14 July, 2024

A Homecoming of the Heart: The Secret in Our Search for Unity

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by | 1 May, 2023 | 5 comments

By Drew Baker

The unfortunate consensus in the United States demands that our leaders come across as having all the answers. Whether politicians or preachers, we expect them to have perfect wisdom even if we know it’s an impossible ask. I can’t imagine a politician getting elected on a platform of humility and a willingness to learn even from political opponents. When it comes to preaching, we tend to expect more answers than questions from our pulpits. “Give us this day our daily truth, lead us not into contemplation, and deliver us from mystery.”   

In such a culture, it is no surprise division is ubiquitous. When opinions must be presented as certainties, there is no room for healthy dialogue. When I must prove my competence by making others appear incompetent, I preclude the possibility of unity. When pride prevails, division is inevitable.  

Perhaps this is why Jesus insisted that his followers be people of humility. This teaching is particularly prevalent in the second half of Mark. Throughout the first half of that Gospel, discipleship appeared to be a pathway to power and glory. But after breaking the news that he was leading them to the cross (Mark 8:31), Jesus led them through an intensive course on humility.  

The course included lectures, object lessons, and the ultimate demonstration of humility. Topics included denying self (Mark 8:34-35), the last being first (9:35; 10:31), welcoming children (9:37; 10:14), receiving the kingdom as children (10:15), and greatness taking the form of servanthood (10:42-44). All these lessons occurred as Jesus drew nearer to the cross, culminating in the words, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45).  

Mark’s Gospel implied that Jesus uttered these words near the Jordan, perhaps in view of the very place he was baptized—nearly the lowest place on the face of the Earth. Even the geography of the narrative seemed to assist in the lesson of humility. Jesus made it quite clear—his followers must be people of humility.   

When early Restorationists called for a return to the New Testament for the sake of unity, true unity proved elusive. We caught glimpses of it when Barton Stone affirmed the activity of the Holy Spirit at Cane Ridge—recognizing a unity that transcended his intellect. We saw it when Alexander Campbell acknowledged, “It is the image of Christ the Christian looks for and loves,” thus conceding a spiritual unity not dependent upon doctrinal perfection.  

Unfortunately, these whispers of unity were difficult to hear over the roaring demands for intellectual and liturgical conformity. The water in every stream of the Restoration Movement is murky because of the mudslinging and all-out battles that have taken place upriver. And even now, we muddy the waters for those below.   

What we need is not just a return to the New Testament, but a return to Jesus. Not a doctrinal return, but a homecoming of the heart. We need to remember that we are students of the Rabbi. We need to observe his ways and follow. Instead of jockeying for doctrinal dominance, we must seek to serve. We should view every human—whether an uneducated child or an esteemed scholar—as a potential teacher. We need to sit at the feet of Jesus to hear him lovingly rebuke us again: 

You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around . . . and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave (Mark 10:42-45, The Message).   

The Restoration Movement has much to offer the broader Christian community and the world. But until we learn to sit and eat at the same table with our own family, I’m afraid the Restoration Plea will go largely unnoticed. We can’t be a family until we come to the Lord’s table, take the bread, take the cup, and don’t forget the humble pie.  

Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Common Grounds Unity newsletter, August 2022.  

Drew Baker serves with New Story Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.   

5 Comments

  1. Wesley Paddock

    Our emphasis on correctness has been in itself an overcorrection. I had a noted saint say to me on one occasion, “I know of only two true Christians in the world, and (speaking to me) you are not one of them.” The battles over minor items has been destructive. Thank you for your note. We need more of that in the Restoration Movement.

  2. Gary Sheets

    My feelings exactly! I’ve felt this and said this for decades like a voice crying in the wilderness! You can be so right that by your actions and attitudes, you become wrong. Unity is not conformity!

  3. Chris Bushnell

    Thank you Drew! Humility and a teachable spirit seem to be in short supply in our world today, both inside and outside the body of Christ. Such a needed message for all of us.

  4. Sam Hastings

    This is so very true; “But until we learn to sit and eat at the same table with our own family, I’m afraid the Restoration Plea will go largely unnoticed. We can’t be a family until we come to the Lord’s table, take the bread, take the cup, and don’t forget the humble pie.” We in the ICOC, especially, must take this to heart. A good friend, who just recently went Home said, “We talk of Independence and autonomy, but we are neither independent nor autonomous. We are just downright antisocial!”

  5. Michael

    “Unfortunately, these whispers of unity were difficult to hear over the roaring demands for intellectual and liturgical conformity.” Or, perhaps the point they contended for has been missed. Unity itself is not of high value. The highly selective examples from Stone and Campbell are interesting, to say the least. None of those “restorationist” guys thought that conformity to New Testament doctrine was optional. You shouldn’t either. They thought it was a sin to be in open rebellion to New Testament teaching. You should too. That kind of rebellion (and openness to it) is happening a lot today. From Pentecostalism, to prosperity gospel, to denials of the deity of Christ, to women in pastoral ministry, to acceptance of homosexual lifestyles… we tolerate all kinds of open rebellion for the sake of unity. Liberty is for areas where the Bible is silent. Unity is not a value in itself. Unity in Christ. Being of the same mind. Submitting to the same Lord and His commandments. That is the unity that is a value. A polemic against insistence on sound doctrine is a a polemic against the teaching of the Lord himself. Insisting on following the New Testament is NOT insistence on doctrinal dominance. Unity in truth is the way to go.

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