Archive for the ‘ICOC’ Category


ICOC Cooperation Agreement: The Sequel

September 21, 2009

Our congregation has decided to affirm the August 2009 revision of the ICOC Plan for United Cooperation. I am fully in support of this decision. Since I rather famously objected to the original version, it seems appropriate for me to explain why I am comfortable with affirming the new document.

Each of the two documents begins with a statement of purpose. The original document states:

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.

The revised document states:

The purpose of this document is to provide a structure for Regional and International cooperation among our family of churches around the world.

The difference in the two purpose statements is representative of the difference in the two documents as a whole. My original objection was that the first document defined a subset of the worldwide church based on a set of doctrinal beliefs and practices. I have always believed that there is a doctrinal boundary to the worldwide church, comprised of the basic gospel facts which must be understood in order to become a Christian. But the original document defined a narrower boundary in which a person had to agree with additional interpretations beyond the core gospel facts in order to participate. My objection was not over any particular doctrine on which that document called for agreement. Instead, my objection was over the principle of defining a subset of the worldwide church based on a set of beliefs in addition to the core gospel doctrines. To me, that seemed to create a faction in the church. While many have disagreed with me about that, it still appears that way to me.

The new document abandons that approach. Instead of trying to define a subset of the church based on peripheral doctrines, it simply seeks to establish a basis for cooperation among willing congregations. It calls for “sound doctrine” but it doesn’t attempt to list the doctrines on which there must be agreement. For example, our congregation can disagree with others in the co-op on topics like the role of women, without for that reason being excluded from the co-op. To me, that is a significant because it respects the consciences of churches and church leadership groups in a manner consistent with Romans 14.

Someone might object that the new agreement still references the old in the footnotes, and therefore affirming the second document is equivalent to affirming the first. I asked the same question, and was assured that the new document does not incorporate the old. That makes sense to me. They produced the new document to address the concerns of people like me, so we could cooperate with a clear conscience. It would make no sense to do that if they were going to still require agreement to the first document.

Here is my heart in the matter. I deeply appreciate the effort of those who produced a plan for cooperation which people like me can affirm. I believe they did this in order to address concerns like mine. I want to express my gratitude for that, and to demonstrate that gratitude by affirming the new document.

Despite not affirming the first document, our congregation has continued to cooperate in foreign missions, regional meetings, conferences, bringing in guest speakers, sending out guest speakers, and in many other ways. We strongly believe in the stated purpose of the new document, and can demonstrate that belief by our past actions. We affirm our desire to cooperate with these congregations to do God’s work around the world. May God bless our collective efforts.


Growing Toward Unity

August 21, 2008

Today I had the pleasure to participate in a cordial leadership event including six leaders of four former ICOC congregations in the Atlanta area, plus leaders from several area independent Christian churches. The event was hosted by Mount Carmel Christian Church and organized by the Institute for Organizational Leadership. The individual who pulled it together is a former ICOC minister and missionary who is now a member of one of the area’s independent Christian churches.

We enjoyed warm fellowship and delicious food. We heard instructive talks about organizational leadership and also about pastoral counseling (by Dr. Lloyd Looney of Greenleaf Counseling). And we heard from a gentleman who has been instrumental in planting 33 different congregations of independent Christian churches.

These former ICOC congregations and the independent Christian churches have so much in common. I was incredibly encouraged to see all these folks from different branches of the Restoration Movement coming together. We need to be communicating and cooperating more.

Please pray that this will lead to much greater progress to bring the Lord’s prayer for unity closer to fulfillment in our day!


The Maturing of the ICOC

June 2, 2008

Mike Taliaferro recently posted an article on ICOC Hot News titled “The Unity Proposal: My Church “Signed On.” What does that mean?” In the article he gave his view about what it means that some churches have “signed” that proposal and some have not. He wrote:

Does it draw lines between churches? No. While various churches decided not to participate for a variety of reasons, it does not influence our fellowship patterns here in San Antonio. We invite speakers here from ‘signer churches’ and ‘non-signer’ churches. I have been invited to visit ‘signer’ and ‘non-signer’ churches. It does not, nor should it ever determine with whom we fellowship. The Bible does that.

From the first time I discussed the UPC with Mike, I have understood that to be his perspective on the plan. I appreciate very much that he has stated it so clearly and so publicly.

I blog about unity because I care deeply about it. I care about it because I am convinced that Jesus cares about it. Ironically, my eagerness to promote unity was a significant factor in my unwillingness to “sign” the UPC. I want to see unity extending far beyond the boundaries of the former ICOC, to all those God has adopted as his sons and daughters. To me, it seems that the UPC might make that more difficult, since many congregations of baptized believers in the churches of Christ and independent Christian churches might be reluctant to sign such an agreement. On the other hand, the fact that many of the ICOC congregations have signed does not cause me to have any less desire for unity with them. I want to be unified with all my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I also recognize that people I love and respect have disagreed with my view on the UPC. That’s ok. It’s not a rare thing for me to disagree with those I love on some topic (just ask my wife!) But that doesn’t cause me to love less, and it absolutely doesn’t cause me to want to separate from those with whom I disagree, because love transcends those disagreements.

I wrote Mike a couple of days ago thanking him for his article. I understand that he has received numerous other appreciative comments from signers as well as non-signers. It seems to me that these churches are increasingly ready to accept one another without passing judgment over disputable matters. I’m very encouraged by this growth in our love and respect for one another. And I think Jesus must be pleased to see this small step toward fulfillment of his prayer in John 17.


ICOC Progress Report

May 1, 2008

Mission Memo is running a series of articles on the membership statistics for ICOC congregations. Today’s article, the third in the series shows some fascinating charts comparing the number of growing congregations to the number that are not growing. The charts clearly show that the declining growth in the ICOC did not begin in 2003, but years earlier.

In 1998, 80% of the ICOC congregations reported growth in membership. But between 1998 and 2002, the number of churches reporting growth declined steadily to only 60% of congregations. That was a significant drop in only four years.

The Atlanta congregation was one of the best performing large congregations in the ICOC during those years, baptizing a combined 1,551 people in 1999, 2000, and 2001. The congregation also gained a net 138 people from move-ins, as more people were moving into Atlanta than moving out. Yet 848 people left the church during those three years. For every 10 people who were baptized in those three years, 5.4 people left the church. And remember, that was one of the best performing ICOC congregations. Many congregations were losing members almost as fast as they were gaining them.

Viewed against that backdrop, the good news in this year’s report is all the more remarkable. Despite the fact that the number of baptisms is dramatically lower than in the late 1990’s, many of these congregations are holding their own. No longer are members leaving these churches in droves. The bleeding has stopped.

There are some obvious reasons for that. The focus of many of these churches over the past few years has rightfully been on shepherding, taking care of the weak, feeding a more balanced diet of Bible teaching, and developing a deeper understanding of grace. As a result, people are feeling cared for and cared about. They feel safe. And so they are not leaving. These churches are healing.

What is even more exciting is that many of these churches are once again reaching the lost. Baptisms are happening once again, with increasing numbers. And these new Christians are coming into a healthier church.

As the Mission Memo chart shows, only about half of these congregations grew in 2007. But the trend is in a good direction. I believe our best days are yet to come.



March 12, 2008

Jay Guin taught me a new word.

In his recent post titled “The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Part 4, Defining Our Challenges” he describes what the progressive mainline churches are currently experiencing. He explains that liminality is “the condition of a human society that has just experienced major change.” From Wikipedia:

The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives.

Some mainline churches are trying to move past legalistic confines of the past. In doing so, they need to redefine who they are and what they stand for. Along the way they are experiencing liminality.

I am struck by the similarity between their condition and that of the former ICOC congregations. Having thrown off the structures and rules that once defined us, we now are are seeking to discover the new boundaries. The Plan for United Cooperation, the web site, and the International Leadership Conferences (among many other things) are all efforts to create that new definition of identity, direction, and vision.

Fortunately, we have the scriptures to define what we need to become. And we have the Holy Spirit within us to produce the right fruits. Cooperating, communicating, and meeting together are all good things. But God has given us the only standard to define what the church should be.

Coming from such a clearly defined past, the ambiguity of the present is unsettling to some people. This is a test of faith. Do we really believe God is at work? Do we believe the scriptures are enough? Do we believe grace is sufficient? Are we still committed to seeking God’s will? If so, then everything is going to be ok.

Judah spent seventy years in captivity. Some of the greatest examples of faith occurred during those years. For example, just read the book of Daniel! Like Daniel, we need to live by faith through the period of liminality. God will never leave us nor forsake us. We’ll be ok.


Papers and Public Discussions

November 5, 2007

In the modern Restoration Movement, the axiom is true: The apple has not fallen far from the tree.

In Restoration Review, April 1977, Carl Ketcherside wrote about the divided state of the church in that day:

Divisions do not happen. They are caused. Parties form around men who promote the separation and insist upon the segregation of their adherents. In the movement growing out of the ideal of restoration as enunciated by Thomas and Alexander Campbell, most of the divisions centered around men of prominence. In almost every instance they were editors of journals. They could use their journals as propaganda media and the United States mails as a distribution method. No party could long endure without an editor and a “loyal paper.”

Prominent papers of the Restoration Movement late 1800’s and early 1900’s included the Gospel Advocate, the Firm Foundation, the Octographic Review, and the Christian Standard. Each of these papers emerged to promote a certain view of sound doctrine. Because the Restoration Movement churches of that era were autonomous, there was no central body defining orthodox beliefs and practices. In such an environment, these papers carried enormous influence in defining orthodoxy–each paper defining its own view of what is true. Each paper drew a following. The boundaries between those followings became battle lines over time, lines which continue to be tenaciously defended and relentlessly attacked to this day.

A few of the early papers are still being published, along with many new entries. In the 1960’s, the churches of Christ added the Christian Courier. The ICOC, as the new kid on the block, has its own outlets, including Disciples Today, Mission Memo, and ICOC Hot News. Like those that came before, each of these outlets provide commentary and news from the perspective of the editors of the site. And numerous blogs such as this one have been started by individuals to promote a certain point of view that the site’s founder sees as important and perhaps under-represented.

Today, the landscape has changed dramatically. As this blog illustrates, it is now easy for virtually anyone to create a platform where he or she can promote their view of what the church should be and should do. Many people are taking advantage of that opportunity to publicize their points of view to anyone who will listen. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing.

We need to be careful not to use these platforms to create division. History has shown the potential that these papers have to promote factions in the church. On the other hand, through respectful public dialog there is potential for these papers to promote much needed progress toward unity. Of course there are some topics of a private and personal nature that must not be discussed in public. However, on topics that affect the whole community, respectful public discussion can be quite healthy. Public discussion makes leaders publicly accountable for making decisions that are in the best interests of the whole community. That kind of discussion can build trust, acceptance, and support for the direction leaders choose.

This public scrutiny can be uncomfortable to those who are used to a more closed style of leadership, where decisions are made in private and presented to the community as a done deal. Discussing alternative or opposing views in public can be personally risky, since leaders may occasionally have to eat their words, or at least publicly accept a view other than their own. The reward for taking that risk, however, can be increased trust and support from the community. And in many cases, public discussion can lead to better decisions.

For these public discussions to contribute to unity, rather than to division, we must:

  • treat one another with respect.
  • listen to one another, looking not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others.
  • be willing to accept another position on matters of opinion.
  • follow Romans 14 in matters of conscience, not doing anything that causes our brother to stumble.
  • acknowledge our own fallibility.
  • refuse to allow our publishing platform to become the rallying point for a faction.

I hope my previous posts about the ICOC Plan for United Cooperation are taken in that way. My intention in writing those articles was to promote discussion of the real issues standing in the way of broader cooperation, so that those issues will be resolved and we can work together in a greater way. My purpose, as always, is to promote the unity for which Jesus prayed on the night he was betrayed.


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.


Taking Risks for Unity

October 25, 2007

A mainline church of Christ is hosting a joint service with an ICOC congregation:

We are hosting the International Church of Christ congregation here at our building Sunday. Their minister and I have been talking for a long time. He’s a wonderful man and a lover of God and Jesus. This great church wants to make an impact in the world. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet I have heard from several in the community (not our church) how they can’t believe we are hosting them.

It’s a shame that some people are not open to this sort of thing. I am convinced that our Lord wants us to do things like this. Kudos to these two congregations for ignoring the flack and setting a great example. And thanks to John for bringing this to my attention.



October 18, 2007

I’ve received a wide range of responses to my previous post, and to several private conversations about the topic of the ICOC Plan for United Cooperation.

By far most of the responses I have received have been expressing agreement with my concerns. That might be because of the type of folks who are regular readers of this blog. But regardless, it indicates that these views are shared by many people in many places.

One responder thought that I should have been more clear that I was only stating my own personal view, and that I was not speaking for anyone else. I thought I had made that clear, but perhaps I could have been more clear about it. Certainly, on a controversial topic like this one, people don’t want faulty assumptions to be made about their personal views. That is one reason I wanted to express my own views clearly and publicly.

Some of those who have ratified the Plan have nevertheless shown kindness and understanding toward me and my views. They have made a sincere effort to understand why I feel this way, and have not acted as though they thought my views are completely without merit. They have insisted that they will not let the Plan interfere with our relationship. They have acknowledged that the Plan document is imperfect and should not be a criterion for cooperation. Some ratifiers have even expressed that they believe the Plan document has outlived its usefulness.

Some of the responses from ratifiers puzzle me. They argue they had no intention of creating a faction, and that the cooperation they call for is a good thing. For them, it seems that the end justifies the means. I fully acknowledge that they did not set out to create a faction. But to me, it is an observable fact that there is a faction as a result of the Plan. As a result there is a line in the sand, with the two groups harboring uneasy feelings toward each other. There are disrespectful comments being thrown around in both directions over this issue. It does not have to be like this. I fully agree that there are worthy efforts on which we could cooperate. We can accomplish that end through better means. Let’s take the document out of the way so that anyone who wishes can cooperate on those good works.

Several of the ratifiers have indicated that they will call or otherwise communicate with me about the document, or have been asked to do so by third parties, but have not yet done so. I want to believe that they are just busy with other issues in their lives, and that they will make the effort to communicate in the near future. In my more cynical moments I fear that they are avoiding what they think may be a difficult conversation. Life is easier when you don’t have to communicate with people who hold opposing views. Of course a Christian (and especially a minister or elder) does not have the option of avoiding such conversations. But maybe they view this conversation as one they can avoid. I would like to encourage those folks to give me a call. It will not be a difficult conversation. I have neither delusions nor intentions to persuade them that their view is wrong and mine is right. I only want to discuss how we can cooperate despite the disagreement. My views are a matter of public record. If my paper persuades someone, fine. But I do not intend to be a pain about it. So please call. Let’s make every effort toward unity. I promise to be nice!

I have seen evidence that there is an undercurrent of unhealthy attitudes towards other congregations on the topic of the Plan, in many if not all of our congregations. Several speakers at the ILC made derogatory public comments about non-ratifying churches. That is the tip of the iceberg. What is being said publicly is also being said privately. Those public comments tend to spread and give legitimacy to those unhealthy attitudes, on both sides of the issue. We need to stop the unhealthy talk.

I will continue to support cooperation with other congregations. I would like to cooperate with the ratifying congregations on many levels. But I cannot give my allegiance to anyone but Christ, and I cannot endorse any standard for life and doctrine other than the Scriptures. With that in mind, I will cooperate with those congregations to whatever extent they permit.


ILC and the Plan for United Cooperation

October 11, 2007

Update Sept 20, 2009: We are affirming the August 2009 revision of the cooperation plan.

Update, Tuesday October 30: I’ve posted a clarification and apology for leaving the impression that I was passing judgment on those who ratified the agreement.

Update, Saturday October 27: See my more recent article appealing for a solution, posted at Mission Memo.

The following is a paper I submitted this morning to be considered for publishing at Disciples Today: (pdf)

Why I Cannot Ratify

the ICOC Plan for United Cooperation

Alan Rouse


I have just returned from the 2007 International Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. The past few days have been filled with inspiring messages, practical teaching, vibrant singing, and encouraging fellowship. As always, the fellowship with much-loved brothers and sisters was the highlight of the conference. I am very encouraged to confirm that we continue to share all of the important things in common. We hold to the same core doctrine. We are striving toward the same goal and are engaged in the same mission. We are facing many of the same challenges. We continue to learn from one another as we try various ways to meet the needs in each of our home congregations. I believe God is at work in every church. He is not finished with any of us yet. We are His sons and daughters, and for that reason we are united.

Throughout the conference, both in the scheduled sessions and in the fellowship, the Plan for United Cooperation was a frequently visited topic. Roughly 70% of the former ICOC congregations have ratified the Plan. Based on public comments by speakers as well as on numerous side conversations at the ILC, it is clear that many of those who have ratified the Plan do not understand why 30% of the churches have chosen not to ratify. The natural human tendency is to fill that void of understanding by assuming the worst. Those negative assumptions can destroy the unity between churches. While I cannot speak for all those who have not ratified the Plan, I believe it would be better for the sake of unity to explain why I cannot ratify. It is in that spirit that I am writing this paper.

Creating a faction

The first sentence in the Plan for United Cooperation states:

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.

To accomplish that purpose, 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.

Creating a faction within the church is a very serious matter. The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, warns us that those who create factions within the church will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).

The church in Corinth was going down this road, forming factions behind Paul, Peter, and Apollos, different leaders with different styles and methods. Note that these men all believed in Jesus, called Jesus their Lord, and proclaimed the same gospel. But there were differences of style and method. And factions were forming based on those differences.

This lead to Paul’s admonitions in the first four chapters of the first Corinthian letter. Paul wrote that they must have no divisions among them, despite their acknowledged differences in style and method. In 1 Cor 3:10-15, Paul lays down the standard for dealing with different approaches to church building. First, there can be only one foundation, and that is Christ. But there can be variations in the manner of building on that foundation. Some methods are superior to others. The superior methods are determined, not by short term results, but by being tested by fire on the Day. Then in chapter 4 he says:

1Co 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

1Co 4:6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.

Paul admonished the Corinthians to stop aligning behind certain leaders, and to stop passing judgment on their methods. Likewise, we are to accept those who practice different methods of church-building, without passing judgment. And we are instructed not to form factions based on such differences.

Christian Unity and the Plan

Gal 3:26-29 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

It was wonderful to witness nine people being added to the church on Sunday afternoon of the ILC. Nine precious souls were added to the Lord’s church as they made Jesus their Lord and were immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Before being baptized, each person in turn was asked the same two questions. First, they were asked if they believe the basic gospel facts about Jesus. Then they were asked to confess that Jesus is their Lord. They were not asked their position on the Plan. They were not asked what they believe about the role of women in the church, nor about their position on divorce and remarriage, nor about any other issue on which we might have a strong opinion. They were only asked those two questions about Jesus. That is consistent with biblical instructions about salvation:

Mar 16:15-16 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Rom 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Making Jesus Lord encompasses repentance. It goes beyond simple repentance, because when Jesus is Lord you will continue to repent in the future, each time you become aware of a new area of sin in your life. Becoming a son of God does not require knowing every matter over which one needs to repent. What it does require is a commitment to continue to learn the Lord’s will and to obey what is being learned.

So Christian conversion involves three things:

  1. belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins;

  2. making Jesus the Lord of your life; and

  3. being baptized into Jesus.

As stated in Gal 3:26-29, when we do that we become sons of God. All who have done so are one in Christ Jesus, and are heirs of the promise of God. And all who are sons of God are our brothers in Christ.

The members of our family of congregations are not the only ones who have done this. We are not the only sons of God. In fact, we are only a small minority of those who have been adopted as sons of God. In particular, the mainline churches of Christ and the independent Christian churches teach the same conversion doctrine. Those who have obeyed that same gospel are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have no right to treat any of them as second class members of the family. It may well be true that we have discovered some more effective methods and materials for building a church (although our losses in recent years suggest that improvements were needed!) But as I’ve already discussed, we are prohibited from forming factions based on preferred methodologies. So we must not build walls between us and them. We must not define a faction excluding them.

To bring about unity among all Christians (that’s what we all want, right?), we need to take down barriers and to eliminate unnecessary distinctions between groups of Christians. The Plan for United Cooperation does the opposite.

As one who has made Jesus Lord, I cannot in good conscience ratify a document that, in my view, creates a faction in the church. This is a matter of conscience and a salvation issue for me. Those who would persuade me to ratify anyway are urging me to place myself under the condemnation of Romans 14:

Rom 14:19-23 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 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.

United Cooperation

The churches in the southeast never stopped being united and cooperating during the past few years, despite the fact that these churches have not ratified the Plan. We continue to take up special contributions to support missions. We meet periodically to discuss funding for missions in Africa and the Caribbean. We have sent members to visit churches we are helping in Africa. We have brought in speakers from around the world to share with our congregation. We have jointly organized and attended multiple regional conferences, both for leaders and for the whole membership. Each summer our children come together from these same congregations to attend a summer camp together, as members from these congregations take time off work to work in the kitchen and in many other ways to make the camp experience a success. The elders from my congregation have visited 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 had joint services with some of the nearer congregations. We have had joint teen activities, joint campus activities, joint single activities… All of these things continue to take place without the need to sign a document written by men.

The Way Forward

I completely trust the motives of those who proposed the Plan for United Cooperation, and those who have ratified it. I ask for the same trust in return. There were some important goals that I believe motivated the Plan, including a desire to continue providing needed support for missions, to sharpen one another through discipling relationships, and to encourage one another to continue carrying out the Great Commission. I think we would all be better off to stop talking about the Plan for United Cooperation, and to talk instead about those important goals behind the Plan. The Plan, while well-intentioned, is an obstacle for some of us. In the spirit of love, I appeal to the ratifiers of the Plan to include the non-ratifiers in the process, and to take the obstacle out of the way.