John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)
A Proposal For Unity: Introduction
One hundred and ninety-eight years ago this month, Thomas Campbell wrote the most influential man-made
document in Restoration Movement history, known as the Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington
. In that document he appealed to all believers in Christ to drop their sectarian differences and to come together on the basis of the scriptures. The centerpiece of the document was a set of thirteen propositions
on which he believed unity could be built. (I wrote a fifteen-article series of comments
on these propositions in the early days of this blog.)
For the subsequent few decades, great progress was being made toward the vision of the elder Campbell. But by the time of the American Civil War, the movement had strayed from the unifying heart of the thirteen propositions. From that point forward, the movement fractured again and again over many issues. Not only did the Restoration Movement fail to unify all believers in Christ, but the movement could not even remain unified within itself.
I do not believe the fracturing of the movement had to happen. There was a lot of wisdom in those thirteen propositions (after all, they were drawn directly from Scripture!) which could have prevented the divisions.
I also believe we can still learn from the past and correct the course. The last chapter of this story has not yet been written. I hope that we can discern how to worship and to serve God according to our own consciences, while accepting others whose consciences perceive things differently from ours. And I hope we can discern how to treat one another with the respect that is appropriate toward one for whom Christ shed his blood.
Maybe I am excessively optimistic, but I believe I see early signs that many in the Restoration Movement are becoming ready for a more informed effort towards unity. At many centennial events, sincere men from different fragments of the movement met together to talk about what is needed for unity. In many of these cases, animosity has been left behind. One can see the beginning stages of respect. People are weary of the division.
So perhaps the time is right to make a modest proposal--or rather, a series of proposals. I intend to spend the next few weeks posting a series of articles proposing how we might move forward together toward unity. I want to frame these proposals loosely around the original thirteen propositions of Thomas Campbell. But I want to connect them to current realities in the various segments of the Restoration Movement. Perhaps, by studying these topics with the benefit of history, we can better understand what God would have us to do from this point forward.
The original thirteen propositions make a compelling case for a particular kind of unity. It is not unity based on perfect agreement on all topics, but rather a unity based on a common relationship with our Father in heaven, through our common Lord and Savior. It is a unity based on being adopted into the same divine family, on our mutually being sons of God by faith (Gal 3:26-27). It is a unity based on our common commitment to Jesus. It is a kind of unity that I think, today, many of us are ready to try. I think it is the unity for which Jesus prayed. Let's see if we can find it together.