The following article is a collection of six blogs originally posted by Kelly Carter at http://kcarterplace.blogspot.ca/
Reflecting Upon the Restoration Movement in Western Canada, Kelly Carter
The occasion for being here today is my reflecting upon the status and future of Restoration Movement churches in western Canada. Our church is an interesting hybrid, finding itself settled between the a cappella Churches of Christ (C of C) and the Independent Christian Churches (ICC). We have both a cappella and instrumental worship assemblies on Sunday morning. We also have close connections to numerous churches among both the C of C and ICC sides of the RM. I, personally – and this is also the case with Dustin Lammiman who is on staff with me – have daily contact with those from the ICC. We have occasional contact with churches that are still a cappella only. This is not by choice, it just has worked out this way since there are so many ICC churches in our immediate area.
Being who we are as a church (Calgary Church of Christ), when I think of the future of the RM in western Canada I tend to think of the whole of the Movement, and not just the a cappella or instrumental side of things. And I would love to see all churches historically connected to the RM move forward and grow. It is on this I want now to make some comments, although I would imagine I will not have time to go as far today with this as I would like. So, I will likely complete this project in stages. Because I am so ignorant of the Disciples of Christ affiliated churches in western Canada I will leave them out of the discussion here. When I know them better, I will gladly include them in this discussion.
First, I want to reflect a bit on what I think is the status of our churches. These reflections are based on nothing scientific; they are impressionistic, so I could be far off the mark. First, my impression of the a cappella churches is that they are on the whole, at best ineffectual, or perhaps stagnant is a better word. I don’t mean they are doing nothing with respect to ministry, they certainly are, I just mean that in the grand scheme of things, and on the whole, they are having little impact, and they are not growing. In fact, given the fact that there has been a steady reduction in the number of C of C churches in the last 25 years, there is good reason to say that, taken as a whole, thea cappella side of the Movement is struggling. I do know of four church plants among the C of C that have taken place in the last 25 or so years, the Gentle Road inner city church plant in Regina, the South Edmonton Church of Christ, Northwest Church of Christ in Regina, and the South Island Church of Christ. I am not sure that any C of C that is long in existence in western Canada has grown by more than five percent in the last fifteen years. Yeah, I would say stagnant, on the whole.
My perspective on the ICC side of our Movement is a bit different, although it is far from being all positive. The number of churches is expanding a bit, with six or so church plants still functioning that were initiated in the last fifteen years, out of about ten or so that have taken place in the last fifteen years. West Coast Christian Church in Surrey, Northern Hills in Calgary, Mahogany and Skyview in Calgary (which are multi-site plants of Bow Valley Christian) and Mission Heights (a multi-site plant of the Grande Prairie Church of Christ) are bright spots, although Mahogany and Skyview are brand new and Northern Hills is only a year into its existence. West Coast Christian is the most successful church plant taking place among RM churches in the last fifteen years or so. I will admit that I am a bit unfamiliar with all the workings of the ICC in western Canada, so if someone in the know challenged me and said that there have been twelve or thirteen church plants in western Canada in the last fifteen years, I would just have to accept the correction. Is it all good? Certainly not. Some of the largest ICC churches in western Canada have plateaued. There are almost no ICC churches in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with only a few in BC. The strength of the ICC is clearly in one Province – Alberta. So, I would say that in general the ICC, too, is a bit stagnant, with some exciting bright spots perhaps poised to take the Movement out of its stagnancy – but that remains to be seen.
Interestingly, there are a few churches like ours that cannot simply be identified with either the C of C or ICC, because they are churches that have historically been C of C churches that have now accepted the use of instruments in worship. Our church has both a cappella and instrumental worship services. The Shelbourne St. Church of Christ in Victoria is now instrumental. The Glen Elm Church of Christ in Regina is now instrumental. Each of these churches is a bit plateaued in terms of growth.
So, if stagnancy is the general feel of the Restoration Movement as a whole, where lies our future?
First, the conversations that I have with the ICC brothers and sisters with whom I have most of my discussions about such things, are generally hopeful, forward looking, and visionary. Whether they will long-term be successful or not (they certainly have the potential to be successful), that Grande Prairie Church of Christ and Bow Valley Christian Church have planted multi-sites, and that there have been several church plants take place in the last fifteen years, and that the Greater Calgary Church Planting Network would like to plant more new churches is all exciting. It is disturbing that the majority of ICC churches are not growing, but that there are bright spots, especially those connected to new churches, is something about which it is worth being hopeful. If I talk to Alan Jones, or Rick Scruggs, or John Nicholson, or Steve McMillan, or Kurt Kuykendall, they may say that the Movement in general is stalled, but all are hopeful for and working toward their churches moving forward. One positive that exists for the ICC that is not there for the C of C is the connectedness that exists among them because of ABC. If there is value in a collective vision of any kind, the prospects for the ICC carrying out such a collective vision are far greater than they are for the C of C. But in this there is a challenge. Given the overt unity that exists between ICC churches, largely because ABC is in existence, can this unity actually perform a function in enabling the ICC to intentionally plan its future, thereby creating a more effective future for the Kingdom? I am not sure this is happening at present; perhaps something more directed and intentional should be happening.
I am not sure if I have enough up-to-date knowledge of the C of C churches to speak accurately of their future prospects. I am sure the individual congregations are positive and hopeful and working hard. These are great brothers and sisters. I think of my brothers like Lee Patmore in Lloydminster or Mike Parker in Saskatoon, or Kirk Ruch in Burnaby or Kevin Vance in Regina. I have great respect for such friends and servants of Christ and the congregations they represent, and of all the C of C churches in western Canada I could say the same. The biggest fear I have about their future is that with the loss of Western Christian College, and with some key congregations no longer being as unified with the a cappella churches because they now use instruments (like our church, Glen Elm in Regina, and Shelbourne St. in Victoria), the C of C in western Canada suffers from a lack of cohesiveness. It could be that this lack of cohesiveness will hamper their ability to break free from stagnation. Small autonomous churches sometimes lack the needed momentum and resources to make great strides. This could limit the future possibilities for the C of C.
All that said, I wonder if there would not be value in more collective intentionality being present among RM churches in western Canada. For various reasons some C of C churches would likely choose not to participate in vision framing discussions. But at least Calgary Church of Christ, Shelbourne St. in Victoria, and Glen Elm in Regina could join with ICC churches to discuss not just what they are doing, as is shared every year at the Summit at ABC in May, but what we might do together to further the influence of God’s Kingdom in western Canada, expressed in the RM.
Well, that’s all for now. A little reflection on the status and potential of the RM in western Canada; a hint that we should perhaps work on a collective vision.
Continuing Reflections on the Restoration Movement in Western Canada, Kelly Carter
Approaches to church ministry constantly come and go; they rise up to dominate our efforts for a time, and after they have run their course without great success, we move on to another ministry paradigm. Today I want to offer three significant areas of ministry concentration on which RM churches may wish to focus if we want to break free from what I summarily called stagnancy in my first blog in this series. I will mention these three specific ministerial foci because from what I can tell, they have the best chance of standing the test of time, being successful in the long run, without being subject to the ever-changing verities of both society and church.
First, Intentional, Relational Discipleship. Relational discipleship is, of course, as old as the New Testament. Jesus did it. The apostles did it. The early church rapidly grew because of its impact. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, discipleship has arisen as a major focus for many churches, with some having a great deal of impact on their communities because they vigorously applied a well-constructed vision for carrying out discipleship. Usually such success is accompanied by a well-developed plan for small groups, but what must happen, whether in small groups or not, is that more mature Christians must be reaching out to those who are either not yet Christians or who are less mature, intentionally and relationally helping them to grow. Our lack of commitment to this task and the limited number of church leaders we have (Elders and Ministers, especially) who actually disciple others, is as likely as any other factor to be a key reason for our lack of success in reaching our communities for Christ.
Second, Missionality. Three caveats: 1) It is tragic that the words “missional” and “missionality” ever became buzz words within North American Christianity. Because they have, it is too easy for some to view missionality as just another fad among ministerial foci. It should not be thought of in this way. It is far too rich an idea for us to be cast off because its use sometimes seems faddish, or because it can be a bit difficult to define. 2) Also, because the word “missional” is so closely grammatically related to “mission” and “missions” it is easy for confusion, as if a call to be missional is primarily defined with reference to world missions. World missions should be missional, but missionality needs to happen domestically. 3) Further, because those who wish to be missional are often oriented toward social justice, it sometimes feels like being missional is exactly co-existent with and completely encapsulated within social justice. This is far from the case for most who wish to be missional, and it certainly should not be all we think of when desiring to be missional. Like mission and missionality, missional churches need to have a social justice focus, but missionality is not just about social justice. In fact, missional churches should be significantly involved in relational discipleship.
Third, Church Planting. There have been some monumental failures in planting churches in western Canada; you will receive no argument from me about this. However, there have also been some wonderful success stories, including the planting of almost every church of which the readers of this blog are currently part. Your church was planted by someone at some point! Church planting has, since the Book of Acts, been a key component of the progress of the church, and it will always be, and certainly this is the case in our own time. I wish there were fifty or 100 RM churches in Calgary. And I wish they were all participating in relational discipleship, missionality, and church planting. The Greater Calgary Church Planting Network needs to keep planting churches. We need a large number of church plants to take place in western Canada, especially in Greater Vancouver. Whether new churches arise as multi-sites or fresh, newly birthed independent offspring, we need more churches. We need, therefore, to have a proactive church planting mindset among us, and we need to keep producing church planters.
Just imagine if all our churches were really successful at Relational Discipleship, Missional outreach into our communities, and planting churches. The contrast between what this could look like and the stagnancy that some of us feel is striking. How can the revitalization needed to make this the case best come about? Honestly, I am not completely sure; but having a number of us engage in dialogue about such things could serve as an impetus or catalyst for our moving forward with success.
Continuing Reflections on the Restoration Movement in Western Canada, Kelly Carter
Often the question is raised as to whether or not there is still value in the Restoration plea, a plea that has at its center two major elements: 1) Christian unity and 2) fidelity to the original church. Perhaps the question is raised because denominational sectarianism has taken such a beating in the last 50 years, that there is seemingly less urgency for us to continue calling for Christians to accept one another or to work together; we now do this on a grand scale. That said, I think there is still much work to do on the unity front. Perhaps the question is raised because biblical primitivism – strict fidelity to the original church – just doesn’t seem in our time to be particularly meaningful, or effective, or full of value or even possible. The conclusion is that other emphases would actually serve the church better. Perhaps the question is raised because our plea is often viewed as itself being responsible for a great deal of denominational sectarianism, both because we have shortsightedly denied the denominational status of our Movement and its various streams and because we have been sectarian even while denying that we are a denomination. So, some think that not only is restoring the church to its original form not necessary, it is actually a hindrance in our age to the advance of the Kingdom and of the gospel.
Personally, I am not ready to give up on the Restoration Movement, a.k.a. the Stone-Campbell Movement, meaning in this context that I am not wanting to see our plea come to nothing among western Canadian churches affiliated with the Stone-Campbell Movement. Even in an age in which denominational loyalty is perhaps lower than it has ever been, many Baptists think there are still good reasons to be Baptist. Many Methodists think there is good reason to remain Methodist. Many Roman Catholics defend the value of continuing to be RC. Many Presbyterians remain in their fold. It would appear that remaining committed to one’s own heritage does not automatically have to be jettisoned as an option, even if we are committed to Christian unity (as so many Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, and Presbyterians are). For us to think that there is something of value in still being committed to at least some of the things that have made us who we are is not an absurdity. In fact, for me, remaining committed to many of the principles, values, and doctrinal positions of the Stone-Campbell Movement is of vital importance. Let me list some.
In our time I would hope that we would especially be committed to:
1) The identification of freedom of the will as a theologically rich, necessary, biblical principle. Religious determinism, especially in the subtle forms it takes in much of Reformed theology, was rejected by the formerly Presbyterian progenitors of our Movement, and for this I am grateful. In an age when Reformed theology is often identified with orthodoxy, as if this, and only this, position is orthodox, there must be other faithful voices to counter this trend. Twenty years ago I thought a more Arminian oriented position was winning the day, but things have changed a bit, in an unhelpful direction I would say. I am glad we consider those with strict Reformed theologies our brothers and sisters, but I don’t find their theology to be particularly defensible, either biblically or intellectually. I hope we remain committed to an Arminian perspective.
2) Our sanctification. Although we have been a bit anemic when it comes to our comprehension and emphasis on the Holy Spirit and His role in creating in us holiness, we have always defended the notion that faith without works is dead. Christians should live better because they are in Christ. Yet, when it comes to the need for sanctification, I am not so much thinking that Christians should be sinning less (they should, but that is not my real concern at just this point). My concern is more that there is something necessary about us having a strong theological commitment to right living, a longing for holiness and Christlikeness, so that whether or not in our actual practice we miss the mark, at least there remains among us a commitment to uphold virtue. For example, rather than overtly asserting our freedom to drink alcohol or to use the words “what the hell” in conversation (often I find the attitude that accompanies the presence of such things in someone’s life to be surprisingly immature), because we want to separate ourselves from restrictive moralism, I would rather that we continue to teach against drunkenness, to expect and teach a level of respectful, non-judgmental holiness, all the while recognizing the value that exists in Christian freedom. So, we can without guilt drink alcohol, but the attitude with which one does so needs to be Christ-honouring, mature, with a sober mind, rather than with an immature flaunting of worldliness. This is a different attitude than one present in the minds of some Christians and their theologies, when they apply the grace of God almost as a permission slip for acting in unholy ways. We are to be transformed from one level of glory to another, Paul would say, living exemplary lives of holiness. In this the Spirit wants to work cooperatively in transforming our lives.
3) Our commitment to biblical, exegetical theology. At times our biblical rationalism has not been as theologically fruitful as what we might hope. We unfortunately can be atomistic “prooftexters” dependent upon induction and syllogistic reasoning. Nonetheless, I am grateful for our commitment to the biblical text and for our desire to ground what we think, do, and say in Scripture. This has always been a core identifying mark among us, not that it necessarily separates us from others, but it does speak to who we are. I hope this never changes.
4) An adherence to certain core biblical doctrines and practices. The importance of believers’ baptism by immersion, communion each Sunday, autonomous churches, plurality of Elders, the priesthood of all believers, the simplicity of our worship – these are some of the beliefs and practices that for me are distinctly believed by us (at least in the way that we believe and practice them) and which should be maintained among us. Do they have to look exactly the same in every one of our churches? Definitely not. Should an attitude of exclusivity and sectarianism accompany our beliefs and distinct practices? No. But we should recognize the great value that there is in so many of the things that make us who we are. We have a rich tradition, not one to be undervalued or of which we should be ashamed. There is as much legitimacy, if not more, in our distinctiveness as there is in the distinct traditions that identify our friends in other Christian fellowships. They may recognize with more appreciation their tradition, and in some cases their traditions may seem more time-honoured, but our distinct practices are at least as biblically defensible as theirs, in my opinion, and as long as we can adequately defend our positions with graciousness and love, we need to believe them and practice them, being grateful for the richness of these beliefs and practices for our lives in Christ.
That’s all for this installment. I would love to hear from others what they think concerning the value or vacuity of our Restoration plea. In your opinion, what is there from the RM/S-CM to which we should cling? What should we count unimportant?
Continuing Reflections on the Stone-Campbell Movement in Western Canada, Kelly Carter
If there is any merit in my suggestions in Part 2 that Discipleship, MIssionality, and Church Planting should be central concerns of our churches as we attempt to move forward out of a kind of stagnancy, it makes sense that our churches would understand well both what each of these is really about and how our churches and Movement can best accomplish something with respect to each. The first part of this – understanding well what each of these areas of ministry is about – is not hard for anyone willing to read a bit, and I don’t know that room here needs to be taken up in describing each of them. If you would like some help in knowing what you may purchase in order to know something about each of these, email me at [email protected]
The second part concerning how our churches and Movement can best accomplish something with respect to each of these areas of ministry is a bit more difficult to answer. Let me start, though, by saying that I think the biggest problem is not a lack of understanding but is, rather, in our being significantly distracted away from these basic areas of ministry. Other foci capture our attention. We end up spending our time, efforts, and money elsewhere. We don’t give enough attention to discipleship, but instead focus on the worship experience we have on Sunday mornings. We spend our money on world missions, which is important, but sometimes it is spent to the detriment of spending money here, where Christianity is perhaps making less headway than it is in some of the mission destinations we support. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the growth of the Kingdom, planning for how the Kingdom can best impact western Canada through our efforts, because we are exclusively focused on our own church’s efforts, when there is evidence that fostering new church plants is one of the best things any church can do to expand the Kingdom.
Focussed and balanced attention is, then, necessary for us to center ourselves in Discipleship, Missionality and Church Planting. Here, I will just mention how this could be playing itself out in our churches with respect to discipleship. Are we as concerned to get our Elders, full-time ministers, and congregants involved in discipleship as we are in making sure our Sunday morning worship is outstanding? Of course, should our Sunday morning worship not be done at its very best? Definitely. In fact, does the Sunday morning experience not also contribute to the discipleship and growth of those who attend? We certainly want it to. But I am not sure the Sunday morning experience warrants more attention than our more direct efforts to bring about discipleship in our churches. Preaching on Sunday morning and our corporate praising of the Lord need to happen at a high level, but giving more attention to one-on-one discipling of each other could be more significant in bringing about genuine growth in the spiritual lives of Christians and in the numerical growth of the church, especially if disciples are created who themselves go about discipling others. What is it that we most want for each Christian in our churches, that they are 1) blessed by great worship and are moved by a great sermon on Sunday morning, or that they 2) grow in their ability to build faith-fostering relationships with those around them who do not know Jesus, or who know Him at an immature level? Although we obviously want both, I would say that if I could pick just one, it would be the latter, and that where we see ourselves at present defaulting to the first, there needs to be correction.
BTW, I am fully aware that my perspective on the priority of discipleship is not original and that current trends in ministry across North America lean in this direction. But, like the sharing of the gospel, the fact that I am not the first to say it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be said again.
Continuing Reflections on the Restoration Movement in Western Canada, Kelly Carter
A few months ago I began blogging a bit about Stone-Campbell Movement churches in western Canada. Continuing the series . . .
A question that I suppose could simply be ignored by churches that derive from the Stone-Campbell Movement, but one with which I think some (perhaps especially newer) Stone-Campbell Movement churches in western Canada are wrestling is whether or not they want their ministries as churches overtly to reflect this heritage. Although it is likely that at least some vestiges of this heritage will be present in a church deriving from the Stone-Campbell Movement, is there value in a church continuing intentionally to identify itself with its background, or should certain factors cause our churches essentially to ignore their heritage? For example, since the very ethos of the Stone-Campbell Movement is oriented toward a non-denominational, autonomous approach to church polity, should whatever influence the larger Movement may have on an individual church be discounted, set aside, or intentionally ignored? Should whatever special relationships that might exist between churches deriving from the Stone-Campbell Movement be superseded or be lessened in significance by the relationships our churches may have with other Christian fellowships in light of the unity plea that was originally so much at the core of the Stone-Campbell Movement? Are there elements to being a Stone-Campbell Movement derived church that should actually be overcome, so that it would be a God-honouring, biblical, ministry-advancing move to advance past our Stone-Campbell connections and identities so that we can better become the churches God wants us to be? Are there other, more vital connections with other groups that our churches could make that would serve the advancement of their ministries above and beyond their connections to other Stone-Campbell churches or institutions or organizations?
On the other hand, if a church chooses to remain overtly reflective of its Stone-Campbell heritage, what exactly does this mean for the way it operates, for the connections it has to other Stone-Campbell Movement churches? And what will or should these connections look like?
These questions are significant, I think, for several reasons. First, there currently exists little working connection between some Churches of Christ a cappella and other churches derived from the Stone-Campbell Movement. There are of course, members of these churches that still have relationships with members from other Stone-Campbell Movement churches, due to past connections, but there are almost no formal larger gatherings, no larger organizational ties, and few common projects on which they are working together. And this applies to both the connections between Churches of Christ a cappella with other Churches of Christ a cappella and the connections of these churches with churches from the two other major branches of the Movement (Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ). Given the current situation, will churches in western Canada from the Churches of Christ a cappella in a hundred years have any connection at all between themselves and other Stone-Campbell Movement churches in western Canada? Will they even care if they do or not? For some of us, this still matters. Secondly, waning commitment to a common heritage could mean waning commitment to some institutions/organizations among us. We have lost Western Christian College. If there is little sense of connection between us, will we be able to collectively sustain committed support to Alberta Bible College and to the Bible camps that we support? Third, if there are not overt connections and commitments to the Stone-Campbell Movement present among our churches, will not whatever unique values and positive assets to the Kingdom that characterize the Stone-Campbell heritage not be completely lost on those among us who are younger and those yet unborn? If there are elements of value in whatever common theology and ecclesiology we share, will these valuable pieces from our heritage be passed on and valued by those who in future generations will become our church leaders? Or will these valuable pieces from our past be lost so that there is less opportunity for them to positively impact the Kingdom? Fourth, are we not stronger and more capable when working together with others? Despite our inherent autonomy, our churches have in the past enjoyed the benefit of working together on some common projects, of being encouraged by our joint gatherings, of feeling like we are identified with something bigger and more impacting than just our individual churches. Would it not be a shame to lose the benefits of being unified and working together? Others can no doubt cite other losses that may exist if some or many Stone-Campbell churches slip away from a connection to our heritage.
In previous posts in this series I made overtures to the value of there being more efforts made toward Stone-Campbell Movement churches connecting with each other. In the coming days I want to expand on this suggestion.
Continuing Reflections on the Restoration Movement in Western Canada, Kelly Carter
In light of the largely autonomous character of the churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement, there is often only a loose connection that exists between the churches of the Movement in any given geographical area. This fact stems from the initial ethos of the Movement, from the different divisions within the Movement that have occurred over the years, and, in the case of western Canadian a cappella churches, the closing of Western Christian College.
I am of the opinion that the relative autonomy of our churches can be very healthy in some ways; in other ways it is of detriment. There is something healthy about individual churches being free to operate for themselves, with locally empowered leaders whose authority and service is centered in their own congregations. A church’s finances are controlled by and allocated by local leadership. Ministry is locally controlled and planned. And this seems to fit with the function of churches under the Apostles in the New Testament. But it can be of detriment that our churches share less of a broader cohesive unity than they otherwise could. They are not as much “part of something bigger” as they could be. When the Movement began, and for years afterward, there was an identity for those churches which automatically came with being part of the Movement itself, set apart from the rest of Christianity that was not following the teachings of the Campbells, Walter Scott, and Barton Stone. Those churches and individual Christians who did follow early Stone-Campbell teachings on biblical primitivism and Christian unity became an identifiable union of churches; it gave them a broader identity and purpose. That we substantially lack this common identity and purpose prevents us from having a cohesive ministry. The positive aspects of the Movement are not instilled in those new to us, or even our own children, and there is no common voice that can positively impact the ministries of other Christian fellowships around us.
All that to say that with a push from Evan Spencer, who is leading the new Bow Valley multi-site in Mahogany in south Calgary, there is going to be an attempt made to create a closer unity among churches in western Canada that find their historical roots in the Stone-Campbell Movement. The goals will include 1) unity, fellowship, and encouragement among our churches; 2) cohesion, visioning and purposefulness in ministry; 3) providing a source of cohesive impact by the Stone-Campbell churches on Christianity as practiced in western Canada.
Plans are being formulated concerning how best to proceed. Two moves most likely to be made here at the beginning are: 1) use the 3 Streams website that is already in existence. The website was initiated by the group that through Alberta Bible College sponsors the Western Canada Leadership Summit each spring at ABC, but the goal of having the website is to provide connection for Stone-Campbell churches across Canada; 2) have some kind of initial meeting introducing the idea of cohesion between the Stone-Campbell churches of western Canada, forming a steering committee of interested church representatives.
If you are interested in what is being proposed, please feel free to comment or send to me an email ([email protected]). And you will want to look at the existing 3 Streams website at www.3streams.ca if you have not already.