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Communication and the Plan for United Cooperation

October 30, 2007

Communication is hard. Sometimes I blow it.

Rom 14:1-4 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Over the past two years, as I have blogged for the cause of Christian unity, I have repeatedly gone to Romans 14 to show how Christians should handle disputable matters. Fundamentally, we should accept one another without passing judgment. That is not just a good idea, but a command from God. I have made that point often and I should know it well.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a paper titled Why I Cannot Ratify the ICOC Plan for United Cooperation. In that paper, I tried to explain how I view that document and its effect on relationships between churches. In explaining that, I wrote:

… the document defines shared doctrinal beliefs and a federated organization of churches. Those who ratify the Plan will make up a functioning organization within the larger Christian church, through a system of delegates and regional discipling groups. The Plan defines who is in and who is out. Those who are in will interact and cooperate in a defined way. Those who are on the outside will be excluded from participation in many important ways. By definition, this is a faction within the body of Christ.

I continued by pointing out what Galatians 5 says about factions: that “those who create factions within the church will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21).

Looking back at those words, I see that they communicate that the Plan puts the souls of all who ratified it in jeopardy–no if’s, and’s, or but’s. The way I wrote that, it sounds like I am passing judgment on all those who participate in the cooperation agreement. That is not what I intended. I apologize to all those who may have been hurt or offended by the words I wrote. Communication is hard, and this time I blew it.

Let me try to clarify. It does appear to me that the document has had the effect of creating a faction. But I might be wrong about that. People I love and respect disagree with me about the “faction” thing. Other people I love and respect see it as I do. So this question falls into the category of disputable matters. And I am committed to the principle of not passing judgment over disputable matters.

What I wanted to communicate is that, because it seems to me that a faction is formed by the Plan, therefore I cannot ratify the Plan in good conscience. That does not necessarily mean I am correct about factions. But as Paul said later in Romans 14:23, “But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” That would be my state, if I were to ratify the Plan. Yet, I still must not pass judgment on my brothers who do not share my view on this disputable matter. And in all sincerity, I do not pass judgment on them. In fact I want to cooperate with them in all the ways that they are cooperating with each other–but somehow, without violating my conscience.

The task that remains is to find that way for people like me to cooperate without violating conscience. In the past few days I have had encouraging and constructive conversations with Mike Taliaferro and Roger Lamb about this task. In each of those conversations, we came to a common understanding of what will be necessary in order for people like me to cooperate. We all agreed that goal is within reach, and that we would work to reach that goal.

I think this is what Romans 14 looks like, in real flesh and blood. We have different views of a disputable matter, but we refuse to let that difference define our relationship. Instead we find a way to proceed together without violating conscience. It is not always easy. May God give us the humility and wisdom to finish the job so that we can proceed in full cooperation.

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9 comments

  1. I’m so glad all y’all (that’s a Texas phrase) are working thru your differences without anyone having to sacrifice their convictions. A great step toward real unity.


  2. Thank you for your healthy perspective and communication. Factions are dangerous and do more to turn people off of Jesus than show his love and compassion. Reminds me of the parable of the wheat and weeds…it’s God’s job to separate them, not ours.


  3. Hi ttk,Thanks for your continual encouragement. I think this is a significant step.Hi anonymous,The encouraging thing is that none of the folks I’ve spoken with in this seem to want a faction. Please pray that we can finish what we’ve started today.


  4. Hello Alan,I am encouraged by what I read happening today. I was also encouraged by your article on the Coperation Plan, and how you explained your feelings and thoughts about it. I too feel a rift in my conscience when decisions stare me in the face. I pray that you will continue to post the insights you learn as you apply the scriptures to the many issues waging war against unity. God’s Spirit be with you!Jim Ronan, Naperville Church of Christ


  5. Alan,Thank you for helping for unity and that no faction is forming. I live in a remote place, and because of cross-cultural difficulties it has been hard to explain why we would not ratify or affirm the Plan and being heard, while at the same time being committed to ever more cooperation. You put into words the reasons why we have such a hard time with the paper, while having no problem with cooperation and certainly not being faction-minded. I personnally hope the brothers will take our heart seriously and this paper thing will stop, and that we just go forward spiritually and relationally as we are doing, as the paper issue really as no influence on these, at least for us. But I sincerely don’t see how we could agree to affirm such a document, as useful as it might have been. There are several obstacles and you expressed them well.


  6. Dear Alan,Your article was an inspiration to many people inside the ICoC fellowship as well as outside. I hope the dialogue that has begun will not be set aside but will continue. People must be free to respond to the guiding of the Holy Spirit which lives inside them. After all, that gift from God is there to provide the internal pressure that purifies, refines us, and directs us. External pressure should not be the dominant force behind change of direction. I hope that your article will be posted on DT with whatever modifications you feel are necessary to clarify your points.


  7. Hi s2bp,I think my paper and my apology and clarifications have received ample publicity at this point. It’s “yesterday’s news”. What we need now IMO is some public discussions of how we can move forward from this point.


  8. (What we need now IMO is some public discussions of how we can move forward from this point.)I agree with you. But who is “we”. Is “we” the Restoration Movement or is “we” the icoc?Knowing you it’s both. And if it’s both, you are in the forefront of addressing the broader perspective of the RM. Alan I know it’s not fun being out front, where the bullets and bombs are flying. I pray for your courage. Hang in there and continue to promote Jesus’ cause. Robert


  9. Hi Robert,You are correct. I would love to see the concept of “we” expanded to include everyone God has adopted as a son or daughter. I hope and pray for that. Every step towards that is progress.



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