By Mark A. Taylor
Like most men in their 80s, Roger Angell is looking back. And since he is a writer (and editor at New Yorker magazine), he’s combined his memories into a book.
But what happens to memories once they’re recorded?
“Since I’ve written these pieces, these people are further away than they used to be,” Angell told a National Public Radio interviewer last month. “These stories don’t come back anymore. Because if you write them, it’s as if you put them away.”
He spoke with a little melancholy, but in his words I see a great possibility. Could members of instrumental Christian churches and a cappella churches of Christ experience something similar? Could we record the stories of how we separated from each other and then “put them away”?
We’ve been hearing about the 1906 census that made official the split between Christian churches and churches of Christ. Frankly, I’m fascinated to learn some details from Doug Foster this week about what actually happened. And I’m interested to hear the perspective of two historians, Thomas Langford and James B. North , about why and how our separation might have been avoided.
But once I’ve read those accounts, I’m ready to move on.
These articles are three more in a long string of memories and accusations and misunderstandings among members of our two groups. Some have noted that our divide, described in terms of theology, was equally caused by a mixture of other factors: economy, geography, sometimes even personality.
We need to compare one person’s stories with all the others in order to get at the truth. What Angell says of memoir writers applies to most historians as well: “It’s as if we’re saying that’s the way it really was, and of course that’s not true. It’s just the version that got into print.”
But a greater truth supersedes whatever “facts” we may find in our history. That is the biblical mandate for unity. The psalmist praised it (Psalm 133:1), our Lord prayed for it (John 17:21), and the apostle Paul assumed it: “In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5).
Now is the time for us to experience this oneness. Thousands will revel in the glow of unity in the sessions of the North American Christian Convention this week in Louisville. Others have found new ways to work together on the mission field, in service projects, in renewed fellowship, even in church planting.
Let us rejoice in such opportunities and create more of them. Let us forgive each other for the bitterness and barriers of the past and do the right thing with stories about our division.
Let us put them away.