My Journey to Independent Christian Churches
By Will Archer
Thirty-five years ago, when I began to learn about God’s grace, it changed everything! Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the truth of his Resurrection galvanized my conviction to be a Christian. This decision profoundly reoriented everything about my life. You see, I was raised as a Sunni Muslim. At 8, I joined my father on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.
One of my most vivid memories is of thousands of people circumnavigating the Kaaba in prayer. You may ask yourself what this has to do with Jesus and the gospel. For me, it has everything to do with those things! This early life experience offers me a vivid picture of our global community. Over the last 40 years or so, I have witnessed many circumnavigations. We often talk or walk around the issues without really addressing them. When we do, our approaches often avoid problems or engender more division. Jesus never danced around the real issues. He went right to the heart of the difficulties and embodied the heart of God every time.
We live in a world that needs Jesus. When I met Jesus in the Scriptures, I found the way, the truth, and the life we all are called to live. His answer reveals that grace unites us. Just hours before going to the cross to save us, Jesus’ prayer illuminated and illustrated his response to our divided world. He said,
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20-23).
These words ignite a fire within my bones. Jesus did not die for us to go to church. He died, was buried, and resurrected for us to be the church. In his prayer, he outlined that our unity and love would be our testimony to the world. As I reflect on Jesus’ words, I am reminded of Lincoln’s words in his annual message to Congress on December 1, 1862:
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.
What was true then is truer now. The dogmas of the quiet past are genuinely inadequate for the stormy present. We have had enough powerless professions of faith; we need the practiced faith Jesus embodied and called us to become. That faith is possible only through the gospel. For it is a faith that is by grace. It illuminates our sinfulness and powerlessness while paradoxically unleashing a powerful love that unites us. It breaks down all the dividing walls of hostility and concretizes a community of saved sinners and sinners being saved.
This grace led me to be a part of our Restoration Movement over 30 years ago. This same grace galvanized my conviction about the urgent need for greater unity in our Restoration churches today.
A Change of Direction
When I was 12 years old, I started reading the Bible while in boarding school in Jamaica. As I read the Scriptures, my heart was moved by Jesus. I spent the next several years visiting many churches and seeking biblical truth. By God’s grace, when I was 18 years old, I was baptized in New York City. I am profoundly grateful for the love and grace I received in New York.
Please note that I am sharing my convictions from my perspective, and I respect that of others.
Like so many other Restoration churches within our broader fellowship, the churches I grew up in have a rich diversity of experiences and perspectives. That being said, our family of churches has undergone significant changes over the years, especially during the past 20 years.
In 2003, these churches collectively disbanded our once-strict global hierarchy. In 2007, they adopted a global commitment to become a cooperative family of churches. This was the same year that the Potomac Valley Church, which I pastor, was founded. We were founded from our inception as an independent Restoration church. Over the past several years, we have intentionally sought to celebrate all God, in his grace, has done with us and through us, while simultaneously addressing the dysfunction and damaging effects of our church on many.
We are a church of messed-up people, and we have made many mistakes and sinned in many ways. To those who have had negative experiences with our church in the past. Let me join a choir of believers in extending our deepest apologies. We are a work in progress. We are, however, more united by the grace that unites us than ever before. It is my prayer that this grace will lead to greater and greater unity.
At the Crossroads
One of the most prolific examples of this for our congregation, the Potomac Valley Church, came through our introduction to The Solomon Foundation. Our brother and fellow minister Daryl Reed spoke to me on several occasions about the Independent Christian Churches. I was always intrigued by what he shared, but what I learned from him finally resonated in September 2020.
Our congregation did not have a church building. It was clear that coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, rentals would be increasingly difficult. So, I reached out to Daryl, and he introduced me to The Solomon Foundation. From my first conversation with Russell Johnson to my subsequent conversations with Doug Crozier, I have been blown away by TSF. They began by helping us to acquire our main campus in Prince William, Virginia. Over time, it became increasingly clear that we were forging a meaningful strategic partnership and sincere friendship. This has revolutionized my faith and that of our congregation.
Our relationship has opened a new vista of relationships with brothers and sisters from Independent Christian Churches, the Churches of Christ, and other streams of the Restoration church family. Since the fall of 2020, the Spirit has been forging our unity. It has been nothing short of exhilarating.
As I reflect on my prayer for the future of faith in the Restoration Movement, I think of Jesus’ prayer. We are charged to answer the clarion call in John 17 and to meet the occasion with new zeal, as Lincoln advised.
The forces of ill will have long fanned the fires of division. I pray that we have the courage of our convictions as we stand at the crossroads in the 21st century. As God told the prophet, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
The Way Forward
We know Jesus is the way—the only way forward. Like our brothers and sisters in the first century, we come from diverse cultures and communities. That diversity is to be celebrated, and through Jesus, we can forge unity in our diversity through grace. In a bitterly divided world, we are uniquely positioned to demonstrate the power of God by practicing, and not simply professing, our love. We can do what those who do not follow Jesus cannot do. We can move well beyond tolerance to love. We can because, as C.S. Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
We can forge unity across racial, ethnic, and generational lines because we can forgive. We can reconcile. We can do these things because Jesus showed us how and gave us the power to do so through his Spirit. In short, we unequivocally believe that we need to follow Jesus and make every effort toward unity with the fierce urgency of now. We seek to do this in the Potomac Valley Church, where I am honored to serve as pastor.
We are a Restoration church that embraces what we describe as a “Cruciform” approach. That is to say, we engage our community with the posture of the cross. We extend our arms to those on the ideological right as much as we do those on the left. The Bible is our singular standard, and we are committed not to compromise our convictions. However, we recognize that our posture needed to better represent Jesus. To that end, we seek to serve everyone and to be a “church for all people.”
We intentionally engage with Republican and Democratic political leaders. We engage with law enforcement and communities that have historical challenges with law enforcement. We resolutely take the fight straight to the gates of hell for our communities. However, we are committed not to fight as the world does but with weapons of righteousness on the left and the right. We fight with love, service, humility, and repentance.
The members of Potomac Valley Church will tell you we share almost weekly that “we are messed up people bringing the message—a cruciform message.” As a result, we have seen more miracles than we can document. One such miracle was last Easter, as God brought more than a thousand people to church. But the miracle was not the size of the crowd, but the composition. That Sunday, over two dozen Republican and Democratic elected officials and their families worshipped together and ate together at a common table. We celebrated the resurrection of community as Jesus brought unity to our divided Northern Virginia community that day.
It should be noted that our church is only 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Yet, despite the division that surrounds us, we are united. We are racially, generationally, and politically diverse, but grace unites us. This love embodied has been our testimony to our community. As for my family and our church, our arms are wide open to see how the Spirit leads us. We pray that God will use us all to do even greater things together.
May it be said that grace unites us in the Restoration Movement.
Will Archer serves as lead pastor of Potomac Valley Church, one church on two campuses in Northern Virginia.
“Our relationship has opened a new vista of relationships with brothers and sisters from Independent Christian Churches, the Churches of Christ, and other streams of the Restoration church family.”
Love this! I’ve been creating relationships in the Restoration Movement streams in my state, and it’s refreshing and uplifting