INTERVIEW by David Rhoades|
We are privileged to be able to discuss the crisis in the Church with an Elder of the Church Of Christ. I know our guest and have agreed to keep his identity private. I will will refer to him as "Mr.Elder"
David Rhoades: Mr. Elder thank you for agreeing to this interview. To begin I wish you would tell us a little about what part of the country your in and a little about your background. Please feel free to elaborate on any of the below, and ignore any questions that don't apply.
Mr. Elder: David, I appreciate the opportunity to address those who are concerned about their congregations and about those issues that lie before those of us who are members of the church of Christ. I was born in the Midwest but have lived in the south or southwest most of my married life which is now over 30 years. I am middle age and white so these are my demographics. I am the 5th generation member of what we call Churches of Christ. My children are 6th generation members. It is not with a Pharisee attitude that I count the numbers, but it just shows that my roots are from that part of the country where the Restoration Movement had its beginnings. But I am proud of my roots too, perhaps even to say that I am extraordinarily proud to have been associated with a group of people who try to go back to the Book and to the Book alone. We used to say that we are ?Christians only and not the only Christian?s? but at least ?a Christian only?. So the concept of the Restoration Movement is near and dear to my heart. I love the church and as many people relate to God by the concept of a father, I relate to Christ by the concept of the body---the church. All I know about Christ, I see in the church.
David Rhoades: Were you raised in a Christian home?
Mr. Elder: Yes, I was raised in what may be termed a Christian home. My mother and father both were alcoholics at various periods in their life. It was my father who was responsible for me attending church as a youth. My mother did not go to church. This is opposite to the experience of many. However I did get a chance to immerse my mother into Christ at a later date. My father?s father served as an elder in the church at two different times in two rural cities during the hard years of ranching and farming. I was immersed at 12.
David Rhoades: Did you tell me that you went to a Christian University, and even were friends with people who are Elders today in other congregations?
Mr. Elder: I went to a Christian University; in fact I went to several. I have been in full-time and part-time preaching at various stages in my life and it has been my lot in life to know both bad and good elders. Quite a few of my friends with whom I attended school are now elders. But to be frank, quite a few of my college acquaintances are no longer faithful to God in churches of Christ or have left religion all together.
David Rhoades: Since I am sure you know many other Elders, Do you ever have occassion to speak with them about the current crisis in the Church?
Mr. Elder: I speak with a number of area elders and with some that I know via long distance email. It seems that opportunities to speak with some elders and church leaders are being reduced as we continue to fragment, but on the other hand, those leaders that we are close to are talking about it more and more. But let me say here I think that many of the elders-at large in the church- really do not know what all the of the trouble is about in today?s war for the churches. We need to find ways to talk more, not less. In many cases our levels of discussion have been too shallow. I find that my feelings of hurt and concern over the church are so very-very deep that this is about all I do want to talk about when I meet other church leaders and preachers. And I find that it puts many off. But we must talk about it and work on it to keep the flocks at peace.
David Rhoades: Concerning the Church that will be the topic of our conversation, how long were you an Elder there before the trouble began?
Mr. Elder: I began my work as an Elder just after the beginning of our problems. A large number of the more conservative had just left because of dissatisfaction with the existing eldership?s attitudes. Unknown at that time was that there was a plan in motion to make our congregation a ?community church?. The eldership knew about it but did not so inform the congregation. So when a large number of people began to question certain sermons and positions of the elders, many used this time to just leave the congregation. It was at this time I and a number of others came in to serve with the existing eldership. Our hope was to offer balance to the current elders and it was our intention to steer a middle course and to hold the congregation together as much as possible. About half of the elders were very far to the left and about half were moderate to conservative in their thinking. The congregation was primarily conservative to moderate in their belief, but they were extraordinarily progressive in church work, evangelism and benevolence. The vocal minority kept the congregation all stirred up and kept everyone wondering about ?what was going on?. It is impossible to maintain a leadership with so much dissention. And this is what the ?change agents? were hoping for, it was their way to begin to control the congregation. As mentioned, the largest group left early in our conflict, but it was during this period of uncertainty that another 75-100 left. Finally the split occurred and another 50 members left, but the core of the church remained and so continues today much as it did 10 years ago. We are committed to following the old paths in progressive ways of service. It is uncertain that we can remain as a group although there is much to hope for, but the hurts are deep and it is so much easier for people to leave and move to another congregation than it is to just stay and work it out. It is EASIER on the feelings that way, you see. But that is our mistake, we are giving up congregations left and right by just walking out and taking the easy way (selfish way) to personal peace.
David Rhoades: I have read about some Churches that straight away, standup and tell their members that the Elders are going to take the Church into the "Saddleback" agenda of a "Purpose Driven Church". Then there are others like at Madison that never will say anything about where they are headed. They will even deny they know anything about "Saddleback". What is your experience here?
Mr. Elder: I have no knowledge of any eldership being totally forthright to their flock regarding these major policy shifts. In my own situation, a number of the elders decided to just visit a large number of large and growing churches of Christ (and some denominational ones-too) and find out how we could learn to grow our congregation. This idea, brethren, is not altogether a bad idea, but it takes a strong and sound leadership to handle it. When they came back from their visits and formulated their plans then they began to slowly press for congregational change. This was done via the pulpit preacher that was hired and a new youth minister. The terms that were used at the time from these men are all hallmark terms of the new movement: ?stretch ourselves, non-traditional, believers, family of God and the like? none of which are bad in themselves but they are clues that something is ?afoot?. You know, if so many leaders think that it is no longer wise in being a ?church of Christ? then they need to be forthright and build their community church or whatever playhouse they want to build. But if they did that, then they would have less numbers and fewer finances and no buildings. Sounds like shades of 125 years ago, and who controls the building. Well, brothers and sisters, do not be fooled; part of the war is over that very thing. So if you just get mad and quit, then you have automatically lost the battle. This, to be frank, was one of the situations at Madison cofC (at least from what I have been able to read). If the strong, mainstreamers just held on and refused to be run-off then perhaps the mainstreamers would have been still there today. Those of us who have been in the church for a long time have never done everything right. We have, at times, been boring, full of arrogance and all those things that we have been accused of being. We, as people, have made the church of the Living God into a denomination at various times and places. But no one, repeat, no one, especially any leader, has the right to remake the church that our Lord died for.
David Rhoades: What were some of the initial things that happened? Looking back, can you see the different things that were warning signs about where the Church was being taken? (Among others, clapping, small groups, instruments, secret meetings, covenants, etc.)
Mr. Elder: Yes, there are ALWAYS warning signs and here are some (and remember that there is nothing wrong within itself of any of these things) you just have to be discerning:
(1) rhetoric----?traditional v. s. contemporary? ?legalist? ?that?s just your opinion? ?stretching? ?believers? ?family of God? ?our group? ?gathering?.
(2) Small group activities---to bring up and divide the body to reach some of the more impressionable people. This will automatically begin the separation of the ?sheep and the goats?. Brothers and Sisters, the progressive element leadership automatically goes through the membership lists to find those who they can influence and those who need to be run away. If you do not like our leadership, they say, ?then leave?.
(3) Praise Leader approaches to worship. A very visible controlling leader who leads the church into an emotional praise service. Clapping, shouting and hand waving go with this approach. Again not wrong within itself, it is the underlying philosophy that is wrong. Self-centered emotional fulfillment is the agenda of the praise team approach.
David Rhoades: What is the outlook for your Church today? What is the outlook for other Churches of Christ?
Mr. Elder: There are, and there will continue to be two separate churches of Christ. There will be those who are closely related to the older mainstream body but who will continue to broaden and become more and more integrated into the evangelical field of religion. And then there will continue to be the church of Christ as we have known it all our lives. We will be less numerous, and have less of our schools than we do now. We will be severely hurt in all the major cities but in the rural area we will continue. Again, shades of 125 years ago.
David Rhoades: Do you have any words of wisdom to pass along to other Elders and Church members everywhere?
Mr. Elder: Be willing to stand up and take a licking if that is what it demands. Stand for truth, for moderation and balance, and do not move to the left or to the right. But let me say that the book by Ira North which so well describes the principles of Balance, do not work in this situation. You are facing a people and platform that is 100% against the church of Christ as you have currently understood it. Their leaders have begun the process of writing books that even change the ways that we have traditionally understood Alexander Campbell, David Lipscomb and others. Their positions on Grace, Communion with the Unimmersed and Denominational Immersed, Millennial ideas are just some of the positions which they are twisting to fit their new form of interpretation.
David Rhoades: In closing please use this space to say anything else you would like.
Mr. Elder: Let me just say that I am not 100% right about all of my views or observations, I have my errors. But we as a group that have not just roots to the American Restoration Movement, but more importantly to the Church of Christ of Matt 16:18. We must continually be in the word and to hold ourselves and our congregations accountable to the word of the Lord. We must hold our schools and all of the numerous adjunct groups that work with churches as being accountable to the truth of the Bible. We must wake from our stupor and put on the full armor of God, but yet love even our enemies. We have been lazy and foolish; we have sown to the wind and are reaping the whirlwind.