Garrett’s first wish for the Churches of Christ is —
Let us recover our heritage as a unity people
The Restoration Movement was “born of a passion for unity, and unity has been its consuming theme,” as Robert Richardson puts it, and its mission was “to unite the Christians in all the sects.” …
Once we see ourselves as the unity people we are supposed to be, we will position ourselves to be a blessing , not only to ourselves but to the larger church as well.
Notice that Garrett urges us to do two things: be united among ourselves and to help bless the larger church with unity as well. And he’s right.
Our usual vision is just to get our own congregation to unite within itself! It’s hard enough to get a few hundred people to get along. How on earth do we get a few million to unite?
Well, we can’t. Only God can, but he gives us his Spirit for that very reason.
(Eph 4:3) Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
We’ve preached the 7 ones of Eph 4:4-6 for nearly 200 years, but we almost always ignore the fact that unity is from the Spirit — not us. God gives unity. We need only accept it.
To similar effect is —
(Rom 15:5-6) May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul concluded his arguments in Romans by urging unity — from God.
In short, we aren’t going to be united by means of ecumenical councils, white papers, and negotiations. We aren’t going to be united because some university hosts a unity conference. And we sure aren’t going to be united by all of us agreeing on every point of doctrine. These aren’t so much wrong as the wrong direction. Unity comes only by a change in our hearts. Unity comes from accepting the unity that God has already given us.
Here are the steps —
* Teach our more conservative brothers grace — in terms that speak to their legitimate concerns. Don’t condescend. Don’t skip steps. Patiently and lovingly explain why God’s grace does not violate their very proper concern for obedience and loyalty to the scriptures. This is the easy part.
The hard part is finding a platform that will allow us to be heard. Presently, there is virtually no means of communication between the progressives and conservatives.
* Teach all of us why baptism is not a barrier to fellowship, even though baptism of believers by immersion is the biblical teaching. This is surely the one biggest reason we so struggle to treat those outside the Restoration Movement as saved, and even the progressive movement struggles in this area. We need to sort out our theology in terms that are easy to teach and defensible to the strictest reading of the scriptures. I’ve tried my hand at it. We need more work in the area.
* Work for fully realized unity. I don’t have that much concern to “merge” with the Christian Churches, mainly because I’m afraid we’ll just take our sectarian attitudes and expand them by allowing for the salvation of only those within the Restoration Movement. That’s good. But it’s not good enough. We need to be thinking much, much bigger.
Realized unity is both hard and easy. It’s easy in that most evangelical churches already consider most other evangelical churches saved regardless of denomination. Most would think much more broadly than that. They are already quite willing to consider us saved if we’ll just return the favor. In other words, just by changing our own attitudes, we can be immediately united with a very large part of Christendom. It’s that easy.
On the other hand, Christendom continues to be denominational. So are we. And there are reasons for denominations, but they are quickly fading. The evangelical world is rapidly moving to a post-denominational age, with many mega-churches becoming virtual denominations unto themselves.
This leads to an important conversation that’s only just beginning. In light of the creation of so many truly non-denominational churches, and in light the increasing irrelevance of many of the doctrinal questions that once divided denominations from each other, what should come next? Do we devolve into autonomous churches with no denominational affiliation at all? Do we re-organize around really big churches? How will we cooperate to do things too big for one church to do? How will we coordinate missions? Hurricane relief? How will we plan to evangelize a city or a state?
My own thinking is simple but just a little radical. I think we should band together with other congregations in our home towns — cross-denominationally — for as many things as possible. I think churches should be closer to the churches in their towns than to churches in other towns that happen to share a name or a bit of history. After all, the best way to organize to help the poor or to convert the lost is at the community level.
There are, of course, difficulties with this approach, but I think this should be the vision of the Churches of Christ that we share with the other churches in our towns. Stone, the Campbells, Walter Scott, and the other early Restorers would be proud. You see, we’d simply be replicating much of the work of the old Mahoning Baptist Association that Alexander Campbell had his first congregation join — despite not being quite Baptist. This is the association of churches that sent Walter Scott out as the Movement’s first missionary. It’s a good model.