John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)
A Proposal For Unity Part 2: Congregational Relationships
Separate congregations in the body of Christ should accept one another while respecting congregational boundaries.
In Thomas Campbell's second proposition
, he called for relationships between congregations that are free from "uncharitable divisions," relationships in which the congregations accept one another, just as Christ accepted each of us. He also pleaded that they "walk by the same rule" and share the same mind and judgment.
Our reality is quite different from that picture. Within the Restoration Movement, we have congregations using instrumental music, and congregations that abhor the practice. We have similar differences over kitchens, communion cups, missionary societies, Sunday school classes, translations of the Bible, the role of women, and more. It requires faith just to believe we can reach a point where the divisions are no longer "uncharitable." The same mind and judgment seems to be out of reach.
In fact, the reality of the first century church fell short of that standard as well. The Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, recognized this fact and gave instructions on how to handle these differences (Rom 14:1-15:13) Paul could easily have laid out the plain teaching on eating meat, drinking wine, and observing special days. Instead, he taught how to live peaceably with others who disagree on such matters. The central teaching of the passage is summed up in one verse:
Rom 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.
Sometimes, we must give up our rights to avoid causing someone else to stumble:
Rom 14:21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
In the modern environment, people in the Restoration Movement have organized themselves into separate congregations to accommodate their differing convictions on such subjects. That enables each member to worship in a way that their conscience permits. But it tends to create distrust and disrespect between the congregations.
Remember, we are talking about two congregations of people who were all added to the one body of Christ
at their conversion. The issues that separate these congregations are not the core gospel to which members of each congregation were converted. These are all sons of God by faith (Gal 3:26-27). Therefore, they are all to accept on another without passing judgment on disputable matters.
We need to respect the consciences of those brothers and sisters in the other congregation, who see these matters differently from us. Before their God and ours, they need to worship according to their consciences. They must
worship according to their consciences. We should not be so arrogant and callous that we feel compelled to change their minds on the disputed matters. We need to keep it between ourselves and God.
Rom 14:22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.
We need to respect the boundaries of conscience, giving them the freedom to worship as they must. We also need to regard them as brothers and sisters. So we need to reach out to them and maintain a healthy relationship with them. We need to guard our conversation to be sure we do not speak evil of our brother or sister. And we need to find ways we can work together without threatening their consciences, or ours. Maybe that could be a joint service project, or a vaction Bible school, or a joint a cappella worship service. Maybe it could be a weekly Bible study in one of their homes, or in one of ours. Or maybe it could be a picnic in a park. The choice of activity would depend on the nature of the disputed matters. The important point is that we must not let the relationship be defined by the differences, but rather by the fact that we are all part of the body of Christ.
Based on the above, here is Proposal #2:
Proposal #2: Separate congregations within the body of Christ must love and embrace one another as joint heirs in the family of God, despite disagreements on disputable matters. They must maintain a healthy relationship that respects whatever conscientious differences exist between the congregations.
Labels: Proposal for Unity