Growing up on a farm in northeast Missouri, I spent a lot of time outdoors. When I was small I played in our large back yard, but as I grew I began to need more space. Friends would invite me over to play at their grandparent’s house next door, and we’d spend the entire day in the woods. At home I began going out into the parts of the pasture where there weren’t any cows. Years passed and I began ranging farther and farther, crossing fences onto active farms where no one lived. Some of my best time was spent hiking alone or with our farm dog through fields and woodlands.
Crossing fences comes naturally to me, I guess. As an adult and a disciple of Christ, I’ve often ignored the flimsy boundaries that stand between Christian groups. With the exception of a few years when I became rather “hard-line,” I believe I’ve always circulated well among different groups of believers in Christ, without abandoning those things I hold to be true.
It seems odd to me, then, to see news of the “historic” trading of Bibles at the North American Christian Convention and read of gatherings by different factions of my own movement attempt to understand one another and work together. Of course I fully support the dream and goal of Christian unity, but wonder if these methods are really helpful.
My Bachelor of Ministry degree is from Harding University, an a cappella Church of Christ university. The day after my graduation I was ordained to the ministry by the elders of the Christian Church of Jacksonville, Arkansas. From January 2001 to October 2003 I was a missionary in Brazil, supported by independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ but working with Brazilian evangelists of the a cappella Church of Christ. None of this ever seemed strange to me, though in retrospect I know that many might find it remarkable.
There is one body of Christ…only one church. Within the fellowship of God’s people fences have been set up. Some are stout and difficult to penetrate, while others can simply be stepped over with little resistance. In many cases I would agree that the “issues” at stake are vitally important, but I sincerely doubt whether the solution is to stand on one side of the fence yelling for those on the other side to abandon their side. I would far prefer to cross the fences, regularly and intentionally, getting to know those on the other side. I’d like to discuss our similarities and differences, but only within the context of working together where and how we can.
The unity of God’s people will not be accomplished through words alone. We need to start crossing fences with the hope of one day tearing them down entirely. In the meantime, I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised and deeply challenged by many things we find in the territory we had been shunning for so long.
Click here for an article on unity efforts among Stone-Campbell churches.