The early church astonished the world because of the way these dedicated disciples of Jesus refused to be identified by the social barriers of the day. The church astonished the world because it encouraged Jews and Gentiles to meet and eat together. It encouraged men and women to both worship and serve in the same houses. It gave slaves and masters, rich and poor, the well-connected and the barely-functioning the same seats at the same table, the same status in the same living Body of our Lord.
4 Amarillo, I suppose, is sort of doing the same thing. Presbyterians and Baptists worshiping and working together generates big news. The Church of Christ cooperating with anybody on anything seems to elicit surprised gasps of shock. So, I think, that’s how I wound up presenting three class sessions at this year’s ACU Summit. What we’re doing together in our little city is apparently fairly big news. And I’m so honored and blessed to be doing this.
This morning I laid out the theology for Christian unity among different denominations and traditions from our Lord’s beautiful — and loaded! — prayer in John 17, bolstered by Paul’s arguments in Romans 14-15 and Ephesians 4. Wednesday morning, I’ll wrap up the series by looking at how a commitment to this kind of unity is good for your church and the people in your church and how it probably would fit right in with most of the things your church is already doing anyway. But tomorrow, I’m especially looking forward to having all three of my co-downtown pastors join me here at ACU for a panel discussion regarding the origins of our 4 Amarillo partnership and the impact it’s having on our community for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
Howard, Burt, Howie, and I will discuss how this whole thing started long before any of us arrived on the scene, how God brought us four together to form an unshakable alliance of friends and partners in the Gospel, how we first presented the idea of 4 Amarillo to our four churches and church leadership groups, and the many ways God is using this cooperative effort to reach the downtown Amarillo area with his good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. The other three guys will spend a little time at the end telling all us CofCers everything we need to know about their churches and their people if we have any hopes of engaging them in any cooperative worship and/or ministry together. And then we’ll stay for audience participation and Q & A for as long as anybody wants to keep talking.
This morning’s session went well. The room was packed to the walls, a few people were forced to sit and listen from out in the hallway, everyone seemed to be tracking with the theology, the logic, and the heart of what we’re doing with 4 Amarillo, and the conversations afterward were rich with curiosity and grace. A lot of grace.
I’m very grateful that my friends in downtown Amarillo would agree to drive down to Abilene to do this with me. They don’t have a clue as to what we’re dealing with in the Churches of Christ as far as our rigid sectarian past and, sadly, still in a lot of cases, our present. Wait. Maybe Howie gets it. Every now and then when I’m making some apology about our CofC history, the long-time pastor of First Baptist Amarillo leans in to me and says, “Allan, you guys aren’t the only ones.”
Grace. See, grace is the only way you were accepted by God as his child. Grace is the only thing that makes your relationship with God possible. Grace. And it’s the very thing that’s demanded of us to extend to others. Grace.
May our God be glorified through these sessions this week at ACU Summit. May he be given all the glory and praise. And may our cooperative efforts, our Christian unity, be used by him as he works to redeem all of creation back to himself.