Having already discussed some of the things I love about my COC heritage, I now reflect on some of the things that have made me question my association with this group. Please understand that I love and appreciate my heritage. However, my commitment is to Christ, not to a party label.
5. Faulty Hermeneutics. Like most in the COC, I was taught that the way to understand God's will was to search the scriptures for commands, examples, and necessary inferences. If one of these could not be found regarding a certain action, then God had not "authorized" that action and it was, therefore, sinful. My problems with this approach are many. Perhaps a future post will deal with it in more detail. Suffice it to say that this is a legalistic approach to Scripture that was never intended by the authors/Author of the Bible.
4. Exclusivism. My upbringing was not blessed by hearing different perspectives on theology. I was not given the ability to make informed decisions, because exposure to differing viewpoints was blocked. In fact, one was made to feel guilty for reading, listening to, or consulting with someone who was not going to tow the COC party line. The "we're the only ones" mentality that is often associated with the COC is slowly dying out, but it is still very real in certain pockets of the denomination.
3. Heresy Hunting. As a minister, I was taught that the vast majority of believers were not actually Christians. In fact, even most members of the COC were suspect at best. The result was that sermons, classes, books, and articles were often read in order to find error rather than blessing. I have books in my library that were originally bought solely so that I could reference the heresy within them. Unfortunately, as a minister I was also subject to the heresy hunters in my own congregations. A misspoken word or sincerely held difference would trigger church discipline proceedings.
2. Intolerance. A part of the above is a culture of intolerance. Many of my brethren in the COC will say the right things about loving the sinner, hating the sin, etc. However, when suspect in the eyes of another, little love is practiced. Repentance must be immediate. Growth is not a process over time, but a series of conscious decisions that can be made in the moment. Context is meaningless. This intolerance is often extended to both non-members (understood as "nonchristians") as well as members.
1. Manipulation. This sounds more extreme than I intend, but I couldn't think of a more benign term to express my point. When a certain party line is taught as the truth, and when one is socially ostracized for considering other viewpoints, and when all of this is connected with eternal destiny, the mind is manipulated. One accepts without question the party line for fear of losing the relationships in this life that provide meaning, as well as the salvation in eternity that give meaning to this life.
Please read me accurately -- I don't believe that these factors are conscious for most COC members. I believe most members are sincere believers who love God with all of their hearts and being. I believe that these things are the result of a culture that has developed over time in my fellowship. Fortunately, THESE FAULTS ARE DYING OUT!! The COC of today is NOT what it was yesterday. We are evolving as a fellowship. This is growth. This is a fellowship of Christians finding fault within themselves and seeking to correct that fault. For this, my fellowship should be blessed and prayed for by the wider Christian community. I stay because I see these trends and I love my family.