(Read “When Brothers Dwell in Unity,” a companion article by Fate Hagood’s brother, Rudy Hagood.)
Our movement, like many other movements, has been fractured, fragmented, and frustrated.
I grew up in the Church of Christ vein of the Restoration Movement during a time when our purpose and passion were crystal clear. We saw the Bible speaking of one church. That one church could be discovered through a simple reading of Scripture and a commonsense understanding of what Scripture teaches. The idea of restoration is about going back to the primitive church of the first century and attempting to be that church within a contemporary culture.
Scripture speaks of only one church, and thus it is possible to unify all those who believe in Jesus Christ under the banner of that one church through a careful examination of Scripture.
This cry for undenominational Christianity met with great enthusiasm internally and great opposition externally. Members of Churches of Christ fully embraced the idea that all man-made creeds must be rejected and only what was in the Holy Bible should be accepted concerning the practices and purposes of the Church of Christ. This idea was sound on its face, but extremely difficult to put into practice.
Philippians 1:27–2:5 offers a springboard from which to begin a journey toward reconciliation, unity, and community among the disparate threads of the American Restoration Movement.
AN APPEAL TO RADICAL UNITY THROUGH HUMILITY
In Philippians 1:27–2:5, the apostle Paul wrote to thank the Christians in Philippi for the gift they sent to him via Epaphroditus while Paul was in prison. The immediate context of 2:1-4 was the exhortation to unity in 1:27-30. Paul urged the Philippians to live as “citizens” worthy of the gospel by standing firm in one Spirit against those who opposed the gospel message. Paul continued this theme in chapter 2 by exhorting Philippian believers to humility, unity, and mutual consideration.
It is interesting that in our present climate of political unrest and a transitioning presidential administration that we should be examining this particular passage. The apostle’s teachings on humility, selflessness, and unity, and his focus on the kingdom agenda fly in the face of the present false dichotomy of a red church and a blue church. These teachings from the book of Philippians scream for unity and community among the citizens of the kingdom of God. Our country is divided by aggressive and often nasty political rhetoric. It should not be so among God’s people.
In Philippians 1:27-30, the church was urged to respond to their outward circumstances by demonstrating a united stance that strives together for the faith of the gospel. Paul told them they shouldn’t fear; rather, the church must understand that this public stance, while a declaration of destruction to those who oppose the gospel, was a declaration of deliverance for the citizens of the kingdom of God.
Paul told them the struggle and conflict was given as a gift. It’s definitely a gift to both believe in the power and purpose of Christ and to suffer for his cause. It was also a clear invitation to share personally in this cause, as Paul was doing. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have” (Philippians 1:29-30).
Because of their shared citizenship and struggle for the gospel, Paul urged the Philippian Christians to heed his twofold exhortation to unity and humility. The apostle issued his appeal to internal unity in Philippians 2:1-2. This appeal was based upon four parallel clauses describing the shared experiences of the Philippians.
In verses 3-4, Paul issued his appeal to humility by telling his audience to regard others more highly than themselves. In verse 5, Paul illustrated that kind of humility by urging the Philippians to appropriate the mind of Christ as illustrated by the example of the condescension of Christ in what’s commonly referred to as the “kenosis,” the “self-emptying” of Jesus (vv. 6-8) and the “Carmen Christi,” or “Christ hymn” (vv. 6-11).
The apostle was urging the Philippian church to a radical and uncompromising unity through humility and a selfless commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, what’s wrong with us?
Why can’t we have “real community?”
Well . . . it’s us.
What’s wrong with us?
COMMITTED TO UNITY IN THE FACE OF THE ENEMY
Perhaps we don’t understand there’s a war going on. The apostle Paul went from personal to practical to pastoral, and then back to personal, to illustrate that entering into this cruciform community was vital to winning a war being waged between adherents of the gospel and those who oppose it.
Our outward ineffectiveness is indicative of our internal division. It seems on all sides of our multifaceted brotherhood we have been cannibalizing one another and sacrificing our children on the altar of our own hubris as opposed to seeking to pull down the kingdom of evil through the grace of God. The politics of power and position have so mutated the definition of gospel that we believe it’s a matter of liturgical preferences, prideful positioning, and individualism idolatry.
The present political climate, which has stirred further division in the country, also has ramifications for the Christian community. So, the apostle’s words have relevance in our immediate and contemporary context. There was an implied temptation to compromise the gospel with “those who oppose you” (1:28); Paul wanted the church to remember that their affiliation wasn’t with their Philippian culture, but instead their identity was with the One who died on the cross.
I guess this will be the question: How committed to unity are we? What if unity means we have to lose everything we traditionally hold dear? What if unity means we hold on only to that which we have traditionally held dear?
Regardless, we mustn’t fear the enemy.
Only in unity can our radical Christian community be scandalous enough to demonstrate Christ crucified—a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, but the power of God to his followers.
It’s hard to demonstrate our radical community manifest in a united front against the enemy when we can’t decide who the enemy actually is . . . but the enemy is not other people.
UNIFIED IN THE SAME STRUGGLE, MESSAGE, AND FIGHT
So, what’s wrong with us? Why can’t we unify? Why can’t we reconcile?
Perhaps there is a tower of Babel type of judgment from Yahweh upon us through which—because of our prideful attempts to build towers dedicated to our own hubris and vanity—the Lord of Hosts has confounded our language so we can no longer “speak the same thing.”
Or perhaps we have a self-indulgent, self-inflicted, and self-delusional addiction to the safety of our own academic, ecclesiastical, and/or sociocultural homeostasis that we just can’t let go of what we’re used to, even if it kills us.
It’s almost as if we have become junkies “feening” and “jonesing” for whatever old stuff makes us feel good about who we were or whatever new stuff makes us feel relevant to the present culture.
I can imagine the apostle screaming, “It’s not about the old stuff and it’s not about the new stuff! It’s about gospel stuff! And whether it’s old stuff or new stuff, we should praise God that the gospel is being preached!”
Our enemies must think we’re pitiful for spending inordinate amounts of time turning our theological missiles on one another as opposed to seeking to eradicate the enemy’s influence and bring as many souls to Christ as possible.
Regardless, brothers and sisters, we must hang in there! Philippians 1:30 proclaimed that we have the same struggle, message, and fight! Reconciliation within a movement of Christians seeking to be a Restoration Movement means we’ve got to stop fighting one another and, instead, take the fight to our enemy. Our movement, like many others, may have been fractured and fragmented and frustrated. But I believe the solution Paul gave the Christians at Philippi is the same one all Christians need today—the solution is real community in the image and mind of Jesus Christ.