When I talk about unity, some people get it. Part of my job as the director of Campus Christians entails making the rounds to visit our supporting churches on a regular basis. When I visit these churches, I like to talk about our efforts at KU, The University of Kansas, to move toward unity among the various campus ministries, and some people get it. Some people light up. They nod their heads and smile. Some of the churches can relate to our efforts because they are attempting to do the same thing in their own community among their own local churches.
Some people, however, have a difficult time understanding why we would go out of our way to try to work together. After all, our university campuses are dark, crooked places aren’t they? Many campus ministries are watering down the gospel in order to appeal to students, correct? So, don’t we need to find ways to separate ourselves from the pack by holding to the things we know to be true?
A Particular Visit with a Pastor
Last week, I visited one of our many supporting churches in the area. I spoke with their pastor and their high school youth group leader about our continuous efforts at unity. They got it. They lit up.
“You should give this a look,” the youth pastor said, as he dug into his briefcase and produced a photocopied document that he placed in my hand.. “We’ve been going through it together as a staff and it’s been helpful.” He went on to explain how some of the ideas I was sharing seemed to line up with the content of this document.
The paper he passed me was titled, “Declaration and Address of 1809.” It was a document drafted by an Irish Presbyterian minister named Thomas Campbell who had emigrated to Pennsylvania a few years prior, but had quickly grown weary of the oppressive denominational rigidity he was experiencing.
To achieve unity, he detailed, required “letting go of human traditions and loyalties to dynamic personalities. Christ alone should be exalted.”
The principles set forth in Campbell’s Declaration over 200 years ago resonate in my spirit. They sound modern. They sound invigorating and progressive. Here are a few:
- That the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one: consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures.
- That…there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among local congregations.
- That…nothing out to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the Word of God.
- That…the New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline and government of the New Testament church, and as perfect a rule of the particular duties of its members, as the Old Testament was for the worship, discipline and government of the Old Testament church…
- That…(no) human authority has power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined.
I can’t be certain how Campbell’s congregants reacted to him publishing these tenets, but I think I have a pretty good idea. I bet some squirmed. I bet they worried about aligning themselves with weak or watered-down Christians whose beliefs wouldn’t be specific enough. But, I bet some people got it. I bet some of them just lit up.
John Benda is the Director of Campus Christians at The University of Kansas. He has worked in church ministry as a worship leader, high school pastor, associate pastor and teacher. John has also sold used books, cleaned carpets, flipped pancakes and waited tables to make ends meet, and often plays drums in his rock&roll band for absolutely no money at all. He began working in college ministry in 2014. John and his beautiful wife, Lydia, live in Lawrence, Kansas.