Statements by the Original Signers

(listed alphabetically)

Jim Baird
Professor of Biblical Studies
Oklahoma Christian University
Pulpit Minister, Wilshire Church of Christ
I have been asked to comment on why I signed the Christian Affirmation 2005. Frankly, it is worded precisely enough that I rather hate to add my own comments.

Nevertheless, I signed for a couple of reasons. First, the Churches of Christ really are suffering an identity crisis. As our movement becomes more diverse socially, educationally and economically, polarization has dramatically increased within it. It is easy to blame personalities for these developments, but it seems to me that our high profile leaders on the extreme right and left are more or less reacting to the demands of our members rather than leading in the true sense of the word.

Unfortunately, the dynamics of polarization favor simplifying matters:" Us vs. Them;" "Liberal vs. Conservative;" "Good vs. Evil." Some of the initial reactions to the Affirmation have been of this type, of course. But my hopes have been confirmed that others have seen it as a call to recognize once again that serious ongoing restoration offers more than just those two alternatives.

Second, I signed because real congregations have to make real choices. We actually have to decide what we will teach and practice about baptism, the Lord's Supper, and worship. Historically, and not just for our fellowship, these issues have proved particularly difficult, because they involve the public life of the congregation. But difficult or not, these choices have to be made.

Some feel that any reflection on these issues is divisive. But the absence of reflection will not mean no choices will be made, but simply that thoughtless choices will be made. Blind tradition or overriding cultural pressures are more than able to push unreflective congregations one way or another. I like the Affirmation because it points to a way for congregations to make reasoned choices based on deliberate study of original Christianity in the highest tradition of our fellowship.

When a congregation seriously reflects on the earliest records of Christianity, and makes decisions based on those reflections, it will be drinking from the fountain out of which has flowed every major reform and restoration of Christianity for the last 2,000 years. Christians in all places and times and traditions have looked, are looking and will look back to those same sources with a sense of longing and loyalty. Because of this, and unlike choices driven by tradition or cultural pressure, decisions truly based on the New Testament Church are universal in their appeal.

 

John Mark Hicks
Professor of Theology, Lipscomb University
Adjunct Professor of Christian Doctrine, Harding University
Graduate School of Religion
The "Christian Affirmation" is an occasional rather than comprehensive statement that affirms some traditional distinctives of Churches of Christ. I wish it contained more - and even more basic - affirmations (theology, Christology, pneumatology, discipleship, eschatology), but its limited scope (at least as I read it) is to affirm some traditional ecclesiological distinctives within the historic tradition of Churches of Christ.

While I do not understand all the possible contexts for the occasion of this document, the occasion I perceived was the potential loss of some theological meaning attached the historic practices of baptism, Lord's Supper and a cappella music among Churches of Christ and the spiritual anxiety this creates among some believers within Churches of Christ.

If the document is read as giving equal weight to baptism, Lord's Supper and a cappella music in terms of fellowship or soteriology, I think this would be a misreading of at least my intent. It is an understandable reading given that the document does not articulate any such distinctions. But I read the "Affirmation" in terms of our historic tradition rather than a flattening of theological values to the same level. The three are part of our history, but they do not have the same significance or importance theologically.

It concerns me greatly if the document is read as a litmus test for fellowship or if it is read as the "essence" of Christianity. It is neither in my estimation. Rather, it expresses conviction about three ecclesiological practices in terms of their importance to Churches of Christ and their rootage in early Christianity. Immersion for the remission of sins, weekly communion in the Lord's Supper and a cappella music are historic practices not only of Churches of Christ, but of the ancient church as well.

I signed it because of what it affirms. I did not sign it as a document that sets the parameters of Christian fellowship or to hinder some of the healing initiatives with the Christian Church/Churches of Christ. Nor did I sign it as a document that affirms what is most important within the Christian faith or equalizes what is affirmed. I am supportive of the "Affirmation" only to the degree that it encourages our historic practices of immersion as a means of grace, the centrality of weekly table, and the theological meaningfulness of a cappella music.

 

Lynn A. McMillon
Dean, College of Biblical Studies
Oklahoma Christian University
The apostle Peter taught that we should always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks concerning the reasons for the hope that we have in Jesus our Lord. For that reason I chose to add my name to the recent affirmation of faith in the May issue of The Christian Chronicle, page 15. As a church historian I have always had a reluctance to sign anything that even seemed like a creedal statement, but for me this was a simple statement of what I believe on those particular points. The statement is a purely human statement and not intended to draw lines, determine membership or any of the usual purposes of a creed. In fact I sometimes look for fresh ways to articulate my lifelong faith in Jesus and his word and this was one of those times. I am both humbled and honored to state publicly my faith in Jesus Christ, his inspired word and his teachings. Though the space available did not permit a statement on everything that I believe, it did cover a number of important beliefs. I was also happy to affirm my belief in the importance of restoring the faith and practice of the New Testament because I have been concerned that the concept of restoration in recent years has been reduced simply to the Stone-Campbell movement. Restoration is far more than just an historical movement; it is an approach that drives me back to scripture as the eternal word of God that teaches how to live and serve God.

 

Allan J. McNicol
Professor of New Testament
Austin Graduate School of Theology
Some time ago, after an academic meeting, I was standing around in a hallway with some of the participants. The subject of religious affiliation came up. A fellow-professor stated, “I am a Methodist -- after all, you have to be somewhere.” The tone of the statement was interesting. It presumes that there are many important things to do in life, but holding on firmly to our religious confessions and affiliations is not one of them. I sense this attitude is spreading through the Churches of Christ. Many are saying, “Our church exists to bear witness to Jesus. Everything else is secondary! We have better things to do than worry about the ‘house-rules’ of Churches of Christ.”

I view our statement as being a good reminder. The gift of Churches of Christ to the universal ecumenical community comes in the area of the doctrine of the church. Yes, Jesus is central, but the salvation he brings becomes operative in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Our emphasis on the importance of believer’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the centrality of the Lord’s Supper for our spiritual development, and an insistence on simple, unadorned prayer and singing (a cappella) is a contribution that even many outside our fellowship admire. These were practices widely sanctioned in the ancient church. They have nourished generations of faithful believers, both ancient and modern. As the affirmation implies, it would be a tragedy to trash our witness as legalism and walk away just when others are recognizing its great worth.

 

Tom Olbricht
Professor Emeritus of Religion
Pepperdine University
I decided to support this statement because I have sympathy with everything expressed in it. I think increasing confusion exists among our church members regarding these matters and a clear statement is important.

I was reluctant to support it at first because in the past I have declined to support or sometimes fill out requested questionnaires designed to separate believers from "heretics".

The Campbells, both father and son, questioned the value of creedal statements if they are used to distinguish believers so as to disfellowship some. They, however, did not oppose such documents as expressions of what is believed, for example, the Brush Run Church had a written covenant.

It is my hope that this document will never become a statement that people are forced to support for fear of losing their status, whatever that may be.

 

Mark Shipp
Professor of Old Testament
Austin Graduate School of Theology

I would like to explain why I have signed the "Christian Affirmation." It is important to pass on faithful and wise practices to the coming generations. It is my prayer that these observations will shed some light on why passing on the practices mentioned in it are important and also why I have signed the document.

First, it is important to "put your name" to what you believe. It is often the case that newspaper editors do not accept unsigned letters or articles. Should we expect less of our preachers and teachers? To sign your name to a document does not imply that all other opinions or perspectives are not worthy of consideration; it is to say that one is willing to own the opinions expressed.

The affirmation is significant because of what it highlights. It is not intended as a summary of all the important doctrines of the faith. It does affirm some of our historical distinctives related to atonement, baptism and the Lord's Supper, and Christian worship. Churches of Christ have long maintained that these practices are "catholic," that is they have been widely practiced and commended from the earliest years of the Church. Commending biblical and time-honored practices is not sectarian; it is wise. Our "distinctives" are gifts and hopefully corrections to the greater Christian world. It would be a shame if, when the Christian world is seeking doctrinal and worship renewal, we should retreat from them.

Another important reason for signing the affirmation is the preservation of our identity for the next generation. My generation is referred to as the "now" generation: we do not want to have to wait or plan or provide for the future. The affirmation suggests that we learn more from the wise practices and tempered doctrines of the past than we do from the changing winds of culture. The Church is always one generation from losing its identity. The Christian Affirmation commends practices which have sustained us as a people for 200 years to the coming generation.

The strength of a tradition can be measured not only by how well it sustains authentic Christian practice and theology, but also by how well its traditions and practices are passed to the next generation. It is my prayer that you will be part of a church which faithfully passes on the Christian faith.

 

James W. Thompson
Professor of New Testament and Associate Dean
Graduate School of Theology
Abilene Christian University

After some deliberation, I chose to place my name in support of the affirmation because I agree that a heritage that emphasizes the items discussed in the affirmation has an important place in the Christian tradition and is worthy of sustaining. That is, I have no quarrel with the distinguishing marks of this tradition that are listed in the affirmation. The document neither anathematizes those who disagree nor draws lines of fellowship, but articulates a position that can be the basis for reflection and discussion. As the Churches of Christ are searching for an identity, I believe that we can honor a tradition and its values without some of the arrogance and sectarianism that has too often accompanied it. Just as I respect those who disagree, I hope that those who read the affirmation will respond with the same respect for a viewpoint other than their own.

 

Michael R. Weed
Professor of Theology and Ethics
Austin Graduate School of Theology
Amnesia is a terrible thing for an individual––or for a church. Churches who forget or abandon their past are without the inherited wisdom which has guided the church through difficult times. In every age the church exists in the tension created by its new message breaking into the cultures of an old world alienated from its Creator. The history of the church could be written in terms of the struggle between Christ and culture.

From the imperial church under Constantine, countless nationalist and racist churches, to Robert Schuller’s “gospel of self-esteem,” church history vividly records the story of Christians succumbing to the pressures and allurements of the surrounding culture. A major task of the church in every age is the protection of itself – its message and its members – against the corrosive forces of the passing world.

No less dangerous than past cultures with which the church has struggled is our modern consumer/entertainment culture. Its influence on churches is clearly visible in the widespread belief that modern marketing strategies, promotional techniques, and advertising methods must be employed for successful evangelism. It should not escape our notice that this is not being done without serious distortion and trivialization of the Christian faith.

Today many congregations are making hurried concessions to an increasingly shallow, course, and vulgar culture, concessions which have far-reaching consequences–many unforeseen, some irreversible–for the broader church. My understanding is that the Christian Affirmation 2005 is clearly a “period piece,” addressing some of the issues presently facing Churches of Christ. In addressing these, the statement would alert us to past benchmarks and, in so doing, encourage us to make informed, deliberate, and wise decisions. In this manner, it seeks to provide a legacy which may enable coming generations to do the same.

 

Wendell Willis
Associate Professor of Bible
Abilene Christian University
My decision to be a co-signer on the "Affirmation" was motivated by concerns I have had for several years. For over 20 years I worked in local ministry and I have written and taught about worship for over 30 years, and have been increasingly aware of changes in both practices and understandings in churches of Christ, some of which I find troubling.

The most changes have had to do with the music in worship, and the lessening of commitment to a cappella music is only the most obvious of these.  My observation is that when instrumental music comes into worship, both the participation of the membership in singing and the teaching value of hymns (their only function explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, Col. 3:16) declines.  This is not to regard a cappella music as on a par of significance with baptism and the Lord's Supper, but to recognize it as the most discussed and controversial worship topic today.

The Lord's Supper also has seen changes (in my limited experience of knowledge) in that it is used (and I assume regarded) as an activity appropriate for including in other times and places than the Sunday gathering for worship (weddings, funerals, private devotionals).

My hope is that by the publication of the affirmation in the widely circulated Christian Chronicle there will be a more open discussion and rigorous study of these topics among Christians.  This discussion needs to be based more upon biblical and theological study, and not only pragmatic concerns about what may be common in certain forms of Christianity, or sociological study about what is regarded as attractive to the nonbelievers in our society.


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