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Showing posts from 2007

In the COC, Charity Begins (and Ends) at Home

This is the time of year when people think about giving to their favorite charities, so I thought I'd comment on the COC's doctrines regarding the church and money. Every Sunday morning they pass around the collection plate, usually around the same time that they have the communion. The man presiding over the service will make a remark about how the money is used to continue the work of the church and often will read Paul's instructions regarding the collection in I Corinthians 16:1-3.

So week after week, people put their hard-earned money into the collection plate. Where does that money go? What is the work of the church, according to the COC? In a nutshell, the work of the church is to perpetuate itself, to make new converts and save as many souls as possible. So how is the money used to that end?

First, most of it goes to pay the preacher, despite Paul's comment in II Thessalonians 3:6-9 that he refused to accept a salary from the church and continued to work in his s…

A Few Good Things About the COC

So far I've posted some very negative things about the COC, and, for the most part, growing up in that church was a negative experience. However, as with most things in life, it wasn't completely bad. Some aspects of it ultimately had a positive impact on my life.

First, there was definitely a sense of community in the church. People really looked out for each other and came together during times of trouble. When someone lost a job, people passed the hat to help the family get by. When someone was ill, people sent cards, called, and visited in the hospital. When someone died, people sent flowers and food and passed the hat again to help pay for the funeral. My own family was the beneficiary of this kindness during some very difficult times, and I'll always be grateful for that. It was a big comfort to me to know that this big social safety net was there for us.

Second, the church taught me to view religious claims and leaders with a healthy dose of skepticism. We were taught…

If Faith Without Works Is Dead, Then the COC Is 6 Feet Under

Folks in the COC love to quote James 2:26: "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead." They primarily use this verse to attack Calvinism, specifically the doctrines of irresistible grace and unlimited atonement. Frankly, I don't know enough about Calvinism to know whether this attack is even valid, but that's how I've heard this verse used time and again. They'll say things like, "You can't just sit back and wait for God to save you. You have to do your part, too!" But what does the COC mean by "works"? What works are we supposed to do to prove that we have faith and to save ourselves?

In my experience, the COC usually defines works negatively, as things Christians refrain from doing, such as drinking, dancing, smoking, gambling, swearing, watching R-rated movies, and wearing immodest clothing. The only works that are defined positively (as actions to be performed) are being baptized, trying t…

Mary Winkler and the COC

The Mary Winkler murder case is a textbook illustration of the problem of being a woman in the church of Christ--married too young, with too many kids and not enough education or financial resources. In watching the coverage of the case by the mainstream media, I've been frustrated by the fact that they gloss over the COC's hardline stance on divorce, because I think that's the ultimate reason why she killed him, in addition to the alleged abuse.

(I suppose this is where I should insert my disclaimer that I do NOT condone what she did by any means and I think she should have served a lot more time than she did. I wish she had found the courage to take the bolder step of divorcing her husband rather than committing a horrible crime and robbing her children of their father.)

Anyway, I've mentioned in previous posts that the COC teaches that women are completely subordinate to men. It is spoken from the pulpit over and over that the only completely acceptable role for a wom…

I Don't Care What They Say--The COC Is a Denomination

OK, I'll concede that the COC doesn't have the formal structure of a denomination. There is no national or regional council or synod that determines what goes on in the congregations. Individual congregations do not have to report their budgets or anything like that to an overseeing body of any kind. However, there is an informal network of preachers, deacons, and elders that meets and shares ideas on how to run things. I call them the COC Cabal. Furthermore, nowadays most congregations like to hire preachers who've had at least a little formal training, and since all the preachers go to the same Bible colleges and are taught by the same professors, they're all pretty much guaranteed to preach the same things, whether they're in the upper Midwest or the buckle of the Bible Belt. Every COC I've ever attended, no matter where in the United States, has used the King James Bible, the Sacred Selections song book, and has conducted its service in the same way. It'…

Independence Day

Leaving the church of Christ was a dizzying, disorienting experience, partly because I had never had such a degree of personal freedom before. The whole point of that church is restriction, and most of their doctrine is a never-ending list of dos and don'ts (mostly don'ts). In honor of Independence Day, here is my Declaration of Independence from the COC.

Since I have left the COC, I am now free of:
--harsh judgment and withering criticism,
--hypocrisy and the need to put up a false front,
--restrictions on my service to God because of my gender,
--fear of being condemned for my flaws,
--enforced conformity to a lifestyle that is wrong for me, and
--being forced to shut down my intellect in order to believe.


In turn, I am now free to:
--accept my flaws and my humanity,
--love other people openly and without reservation,
--enjoy my life without fear of condemnation,
--accept God's grace and love without hesitation,
--reach out and be active in the community, and
--explore theology withou…

The COC and the Mormons

I meant to post about this a long time ago but forgot. Anyway, if you saw the PBS special on the Mormons, you may have noticed a reference to one of the early LDS founders, Sidney Rigdon. Turns out, he started in the COC, along with Alexander Campbell, but grew disillusioned with AC and glommed onto Joseph Smith instead. For me, it's just further proof that the COC has more in common with the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and other non-Christian sects that originated during the 19th century than it does with Christianity at large, since all those movements traded people back and forth for many years. Anyway, if you didn't get a chance to watch the Mormons special on PBS, you can watch it online. You should also read Under the Banner of Heaven for a riveting history of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, the ones who still practice polygamy.

I Just Couldn't Check My Brain at the Door

When people ask me how I finally got out of the COC, the short answer is that I reached a point where I simply couldn't check my brain at the door. When I was very small, I believed whatever they told me without question because I had no external knowledge or frame of reference. But as I got older, I started to experience a certain amount of cognitive dissonance. Like Neo in the first "Matrix" movie, I sensed that something was wrong but had no words to name or explain it. One of the things I sensed was the inherent hypocrisy of the COC: they talk about love, but tear each other down, they talk about mercy and forgiveness but judge each other harshly, they talk about charity but don't reach out to the community, and so forth. Another thing I sensed, more and more as I went to school and learned about the world, was the intellectual dishonesty of COC doctrines. If you want to be a COC member in good standing, then you are forced to accept things you know can't pos…

Always Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Last fall I went to the doctor for a routine check-up. Everything was fine, and my blood test results were excellent--no signs of anemia, diabetes, or thyroid problems, and my cholesterol numbers were perfect. I should have been happy to be in such great health, right? Wrong. Instead, I fell into a deep funk because I was worried that this good fortune would soon be followed by something awful--like, I dunno, inoperable cancer--either as a punishment or test by God.

When I was growing up in the COC, I was taught that true Christians cannot possibly be happy on this earth, because it's not our true home. We won't be happy until we're dead and go to Heaven to be with God. So if things are going well in your life and you are happy, then just be warned that it won't last. If you're living your life right, then God will test you to see if you remain faithful during adversity. If you're doing something wrong, then God is going to punish you--just you wait.

But what if …

Is the Church of Christ a Cult?

I recently watched the PBS documentary about Jonestown. It was extremely disturbing and brought back a lot of equally disturbing memories. I was a kid when the mass suicide occurred and I remember being freaked out when I learned that it was the parents themselves who gave the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid to the children--many of whom were my own age. I also remember that it set off a wave of anti-cult hysteria and accompanying sermons at church. Preachers denounced Jim Jones as a false prophet and outlined mind-control techniques used by cults, so that we could recognize and avoid them. The funny thing is, when they would talk about the mind-control techniques, I remember thinking, "But our church does some of those same things!" I never voiced my doubts to anyone, of course.

Here are the ways in which I believe that the COC is like a cult:

1. The COC claims to be the only group in the world with The Truth and to have special, secret knowledge about it.

2. They try to get people …

It's Like A Funeral Every Sunday

In a previous post I noted that the church of Christ does not officially celebrate Easter, although many people let their kids dress up and have Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts after church. Some people even object to that, however, and at the church where I grew up, we were treated to an anti-Easter sermon every year. We were exhorted not to celebrate it because it's based on a pagan holiday, and the Bible doesn't tell us to celebrate Christ's resurrection just once a year. Instead, true Christians celebrate it each Sunday when we observe the Lord's Supper.

I was trying to explain this to an acquaintance of mine recently, and when I mentioned the weekly celebration of the resurrection, she asked, "So was each service something joyous and celebratory?" I replied, "No, actually it was more like a funeral. We were told how evil and sinful we were and how we should be ashamed and guilty that Jesus had to die for us in the first place." She mentioned…

Chaos Versus Control in the Church of Christ

The CoC has a serious identity crisis. You can call it bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, but by whatever term you choose, if the CoC were a human being, it would be seriously mentally ill. The problem is that it veers between the two extremes of being very rigid and controlling and being utterly chaotic, and the mixed messages that you receive as a child in that environment are maddening. Let me give you a few examples.

The church service: The CoC likes to say that everything is done "decently and in order," yet it rejects any sort of liturgy as being man-made (and Papist, to boot). So, although there is some structure to the service (in fact, every single CoC I've ever attended has followed pretty much the same order of service), if you look beneath the surface, things are quite chaotic. The sermon is on whatever random topic the preacher chooses. The scripture reading, if any, is often a Psalm and usually has no relevance to the topic of the sermon. And the song leader…

You Can Check Out Anytime You Like, But You Can Never Leave

One of the central tenets of the CoC tradition is that once you're a member, you're a member for life, which means that even if (or after) you try to leave the church, the leadership still has the right to "discipline" you for your sins and infractions. Even if a person says, "Please take my name off your membership list," the church believes that the person is still a member and that it has the right to instruct that person in moral matters.

However, the church reserves the right to kick you out anytime it likes. What other churches call "excommunication" the CoC calls "disfellowshipping." It's very similar to the shunning practiced by the Amish, although it's not nearly as extreme. You are allowed to talk to someone who has been disfellowshipped, but only for the purposes of trying to persuade that person to come back to the church. You can't have a friendship with that person any more. If a member of your immediate family w…

The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions

I like to joke that, on any given Sunday at any given church of Christ, one of only four possible sermons is being preached: (1) Everything Fun Is Sinful, (2) Why We're Right, Everyone Else Is Wrong, and They're All Going to Hell, (3) Let's Study One Word from One Obscure Bible Passage Until We All Pass Out from Boredom, and (4) Women Were Put on this Earth to Make Dinner, Make Babies, and Keep their Mouths Shut. But there's one more sermon that's possibly even more toxic and soul-crushing than all the others combined: Why Everything You Do, No Matter How Small and Innocent, Could Send You to Hell.

Such sermons usually went along these lines: "Billy was a good little CoC boy who went to church 3 times a week with his parents. When Billy was 7, he became good friends with Bobby, a boy from his school. Unfortunately, Bobby's family was not part of the one true and right church. Things were innocent enough when they were young, but as the boys grew, Bobby temp…

Life in the Witness Protection Program

Recently I told a friend about the measures I have to take to hide from the church of Christ. I have to be very careful about what I post on-line under my real name, because any hint of impropriety will immediately be reported back to my family, and then the CoC Mafia will come after me with all guns blazing. They call it "love bombing," a practice whereby they take extraordinary measures to get a person to "return to the fold." It'll start with letters and phone calls asking me to come back and wondering whether someone in the church hurt my feelings (it's never assumed that you have studied and reasoned and come to the conclusion that the CoC is wrong about something), and if my response isn't sufficiently conciliatory, then they'll start showing up on my doorstep unannounced asking to "study" with me so they can show me the error of my ways. My friend said, "Gee, it's like you're living in the witness protection program!&qu…