Written By: Garrett Best
The Reformation of the Nineteenth Century was published in St. Louis by the Christian Publishing Company in 1901. “Reformation” was the term used by many early Restoration Movement leaders to describe the movement. They saw themselves as continuing the program already started by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others of reforming the Christian church by a return to the Bible. The book was edited by J.H. Garrison, the editor of the Christian Evangelist journal. The chapters were written by notable Restoration Movement leaders like C.L. Loos, W.T. Moore, B.B. Tyler, T.W. Grafton, Benjamin Smith, A. McLean, and J.H. Garrison. Garrison closed out the book with his reflections om what might be learned from the first 50 years of the the American Restoration Movement from 1850-1900. Garrison lived in a time much like our own. By 1901, the Disciples of Christ were very divided. The division between the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ would officially be recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1906. I want to share with you one part of that chapter from pages 500-502.
“We have learned, during these fifty years of co-operative missionary effort, that nothing tends more to the preservation of unity among the churches and the brethren in different parts of the country than active participation in missionary work. There is something so unselfish, so Christlike, so noble in conception about the enterprise of disseminating the truth of the gospel in our own and other lands, and in lifting up degraded peoples to a higher civilization, as to broaden the minds of all who are engaged in it. It diverts attention from those smaller questions about which controversies and divisions have arisen, and directs the thought and energies of the people into broader and more useful channels. Just in proportion as the missionary spirit has grown among us has the spirit of controversy over unprofitable questions diminished. The great convocations held in the interest of missions, in which the representative men and women from various sections of the country meet and mingle together in fraternal counsel, and in which the bonds of personal friendship and Christian brotherhood are strengthened, have tended mightily toward keeping “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Nor is unity the only benefit derived from the reflex influence of our mission work. Just as we have come face to face with the problem of saving men from the dominion of sin, whether in our own or in other lands, and have witnessed the transforming and elevating power of the gospel, our confidence in it as “the power of God unto salvation” has been quickened, and we have been saved from any departure from the evangelical faith. We have learned that no church can be evangelistic that is not first evangelical. There is no test of religious faith of any people so severe as its capacity for dealing with the great problem of the world’s redemption and its actual success in the work of saving men. Our experience in mission work has taught us the supreme value of prayer and the need of the Holy Spirit. There are difficulties of such magnitude to overcome in the prosecution of the stupendous enterprise of the world’s evanglization, that those who are enlisted in it are driven to God for wisdom and strength to carry it forward, and to form an alliance with heaven in order to overcome the opposing forces. In a word, we have learned that there is no other way of developing a robust Christian faith and life in our churches than by enlisting them fully in the work of saving others.”
Was Garrison right? Might a more missional mindset in Churches of Christ help us focus on what’s important rather than on “controversies and divisions”? Would our churches be developing a more “robust Christian faith and life” if we were doing more serving and missional outreach than quarreling and arguing? Would we stop focusing so much on what the Church of Christ up the road does for an hour on Sunday morning if we were serving the community and preaching the gospel with them on Monday-Saturday? Could our diverse churches rally around the gospel call to reach a lost and dying world? Could mission unite us?
Just some things to think about.