Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 17, 1969
NUMBER 49, PAGE 1-2a

Strange Fire Among Campus Youth

Wm. E. Wallace

College youth among churches of Christ may not be involved in the riots and disturbances on campuses across the country, but they have something else going. A church of Christ "youth movement" is blossoming and we are amazed at what is blooming. This new flowering youth movement is not like the flower boys and girls of the hippie and yippie rebellions, it is more like a holiness cult crusade.

It might seem that we should rejoice to see youth sincerely interested in religious experience and service, instead of being involved in campus disorders and orgies. But look what is going on. As an example of it I call your attention to an assembly of youth in Portales, New Mexico, November 15,16,17, 1968 in which "281 students from 22 schools retreated to Portales for the 2nd Annual Bible Chair Retreat" (From "The Voice of The Bible Chair" Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, N.M. December 1968). During this "retreat" the following took place:

(1) "Faggots (small wooden boards) were passed out and everyone wrote sins which plagued their lives on the board and then threw it into the fire to symbolize the sin being burned and in their life no more."

(2) "Three large fires burned brightly, illuminating 3 large wooden crosses on nearby hills."

(3) "The highlight of the week-end was the spontaneous communion service Sunday morning which brought us closer to our Lord's return (I Cor. 11:26). We sang and prayed until we felt ready to move to the back of the building and commune with our Lord God individually but of one accord."

When our young people have to resort to this kind of cultic mysticism to achieve religious satisfaction it can mean only that the New Testament way no longer holds sufficient meaningfulness to them.

The New Testament and the church hold everything to be offered in the way of teaching, practice and service to create in the individual real holiness, sound belief, and good works. Such pious playacting as that which took place in the Portales retreat is foreign to the New Testament way. It sounds more like the strange fire offered by Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). There is something going on among youth under the auspices of Bible chairs and "Christian" schools which is creating an esoteric and mystic disposition in young people.

The Campus Ministry movement is posing a serious problem among churches of Christ. Certainly there is nothing wrong with evangelism on campuses — let's have more of it. But it appears that the movement is creating or encouraging adventures which take on cultic characteristics. What went on in the Portales retreat looks much like cultic innovations.

It appears to me that there is a movement on the go which seeks to counteract the disturbances on college campuses. This movement in reacting against the hippie and yippie extremes, moves in the other direction toward a neo-mysticism. The young people are seeking for something they cannot get in the church environment. The church, the doctrinal framework taught in the church, the worship and devotion offered by the church, and the opportunities for service within the oversight of the church do not seem to satisfy youth in this movement. The cultic devices and experiences which are reported reflect a search for some sort of union with deity which they cannot or have not experienced in the church or congregational environment.

Regarding a recent assembly of the Campus Evangelism movement a student said, "Nowhere else in the world were more than a thousand students about to 'really get Christ' in their lives." He wrote further, "It was something pouring out of you and something pouring in." One preacher stated: "It is a dangerous thing to pray. We tap Jesus' power when we begin to pray." It is reported that "So much excitement was built up in the speeches that kids came to the individual meetings and wanted to overflow and share what had been stirred up in them." (Quotations from January 1969 issue of "GO" the "Campus Evangelism" publication). Another speaks of a "coming spiritual revolution." The editor of the Campus Journal writes of the assembly: "It resembled nothing so much as an old time camp meeting, where emotions run high and spirits are crushed and revived again, full of determination, and overflowing in inward peace." (Vol. IV, No. 1) He writes further, "Amid such overwhelming zeal, one occasionally could observe some theological imprecision, and a few speakers could not resist the temptation to 'bait the brotherhood' and make the elders and leaders of the present church look like bungling incompetents." All this seems to add up to the old factor of "zeal without knowledge" (Romans 10:2), and there is represented therein a real threat to the biblical patterns which make the church what it is.