RENAISSANCE: A Young "Layman's" View

Ryan Ross

This article is going to be subjective and personal.

I am a young man in my twenties. My background is American middle class. In Church of Christ jargon, I am a "second generation believer" -- which means that I was raised by members of that body, and that I became a member of it myself. I went to college; started at a church-affiliated school and finished at a major university. I have preached, but I am not what COC jargon refers to as a "preacher". I work in a profession outside the church and my income is modest. I am single.

I am also undeniably typical. The description I have given could refer to at least a score of people you have known. Change even one item -- gender, for example, or marital status -- and it could as easily describe fifty more. It may describe you.

So even though this is a very personal article, it was written only because I expect its contents to be common place. Please let me share some experiences with you...it may be that we have much in common.

Growing up in the Church of Christ, I got to watch preachers, slide shows, and flannel-board presentations; baptisms, confessions, and fellowship withdrawals; gospel meetings, debates, and church splits; business meetings, Bible classes, and preacher auditions. I eventually got to sing out of blue, maroon, brown, and gold songbooks. Like my friends, I was baptized while in junior high school.

My parents were faithful and taught me conscientiously. I learned that the Bible was God's Word: it was the only infallible guide for learning about Him and for learning about myself. Any ideas not found in it were, at best, of no spiritual use. And I learned that I had a mission in life: to tell others the good news about Jesus. I took these teachings to heart. I still do.

Things first started getting sticky in high school. A friend and I talked to our classmates about religion over lunch. We recommended to our acquaintances that an honest return to the Bible alone, unaltered by human additions or deletions, would save all, while ending religious division. My friend and I tried to live our lives in a way compatible with what we said.

Then one day someone asked my friend why she didn't dance. She responded that dancing was a sin. Surprised, my questioner wanted to know the passage that taught this. My friend found that such a passage did not exist. I was asked for the passage that forbids all alcoholic drink...and found that it did not exist, either. Another time I was asked for the passage forbidding gambling...and discovered, again, that there was no such passage. To be sure, there were Scriptures on subjects more or less closely related -- suggestiveness, alcoholism, greed. But these left much to individual judgment. They certainly did not erect the concrete boundaries we had heard preached as scriptural fact for as long as we could remember. For both of us, this was a very uncomfortable discovery.

At the Bible College, half of the male population aspired to be preachers. These were energetic young men who greeted you with firm handshakes and warm smiles. Most of them were from small towns or rural Southern backgrounds. From them I learned many things...I learned of the need to "place membership", to find a "preacher's wife", and to write for a "brotherhood paper" in order to secure "full-time support." Discussions among them -- questioning the propriety of Christians attending rock concerts, PG movies, bluegrass festivals, card games, tanning spas, Halloween parties, clogging competitions, athletic events, and high school proms -- would last until dawn. It was clear that the line between God's word and personal opinion was for them, a hazy one. Most of them had no plans for ever holding a "secular job" or of attending another school. They had been raised in sheltered environments, and would preach in sheltered environments...and they were eager to get an audience.

It was about this time I started getting very concerned about the preaching I had always listened to...

This started a period of intense study. It was time to decide for myself, by inquiry and examination, whether the Bible was truly God's Word and whether Jesus was what He claimed to be. I came out of my study very secure in those beliefs and reassured. But I also wanted to find out if the First Century church resembled the Church of Christ I knew. There was a mixed verdict on this one; at first, the resemblance was like one between an apple and an orange. After further study, it was more like the resemblance between an apple and a turkey.

The rest is just more of the same. Except...that I discovered I had company. Everywhere I see Christians coming to the same conclusions as schooling and employment takes me to various places. Hardly ever is it open or challenging in this expression, but people realize what a different world their preachers occupy from the one in which they live. Usually the realization manifests itself in good humor and resignation: the ethnic brother who grew up with wine at every meal smiles when the preacher insists that the disciples used "grape juice"... the new convert who is trying to avoid his drug-selling former friends looks remarkably unalarmed as the elder warns about the evils of watching "Dynasty"....another preacher gives a series of lessons on sex and asks teens to submit questions anonymously on paper, the teens look bewildered when he expresses public shock at the questions he gets. A single mother, whose husband left her eight years ago, sighs when the "sermon for singles" is once again advice on how to find a mate ...and so on.

Everywhere people are increasingly interested in the original church of the New Testament; they are under no illusions about its differences with the Church of Christ. Casual terms like "COC" come into use to differentiate modern preachers' ideas from those of the apostles. Christians begin meeting together in informal home studies on weeknights and, without thinking about it, don't invite elders. People trying to save their friends' souls are increasingly wary of bringing them to a church service. Articles asserting that "clergy" and a "laity" exist in the modern Church of Christ meet with hot denial from preachers and smiles of recognition from members.

We are realizing more and more that we are indeed the captains of our souls, that our faith should be entirely in the Lord, and that every teaching and practice should come from His Word alone. There is a growing spirit of inquiry and a growing restlessness with unjustifiable pat answers. There is a growing awareness that each individual studying the words of the Lord, can find everything he needs to know to save himself. There is a growing demand that those who teach us do so honestly and either label their personal views as such or discard them. There is a growing insistence that our responsibilities can not be abdicated and handed over to men who claim them for their own...and who too often lack our confidence anyway.

Christians are waking up to what it means when Peter tells us that the Lord's church is actually a temple... and that we are the stones!

They told us in school that Renaissance means "awakening." If that is so, then there is a renaissance taking place today among Christians, and it gains momentum daily. Since the "Restoration" has obviously stalled, it is certainly time that the Renaissance got under way.

As I said at the outset, this is a very subjective article and more personal than I ever expected to write. These conclusions are based upon my own study and observations. Anyone else's experience will reflect a different view of the whole and the large picture is certainly beyond our comprehension.

But if I have described anything that you recognize -- anything that you can read and say "Yes! I've seen that," or "Yes! That's me!" then I urge you: pray God to speed the renaissance.