Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 20, 1967
NUMBER 11, PAGE 5c-7a

New Look In The Church Of Christ

Leroy Garrett

It was my good pleasure to be present for part of the Campus Evangelism Seminar held at the Baker Hotel in Dallas between the holidays. It was sponsored by the Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock, but was largely financed by the fees paid by those in attendance, which was upward of $30.00 for all sessions. More than 300 Church of Christ young people were present, representing both state universities and Christian colleges.

My most immediate impression was that I was beholding what we might call "the new face of the Church of Christ," a face that Restoration Review has endeavored' in its own humble way to help shapen. It further confirmed what I have long suspected: the old Church of Christ orthodoxy is dying and a new brotherhood is emerging. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is at work among us, and the move is on for a freer, a more benevolent, and a more brotherly Church of Christ — yes, and a more united one too.

The "Old Guard" was conspicuously absent. The big evangelists and editors who serve as the watchdogs of the brotherhood slept through this one. The "keepers of orthodoxy" just weren't there, which is too bad, for they would have seen a preview of what the next generation is going to do to their ecclesiastical playhouse. Even the Dallas clergy of the Church of Christ, who along with the Nashville hierarchy represents the most traditional element among us, was not there. To be sure, Wesley Reagan, a Dallas minister, was on the program, but he is quite obviously of the new persuasion rather than the old traditionalism.

We were thus given a new look at the Church of Christ. The daring young princes among us have crossed their Rubicon, and there is no evidence that they plan to turn back. Their faces seem to be directed toward Antioch rather than Jerusalem. They are behaving more like Paul and less like Peter. And in this regard it may be predicted that some delegations from Jerusalem will be arriving soon to see what Antioch is up to.

It is not every day that you hear a Southern Baptist clergyman at a Church of Christ gathering, but this happened when Dr. William R. Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ spoke on "Revolutionaries for Christ." And there was no Church of Christ debater there to take care of him when he got through!

And this happened in Dallas! At a Church of Christ meeting in Dallas! Anything can happen in my dear old hometown, and it usually does. Oh, yes, this is not new for Wynnewood Chapel, where we have no qualms about inviting Jews and Roman Catholics as well as Baptists, but it is certainly new when the main-liners do such things. I rejoice! Praise God! When we did this kind of thing at Wynnewood Chapel the last time or two, the "Old Guard" in Dallas accused us of "trying to embarrass the Churches of Christ in Dallas," and they proceeded to apply pressure on our invited guests not to appear on our program.

And here we are, only a year or so later, in the same city with a Southern Baptist (a false teacher?) on a Church of Christ program, I must admit that, in spite of all the optimism which is being generated in my life, this surprised me. But it delightfully surprised me, not so much that I'm eager for Baptists to get on our programs, but it symbolizes the beginning of the end of a stupid and irresponsible exclusivism.

Now I am fully aware that these young princes have not yet ventured as far as others of us, not even so far as to recognize that Baptist as a brother and as belonging to the same body of Christ as ourselves, being the immersed believer that his is, and to call him brother as I would do (along with Alexander Campbell, David Lipscomb, and James A. Harding), but they have certainly taken a different fork in the road, one much less travelled by our people.

My excitement does not stem only from the fact that a Baptist appeared on a Church of Christ program, which is surely something of a first for us, but mainly because of the new look that the seminar presented. It was the aura of the occasion, a distinct difference in atmosphere, that struck me as prophetic of the dawning of a freer and more enlightened brotherhood. As I said to a group of the students as they were returning to their campuses and to their congregations back home, who had expressed concern about what their elders and ministers back home would think of such a gathering: "You have to keep in mind that what you have experienced at this seminar represents a different religion than what you have known in the Church of Christ, for this is spiritual while the other is not."

Indeed, one of the speakers felt obligated to caution the students before they left for home, "lest there be some misunderstanding," that all who participated on the program believe that one must be baptized for the remission of sins before he is a member of the body of Christ. I wrote this brother afterward, agreeing with him that man enters into Christ through immersion, but fearful that his statement would be interpreted to mean that we of the Church of Christ are, after all, the only Christians. I thought it interesting that he felt obligated to insert such a "security clause" into the seminar. It revealed that something different had been said and that a different atmosphere had been created.

What was really different was the attitude toward the nature of the gospel. It was made personal instead of doctrinal. (Oh, yes, the good brother also wrote into the "security clause" the statement that none of the speakers believe that doctrine is unimportant!) There was emphasis upon the grace of God, and there was much more talk about winning people to Christ than converting people to the Church of Christ. Students were urged to confront others with "the most wonderful experience that has come into my life" and with "what Jesus means to me," and not once did I hear anything said about "getting them into the right church" or "preaching the plan of salvation." All the way the emphasis was upon the Man rather than some plan, which I know would have been to the consternation of the editor of the Firm Foundation had he been there, giving the editor intention that he has to that subject. But I'll assure you that it wasn't to the consternation of the editor of Restoration Review.

One speaker stressed the fact that we can know that we are saved, while another insisted that "we are saved, while another insisted that "we are not satisfied with the status quo." One even talked about the students "being filled with the Spirit when you leave here" and poked fun at "the Sabbatical tone" used by ministers in the pulpit, which is so artificial alongside the simple language of personal testimony. Indeed, they spoke again and again of "testifying for the Lord" and "witnessing for Christ," which is new vocabulary for Church of Christ folk.

They not only talked about "witnessing" but practiced it as well. One afternoon they swarmed over Dallas giving their testimony, which came under the program marked "3:00-5:30 Witnessing". Some went to the airport, others to bus and rail terminals, others to people on the streets. A few made their way to beer joints, and kept going until they found one that did not throw them out! It appeared that in all this nobody said anything about the Church of Christ. They spoke of Christ and of the grace of God instead.

I appreciated the way the seminar called for "a dramatic change", to quote Jim Bevis, the director, and for "revolutionaries on the college campus". It was refreshing to hear a call for concern in reference to the many international students on our campuses, and for it to be recognized that these students are the most logical way to send the gospel to other countries. The students were urged "to make out a schedule and put Christ on it", and "to have sessions alone with Him". It was pointed out to them that it is the transformed life that wins people to Christ and that they must demonstrate in their own lives the love of God.

It was indeed a new look in the Church of Christ. It is not like us to provide a table for the American Bible Society and to issue their materials in our gatherings. For their study in this seminar the students were given a copy of the modern version of the New Testament scriptures, published by the American Bible Society. Neither is it like us to recommend the use of materials of the Moody Bible Institute. And it sounds strange still for Church of Christ folk to quote Bonhoeffer and to suggest the reading of Leon Morris' works. It was different to hear one of our brethren speak disparagingly of the idea of "converting our Baptist friends", as if we should be converting sinners instead. I was impressed also that for their devotionals during the seminar they published their own group of songs. Going beyond what can usually be found in our hymnals, such as "The Grace that is Greater than All my Sins". This song especially impressed me, for Mrs. Boyd Armstrong, my neighbor and one of the essayists in Voices of Concern, who died of cancer recently, requested that that hymn be sung at her funeral at the First Christian Church. As I heard that touching hymn at her funeral — "Grace, grace, sweet grace, grace that is greater than all my sins" — I tearfully pondered the need that we all have for that kind of religion. I had the same thoughts when I heard these college students sing it.

I could hardly contain myself when Jim Wilburn of the Bible Chair at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls said, "I love the secular university", and went on to urge the students "to identify with the campus". He referred to something that had appeared in "one of our papers" and expressed hope that it did not get onto the university campus. He also talked about "identifying with modern man", and urged upon us "a close personal relationship to Jesus Christ as Lord and Master".

This is from the same Church of Christ that usually condemns all "secular" education and insists that our young people go to a Christian college lest they be contaminated at a state university. But "the new look" presented an entirely different picture, even urging that the Christian college student spend at least a year at a state university. While the seminar did not downgrade the Christian colleges, it was geared to show what the Christian witness can accomplish on a "secular" campus. (That term secular in this contest bugs me, as if Abilene and Pepperdine are spiritual while Texas and Georgia Tech are secular). To say the least this seminar by no means implied that the Church of Christ youth attending state schools (100,000 in number) should hurry away to "our colleges" and get a "Christian education".

The seminar was one more instance of what is going on all over the Christian world; an effort to get away from the confines of an ecclesiastical atmosphere and out into the ongoing world. Some call this movement "holy worldliness" or "worldly Christianity". Many groups from various denominations are having retreats, seminars, camps, and breakfasts at such worldly strongholds as business offices, hotels and motels, and community rooms at banks. They often charge for attendance. I was recently invited to such a meeting at a swanky hotel in Houston at which Billy Graham was to speak. It was a prayer-study retreat of well-heeled laymen. It cost $50.00 to enroll, not to mention the other expenses.

The meetings are held away from any church, and no denominational name is ever mentioned, even if it be sponsored by a particular one. They are often inter-denominational. The advertising is streamlined (as was the Dallas meeting) and fresh, dynamic terms are employed to describe them, even terms that are existential in import (the Dallas seminar used "Solution-Revolution"). They are out in the world to witness for Christ, so they try to be dynamic in their approach. This is of course good and wise. No one is out trying to get somebody to come to church. They are out talking about Christ.

These "worldly Christians" are not using this approach simply because they think this is a better appeal to those they seek to reach, but also because they have more freedom "away from church". The minister at the Dallas seminar that took a jab at "this brother and sister bit" would not have felt as free to talk this way in the pulpit of a Church of Christ. I will have to agree with him that a lot of this brothering and sistering we do is a bit puerile. At least we could occasionally say, "Mr. Jones, our brother".

Surely this seminar was a freer experience for all who attended because it was held at the Baker Hotel than at the Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock. We can doubt that Broadway is quite ready to invite a Baptist to participate in a program at the home church, though it will of course soon come, as it should. And the elders may not yet be ready to invite Carl Ketcherside to speak at Lubbock as he was invited, so I understand, to speak at the Dallas seminar about his experiences in witnessing to college students, and presumably would have accepted had there not been a conflict.

All this is good and we rejoice. And we commend the Lubbock elders for their forward look. If we can have more latitude in committing our "heresy" by going to a hotel, then to hotels let us go. "Well, after all that was down at the Baker Hotel..." It may be a strange mentality that sees any difference here, when it is still sponsored by one of our leading churches, but if in this way we can "save face" and move on out into the world around us, then let's get with this hotel bit. After all, there is nothing new about committing sins in a hotel!

Our good brother, Mr. John Hay, an elder at Broadway, made a farewell statement to the students, and it was a good one. He said, "You are writing a page in church history". And I left there wondering if the dear brother realized just how true his statement may prove to be. May the pages they are writing grow into chapters and the chapters into volumes. Believing as I do that God is a history-making God and that His Spirit is at work among us, I am willing, as the poet says, "to labor and to wait".

Restoration Review, January, 1967