A Proposal For Unity Part 7: Freedom to Grow

September 4, 2007

Both as individuals and as congregations, Christians must give each other the freedom to learn and to grow.

In Thomas Campbell’s twelfth proposition, he laid out what he believed to be the way “to the highest state of perfection and purity of the church upon earth.” To Campbell the way seemed simple: accept everyone who meets the biblical requirements for conversion, and who continue to show evidence of their conversion commitment; and lead the church exactly according to the teachings and pattern of the New Testament church. The fallacy implicit in that approach is the assumption that sincere people under the lordship of Jesus would actually come to agreement upon every detail of that teaching and pattern. The impact of that fallacy is painfully evident in the divided church today.

It is evident that Christian unity will not be attained by calling all believers to immediate and perfect agreement on all subjects. Instead, the path to unity must accommodate sincere differences of understanding. These differences must be explicitly permitted and protected, rather than being rejected and purged. The path to truth is not a straight line. Not all people travel at the same rate, and not all learn truths in the same sequence. The church must be a safe place for a person to change his or her mind, and perhaps to change it back again. Without that safety, real search for truth does not occur. Instead, people seek to comply with the norms of the group, whether those norms are true or not. Errors of the group go unchallenged and even unexamined. Both the truths and the errors of the group become calcified. Real learning is blocked, and unity is thwarted. Instead, factions form, drawing battle lines over every difference.

So, here is the seventh proposal for unity:

Proposal #7: Both as individuals and as congregations, Christians must give each other the freedom to learn and to grow. It is the duty of church leaders to make the local congregation a safe place for people to grow in their understanding truth, recognizing that this growth does not always occur at a steady pace, nor always in a straight line. Likewise, relationships between congregations must accommodate differences in understanding as each community matures in its knowledge of the Word. Only those understandings that are essential to conversion may be held as prerequisites for Christian fellowship.


  1. I’ve enjoyed lurking on your blog for some time now and just wanted to finally speak and say hello and query as to the validity of distinguishing as Campbell and other early leaders seemed to do (at least initially) regarding the “essentials” and “unity.” They seemed to delineate between the Gospel message and the didache/teachings of the NT. (Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett wrote a lot on this). The belief that the essentials for unity cannot be the teachings of the NT, but rather unity in the Gospel message and the need for man to accept both in mind and in will that message. Men may argue based on the later teachings of the NT regarding the exact steps involved in accepting the message, but the basis of unity is the message of Christ crucified/resurrected and mans acceptance of said sacrifice.Thus any man who has recognized his sinfulness and Christs’ sacrifice, deposits his faith in this sacrifice and determines in his heart to follow the savior, is my brother. Even if his understanding and mine do not agree on how this is to be achieved in practice…–well, that was not well articulated but it’s late and can follow up later.In Him,Chris

  2. Hi Chris,Thanks for your comment. I agree with your basic point, that unity depends only on the fundamentals of the gospel and not necessarily all the teachings that follow after conversion. I would include baptism along with the items you listed since in the scriptures it seems to have been consistently a part of the message taught at the time of conversion. Acts 19 supports that, since receiving the Holy Spirit depended upon baptism into Jesus. That passage also proves that a person can still be a disciple without a proper understanding and experience of baptism.

  3. You distinguish between a Christian and a disciple, and that’s good. Many believe in Jesus and seek to follow Him as Lord but do not know of their need to be baptized “into” Him. They surely are disciples of the Christ as they seek Him and serve as best they know how. And of course sincere disciples, when they learn of the need for baptism will immediately find someone to baptize them. And some of them will realize the profit in joining with a group who understand the need for baptism! Won’t they?

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