Book Excerpts: Together Again – Part 2 (Jan-Apr 2006)

By Matt Dabbs

by Bob Russell and Rick Atchley
January – April, 2006

A Common Mission
Bob loves to tell this story about his high school basketball days:

When I was a senior in high school my goal was to be the leading scorer in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. That was a big deal because every week the top ten scorers were listed in the Meadville Tribune, and you don’t get any bigger than the Meadville Tribune!

All year long I was one of the top three scorers in the county, but there was one problem: One of the two players competing with me for the top position – Jim Komara – was on my team! I can remember many games when we were leading by large margins that Jim Komara took a shot and I was secretly rooting for him to miss!

But then we got into the state tournament where every game could mean the end of the season and the score was always close. I have to admit that in those games, when Jim shot, I hoped he would make every shot. The goal of winning – the team goal – became more important than my personal goals.

The founders of our movement didn’t introduce the idea of restoration for the sake of doctrinal purity alone. They wanted to unite all Christians on the Scriptures for the sake of world evangelism. When we focus on overcoming the real Enemy and winning people for Jesus Christ, then we begin to root for one another. Consider Jesus’ prayer in John 17. After praying for his twelve disciples, he prayed for us:

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. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20-23).

Jesus promised that the world would believe in him if we remained unified. That is why we have such a passion to see our fellowships come together again. This is about so much more than an occasional preacher swap or combined Thanksgiving services. The primary reason we are making efforts to unite our two groups is so that Christ’s mission can be accomplished.

Both groups desire to win people to Christ, not exalt our particular fellowship.
A few years ago the New York Times reported on the ten fastest growing religious movements in America during the 1990s. The Mormons were number one and the Independent Christian Churches were number two, with over eighteen percent growth. The Restoration Movement has been experiencing phenomenal growth over the past fifteen years. New church plants, the explosion of a number of megachurches, and the significant growth of a number of smaller churches has resulted in effective evangelism for New Testament Christianity.

Dr. Jim Garlow, author of How God Saved Civilization, is a respected historian who spoke at a seminar at the North American Christian Convention in June of 2002. He speculated as to why so many Restoration churches are growing. His observation has a certain unbiased credibility because he is not from our movement. He said that it is very unusual for a movement to stagnate as ours did for a number of years and then explode in growth. He noted that a few years ago many church leaders shifted their focus from attempting to persuade denominations of their errors to trying to win the lost. Instead of arguing about certain doctrines, churches have lifted up Jesus Christ, and he is drawing men and women to himself.

When Jesus prayed that we would be one “so that the world may believe,” he was also communicating that if we aren’t united, we’ll have a much more difficult time convincing the world to believe our message. When Christians are divided and bickering with each other, it negates our influence in the world. The world scoffs at the idea that Jesus brings peace when we can’t even get along with one another.

This is, no doubt, the reason why missionaries from our two fellowships have practiced for years the kind of unity we are calling on our churches in America to embrace. Across the globe our evangelists in other countries recognize that unity is a powerful apologetic. In east Africa, for example, missionaries for a cappella and instrumental Restoration churches have worked together for over two decades. Philip Shero, missionary from the a cappella side, explains why: “On the mission field, one of the first questions we are asked is, ‘Why are there so many different churches? Why can’t Christians get along?’ When the native peoples see us working together, see the unity of the Spirit on display, it makes our message so much more convincing.”

A crusty World War II veteran named M. L. Kapmeyer tells of visiting a prison for the criminally insane. In the prison were well over one hundred neurotic convicts. Kapmeyer observed that there were only three prison guards. He asked the warden, “Don’t you worry that the prisoners will join forces and overpower the guards?” The warden’s answer was classic: “Oh, no. Lunatics never unite.”

Lunatics may never unite, but God’s people should. We must unite so that we can “have power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). We are commanded,

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace… so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:3,12-16).

Both fellowships are willing to work together to accomplish the goal of evangelism.
If we are working toward the same goal, how foolish of us not to work together. The opportunity to bring more people into the Kingdom of God and see more souls saved for eternity should compel us to put aside our differences and work toward this common goal.

We are not suggesting that our two sides develop an official missions board that will control all missions dollars. We are simply suggesting that individual churches on both sides look for ways to voluntarily cooperate for the purpose of evangelism. This is already being done here at home and on the mission field with great success. Here are just a few examples:

Missionaries from both fellowships have been working together in many places around the world. Richland Hills Church of Christ supports missionaries in Moscow, Uganda and Kenya that have cooperated with Christian Church missionaries for years. Manuel de Oliveira, a Church of Christ missionary in Mozambique, lives in a compound with missionaries from Christian Churches. They have planted Restoration churches in every province in Mozambique, where there were none just a few years ago.

Jerry and Aleta Kennedy are missionaries in Cape Town, South Africa, supported by Southeast Christian Church. When they arrived in Cape Town fifteen years ago they began worshipping in an a cappella Church of Christ because there were no instrumental churches in the area. They were received so warmly by their a cappella brothers and sisters that they are still helping to minister and work among the a cappella churches in the Cape Town area today.

We rejoice to hear regularly of churches from both fellowships across the nation cooperating in kingdom-building efforts. Kentucky Christian University has intentionally included faculty and staff from both branches of our movement, and professors from both streams have sometimes joined to present papers or teach seminars both at home and abroad.

First Christian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, recently sold their building to a school and began temporarily meeting at the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ while they were looking for new property. Woodmont Hills was returning the favor, since they met in First Christian’s building a few years ago while they were building their new building. Cooperation between the two has been so strong that they have combined college ministries, reaching a number of students from Lipscomb where the Woodmont Hills preacher, John York, is a professor.

One area where we are especially encouraged is in the mission of church planting. In the past year, for example, a Christian Church in Colorado gave money to an a cappella church in Texas to plant another a cappella church in a nearby town. A dying a cappella church in California gave the money from the sale of their building to plant a Christian Church to reach the lost of their community. And in Calgary, Canada, four restoration churches from both fellowships have partnered to plant a new church in the southeast section of their city.

We have heard stories of churches that are serving together in food banks and other ministries to the poor, youth missions and camps, and local outreach efforts. We are convinced that God is honored by such efforts. We are also convinced that we can be far more fruitful together than we can be apart.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Rick’s congregation immediately sent a team of people to see what could be done. God showed them favor with city and federal officials, and they were able to set up a camp in a section of the city known as Algiers. Soon they were joined in the effort by Bob’s church, and to date hundreds of volunteers from both congregations have spent time together in New Orleans rebuilding houses, cleaning yards, and bringing good news to the citizens there. Dozens of other teams have come from Churches of Christ and Christian Churches across the country. And Jesus’ promise has come true: As people have seen these good works, they have glorified the God of heaven.

One of the first churches to join the effort in Algiers was Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland. Ben Cachairas, who preaches there, wrote to the Christian Standard about the experience. He mentioned that on the way there the bus broke down close to Natchez, Mississippi. The team of thirteen from Maryland needed a place to spend the night. All the hotels were full. To the rescue came the Fourth Street Church of Christ. Though they were already housing seventy storm evacuees, they gave the group from Joppa a warm meal, a place to sleep, and sincere Christian hospitality. The next day, their bus repaired, the crew from Mountain Christian Church journeyed on to New Orleans.

When they arrived in New Orleans, to identify themselves as a group authorized to enter the site where Richland Hills was working, they were required to post a sign in their windshield that read “Church of Christ.” Cachairas writes:

Our church vehicle has a magnetic sign on it: Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, MD. Isn’t it a striking image that a load of people rode into the site with both the Church of Christ and Christian Church labels! The question could be asked, “Well, which are you — Christian Church or Church of Christ?” The answer: Yes. One team. One church. One body. One mission. One Lord. One faith. One baptism.

Jesus’ prayer is not mission impossible!

When General Eisenhower was asked how he managed to keep the diverse elements together in the battle of Europe, he said, “Sir, it is one team or we lose.” We rejoice in the victories won together. But the enemy is fierce and there are many battles yet to be won. Jesus said that when we’re one team, the world will believe and we will win the victory. Otherwise, we may very well lose. Soldiers in the barracks may bicker and fight, but on the battlefield we must stand united. Let’s pledge to be one team as we charge forward for the glory of Jesus Christ.New Wineskins

Bob RussellGod has blessed Bob Russell with a life much different than one he could have ever imagined. As a young man growing up in northern Pennsylvania, Bob had intended on becoming a high school basketball coach in his hometown. During his senior year of high school, however, Bob realized a desire in his heart to enter the ministry. Soon thereafter, he enrolled in Cincinnati Bible Seminary where he graduated in 1965.

At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Today that small congregation of 120 members has become one of the largest churches in American, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend.

Bob and his wife Judy have been married for forty years. They have two married sons who live in Louisville and are active at Southeast, and six grandchildren with whom they enjoy spend their time.

An accomplished author, Bob has written over one-dozen books. He also has a weekly column in The Lookout, a magazine printed by Standard Publishing. A highly respected speaker, Bob is heard weekly on the Living Word, a nationally syndicated radio program. In his leisure time he enjoys playing golf and is an avid University of Louisville basketball fan.

Bob Russell’s gift of humor and insight, along with his unyielding commitment to honesty and integrity, will inspire the hearts of those who listen to consider Biblical truths as they relate to life in contemporary culture.

The church’s Web site: [Southeast Christian Church].

Rick AtchleyRick Atchley has served as the preaching minister for the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, since June, 1989. He has a BA in Oral Communications and a MA in Religious Communications from Abilene Christian University.

Rick is the author of three books: Sinai Summit: Meeting God With Our Character Crisis, Back to the Father: Crossing the Bridge of Forgiveness Without Burning it Behind You and What Men Need to Hear.

Rick married Jamie Lyda, of San Antonio, on June 6, 1981 and they have two sons, Michael and Matthew, and one daughter, Morgan. Reach him at [Rick.Atchley@RHChurch.org].

The church’s Web site: [Richland Hills Church of Christ]

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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