“He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:48-50
A number of books have been written in recent years asking virtually the same question as Jesus asked so long ago, “who are my brothers?” LaGard Smith’s book titled Who Is My Brother? is subtitled “Facing a Crisis of Identity and Fellowship.” Thomas B. Warren wrote The Bible Only Makes Christians Only and the Only Christians. Gene Shelburne recently wrote The Quest for Unity which is subtitled “An Appeal for Oneness Among All Believers in Christ.” These are but a few of the many titles addressing issues of identity and fellowship in churches of Christ.
Some people get offended that these questions of fellowship and identity are being raised, after all, haven’t we settled these issues years ago? Some get nervous because these authors take very different positions from one another. Some would agree with calling our uncertain questioning a crisis while others would argue the crisis is thinking we can judge who is in and who is out. I am not writing today to answer all the questions. I am writing to urge everyone to take a deep breath.
Before we go into full crisis mode, we need to understand that these questions are as old as Jesus and have been discussed throughout our restoration history. Here are three examples —
“. . . for we find in all Protestant parties Christians as exemplary as ourselves according to their and our relative knowledge and opportunities.”
Alexander Campbell, Millennial Harbinger, Volume VIII (1837), p. 272.
“I have no doubt there are pious persons who have never been immersed. It would be absurd and ridiculous to deny it in the face of what we see and know of thousands of persons living and dead who have exhibited self-sacrificing love of God and man, which puts to shame all common disciples. I have as little doubt that many unimmersed persons will be saved in the final day. It is not necessary, in order to contend for scripture teaching on the subject of baptism, to take the ground that God has tied his hands and put it out of his own power to grant mercy to any who have been misled in regard to that ordinance. He has bound us, but he has not bound himself, except that he is bound to do what he has promised. He has not bound himself to do no more than he has promised. Don’t injure the cause of truth by taking positions which rob God of the power to be merciful.”
J. W. McGarvey, The Gospel Advocate, Volume XXXVII, Number 50 (December 12, 1895), p. 790.
“I have never been so egotistical as to say that my brethren with whom I commune on the first day of the week are the only Christians on this earth. I never said that in my life. I do make the claim that we are Christians only. But there is a vast difference between that expression and the one formerly made.”
N. B. Hardeman, Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, Volume 3 (1928) page 125.
Again, my purpose is not to assign positions to any of these authors, to oversimplify what was a lengthy and complex discussion nor to identify myself with any of their positions. My purpose is to point out these discussions have been going on for a long time and we have survived. We have nothing to fear from an honest search of the scriptures and open discussion of the issues. I am thankful for a family — mothers, sisters, and brothers — made up of whoever does the will of God.
So take a deep breath!