By Mark A. Taylor
This year’s North American Christian Convention extends a plea for unity and promises an experience of unity. It points us to an event in history: the 1906 census, which was the first to list “Christian Churches” and “Churches of Christ” as two separate groups in the United States. And it hopes to make history again in 2006, the year members of these separate but similar fellowships acknowledge their brotherhood and vow to work and worship together.
Time will tell whether reality matches anticipation. All of us know that watershed dates quoted by historians are often not as definitive as they sound. Christians disagreed about the use of instruments in worship long before that census 100 years ago made division official. And every year since then Christians have ignored these different convictions about worship to work together for the glory of God.
But we cannot deny that fresh winds of change are blowing among us today. Barriers erected over many decades are falling. Every week we hear of a cappella and instrumental churches joining each other to conduct a VBS, do hurricane relief, take the gospel to the inner city, share academic resources, or plant a new church. The ideal held up in talk about this summer’s NACC has been a catalyst for much of this.
(For our part, Standard Publishing has joined with a cappella church of Christ publisher Leafwood Press to copublish a book by Rick Atchley and Bob Russell, Together Again: Restoring Unity in Christ After a Century of Separation. And when Shawn McMullen decided to compile a book about dynamic ministry in small churches, he chose an equal number of writers from instrumental and noninstrumental churches. His book, Unleashing the Potential of the Smaller Church, like Atchley’s and Russell’s, will be available April 1.)
All of us should be thrilled with the program and the possibilities offered by the NACC this year. All of us should pray that those few days in June will be the start of long lasting expressions of unity among Christian churches and churches of Christ.
And while we’re reaching out to those “on the other side of the keyboard,” let us also reconsider alienated brothers and sisters in our own fellowship. We know God is not happy when we oppose or attack or slander or ignore one another. What a shame it would be to heal the breach with a separate fellowship while allowing division or distrust to fester within our own!
The convention program will challenge all of us members of Christian churches and churches of Christ alike to listen to each other, learn from each other, demonstrate respect for each other, and enjoy each other! When that has happened, this summer’s convention will have earned its place in the history books.