Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Drawing deeply from our heritage: The church-planting history of churches of Christ

There come moments when, in the midst of remarkable events, one finds himself pausing, looking around in wonder, amazed at the history-making words and deeds occuring in his presence. I wonder if the six witnesses who signed the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery shared one of those strange moments in the summer of 1804. Quite intentionally, they were opening the door for a new way of doing church, truly revolutionary in its day. In only a few short years, this church tradition would become the fastest growing group in the U. S., planting churches that would make an indelible mark on American Christianity and around the world. This is the heritage of the churches of Christ.

The above picture is of Robert Richardson, an editor and theological thinker closely associated with Alexander Campbell. Campbell, along with B. W. Stone and a handful of others, is widely considered to be the founder of the Restoration Movement. Richardson was the editor for many of Campbell's writings and was considered by him to be an invaluable resource and a brilliant thinker and writer. Consider one of his contributions to this heritage of thinking:

"...the present Reformation proposes an immediate return to the broad and original platform of Christianity, as well as of true Protestantism; and urges, accordingly, the claims of the Bible alone, as the source of Divine truth for all mankind; and pleads for the exercise of man's inalienable right to read and interpret the Sacred Volume. It seeks to establish a unity of faith, instead of that diversity of opinion which has distracted religious society; and to restore the gospel and its institutions, in all their original simplicity, to the world. In brief, its great purpose is to establish CHRISTIAN UNION upon the basis of a SIMPLE EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY.

Having thus given you a general statement of the purpose of this religious movement--a purpose which cannot fail to be approved by the truly pious of all parties--I now proceed to lay before you the important distinctions and truths which have been developed during its progress. And in this place I would remark, that, as the character of prevailing errors always determines, in advance, the issues which are to be made by the advocates of truth, so, certain fundamental points of great importance have been thus forced upon the attention of the friends of the Reformation, as matters requiring, in the very first instance, to be elucidated and determined. Among these I would mention--1st. The distinction between FAITH and OPINION. 2d. The distinction between what may be emphatically termed THE CHRISTIAN FAITH and doctrinal KNOWLEDGE. 3d. The true BASIS OF CHRISTIAN UNION. [ref]"

This text, and what follows, helped Campbell and others lay down a new foundation for Christian unity across the (already) fragmented denominational lines of his time. This focus on unity of faith and acceptance of a diversity of opinion is one of the things that originally attracted me to the churches of Christ. That sectarian divisions and a rigid, detailed orthodoxy over a vast sea of minutiae are to be found within our churches today is a solemn testimony to how far we have drifted from the original purpose which fueled the Restoration Movement's explosive growth.

Then, as now, the plea for unity and simplicity in faith found willing listeners among the faithful as well as those seeking the face of God for the first time. To be in the midst of such men, willing to fly in the face of the accepted sectarian religious practice for the sake of the Kingdom of God, must have been an exhilarating experience.

After returning from a meeting of church leaders in St. Louis recently, I find myself wondering if the seeds of something similarly radical were there amidst the discussion, worship, and prayer that I shared with nearly a hundred other Christian leaders from this same heritage.

This meeting, sponsored by Kairos Church Planting Support, was called "Seek the Future Summit." This Summit was an attempt to gather together influential leaders in churches of Christ from across the United States for the purpose of discussing the state of our churches and where we might go from here to best serve God. There, we were challenged to remember our heritage: that unity for the sake of God's Kingdom lie at the very heart of who we are. We are a church-planting movement founded on the simple gospel of Christ, and our future depends on recovering this profound heritage.

Could the Restoration Movement find again the impetus to seek unity for the sake of those outside the kingdom? Could we again see brave men and women lay aside the accepted sectarian religious practice of their day and take up a fresh, Spirit-led proclamation of a simple Christian faith? Could we see again thousands taking up the responsibility for calling others to enter the Kingdom of God? I pray I live to see such seeds blossom into a wondrous harvest.


na said...

I knew I had heard more about the restoration movement when we talked about it, I listen to some MP3's on this here are the links for some MP3's

American Restoration History MP3s



I found them at a blog I read quite often, www.radicalcongruency.com

Big Mike Lewis said...

If you want a great perspective about the Last Will & Testament of the Springfield Presbytry, go here.


Dwayne Hilty said...

Jason...I appreciate the historical awareness that your blog article brings in thinking about church planting. I believe that one of the most destructive inhibitions that church planters can have is in thinking that somehow they have the ability to "step outside" of their spiritual heritage.

I like the questions you're asking because they force people to think about what shapes them historically and theologically. I guess I'm trying to say that there is a very healthy dose here of intentionality in developing the life of a new faith community and a little historical awareness is a very important part of the recipe. Thanks for having a very keen eye on Christian history.

M. Joseph said...

Because of the topic of the historical and the current, along with your interest in the Emergent Church, I think this might interest you. It's a new article from ChristianityToday.com.

Please feel free to link to this article from your blog, and you may also use the first approximately 100 words (Read: fair use rights) in your post to lead your audience into the article to be read in completion on the ChristianityToday.com website.

This is the article:

Emergents, Meet Saints!
The wave of the future needs the wisdom of the past.
by Chris Armstrong

Please contact me if you have any questions. And thank you for considering a link to this important article for those interested in the Emerging Church.


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