Posted by: naccm | February 3, 2010

A Movement…Turning a Good Phrase by Dave Embree, Missouri State Univ – Part I

Dave Embree is a 31 year veteran of campus ministry, and current campus minister as well as an instructor in the religion department at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO.

I grew up in the Christian Church…almost literally.  As a PK, I attended all services, helped take out the trash, hand-cranked the mimeograph to produce bulletins and set up and tore down endless numbers of chairs and tables (where were those lightweight plastic tables back then?!).  I was baptized at age 9, and in all those playground theology sessions proclaimed the depth of my spiritual sophistication: “We’re right and you’re wrong.”

When as a high schooler I got past my, “I’m too smart to be a Bible-thumper like all these yokels around here” (much thanks to C. S. Lewis), I drifted into more a “why can’t we all just get along?” mentality (except for those Catholics…), and was often embarrassed to identify which building I went to on Sundays.  I began to realize that instead of being the gold standard against which all other denominations evaluated themselves, the Christian Church was a mystery to most people, and even mentioning it in conversation brought up all sorts of puzzled responses: “We’re all Christians, but what kind are YOU?”  “Isn’t that awfully arrogant to call yourselves THE Christian Church?”

The Restoration Movement (now more politically correctly called “The Stone-Campbell Movement”, though I still like the prior better) was not built on or by theologians; it was called into being by preachers, and preachers love the turn of a good phrase.  Some of those phrases became the rallying cries that brought together nearly 500,000 people during the movement’s first 50 years.  They were good thinking then, and provide some good insight for now.

In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty and in all things love.” This was (and is) far easier said than done.  The early preachers wanted to find the absolute basics which needed to be agreed upon in order for Christ’s unified body to be restored.  The essentials, they concluded, are recognition of the Lordship of Jesus and what is needed for salvation–which is surrender to Him.  Non-essentials went so far as to include slavery.  Love covered a huge diversity of beliefs in the early days, and there was great joy over the breadth of the unity acheived.  Non-essentials today?  Styles of worship; eschatological theories; exact nature and role of the Holy Spirit; theories about how and when exactly God created; just what “inerrancy” means; women’s roles in the church.

Where the Scriptures speak we speak and where the Scriptures, are silent, we are silent.” Why do we speak so much about evangelism, baptism and elders in the church?  Because the Bible does.  However, sometimes social and cultural trends and pressures result in us not speaking so clearly about other things regarding which the Bible equally clearly speaks–caring for the poor, the evilness of divorce, spiritual gifts and their practical application.  It was a dispute over the silence of Scripture that led to the first division within the original unity movement–if the New Testament does not speak of instrumental music, shouldn’t that be taken as forbidding of it?  Despite our eye-rolling over the ridiculousness of that conclusion, other silences of Scripture include support for any particular political or economic systems, which many of us tend to speak loudly about anyway.

part II next week…



  1. Good article Dave!

  2. man, when’s Part 2 coming? I’m jonesing for more here!

  3. Tomorrow Jake…tomorrow!

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