True unity is one that is lived out. Not just words and meetings, but joint action. People will speak ill of it, and not all will want to come along, but it is how the world will be won. In mission together.
What I have to say here may be difficult for people unfamiliar with the Stone-Campbell Movement of churches to understand, but I hope it has some value for all readers. It’s a brief version of how I walked between the a cappella churches and instrumental churches in study and mission for a time. This post was inspired by a post entitled “Unity and Mission” and by the story of an exchange of Bibles at the North American Christian Convention.
Raised Catholic, I found my way into the independent Christian colleges via a Bible college and supply preaching.
In 1996 I was renting a house in Moberly, Missouri with four other men, and come spring one of the fellows asked if I wanted to go with him to the Tulsa Workshop. He explained that this was a major convention of the a cappella churches, and he wanted to attend to see the group “Acappella” in concert. He was a big fan. I agreed, mostly just curious and wanting to get out of town a little.
We had a good trip, and it was the first trip of many to the Tulsa Workshop for me. I attended every year through 2000. The main positive was that it opened the door for me to get to know the a cappella churches of Christ, forming contacts that helped me along the way later. Mostly, it got me past an imaginary barrier, and showed me that there could be working relationships across the movement.
In 1997 I went to Brazil and sensed God’s call on my life to mission. Though with instrumental churches there and then, when I returned I applied to Harding University and enrolled in the Harding School of Biblical Studies so I could finish my degree in two years. The program requires that all students go on an overseas evangelistic campaign with the group at least once during the two years. There was one such excursion per year. Imagine my surprise when, the day I arrived to complete my enrollment, I notice a sign on the break room bulletin board which read: “Come with us to Brazil!” Yes, the campaign destination was to be Brazil that year. The first time in HSBS history. And yes, of course I went.
In Brazil again in 1998 I became familiar with the work of the a cappella churches of Christ in Brazil. The love and devotion of the brethren there inspired me. The HSBS group was also captivated, so much so that the next year HSBS returned to Brazil. And, of course, I went again.
All of these mission trips were funded by instrumental Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. Some churches and individuals even sent assistance to help me through college.
On December 18, 1999 I graduated from Harding with a Bachelor of Ministry. The very next day I was ordained to the Christian ministry by the elders of a Christian Church. Both certificates hang on the wall next to my desk at home.
In 2000 I went on an exploratory trip to Brazil, and it was then that I married my wonderful wife, Christiane. She was a baptized member of the church of Christ in Uberlandia, a young church established only a few years earlier, and originally composed exclusively of women. The next year, in 2001, we were wed in Brazil and I began my life as a bi-vocational missionary teaching English at a private language school and receiving support from Christian churches in the United States to help establish churches of Christ in Brazil.
From time to time the topic of instruments in worship came up, but of course I argued against their inclusion on the grounds of unity and conscience. There was never any controversy regarding the subject while I was there.
My point is this: Unity is something lived. Liberal ecumenical unity fails because it amounts to least-common-denominator Christianity that only appeals to denominational bureaucrats. Fundamentalist unity based on everyone agreeing on everything is unrealistic and impractical. The only functional unity is one that is catholic in that it seeks what is universal to all while also being sensitive to the consciences of the few.