This stream of consciousness isn’t about anybody specific; it’s about the Protestant Church of Christ’s (CofC’s) overall ecclesiological insecurity. Note: Some of the language I use is in-house CofC jargon that some Catholics might find odd, and, as usual with my writings, this might take some time for CofC-ers to digest and understand.
As those in the “religious world” look forward to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, as they’re more open to accept the gospel, and as they’re more willing to live like Christ, many members of “the Lord’s church” are disturbed, are complaining and protesting Christmas. Could it be the CofC has misapplied its disparaging label of “religious world” and its own self-given descriptor as “the Lord’s church”?
Protestants protest; that’s what they do. But we mustn’t offend CofC-ers by reminding them of their Protestant roots, lest we be dismissed as someone who “doesn’t understand the churches of Christ.” So never mind the sermons, the rants, and the videos that protest the established rule. Ignore how Fundamentalists make sure people tolerate the CofC’s holiday misery, and who also re-define what is “biblical” or a “tradition of men”. It seems the “religious world’s” silver bells are a distraction from “the Lord’s church’s” clanging gongs!
Throughout the portion of Christian history when Bibles existed, “biblical” meant a teaching that does not oppose the teachings of the Catholic Church, but the CofC pretends to believe “biblical” means an exact teaching found within their abridged versions of the Protestant-created canon of Scripture. I used the word “pretends” because, when the rubber meets the road, it can be demonstrated with nearly countless examples how the CofC’s use of strange fire is part of their worship, how its ecclesiology is found nowhere in the Text, and how some of its “doctrine” (a redefined use of the word “theology”) is as old as plastic. “Traditions of men” use to mean a teaching that runs against Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, but Fundamentalists have redefined them to mean any teaching that runs against Joe Q. Public’s private interpretation of his Bible only. (The New Testament uses of the same Greek word for both “traditions” and “teachings”: paradosis; it is Protestants who divorced godly traditions from explicit biblical teachings).
And so the CofC ethos – its angst against the Catholic machine purpose – is clearly Protestant, even though the group was born centuries after the original sixteenth century Protestants. And its appeal to the “Bible only” as a means to protest Christmas might seem sincere at first (and even to themselves), but the CofC’s foundation, when understood, suggests how Christmas might be something more than an unwanted paradosis. After all, is CofC angst not more boisterous this time of year? Could there be something about Christmas that jolts the CofC from its foundation, something that threatens careers and beloved sociologies?
Christmas is about the Incarnation. The Word became Flesh. The Word became visible. Jesus’ real blood is Mary’s real blood. Mary nursed God. Joseph protected Mary and Jesus. Mary is in a very literal sense the Mother of the Church and the mother of Jesus’ humanity. Mary and Joseph, with Jesus the Son, are the Holy Family of God depicted in what the CofC fears: the Nativity. The Family of God was visible, was identifiable, was, and is, real. Mary is still the Mother of the Church, Christians are Jesus’ brothers; Mary is our spiritual mother – at least she is the spiritual mother of Catholics, of those who still call her blessed.
Throughout Christian history, ecclesiology has always been likened to Mariology (not Mariolatry – a distinction CofC-ers normally ignore). And where there is proper ecclesiology, we will find Joseph, who provides the typology of every shepherd of the Church. You will find Mary in the home – in the Family – just as John the Apostle took her in at Christ’s command. Those who take Mary into the home are like John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Catholics keep Mary in the House; the CofC avoids her like a burning bush.
The often-mocked catechetical brilliance of the Nativity perfectly portrays the Church’s birth. In Catholic tradition, Mary and Joseph anticipate the Incarnation, and on Christmas Eve Jesus is placed between Mary and Joseph. The Advent anticipation of Jesus’ arrival is something to celebrate! His celebrated entrance into Jerusalem was a microcosm of His entrance into the material creation: Hosanna to the Son of David! Would the CofC mock His entrance into Jerusalem?
Another often-mocked element of the Nativity is the depiction of the “three” wise men that represents those who seek Jesus. But the CofC, for a reason I will explain, prefers a less visible, a less physical, a more Docetized and more nebulous memory of the Event’s realness. And the CofC’s purposefully un-illustrated and blurred version of the Incarnation deflects attention from the realness of the Word made Flesh.
Docetism is handy. The CofC, of course, is not Docetistic in the way the original early heretics were; but its tendencies aid its ambitions just the same. The Docetists preferred to believe Jesus’ physical reality was an illusion. They believed God was real, but Jesus’ humanity was not. Their belief gave them the unchecked allowance to contrive an ecclesiological model that was more illusion than real; the “Church” was no longer a visible and authoritative institution created by Christ, but a sate of mind that allowed anybody to claim ecclesial authority. Is such a claim not a founding tenet (in practice) of the Protestant Church of Christ?
I understand, I’ve been told countless times, “The churches of Christ is a restoration movement, not a new church. . . .” But it is a new “church”. A House (of God) is not restored by building a new house. Installing oneself as a priest (elder), or appointing elders beyond the direction of the visible and real Church does not “restore” anything; it imitates.
Without the Incarnation, or at least without the nagging reminder of the Christmas message and of how Mary’s perfect faith gave Jesus His humanity, the “Church” can be imagined as any ethereal model. Christian ecclesiology becomes Docetized. With an invisible Church, men need not mind the authority of elders and apostolic leadership; the clear New Testament pattern becomes passé. An ecclesiology void of the historical analogy to Catholicism’s affection for Mary becomes possible, becomes “biblical” to those who have unknowingly Doceteized the Bible itself.
Those who prefer a blurry Incarnation prefer a nebulous and unrestrictive ecclesiology. And so the Bible’s Incarnation (creation) becomes a blurry memory as well, because the Bible, of course, was created by the same real ecclesiological structure. Is it not normative for CofC Christians to simply assume the Bible is the word of God, yet have no knowledge of how the visible Catholic Church created it and labeled it so? Is my last sentence not written off as a Catholic lie by people who know they haven’t the foggiest idea of how the Bible became real? The mysterious and evasive “early church of Christ” is the undocumented historical hero; the hero exists in theory only, in a nebulous and blurred memory.
What’s at stake, of course, is the CofC elder, preacher, planter, man of God. If God likes realness, if the Church is visible, if Christ created a real and authoritative Church, then the Restorationists don’t resemble it. The Restoration is nothing more than invisible theories with no anchor to reality (the Apostasy, sola Scriptura, a self-generating canon, etc.), an invisible state of mind, an invisible arrangement of “doctrines”, a divorce from what preceded it, a re-invention with an old name, a re-creation of what Christ created, a forgery.
Christmas reminds CofC men of God that the story is real. Christmas shines the light of Christ directly into their faces, and they shut their eyes and turn their heads. The Light of the world reveals pride and insecurity. Sure, the overt Catholic-ness of Christmas elements – of Christ’s Mass – are the phenotypical and popular points of tension for CofC men of God, but the genetics of the CofC’s ecclesial and biblical Docetism synergistically work to favor a less public Incarnation. After all, if the Word was really made Flesh, if Jesus really created an institutional Church with authority, if that same Church really created the Bible, if all Christians are really commanded to mind the authority of their elders, then the CofC cannot be real. Ergo, the CofC man of God’s career, position, understanding of the Church, is not real – is an illusion.
• "Your website is a troll." "You son of Satan."
-Scott J. Shifferd, Dean Road Church of Christ
• "Pax [(he thinks "pax" means "Pat" and not "peace")] cannot do us no harm and that why he wont fly to Martinsville not unless we foot he bill [to debate me on my television show]. . . . Really now I just want you to man up and bring your false doctrine to the airwaves but You and me know that wont happen because all you can do is play book writer and site master. You take that book momey Buy a plane tickey then we post it all on youtube how about that?"
-Johnny Robertson, founder of Church of Christ WDTBS Television Show
• "You are not a model of ethicality."
-Neal Pollard, Bear Valley Church of Christ; instructor at Bear Valley Bible Institute
• "Patrick Vandapool you will pay for your crimes against God." "You and your Church are condemned, better accept the Gospel and leave your Church before you die in your sins. you are an alien sinner!" "Your brainwashed." "Your site is a propaganda site." Your not a true Christian." "Your a fool... . I never called you a fool."
-John Riddle; "well tranned priest of the Lord's Church"
• "Are you an unmarried man under 25? Your writing style and wisdom match such a profile."
-Steve Rudd, Hamilton Church of Christ; founder of CofC propaganda website bible.ca
• "You have to be the most immature person that I've ever "met" in WordPress, and that includes the atheists, by which in overwhelming numbers show more common courtesy and respect that you. Are you 10 years old? ...if that's what your readers enjoy then it says as much about them as it does you."
-Eugene Adkins, Keltonburg Church of Christ