Even though I grew up with a sectarian mind-set when it came to my understanding of Christianity, I gave that understanding up as I began to learn about my Restoration heritage. My heritage was one which, among other things, began with the non-sectarian goal of being “Christians only but not the only Christians.”
Yet it is one thing to be claim to be a non-sectarian and another thing to practice non-sectarian Christianity. When I lived in the Bible-belt states of Arkansas and Tennessee, I had little reason to really venture beyond my own tribe. So rarely did I ever.
This all changed when I moved to Ithaca, NY to minister with the Ithaca Church of Christ. Ithaca was far removed from the Bible-belt where Christianity was a stronghold of culture. In Ithaca, Christianity was one religion among many practiced. Everything I had heard about a postmodern/post-Christian culture was true in Ithaca. As far as Churches of Christ were concerned…even though I had the opportunity to meet with “our” preachers, the geographical spread between us limited our interaction together.
However, shortly after moving to Ithaca, I received a call from one of the other local pastors inviting me to join a fellowship group where local pastors from a variety of different churches who gathered together for prayer, reading of scripture, and encouragement. This group consisted of Restoration, Reformed, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Baptist, and so on.
Theologically speaking, though we all were descendants from the Protestant Reformation, we were a pretty diverse group. There were times when those differences were apparent. Nevertheless, the differences did not keep up from praying for each other. Neither did those differences distract us from what was important…that the name of Jesus Christ would be lifted up and proclaimed in word and deed.
Regardless of the theological differences between us, my time spent in prayer and God’s word with these ministers was always a time of encouragement. There are two special memories I have. The first occurred just before Christmas. These ministers knew I and one other young minister were serving on a part-time salary. We both were given a monetary gift, which for me it meant that my family and I had some money to travel home on. The second memory was our collaboration for a community prayer gathering to coincide with the National Day of Prayer. But this was no nationalistic celebration but an intentional time to bring the Christians from our churches together in order to pray. And so we did. Christians from all of our church gathered to pray for everyone from the citizens of Ithaca to government officials to people in foreign countries would come to know and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Why am I not a sectarian? Because I have been among Christians from those other tribes and I have seen and heard. We had our theological differences but our confession and commitment was and still is the same.
“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” – 1 John 4.15-16, NIV