I got Victor Knowles newsletter today. Victor has long been a promoter of Christian unity. He is a warm irenic individual who practices what he preaches. That's a bit strange, too, since Victor graduated from Midwestern School of Evangelism. MSE is a school that once sent out a host of narrow divisive and sectarian men who divided many churches in Iowa and Nebraska. Knowles has come a long way!
The latest "Knowlesletter" tells about the final "Restoration Forum" held September 4-5 in Joplin, Missouri. Over the years these forums did much to get those in the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ talking to those in non-instrumental churches of Christ. Those forums and some personal friendships formed along the way probably had a lot to do with the spirit of the North American Christian Convention a couple of years ago.
I'm really glad these heirs of the Restoration Movement are, on some levels at least, talking to one another and even more at times. Sadly, though, I fear these steps forward are limited to a few "big names" in both segments of the brotherhood. You hear a great deal about Rick Atchley, Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly, Doug Foster, and a few others on the acapella side. Rob Russell is the one "biggie" often linked to these unity efforts. That's not to say there aren't others. What is interesting is that some of those among the non-instrumentals are seen as apostates by others in their movement. Max Lucado, for example, leads a congregation in San Antonio that, for all intents and purposes, practices Open Membership.
What caught my eye in Knowles' article was the sappy symbolism of 531 people signing "A Pact for Peace." What a gesture! Why that's just about as meaningful as leaders of the North American Christian Convention exchanging Bibles as a show of unity. You could tell how meaningful the latter was when Rick Atchley made a joke of his exchange with Dave Stone in his message at the convention. It's all "touchy feely" sentimentalism; it is style over substance.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am all for reuniting the warring segments of the Restoration Movement. I just don't think it is going to happen because 531 people signed a document prodded by emotionalism and sentimentalism. Unity is generally not going to result from such things. It happens when one individual accepts another individual in spite of their differences. It happens when individuals form relationships and receive one another as Christ received them.
Besides, there are some "brethren" out there I can't and won't unite with. Disciples who deny the deity of Jesus, the authority of the Word of God, and who think Jehovah, Buddha, Allah, and Siva are all names for the same deity. I can't and won't unite with those whose legalism judges my every action and who reject me because I don't measure up to their invented standards.
Unity comes when individuals seek unity and go across barriers to do it. Carl Ketcherside did that! James DeForest Murch did it, too. So did Bill Lown. I could probably name 100 more if I set my mind to it. Then there are those who "talk a good fight" when it comes to promoting unity and fail miserably to accomplish it. Leroy Garrett does that. He writes about unity -- a unity based on compromise -- but snubs those who disagree with him or who might be critical of something he wrote. Others do it too but in reality they're only interested in building up their own little "kingdoms" here and there.
We are living in an era where "style means a lot more than substance." We're into "experiencing God" (whatever that means) and getting all excited by the music. We measure someone's relationship with the Lord by their emotion rather than their obedience to God's Word. We're back where we were in 1803.