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Posts Tagged ‘Independent Christian Church’

Glasco ChristianIn the late 1870s,  my great-grandfather and my and other family members were part of starting a new church in a small Kansas town.  They just called themselves Christians, and so the church was also called a Christian church.  As one reads the history of this small insignificant church in this scarcely populated wheat town in the Solomon River valley, the description inadvertently betrays the post-civil war rift in the Restoration movement.  On some pages, the words introduce former preachers while just a few pages later, a new minister is called a pastor. Pages are periodically silent about the music, then suddenly there is an organist, only to go silent again for a few more years!

Our  family’s conclusion is that this little wheat field town’s church members hardly noticed the differences that other Restoration Christians in larger cities were debating and dividing over.  They were first a community of Christians, living and worshiping  together–with no further adjectives necessary.

By 1906, someone who was somebody decided it was time to differentiate the two groups–that is, the instrumental, mission society Christians from the acapella, non-missionary  society Christians.  I wonder how long it took the Christians in that tiny town in Kansas to know to which group they belonged?  They may have been confused and just thought that they were Christians.

For one hundred years, the two groups operated with few exceptions in completely different circles.  We each developed our own jargon, our own heroes, our own missionaries, our own colleges.  With the exception of a few touch points, we were not talking, certainly not fighting–because we hardly knew the other existed.

The instrumental churches of Christ–not everyone bothered to change their name–later split into two distinct fellowships:  the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ (because not everyone changed their name!) and Disciples of Christ.  The movement which began as a unity movement . . . oh, well!

Some individuals of all three groups continued to keep the hope of unity alive with annual gatherings, some pretty scholarly publications, and an occasional token invitation to a lectureship, but with the exception of this high-level contact, the average members of these churches continued to exist in different worlds, practically oblivious to the others.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the separation of Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches in 2006, several leading preachers and pastors in both groups declared that the 1906 breach was wrong and that the unity of the Restoration Movement should be restored.  At several high-profile gatherings, representatives of both groups repented for participating in division, asked for forgiveness, extended  fellowship to their counterpart, and ceremoniously traded Bibles as peace offerings.

Let me tell you why I am thinking about this.

My personal history is in the acapella Church of Christ. During the last few days, however, I have had the privilege of being on the campuses of two of the Independent Christian Churches larger colleges/universities.  I have been extraordinarily well hosted and extended complete and unreserved cooperation.  I would not have expected it to be any other way between Christians!

What  continues to sadden me, however, is how little either of us really knows about the history and the daily life of the other.  Just today, in casual conversations with colleagues,  I have learned of marvelous missions efforts,  of amazing heroes of faith, both alive and dead, even of Christian colleges/universities–all completely unknown to me.  I know a lot about our side of the aisle, but embarrassingly little about these brothers and sisters.

Maybe we have reconciled, but not actually restored fellowship.  Let me suggest a few actions that could possibly get us started in the process of really loving the whole brotherhood.

  • Local congregations should begin getting to know other congregations. It might only be a common potluck at first, but perhaps with the goal of getting to know each other.
  • Preachers could swap pulpits and use some of their time to introduce the history and heroes of their congregations.
  • Youth ministers from both groups could plan joint outings/camps/mission trips together.
  • The Christian Chronicle and The Christian Standard could each begin a section that deals with the news and ongoings of the other group.
  • Christian colleges/universities of both groups could include tracks in their lectureships/conferences that introduce both groups to each other.
  • Perhaps somebody needs to start a ministry of fellowship restoration, specifically focused on bringing not just the leaders, but the grassroots of these two groups together until we learn how to love each other again.

I know somebody is going to think that all this talk of getting to know each other and fellowshipping with people that we hardly know and may not entirely agree with is going to be a slippery slope to  . . . you know where!

I’m sure they (the others!)  aren’t perfect–but I’m not either, so I’m not going to be afraid of loving someone who loves God.  Fear makes us do terrible things–like ignore people who belong to the Body of Christ.

Maybe those people in that little church in Kansas knew something about love and fellowship and unity after all!

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ICOM 2014My dad played the violin–not the fiddle, the violin. He had polio when he was ten, and, fortunately, it didn’t leave him crippled, but he could never really run again, so he couldn’t play sports like the other boys. He chose to play in the orchestra–in the high school orchestra, which was the pride of Glasco, Kansas.

When I was eight and in the third grade, my school offered free violin lessons, so, of course, I started getting out of class one or two days a week and taking violin lessons. I used my dad’s violin.

By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was the only one who was playing at my level at the Bonnie Brae Elementary School, so my weekly lessons were private lessons–and still free. Because I was pretty good for my age–maybe–my teacher would take me to other schools and we would play short programs together in their assembly, probably trying to get younger children to enroll in the free strings programs at their schools.

In the All-City Elementary school orchestra, I sat on the first row with four or five other kids, so I guess I was decent, but the perk I really liked was that because I was in the violin program, each year I was taken out of school one day with the other kids in strings to attend a special concert by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at the Will Rogers Auditorium. I knew nothing about what they played or who the composers were, but I loved the music–the huge blend of all of those different instruments: violins, violas, cellos, bass violins, oboes, bassoons–even the triangle and tympani.

How could all of those different people–maybe 40-50 players–with so many different gifts and playing so many different instruments at the same time produce a result that was so beautiful?

The word symphony comes to English from two Greek words: sun, which means “together,” and phone, which means “sound.” The word is usually translated harmony, harmonious, or harmoniously, when talking about music, but is also commonly used to mean to agree, to be of one mind, or to connect the most literal meaning with the vernacular: to be in unison.

Matthew used a derivative of symphony in chapter 18, verse 19, quoting Jesus he writes, “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth are in agreement (symphōnēsōsin) about anything whatever you may ask, it will be done for you by my Father who is in heaven.”

About five years ago, we started attending the National Missionary Convention of the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ. Having been involved with foreign missions our whole life together, Sherrylee and I have been to many, many missions conferences and mission workshops in our branch of the Restoration Movement–and because of our direct involvement we know lots and lots of the people involved.

But just across the aisle at the NMC the first time, our most common feeling was: we don’t know anybody here!

That was five or six years ago. Last week we attended the International Conference on Missions (ICOM), which is the new name of the NMC. Over 10,000 people attended the 2-3 day event, held in the Convention Center in Columbus, OH–one of the largest single venues I’ve ever been in. One huge section of the convention center was set aside for “exhibitors,” which at most conventions means businesses which are trying to sell you something, either immediately or after you get home.

At ICOM it was different. Picture an area the size of your nearest Super Wal-Mart or Super Target–not just your neighborhood sized–and then fill that whole area with small booths, each one representing a mission effort of some kind.

There were individual missionaries, like Pino Neglia, missionary to Lecce, Italy and to Albania. We met him three years ago at his booth and in 2014, LST sent him a team to be a part of his efforts. Eric Estrada (not the movie star), missionary to Murcia, Spain, was there. We sent him three teams in 2014.

There were also plenty of mission organizations like us: Pioneer Bible Translators, Open Door Libraries, Holy Land Christian Foundation–and other businesses and organizations that support missions: transportation, security, training ministries, even fund raising ministries.

It was a symphony! So much diversity of talent and interest. Long-term, short-term, house church, mega-church, men and women, social justice and evangelism, academic and common, all these different instruments but all playing their part in the same symphony: the Missio Dei — the Mission of God!

I came home wondering why we in Churches of Christ have so much trouble playing together? Many have already spoken to this question, but one part of the answer is that we are rapidly losing our sense of together. We know the music, we know the director, but too many of us do “what is right in our own eyes,” a phrase from Judges 21:25 that introduces some of the darkest days for God’s chosen people Israel.

Our papers first created a sense of together, but we are down to one, the Christian Chronicle, and it struggles to survive. Then our lectureships held us together–but they are a shadow of what they used to be–perhaps with the exception of Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Even our song books used to keep us together, but we don’t all sing the same songs anymore!

Our symphony is not in harmony. We try to have a Global Missions Conference every three years–and we hope to have 1000 people attend. The World Missions Workshop for college students is barely hanging on to life. There are lots of small, independent gatherings for missions, nice little quartets, but where is the symphonic chorus?

After the fifth grade, I changed schools. I started attending Fort Worth Christian School, which offered no free violin lessons–so I quit playing the violin. Two years later, when FWC started a band program, I took up the trombone and played through college. My brother Gary was three years behind me in school, but that was not a big gap at FWC in those years. He and I were the whole trombone section of the band for 4-5 years. We didn’t march–we were too few; we did well just to have enough of the required instruments to play at all.

We as a fellowship have been satisfied too long with being a small non-marching band.

Jesus said he wanted a symphony.

We dare not forget how to play in harmony together.

 

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I told the preacher from a small town in Tennessee that we have historically been with the a cappella part of the Restoration Movement, and he said, “That just makes me tingle!”

Sherrylee and I are at the North American Christian Convention, which is the primary annual meeting of the Independent Christian Churches.  We have been treated to wonderful classes, outstanding preaching, and great fellowship, but more importantly for me, we have caused goose bumps!

I stopped at a booth yesterday and was talking to three women who are involved in a benevolent ministry, listening to them tell about their wonderful work. One of the women read the logo on my shirt and asked, “So what is Let’s Start Talking?”

Of course, I started telling her and her response was, “Why haven’t I heard about this before?”  I explained that LST began in the a cappella Church of Christ, to which she replied, “Now what’s going on here? “

She had grown up in the non-instrumental Church of Christ and knew from her childhood that the two cousins were not in fellowship with each other. YET, the keynote speaker that morning was from Abilene Christian University, and here we were standing right in front of her.

I explained to her that there were still differences—like any two brothers or sisters are different—but that maybe we were all learning that loving one another was more Christ-like than castigating one another.

At least 5000 Christians are in Orlando at the conference. I hardly know anyone here—which is so different from when we go to Pepperdine or Harding or any of our lectureships or conferences.  And I didn’t really know how we would be received.  Every group has its hardliners who only have room in their hearts for people who do not disagree with them on things.  What if I sat at the table with someone who was angry that this “other” person was at their meeting!!

When the preacher from Tennessee said, “That just makes me tingle, ” the thought crossed my mind that he was reacting negatively, but then he said, “I just love it that we have begun to find each other again.”

It’s a beautiful thing when brothers walk together in unity. And it’s a sign of a maturing body of Christ, and a sign of the reconciliation of the world, and a sign of the work of God’s Spirit—and an answer to the last prayers of Jesus.

If you were thinking about bristling, stop and pray for tingling instead!

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