5 Years Later – Are we More Unified?

Biblepassing 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?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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14 thoughts on “5 Years Later – Are we More Unified?

  1. I hope a comment that is a bit more conservative will be accepted here. My concern with the CofC is that we, and least in several of our Universities and some of our larger churches, are becoming more aligned with the Disciples of Christ than the Independent Christian Churches. I mentioned the following book on Wade Hodges blog and I would like to mention it here. Dr. Rick Oster, a man I consider to be one of the finest scholars in Churches of Christ and by no means a right winger wrote a book available only online called Quest for the Gospel: Contemporary Proposals from the Churches of Christ. He raises some questions that I think need to be dealt with as we travel down the road of ecumenicalism. The book is only 85 pages long and you get to print two copies for three bucks. To find it just go to Harding Graduate School’s website (On Saturday the name will be Harding School of Theology.) and click the “Community” button then click on “Faculty” and when you get to Dr. Oster you will find a link to his book.
    On a personal note. I have always found out that when I spend real time with Christians of other traditions it becomes very difficult to think of them as not being Christians. I am currently reading the new book on Bonhoffer. I think to myself. If he was not a Christian what is a Christian, but even though he was strongly ecumenical he also had little time for what he found at Union Theological Seminary during his year of study there. To me the way to keep sectarianism alive is to live with a ghetto mentality and never venture outside the comforts of your small little world, but at the same time I do not want to carried along a wave of change for the sake of change.

  2. Good stuff, Tim. I was a life-long cofc’er, having grown up in it and having preached in the Churches of Christ for 19 years. I currrently preach at a small Christian Church in Broken Bow, OK. I’ve witnessed strides being taken forward and am proud of what I am seeing.
    My issue is this: It is great to seek unity with the Christian Church, but I think we are going to have to answer for denying fellowship with the broader body of Christ. I have spent time with and worshiped with Baptists, Pentecostals, Reformed Churches of America, Methodists, Assembly of God, etc., and find their hearts given completely to Jesus Christ, though their doctrine and practice differ from mine. And in many cases, our take on their doctrine is miles away from what they believe. I know too many Baptists who believe in baptism. I know too many who call themselves Calvinists who don’t believe the TULIP, especially the P as we have been taught it. Some do, but many don’t.
    I understand small steps, and any step is a good one in regard to unity, but for me I have made a decision to accept any one who calls on the name of the Lord to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ.
    Thanks for the post. Keep it up!
    (By the way, it is easier to not only accept other denominations but actively fellowship them when you aren’t drawing a salary from a Church of Christ. To me that is sad.)

  3. Rick, I think the root of the sectarian weed has changed. I don’t think there are as many who today feel as though the CofC is the “one true church.” I think it’s rooted in anxiety sourced by a scarcity mentality born of… well… scarcity.
    As Churches of Christ have fallen on hard times, the anxiety that has produced has caused some to adopt a preservationist and sectarian mindset–a circling of the wagons, an attempt at legacy preservation, and the need to justify why would should continue to do things as we always have…though they stopped working long ago and have even mutated into different strands of sectarianism. There’s an academic, high liturgical sectarianism; a lower church, “one true church” sectarianism, and the new strain… “jealousy sectarianism,” to name just a few.
    I want to reiterate that Churches of Christ have come a long way on this, and are rightfully concerned about legacy. However, our responses to this present crisis are misguided. I would rather we humbled ourselves and opened our ears and hearts a bit more. I’m prayerfully optimistic this will happen in God’s timing.
    It’s more complicated than that…but that a scratch at the surface from my angle.

  4. Wayne, I couldn’t agree more. I really believe church multiplication is one of the primary reasons for the rapid growth and renewal of Christian Churches and hold out hope the Churches of Christ will catch this vision.

  5. Having viewed all of this from the CofC, Christian Church and even the ICOC, it is my observation that the CofC has a much more legalistic view of what is doctrinally essential. It would be nice if we could just focus on the essentials in Eph. 4:3-6 and let the other elements be viewed with more grace and flexibility.
    The ICOC took this legalism to drastic extremes and paid the price. It is my experience the the Christian Church folks are a lot more tolerant and accepting than the other branches of the restoration movement are. Is that good or bad? In my opinion, it’s good!
    The hopeful signs are right now coming from church planting efforts such as: Stadia (CC) and Kairos (CofC) working more closely together; Nexus (CC) and Golf Course Road (CofC)planting churches in OK and TX.
    Change usually comes through evangelism – getting the focus on the lost and not ourselves!

  6. I absolutely love this post and this discussion. With so much in common, why do we separate so much? Especially when what we have in common is Jesus- THE Way, Truth, and Life.
    Imagine what God can do through us as we work together. I get chills just thinking about it.

  7. Amen to what Terry White said.
    I was impressed with the Tulsa Workshop back in 2006 when we made inroads to reunite with our brethren in the Christian churches. i purchesed and read a couple of books on reunion of our brethren, Together Again by Rick Achley and Bob Russell, and Together In Christ by Victor Knowles. I highly recommend both of these books. Reading one or both of these would be helpful for all of us to the reunion.
    Thank you Brother Tim for your thoughts on this subject. I really enjoy reading your blog. God bless you, your family, and the work y’all are doing.

  8. Even though I am a “CoC lifer” I have family in both tribes. I wish there was more cooperation. I can also tell you that sectarianism (which I regard as a great sin) runs on both sides of the fence.
    Now days when people ask about my church heritage, rather than saying “CoC”, I often just refer to the Restoration Movement. Of course, that is still a tribal name in many ways. Especially for someone like me who regards the universal body of Christ to be much larger than the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.
    Any ways, thank you for your thoughtful post.
    Grace and Peace,
    Rex

  9. I am very impressed with your views on the Church of Christ and Christian churches. You appear to be focusing on the things that the two churches have in common and not on the differences. With the attitude that you have, your new church is destined to grow.

  10. Tim said, “sectarianism remains one of the banes of Churches of Christ.” I once naively thought it was a virulent strain running through several generations. One day we would recover? But the symptoms are present in this generation, too.(I’ve even seen a hint of it in my own life.) It is a fatal disease for which we continue our struggle to find a cure.

  11. Tim said, “sectarianism remains one of the banes of Churches of Christ.” I see it, too. I once thought it was generational; then observed its symptoms in my own generation. I even see a hint of it from time to time in my own life. What is the root of that weed?

  12. Praying for unity in your area, across the country and around the world! I hope one day to see us stop arguing over the 1% we differ on and realize we believe in the most important ONE! Thank you for your strides toward unity and keep on, keeping on towards the goal 🙂