Unity and the Former ICOC

September 19, 2006

I long for the unity of God’s people. I pray for it and blog for it. I search the scriptures to find what God wants me to do toward it. I strive to forgive and I appeal to others to forgive and to take down walls. Unity of the believers is a major aim of my service to God. Unity is my passion and my calling.

So why have I not consented to signing the Plan for United Cooperation (also known as the Unity Proposal) submitted by a committee from the former ICOC congregations?

In a nutshell, I believe the proposal is an effort of fallible human wisdom to condense the Word of God into a few pages, specifying the principles that really matter, in the opinion of the writers. It is being used to define a subset of churches that are alike in their views on particular issues. By definition, it forms a faction in the Lord’s church. The first sentence of the document says:

The purpose of the following paper is to affirm and enhance the unity of the family of churches known, since 1992, as the International Churches of Christ.

But biblical unity is not formed by signing documents written by men. The writers acknowledge that the churches they seek to unite are not the only Christian congregations. While they use the term “unity,” the thing they seek to create will unfortunately be a faction. And Gal 5:19-21 warns us that people who create factions in the Lord’s church will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Yesterday the committee published an article outlining the state of their effort to reorganize the former ICOC churches under that proposal. In October the initial meeting will be held of delegates representing the signing congregations. That meeting will be held at this year’s International Leadership Conference in Virginia. At this conference will be signers and non-signers. On the positive side, there will be several speakers from non-signing congregations. But unfortunately the non-signers who attend can expect to be lobbied to sign. Quoting from yesterday’s article:

We will continue to make every effort to reach out to the congregations that have not affirmed the Plan for United Cooperation, and we pray they will cooperate.

For some of us that would amount to pressure to violate our consciences. I hope they will refrain from that.

Also quoting from the same article:

Thank you for your faith in the call to respectful cooperation, your hope in a new and mature unity based on the humble acknowledgement that we need one another, and your ongoing love for the mission to go into all the world with the gospel.

This statement exposes the error in the thinking embodied in the proposal. Our faith is not to be in the call of these men but in the promises of God. Our hope is not to be in their definition of unity but in salvation. And the love that identifies the church is not the love of a mission, but the love for one another as Jesus loved us. When Paul wrote of faith, hope, and love, he had in mind something different.

A few weeks ago, congregations from across the southeast met in Columbia to talk about financial support for missions in Africa and the Carribbean. This meeting was not the result of signing any document. In fact, as it turned out, none of the represented congregations have signed the unity proposal. Instead, this meeting came about naturally based on relationships between believers, their common devotion to the Lord’s work, and their common need to determine the best way to carry out that work.

The Columbia meeting is only the latest in a series of things being done in cooperation between these congregations. Earlier this year a conference was held in Columbia which was attended by many from these same congregations. This summer our children came together from these same congregations to attend a summer camp together, as members from these congregations took time off work to work in the kitchen and in many other ways to make the camp experience a success. Later in the summer, the elders from my congregation spent a weekend visiting with the elders of one of these churches in another state to share experiences and encourage one another. Leaders from several of these churches are attending the Athens Institute of Ministry together to deepen their understanding of God’s Word. We have exchanged speakers from time to time with some of these churches. We have had joint services with some of the nearer congregations. We have had joint teen activities, joint campus activities, joint single activities… All of this took place without the need to sign a document written by men.

It is my deep desire to see our fellowship in the southeast expanded beyond the former ICOC congregations. Everyone whom God has adopted as a son is my brother, and I want complete unity with every such person. To see that come about, we need to take down barriers and to eliminate unnecessary distinctions. This document has the opposite effect.

I certainly want to be united with those who have signed this document. It is my hope and prayer that the distinctions they are now creating will quickly dissolve and the believers in Christ will all come together as one, united by their faith in God and their common Saviour.


  1. Hi Alan,Thank you so much for this article. It is exactly what we have felt and even expressed to our LE, who is one of the “Gang of Nine”. I can tell you that he truly doesn’t see the inherent problems. Out of a congregation of 300+, only 4 of us said no to the UP. Two of those 4 have left. The part that angers me is that this should have been a prime opportunity to have two sides of an important issue discoursed. DT could have been the channel for that discourse. But because we can not seem to learn from our mistakes, DT and the Gang of Nine have continously (to the point of ad nauseum) presented only the ‘company line’ in all these many writings. That is truly unfortunate. Had there really been a discussion, perhaps we would be at a different juncture in our history. As it stands, we are about to turn around, bound once again for Egypt.

  2. I praying for you. I honestly believe that we are called to be united one on one not as a group with a paper to hold up and say “see we are united.” I think it’s a day to day thing like brothers and sisters in Christ preaching the word to those around us.

  3. Very very well said.

  4. What about the fact that a lot of churches are becoming lukewarm? Do you think that if these Biblical principles (in the UP)are put into practice that they have the potential for preventing God from spitting out such congregations? I personally don’t see anything in the proposal that contradicts the Word of God. It’s when men don’t take a stand on Biblical issues that they fall. All we have to do is ask the common “christian” what it takes to be saved and you will see the effect of such ignorance and cowardice. It IS a shame that we have to put the Bible in lamen’s terms, so that certain people will understand what the Word of God does and doesn’t say, but we do live in an ignorant world where such a statement needs to be made especially since the Church is so fragmented as it is. You say you want a universal church, but I ask you this: Is your own congregration on fire for God?

  5. Anonymous wrote:> What about the fact that a lot of churches> are becoming lukewarm?Maybe it would be more accurate to say the “rumor” rather than the “fact”. I have witnessed a lot of assuming going on without firsthand knowledge.In any case I don’t think the solution to that kind of problem is for a group of men to write a document and for everyone to sign it. Where is that in the scriptures?If churches will not listen to the scriptures, what makes a man-made document and a man-made supervisory organization a better solution? At best it demonstrates that people fear man more than they fear God. And in the process it divides the body of Christ. The idea is a nonstarter.

  6. In response to Alan’s comment about ICOC churches becoming lukewarm… I would like to say that it is not a rumor that some congregations have split on the disciples dating disciples issue. This is a compromise that a true christian should not be willing to make under any circumstances. All we have to do is look in the Bible and see the disaster that this has brought upon God’s people.

  7. Anonymous,I haven’t heard of a church splitting over that question. I agree that Christians should only marry Christians. There is solid scriptural support for that. And therefore we teach that Christians should only date Christians. But there is no scriptural authorization for splitting a church over the question of dating! Instead we should teach gently and pray that the Lord will give a change of heart. Read 2 Tim 2:24-26 and Rom 15:1. There is more to be said on this than can be done in a comment–it is a very important topic. The scriptures only give a very limited set of conditions under which we can part fellowship.

  8. to alani guess my point that since the beginning of the ‘freefall’ people don’t want to conform to any standards even if theyre biblical hence what i sense is the reason many do not want to even look at the plan for united cooperation

  9. Unity is essential. If everyone else is signing why don’t you sign it too? Is it a burden to make a public statement that you are willing to follow God? I know you may think that well all we need is the Bible… but I know that without the help of a lot of church members I would have never understood the Bible, or it would have a taken a long time. I was talking to someone who used to be pastor last night… He’s 80 years old and his love for God has faded because he never understood the simplicity of salvation… Many churches who really do read their Bibles don’t understand what they are looking at… That’s what makes our church so much different and way more powerful… Signing and saying you agree is important for unity + I know when I want to find out what a church is about what their beliefs are ect. I always go to their website and see what their ‘statement’ says… This is not just our statement to our fellow churches, but a statement to the world of what we are about.

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