At the outset, I state truthfully my purpose is not to anger, to challenge, or change those standing firm to my heritage and its convictions. I accept them for who they are brothers and sisters in Messiah, even though we probably disagree. That being said, individuals have asked me what is going on, for them I write. My prayer is that my answer is received with the spirit intended.
I choose not to answer various and sundry detail-questions giving my position on doctrinal positions. Instead, I choose to answer the question that really hides behind all the detail-questions. Every detail-question is important, but answering every detail-question ignores the support structure of every detail-question: “Why?”
Really and truly “Why?” deserves more than the limitation of addressing technical specifics. This is because “Why?” seeks an intellectual answer for what made me draw the conclusions I have, and what makes me do the things I do. For some, it matters little, in essence saying, “You have your beliefs, and I have mine.” Yet, when others ask a detail-question it ultimately leads to “Why?”
So being a minister is an interesting life. People see me, but more importantly they observe me – my thoughts, my actions, my life experience. Because I have been a preacher in my heritage, I am in a peculiar position, the position gives me some prominence. Thus, people are intrigued and want to know.
As I begin answering, I ask the reader to indulge me while I muse before becoming scripturally specific. I begin with a broken heart, a sunken feeling, a feeling that I can only describe as the feeling one must experience when receiving the news of a loved one’s passing.
Through this process I have learned an unfortunate truth. Apparently my love for the Savior does not exceed my love for my family, according to Scripture that makes me unworthy. Because most of my family is affiliated with my religious heritage, I have been torn. Yet, I am aware that my simple love for God’s truth did exceed my love for my religious heritage. If history in my religious heritage is any indicator, many will deem me unworthy.
I want to be worthy. I love my Savior. I love God’s truth. I love my family.
It has been over two years since I was last in a church of Christ pulpit. That being a non-instrumental conservative church of Christ, little “c” church of Christ, not big “C” Church of Christ. For those in the group, they know the difference, but for those unfamiliar there has been a large debate about the use of lower or upper case letters. For some, the lower case “c” insinuates non-denomination, for others the upper case “C” insinuates denomination. For me, the debate about upper or lower case is a distraction, I will leave it at that.
After stepping down, I self-imposed a two-year non-compete agreement. Which meant, I would not give specifics answering the question: “Why?” To emphasize, I established the non-compete myself. As such, when asked “Why?” I repeatedly refused to answer because of my self-imposed non-compete agreement. Yet, there was an additional purpose of my own self-originated agreement, to allow the last church where I labored to adjust.
Yet, I still published at raymondharris.com and faithandconviction.org doing my best to reflect, meditate, pray and present while honoring my agreement. In those two years, I never answered the question “Why?” This year, I will give my answer.
I appreciate my heritage. I call it heritage, because that word is affectionate, not aggressive. I truly love my heritage. To my brethren in the church of Christ, thank you for training me and instilling in me my faith in God and in Messiah. Yet, while my heritage has strengths, it also has weaknesses.
One of the strengths my heritage gave me was an intense appreciation for the mind and intellect. For that I will always be grateful. Faith is not just emotional, faith also contains the intellect. As such, when asked “Why?” I know the question seeks an intellectual answer. So, I will give an intellectual response.
As I have arrived at this location in my faith, my experience shows me that everyone does not have the same rationale, nor should they. Yet, God certainly interacts with the human mind, convinces it, persuades it, transforms it. It is accepted that the rules of argumentation, logic, and rational follow a type of law. However, even when based on natural law, those rules are limited, and somewhat governed by, the human mind’s maturation and development. Allow me to explain.
As with science, maturation of spiritual thought is based on fundamental elements. As one moves forward in science, the fundamental elements provide a guided foundation. But, at some point, one should have developed their scientific awareness to such a degree that it simply becomes non-permissible to remain solely working with the fundamental scientific elements. Instead, fundamental elements should be incorporated into the sum of the whole, because the fundamental elements are not the whole.
Like leavening, fundamental elements influence and shape the sum and the whole, giving the summed whole more than the parts alone are capable. The fundamental elements are important, but not the entirety of the whole. It would be like saying that the fundamental part of the body is breathing, but ignoring the lungs, heart, arteries, capillaries, veins, blood, autonomic nervous system, the intellect, the spirit, and everything else that makes an individual – human.
Clearly then the more one studies about God, the more one knows about God, the more one understands about God, the more one understands that the human, the christian, and the church are limited. Thus, without God, the human, the christian and the church cannot achieve maturation – the sum of the whole being greater than the parts – becoming a living breathing body sustaining life that God through Messiah seems fit to give.
Learn the Truth
I seek not consternation, nor do I answer with angst or anger. I am simply attempting to answer the question: “Why?” But in so doing, my answer could result in a person being flummoxed. If the reader experiences such, first pray, then be a Berean.
Test me, try me, put me up against the Scriptures. Yet, as a minister (a preacher, an evangelist) and as a Christian, and a man who wants to humbly serve God, I implore each Christian to search out the Bible. Always examine religious fruit against God’s Word. God’s word alone identifies that which is truly true.
But, I also implore the Christian to seek a more full understanding of the history around the Scriptures, the culture, the traditions and theology of the Israelite nation; all these affect the meaning of the New Testament. Be willing to accept that the Scriptures simply are not sufficient for understanding the underpinnings of Israel and the First Century Church. Then be willing to comport to truth as testified by God’s Truth.
Comport to God’s Truth
My heritage instilled in my being something that I completely believe. That we, my heritage, above all else desired God’s truth, and we would adjust to God’s truth. I now have an unfortunate experience with that statement because that statement is only partially true. My heritage and I both have the same weakness, we comport to only that part of God’s truth we understand. However, there is one thing worse that I have witnessed – when having understanding, only certain things are commissioned and those commissioned things are things humanly allocated.
Over my years, I have heard lessons and read many articles lamenting persons and families leaving the church. I have witnessed many leave, so there are many and varied reasons. As I now have new experience and new perspective, I can only attest to me. But, I will be intellectually technical, I have not left my heritage because I believe in the Restoration Plea. To this day, I still espouse the Restoration Plea: disciples should want and desire the First Century Church.
Live the Truth
Unfortunately, through interaction and experience with my heritage, I found embodiment of the Restoration Plea wanting. It seems my heritage has fallen short of the Plea leading me to believe that it no longer actively seeks the First Century Church. Instead, my interaction and experience reveals that my heritage has certain understandings, and stands firm on those understandings.
Rationally, it is not enough that my heritage says it seeks the First Century Church, it must seek, and then adjust accordingly to become the First Century Church. When and where did the search for the truths of the First Century die? I will not name Restoration Movement names, other than perhaps, Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. Those men are considered the forerunners of the Restoration Movement. Campbell and Stone’s voices are perhaps the most authoritative, all others seem mere echos.
Interestingly, Campbell and Stone – with 1700s and 1800s knowledge, pre-Archaeology and pre-Dead Sea Scrolls, by the way – seem truly aspiring for the First Century Church. My experience simply does not permit me to say this for some of my 1900s or 2000s brethren. My experience leads me to believe that sections of the Restoration Movement developed into the very thing it sought not to be – a creedal fellowship. By their very nature, it seems true that creedal fellowships have certain understandings, stand firm on those understandings, being reluctant to adjust.
I Want To Believe
I want to believe that in my heritage there are disciples who have not stopped yearning for the truths of the First Century Church.
I want to believe that there is at least one congregation who has not stopped yearning for the truths of the First Century Church.
I want to believe that both the disciple and the church want and are willing to have the faith and practices of the First Century Church.
So, as I am about to begin answering “Why?”, I will present my argumentation for my conclusions; but I am not aiming for nor looking to enter a formal debate. I encourage readers to take my information for what they think it is worth. Peruse it. Use it. Abuse it. I will not have a formal debate. Experience has shown me that formal debates are pointless, by giving arguments to prove assumed truth, each side simply desires to see the other trounced. Experience further reveals formal debates fail in seeking fuller meaning of truth, as such viewpoints and understandings of truth change little.
With my self-imposed two-year non-compete agreement having been fully completed, I will now endeavor to present my learning, and publish my answer to the question “Why?”
The question demands a well-reasoned intellectual response, a well-reasoned response is what I will give. As such, my answer will be quite extensive. My answer will be presented in several increments, eventually becoming my third e-book. This well-reasoned response requires discussing several items.
My response will have, at least, four sections: a section about Communion and Comprehensive Context, a section about theology and history, a section about fellowship, and a section giving my conclusions. My expectation is to release each part and its sections, over the course of many weeks.
Scope and Direction
As stated previously, as I publish my answer it will become my third e-book, the third volume of a trio. The first volume examines six theological perspectives setting behind Christian arguments. The second volume is my Thesis concerning the portion of the church of Christ hermeneutic: “The Old Testament has no authority for church practices”.
The first and second volumes are available in e-book format below, and provide important background information; information which informs and shapes my conclusions. This third volume assumes reader awareness of those volumes. Additionally, I consider the third volume incomplete without the others. If the third volume creates questions, I encourage readers to see the first and second volumes.
When discussing Communion, I do so using what I call, Comprehensive Context. When studying the Scriptures, Comprehensive Context incorporates: the Hebrew, Israelite and Jewish history, culture, literature, tradition, and theological contexts. These aspects provide important and, at times, very vital contextual information about the Scriptures. My presentation of Communion and Comprehensive Context is based upon the exegetical method enumerated by Michael J. Gorman in his book: Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers. His method encourages both ministers and students to examine the Bible’s culture, history, society, and literature.
As I answer “Why?”, it is my hope that this extensive answer demonstrates how the Comprehensive Context Bible study method has shaped my understanding. Further, my hopes are to reveal that this information is harmonious with God’s Word, and that harmonious study reveals deeper powerful truths of the Scriptures. Yet, irrespective of study method, engaging God’s Word and studying it always has the potential to reshape the mind and the heart of the disciple.
My efforts aim not to shore up current-understandings, past-understandings or misunderstandings of the Bible. I am here to find the truth, to understand the truth, then adjust to that truth and teach that truth. I am a disciple after the fullest meaning of the truth of God’s Word.
Blessings and Peace