5 years ago tonight (June 29, 2006) Jeff Walling and Dave Stone exchanged bibles at the North American Christian Convention in an expression of acceptance between Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. Jeff was clear that he couldn’t speak for everyone in Churches of Christ, but could speak for himself and many others in regretting past divisions and desiring deeper unity and fellowship in the days ahead. I said, “Amen,” from the 5th row. I still say “Amen,” from San Diego.
I have been blessed beyond belief by my fellowship and increased partnership with Christian Churches over the last several years. I have learned a truckload about leadership, cooperation between churches, vision and passion for God from Christian Churches–those who I had been wrongly separated from spiritually for things that pale in importance to Christian unity.
In 2006, I was preaching at Highland Oaks in Dallas and joined the unity efforts to make 2006 a year of intentional reunion. Not mergers. Reunions. Acceptance. That year, against some fairly strong headwinds, we accelerated support of common mission efforts, planting churches together, writing books together. I joined the Continuation Committee of the North American Christian Convention and began attending and supporting events on both “sides of the keyboard.” Many others did the same. Though it meant taking a few shots, it was so worth it. God was pleased.
That was 2006.
This is 2011.
Here’s the question: 5 years later, are we more unified? I don’t think we are any less unified. However, I think we are only slightly more unified. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ are reaching across the keyboard more and more in mostly inconspicuous ways because they know they should, but stay inconspicuous about it for fear of reprisal. I’m thankful for this. Inconspicuous is better than non-existent.
However, 5 years later, I do believe our fervor for the endeavor has waned a bit. I don’t believe passion for unity has ebbed in the heart of Jesus–the One who prayed for it. So, I would like to call everyone within shouting distance of this humble blog to reconsider concrete ways to stand up for Christian unity.
New Vintage Church (the new church plant where I serve) is staffed by CofC lifers, incorporated as a Church of Christ and has partnered with Kairos Church Planting Support (affiliated with Churches of Christ). Simultaneously, we worship in the evenings at the facility of an Independent Christian Church, have received financial support from both Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, and make use of instruments in worship. We will support events, ministries and institutions affiliated with both Churches of Christ and Christian Churches.
I have said numerous times on this blog that Churches of Christ would do well to see what they can learn from Christian Churches–who continue to grow rapidly and exhibit greater church health than Churches of Christ on the whole. We have much to learn from one another if we are willing to do the difficult work of committing ourselves to Christian unity. Here I’m referring to real unity–the kind that embraces estranged Sisters and Brothers as true, equal family–born out in practice. As an aside, this work needs to be done racially, as well.
Though we’ve made huge strides, sectarianism remains one of the banes of Churches of Christ. This has been highlighted for me in the experience of starting New Vintage. For some, New Vintage Church’s willingness to embrace Christian Churches and employ ministry methods uncommon within Churches of Christ means we are no longer part of Churches of Christ. In fact, this decision was made by some quite quickly and without discussion. Here’s my question:
Who gets to make that decision?
In the end, it doesn’t matter.
Actually, I realize it does matter to some. Just not to God. If anything, what matters to God is that His people continue to divide and exclude rather than loving one another as He would have them to. I love my heritage and it’s traditions deeply…always will. However, where there is a fork in the road between those traditions and Christ’s teachings on unity, the choice of which direction one should take is clear.
New Vintage Church is a non-denominational Church of Christ rooted theologically in the Christ revealed in Scripture and rooted ancestrally in the Restoration Movement. Thus, we stand united fully with both Churches of Christ and Christian Churches in loving God, loving others, and reaching the lost. Why? Because God cares less about labels or whether worship music is instrumental/acappella than He does about Christian unity, love for others, and witness to His Son. In fact, I’m quite sure we are not authorized by Jesus to divide over the matters we have–and we will be held to account for our division.
Let me offer again: Unity is a really, really big deal to Jesus. Whether a Church of Christ or Christian Church, all who claim the name of Christ must make much of unity as well. If we do, Jesus will be pleased, and our witness will impactful. If we remain more committed to our tribes than His Cause, we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for God to bless our efforts.
Let’s love one another with the genuine love of Christ–for God’s glory and the sake of the world. As the Lord Himself said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Question: What strides, forward or backward, have you observed between Christian Churches and Churches of Christ? Why do you think Churches of Christ continue to stay distant from Christian Churches? How do we overcome those barriers?