By Victor Knowles
In our American Restoration Movement, we have been paddling in separate streams for more than 100 years.
Like Paul and Barnabas, we had a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39) over issues like instrumental music and missionary societies. We too “parted company” and had our own journals to spread the good news (Gospel Advocate and Christian Standard), started our own Bible colleges and Christian universities to prepare gospel workers (Lipscomb University and Johnson Bible College—now Johnson University), and developed our own lectureships and conventions to encourage and equip Christians (Pepperdine Bible Lectures and the North American Christian Convention).
Since at least 1906, the noninstrumental (or a cappella) churches of Christ have been paddling in a different stream from the Christian churches and churches of Christ. Both groups of churches have been advancing for the cause of Christ, but they haven’t been paddling as one team in one stream.
In recent years, however, some of the “separateness” is starting to dissipate and we are seeing encouraging signs of these two groups paddling together.
More Fruitful Together than Apart
Rick Atchley is the senior teaching minister of the largest a cappella church of Christ in America, The Hills Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Bob Russell, until retirement, served as minister of one of the largest Christian churches and churches of Christ in America, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2006, 100 years after the division between the two fellowships, these two leaders coauthored a book, Together Again: Restoring Unity in Christ after a Century of Separation. In it they write about their shared convictions of Christ and Scripture and their common passion for oneness and evangelism.
Both fellowships, according to the authors, agree that we are saved by grace through faith, that the Bible gives us clear directives expressing our faith (repentance, confession, baptism), that we want to win people to Christ (and not exalt our particular fellowship), and that we are willing to work together to accomplish the goal of evangelism.
“If we are working toward the same goal, how foolish of us not to work together,” they write. “The opportunity to bring more people into the Kingdom of God and see more souls saved for eternity should compel us to set aside our differences and work toward this common goal.”
Atchley and Russell are especially encouraged about cooperative efforts in the mission of church planting. They tell how a Christian church in Colorado gave money to an a cappella church in Texas to plant another a cappella church in a nearby town. A dying a cappella church in California gave money from the sale of their building to plant a Christian church to reach the lost in their community. And in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, four Restoration churches from both fellowships partnered to plant a new church in their city.
The authors say, “We are convinced that God is honored by such efforts. We are also convinced that we can be far more fruitful together than we can be apart.”
God’s People Working Together for God’s Mission
Lynn Ragsdale is a regional vice president with The Solomon Foundation who likes to think in terms of “strategic partnerships.”
“The Restoration Movement is very much alive and well in the United States,” Ragsdale says. “As many of our leaders have stated, we do not have to be twins to be brothers. That is very clear as it relates to the instrumental issue but also about the racial divides.”
Today there are about 1,172 noninstrumental churches of Christ in the United States with predominately African-American memberships. It is among the largest collection of churches impacting the African-American community. These congregations vary in practice and methods but are tightly knit as a group.
Ragsdale says this group appeared on The Solomon Foundation’s radar because the churches quite often are located in urban areas, and banks are unwilling to loan them funds to build or expand their facilities. But, as one African-American preacher put it, “While everyone else is running out of the fire, the church must run in.”
By now, it should be obvious the government does not have the answer for the serious issues of our inner-city areas. The church remains the only hope for our cities.
One example of a church making a difference in its urban setting is Greater Metropolitan Church of Christ in Kansas City, Missouri, led by senior pastor Branden Mims. This church is located in the 3rd District of Kansas City, a high-crime area known well by people in and around Kansas City. (It is less than a mile from a high-end development called The Plaza. What a difference a mile can make!)
In 2017 in Kansas City, 150 homicides were committed, with 39 of them occurring in the neighborhood around Greater Metropolitan Church of Christ, Ragsdale said. The church has leaks in the roof caused by bullet holes . . . but Greater Metropolitan remains in the community. The same year 39 people were killed in the immediate neighborhood, Greater Metropolitan baptized 39 people! Mims continues to preach and serve Jesus.
The Solomon Foundation has partnered with Greater Metropolitan Church of Christ, and soon the church will celebrate the grand opening of a new facility worth well over $2.5 million, but which cost only $1 million. The church extension fund with independent (or instrumental) Christian church roots is working together with the noninstrumental church of Christ to carry out Jesus’ mission. Solomon partners in prayer, coaching, and funding. All are essential.
When I heard this story, I thought of what David wrote in Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
Let me encourage you to be courageous and creative in seeking ways to reach out to those in other “regiments” of the Lord’s army, even if it seems like you might be paddling in uncharted waters. God is too good, time is too short, and Heaven is too wonderful not to reach out to others and maximize our efforts for Christ.
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, Missouri. Since 1984 he has served as editor of One Body magazine. He is the author of 23 books, including Stand and Deliver (POEM Publications, 2017).