Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at the Rosedale Congregational United Church of Christ (RCC) in Kansas City, Kansas. As RCC is currently without a pastor, I was asked to preach each Sunday this month, and I much appreciate their invitation. (It will be the first time for me to preach at the same church four Sundays in a row in 50 years.)
As you may know, the United Church of Christ (UCC) was formed in 1957. It was the result of a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches. RCC was formerly a part of the latter.
The vision of the UCC is a great one—but one that is unlikely to be actualized anytime soon. Of course, this is not the first time an effort has been made to unite the Church, doing away with denominations.
In the 1830s the vision of Thomas Campbell, along with his son Alexander and others, led to the formation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). But now that Church, as well as the UCC, is just another denomination.
The history of Christianity is a history replete with divisions, great and small. The first major division occurred in 1054 when the Eastern Church, centered in Constantinople, separated from the western Church, centered in Rome.
The second great division took place with the Protestant reformations in the 16th century—and then very soon there were divisions among the Protestants. In January 1527 Felix Manz, whom I wrote about here, was martyred in Zurich, the first Protestant to be punitively killed by Protestants.
Since the beginning of the 20th century there have been attempts toward great unity among Christians. The 1910 World Missionary Conference, held in Edinburgh, was an important step in that direction.
Then after the disastrous divisions caused by two world wars, the World Council of Churches (WCC) was formed in 1948. And that ecumenical body, composed of Protestants only, has in recent years reached out to greater cooperation with the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
But, alas, the WCC has been largely rejected and is often criticized by conservative Protestants. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., has through the years remained aloof from the WCC.
Conservative Protestants formed the World Evangelical Fellowship in 1951, changing their name to the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) in 2001. While recently there has been some fruitful interaction between the WCC and the WEA, greater unity is highly unlikely.
The disunity of these two Protestant groups is largely between fundamentalist/conservative understandings of Christianity and moderate/liberal understandings, which differ seriously—and maybe irreconcilably.
Recently, referring to J. Greshem Machen who made a similar assertion in his book Christianity and Liberalism (1923), Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, said, “Rather than representing two points on a spectrum of Christianity, evangelical Christianity and liberal Protestantism are different and competing religions” (see this article by Bob Allen).
As much as I hate to say so, I’m afraid he’s right.
While I hope and pray for Christians to move from the extremes (and errors) of both fundamentalism and liberalism and to the “radiant center,” as I propose in my book “The Limits of Liberalism,” I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
While in the years ahead there may be greater unity among conservative Christians and especially greater unity of moderate/liberal Christians, I think, sadly, there will be little movement toward or formation of a truly united Church of Christ.