Sunday, January 25, 2015

First Contact – Part 14 – Christian Church

Back in the 19th century a new church movement began. Two independent groups decided that Christ’s church should be united rather than divided. They sought to be known only as Christians. Not Baptists. Not Presbyterians. Not even Protestants. Just Christians. The movement came to be known as the Restoration Movement since it sought to restore the church as it was in the first century. One of the two movements originated with Barton Stone in Kentucky. The other originated with Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander in what is now West Virginia. Over time the attempted unification failed and the movement ended up splitting into three major groups: Church of Christ, Christian Church, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I discussed the Church of Christ in my first post in this series. I will now discuss the Christian Church. In the next post I will discuss the Disciples of Christ.

My wife Kathy was raised in the United Church of Christ, which, by the way, is not related to the Church of Christ. However, when she went off to college she found a new church home in the Christian Church. She joined a Christian Church affiliated student fellowship called His House and began attending the Christian Church. When she moved back home to start her teaching career, she found a nearby Christian Church to attend. That is where she was attending when she and I started dating.

Kathy and I first became acquainted during our senior year in high school. We had a couple of classes together as well as study hall. I developed a crush on her, but was way too shy in those days to do anything about it. She went off to Murray State University to get her Master’s degree so she could teach math. I stayed at home and went to the University of Louisville to get my Master’s degree so I could be a chemical engineer. As I mentioned in my first post in this series, it was after I started my career in Alabama that I became a Christian. I was a member of the Church of Christ.

In early 1981, I was home visiting my parents. A good friend who grew up just down the street from me asked if I would like to go to church with him. He went to a Christian Church. He informed me that Anita went to church there also. My wife’s name is Anita Kathleen. In high school everyone knew her as Anita, but she dropped that name in college since all her family called her Kathy, and she was tired of being known by two different names. Anyway, I knew that the Christian Church used instrumental music and had other differences from the Church of Christ, but I was not as strict about such things as others were. So I attended the Christian Church with my friend. This was the first time since high school that I had seen Kathy. It was in Sunday School that I realized that I still had feelings for her. However, I was dating someone else in Alabama at the time.

In October 1981, I was once again in Louisville, but this time I was not dating anyone. I called Kathy up and asked her to go to dinner and see a performance of the Louisville Symphony Orchestra. She accepted. We had a great time together on that date. Thus began what some would call a whirlwind romance. It started with letters, then phone calls, then visits. Keep in mind that we lived 300 miles apart, so visiting was not easy. Also, in those days long distance phone calls were expensive. So we were racking up monthly phone bills in the hundreds of dollars.

When we would get together, one of the things we would discuss was our Christian beliefs. We both knew our relationship was getting serious, and we wanted to make sure that our beliefs were close enough to not cause us problems down the road. She knew I had no problem with the Christian Church since I had been going there when in Louisville. When she visited me, she attended the Church of Christ where I was a member. There was no Christian Church anywhere near where I lived, so that was not an option.

Both the Church of Christ and the Christian Church had a code they lived by: Speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent. It bugged me that both churches believed this statement, yet somehow came to different conclusions on some matters. Upon analyzing it for a while, I finally realized why there were differences. The first part of the code, speak where the Bible speaks, caused no problems. If the Bible said to do something, both churches did it. If the Bible said to refrain from something, both churches refrained. It was the second part of the code, be silent where the Bible is silent, that was causing the conflict. You see, the Church of Christ took being silent about something as being the same as refraining from it. The Christian Church took being silent about something as meaning that God didn’t care one way or the other. This difference made for some interesting discussions.

The New Testament says we should sing to God as part of our worship, but it is silent about musical instruments. Therefore, the Church of Christ refrains from using instruments in worship as its way of being silent on the matter. The Christian Church believes you can use instruments or not since God is silent and thus doesn’t care. There were a number of other differences that stemmed from these differing interpretations of what being silent on an issue means. Personally, I came down on the side of the Christian Church even though I could argue either position. In fact, I was so familiar with differing doctrines I could argue either side of a lot of issues.

As I said, Kathy's and my romance went quickly. Just four months after our first date, on Valentine’s Day 1982, I asked Kathy to marry me. She said yes, and we were soon in discussions with her mom about what date and venue to choose. Ultimately, we decided on July 3, 1982. That allowed Kathy to finish teaching for the school year, and it was around a holiday, thus allowing more people from out of town to attend. As for venue, we decided to wed at Kathy’s church. It was to be officiated by both the preacher from her church and the campus minister of His House at Murray State University.

After marrying, Kathy and I began studying the Bible together at home on a regular basis. We started in Genesis and planned to work our way through Revelation. But plans have a way of being disrupted. There were a number of passages in Genesis that bugged me. I had questions that neither Kathy nor the Bible could answer. I began discussing these issues with our preacher, elders, and deacons. I soon found that they did not have any answers either. At least not any acceptable answers. Many times the answer was, “Sometimes you just have to have faith.” But I knew that oftentimes people had faith in things that were untrue. I needed evidence to distinguish between truth and untruth. In too many cases, that evidence was not forthcoming. So, Kathy’s and my Bible study fell by the wayside.

About five years into our marriage, I found myself rejecting the Bible as being God’s Word. This was something Kathy and I had never even considered before we got married. We had discussed our differences in religious beliefs, which were minimal. But never did we consider the possibility of one of us rejecting those beliefs sometime down the road. It was a difficult time. But ultimately, our love for each other won the day. Our love was able bridge even the gap between an agnostic and a Christian.

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, the Apostle Paul says this about love:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Hey, I believe Paul was on to something here. Five years into our marriage, Kathy and I faced what some might call a crisis. My beliefs were diverging from hers. In fact, had I had my new beliefs before we wed, we most likely would not have gotten married. Yet there we were; married and believing differently. But as Paul says, “Love never fails.” It certainly didn’t fail us, but it required us to latch onto it and not let it loose.

I look back on this now with wonderment. It almost seemed like a supernatural intervention occurred. I became a Christian just long enough for Kathy and me to fall in love and get married. I became a Christian in 1980. We started dating in 1981. We married in 1982. I began doubting the Bible soon after. I became a nonbeliever in 1987. Could it be that God, or fate, or something else, wanted Kathy and me to be together, so arranged the circumstances just long enough for that to happen? I don’t really know, but it’s something to think about.

So, after over 32 years of marriage, Kathy and I love each other more than ever. I am reminded of the 1969 Spiral Starecase hit song “More Today Than Yesterday.” The lyrics say, “I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow.” It’s a great song. Yet, there are many who believe that Kathy will go to heaven, and I will go to hell. To me, that is saying that love is more powerful in this life than in the next. Yet, God is supposed to BE love. Is he incapable of loving me at least as much as Kathy does? Why would he deny our love in the afterlife? And why would this denial be based on sincerely held differences in beliefs rather than our actions? It makes no sense to me.

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