The Restoration of Unity Among Divided Brethren

James W. Adams
Nacogdoches, Texas

"I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to Walk worthily of the Calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, faith, one baptism, one God and Father who is over all, and through all, and in all."(Eph. 4:1-6.)

The Fact of Division

That there is widespread spiritual and organic division among members of professed churches of Christ is not a debatable proposition; it is a demonstrable reality. That unity is divinely required, urgently desirable and conditionally attainable, few deny. The problem lies in the conditionality of attainment. The solution to the problem will be found in the answer to the question: What are these conditions and how are they to be implemented so as to produce the desired result? In these areas, there are widely divergent views held by equally sincere and capable brethren on both sides of current issues concerning congregational cooperation and human institutions. There are also widely divergent views within the precincts of each of these groups of brethren.

"Rising Expectations"

Within the past two years, certain things have occurred which have produced "rising expectations among brethren generally on both sides of current problems that prospects for a restoration of unity are not entirely hopeless. As always in such matters, there have been idealistic expressions from optimistic visionaries and jaundiced comments from pessimistic fatalists. Added to this, there has more recently been an effort on the part of one journal circulated among "conservative" brethren to capitalize on the meager and debatable results of a few private, brotherly discussions between so called "conservative" and "liberal" brethren (Buchanan Dam, Arlington, and Leaky Texas) by initiating something called a "peace offensive" and more recently a "reasoning offensive." Since this writer was prominently involved in initiating and participating in the meetings in question, it seems advisable, even imperative, that he have something to say about the turn this matter has taken.

Our Text

The text of Scripture with which this article begins is probably the most pertinent "unity" text in the New Testament. It contains a statement of the seven essential elements of "the unity of the Spirit." They are preceded in the text by a delineation of prerequisites that are indispensable to the establishment and maintenance of that unity. We should like to make this text the basis of our study of the subject.

Unity Prerequisites

(1) A manner of life on the part of Christians with the high and holy character of their calling. Paul says "I beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called" (vs. 1) This condition might be considered as embracing all the others, and they might be considered as a definition of what constitutes such consistent behavior. However, the Christian's calling is a "holy calling" (2 Tim. 1:9} and the Christian a "sanctified person (1 Cor. 1:1, 2). A sanctified person is one who has been set apart to holy uses or purposes. Therefore, in walking worthily, a Christian must live a holy life.

Mutual holiness of conduct is an absolutely essential prerequisite to a restoration of unity between divided brethren. Unity in sinful living would be abhorrent to Jehovah. Doctrinal orthodoxy and unity therein apart from holiness would be Pharisaical and potentially blasphemous. The Hebrew writer unites peace with holiness and warns, "Follow peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." (Heb. 12:14.) It is probably in order to remark also that leadership in any effort toward a restoration of unity among divided brethren must come from sources impeccably holy--brethren of known integrity and unblemished reputation.

(2) Humility. Paul says, "With all lowliness..." (vs. 2) Probably the attribute of human character most detrimental to the establishment and maintenance of the "unity of the Spirit" is human pride. It is said that the Greeks of our Lord's time had no word in the language for humility which did not have ignoble connotations. Their words connoted a "slavish, mean" disposition. Humility as a virtue required the coining of a word by the New Testament writers (See: William Barclay, Galatians and Ephesians, pp 159, 160.)

A "crucifying of self" -- renunciation of vested interests--is an indispensable prerequisite to a restoration of unity among divided brethren. Too often, loss of face, place, position, and popularity impede such restoration. To our Lord, the humility involved in self-renunciation for His sake was a noble attribute, in fact, the royal road to "greatness" in His kingdom. (Matt. 20: 25. 27.) Mr. Barclay states the matter beautifully, when he says, "Christian humility is based on the sight of self, the vision of Christ, and the realization of God." He meant by "sight of self" recognition of our sinfulness, by "vision of Christ" an acute awareness of His perfection as our example, and by "realization of God" an honest facing of the fact of our utter dependence upon God and his grace for our salvation (Ibid. p.161). A restoration of unity among persons characterized by such humility becomes immeasurably easier to effect.

(3) "Meekness." Paul says, "With all lowliness and meekness..."(v. 2). We often equate meekness with humility. New Testament "meekness" is related to humility as effect is related to cause. The Greek term "praus" from which it is derived was used in our Lord's time to describe the temper of an animal broken to harness--an ox broken to the yoke. The meek man is one broken to God's harness, one not motivated by the carnal mind but uniformly controlled and directed by "the mind of the Spirit." (Rom. 8:1-11)

Therefore, New Testament unity can only prevail among people who are uniformly amenable to the overtures of truth. Unity is not an end within itself. Unity in error is worthless and Unity based on truth alone avails. The prerequisite, meekness, comports t the oneness of the faith which is set forth basic element of the "unity of the Spirit."

Amenability to the overtures of Divine truth describes a spirit or attitude, but there involved than this. A person may be sincere in his desire to yield submissively to the will of God, but at the same time, be characterized by a perverted concept of what constitutes the demands of that will. If the meeting at Buchanan Dam, Arlington, and Leahey revealed anything concerning the road to a restoration of unity, it was the fact our problem is intellectual not emotional, that before there can be unity there must be a meeting of the minds on basic principles involved in the determination and application of Divine authority. I believe such men as Reuel Lemmons, J.D. Thomas, Jackson, Roy H. Lanier, et al are as honest as I am. I love them as brethren and respect them as men of ability, learning, and integrity, but I sincerely believe them to be in error. I think I would not be presumptuous in saying that their attitude toward those of us who met with them in the meeting under consideration is the same as ours toward them.

Keeping the Record Straight

The considerations just set forth call to mind a statement recently made in the journal previously mentioned as promoting what it calls a "peace offensive." The owner and manager of this journal tells of a jet propelled flight across a considerable portion of the nation for the expressed purpose "to feel the pulse of the brethren." This reminds one of our oft expressed criticisms of certain brethren "wetting their fingers and holding them up to see which way the wind blows." He avers that, as a result of this pulse feeling, he has discovered "brethren are not generally classify the institutional and sponsoring church issues in the same category as instrumental music in worship, and thus do not require disfellowshipping of the former as they do in case of the latter."

(Gospel Guardian, September 4, 1969, p.11)

We do not know the identity of the brethren to whom our brother talked on his jet-propelled, pulse-feeling journey, nor does it make any particular difference. We only know that we have been fighting this battle in the religious press for almost two decades now. We know that we have written reams of material on the subjects in question, and have been in intimate contact with most of the brethren who might in anyone's judgment be regarded as "the cream of the crop of God's servants... those who stand tall and straight in the ranks of God's soldiers of faith," as our brother expresses it. We also know, and mark this, that both we and they have from the beginning and do now regard the use of mechanical instruments of music in the worship and the establishment and maintenance of human institutions and sponsoring church arrangements through which churches generally function to perform their mission as occupying identical ground both logically and scripturally. We have opposed them and do now oppose them on precisely the same basis--the only difference being that the former represents an addition to and a perversion of the' worship of the church while the latter represents additions to and perversions of the organization of the church. We could as easily fellowship one practice as the other.

Brother Roy E. Cogdill at the Arlington meeting and this writer at the Leakey meeting spoke on "How to Establish Bible Authority for the Christian's Faith and Practice." In these speeches, both of us in word and on chart paralleled the two practices referred to in the preceding paragraph and rejected them as unscriptural on the same basis--as unauthorized practices coordinate in character with Divinely authorized practices. I have often heard the father of the owner of the Gospel Guardian (and he taught me most of what I know about Bible teaching in its application to current problems) say, "Corrupt the organization of the church and it is a simple matter to corrupt her worship, her work, and her life." We believe this to be the truth.

These facts make it imperative that we correct the following statement: "The Arlington, Texas 'unity' meeting of 1968 was significant. There were some pitfall (sic Jif/A) surrounding it, I believe, which created chagrin in many including me. But a lot of things were learned as a result of it, and it may be recognized in the history of these times as some sort of turning point. A similar meeting in Leakey, Texas in 1969 sought to avoid the pitfalls of the first." (Gospel Guardian, September 4, 1969, p. 2)

Let it be observed that the writer of the above was not present at either of these meetings. He, therefore, knows nothing first hand about what occurred at either or what motivated their being conducted. The writer of this article was present and participated in both. We say unhesitatingly that the so-called "pitfalls" surrounding the Arlington meeting exist in the imagination of the owner of the Gospel Guardian and nowhere else. We further affirm that the Leaky meeting did not as he avers "seek to avoid the pitfalls of the first." The Leaky meeting came about as the result of a suggestion of a San Antonio preacher of the so-called "liberal" persuasion that a meeting similar to the Arlington meeting be conducted in that area.

The Leakey meeting was planned and conducted exactly like the Arlington meeting with a few minor changes in the order of procedure as to speeches. The only difference perceivable to this writer between the two meetings was that the brethren of the so called "liberal" view were not represented by as mature, conservative, and able men as they were at Arlington. Actually, the Arlington meeting was considerably the better of the two. Both of these meetings were simply private discussions (the general public not invited) between brethren occupying opposite positions relative to current issues in which all material except Bible teaching was excluded. They were not "unity" meetings in the modern, ecumenical sense of that term. Unity was simply one of the themes discussed.

The Preceptor, October, 1969


January 1, 1970