Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 21, 1967
NUMBER 20, PAGE 1-2a

The Mission Of "Mission"

Kent Ellis

The first number of a new periodical named Mission has issued from Abilene, Texas, dated July, 1967. I believe this will be regarded by future historians as somewhat of an epoch in the modern history of churches of Christ. Judging from the names of the editors, trustees, and contributors, it will furnish what ultra-liberal brethren have thus far been lacking - an adequate medium for the expression and dissemination of their views.

The Men

One needs only to note the men involved in this venture, their background, their past statements and actions, and some remarks in the first issue to prognosticate with some degree of certainty the mission of Mission. The new cadre of modern intellectuals and theologians aspiring to ascendency in the church has long been restive under the restraining influences of such men as Reuel Lemmons and such papers as Firm Foundation. They are embarrassed with what they consider the provincial, backward, and narrow "image" projected by the church. With them it is time to lay aside a "legalistic, out-dated, irrelevant, and pharisaical" type of religion and to get on with a campaign of "re-examination, re-evaluation, revolution, renewal, and relevancy." These men "come of age" can no longer stomach the "nineteenth century religious pabulum" which has nourished so many brethren. This clique of twentieth century theologians, philosophers, and sociologists, feeling confident in their significant and growing numbers and influence, now wax bold to reveal their "concepts" to the church at large. Mission will provide a popular organ that they control through which to propagandize the brotherhood.

Their Message

A number of statements in the first issue forecast the tone and message of Mission. We are informed in the "Editorial Policy Statement" that "Paul did not live in the twentieth century." I infer then that the message of Christ and the apostles (none of them lived in the twentieth century) will need to undergo considerable recasting and modernizing at the hands of these truly "modern" men. That I am correct is confirmed by the further declaration that the "old message" is "relevant" but that it "must be translated if it is to be understood and related effectively to modern man." "But that relevance can be hidden and obscured unless the church translates it in a fresh and transparent way." That is, the gospel is relevant only after it has been strained through the mind of a modern theologian. The message will need trimming as well as translating. Roy Bowen Ward observes that "Many a farm-bred preacher has preached a rural gospel to an urban audience which knows (and cares) nothing of sowing and harvesting" (p. 13.) It will take rather drastic pruning to remove all references of this character from the "old message." In the process the "old message" will become a "new message."

A metamorphosis of the church is likewise contemplated by the men of Mission. They are dedicated to the "renewal," maturing, restoring, and perfecting of the church (pp. 5,6,16,17.) That body has been bound by tradition too long and must be led into "new paths" as well as "the old paths" (p. 23.) The trustees and editors know the way to change the church is to influence its leaders, so they ask readers to "submit names of friends particularly church leaders, whom you consider prospective subscribers..."

These men consciously plan to attempt to affect a radical change in the basic understanding of brethren on fundamental themes. Donald H. McGaughey lays groundwork on pages 20 through 23. "But as Amos, we should love our tradition (and for most of us that is no problem.)" "Is it possible that today we stand dangerously close to where the Pharisees of Jesus' day stood?" "A disciple must be willing to reexamine all that he has ever believed, and known, and loved. If he finds that these beliefs and loves have been somewhat misplaced he must be willing to give them up." "Only those Jews who were willing to reexamine their beliefs, and admit that they had been wrong became disciples of Jesus. Today we as a group of people must not repeat that tragic mistake of the Jews. We must allow for a possible misunderstanding of the Scriptures on our part. This is not to say that we have in fact misunderstood them. But surely we are human, and it is only human to err." "If by chance we find that we have been wrong in some points, let us unashamedly give up these beliefs." "We as a people have asked others whether they loved their families and friends more than they loved Jesus and the truth of God. We have suggested to them that it was no shame to admit that one had been wrong. But now if it comes nigh to us, if the light of God's word shines upon our words, and if it appears that our message has fallen short, that our teachers have been wrong, that our loved ones have been mistaken, if we are called upon to change, to break with tradition, home, and friends, if suddenly the cost of being a disciple becomes real, let us not beg, "Master, wait, hold!" Let us not turn away, for in so turning we refuse to be Jesus' disciples." Seemingly, one is either going to jettison what he has believed and accept the new message of Mission or he will reveal himself to be a Pharisee instead of a disciple of Jesus.

A new journal has been launched because a new message is to be presented and a different brand of religion advocated. The men of Mission wish to impose their own image on the church and to present a new face to their religious neighbors and to the world. The extent of their success is yet to be revealed. I venture the prediction that the appearance of Mission marks the end of skirmishing and the beginning of a full scale struggle between ultraliberal and more conservative elements among brethren who have accepted institutionalism and centralization.

-417 E. Groesbeck, Lufkin, Texas