Institutional Affiliation

In Norse mythology, a Valkyrie was one of the hosts of feminine figures who chose those who would either live or die in battle. For those who died, they would bring their chosen fallen heroes to Valhalla, the afterlife hall ruled by Odin. One could not so much escape the edict of a Valkyrie because the matter was out of human and in divine hands.

While we in churches of Christ do not so much recognize any such authority here on earth as a Vatican or papacy, I think we must caution against arbitrarily creating such a realm of power whereby a Christian or preacher may either rise or fall. The very realm of power, at least from this preacher’s point of view, consists of institutions: schools of preaching, universities, lectureships, and periodicals. While established for noble purposes of spreading the gospel and equipping others to do so, they can and in some cases have become Valkyries.

At the inception of the Restoration Plea—often referred to as a “reform” by Stone and Campbell—our forefathers in the church urged that we seek Christian unity in part by denouncing man-fashioned creeds and statements of faith while using the Bible as our sole source of authority. In the 1800s many institutions appeared and had since advocating primitive Christianity while also answering specific inquiries directed at the leaders of said institutions about doctrinal matters. To be sure, there were and are essentials that Christians should believe, but many of us even disagree on what all those essentials are.

Many of the pioneers and notable voices in the early Stone-Campbell Movement wanted all Christians and congregations to be capable of exercising their Christian liberty in viewing certain non-essentials however they best understood the Scriptures to reflect it. These matters of private interpretation were not to be bound upon others as tests of fellowship. Sadly, as institutions came, went and remained, some of them became stalwarts in presenting certain issues in ways as if they were among the non-negotiables.

Jerrie Barber’s latest post, “Do You Know of a Sound Congregation…?,” highlights this very issue. Without pointing to the Valkyries in churches of Christ, we must admit that some are institutions dedicated to doing a lot of good, but who may be looked to in a way that they wouldn’t wish to be regarded. When Paul wrote about the division in 1 Corinthians where some wanted either him, Apollos, or Cephas as their chosen preacher, the division was evident. Today, Paul may reword the passage to read, “Some of you say, ‘I am of (insert periodical name),’ or ‘I am of (insert university/school of preaching name),’ or ‘I am of (insert lectureship name).’ Has Christ been divided? Was (university/periodical/lectureship) crucified for you? Were you baptized into (insert favorite Brotherhood preacher name)?”

There is certainly another side of this argument. Such institutions endeavor to be the bulwarks of truth. They want to prepare Christians to be faithful to God in the life here on earth, and we might easily reason that their intentions at being sound, however one might define it, is their best effort to be faithful to the Lord. However, we must understand that it is only the church that is the “buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and not one’s preferred institution.

I would appeal to my brethren that we not crown any institution a Valkyrie—one that can make or unmake a Christian. I have been on the receiving end such powers’ wrath because I’ve expressed views out of touch with their platform. While I mean no harm, I can see how some might take any view I express and see it as threatening if it doesn’t wash into their thinking. However, I want to demonstrate Christian charity towards those with whom I disagree, and not see them as enemies especially if they are fellow Christians. I’d much rather give another the benefit of the doubt, and if I happen to disagree, I’d rather just not see it as my mission to feel that I have to police the brotherhood as some do.

Steven Hunter (PhD, Faulkner University) is the preaching minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, KY. He's also authored several books for Start2Finish, and Classically Christian explores Christianity from a church-historical perspective. Steven enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and is a practitioner of Goshin Ryu Jujutsu—a traditional Japanese martial art.