Like many millennial Christians, my faith is central to my life but I don’t identify strongly with any particular sect or denomination. In fact, the whole denomination issue seems to me to be at worst be divisive, and at best a sort of menu of preferred “flavors” of church. That being said, I did grow up in the “Church of Christ” tradition. For the unfamiliar, CoC can be quickly described as “Baptist, but with more communion and fewer guitars” or “libertarian church”. Since I’ve never focused on denominations much, I didn’t know much about the genesis (pun intended) of the CoC tradition. I just knew that there isn’t much hierarchy and it’s very Bible-focused. I sought out this book just to better understand why and how the denomination got to where it is, now.
The Church of Christ sect started a couple of hundred years ago in the US, and the intent was to “restore” or “revive” the early church in the New Testament. Adherents to the CoC believed that human organizations were inherently flawed, so any hierarchical structure outside of the single congregation was denounced. Many members of the sect were relatively poor and uneducated, and therefore an emphasis storing treasures in heaven and staying out of worldly governmental affairs was strong. The rich and the educated were viewed with suspicion, as were paid preachers. Interestingly, rationality was prized. It was a pretty liberal/democratic sect in the sense that reason and individual thought and freedom were respected more than a top-down imposition of belief.
Around the time of World War I, the sect turned into a more mainstream denomination. Many at the time were courting the middle class as opposed to maintaining the status quo, and the threat of WWI brought with it a pretty radical change in focus. Rather than staying out out politics and social issues, the church jumped right into conservative patriotism, as they saw the US as protection from godless nations, Communism, etc. It’s hard to emphasize how much of a sea change this was, to go from being so focused on outsiders to supporting governmental authority.
Since the book isn’t new, the church’s history ends in the 1990s, when many segments of the CoC were moving away from legalistic focus on the early church and its rules and more towards a relational theology. Since there’s no overarching structure to CoC, if you attend a Church of Christ today, your mileage will vary in theological emphasis, worship style, etc.
I would definitely recommend this book to people with an interest in the Church of Christ, but it probably is too niche to be interesting otherwise.