Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Christian Unity -- A Calling worth pursuing

I am a pastor serving within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In 2009, we will celebrate our 200th anniversary. Born on the Frontier (Western Pennsylvania) the Disciples movement began as a unity movement. It came into existence as Thomas Campbell, and later his son Alexander, discerned a major problem developing out West. All kinds of movements were emerging, all competing for members, and all doing so by attacking other groups. Thomas Campbell had come from Northern Ireland, a pastor of a breakaway Presbyterian church (anti-burger, seceder sect, Presbyterians). He came to the frontier and found a scattering of Presbyterians of many different stripes. When he invited them all to the Lord's Table he was censored by his supervisors. As a result, he chose to go out on his own and invite everyone to come together as one body. At about the same time Barton Stone was embarking on a similar course, and in 1832 the two movements merged.

I preached on the Disciples "Ecumenical Principle" on Sunday. It is part of a series I'm doing that deals with "Disciples Values." The ecumenical movement is central to who we are as a people. We've not been perfect stewards of this calling, but we've remained committed, despite our own divisions.

One of our own, Michael Kinnamon, is General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. In an essay published in Disciples World, Kinnamon speaks to this calling. He reminds us that standing at the center of the Disciples plea is a belief that "Unity and freedom can and should go together." According to Kinnamon Disciples believe that 1) "unity is a given" -- that is, it is something to be received and recognized; 2) unity must be visible; 3) unity is inherently diverse.

It's on this third point that I'd like to focus. Kinnamon writes:

At the risk of over-generalizing, let me suggest that the Roman Catholic Church has, at times, maintained unity at the sacrifice of freedom, while Protestants have, at times, safeguarded freedom at the cost of unity. Disciples have been unusual in our conviction that unity and freedom can and should go together -- which means that the oneness we envision has nothing to do with uniformity. (Disciples World, October 2008, p. 19)


If we are to receive unity as a gift of God, to affirm with Paul that even as there is one bread that we break, we are also one body -- for "we all partake of the one body" (1 Corinthians 10:17). Sunday is World Communion Sunday. It is a day to reflect on our unity in Christ, a unity we should be celebrating at the Lord's Table. The call of Christ is here, I believe, no matter your differences in theology, ideology, ethnicity or national origin, no matter your politics, if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are one in Christ. May we affirm that, especially at this point in history. And why? Because we are called to witness to God's work of reconciliation in the world (2 Corinthians 5).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great message Bob, I enjoyed this.. I particularly like this line from your sermon: Christian unity can’t be built on a generic faith that’s more concerned about relevance and success than God’s work of reconciliation. A lot of truth right there... especially in today's world.