Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Changes in the Restoration Movement

Many of us in the "older guard" and some in the "not so old guard" are concerned with the changes occurring in the Restoration Movement. I've been watching things for a long time now. As a "sort of" faux historian, I've found it an interesting exercise to think about what's happening.

We're concerned because the place of baptism in the "plan of salvation" seems to be shifting away from "baptism for the remission of sins" to "baptism because of the remission of sins". Some say it really doesn't make any difference as long as the believer is immersed! Carl Ketcherside used to say, "God knows what baptism is for whether anyone else does or not!" It does make a difference. One is "sound doctrine" and the other "is not sound doctrine." I think it would be an interesting study to surf through some of our mega-church web sites to see what they actually say about baptism and the "plan of salvation." Hmmmmm! Maybe I'll do that!

We concerned about changes in leadership emphasis. This shift reflects what is going on in the evangelical world per se. Historian David F. Wells says that theology has been pushed to the periphery in evangelical churches and replaced with management. Ministers who used to be biblically literate and theologically sound are now trained to be managers. A lot of ministers in our mega-churches, with few exceptions, couldn't consistently preach biblical sermons if they didn't borrow (I won't use plagiarize because I do it too) sermons from others. Most ministers today are equivalent to CEOs rather than biblically centered with the intent to faithfully teach the Word of God in all its fullness. Let me say it: those who preach Baptist sermons without discerning the theological and philosophical differences will eventually be Baptists. (That's not an indictment of Baptists; they are brothers with whom I differ on some really important issues. I'm still mad about how the Redstone Baptist Association treated Alexander Campbell :0).

The whole shift to a leadership/management emphasis started back in the 1970s when The Christian Standard took a whole year to emphasize the importance of leadership in the local church. Some of our brotherhood biggies decided our churches weren't going anywhere because we lacked leadership in the pulpit and in the "board meetings." Then in the early 1980s, if I remember right, a self-appointed ad hoc committee called for a meeting in St. Louis to see what could be done to get the Restoration Movement "on track." I noticed that of those invited, by far the majority represented the left side of the brotherhood -- what C.J. Dull called the "Old Conservative Disciples." I was a bit ruffled by this, but the meeting eventually resulted in the "Open Forum," which really wasn't open because it was "by invitation only."

During the 1970s and 1980s there were also a few on the fringe who called for the North American Christian Convention to become a delegate convention. I have a copy of an anonymous letter calling for that very thing. The letter even went so far to suggest that Leonard Wymore become the first president due to his wide acceptance in the brotherhood.

Today there are troubling signs that the North American Christian Convention is changing its purpose to appeal to and meet the needs of the "professional clergy." In my view, the convention has always been run by an oligarchy but the "select committee" or the "Board of Stewards" has gotten even more select and few, if any, represent the perspective of the smaller more conservative congregations that make up the lion's share of the brotherhood. The convention is rapidly becoming the convention of the mega-church leaders. Each year these leaders become increasingly unresponsive to those who raise uncomfortable questions. In other words, the leadership is quickly becoming a leadership bent on being served rather than serving a constituency. Maybe that's unfair! More accurate is the charge that convention leadership is more concerned with serving a limited contituency -- the mega-church leadership -- rather than the broad constituency that traditionally supported and attended the convention.

That sort of unresponsiveness does not reflect genuine leadership! It is not even good management. If it were a lone voice or two crying out in the wilderness it would be one thing not to respond, but the voices are growing in number and I believe they will be growing in volume sooner than anyone would like.

Quite a few are disturbed about the inclusion of denominational preachers and leaders in camps and conventions. Frankly, I think it is dangerous to present denominational (read "faith only") speakers pulpit-time in venues where evangelism is expected to take place. Christian Service Camps where it is hoped young people will make decisions do not need the confusion created by a denominational speaker who calls on them to utter a prayer or raise a hand. Not only is this not biblical, it is reprehensible.

At the same time, I am not too worried about the number of speakers in a convention or seminar setting. Dr. Tom Sharp is a Creationist who stands for biblical truth. He knows the Restoration Movement but is not one "of us." We invited him to Canton for a Creation Seminar. It was not an evangelistic affair and we extended no invitations. Tom stuck to the subject and did a wonderful job. I'd have him back; well, I'd like to invite him to Arizona some time! It was a bit unnerving to hear the preacher from the Mosaic Church in California give a "faith only" invitation at last summer's North American, but I wrote that off because I expected it. Probably most of those who attended the convention did exactly what I did. Of course, those who don't know the difference still don't know the difference but I doubt one sermon did much either way. I've enjoyed Promise Keepers, the National Pastor's Conference, and I read lots of books by denominational guys. I filter out the good from the bad because I know what I believe and why! Heaven help those who don't!!!!

There is a growing concern for where the Movement is headed. I haven't even talked about "corporate sponsorships" at the North American, the dangers of such financial ties and the fact that those who provide the money determine the direction, or other issues rising up among us. I do, however, listen. There is a rising tide of reaction and opposition to what is going on. Brotherhood leaders need to listen and respond before there is another rift. I, for one, do not plan on "rifting." I love people on "both sides of the potential fissure." At the same time, those who raise questions will be considered "stuck in the old ways" and their questions written off as the ravings of a radical "right wing." That kind of treatment will only serve to widen any fissure. And when rifts occur, too many fall into the ditch and are lost. Hows that for mixing all kinds of metaphors???

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're such a hypocrite. in one post, you ARE the extreme right wing and then in another, you ARE the "reformer". You can't be both!!