Nondenominationalism. A better, truer view of grace gives us an entirely new way of looking at penitent believers outside the Churches of Christ. They are also part of the “brotherhood,” the “household of faith,” and even “the church.” They are as much “us” as we are!
I’ll admit that there are some penitent believers who hold some pretty odd views that we’ll have to tolerate. Some are part of the Churches of Christ!
We can no longer consider ourselves the only believers going to heaven or the only saved. We can finally truly be “Christians only but not the only Christians.” We can finally be in conversation with our brothers in the other denominations without condescension. Indeed, we can approach them in Christ-like humility. We can shed our arrogance: our sense that we’re the only ones who cared enough to get it right!
Redefining our identity. Grace teaches us that our identity is in Jesus. We are the people whom Jesus saved, whose sins were on Jesus’ back while he was on the cross. We are most definitely not the people who worship correctly or baptize correctly or organize correctly. Those self-images are all works-based — and not entirely true.
You see, every year I learn a little more about worship, about baptism, and church organization. If we were doing it exactly right already, how could we still be learning to do it better? You see, grace gives us permission to grow and learn without feeling like we were inadequate or even lost before we learned the latest lesson God taught us.
Preserving what’s right. Now, all this doesn’t mean our differences no longer matter. They do. They just don’t define the borders of the Kingdom.
Those who teach error on baptism are denied the joys of getting it right, of truly understanding the sacrament. Those who baptize their babies don’t get to baptize their teenage children. I got to stand in the baptistry and immerse all four of my sons, and it’s an amazing experience! But it’s amazing because my sons chose Jesus. Anyone can pour water on a baby. Only a few get to see their children make a genuine, freewill commitment. Getting baptism right matters.
Just so, those who deny the indwelling of the Spirit can’t understand grace at a deep level and may well be denying themselves many of the Spirit’s blessings. Getting the Spirit right matters.
Everything the scriptures teach matters, and we should never, ever stop teaching what we believe. It matters.
Competition. We live in a capitalistic society and competition is in our blood. Grace allows us to stop competing with other denominations and other congregations of penitent believers. We can finally stop cannibalizing one another and instead turn to present a united front against the true enemy.
In fact, grace should allow for some churches too small to prosper and thrive to merge with other congregations. And grace demands that we merge where the reason for the division is race or ethnicity.
Cooperation. We have to adopt a Christian point of view. Those churches down the road aren’t “Methodists” or “Baptists” or whatever. They’re just parts of the same body as we are. Some know it. Some don’t. Some are willing to cooperate. Some need to be taught better.
We start by joining hands with the “low hanging fruit,” those churches most like us and most willing to work with us — which (ironically enough) won’t be other Churches of Christ! I mean, the conservative Churches — those who deny the Biblical doctrine of grace — will no more cooperate with us than with the Satanists.
But cooperation isn’t a convenience. It’s a command. And a necessity for being missionally effective. Therefore, we cooperate with those who will cooperate with us.
The first and obvious choice is the independent Christian Churches. We sit down with the local churches in our community, declare our desire, and brainstorm with their elders how we can show the unity of Jesus with them. And we learn what their institutions have to offer to support our efforts in the Kingdom and we teach how our institutions can help them in their work. But we don’t stop there.
In fact, it’ll be a huge temptation, because they are so much like us. We’ll feel as though we can check the “plays well with others” box on the heavenly report card and need go no further. But God’s grace is broader, and so must be our cooperation.
Around here, the evangelical churches in town are part of a network that tries to coordinate common events. We should immediately join with them and participate fully. Moreover, we should look for ways that show the unity of the local church to the world through mission — evangelism, care for the needy, etc.
We should work with all churches that are willing and plan how we can take our community for Jesus — how we can turn Tuscaloosa into a beachhead for the Kingdom of God.
This means not merely symbolic or token gestures at cooperation — it’s acting as though we’re all part of the same organism, the same effort, the same will … the same body.
Missions. In the meantime, we teach our missionaries what we’ve learned and encourage them to evangelize the gospel of grace. I think the more gracious our gospel, the more successful our mission efforts will be.
Teens/college. One of the biggest mistakes we make is failing to teach our own children. We have to be sure grace is taught in the campus ministry, the teen ministry, and the children’s ministry.
Moreover, we need to develop a vision that our children are all being raised as ministers and missionaries. I mean, very few will stay in town. That’s the nature of things, nowadays.
They need to either be vocational missionaries or full-time missionaries or else ministers of the gospel. We need for each of our children to graduate feeling called to ministry of some real and substantial sort — something that makes a real difference.
Some will need to attend a Christian college to be prepared. But those who stay here at the University of Alabama need to graduate with the same preparation for vocational mission they’d have received at Lipscomb or ACU or Harding.
They need to know their Bible — not like an M. Div., but very well.
They need to understand that we aren’t supposed to be like everyone else. They need a solid self-image built in the gospel and Jesus’ love that doesn’t depend on worldly aspirations.
They need to have a solid sense of the urgency of mission — to the poor and needy, to the lost, to the vulnerable — and how the Kingdom is called to address such things.
They need to know how to minister to one another.
And they need to have experienced a healthy, missional, loving church for the four or more years that they’re here.
I mean — consider how a missionary raises his children in a foreign land. He’s going to make certain that he converts at least his own children! He won’t count on the public schools or the Sunday school teachers. He and his wife will appreciate all the help they can get, but they’ll figure that ultimately they’re the ones who’ve got to do it.
They’ll pull the children into congregational involvement at a young age, let them learn to lead by working with older, more experienced leaders. And they’ll teach not just doctrine but living as a Christian in a non-Christian world.
We must do the same. In fact, we might even want to ask our missionaries to talk to us about how to do it!