Further Perspectives on “A Christian Affirmation”

Permit me a few more perspectives on the “Affirmation”and then I will let it go unless asked to comment further…..

I may be politically naive — and there may good reason to think that of me — but I did not see affirming the statement as somehow a negative statement about the 2006 healing initiatives with the Christian Church/Churches of Christ. It is rather discouraging to me to hear it set in that framework or read in that way. I am a supporter of the initiatives, and have a long history of support. I offer the following list, not to display my ego, but to signal that I pursue such initiatives in both word and deed.

a. I have long participated in the Stone-Campbell session of the Evangelical Theological Society along with my Christian Church brothers, and this fall will present a paper on the theology of the Lord’s Supper.

b. I have published with College Press (e.g., Yet Will I Trust Him), and have written the commentary on Chronicles in the College Press Commentary Series.

c. I have participated in unity meetings from the Restoration Forums to local gatherings of ministers across the country. Indeed, this summer I will speak at some unity fellowship gatherings in Hawaii (I know, its a tough gig, but for the sake of unity…).

d. I support STADIA’s efforts to plant churches across the country, have participated in some of their seminars, and help recruit church planters for them.

e. I have spoken and will speak in 2006 at the North American Convention.

f. I am on the editorial board of the Stone-Campbell Journal.

I don’t think to affirm some ancient practices as viable ways to the future is necessarily antagonistic to those efforts of healing. The context of the affirmation was “The Christian Chronicle” not the “Christian Standard”, that is, directed at Churches of Christ, not Baptists, Christian Church, etc. I signed it as an affirmation of our historic practices without seeking to deny or discourage more basic fellowship among Christians.

A cappella music, of course, is the weakest part of the document, and it should not (and cannot) stand on the same explicit theological grounds that baptism and the Lord’s Supper do. I wish the document were more explicit about that, but again the context of the document is historic practices among Churches of Christ. And as our historic practices go, a cappella is one of them. I think most, if not all, the signers recognize this. Whether you agree with Jeff Peterson’s theological/biblical rationale or not for a cappella music, you cannot miss that he does not put that rationale on the same level as other theological concerns. I wish, however, that had been clear in the Affirmation itself.

I am appreciative of Leroy Garrett’s critique of the Affirmation. I am appreciative of his years of ministry and service to Churches of Christ for the cause of unity. But I think he misreads the Affirmation as drawing lines of fellowship rather than an affirmation of historic practices that are part of the dialogue toward the visible unity that is already spiritually present in and through Christ. It think he is also a bit too charitable with Campbell, for example. Campbell himself had as a standard of visible fellowship within the body of Christ, that is, his call for faith in one fact, baptism as one act, and the communal fellowship of the church on one day–“one fact, one act, one day”. But I agree with Leroy that the confession of the one story of God in Christ and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is the core affirmation of the Christian faith. I don’t read the Affirmation as a substitute for that. See also Jeff Peterson’s response to Garrett’s critique.

I will close with this. I affirm the practices of which the Affirmation speaks. I affirm them as means of grace for the people of God. They are practices which form us spiritually as a community. But I do not affirm them in ways that would hinder discussion or dialogue with people who also seek Jesus through the story we have been given.

Thanks for reading. Shalom,

John Mark

8 Responses to “Further Perspectives on “A Christian Affirmation””

  1.   Jonathan Teram Says:

    Brother Hicks,

    I agree with the affirmation. It’s been frustrating for me to read a lot of blogs that speak against it and say that it is legalistic and mean-spirited. We must stop labeling things mean spirited just because we don’t agree with them. The affirmation does a good job of holding on to biblical precedent concerning the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and even honoring biblical silence concerning the worship assembly (which is the real issue, I think, behind acappella music). The best thing of all, however, is that it is written and signed in a spirit of Christian love. I can’t see how anyone could say otherwise.

    PS. I agree with you completely about the Lord’s Supper. Please check out my blog some time if you have the chance. God bless!

  2.   Pat Ridenour Says:

    I enjoy this particular entry on many levels, but here is where the falter is: when you speak of the unifying efforts that are happening between churches of christ and Christian Churches, you basically negate yourself from being able to be identified with your fellowship, at least the conservative “main stream,” ones that you have aligned yourself with on the document. Men that are the conservative majority have done far worse than just “mark” people just like you. I wish that it would stand up against those naysayers, but as long as they are the majority, it will always be a moot point.

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Pat, I appreciate your take on this point. I wonder how many of the signers would actually distance themselves from the 2006 initatives conceived as recognizing fellowship between the two historic traditions rather than “merger” (whatever that might mean). I’m not sure that many of the signers would object to the kind of efforts in which I have participated. But I may be wrong and the coming dialogue will hopefully reveal. Perhaps the singers represent a broad middle which seeks to practice some of our historic traditions while at the same time recognizing a deeper unity than those traditions. I hope I am not wrong about that–it would disappoint me greatly. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  4.   Fajita Says:

    John Mark, you are the man, blogging it up here on the net.

    I got to thinking a new way about this affirmation. If it is saying, “We Church of Christ people are one of many Christian fellowships, and we honor these traditions. We know that others who are Christians do not honor these traditions in our way, at the same time they are no less Christian, ” then I find it more credible than if it is saying, “We Church of Christ people still have it right and, we say this in Christian love, you don’t,” then we have an issue.

    But then the larger systemic issue arises of the necessary division in the Christian world if we insist on our traiditions and those traditions are the means by which we declare fellowship, or are perceived to be doing so.

    Then the strength with which we insist on our traditions makes Christ appear divided to the world.

    Help me out here. Wher is my thinking off?

  5.   Gabe Says:

    Welcome to blogging world and thank you for sharing your perspectives on the document. Certainly as a singer, you have a bit more an insider perspective than most of the other commentators in the blogosphere.

    Be blessed,

  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Gabe, I don’t know if I have much of an insight as to the raison d’etre of the document. I can only speak of my purposes in signing it. And if it turns out divisive and hurtful, then I will have reason to regret signing it. Hopefully, it will make a positive contribution in the long run.

    Fajita, thanks for your comments. I do appreciate what you are saying and I have similiar feelilngs. The postmodern condition perhaps will permit (even encourage) a fundamental fellowship with diverse traditions. We have diverse traditions already in Churches of Christ and have had for the past 100 years. But we were not always willing to celebrate the diversity much less value its witness and affirm unity despite that diversity.

    Thanks for commenting.

    John Mark

  7.   JD Says:

    The most positive outcome of the Affirmation is this blog.

    blessings to you!

  8.   Gardner Hall Says:

    The desire to publish the affirmation again and then again reaffirms its credal nature. We like to have our traditional belief’s validated in such an articulate way by those who have a long string of degrees after their names. Though I suppose I generally agree with it, it sure likes like a creed to me! I thank you for distancing yourself from it. May God continue to bless you,

Leave a Reply