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Proposition 2: No Divisions

October 31, 2005

In his second proposition, Thomas Campbell calls for an undivided church:

That although the church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another; yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them to the glory of God. And for this purpose, they ought all to walk by the same rule, to mind and speak the same thing; and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.

He begins by acknowledging that there must be separate congregations due to necessary practical considerations such as location and the practical size of assemblies. But there should not be “uncharitable divisions” among them. They should accept one another as Christians, and should believe and practice the same things. They should be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Cor 1:10).

It is inspiring to sit and imagine a world like that! But after enjoying that imagination for a while, we must return to contemplate the reality of the present world in which we live. What ought to be, and what actually exists, are so distressingly opposite! The supposed Christian landscape is covered with uncharitable divisions, with new examples arising with appalling regularity.

I feel compelled to do something to help bring about unity, but I confess that I feel frustrated and powerless to do what needs to be done. The trend must be reversed, but how? Two approaches come to mind. Either we try an incremental approach, where we address the divisions most directly related to our own churches, or we start over and try to build a united brotherhood from scratch.

I believe the latter approach is too extreme and presumptuous on several levels. Trying to start over from scratch passes judgment on the church that exists. And it presumes that we will be wise enough to bring believers together in a way that all who precede us have failed. Who are we to build such a brotherhood? What of those who believe we do not have the right, or who believe we are building it on the wrong teachings? Restoration movement history shows us the difficulty of gathering consensus on the essential issues that must be held in common. The very effort to unify has led to even more division and acrimony. The world does not need another splintering movement.

I believe the more humble, God-reliant, and constructive approach is to address the obstacles to unity that affect our closest relationships personally and as churches. We should reach out to those who have a historical connection or a doctrinal similarity and seek common ground. And we should pray that God will bring us to unity. Ultimately He is the only one who can solve this problem. I pray for wisdom to know what God would have me to do to promote unity.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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2 comments

  1. Alan, great observations. I’ve observed here in my own congregation that true unity takes a lot of face time. With out it, we may feel somewhat ‘together’, but it is a hollow type of ‘unity’ that is really only the absense of conflict or dissent.So it seems that true unit is a one at a time, meeting after meeting accomplishment. The thing that may be separatign us from others outside of our fellowship may only be the unwillingness to set aside the time and make the effort to meet and talk.


  2. Hey salguod,Perhaps part of the problem is our own insecurities. We feel that we must define ourselves by our unique beliefs and practices, and defend our right to maintain those. If we embrace someone who does not hold to the same beliefs and practices, we fear that we may be seen to be wrong. And we fear that we may have to confess wrongness in those things and thereby lose our identity. Those dysfunctional motives may be a significant barrier to unity.The problem with those motives is that we cling to the wrong identity IMO. Being Christian is not about being right on a list of doctrines. It is about believing the message about Jesus, and living our lives in response to that. It does seem to me that unity begins on the individual level. If we have unity there, it seems that the congregational level will take care of itself. Face to face time is where it has to begin IMO.



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