In the last blog, I highlighted our value for congregational autonomy. However, the downside of our autonomy has been our unwillingness to work with other congregations for the sake of the kingdom.
The second instinct I want to highlight from our movement is unity. When coupled with autonomy, our movement's emphasis on unity should allow us to bridge the gaps between ourselves and other independent churches and denominations.
Unity was the glue and engine of our movement from the start.
Barton Stone and five other key leaders wrote an important document in 1804 called the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. These leaders of the Presbyterian church near Caneridge, KY chose to put a stop to their particular denominational ties in order to join with the larger body of Christ, which has no distinction.
They wrote: "We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling." These powerful words were instrumental (pardon the pun) in our movement's beginning."
Another key phrase of the early Restoration Movement was "We are Christians only, but not the only Christians." This important distinction has been eclipsed by a more sectarian vision in the late 19th and 20th centuries. But a return to the original instincts of our vision must include a call to unity to be lived out in tangible ways.
Lately, I've heard some who have asked me: "Are we just wanting to become a community church?"
Now, I want to unpack that question because it's loaded. In an effort to be generous with the question, I believe there are some who see the American megachurches' self-critique of being "a mile wide and an inch deep" as a possible result of such a move. Let's be honest, I don't know of a church leader in our movement who desires to see spiritual shallowness as a result of any changes.
The question takes an intentional shot at community churches. I believe the question itself is sectarian in nature and reveals the fact that we've become more of a denomination than we often admit.
Some might interpret the question to mean that we don't want to lose our distinctives in an effort to become all things to all people. But remember Barton Stone and the others from the Springfield Presbytery left their own distinctives in order to pursue Christ without the boundaries of their previous traditions.
Is it possible that today's community church trend is a move similar to our own movement's instincts from the very start? Are community churches pursuing the Restoration Movement's plea toward unity and autonomy more faithfully than we are in Churches of Christ? These are questions we must grapple with in an increasingly post-denominational world. Because our original impulses would set us up perfectly for the coming world in the 21st century.
So, how did a movement that started based on a plea for unity get a reputation for believing we were the only ones going to heaven? I'll address that next time with the third instinct of our movement that I appreciate.