by Ed Harrell
Vanguard (Volume 5 No. 6), March 22, 1979, p. 339
Can you interpret that? The Reformed churches grew out of John Calvin’s teachings during the Reformation and, like most other churches of the period, quickly divided along national lines. When Dutch Reformed immigrants came to America they established an independent denomination, making them the American Dutch Reformed church. In the late nineteenth century, this body sent missionaries to China and, according to a paper I recently heard at the meeting of the Southern Historical Association in St, Louis, the converts were known as the American Dutch Reformed Chinese. Absurd? Of course.
The chief absurdity of this is the folly of being anything but a Christian. The religious designations added by men are endless, destructive, and schismatic. Whatever I believe, I would never consent to calling myself anything more or less than a Christian. “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf” (I Peter 4:16).
Ah, but says someone, I know you are more than just a Christian, you are a conservative Disciples of Christ, Church of Christ, anti, restoration movement Campbellite Christian. But that is not what I am. Such terms may, or may not, tell something about where I came from, but they do not tell what I am. There is nothing wrong with having Dutch origins, or being American, or sending missionaries to China. But woe be to the man who comes out of that an American Dutch Reformed Chinese.
The villain of this pattern of thinking is institutional loyalty. What we call ourselves says much about our loyalties (see I Corinthians 1:10-15). Religious denominationalism begins in doctrinal debate but it survives by building powerful institutions. Each denomination becomes a self-serving domain replete with offices, money, pastoral jobs, money, boards, money, honors, money, committees, money, and money. Each denomination sells its own brand of nationalistic, ear-tickling orthodoxy in order to survive. Churches of Christ can become denominationalized and institutionalized – and have. But the church of Christ cannot and will not.
I am only a Christian and relate only to a church of Christ. I am nothing more, not an American Christian, not an anti Christian, or a restoration Christian. There is much more to do and say, but such an understanding must be the place to begin.