By David Faust
John 17 contains the longest prayer of Jesus recorded anywhere in Scripture. On the night before the cross, the Lord prayed for his disciples and said, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me” (John 17:23).
The head of the church wants his followers to be united—and not for unity’s sake alone, but to accomplish our mission in the world.
As Thomas Campbell put it, there ought to be no “uncharitable divisions” among us. But too often we have ignored each other instead of acting like coworkers in God’s kingdom. We have separated by race and by culture, though Christ died to make us one body. We have divided over important doctrinal issues—but also over questionable opinions, stylistic preferences, personality clashes, and generational differences.
How could a movement to promote New Testament evangelism, biblical doctrine, and Christian unity become so divided? Why has there been so much disharmony within our own family of churches, even among those who agree about essentials of the faith? Why have our disagreements been tainted by ugly sarcasm and one-sided arguments? Why do we go our separate ways year after year, like estranged brothers who don’t attend the same family reunion anymore?
Thankfully there’s a fresh wind blowing among us. Rick Atchley, minister with Richland Hills Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, cast a bold vision at the North American Christian Convention at Indianapolis in 2003. He said, “I can imagine a day soon when our churches are partnering together to send mission teams into the world, to do local outreaches in our city, to feed the hungry, to help the wounded in every major city in America. I can imagine the vision of our Restoration forefathers being restored and the prayer of Jesus being fulfilled.”
Recalling that in 1906 the U.S. Census listed the Christian churches and churches of Christ as two separate religious bodies, Rick said, “For a hundred years we have served God apart. Only God knows what we can do the next hundred years serving him together.”
I was deeply moved by Rick’s plea. I thought, Something big needs to be done for the cause of Christian unity in 2006. I wondered, Couldn’t we mark the 100th anniversary of the 1906 “split” by expressing a new commitment to working together? Privately, without saying anything about it (except to the Lord), I felt a burden growing in my heart—and a personal sense of calling to do something about it.
About this time, I was asked to serve as president of the NACC in 2006. I agreed, and now I am excited about the convention to be held June 27-30 at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Kentucky. The theme? “Together in Christ.”
The NACC has been held in Louisville several times over the years, including 1956 (50 years ago), 1981 (25 years ago), and a memorable convention at Southeast Christian Church in 2000.
The 2006 NACC will be unique, though, because this year we are intentionally reaching out to our brothers and sisters in the a cappella churches of Christ. We are inviting their full participation and seeking to get better acquainted with these brethren with whom we have so much in common.
This year’s convention will emphasize practical ways we can “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The theme, “Together in Christ,” doesn’t mean anyone is trying to speak for all our churches or exercise some sort of denominational control. It’s not a naïve attempt to overlook serious matters of biblical interpretation and personal conviction. It doesn’t mean all our differences will magically dissolve and we’ll agree on every opinion.
It does mean we must believe in unity enough to do something about it. It means we must “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” not only in the kingdom of God as a whole, but also in our own families, communities, and local churches. It means we can disagree without being disagreeable—treating each other with humility, kindness, and mutual respect.
The 2006 NACC will provide an historic opportunity to worship and work together. It will be a time to repent and confess any personal responsibility we share for our brotherhood’s divisions. It will be a time to celebrate our common heritage and focus on our common mission.
Some unique features of the 2006 NACC will include:
• Biblical preaching with an emphasis on the unity themes in Ephesians 4. Sermons will be presented by preachers “from both sides of the keyboard,” including team-preaching sessions on Wednesday and Thursday mornings when a preacher from the Christian churches will share a message on the same text and theme with a preacher from the churches of Christ.
• Bible study sessions that highlight the book of Ephesians (taught by Mark Scott), the work of evangelism (taught by Marvin Phillips), and harmony in the home (taught by Carl Brecheen and Paul Faulkner, Steve and Annie Chapman, and Joe Beam).
• Great music in the main sessions. Thousands will join voices in praise led by sensitive worship leaders who will blend together songs both old and new, with and without instrumental accompaniment. Music will be led by Eli and Ruth Reyes of Southside Christian Church, Orlando, Florida, in partnership with an eight-member vocal worship team from Richland Hills Church of Christ and other musicians from around the nation.
• Informative and practical workshops on church health, preaching, evangelism and missions, Christian education and discipleship, elders, worship, finances and stewardship, women, theology and apologetics, family, and the Restoration Movement. Special effort has been made to offer workshops that apply to everyone who attends, including those who serve in smaller congregations.
• Tuesday’s optional bus tour to historic Cane Ridge, Kentucky, will provide an educational look at the Restoration Movement’s past and future.
• Special events for the whole family. There will be a full program for children and youth, inspiring luncheons for women and senior adults, and an evening banquet for church leaders. Wednesday’s midday Bob Russell “roast” will be a fun and memorable way to honor one of our fellowship’s best-loved leaders.
• The Thursday evening main session will be a highlight as Jeff Walling preaches on the topic, “Together in God’s Grace,” and thousands recommit ourselves to “love one another deeply, from the heart,” as God’s Word tells us to do (1 Peter 1:22).
This year’s NACC is going to be an unforgettable convention. I’m praying that it will mark a historic turning point—a time to put old differences behind us and move forward “together in Christ” to accomplish our Lord’s mission in the world.
Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” Will you join us in Louisville this summer as we “make every effort” to live out this biblical vision?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University, executive editor of The Lookout, and president of the 2006 North American Christian Convention.