A Peek into A CofC Christian’s Journey Home

The following dialogue is between myself and a reader I will call Edward, and a Protestant Church of Christ minister.  I’ve changed names and locations to protect Edward, but he has given me permission to post this exchange.  I think it portrays rather well the torment that the Protestant Church of Christ imposes on its more intelligent members, how theologically (and therefore, morally) confused the tradition is, and how the Catholic Church is the guardian of the Faith.  Please enjoy this revealing dialogue, and then say a prayer for my new friend.
Edward’s words are BLACK
My word’s are RED
Church of Christ minister’s words are BLUE
Hi Patrick,
I recently discovered your website during this time in my life when I am in crisis over my faith heritage, what you call the “Protestant CofC.” I’ve spent 37 of my 40 years in the CofC and 3 in the Christian Church (practically the same thing, except for instrumental music, you probably know). Is this your background also, pre-Catholic?
I nearly killed myself (really) two years ago after discovering that I might have to choose between giving up my wife or going to hell, depending on whom you ask in the CofC. This relates to the topic of sex and marriage that you touched on in your article The Real Church of Christ Is Open to Life. I have found relief from the CofC nonsense on the topic of marriage (the CofC is stupid on the topic of sex!) by reading Robby George, Germain Grisez, and Catholic law itself. I shouldn’t be cherry-picking from the Catholic Church, but I’m not quite ready to go all the way there.
Would you mind if we correspond? I could go into further detail as to what the problem was.
Also, after moving four weeks ago from [location deleted] to [location deleted], I sent a letter to the big CofC in my town, asking for clarification regarding their stance on remarriage. (No, I am not remarried.) Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, they regurgitated the pablum that seems to have become standard among mainstream CofCs. It is shocking how little the CofC seems to understand about sex and therefore marriage and remarriage. I could forward this letter to you and their response, exing out the names “to protect the innocent.”
My only other viable option in Protestant Christianity right now is [name deleted] Baptist Church in [location deleted]. The Catholic Church seems a bridge too far for my wife at this point. I am at a loss as to how to proceed.
I am looking for answers and feel stuck right now. Do you mind if we correspond? Thank you.
Edward,
I’m sorry about all your pain.  I use the term “Protestant CofC” to show that it is not the “Catholic Church”.  The Catholic Church has used the name “Church of Christ” for 2,000 years (Romans 16 and all over ancient documents), and I don’t think groups should be swiping the Catholic Church’s names.
Yes, I was in the CofC before I became Catholic in 2008.  I studied Bible at Harding and then an Evangelical school (I was still CofC).  Worked in Youth Ministry after school (as nearly every wannabe minister).  I took the Bible seriously, and it pulled me from the CofC to the Catholic Church–yes, pulled.  But I was also “pushed” by the CofC to the Catholic Church because I found it impossible to have an honest dialogue with anyone in the CofC about theology, history, or Bible.  My conversion was a 10-year experience though tens of thousands of pages, hundreds of hours of conversation, and losing everyone who was important to me from my former congregations.  In short, I was fed by the Catholic Church, and I didn’t even know how hungry I was.  
From your note, I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, but I am happy to correspond. Please understand that I’m not a counselor–just an opinionated dude, but I’ll do what I can for you.  Grace is everywhere.  
Patrick,
I too was at Harding.  I will relate more of my personal story to you later. I get that you are not a counselor. I think my story illustrates the truly horrifying dilemmas potentially set up by the CofC’s (and Evangelicalism’s, in general) dearth of moral theology. You go to a CofC minister and pose questions of a certain nature, and you get deer in the headlights; it hardly registers on their theological grid. Some people are being led to hell while being told they are okay.
For now, I will forward to you my recent correspondence with the CofC in my new town. If you find that is TMI or you don’t have time for that, just let me know, and I will keep things more concise.
I do appreciate your reply and your time.
Patrick,
The following are my letter to a minister of the big CofC in my new town and his reply to it. I had hoped for better, but, sadly, this is all too typical – the type of thinking (or lack thereof) that set me up, over 20 years, for a suicide-compelling dilemma. (I’ll let you in on that a little later, when I have more time.) This may be the last straw.

Edward emails a CofC minister

Hi Russle (CofC minister),
This is Edward, whom you met at Jason’s party last Saturday.
Unfortunately, I missed the service yesterday, but Lisa filled me in, showed me the bulletin insert from FRC, and told me of your prayer on knees, the elders giving example. I am heartened by your sharing awareness, concern, and prayer over this issue with the rest of the congregation in light of the “improper animus” that the U.S. Supreme Court recently showed for the institution of marriage and democracy in general.
Seeing that your sensitivity to the marriage issue is very pertinent to the vantage point from which I am seeking a new church family for my family and my self, I hope you will give me a few minutes of your time in this e-mail.
I have spent 37 of my 40 years in the church of Christ, and the other three in the Christian Church. The last fifteen of those years were in four congregations in [location deleted], and the first 25 years were in [location deleted] and [location deleted]. Moving to [location deleted] four weeks ago, I was (and still am somewhat) inclined not to join up with a church of Christ, but rather to find a different faith group more radically based in the word of God as Jesus Christ himself was, evidenced in Matthew 19:1-11.
Notice I did not say conservatively based; I said radically based. Ironically, butchering the very words of Christ by which he intended to jettison the Pharisees’ legalism and take them back to fundamentals, the vast majority of Protestant Christianity including the church of Christ (in my experience) legalistically seeks every loophole imaginable to permit marriages that Christ plainly says are adulterous while turning a blind eye to fornication within our ranks. It’s no wonder, then, that the homosexual lobby and their allies despise us as hypocrites for presuming to proclaim to them (however lovingly we try) who exactly are within the parameters of marriage and who are not.
This has come to pass in the wake of the Sexual Revolution of the past 45-50 years – fueled, in part, by feminism, rock music, and The Pill – when sex and procreation were separated from marriage in the mind of the popular culture. Consequently, knowledge of the essence of marriage has been lost to Western civilization, even to the vast majority of believers who are steeped in the culture – even if only in mind, but not in deed – much more than they know or might like to admit. Other fallout has been no-fault divorce and rampant promiscuity from which springs so many of our national sins and social pathologies: abortion, fatherlessness, emotional disorders, STD epidemics, and the abandonment of marriage by Millennials. We (believers and unbelievers alike) are all so assimilated into the Matrix of the new sexual order – so unaware of the basis of marriage inscribed in nature by The Creator and revealed in His Bible – that it has become necessary, against the recent advance of homosexual “marriage,” for a small band of experts in theology, philosophy, and natural law to rediscover and articulate to the rest of us the basis of marriage: that it is male-female sexual complementarity, NOT what is popularly known as “love” (i.e. romantic attachment or mere companionship). By contrast, some notion of the essence of marriage likely could have been conveyed by most 18th-century American farmers, but, sadly, it has been lost except to a relative few from the Sixties till now.
Hence, your bulletin insert from the Family Research Council that succinctly conveys some of the work of Prof. Robert George, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Gergis, which in turn owes much to the work of Catholic moral theologian Prof. Germain Grisez (Scroll down to Chapter 9 in Grisez) and the longstanding code of the Catholic Church itself. (Please have a look at all three links. You will notice right away that some of the language of the FRC bulletin insert may very well have been lifted from Mr. Anderson’s essay.)
Does it bother you that we had to go outside of our brotherhood to find a coherent definition and defense of marriage adequate to educate our own? It should. Not because it was culled from Catholic moral theology but because it is so hard to find within our own ranks. It disturbs me deeply that, as I’ve inquired among older men of our brotherhood – some elders, Christian college professors, and counselors – I cannot get a uniform answer as to what constitutes a marriage. Some might point to Genesis Chapter 2 while others mumble something about “a man plus a woman.” But they cannot tell you why that is. I cannot get a consistent answer as to what exactly constitutes a marriage, when a marriage comes into being, or what “one flesh” really means. These men are good men, but they are products of the Sixties when the true meaning of marriage began to be lost. Furthermore, in our faith tradition we don’t have a catechism (scary word, huh?) by which we have some confidence that our youth are graduating with a sufficient knowledge of doctrinal essentials. Historically, our brotherhood has expended much effort on 1) evangelism and 2) form of worship, but, sadly, precious little on discipleship, that is, developing people in the knowledge and practice of a life of holiness. Without a catechism (or “prescribed religious education” or whatever you prefer to call it), we are graduating our churched young people to secular universities where seven out of ten will lose their faith. Of the three still faithful of the ten, one or two of those will become sympathetic to alternative moralities, e.g. homosexual “marriage,” non-marital cohabitation, or non-covenental baby-making. (This isn’t mere theorizing; I’ve seen it with my own eyes in some of our churches.) Why shouldn’t they? Their religious education never equipped them, for example, with an understanding of the essence of marriage.
These are tomorrow’s elders, ministers, and leaders of the Church! Mark my words: within the next ten to fifteen years you will see homosexual “marriages” officiated within churches of Christ. Think it can’t happen? Then consider these:
After “no-fault divorce” swept the nation, following California’s lead in 1968 (Thanks, Gov. Reagan, one of our own Restorationist brethren, by the way.), you began to see quite a flux of couples, now easily remarried while a first spouse still lived, come to the Church. Rather than follow the lead of Christ and call those marriages for what Christ would have called them and beg those couples to true, albeit painful, repentance, too many of our brotherhood’s elders followed (and still follow) Caesar’s lead in calling such remarriages legitimate, back-scripturalizing them under 1 Corinthians 7:20. Fast-forward a few short years from the present to, say, 2016. Lawsuits for interstate recognition of marriage reach the Supreme Court, the other shoe drops (as Justice Scalia warns us it surely will), and gay “marriage” becomes the law of the land. We then start seeing a flux of same-sex couples, married in good conscience as far as they are concerned (they do have a license from the state, mind you) come to the Church and express faith. How will tomorrow’s elders (you know, the three in ten still faithful whom I described above) discern these cases? Do you really think they will tell these same-sex couples that they must divorce before they can be baptized? Our track record suggests that those couples will be told: “You shouldn’t have done it, but ‘Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.’ Just confess to God that you are sorry for what you did, and His grace will cover you, just as you are.” (What does Romans 6 say?)
Consider: before 1930, virtually every denomination in Christendom condemned the use of artificial contraception. Then, in 1931, aided and abetted by the likes of atheist Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood notoriety, the Anglican Church was the first to capitulate. Between then and the advent of The Pill thirty years later, virtually every Protestant denomination and faith group followed suit, including the church of Christ. In 2013, we proclaim softly on paper (e.g. FRC bulletin insert) that marriage is rooted in the one-flesh bond that is ordered to produce babies, but with our copious use of artificial contraception – no different than the world – we proclaim loudly with our lifestyles, betraying our throw-away assent to Biblical marriage, that we agree with the enemies of God that marriage has mostly to do with personal gratification and little, if anything, to do with the bearing and raising of children. Let me ask you something: if we the church of Christ are the true Church then were we wrong about contraception from our founding in 33 A.D. until our mid-twentieth-century change of heart? Or are we wrong now? When we dropped our condemnation of artificial contraception, was it done for deliberated scriptural reasons? Or could it have had more to do with being overcome with the rising cultural tide of the Sixties?
One of this year’s Pepperdine Lectureship keynote speakers was bragging last year in a “secret” Facebook group for “Harding LGBTQ and Friends” that he has homosexuals on church staff, and he claimed to be pulling levers to get a forum in an upcoming Pepperdine Lectureship for openly practicing homosexuals in that group and elsewhere to have a “place at the table.” His rationale? The Ethiopian eunuch was “sexually other,” and the Lord accepted him just as he was. Practicing homosexuals are “sexually other.” Therefore, the Lord accepts them too. Too hard to believe? I have screenshots of my entire Facebook conversation with him saved and available.
As you know, many of the “mainline denominations” of Protestant Christendom have already caved to homosexual demands, officiating gay “marriages” and ordaining homosexual clergy. I don’t blame the homosexuals so much as I blame heterosexual America – especially heterosexual Christian America – for yielding more to popular culture and to Caesar than to the word of God. Christian America is culpable in setting in motion the events of the past half century that are now reaching their logical culmination in the undoing of marriage. Marriage has become a free-for-all. Now homosexuals want to join the party. Who can blame them?
In my estimation, the reason we in the church of Christ have not yet fallen on this issue is because, on average, we are a relatively conservative bunch. But if conservative means only resistant to change then a conservative just arrives at the object of change – heels dug in and teeth clinched – more slowly. But he still gets there. We will not maintain our fidelity to Christ by being merely conservative. We will maintain our fidelity to Christ by being orthodox. To do this will require much more than a bulletin, an announcement, and a prayer, however sincere. It will require a radical renewal of our minds, a radical change in our education methods, and a radical courage to live as disciples whom the world regards as fools. Otherwise, we will prove ourselves fit only to be cut off of the Vine and thrown into the fire – and in the not-too-distant future, I am afraid. Who then will be the true Church?
Perhaps all of this sounds as though I am just a little too hung up on this one issue of marriage. Maybe. But I think I am correct in saying that it is a litmus test for our brotherhood, a canary in the mine. For if we prove incapable of understanding and honoring with our lives something as basic as the first relationship instituted by the Lord among man – a relationship that is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the Church – then we may as well throw our Bibles in the trash and spend the remainder of our Sundays at the lake.
Are we up to this defining challenge of our day?
Russle, feel free to share this letter with any of the elders. I would welcome any conversation that you and they would like to have with me regarding any of its contents.
CofC minister responds to Edward
Edward,
I’m sorry for the late reply.  We have been extremely busy getting ready for Camp Bandina.  I also needed to read your e-mail several times to make sure I understood what you were saying. 
First of all, thanks for the encouragement for the prayer and humility that our Elders and Ministers displayed last Sunday.  Like you, we are grieved over the Supreme Courts decision and are fully aware that this is just a display of trends in which Godless people persuade our nation to immoral decisions.  I fear that this trend will continue and the call of Believers everywhere is to stand in the light of God’s truth.
There are several things that you brought up in your e-mail and my hope is to give you an idea of where I stand on them.  I have cc this message to our Elders, as well as Mr. Yates.  I do not suggest that I can speak for all of them and you can feel free to discuss any of your concerns with them individually.  I want to be fully transparent with you.
Our Church fully believes in the sanctity of Marriage and that God has designed it between a Man and a Woman.  We do not accept Homosexuality nor its marriage implications.  We feel just as strongly as a heterosexual couple living together or pre-marital sex.  We do not teach that this is ‘O.K’  We see first hand the devestating effects of divorce and relationships that go outside the will of God. 
As I said in my message before the prayer, that you regrettably missed, we do not hate people but we do hate sin.  We will welcome people to worship with us no matter that sexual sin.  We will love them as Christ does.  We will share the Gospel with them.  We will encourage them to take Christ on as their Savior. We will in the words of Jesus, hold them accountable to his call to, “go and sin no more”. 
Your Bride attended a class that I taught on the Scripture you referred to early in your e-mail, Matthew 19.  I spent a significant amount of time in study of this passage and while I do not claim to be an expert in all areas of theology I will give you my opinion.  God hates divorce.  In the beginning of class I read off a list of over 40 things that God “hates” or “detests” in Scripture.  Interestingly enough, a “haughty and proud heart” are one of them.  That is personally scary for me.  One of our Church’s core values is that we will look at and interpret Scripture through the lens and nature of Christ.  Why did Jesus say what he did in Mt. 19?  Who did he say it to?  What was happening politically and socially at that time?  The Pharisees had made a mockery of marriage and had lessened in covenantal bond by quickly divorcing for any thing that seemed displeasing to them about their partner.  Women had no say, they exploited the law of Moses for personal preference.  John the Baptist had just been beheaded by Herod and Herodis for his scorn over Herod’s divorce and remarriage.  I believe Jesus said this bold and as you put it, “radical” thing to solidify God’s importance on marriage.  Notice, he doesn’t hate the divorced person!  We could go through the Gospels and find many examples of this, the Woman at the well in John 4 is a great example.  The question is, is remarriage possible or  considered right in the eyes of God?  You are right, we are famous for finding loopholes.  I do think your intrepretation of 1 Cor. 7 and mine are different.  I do not want to get in a big debate with you on divorce and remarriage as this e-mail does not need to be a dissertation, but…in light of what Jesus says, and who he says it to, in consideration of 1 Cor. 7 I have taken the stance that I am not nearly as concerned on what number marriage you are on, as I am in imploring and discipling you to make your current marriage your LAST marriage.  I know this statement will give you pause and you will want much more discussion and I will be glad to have that with you at a later time.
You seem to reference the demise of culture and marriage seeing its roots in the 60’s with the emergence of rock music, and The Pill.  You have some valid points but I have some questions I need you to clarify.  Do you believe that contraception used by a married couple is wrong?  It seems as if you do.  I’d like some clarity on that.  IF, that is your stance, I must tell you that I disagree.  In my mind, you are putting legalistic views on the sexual relationship between a man and his wife that are not in Scripture.  God created sex.  He created for way more than simply procreation.  He intended it to be a blessing.  He intended to build intimacy.  He intended it to feel good and for us to be blessed by it!!!  I have 3 Children and love them, however I had a vasectomy.  I feel it was best for my family and my leadership to do so as well as the responsible thing. 
I am not concerned at all that the material that is quoted or referenced in our bulletin hand out has roots in the Catholic Church.  If I am reading you correctly, your concern is that there is not more printed literature from the “Brotherhood”.  If I may suggest, just because Church of Christ leaders were not refernced does not make the truth written in handout any less truth nor, in my mind, does it suggest that our “Brotherhood” is not standing strong on these issues.  I do believe whole heartedly that our Church and Christian Churches across the nation need to be far more vocal and stand stronger in the face of this post-Christian culture we are in.  I do believe Christians as a whole bear a lot of the responsibility in this moral erosion due to our silence.  I can speak personally, I am NOT silent.  I will continue to be vocal in favor of God’s union between a man and a woman.  I will continue to call people to holiness in their sexual natures.  I will continue to help marriages become strong and Christ centered, and I will continue to give GRACE.  You rightfully referenced Romans 6, BUT Romans 6 finds it’s true power by understanding Romans 1-5.
You asked the question as to when one is actually married.  Is it in the bethroval?  Is it in the first sexual encounter?  Is it when the marriage license is received?  Is it in the offical ceremony and the words, “I now prounce you husband and wife”?  My understanding is that in the New Testament one was considered married at the engagement however sex was not allowed until after the ceremony.  My intrepretation is that one is officially married at the ceremony.  I have dealt with the question of a person who “fornicates” before they are married, does this mean they are married to this person because of that action?  My answer is no.  This week at Camp Bandina I will encounter many Students who have made bad choices sexually.  They will deal with the consequence of guilt or physical things such as disease or pregnancy.  My counsel to them is to regain their purity by calling on God to restore their soul and forgive.  To claim Christ as he will forgive their sins and they will be no more.  To find confidence in God’s grace and then to go and sin no more. 
You are obviously very well read and passionate.  Praise God for that.  In looking for a Church home may I suggest something, “date” a Church for a while.  You must have a SMALL list of essentials that you are looking for in a Church home.  Things that are Non-negotiable.  If there are things outside that list that bother you or that you wish were different then you need to give grace.  Honestly, there are things about me, you, and all of us that are not perfect and I am so glad people love me inspite of it.  “Date” us and other Churches and when you find one that has you non-negotiables get invovled in it and serve others!!!  Be an instrument of grace.  Be an ambassador of Christ with that body.  Whether it is here with us or with some other Church I pray that you will grow more in the light of Christ and that your family will be blessed.

Edward forwarded me his email and the minister’s reply, and I respond to Edward.

Edward,
I read the emails.  I don’t know the direction that your journey has taken, or what your “end” questions will be, but I’ll comment on what I’ve read.
1)  It is very refreshing to read your email–to know that there are still thinkers hanging out in the CofC-type churches.  Yes, the pill has been a horrible evil that Protestantism has given a green light to. 
2)  It appears that you are “waking up” (no insult intended) to the inconsistencies of Protestantism and the “make up as you go” theologies that define it.  The topic of marriage and ABC (artificial birth control / self-sterilization / fixing what God must have created as broken) seems to be, as it is with many people, the issue that shakes the scales from one’s eyes and paves the road to Rome.  Scary, huh?  You may not agree with that, but I’ve seen it a lot.
3)  I could have predicted Russell’s response to the letter.  He did not acknowledge the CofC’s lack of theological depth, why the CofC changed its beliefs, his reliance on the Catholic Church, and he “dressed” self-mutilation as a “blessing,” etc.  Pretty standard stuff.
 I’ll be frank.  There are so many subjects within your email (culture, the “moment” of marriage, what IS a real marriage, where do I go from here? etc.), so I’ll just jump to the end game–hope you don’t mind.  And I don’t mind backing up if you’d like and picking apart the particulars.  
You know I’m Catholic, so we have different perspectives.  So let me give you a thumbnail description of how I see reality and your situation: The Catholic Church is not a “Bible-only” Church–sola Scriptura isn’t scriptural, isn’t logical, and it is a heresy.  We believe Jesus first built his Church, which, of course, is the Catholic Church (He did not write a Bible).  The CHURCH is “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15), and “THROUGH THE [Catholic] CHURCH the wisdom of God might be known” (Eph 3:10).  That Church later wrote the NT, added it to the OT, and then called it the Bible.  In other words, the Bible is a product of the Catholic Church, so both the Bible AND the Catholic Church are sacred sources of revelation (Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture).  The Church leaders (the Apostles who gave their authority to their successors) were given the Spirit of Truth that would guide them into all truth.  So, any “interpretation” of the Bible that does not conform to the body that Jesus A) gave his authority, B) gave the Spirt of truth, C) created the Bible, and therefore, is the rightful interpreter of the Bible, is a bad interpretation–and all of Protestantism falls into that category, which is perfectly illustrated by how all of Protestantism acts like a flock without a shepherd (at least with this issue).
SO… if you “date” an ecclesial community other than the historical Church, you will only find confusion (such as Russell’s belief that marriage isn’t until death–wow).  If ABC or protection of marriage is your non-negotiable topic, you will not be satisfied in any non-Catholic group.  That’s a scary notion for CofC Christians who have hit this point, because they often sense antagonism between 1) knowing that the Catholic Church is “right” on this one issue, but 2) THINKING the Catholic Church is wrong on so many other issues.  Well, I’ll just tell you as it is.  The Catholic Church is not “wrong” on anything doctrinally–what’s “wrong” is that such a Protestant is either ignorant of what Catholicism is, or he is wrong about his own beliefs/interpretations.  So, I sense you will either continue to be Protestant, and therefore unhappy; or continue to draw closer to God by drawing closer to what He intended:  Catholicism.  How ya’ like that?!
I told you I’d be frank.  Your journey into a different brand of Protestantism, I think, is like spinning a bottle and walking wherever it points.  At least within the CofC, you will be around people who have retained the Sacrament of Baptism (for its older members) and have not watered (or unwatered) it into some sort of Evangelical-esque sinners’ prayer.  The Catholic Church has 7 sacraments of Grace.  The CofC has two (sort of):  a limited understanding of Baptism and a limited understanding of Marriage.  Most other Protestant groups have only a limited understanding of Marriage, so from a “fullness of the Gospel” perspective, perhaps you should remain in the CofC (if you believe you must remain Protestant). 
I’m happy to continue this dialog–or any dialog.
Patrick,
I really appreciate your taking the time to read and to reply. I like your directness, and I need that. I don’t like squishy answers, especially regarding things as heavy as this.
Do you have further time to answer some questions regarding Catholic beliefs? I would not be asking from the standpoint of “trying to win” as some of your commenters do. I would be asking because I am trying to understand. Otherwise, do you have any handy resources you have culled from your exhaustive research that might be helpful?
Thank you.
(The conversation continues off-line)
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