Posts Tagged ‘ Churches of Christ ’

Church of Christ at Clover, Part II – Visited on 5/4/12

Church of Christ at Clover, Part II – Visited on 5/4/12

Last week, Churchspotting promised a sit-down with Terry Thomas, an elder of Church of Christ at Clover.  Unfortunately, Mr. Thomas’s work schedule precluded a meeting with him over the course of the week.  Instead we present an interview with Greg Wanderman, newly minted minister of Church of Christ at Clover.

As is suggested by its name, Mr. Wanderman’s church is one of the Churches of Christ, a group that traces its modern origins to the early 19th Century.  The Churches of Christ base their organizations solely on the descriptions they find of the first Christian churches in the New Testament of the Bible.

There is no central governing body for the Churches of Christ; they cite Jesus as the head of their church, bar none.  Rather, they are a society of autonomous groups administered by each church’s independent elders and deacons.  They reject the designation of ‘denomination’, and according to Greg Wanderman call themselves the Churches of Christ only to signify to each other that they are all Christian groups who cleave exclusively to Jesus and the Bible.  For a more substantial background on the Churches of Christ, please see our articles on another member church, the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, available here two parts: 1 & 2.

Greg Wanderman was a man in his later thirties.  His hair and beard were short, their brown shot through with gray.  He met with Churchspotting at the picnic tables outside the Chinese Kitchen, on Highway 55 at the eastern edge of Clover, SC and wore black, curved sunglasses throughout the conversation.  In his collared shirt and slacks he looked as though he might’ve been a  local banker or store manager out for lunch.  The road that led him to that picnic table bench on a fair May afternoon involved two continents, two faiths, and a baptism at the age of 33.

Greg Wanderman’s life began in West Virginia.  He was a child of adoption; his father belonged to the Orthodox Jewish rite, his mother to Reformed Judaism.  Greg’s parents divorced when he was five years old. He went with his mother, who moved their small family south to Tennessee.  Greg spent his childhood in Memphis, where he was a member of local Jewish youth organizations.  When he spent holidays with his father they attended Orthodox celebrations and ceremonies together.

Greg went to college after he graduated high school and studied business at UT Knoxville.  He had aspirations towards a lawyer’s career as a young man, and to that end pursued a months-long internship in Australia as a legal clerk.  When he returned to Tennessee and his long-term girlfriend, he’d decided that a life spent in the law was not for him.

Instead he entered a paid internship in the Tennessee legislature; there he came into contact with Doug Horne, a wealthy real estate developer and leading figure among TN’s conservative Democrats.  For the next twelve years Greg worked for Mr. Horne under varied auspices, first as part of Horne’s abortive run for the governorship of Tennessee, then as overseer of the closure of Horne’s ill-fated trucking enterprise and, for the majority of their relationship, as a figure in Horne’s development of Wallgreens retail spaces.

During his time working for Mr. Horne Greg married his college sweetheart in 1999.  The new Mrs. Wanderman was a member of the Churches of Christ, but at this point in his life Greg described himself as culturally Jewish while spiritually agnostic.  As his marriage progressed and in 2005 he had his first child, Mr. Wanderman started to seek final answers to spiritual questions that had eluded him throughout his adult life.  By his account, he wanted to have his own answers to those questions in time for age when his children would start asking about them.

He and his wife engaged in a program that had them read the Bible together over the course of a single year  Within a year of his first daughter’s birth he had made a conscious shift in his beliefs.  At the age of 33 Greg Wanderman was baptized in his wife’s church.  There was no single moment of inspiration for him; it was a gradual change, the product of study and long discussion with his spouse.

For a while Mr. Wanderman explored his faith while still in Mr. Horne’s employ.  He taught classes at his new church about the links between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  As a baptized Jew, he continues to view himself as a link between the Jewish and Christian traditions.

In time,  he felt called towards a new vocation as a minister of the Churches of Christ.  To that end began taking classes at the Harding School of Theology, with the goal of earning a master’s degree in Divinity, while attending classes part-time at the East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions.

Mr. Wanderman earned a two-year degree from the latter school in December of 2011, during which he spent 18 months as substitute preacher for a local Churches of God minister who suffered a brain tumor.  He continues to pursue his Masters, a goal which is still some years in the making yet.  On April 15th, 2012, he officially entered his ministership of the Church of Christ at Clover, his first position as a full preacher.  Wanderman plans to have his family fully moved to Clover, SC in July, 2012.

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Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, Part II – Visited on 2/21/11

Rev. Mark Reynolds is the pastor of the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ.  At forty-one years old he is a perpetually jovial, slightly heavy-set man, dark-haired with streaks of gray cropping up at the edges of his short goatee.  Born in 1971, he spent much of his life in Muncie, Indiana.  He married his current spouse at 20, not long before he entered ministry.  The son of a Churches of Christ minister, he originally aspired to a position in the finance industry but found that work unsatisfying.  He became a youth minister in his father’s church, and at 22 he’d preached six lessons when he heard another Church of Christ in town needed a pastor.

Though he’d never attended a seminary and his preaching experience was limited, he sent in a resume at his wife’s encouragement.  He was invited to preach two sermons there, and met with the church elders.  After another two sermons, the elders offered Reynolds the ministry as a full-time position, a role he’s filled in one church or another to this day.

In the years since he gained his first ministry Reynolds earned a two-year degree from the Memphis School of Preaching, a Churches of Christ seminary.  He spent 15 years preaching at the same church in Indiana, but in the late ‘00s found his energies divided between that position, farming with his father-in-law, and coaching at the local high school.

Seven years ago Rev. Reynolds was looking for a way to focus his life towards ministry when he learned of a potential opening at the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ.  After turning down the congregation’s first request, Reynolds visited the church and decided to up stakes from Muncie, Indiana to Rock Hill, SC.  Today Reynolds focuses on his position as minister at Charlotte Ave., while Mrs. Reynolds homeschools their daughters.

The Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ had a long history before Rev. Reynolds joined.  The congregation that now occupies the Charlotte Ave. site began when a Churches of Christ family from Tennessee settled in Rock Hill in 1943 and found that no other members of their group lived in the area.  They began holding religious meetings in their own home, but as Rock Hill’s Church of Christ population grew they established a building on Spruce Street.

The group grew to approximately thirty members by 1960, when it moved to its current location.  In 1973 Charlotte Ave. expanded into its modern footprint, a church that currently houses upwards of 200 members regularly.  This substantial congregation is involved in providing aid to Haiti, especially in the wake of last year’s earthquake there.  A member of the congregation hails from Kenya, and his presence prompted Charlotte Ave. to support missionary projects in that country.  Locally the church supports the Pilgrim’s Inn project with annual food drives, and the congregation sends relief to sites of natural disasters as they occur.

Charlotte Ave. is an autonomous religious body.  According to Rev. Reynolds every Church of Christ is essentially autonomous, with major decisions made by each congregation’s body of deacons and elders.  There is no central authority or ecclesiastic hierarchy in the Churches of Christ.

Charlotte Ave’s leadership comprises eight deacons and four elders, with the latter group including Rev. Reynolds’ predecessor, David Pharr, who spent more than thirty years as Charlotte Ave’s pastor.  Despite a total of twelve positions, all office-holders at Charlotte Ave. are male.  Though he emphasized that due to their autonomy the practices of individual Churches of Christ may vary, he explained that they all try to avoid “letting the culture change us,” and that in accordance with the Bible the Churches of Christ do not allow women to teach “in a public way, from the pulpit,” to avoid “usurping the authority of the man.”  Rev. Reynolds directed me to the Bible, 1 Timothy, Chapter 2, verses 11 and 12 of which read:

[11]A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. [12]I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

 Women are allowed to teach other women and children at Charlotte Ave., and to plan and work in church events, but are barred from any position that might give them authority over male members of the church.

When it comes to relationships with other Christian groups, the Churches of Christ believe that any groups that follow “man-made creeds” have diverged from the true faith.  Rev. Reynolds named the Mormon church as such a group.  The Churches of Christ as a body count themselves as separate from the Catholic and Protestant strains of Christianity.

One of the rare exceptions to this rule is Charlotte Ave.’s willingness to join with other Christian groups in opposition to any initiative to change South Carolina’s ‘Blue Laws,’ statutes that, among other things, prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sundays in the state.  The congregation is also willing to work with other groups in support of drives against laws that permit abortion in South Carolina.

Though song makes up a major portion of any Churches of Christ worship service, musical instruments are banned and all hymns are performed a capella.  The Churches of Christ also prohibit divorce under any grounds besides ‘fornication’, which Rev. Reynolds defined as “sexual immorality with someone outside of your marriage.”

These divergences of doctrine and practice in the Churches of Christ all stem from the group’s desire to become more like the original Christians of the 1st Century AD.  In this pursuit they attempt to base all the practices of their churches along strictly biblical lines, and believe any divergence from practices found in the bible constitute the “man-made creeds” the group reviles in other sects.

When asked about the proper relationship between Church & State, Rev. Reynolds voiced the following:

“I believe that religion is the foundation of this country.”  “All good people that strive to let God show in their lives are the foundation of what makes this country great.”

He believes that the government has no right to dictate religious practice, but that religion should play a leading role in the practice of government.  He added that there is a role in government for non-Christians, and that many major figures in American history fall into that category.

Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, Part I – Visited on 2/19/11

The Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ stands at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and Lucas Street, just a block from the campus of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC.  The church is a wide, stout, humble structure of brown brick built into the side of a low hill.  Its dark tiled roofs rise at staid 90 degree angles.  The church has no steeple, though signs at the roadside announce its name and presence.

By 10:30 AM the church’s parking lot is densely packed.  Charlotte Ave.’s Sunday service averages over 200 worshippers each week and this congregation, substantial for the region, fills the pews of its sanctuary.  The people of the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ arrive in their Sunday best.  Formal dress was very nearly universal in the congregation on the morning of the 19th.  The congregation spanned a wide spectrum of ages, with children featuring prominently in the pews.  There is no separate Children’s Church at Charlotte Ave., and even the youngest children spend the roughly hour-long worship service in the pews with their parents.

The church’s three main rows of pews fill a long and airy sanctuary.  The ceiling is paneled wood, supported by pairs of massive wooden arches that leave the space eerily reminiscent of the belly of some vast leviathan of the deeps.  Light comes from heavy electric lamps hung from the ceiling by long chains.

The outside wall is a checkerboard of panes of frosted glass panes braced by thick wooden slats, similar in function and appearance to Japanese paper windows.  The opposite wall is whitewashed, with half its length cleared away to make room for a second, smaller hall filled with pews that opens onto the main sanctuary.

The church has no choir loft, and there are no instruments or musicians involved in its worship service.  Rather, a huge projector screen hangs upon the far wall behind the pulpit.  Every period of prayer, preaching, ritual or announcements is bracketed by song.  The congregation sings from their hymnals or from the lyrics and sheet music displayed on the projector screen, without the accompaniment of any instrument or formal choir.  A member of the congregation designated as a music conductor takes the pulpit during hymns, and guides the congregation through its communal songs.

Every Sunday service at the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ features a distribution of the “Lord’s Supper.”  During the ritual, also called “Communion” in other Christian groups, the elders and deacons of the church distribute wafers of unleavened bread and thimblefuls of wine to the congregation, in recognition of the Last Supper of Christian doctrine.

Though most Christian denominations perform a variation of this tradition (and Churchspotting recorded one such instance, see http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-4P), not many perform it on a weekly basis.  This difference in doctrine was mentioned by the church’s minister, Mark Reynolds, who presided over most of the service.  According to Rev. Reynolds other denominations prefer not to perform the ritual too often out of fear of “overdoing it,” but at Charlotte Ave. it forms a standard part of the regular worship service.

That morning’s sermon, as presented by Rev. Reynolds, concerned itself chiefly with urging the congregation to perform the necessities of spiritual salvation “before the silver cord is cut,”—i.e., before one dies.  Rev. Reynolds claimed that among other criteria necessary for salvation, being a part of the “one true Church” was absolutely necessary.

Reynolds said that the Christian community was divided into thousands of divergent groups preaching wildly divergent doctrine.  He described a billboard he saw on the road that read,

“Love Jesus and hate church?  Then we’re the church for you.”

He remarked that the above statement was “blasphemy,” and continued by citing scriptural references to Jesus entrusting “his Church,” singular, to his apostles.  He said that he was proud to be a part of that “one true Church.”

Rev. Reynolds listed two more prerequisites for salvation.  First, he said it was necessary to accept that “God is always, always right,” and so live life by God’s laws—i.e., according to scripture.  Second, the worshipper must accept and believe that Jesus Christ was not merely a teacher or prophet, but the son of God.  Rev. Reynolds told his congregation that their only means of salvation lay in this right belief and practice, combined with membership in the one true Church.

The Charlotte Ave. is a member of the wider Churches of Christ, a denomination that traces its roots to the Reformation Movement, an American religious movement of the 19th Century in which Christian worshippers, dissatisfied with their current denominations, sought to form new religious associations more directly modeled on the original churches of the 1st Century.

Members of the group prefer to describe themselves simply as “Christians,” and do not consider themselves a Protestant denomination.  The Churches of Christ have approximately five million members worldwide, with 1.9 million of those in the United States.