Standing at the Crossroads
One Sunday in the 1980s, serving as a campus minister, I found myself standing at the crossroads in front of our church building. I was debating whether to walk into the worship service or turn around and leave. The singing had started and the doors were closed. Tragically, these were not the only closed doors. My heart had been closing for some time and I was largely blind to it along the way. I had not guarded my heart well (Prov. 4:23). I thought I was building on the rock, but clearly, the opposite was true (Matt 7:24-27).
I was a young ambitious dreamer running on my strength and not God’s. Now, I was a weary youth ready to stumble (Isa. 40:30-31). I was trying to live up to what I perceived others wanted and in the process, I was not honest with myself or others. I ignored my fears, doubts, struggles, and even my questions about God and His word. Moreover, I struggled with pride, legalism, and a sectarian spirit. The perfect storm had come and now I was facing reality.
There I was, standing in the street, wrestling with whether I should walk in or pack up my truck and head home to Michigan. Then I thought about the extremely heavy, antique, solid maple dresser my grandmother had given me. Living in a second-floor apartment, I knew I could not carry it down the narrow stairwell by myself, and I could not leave it behind. And so, I decided to walk into church – this began the long road of reconstructing my faith. That dresser served as an anchor for my soul. Not the dresser itself, but rather, the relationship with my grandmother – It was a relational and historical mooring that I will never forget.
Some within the Stone Campbell Movement (SCM) are dangerously untethered to the better angels of our heritage – voices of reason, unity, biblical wisdom, hope, vision, and experience. Are these not voices that we should know well and listen to?
In the USA individualism is deeply embedded into our DNA. We tend to strike out on our own and cut new paths. But, in so doing we can lose the value of community, experience, and heritage. We are left alone to struggle and repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. The other option is to listen to those who have gone before us. To learn from their journey, mistakes, struggles, and victories.
The written word has allowed me to sit at the feet of courageous men of faith - Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, Leroy Garrett, Carl Ketcherside, James DeForest Murch, James North, Rick Atchley, Bob Russell, Ben Brewster, Douglas A. Foster, and more. I have gained tutoring for my life and grown in my faith. These have sought, or are seeking, to bring Christians together in unity rather than divide them into “us and them.” In my view, this is a sustainable way forward for our heritage.
Below are three voices who have helped me anchor my soul and live better for our Lord.
“The Scriptures will never keep together in union and fellowship and members not in the spirit of the scriptures, which spirit is love, peace, unity, forbearance, and cheerful obedience. This is the spirit of the great Head of the body. I blush for my fellows, who hold up the Bible as the bond of union yet make their opinions of it tests of fellowship with such as dissent from their notions.” Barton W. Stone
“It should impress us profoundly that our Lord, even in his last hours, should pray for the oneness of his disciples. That alone should make divisions among Christians intolerable. And should it not also lead us to pray for the unity of all God’s peoples, including in our assemblies?”… “Christian unity and evangelism are interrelated. Jesus made this strikingly clear in his prayer for unity, even implying that a divided church cannot effectively evangelize. The church is to be one so the world can be won.” Leroy Garrett
“I shall make nothing a test of fellowship which God has not made a condition of salvation. I shall be a brother to all who have been begotten by my Father. Brotherhood based upon Fatherhood, fraternity based upon paternity, this shall be my standard because it is scriptural. I have no half-brothers or step-brothers in the Lord. I accept you where you are and as you are. If you are good enough to be his son or daughter you are not too bad to be my brother or sister. If a man is good enough for God to receive he is not too bad for me to accept. The unity of the Spirit is one of community, not conformity; of diversity, not uniformity. Carl Ketcherside
By John Teal, October 31, 2020
The above quotes are taken from “Together in Christ” by Victor Knowles, pages 119, 105, 109.
John Teal serves on the Board of Directors of Common Grounds Unity. John and Danna live in Simi Valley, CA with their two daughters Michelle and Jessica. John has a B.S. in Biblical Studies from Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri.