criticize the other one in the next breath.
All that said, please note that these historical trends seem to be changing here and there. Some Churches of Christ are becoming more politicized. But this is a recent trend. Historically speaking, the Churches of Christ have been apolitical. And the best of them remain so.
Contrast #2: Churches of Christ have a more sophisticated understanding of Scripture than evangelicals
Perhaps an illustration will best get this across. Every faculty member at Wheaton--widely considered to be a flagship school of American evangelicalism--has to annually sign a statement of faith that confesses the following:
WE BELIEVE that God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race...This isn't just the case at Wheaton. Over the last decade there have been a number of high profile incidents where scholars at evangelical schools have been let go or asked to leave over the issue of evolution.
In contrast, faculty members in the Churches of Christ schools can believe in evolution. In fact, if you polled every faculty member across every Church of Christ university campus I bet the majority would endorse evolution. The point being, the intellectual conversation about the bible on Church of Christ campuses is more sophisticated than on evangelical campuses.
Contrast #3: Churches of Christ have an Arminian, rather than Reformed, soteriology
Not all evangelicals are Reformed, but a lot of them are. Thus, as a point of contrast Churches of Christ don't believe in original sin, predestination or the doctrine of election. More, we have a more optimistic view of humanity, seeing the Imago Dei rather than total depravity.
Contrast #4: Churches of Christ have an amillennialist/preterist eschatology
This might not seem like a big deal, but increasingly it seems to be from what I'm witnessing in evangelical churches and among political candidates courting the evangelical vote.
Churches of Christ don't believe in the end times thinking ascendant in many evangelical churches. We don't believe in the Anti-Christ, rapture, tribulation, thousand year reign, or Battle of Armageddon. Our reading of Daniel, Jesus's eschatological discourses, and Revelation are preterist. That is to say, most of us think everything foretold in the bible has already happened, with most of the prophecies pointing to either the fall of Jerusalem or destruction of Rome. Why do we believe this? Well, we read Revelation 1.1 literally:
Revelation 1.1Everything spoken of in Revelation--the Beast, 666, and all that jazz--would "soon take place," presumably within the lifetimes of those to whom the book was addressed to, the seven churches of Asia.
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John...
The reason I bring this up is that there seems to be a growing fascination about the "end times" in a lot of evangelical churches. More, these "end times" speculations get wrapped up in geopolitics with the state of Israel playing a key role in bringing about the Second Coming. In short, there is within many sectors of evangelicalism a fusion between end times eschatology and the role of America and Israel in geopolitics. This theology is then used to support or justify various policy decisions in regard to the Middle East. And some of this theology is used to justify war.
I don't here want to comment on the incoherence, immorality and danger of this theology within American evangelicalism. Suffice it to say, there is none of this nonsense in the Churches of Christ.
Contrast #5: The worship of the Church of Christ is less contaminated by entertainment and consumer culture
I might get some pushback about this last, but I thought it worth mentioning. If only to stick up for my tradition.
The Churches of Christ worship in the acapella style. That is, we sing without instrumental accompaniment. No organ, piano, or praise band. Just four part harmony.
This might be the most distinctive aspect of our tradition. Within Christianity only the Eastern Orthodox and the Churches of Christ worship solely acapella. We are a "peculiar people."
Let me be very clear. I have no problem with instrumental music in worship. In fact, I enjoy it a great deal. However, there is a point of contrast here between the acapella tradition of the Churches of Christ and the dominance of praise bands across large sectors of American evangelicalism.
There are good points and bad points about both acapella worship and praise band worship. I don't want to get into all that. I just want to conclude by saying one thing in favor of acapella worship and how it provides an important contrast with a lot of evangelical worship.
In my opinion, here is the single greatest benefit of acapella worship. As churches are increasingly co-opted and tempted by an American culture beholden to entertainment, hipsterism, consumerism, branding, marketing, salesmanship, image, relevance, showmanship, and spectating, the acapella style of worship is a theological breath of fresh air. To be sure, worship ministers around the world are working hard to prevent the worst of these abuses within their churches. But that's my point. Instrumental worship has to swim upstream.
But acapella worship? Acapella worship is so...uncool.
Exactly. That's its genius. That's its prophetic protest and resistance to the cultural forces around us.