I haven’t always been associated with the Churches of Christ. I didn’t know much about our roots or where we came from. I didn’t really care too much about our heritage until I heard Patrick Mead speak on it at a Campus Ministry conference.  When I was introduced to the Declaration and Address of the Campbells and The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, I saw how beautiful our tradition was.

Perhaps the thing I gravitated toward the most was our foundation. We are a people of the Bible – a people of the book – and we all seek to live out the Scriptures. The other feature of our movement that lit a fire in my heart was the fact that we are a unity movement. Many different streams of Christendom converged in unity and purpose.  The beauty of so many coming together from divergent backgrounds under the banner of Christ and His Church – it’s miraculous. That is why I’m proud to be a part of the Churches of Christ.

Yet, somewhere along the way, many left unity and pursued uniformity. There’s a vast difference.  Uniformity is a concept where everyone is the same. They share the same views, thoughts, opinions, and interests.  While that seems like a noble thing, it isn’t biblical. I’ve heard several well-meaning ministers conscript Acts 2:42-47 where “all the believers were together and had everything in common,” to make a case that all churches everywhere must be the same. That concept is foreign to Scripture. Uniformity creates clones.  Unity – well that’s something far more mystical.

Look to Jesus’ prayer in John 17.  After Jesus prays for the twelve, he prays for you and me.  He asks the Father that, “that all of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May that also be in us…I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one…” (John 17:21, 22). He goes on to pray in the following verse, “I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.

That begs the question:  Why? Why is unity the thing Jesus asks for.  If you’re about to die, you have the right to pray for just about anything you want. He could have been selfish with His prayer.  He chooses to pray for unity in you and me.  Why?  Keep reading: “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Wow! 

Here’s why this matters deeply to Christ:  His church that will be made up of billions of people from every tribe, language, and background, will somehow come together in unity.  That unity will provide the greatest apologetic to our faith that has ever existed.  We can try all kinds of outreach and evangelism methods, but the one that counts is having unity, not uniformity in the church. Our unity provides the greatest evidence that Jesus is the Son of God.

Paul’s ‘body’ treatise in 1 Corinthians illustrates unity over uniformity.  Everyone, though different we be, comes together to form one cohesive functioning body. Every part different. Every part essential.  That God could do that, with so many different people, is truly miraculous.  That is why a watching world needs to see our churches in unity. Each church must evaluate its cultural context, adapt, and love one another with everything they’ve got.  If we can, by the grace of God, pull that off, then a world so desperate for hope and love will see the greatest display of preternatural power the world can ever witness. 

The roots of unity run deep in the Churches of Christ.  It is my challenge to you, wherever you find yourself, to seek unity.  To, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). To fiercely protect the beauty that God has provided through our diverse unity.  After all, the world will know Jesus is God’s son when we live in unity.

6 Responses

  1. I find it interesting that you leave out the appropriate section in your quotes from Acts 2 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship… Unity rather than uniformity

    Philippians 2 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind…” Unity rather than uniformity

    Galatians 1 “As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” unity rather than uniformity

    I could go on for a while, but I guess you get the point. The emphasis is indeed, at least in the Bible I read, rather than uniformity.

    When I hear someone discuss the role of women, for example, and am told, “Well, but could it be that…” I always wonder, “Did we discover new materials?” that would lead us indeed reading the text differently?

    When I hear people argue that we “have always misunderstood the Biblical text on homosexuality, that it was not ‘really’ the issue in Sodom and Gomorrah, but a lack of hospitality, I wonder if we found some new material that would lead us to read the text differently.

    When I read that the Bible should be re-translated into a gender-neutral version, I wonder of we found new material to read the text differently. Of course, when I change, for example, 1 Tim 2 to gender-neutral language, I now can defend female elders… Is there new material that fores us to do such?

    We are called to be one, like Jesus is one with the Father. I don’t see Jesus changing the Father’s plan, or words, or deeds… And yet, that is how you seem to grasp that text: It’s okay to come up with different conclusions, but stay together as a group, and call yourself “one.”

    1. I appreciate your comments. In an article like this, it’s impossible to include every Scripture, but I don’t disagree! If we were more concerned w/ unity rather than ‘everyone being like us,’ I believe we’d see a revival in our brotherhood. Thanks for your words!

  2. Beautiful job, Scott. There are no Christians who are in total uniformity. I don’t believe it. It wasn’t true in the first century and it certainly isn’t true now. I remember Reuel Lemmons saying years ago that we are not like golf balls with dimples all in the same places. The quest, as I see it, is not to force anyone into conformity, but to love someone who has different understandings than I do. The mystery of the oneness of Jesus and the Father is worthy of exploration. Certainly, it goes beyond lists of doctrines. I’ve pondered how we could be one in the same way that the Father and Son are one. That happens in infinite spiritual plains … not in the confines of my brain and at what conclusions I’ve logically arrived. At the same time, unity is not detached from commonality, so there’s a tension here we feel. When I know of the 25+ sects within Churches of Christ I feel it easy to abandon the ‘lists’ we create and look more to the Savior who saved us in our imperfection and weakness. Being a human IS being imperfect and weak. Thank God for His grace and mercy, his Love for us … and this instructs us on loving one another … revealing a unity that escapes uniformity.

    1. Wise words, as always, John. I can’t wait for the day when all of us, different as we are, encircle God’s throne forever. There will be perfect unity there and no uniformity. It’s going to be amazing!

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