17 April, 2024

Story

by | 1 March, 2024 | 1 comment

By Jerry Harris 

When I was in Bible college, Restoration History was required for my degree. It’s a good thing, because a two-dimensional professor standing before a class at 7 a.m. was not a formula for student engagement! When you’re 20 years old, you have very little interest in looking backward when there is so much mystery, excitement, and adventure in front of you. In my case, it took over 30 years for that seed planted in college to sprout, and that’s when I finally began to understand there was more life behind me than in front of me.

Over the years, I came to see my life as a story. It wasn’t very interesting at first because much of the plot remained undeveloped or incomplete. But as the years began to accumulate, more characters appeared, color and description grew more vibrant, and the narrative became much more interesting. My earlier years became more important than they seemed at first, providing structure to my entire life. 

We all have a story; actually, we all have at least two stories. One is the “made-for-TV” version and the second is the director’s cut that contains scenes we would rather no one see. We’d prefer those portions to stay on the cutting-room floor so that our story is the exemplary version we want to project. That story is our testimony. That story chronicles our passage through life and the impact our faith has played in it. 

The church we attend and serve also has a story. How did it begin? Who came together and cooperated to make it a reality? What sacrifices were made? What victories have been achieved? What were the defining moments and the conflicts? Who were the key leaders who shaped it? What was the Holy Spirit’s role in that story and how have individuals and the community benefited because of it? All personal stories and church stories are completely unique. 

Our movement has a story, too, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, it’s the story the 7 a.m. professor was trying to get me to appreciate. If we trace the story back to the Cane Ridge Revival, it is 223 years old! The story has regional, national, and world-changing subplots. Each church and individual story is woven into it. 

The next three issues of Christian Standard will explore the story of our movement. This issue concentrates on our past. Knowledge of the past is important because, without it, it’s impossible to understand where we are now or to see the trajectory of where we’re going. I believe we largely fail to appreciate our past as a movement. Who cares about long-dead, dusty, and forgotten old figures? 

I do . . . at least I do now. I learned a lot about the shoulders I’m standing on in the last 15 years or so. It was kick-started when the church I serve, The Crossing, opened our fourth location in Hannibal, Missouri. Through research I learned that Restoration Movement founding father Barton Stone died in Hannibal. It led me to discover that Samuel Clemens based a significant amount of his writing and his own pen name—Mark Twain—on Stone’s grandsons. Ultimately, it spurred me to have a new gravestone made for Stone’s widow, Celia. 

It led me to build friendships with preachers from the African American Church of Christ who taught me about Marshall Keeble, Fred Gray, and how our movement played a key role in the advancement of civil rights. These relationships and the stories shared with me found their way into Christian Standard as they became a part of my story. 

A few weeks ago, Mont Mitchell called me to ask if I knew anything about the Restoration Movement in the United Kingdom today. My U.K. knowledge was limited to the distant past, so Mont informed me about what is happening there right now. I’m thankful he and Martin Robinson are sharing that story in this issue. At Spire Conference, I had the opportunity to learn about the Disciple Heritage Fellowship, comprised of churches long associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination that view God’s Word as authoritative and infallible. I was excited to hear there are 180 DHF churches, and now we’re doing a story on them as well. 

If you want to know what this movement is, it’s defined by doing Bible things in Bible ways and calling them by Bible names. Christian unity is our polar star. We recognize we are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only. We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where it is silent. We use the New Testament as our only rule of faith and practice. We have no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no name but the Divine, no law but love. In essentials we have unity, in nonessentials, liberty, and in all things, love. And we seek to do it all in unity while celebrating our autonomy as individual churches. 

This is our story . . . it has beautiful parts, ugly parts, painful parts, exuberant parts, times of growth and harvest and times of loss and repentance. But all of these parts make us who we are . . . a tapestry of both individual and collective stories that God alone could weave together to make sense and be a part of the church that Jesus promised to build. 

1 Comment

  1. Ryan Riggins

    Amen! Taking us to school, Jerry!

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