|a view of the pulpit area of the "Glen Oak Community Church"|
Note: the religious information appearing here came from information I recall from a research paper I did when I was eleven. Mr. Thatcher, my sixth grade teacher, allowed his students to pursue our interests and was not bothered that Seventh Heaven was the inspiration for my interest in the topic.
I used to watch the TV show Seventh Heaven religiously. In a sense, I mean that literally, as I wanted to convert from Catholicism to Protestantism when I was eleven because of my devotion to this television program. My parents put a moratorium on that. They said that we as a family were Catholic, and that if I chose to change my religion as an adult, it would be my prerogative to convert to any faith of my choosing, whether it be Scientology, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Hare Krishna movement, or atheism if I so desired, but until I turned eighteen, I was Catholic. End of Discussion.
The connection between my wanting to convert from Catholicism to mainline Protestantism, as I indicated earlier, was that the main characters of Seventh Heaven, the Camdens, were the pastoral family of a church of an unnamed mainline Protestant denomination. The church scenes were filmed in a Disciples of Christ Church building.
Whether the church was merely the most suitable and convenient church building for filming, or the Camdems were actually Disciples of Christ was unclear. The name of the church of which the Reverend Eric Camden was the pastor was Glen Oak Community Church. It may even have been a non-denominational church, though non-denomnational churches tend to be more evangelical and less mainline. The church displayed the Disciples of Christ logo, which is a red chalice with the Cross of Andrew emblazoned upon it in white. This logo may have appeared for the purpose of implying that it was a Disciples of Christ church, of the church may have refused to remove it or have it covered for filming purposes, sort of like free advertising as a benefit fr letting their church building be used in filming.
I used to try to arrange to spend Saturday nights with church-going friends who were Protestants. My options were limited, as my parents were relatively picky regarding what families with whom I was allowed to stay overnight. If I wasn't scheduled to play for a Sunday mass, my parents would let me attend church with a family with whom I was spending the night assuming it was one of the few families on their list of approved families at whose homes I could stay overnight. We didn't necessarily attend mass every weekend anyway if neither I nor either of my parents was scheduled to provide music, though we attended more often than not. I did have three friends on their approved list who were mainline Protestant. One was Methodist, one was Episcopal, and one was Congregational - United Church of Christ. Of the three churches, I preferred the Congregational - United Church of Christ, in part because I knew they had some sort of reciprocity or denominational fellowship with the Disciples of Christ. I would have given up Christmas and my birthday to have actually attended a Disciples of Christ service at that time of my life , but I had no obvious connection, and my parents weren't about to let me just go there on my own. It would have been feeding into my desire to leave Catholicism.
Since then, I once attended a Disciples of Christ service. It's certainly mainline and liberal, but the services shown in 7th Heaven more closely resembled those of the Congregational - United Church of Christ than those of the Disciples of Christ.
If you have any interest at all in the history of Protestant religions, the Congregationalists descended from the original Pilgrims, who were, as you probably know, anything but liberal in their interpretation of God's Law. The Pilgrims were the separatists, who desired to separate from the Church of England. By sometime around the late 1800's, they began to be more liberal in their interpretation of The Word and in their treatment of members. This sense of liberalism gradually expanded. In 1957 most of the congregations merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church, part of which was formerly called the German Reformed Church. Other groups within this church were the Puritans from England, who wished, instead of separating from the Church of England, to purge or purify it of its unholy and apostatic practices.This church gradually evolved from the Puritans and operated under different names between puritanical times and 1934, when it officially took on the "Evangelical and Reformed Church" name. The two churches (Congregational and Evangelical and Reformed) originated as conservative movements in a stiff, upper-crust sort of tradition characteristic of early mainline Protestantism. The two churches merged in 1957 and became the United Church of Christ, though some congregations supposedly retained more of an identity with one or the other of the original churches. Some congregations even chose not to merge, as each congregation maintained autonomy.
The Disciples of Christ, also known as The Christian Church, originated in the early 1800's as part of the Restoration movement. In the early period of the Restoration movement, followers did not identify as Protestants, but merely as Christians. Two separate organizations within the restoration movement (there were many more, including the Mormons, [though they don't admit to the affiliation] the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Baptists, the Anabaptists, and the Pentecostalists) the Stone movement in the Kentucky region and the Campbell movement in the Pennsylvania region, found fellowship with one another. They initially did not call themselves a church but an association of individuals seeking to grow in faith. Eventually disagreement about the naming process crept in. A given congregation might be called simply, "Christians" "Disciples of Christ," and "Church of Christ" simultaneously. Sometimes different signs in front of their buildings proclaimed each of the names.
Gradually factions began to form. The initial major divisive issue was over the use of instrumental music in worship. The "Church of Christ" faction believed that because nothing in the New Testament expressly referred to the use of instrumental worship in church, it should be forbidden. Further, organs were considered by this faction of the church to be hoity-toity and signs of an arrogant and lofty (i.e. mainline Protestant, or the Whore of Babylon Catholic) churches. The Disciples of Christ, on the other hand, considered that if the New Testament didn't expressly or implicitly forbid something, it wasn't inherently forbidden in worship. The disagreement about the use of organs or pianos was largely metaphorical for the two factions' approaches to scriptural interpretation: The Church of Christ followers believed that if the New Testament didn't expressly say something was permissible, it wasn't to be allowed. The Disciples of Christ believed that if the New Testament didn't expressly forbid a practice, it was permissible. My understanding is that this ethos pertains to worship and specific church practice; I've never heard of a Church of Christ member refusing to eat peanut butter and jelly because they weren't mentioned in the New Testament.
To this day, the two factions, even though they have virtually nothing to do with each other, still argue over the rightness or wrongness of instrumental music in churches. Many hardcore Church of Christ members also maintain that it is wrong for a church building to have a kitchen because churches in the New Testament didn't have them. Churches in the New Testament didn't usually even have buildings, but I've never seen or heard of a Church of Christ congregation worshiping outside in the midst of a thunderstorm.
If you've never been to a Church of Christ worship service, you should go. I went once with an acquaintance when I was still attending university just because I was curious. Because they have no instrumental music of any sort, the people tend to be strong singers. Many members read music. They sometimes hold classes on reading music; funny, but I've never read a single word about music notation classes (don't forget about Colm Keegan and his upcoming music theory classes, by the way) that took place anywhere in the New Testament. Maybe I just missed that part. Anyway, they're capable singers who sing in four-part harmony. Without an instrument to anchor their pitch, however, the pitch of their singing tends to waver. (I'll try to link a youtube video of singing in a Church of Christ service at the end of this entry.) I kept track while I was at the service, and each song ended at least half a tone lower than it started. Still, it's fun if you're a sight-reader and enjoy singing in four-part harmony. Some congregations use a pitch pipe to ensure that they start a hymn in an appropriate key. Other congregations consider a pitch pipe a musical instrument, which is therefore forbidden because it wasn't mentioned in the New Testament.
These Church of Christ members (though not alll of them, of course) are seriously some of the most contentious people on the face of the Earth. In a given community of maybe fifty-thousand or so people throughout most of the south, a bit of the southwest, and California, you will usually find at least three Churches of Christ (not counting the Disciples, who are no longer of the same denomination). The large number of small congregations seems to stem from something in the Book of Matthew of the New Testament. I think it's Matthew 18:15-17
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
So if you, in your infinite wisdom, feel someone in the church is sinning, you first approach him or her privately. If the sinner doesn't heed your call to repentance, you go again, only this time with a few of your like-minded cronies. If the sinner still won't heed the collective call to repentance, you take it up with the entire church. If the sinner refuses to see the error of his or her ways, you cast him or her out, or at least treat the person as you would a heathen or publican, or tax collector perhaps. This seems to rather sharply contrast with "love thy neighbor" or "love thine enemy," or, in the first verse of chapter 7 of that same book of Matthew: "Judge not that ye be judged." Did Jesus really say all of these things? For him to have made such diverse proclamations, he practically would have had to have suffered dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as "multiole personality disorder.") Of all the things said about Jesus, this is one I haven't yet heard, so I doubt there's any truth to it. I'm not quite sure Matthew had all his notes in order.
Anyway, the Church of Christ in particular takes this practice very literally. Even the Disciples follow it to some degree, which sometimes creates dissension when a Disciples pastor leads a United Church of Christ congregation. The United Church of Christ is more inclined to try to work it out and to let the disagreeing party leave if he or she feels he or she must, but is not inclined to cast anyone out despite this scripture. Anyway, Churches of Christ split on a fairly regular basis because of this scripture. Some guy and his family are accused of sinning and face the due process of the single accuser, the group of thugs calling him and his family to repentance, and then the entire church, which typically casts him and his family out or dsifellowships them and treats them as publicans (not to be confused with republicans, who are typically treated well in a Church of Christ) because people don't usually respond favorably to the Christian intervention to which they have been treated.
The heathen man then takes his family and a few other families in the congregation who side with him, and they starts a new Church of Christ right in the same community. Initially they may have to meet in someone's garage or in a school cafeteria, but they usually eventually build up their funds enough that they can buy or construct a church, but barely. They operate on a shoestring budget, often paying their pastor next to nothing.
This is why in a mid-sized town, there might very well be three or four Churches of Christ. You won't find these separate Churches of Christ getting together for Easter sunrise services or picnics, either. They consider each other as heathens, tax collectors, or publicans. (The average Church of Christ member would be hard-pressed to determine who is more evil: a Roman Catholic or a disfellowshipped member of his congregtion.) In some slightly larger (population 80,000 to 100,000) cities, they have five or six Churches of Christ. Some have very nice buildings, and some are located in close proximity to one another. Still, it's like they do not exist to one another. They're just about as friendlyto one another as are the Sunnis and the Shiites except that rival Church of Christ members don't ordinarily kill one another. They merely condemn each other to hell.
One thing the collective Churches of Christ have in common is that women have no active role in worship or leadership. This is based on something the Apostle Paul said in 1st Corinthians 14:34: Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law." [KJV]
The church does allow women to teach young children in Sunday School classes. If I were a woman in that church, I'd say, "To hell with that! If I'm supposed to be silent in church, I'm not wasting my breath teaching lessons and trying to control the behavior of unruly brats. You want me to be silent in church, and I will be silent. Men, if you're so special, the job is all yours. Teach the little urchins yourselves, ye elders of the church." Hell, even Mormons let women speak and pray in church services, and I thought they were backward. The more I read of parts of the New Testament, the more I believe the Apostle Paul was a savage misogynist***, which is a trait all too many churches are more than happy to carry on. Some of them make my own Catholic Church (I haven't defected yet despite my earlier threats) seem like a woman-embracing feminist institution, which we all know is not the case.
So the fictitious Reverend Camden and his equally fictitious family may or may not have been members of the Disciples of Christ. If so, you now know more than you ever wanted to know about their church's origin and about the institution from which they very wisely split. On my next blog, unless the new baby has been born, I will try to tell you about the trek all over northern California my cousin took me on as a birthday present to try to locate where the fictitious Glen Oak would be if there really were such a place.
*** I also wonder if, to borrow a quote from South Park, the Apostle Paul was a gay-bashing homo. I will paraphrase shakespeare, as I refuse to use that stupid word methinks. but I think the Apostle Paul protested just a bit too much where homosexuality was concerned.
This is an example of Church of Christ a capella congregational singing. You will note a drop in pitch from the beginning to the end, though it's not as great as the half-tone I heard when I attended a service. This congregation may be slightly more talented than the average group.