I was reminded again last weekend that our God is a God of reconciliation and that our Lord’s great prayer is that his people be unified. Further, I was awakened all over again to the great joy we feel when one of the last holdouts of Christian one-ness, our denominationalism, is put aside for the sake of unity and faithful witness.
At the ACU preacher’s workshop in Abilene, I found myself in energetic conversation with Ken Holsberry, the preacher at the Edgemere CofC in Wichita Falls. The severe drought in their city, which made them a national punch line of sorts when they began treating toilet water for use as drinking water, has led to a cooperative prayer and ministry partnership between them and other Christian churches. Edgemere has helped orchestrate a couple of prayer services at a downtown theater and a community worship service at gigantic Memorial Stadium in collaboration with a Presbyterian, a Baptist, and a community church congregation.
Wes Crawford, the preacher at the Glenwood CofC in Tyler, reminded me that in the tiny town of Stamford, Texas, the small churches there have gone in together to pay for a youth minister. The CofC, the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches are funding a collaborative youth group that worships and learns, plays and ministers together. They’ve been doing it for years.
And it’s fun. It’s exciting. It just feels right — it feels like the Gospel — to put aside our differences, to tear down the walls that divide us, to come together as children of God and disciples of his Son to better witness to an unbelieving world.
Those of us who haven’t quite figured out how to transition from “We’re the only ones who’ve got it right” to “By the grace of God, all those who follow Christ are brothers and sisters in the Lord” focus mainly on our differences. Those who want to make the move but don’t know where to start, also, I think, are hung up on the differences.
The differences are minor and few. The things we have in common as those redeemed by the love and grace of God are many and huge.
I would suggest just starting with the Bible. You know, we all use the exact same Book. Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, all the grace churches and community churches, Disciples of Christ, and Christian churches, and the Churches of Christ — we all use the exact same Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures as the authority and guide in the ways we submit to God and follow his Christ.
Bonhoeffer points to the Bible as the great starting point for Christian unity:
“It is really the biblical text as such that binds the whole Christian community into a unity. It assures us of our being bound together in one family of brothers and sisters not only with the Christian community of all past and future ages but with the whole church of the present. As such, the biblical text is of enormous unifying, ecumenical significance. This consciousness of being bound together into one family is clearly strengthened among hearers of the biblical text, since this is an awareness that every deep insight and experience they encounter in this text is the agelong substance of Christian thought and life and so is heard and learned with gratitude and profound awe.”
When you listen to a Methodist preacher and then think, “Why, that could have been a Church of Christ sermon!” don’t be so surprised. When a Baptist minister talks about faith and grace and good works, don’t be shocked. When the Presbyterian guy speaks passionately about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, don’t be caught off guard. We’re all using the same book. We all hold it tightly and defend it fiercely as the revealed and holy Word of the Creator of Heaven and Earth. And, in a run-down of the many things all Christian churches and all disciples of Jesus have in common, this one’s very near the top of the list.