“My family had nothing to do with shaping how I think and act. I do what I do because I choose to do it; I believe what I believe because I choose to believe it—it is all my own doing.”
If I heard someone say that, my first reaction would be that he or she was either awfully arrogant, or awfully naïve, or both. (See article on “The Enduring Influence of Family”). Our parents and family have influenced every aspect of the way we regard everything—sometimes positively and sometimes negatively—from food and clothes to how we treat friends and talk to strangers (or not).
And it doesn’t end when they die or we move away. Their profound influence, which we often don’t even realize, stays with us, in some ways forever.
I don’t want to sound preachy here, though I’m afraid it will come across that way. But the same thing is true about our religious family. Regardless of how much you love or hate your religious heritage, or even if you were a religious orphan with lots of “foster homes” along the way or none at all, the experiences shaped and shapes you, for good and for bad.
The notion that I choose my church simply because I read the Bible and saw what was right, or had an experience that showed me which church to be part of—or any other idea that it was me acting on my own—is not a true notion. That’s just not the way things happen with human beings.
Even if you had a bad family, you might think that the sooner you forget it and move on, the better. “I’ll get healthy,” you think, “by leaving that all behind.” But it just doesn’t work that way. Until you deal with the hurt and dysfunction, until you have a deep understanding of what actually happened and how it has affected you, you can’t get well.
For that you need counselor, a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist—someone who can help you examine your history and give you tools to work though it.
Maybe you had a good family, one that nurtured you and gave you confidence. The temptation here is to assume that the way your family did things and thought about things is the best way to think and act. People who don’t do it your way are ignorant—definitely inferior, maybe plain wrong.
To get beyond that kind of arrogance, you need to do some family history, maybe even a genogram. And you need to learn about how and why other families think and do the things they do—to see how and why their ways work for them. Who knows, you might even learn something that makes the way you think and act better!
This is what Charis is all about. Its purpose is to provide opportunities for Christians in Churches of Christ and the Stone-Campbell heritage to learn about how their family was formed; to learn what happened in the past to make certain issues so deeply emotional for them that other families don’t seem to be bothered by at all; to have opportunities to talk deeply with believers from other traditions or families to explain our commitments and to learn about theirs.
Charis provides local congregations and church leaders resources to help them do just this. Through publications, web-based presentations, opportunities for research in the Center for Restoration Studies, and conducting congregational seminars, the Charis website is a center for contact with the history of Churches of Christ. Also, the website provides a place for conversations among church leaders, ministers, and others to talk about their vision, test ideas, and relate things they are struggling with. Hosted by the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry, you will find opportunities to read and interact with others who are pursuing what makes for spiritually healthy congregations.
We invite you to see what is available now, to request other resources, and to contribute ideas and resources that you can bring to this vital process.
The name Charis stands for “Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality.” That last part of the name is crucial. Growing in the knowledge of one’s spiritual heritage is a part of our spiritual maturity—our spiritual growth. No—you don’t have to get a graduate degree in church history to go to heaven. (That might even be detrimental for some!)
But the acknowledgement that we have been shaped by a host of people who have gone before us, and to know of some of their stories and the beliefs they struggled with, can make us humble, thankful, and closer to God.
We hope that Charis and the Charis website will aid in that spiritual renewal in your life and in the life of your congregation.
Header image credit: Herchenroeder, Karissa. Featuring the Rich Welcome Plaza and Labyrinth, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas. June 2013.
Douglas Foster is Professor of Church History and Director of the Center for Restoration Studies at ACU. He also serves as Charis Professor for the university and is an elder of the Minter Lane Church of Christ. Foster’s work centers on the place of the Stone-Campbell Movement in global Christianity, and the idea of Christian unity. He has authored or co-authored over a dozen books and many articles. Married in 1979 to Linda Grissom, they have two children and two grandchildren.