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.