Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 20, 1969
NUMBER 45, PAGE 1-3,5a

The Underground Church Of Christ

Leroy Garrett

(Editor's Note: In this issue and the next we carry the full text of an article by Brother Garrett describing two meetings in Dallas, Texas, last Christmas week — one in the Hilton Hotel sponsored by the Broadway (Lubbock) Church of Christ, and the other a -Holy Spirit Retreat" attended by some 100 people -nearly all of them Church of Christ folk,- which took place in Wynnewood Chapel, which Brother Garrett had helped them secure for the gathering. See our editorial for further comments.)

That a substantial number of Christians in various parts of the world have gone underground in their efforts to bear witness to their faith is a generally known fact. Thousands of them are behind the Iron Curtain, risking their lives in carrying on illegal religious activity. A recent book, God's Smuggler, is a thrilling account of how thousands of Bibles have been smuggled into countries where it is unlawful for them to circulate.

A recent issue of The Saturday Evening Post has an article entitled "The Underground Church," which is principally a report of an underground movement among Roman Catholics. The article claims that there are some 2,000 to 3,000 underground groups now at work in the United States, including 30 in Los Angles and dozens in Chicago. These are gatherings outside of, and usually without the blessings of or even the knowledge of the institutional church. Young priests, dressed in sport clothes, serve Mass in hotel rooms and private homes, substituting breakfast rolls for unleavened bread. The services are private in that they are not announced and illegal in that they violate canon law, and they take the form of mutual ministry, with the priest and parishioners engaging in dialogue on current issues.

It is sufficiently extensive among the Protestants as to cause Malcolm Boyd to write a book on The Underground Church, in which he explains the movement as an effort to make the church "a community of servant-hood in the midst of the world's concerns." He says it is because the established church has been content to be "the chaplain of the status quo" that the underground church has emerged. He sees it as a rebellion against a labyrinth of man-made legalisms and an institution that cannot be questioned.

Even with this going on around us, we of the Churches of Christ may still be surprised to learn that it is happening among us too. For the most part it is still a subtle and unstructured development, and yet it has the essential features (plus a few others) of other underground movements.

Much of it is yet in its embryonic stage, taking the form of cell groups within well-established congregations. It is in prayer and study groups that the underground is emerging. In many of the larger congregations there is cellular activity, which forms more or less spontaneously, which becomes what may be called a second church. It is usually a case of the more concerned, more spiritual ones being drawn together by their common interests. The minister himself is sometimes involved, being a rather status quo preacher in the pulpit, but a deeper, freer, more daring individual within the cells. The underground members understand that he can go only so far, and they excuse his mainline orthodoxy in the pulpit on the grounds that if he went too far he would only destroy his chances to liberate the congregation.

Underground elements are as prevalent in some Sunday School classes as anywhere. These are often independent cells within a huge congregation, enjoying a freedom that enables them to do surprising things, such as reading from Restoration Review and debating the issues raised in Voices of Concern. There have been denunciations of Church of Christism and a call for renewal in these Sunday School classes that would rival what any of us have been saying. Occasionally the preacher has a rather select group, an underground element, in one of these classes, at which time he is so different from the man who occupies the pulpit that people might suppose they have two different ministers. Somehow he gets by with saying unorthodox things in the class that he could never say in the pulpit and keep his job. Either the cell doesn't tell on him or there is something about a room in the southeast corner of the basement that allows for more equivocation than does the sacred desk in the auditorium. If a man is given to relatives, he knows to forget them and to speak in absolutes when he enters a Church of Christ pulpit.

It may be a psychological oddity, but it seems that the further one is from the pulpit the more latitude he has. This is why our best ministry may be on an outing with the young people or a gathering in a home. We even show more courtesy and brotherliness in such environments. Dialogue with premills or Christian Church folk comes more easily when we escape from our real estate. Many a time have I been with preaching brethren in private meetings who tendered to me a most loving and cordial reception, only to see them become a Mr. Hyde towards me once we reached the Holy of Holies.

Campus Evangelism

One important expression of the underground Church of Christ is the Campus Evangelism, conducted by the Lubbock Church of Christ. While its efforts are directed toward winning the college campus, which it will not even begin to do until it becomes less Church of Christ-like, it is enjoying success in winning and holding many of the youth of the Church of Christ. No less than 12.000 of them assembled in Dallas recently, and one can be sure that not even a tithing of that number would have showed up if the program was to be what can be expected in the typical services of a Church of Christ.

It is amazing how different these meetings can be from the usual programs. The Dallas gatherings (there have been two now) were hardly recognizable as of Church of Christ origin. They are less Church of Christ-like than Baptist youth gatherings are unlike the Baptists. Even when an occasional representative of the Old Guard is on the program he manages to move out at least to the borders of the frontier in what he has to say. For the most part the whole works is in the hands of the young princes, who allow only enough orthodoxy to keep the show going. This of course is the wisdom of the underground.

One misses the real spirit that is at work in the Campus Evangelism thing if he fails to talk with the kids themselves. They are of course born and bred Church of Christers, all of them, but they are so different from main-line thinking that it sometimes startles even me. One rather sophisticated lad from Tennessee volunteered to give me the lowdown on the congregations in the brotherhood that are free and have a new look. Though only a student he was in on the know, and he quickly named about all the unorthodox churches that I knew about, adding one or two that were new to me. Interestingly enough, Broadway in Lubbock, the sponsors of the seminar, was not one of them. Even so the Lubbock brethren are to be commended for arranging such meetings. One only needs to interview the participants to see what kind of people we will be tomorrow, due in part to the efforts of Lubbock today in keeping our young people from running off. The seminars give them hope that it will someday be different from the way it is in Nashville, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Lubbock.

When the historians of tomorrow are evaluating what is now happening to us today, searching for the elements that graduated us from obscurantism, the Hilton Hotel will surely get some of the credit. At the Hilton, one could hear the radiant voices of thousands of youth, singing new songs of Zion even as they crowded into the corridors, preparing for an afternoon of witnessing for Christ. The eagerness, the urgency, the things that were said, the new look, they were all magnificent. Anyone who has had to listen to the old bromides of the Church of Christ radio preachers in Dallas, or someone who for years has been a good sport and gone along to church with a wife who never misses even a Wednesday night, could not have possibly recognized the hotel church as the Church of Christ that he has known all these years.

What transpired at the hotel could not have happened in our Dallas churches, and this is significant. It is characteristic of the underground to escape the atmosphere where the status quo is preserved. Like the rebel Roman priests, our young princes also take their ministry to the hotels. Others go to the ghettoes, the campuses, private homes, and to counseling groups.

The Dangerous Underground

All that we have reviewed thus far is surely on the positive side. It is a report on some of our most spiritual people who are moving underground for the sake of renewing the church instead of leaving it to rot in sectarianism. We do not imply by underground that there is anything ulterior, and certainly nothing divisive. It is simply the only thing that concerned people can do who choose to stay rather than leave. They have to become cells or movements on the periphery of orthodoxy in order to wage peace from within. Like paratroopers they drop down behind the lines in order to infiltrate for Christ's sake.

Because of this any underground efforts tends to be exclusive and secretive, if not surreptitious. There is an "in-group" that doesn't reveal all it knows. Its meetings are somewhat controlled, either by charging a fee or by age restriction or by not advertising. The underground works well by invitation only.

At the same time as the seminar for the Campus Evangelism there was a "Holy Spirit retreat" in Dallas, and it is this that I refer to as the dangerous underground. I do not intend this as an unloving epithet, for my interest in this retreat is confirmed by the fact that I helped them to find a meeting place, which turned out to be Wynnewood Chapel. The elders had reservations about such a meeting being held there, but believing as they do in free Christian debate and expression they decided to allow the use of the chapel without actually sponsoring it.

What happened is surely the beginning of a new chapter in our history, and how that chapter ends will depend on how we all react to what is going on.

The retreat was not a public meeting, but by invitation. They were there from all across the United States and from one foreign country, upwards of 100 in all, and nearly all of them were Church of Christ folk. Some had left us, others had been driven away; some had occupied pulpits in well-known congregations. Some had served on our college faculties; others were or had been elders, writers, song leaders. A few were bearded and dressed like hippies, but mainly they were sophisticated, affluent people who were willing to fly across the country at their own expense to share in a festivity of the Holy Spirit. It turned, out to be the most unique Church of Christ` meeting that I have ever attended.

Most of them already knew each other or had heard of one another, and the one thing they all had in common was a quest for things of the Spirit. Many of them were known to have the gift of tongues, some the gift of healing, others the gift of prophecy. They believe that the gifts listed in I Cor. 12 are as much for the church today as ever. All of them had stories to tell of what has happened to them in the Church of Christ. A brother from California related at length how his elders assigned him a research project on the Holy Spirit in order to combat some of the false teaching going on in their community, and how he studied his way to a belief in the gifts of the Spirit for our time, and how he was consequently fired. At that time he was the highest paid minister in the Churches of Christ in his part of the state. He turned to "secular work" in order to support his family and be true to his convictions. He told how, as he was pouring himself some coffee one day, he was singing a spiritual song only to realize suddenly that it was not in the usual English words, but in a tongue!

A brother from a prominent Church of Christ, who was recently an elder, told of his ministry of healing through prayer, and privately he related to me how he (and others) had driven a demon from his own daughter. It was evident that his emergence into the world of the Holy Spirit had completely transformed his life. He was as kind and gentle as any man I've ever met, certainly manifesting the fruits listed in Gal. 5 if not the gifts of I Cor. 12.

The testimonies were long but not boring. The meetings were endless, going well past midnight, and even then only fading out instead of stopping. Coffee breaks were love feasts, with brotherly love manifested with an exuberance that was almost unbelievable. There was a black sister there, real black, who was showered with enough love to have avoided the Civil War had it come a few generations sooner. I am not referring to mere outward expressions, such as handshaking and embracing, though there was a lot of that, but to a feeling of brotherhood, a real communion of the saints that pervaded the atmosphere.

Two professors who were dismissed from one of our Christian colleges were there. Robert Meyers told the story sometime back in this journal, but mentioned no names and did not identify the college, so I will not do so here. They both revealed depth of character and sincerity of conviction. I had been eager to meet them and was not disappointed, for I found them to be men who understood why they had done what they did, and they could give a responsible witness for their action. If I understand correctly, they have not left us, which indicates, considering the way they were treated, a forbearance all too rare these days. One of them had been on the faculty for 8 or 9 years, but was dismissed when he confessed to believing as the other one, all without due academic process.

These professors, along with dynamic young college men and seminarians (a number being from ACC), presented "the Pentecostal message" warmly and effectively. One might wonder what uniqueness a Church of Christ pentecostalism would have, for these people have reached their position through their own study and experience with only minimum contact with Pentecostal churches, if any at all. Church of Christ pentecostals are quieter, more Bible-conscious, more sophisticated, and not as brusquely emotional as those in Pentecostal churches. This may be due to their social status as much as to their doctrinal background in the Church of Christ. They are like the Pentecostals in that their lives now have a "consciousness of the Holy Spirit" that overshadows all else. The Holy Spirit, with his gifts and functions, is the end of all religious experience.

The retreat in Dallas was marked by much prayer, praise, counseling, and personal testimony. Classrooms were used for more intimate prayer groups. Almost continually, even when someone was speaking, small groups would move back and forth from these candle-lit rooms. Oftentimes one who was "seeking" would be prayed for, along with the laying on of hands, that he might receive the Holy Spirit. One such brother explained to me, in typical Church of Christ fashion, that he had decided to take Luke 11:13 for what it said.

The Lord's Table was kept prepared throughout the retreat, dressed with a candle as well as goblets of wine. Like the prayer cubicles, the Supper was also entered into spontaneously, with one free to go forward at anytime and partake. Two or three would go at a time, kneel around the Table and break bread together. At one point in the retreat there was a communion service in which they all participated together, other than the one on Lord's Day.

To my surprise there were but a few instances of tongue-speaking, the same brother each time, a seminarian. His words were interpreted each time by another young brother. That fits the order in I Cor. 14, they would say. One speaks in a tongue, another interprets the tongue so that the others might be edified. This is of course a bold claim for our time, that on such occasions there is direct communication going on between God and man. One would suppose that if and when this were the case that the revelation given would be especially significant, which in these instances it did not appear to be. They sounded like paraphrases from some psalm about peace, which is well enough of course, but if God speaks to his church today through such phenomena I would expect something weighty and relevant.

They did things in this retreat in their adoration of the Lord that would be embarrassing to most of us. They lifted up holy hands in prayer, praising God with the whole of their being. They wept tears of joy as they sang and praised his name. They cried, "Praise the Lord" with an enthusiasm that most of us can muster only when watching a Cowboy football game.

I found myself deeply gratified with these signs of spiritual revival within our own Church of Christ ranks. To see people who have long been discouraged by an inert religion praising God with tears streaming from closed eyes, hands lifted heavenward with palms extended as if to receive His grace, and singing hymns in choked voices that previously had little meaning to them — I say, to see this is to believe that here are great resources of power for a spiritual renewal that we must have if we are to survive.

(The remaining portion of this article, dealing particularly with the — Holy Spirit retreat — and the casting out of demons will follow next week.)

— Restoration Review, January, 1969