Let me give you a couple of quick links here before we jump into today’s conversation.
Whitney’s old youth minister, Lance Parrish, sent me this link to a recent study that shows one-fifth of all third graders own cell phones. According to this report, 83-percent of all middle schoolers have mobile phones. And more than 90-percent of them have internet access. Most adults I know can’t handle unlimited mobile access to the internet. What makes us think a ten-year-old is ready? You can access Lance’s reactions to the report, especially as to how cell phones might negatively impact a teen’s dating habits and sexual development, by clicking here.
Greg Dowell has found an interesting study that claims couples who live together before marriage are much more likely to get a divorce than couples who don’t cohabit first. Seven-and-a-half-million unmarried couples are living together now in the United States, a massive 1,500-percent increase in just the past fifty years. And the National Marriage Project says, once these couples get married, these prior living arrangements are the major contributing factor in their divorces. Get the full story from the New York Times by clicking here.
Chapter Four of Leroy Garrett’s “What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved?” broadens his call for unity to include now all Christians of every stripe. In order to preserve our voice in the larger Christian world, in order to remain relevant, Garrett proposes that we openly acknowledge that we are one with all those who confess and have submitted to Jesus as Lord and are faithfully living their lives according to the Spirit of God. It’s who we are as Churches of Christ, as part of the rich Restoration Movement history. We are all about the unity of all Christians, breaking down the barriers that separate denominations, being united in our common Savior. It’s in our DNA. And if we’re going to have any kind of a serious impact in God’s Kingdom in the future, we’ve got to get back to those roots.
Recover our heritage as a unity movement.
Garrett uses some of the powerful mottos (not creeds! never creeds!) of the Stone-Campbell Movement to illustrate the urgency of his call for Christian unity. I especially appreciate his use of one of Thomas Campbell’s most beautiful lines in his 1809 Declaration and Address: “The Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.”
[The Declaration and Address] is a call for unity of all God’s people. Campbell wrote those words in 1809, two years before he started his first congregation known as a “Church of Christ.” And yet he wrote of “the Church of Christ upon earth” as if it had already existed. This shows that he had no such mentality that Christ’s Church did not even exist and that he was about to “restore” it according to some recognizable New Testament pattern.
Campbell believed that the Church of Jesus Christ not only then existed but that “the gates of Hades” had not prevailed against it since the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit breathed it into existence. It was nonetheless in need of renewal or reformation, and that was his mission, especially in terms of restoring love, unity, and fellowship to the Church now tragically torn asunder by partyism.
In this insightful statement, capsuled in a single line, Thomas Campbell bequeaths to us the one important truth about the Church that we must recapture in our time if we are to find our roots: the Body of Christ upon earth has existed all through the centuries and it has always by its very nature been one.
Being raised in and by the Church of Christ, I myself was taught that these Restoration Movement fathers who began the Churches of Christ were restoring the first Church, the Church of Christ that was established in Jerusalem at Pentecost in AD 33. To avoid the “gates of hell prevailing” problem, I was taught that at all times throughout history, from the first century, through the middle ages, right up to the revival at Cane Ridge, there were pockets of Christians hiding out in the hills or living in small villages who were worshiping God and expressing the faith in exactly the same ways all Churches of Christ do today. I was told many, many times that the way we were worshiping, the church leadership structures we recognized, the form of baptism we employed, the communion service we observed — all of it had always been done by tiny faithful remnants exactly like we were doing it in Dallas, Texas in the 1970s and 1980s. Ludicrous! It didn’t make sense to me then. It is certainly ridiculous to me today.
Again, we’ve bought into this patternistic way of thinking that communicates to our people and to the rest of the world that we believe we’re doing it right and everybody else is doing it wrong. Therefore, we can’t fellowship the denominations. We definitely can’t acknowledge them as brothers and sisters in Christ. If they’re not doing things in exactly the same ways we’re doing things, they must not care. They must have other agendas. They must be arrogant and full of pride, more interested in themselves and their traditions than in being the true Church of Christ.
In their writings and sermons, Campbell and Stone both pointed over and over again to Romans 15:7. “Receive one another, even as Christ has received you, to the glory of God.” I didn’t have everything perfectly right when Christ received me. Neither did you. In fact, Scripture makes it clear that we were actually enemies of God when Christ received us. Shouldn’t we attempt the same acts of grace and forgiveness and mercy in receiving others who are sincerely trying to live for and with Jesus?
Garrett also points in this chapter to a well known slogan coined by Barton Stone: “Let the unity of Christians be our polar star!”
[This slogan] is a remarkable take of the Lord’s prayer in John 17. Stone understood Jesus to say that only a united church could win a lost world, so unity is essential to the church’s mission. The polar star (unity) guides the old ship (the church) on its mission (evangelization of the world). When we keep our eye on the polar star by being a loving and united people we will really be God’s redeeming community in the world.
Campbell wrote in his Millennial Harbinger that “this movement was born with a passion for unity, and unity has been its engrossing theme!”
If we were to make a top ten list of our current Church of Christ passions, the unity of all believers wouldn’t fit into the top twenty. Or thirty. What happened?