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Posts Tagged ‘restoration movement’

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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While we were in Vermont and Massachusetts last week, I saw a large number of Unitarian Universalist congregations, mostly meeting in buildings that were at one time Congregationalist churches.  I did some work on the Puritans a few years back, so I began thinking about the history of these churches—and I started to get a bad feeling.  Here’s the super-zipped history, so you can see why.

Although historically tied to the Presbyterian church, this new movement eventually separated themselves from that denomination. As they pursued their independent study of the Bible, they became convinced that the only true path to reform was to return to the practices of the first century church, including adult conversion and the pattern of congregational autonomy.

This new movement flourished, but with time, because there was no higher authority than the local congregation, the movement splintered into Arminianism (legalism), Deism (social gospel), transcendentalism (spirit-filled), and Unitarianism (liberal)—parentheses are my translation into 21st century labels.

I thought this could have been a description of Restoration Movement history to this point in time. If you feel that way too, then read on to see where the future might lie!

Within two hundred years of its beginnings in America, many of the most influential Congregationalist ministers were Unitarians (a belief in the singleness of God and a rejection of a trinitarian understanding, including a rejection of the exclusive claims of Jesus because He is the Son of God).

During this same historical period, the doctrine of universal salvation was at its zenith in America. Universalism teaches that a loving God would not create humans, then send them to hell or eternal punishment.  It is no surprise that after rejecting the divinity of Jesus and opening the doctrinal door to acceptance of everything under God, Unitarians quite easily moved into universal salvation as well. It would be the natural step following their move to a more syncretic understanding of God.

Today, these beautiful old church buildings in New England are no longer Christian churches; rather, they are filled with the great grandchildren of those early Restorationists.  Unitarian Universalists profess the following in their own words (http://www.uua.org/visitors/6798.shtml ):

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

I want to think that my church could never slide down this path, but I do recognize some of these footprints in the road we are traveling.  I do believe that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (G. Santayana).

And if this is not what I want for my grandchildren, what must I do today?

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