By Curtis K. Shelburne: CNJ Columnist
We had a great time of worship at church Sunday morning. Most folks seemed appreciative of the sermon I gave. Maybe one of these days somebody will tell me what I said.
Just kidding. I wasn’t totally comatose Sunday — just partly. I’d just returned late Saturday evening from a week in Louisville, Ky. Some great friends and I drove those 2,613 miles. We had a fine time both in Louisville and on the drive (just being with those guys was worth the mileage!), but I was pretty much fritzed on Sunday.
Two of us had written chapters for a new book, “Unleashing the Potential of the Smaller Church,” and had been invited to participate on a panel with the other writers of that book. All of us were there for the North American Christian Convention, the largest annual gathering serving the independent Christian Church. Ten thousand folks gathered in Louisville, and this year a significant percentage of the folks there were from Churches of Christ.
Christian Churches (independent), Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) and Churches of Christ all spring from what is known as the American Restoration Movement, the predominant early leaders of which were Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone. Sadly, the movement that began with a great call for unity among all who honor Christ as Lord (desiring to be known as “Christians only” and never claiming to be “the only Christians”) became so obviously divided itself that by 1906, the U. S. Census Bureau officially listed the Christian Church and the Churches of Christ as two separate religious bodies. At last count, though the Census Bureau doesn’t record such subfractures, I believe Churches of Christ themselves had divided into at least 29 different factions.
Building on the work of great souls whose hearts, like the Lord’s, bled at the sight of such division, and most recently by efforts of leading preachers and institutions to foster dialogue and reconnection, this year’s NACC at Louisville, 100 years after the “official” division, took as its theme, “Together in Christ.” Five of the eight keynote speakers were from Churches of Christ.
The most obvious difference between Christian Churches and Churches of Christ has been the use (or not) of musical instruments in worship. At the convention, we were led in worship by great praise teams (together!) from both groups. Some songs we did a cappella and some accompanied, and all were beautiful. If any Church of Christ person was hijacked and forced to blow a horn, I didn’t see it. I’ve never been able to believe God cares how he is worshiped as long as he is. But more than a few there cared about that issue, which made their coming together all the more impressive.
At the last evening session, Jeff Walling (from a large Church of Christ) and Dave Stone (from an 18,000 member Christian Church, and university presidents from both groups (ACU, Cincinnati Christian University and others) exchanged Bibles, and tears of joy. It was an amazing time!
Christian unity transcends many more lines than these. But wherever it truly springs up, it is beautiful.