We’re working our way chapter by chapter through Leroy Garrett’s “What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved?” The book is a compilation of essays he wrote almost twenty years ago, but they remain just as timely and provocative and important today as they were then. The Churches of Christ are declining in numbers of members and congregations at an alarming rate. And Garrett’s essays are concerned with saving our voice, saving our influence, saving our relevance in this increasingly post-modern, post-denominational world. We’ll consider today Garrett’s plea from the third chapter of his book:
Repent of and confess our sin of division.
If we’re going to have any kind of influence for good, if Churches of Christ are going to be taken seriously when it comes to meaningful conversations about eternal matters, we must stop dividing among ourselves. We do violence to the Scriptures and we trample the holy blood of our Lord when we split and divide, bicker and fight, and accuse one another within our own Church of Christ tradition. We’ve made it so that one is not only required to be a “faithful member” of a Church of Christ, it must be the “right” Church of Christ or the “doctrinally sound” Church of Christ. Those are my words. In Garrett’s words we must “repent of and confess our sin of internal bickering, debating, and dividing into sects and sub sects.”
To be saved as a people who can be taken seriously we must show a disdain and an intolerance for our ugly divisions. While it helps, we must do more than preach peace, love, and unity. We must repent of our sins of division and confess that we have been wrong. We would do well to call a convention for the express purpose of confessing our sin of being one of the most divided, sectarian churches in America.
OK, we all know how this works. Just look at any of our “brotherhood” church directories. Most Churches of Christ in our own directories are labeled with little acronymns and funny symbols that stand for our different positions on instruments in worship, Bible classes, premillennialism, non-institutional, and located preachers. There are at least five different symbols that represent the five different ways we observe the communion meal! And we’ll use these symbols as tests of fellowship. You know it and I know it.
I’ve had friends who’ve been asked to appear on Church of Christ TV shows and then been handed a one hundred item questionaire to next judge their “faithfulness” to the Scriptures. (“Do you believe that God created the universe and all that is in it in six literal 24 hour days?” “Do you believe that the church, out of its treasury, can support a home for widows or fatherless children?” “Do you believe it is scriptural to have several house churches under the oversight of one central eldership?” “Must our worship be decent and orderly to be pleasing to God?” “Do you believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead?”) I’ve had long, tense, tedious conversations with people in my Church of Christ about what’s wrong with people in other Churches of Christ in which the name of our Lord Jesus was never mentioned. After preaching on unity within our fellowship, I’ve been told to stop preaching unity and start preaching the Gospel.
You know the results of this patternistic type of thinking. This idea that Scripture gives us a concrete blueprint for how a Sunday morning Christian assembly is to be conducted makes it absolutely impossible for us to be unified. It makes it impossible for us to enjoy fellowship with one another. It leads us to believe that we can’t worship together unless we see every single thing exactly alike.
This makes us act like crazy people.
The “mainstream” Oak Grove Church of Christ is within ten miles geographically of the “liberal” Westside Church of Christ and the “conservative” East Side Church of Christ. Oak Grove wants East Side to come to their Fifth Sunday Singing, but East Side can’t fellowship Oak Grove because Oak Grove has a praise team. Westside invites Oak Grove to their weekend seminar, but Oak Grove can’t fellowship Westside because Westside has women deacons. Everybody looks to their right for fellowship, but nobody will look to their left. Nobody wants to be labeled. Nobody wants to be “wrong.” Nobody wants to “compromise the truth.” So, there’s no fellowship. Worse, Westside is forced to find fellowship outside the fellowship, Eastside is then forced to write articles condemning Westside for leaving her “first true love,” and Oak Grove is paralyzed with fear of doing anything that might possibly cause a slippery slide down that great slope toward either of the two “extremes.”
We need to write out a “Proclamation of Repentance” that would say something like, “Whereas, we have sinned against our Lord’s prayer for the unity of all his followers by becoming a factious and divided people; and whereas we have sinned against the mandate of the holy Scriptures and the holy apostles in their plea for unity; and whereas we have sinned against our own heritage as a unity people; we do hereby confess our sin and ask for each other’s forgiveness, the forgiveness of the larger Christian community, and the forgiveness of Almighty God; and we hereby declare that we repudiate our divisive ways, and are resolved to take the following steps to correct the erroneous course taken by our fathers and by ourselves…”
Nothing has to change in regards to our differences. We can have churches that are premillennial and those that are amillennial, along with many that don’t even know what millennialism is about. We can have brethren who support the cooperative radio-TV Herald of Truth program and never watch it and those who are opposed to it but never miss it. We can have Sunday School churches and non-Sunday School churches, as well as those who serve the Supper in ways that differ. We don’t have to be of one mind on all such issues in order to be one in Christ. In fact, we are already one in Christ. That happened when we were baptized into Christ and received the gift of the Holy Spirit which is what makes us one.
It is therefore a matter of realizing our oneness and repudiating our factionalism. It is a matter of loving and accepting each other even as Christ loves and accepts us.
They will know we are disciples of Jesus by our love. They will not know we are disciples of Jesus by our division.