Concerning “A Christian Affirmation”

“A 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 theological meaning attached to some of the historic practices of baptism, Lord’s Supper and a cappella music among 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 my intent in signing it. 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 of 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 it affirms. 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.

One further comment in the light of the many bloggers that have commented on the “Affirmation” (see, for example, Jimmy Shaw’s blog). On the one hand, I embrace the move toward missional orientation, encourage the deepening of pietistic spiritual formation, move theologically in the circles of postmodern Evangelicalism (Grenz, Olsen, Francke, for example), and appreciate much of the concerns of the Emergent Church movement. On the other hand, I also appreciate the “Ancient-Future” dimension of Webber’s work, and I see this statement as moving in that orbit for Churches of Christ. I don’t think the statement is necessarily antagonistic to the first, but is expressive of the second. Can a signer live in both worlds? I think so, and I do.

I would see myself as affirming something of what Webber affirms–that is, the way to the Future is through the Ancient. But in affirming the Ancient, it does not discount the Future. Indeed, even the elements affirmed in this statement are affirmed at a basic level that leaves much for the Future to build on. How we experience Lord’s Supper, for example, is subject to wide practices–small groups to assemblies, tables to prayer groups, etc. It simply affirms some continuities with the Ancient that are important or significant for the Future–they give connection to the heritage of the faith, and specifically Churches of Christ as well (though I would emphasize Ancient as well as Churches of Christ [who are definitively more modern in their practice of the Ancient faith]).

I believe the Future is open to diverse thinking and practices, but the Future should also convey the Ancient in continuity with the faith of all ages.

I don’t think “original design” or “norm” are inconsistent with translating into “modern terms.” There can be modern expressions and postmodern (emergent) expressions of “original design” and “norm.” I would locate those in theological values more than any kind of “Command, Example, Inference” hermeneutic. But Scripture, nevertheless, functions a as a “norm that norms” (as Grenz and Franke are in the habit of reminding us). This is the “Ancient” dimension that the “Affirmation” affirms and is worth consideration.

4 Responses to “Concerning “A Christian Affirmation””

  1.   Neal W. Says:

    Dr. Hicks,

    As a young, emergent-oriented minister, I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful and patient responses to the Christian Affirmation controversy. I find there are plenty of problems with the affirmation, yet I think I understand the perspective of most of the signers. Thanks for reminding us that for the emergent/postmodern church to have a future…we’ve got to have an anchor in the past. And I can’t think of better anchors than a renewed, deep understanding of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and to a lesser degree, acapella singing.

    Do the critics of the affirmation know where you worship? It seems clear that you aren’t exactly from a traditionalist background…

  2.   Dwayne Says:

    Dr. Hicks…I would likewise like to offer my thanks to you for engaging in a thoughtful conversation concerning the Christian Affirmation. Like the previous commenter, I also identify myself as a young, postmodern church planter (whatever that means) and continue to think that the affirmation itself presents some potential hazards in achieving unity.

    However, I appreciate your honesty and explanation, and especially find insight in your comments about moving into the future with an awareness of history. Thanks for your patience, thoughtfulness, and understanding to the many questions. Your comments, I feel, are an example of Christ-like character.

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Neil and Dwayne. I appreciate your openness to some dialogue. Our future will be best served by some honest discussion, openness to each other, and careful listening to eacha others concerns.

    Oh, and don’t call me “Dr.”–that I only have because I have time, opportunity and money under God’s blessing and care. 🙂 “John Mark” will be just fine. 🙂

  4.   Jason Retherford Says:

    Dr. Hicks, or rather John Mark sir,

    Thank you for clarifying a little more what your thoughts were behind the drafting of this document.

    Like Neal, I am a young pomo-emergent oriented minister, and I was concerned over the initial appearing of the Affirmation. I agree with Neal that for the emergening postmodern church of Christ to have a future we have to have an anchor in the past. Ancient-Future faith if you will.

    Thanks for your insight, and I am sure that your blog will be one that I frequent.

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