Two Hundred Years….And Counting (Jan-Apr 2006)

By Matt Dabbs

From the CLOSING CONVOCATION CANE RIDGE REUNION

Dr. Lynn Anderson, Central Christian Church, Lexington, KY; June 28, 2004
January – April, 2006 Issue

On the occasion of the 200th Anniversary of the signing of the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery

How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
Psalm 133: NIV

Standing before you on this historic occasion is a profound honor—even as a last minute substitute. Dr. Fred Craddock, was to have addressed you at this hour. We all so looked forward to hearing him. Unfortunately, however, he is in hospital. Let me assure you, that for me to step in for a man we all so admire and love, feels a bit like Calamity Jane stepping in for Mother Teresa. So please bear with me.

Of course I cannot presume to speak for the whole Stone-Campbell Movement. Mine is only one voice. The good news however, is that at this point in history, many voices seem to be singing a similar song.

But let us revisit Cane Ridge one more time.

A grand dream
Two hundred years ago today, Barton W. Stone and colleagues signed the Springfield Presbytery out of existence and “dissolved into the body of Christ at large.” This ‘last will and testament’ is a DNA document of the Restoration Movement. The Movement began with a grand dream. And tonight ‘Keepers of the Dream’—from all three streams—are represented here under one roof, and around one communion table, at least for this evening.

Not so long after the signing of “The last will and testament of the Springfield Presbytery,” Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell shook hands in this very city—to unite their two Christian freedom and unity movements into one. In its early decades, that movement—the Stone-Campbell movement—flourished in a most remarkable way. In the words of Barton W. Stone, the movement swept across the nation “like fire in dry stubble.”

That was then. But this is now. Those first one hundred years were glorious. But during the last one hundred, the ‘glory has departed’ and we have divided, and in some streams subdivided into fragments. The fire has died down—and the movement is not making nearly the global impact it seemed at first to promise. In fact, even this historic gathering, although it made the AP wire—is still a minuscule blip on the radar of global attention. When we count noses, all three streams of the movement don’t add up to much more than three million in a world approaching seven billion.

The weekend began with a grand reunion of some eight hundred celebrants at the old Cane Ridge meeting house. It continued with great celebration. Last night an all night prayer vigil began with many of those hundreds still on the ridge and ended with a joint communion service at noon today. Through the long night the crowd dwindled as folks began their homeward travels. Till today at noon, only nine of us were there, three from each stream of the movement, huddled for communion in a museum! Was the gathering at Cane Ridge this weekend a prophetic metaphor for the Restoration Movement? Will that which began with a bang, end with only a whimper? Was the grand dream of Christian Liberty and Unity a flawed dream, a failed experiment?

Some may have so concluded. But of that number I am decidedly not one. On the contrary, I believe the hopes of those who signed the “Last will and testament of the Springfield Presbytery” are still valid and current.

Where did we lose our way?
But somewhere across the years, we lost our way. And what happened? I do not profess to be a historian. So what follows here is my take and mine alone. But I believe that at least part of what happened looked something like the following.

1. Enlightenment thinking. The movement was born in a time of optimistic humanism spilling out of the enlightenment. This nation itself was shaped in the confidence that “we can get a country right” this time: A ‘right’ constitution, ‘right’ laws and ‘right’ governance. This spirit of early America was also the spirit of the foundations of the Restoration Movement. Maybe even of the “Last will and testament of the Springfield Presbytery.” So the logic went like this: “We are enlightened. Therefore, we can get a church right this time!”

But this lofty view of human reason has long since proven to be both exaggerated and naïve.

2. View of Scripture. In such an ‘enlightened’ environment, some appeared to view the Bible as a sort of ‘right Constitution.’ In fact, that very language was actually used on occasion, and as a book of case-law, framing ‘the right’ doctrine. Many saw scripture as an ecclesiastical blueprint mapping our polity and practice. In a further twist to the plot, a sort of ‘flat’ view of scripture emerged in some quarters. Flat? The idea that every statement in scripture is of equal importance. That there are no dimes and one dollar bills—only one hundred dollar bills. This meant that for some people, issues like the number of cups used in communion, or the format of a worship service were equally as significant as the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Also, in some quarters, matters of opinion, even on ‘dime and one dollar’ issues became matters of salvation—and thus issues of fellowship.

3. Regionalism. The residual traumatic impact of the civil war was a huge shaping force on the American psyche and still is. This ‘shaping force’ also profoundly impacted the Stone-Campbell movement. True, the movement appeared to survive the civil war, itself intact. But our solidarity began to crumble in the aftermath of reconstruction, when resentment festered among starving brothers in the South toward brothers in the North over what Southern Christians perceived to be the indifference to their poverty and misery.

Besides, educational levels in the north began to outstrip those in the devastated south, which mixed with reconstruction resentment and produced a certain streak of anti-intellectualism among some leaders in the South. The division was perhaps compounded by attitudes of intellectual superiority among some in the North.

These factors were compounded and further exacerbated geographic distance, resulting in social separation, even isolation from each other. In such a climate, misinformation flourished and suspicion increased, some of which doggedly persists till our times. Just as one example, I was invited to be guest lecturer at a Restoration History class one morning in a Bible College. In preparation I read the text (used by the professor, and many professors in other schools) which blatantly mis-represented the dominant views of one of the other streams of the movement.

Light on the horizon
For the most part, however, we do not live there any longer. And the good news is that in these days we are opening authentic communication with each other—not debate, but sincere dialogue. We are getting to know one another and genuinely listening to one another. In the process, old stereotypes are fading. We are discovering that there is not as much difference between us, among us, as we were led to believe. And it is becoming more and more obvious that “we have been separated far too long over far too little.”

We are now seeing rays of hope stream over new horizons.

1. Mysterium Tremendum. We live now in a post-enlightenment period, where most of the folks who have hungered a long time for God, have discovered that He transcends our categories, He is too awesome for us to explain and capture in our little minds, let alone confined to our diminutive camps. In addition they see that the human situation is far too complex for any movement to actually “get it right, once and for all.” I like the way the elders of one large congregation put it: “We love the truth of God, and pursue it heart and mind. But at the end of the day, we would rather be righteous than right.”

2. A better Bible: We have come to see the Bible very differently from the way it was viewed in the heyday of the enlightenment. While we still view scripture as the inspired word of God, we believe God gave us the Bible, not as Constitution, with case-law and blue prints, but as the way to know His heart and His will. We are growing more humble before the compelling and magnificent story of God’s long and loving interaction with the human race. The supreme highlight of the whole dramatic plot is the story of the Christ’s cross. The story that draws us into The Story and unto Him.

So, when it comes to doctrine, today many who believe deeply that everything in the Bible is true, do not at all see everything in the Bible as of equal importance. Not everything is a one hundred dollar bill. There are nickels and dimes too. The one hundred dollar bills, however, are few and clear.

Here are a few examples:

“You will love the Lord with all your heart soul and mind, and you will love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment like this.” (Love, not doctrine is the foundation of unity. While doctrine is important, total agreement will not unify us if we do not love each other. And if we genuinely love each other, we can be one despite doctrinal differences.)

Another one hundred dollar bill: “I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the father except by me.” If there is a blue print in scripture, that blue print, that pattern, is Jesus. We are called to live him out in Christ like community.

But note the crowning one hundred dollar bill: “This is of first importance: that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day . . . and appeared to many.” The most important issues in scripture are those most directly intertwined with this one hundred dollar bill; this issue “of first importance.” These core themes declare the death burial and resurrection of Christ: Communion. Baptism. Taking up our cross to follow Jesus. Loving God and loving neighbor. These are biblical one hundred dollar bills. And today, we heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement are growing less willing to divide over nickels and dimes. As for me and my house, “We will not make a test of fellowship that which God has not made a condition of salvation.”

3. Humility. We sense that even our best understandings are limited. And that each of us keeps growing in his or her understanding by listening thoughtfully to the understanding of others. We need not abandon cherished convictions to count each other as brothers. In fact, we are discovering that we can value strong conviction, but at the same time, stay open to new light. More and more devoted followers of Jesus and serious students of the Bible are recovering the grace to live out the sentiments of J.W. McGarvey, a man of strong convictions (who for decades preached from this very pulpit) when he said, “I would never presume to limit the grace of God to my understanding of the scriptures.”

A Common Cause
Another light house shines out across a dark sea, hopefully correcting our course back toward each other: Passion for a common mission. But, our common mission is not unity. Unity is a work of the spirit. But unity is also a by-product of pursuing a common mission. What then is our common mission? Our common mission is still the great commission! Bringing people who are alienated from God into authentic relationship with Him and growing them into authentic disciples, in genuine community. It is precisely here – at the point of common mission – that I see hope for the future of the movement.

First, passion for the common mission is bringing many Disciples, churches of Christ, and Independent Christian churches back into respectful dialogue – even co-operative efforts in some quarters. I believe that each stream represented here is to be commended for its contribution to the overall movement. (In fact, at this very moment I feel deep gratitude for the Disciples: You are the historical keepers of the flame out at Cane Ridge and through the Disciples of Christ Historical Society – and more specifically, by hosting this joint event tonight.)

This respectful dialogue and co-operation has been growing quietly for more than forty years. Some of us have long experienced joint efforts among churches of Christ, Independent Christian churches and Disciples of Christ. For example: In Canada, where I grew up, as far back as late 1950s, each year all three streams shared a Bible conference at Alberta Bible College, in Calgary, Alberta. Some of us a cappella church of Christ ministers preached revivals in Christian Churches as far back as the 1960s. I helped plant a church in British Columbia where now two elders co-shepherd a congregation. One of the elders is on the board of Western Christian College, a Church of Christ School. The other is on the board of Alberta Bible College, a Christian Church school.

Now days this kind of dialogue and co-operation is emerging in more visibly in mainstream forums. In the past seven years with Hope Network Ministries1 at least one quarter of my interaction with Christian leaders (touching more 2,300 congregations) has been in joint venues including both Christian churches and churches of Christ. A ground swell of trust and respect and understanding is rising.

Last summer, Hope Network Ministries sponsored a conference in San Antonio featuring speakers from both churches of Christ and Christian churches, in an atmosphere full of camaraderie and hope. Many more similar events will take place this year, hosted by several different groups and in different places. One in Dallas, hosted by Church Development Fund (supports church planting of Independent Christian Churches) brought together some three hundred leaders from churches of Christ and Independent Christian churches for two days of shared ministry planning.

In addition, several Christian Colleges will include presenters from both churches of Christ and independent Christian churches at their next Bible lectureships. Then March 23-25, 2006, the Tulsa Soul-Winning Workshop will host Independent Christian church speakers for major presentations. Bob Russell and Max Lucado will share the stage as will Marvin Phillips and Chuck Booher, and Jeff Walling and Allan Dunbar. Then in 2006, North American Convention of Christian churches will again feature several church of Christ presenters in what I would call a sort of ‘festival of reconciliation.’ Of course not every one will participate, but good things definitely lay straight ahead.

A refreshing open mindedness is growing, too, all around. Things that were issues of dogma a decade ago are becoming merely matters of preference or opinion now. And for many leaders, even some of those matters of strong conviction are no longer matters of fellowship.

An idea whose time has returned!
Most wonderful of all, we are discovering that the “the Restoration ideal is not only still valid but the hottest brand going: In matters of faith Unity, in matters of opinion Liberty and in all things Charity. This idea is gaining appeal outside our Stone-Campbell circles and is breaking free from negative perceptions. For example, Brad Small told me recently, “The restoration plea is rock solid. When you stand before a group of people and say, ‘We will be bound only by the written word of God, as best we understand it. And in our faltering way we want to imitate Jesus ministry’—people love that. People from every denomination in town come for that because that’s what most believers long for.”

Brad should know. His congregation began in 1995 with 34 people. Now average attendance is well over 2,200. Of the adults that make up the church, approximately eight hundred have been baptized there.

We see individual Stone-Campbell Movement churches grow larger than ever before in our history, both churches of Christ and Christian churches. Nearly two hundred church of Christ or Christian churches average over one thousand in attendance.

50 over 2,000
20 over 3,000
11 over 4,000
9 over 5,000

One is closing in on 21,000 (and these figures are changing every month)

Besides large churches, exciting things are happening in evangelism and church planting. The Independent Christian church is the fastest growing Christian group in North America at the moment. Yet, Independent Christian Churches are dead serious about long standing Restoration Movement ideals:

a) Authority of Scripture
b) Congregational independence
c) Baptism by immersion
d) Weekly Communion
e) Priesthood of believers

This kind of growth with this kind of message confirms the ‘Christians Only’ message still has strong appeal, when we stick with Biblical one hundred dollar bills and are passionate about the Mission of Jesus.

Years ago most of us gave up on the hope that we would come to unity by resolving our differences over instrumental music. Indeed, organic union may not happen, may not even be important. But there is great hope that we can come together in a common mission. In fact, this is already happening. In some quarters we are coming together in joint church plantings.

For example, consider STADIA, a church planting organization with Independent Christian church roots, whose goal is to plant 5,500 churches in the United States by 2025. STADIA recruits and screens church planters then trains them for effective planting. In the past STADIA only planted Instrumental Christian churches. But this year they have restructured their charter and are now helping plant a cappella churches of Christ as well as Independent Christian churches, so long as the plants are rooted in the Restoration Movement with the above ideals. Already several a cappella churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches are partnering together to plant new churches. Oh Lord, what a morning. Could this be as the song puts it, ‘the generation of reconciliation and peace?’

What is more, the Restoration Movement appears to be much larger than many of us dared to dream. Some of us attended the 1994 ‘Just-for-pastors’ Promise Keepers conference in Atlanta, which brought together the largest gathering of Christian ministers in history—more than 45,000 ministers, it is reported. The theme was breaking down walls. The first night was aimed at the walls between individuals and God. The second day, racial barriers. The last day was given to breaking down the walls between Christian fellowships.

Max Lucado keynoted that third day. The person who introduced Max attempted to read the Promise Keepers creed, then realized how dry and cumbersome that sounded, and he laid it aside and said, “Let me just summarize it: In matters of faith, Unity. In matters of opinion, Freedom. In everything, Love.” Something inside of me was saying, “Wait a minute. That is our line.” But thousands of pastors from across the denominational spectrum, exploded into an uproar of applause. Forty-five thousand men of God celebrated that unity slogan as if it had been hand-delivered from Heaven.

Max began with a two part exercise. “first,” he suggested, “on the count of three shout out the name of the organization you represent: denominations, seminary, para-church group, etc. One, two, three . . .”

The sound from the crowd was a mumble, mumble, mumble of discordant sounds as the names of hundreds of organizations were voiced. Then Max said, “Okay, now on the count of three, shout out the name of your Lord and Savior. One. Two. Three.”

The crowd exploded: “J-E-S-U-S!” The sound shook the Georgia Dome. Then he observed, “You know, that division was a little hard to understand. But we are talking about Jesus.” Again the crowd enthusiastically applauded their agreement.

Then Max gave his now famous ‘boat speech,’ in which the captain is trying to get his passengers all across to the same safe harbor, in spite of differences. The ones into worship are gathered in the ‘bow.’ Those into discipline cluster in the ‘stern.’ Some scramble to the middle of the deck for fear they of falling overboard. Others are leaning over the rails because they think it is impossible to fall overboard. While one little group is huddled in a cabin on a lower deck, all alone, thinking they are the only ones on board!

At this last comment, all around where we sat, people from various denominations dropped their heads and exclaimed, “Oh no. That is us!”

Finally there was a challenge to each of us to find a person from a denomination we had bad-mouthed, and to apologize to that person, then set up a pen-pal, prayer partnership for a few months. Uproarious applause broke out again, in wave after wave, interspersed by hugging, singing – even a bit of dancing, I think.

I found myself thinking, Maybe somewhere right now Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell are clapping their bones, and saying, “Yes. Yes. Finally.” And I wondered also if somewhere a smile was spreading across the face of Jesus. And my friends, I never have been more proud and thankful to be a child of the Restoration Movement. Yes, with all of its warts. With all of our spur tracks. With all of the baggage we have gathered across the last hundred years, the basic original dream of the Restoration Movement at its best is still the ‘hottest brand going.’ ‘Christians only’ is and idea whose time has really returned—in spades!

In the face of a world that has desperately, hopelessly lost its way, these are not times to give up on the dream. Nor have we the right to abandon the mission. The great commission is still as great as ever. And in the face of this overwhelming challenge, we can no longer afford the luxury of division

A few days after the end of the civil war a former slave, newly freed, found himself at loose ends, wandering the streets of Richmond on a Sunday evening. He heard sounds of singing coming from a church, and felt irresistibly drawn through the doors. It was a white church. A ‘high church.’ And he happened in during communion. He did not notice the looks of resentment and hostility as he walked down the aisle and headed for the communion table. A stern faced deacon stepped into his path and rudely asked the black man to leave. But an older gentleman intervened, urged the rude deacon aside and led the black man to the communion rail. Then, that silver-haired white man – General Robert E. Lee – with his own hands served commune to the former slave.

How about us? We who are sons and daughters of the Restoration Movement. Let us be done with hostility. It is high time, for each of us to leave behind our self-perceptions of superiority and whatever deep wounds you or I may have received in the past. Tonight let us come eagerly, longing, thankfully to the communion table where we stand on level ground at the foot of the cross.New Wineskins

Resources

http://www.caneridge.org/
http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/
http://www.therestorationmovement.com/

Lynn AndersonLynn Anderson is an author, well-known speaker, and founder of Hope Network Ministries, a ministry dedicated to coaching and equipping church leaders. For the twenty-five years Lynn has served as an adjunct professor at Abilene Christian University, teaching missions, ministry, and leadership courses. Through those years he has been called on increasingly by ministers and numerous churches for encouragement, resources, and counsel in the midst of the challenges of church leadership. [Lynnanderson.org]

 

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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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