Friday, October 18, 2013

A Portent of Things to Come?

The mail today brought me an advertising brochure from LifeWay Christian Stores. While that's not altogether unusual the message at the top of the piece reads: Berean Christian Stores is Becoming LifeWay Christian Stores.

The transition from Berean to LifeWay represents another loss to the Restoration Movement. Berean Christian Stores were once a wholly owned subsidiary of Standard Publishing. Standard Publishing and its history can be traced back to Isaac Errett and the Christian Standard

Errett, T.W. Phillips, and James A. Garfield were all involved in the Standard's incorporation and development. The paper moved about for a while but eventually settled in Cincinnati where it remained. When the paper floundered financially Errett refused to let it die and R.W. Carroll took over the publishing duties with Errett as editor. By 1873 it became The Standard Publishing Company and in 1874 Errett bought out Carroll and became the company's sole owner. The company remained in the Errett family until Harry Baird, Russell Errett's son-in-law, sold the company to John Bolton who added it to other companies called Standex, International. According to Henry Webb, Baird "had little interest in the religious aims of the company" and Bolton identified with a denominational church. Were there not an agreement arranged in the sale to guarantee all publication editors were members that came from the Restoration Movement, Standard would have been lost then.

During my lifetime I've watched the editorial direction of the Christian Standard move farther and farther from Restoration principles. Burris Butler and Edwin Hayden were strong proponents of the Restoration Plea having guided the Standard through the wars with the Disciples over Open Membership and growing liberalism. Sam Stone, a good man and one who understood sound doctrine, tried to maintain the Standard's conservative position but seemed to have no solid editorial plan or direction. After serving a stint with the Lookout, Mark Taylor became the editor and under his leadership the Standard steadily declined. He presided over the transition of the paper from one that stood for and protected sound doctrine to a paper that glorified the professional ministry and emphasized pragmatic solutions to leadership issues within the church. Admittedly this was not all Taylor's doing. His editorial policy merely reflected that of the Publishing Committee. Recently the Standard moved from a weekly publication to monthly with increasing emphasis on publishing via the Internet.

A look at the October 2013 issue supports my contention. The major articles have nothing to do with sound doctrine or biblical truth dealing only with "church matters." Consider the titles: "What One Church Can Do," "Don't Ignore the Small Towns," "Who's Called to Be a Planter?," "Finding the Right Planter," "You Are Called to Plant a Church," The Future of Multisites," "The New Church/Megachurch Standoff," and "It's Happenin' in Canada!" Frankly the Christian Standard sounds more like Christianity Today or Leadership Journal than the publication that supported Restoration ideals through the 20th Century.

What does all this have to do with Berean becoming LifeWay? It is this! LifeWay is a Baptist organization. Whether it still is or not I don't know, but LifeWay was long the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Church. It is still headquartered in Louisville the home of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I suppose it really doesn't matter all that much. Berean has long been concerned more with the bottom line than presenting true to the Bible material. It sells what sells! In that regard I suppose its loss is no big deal. Still, it reflects just one more arm of the Restoration Movement that's being absorbed into Evangelical Christianity. 

As for the Restoration Movement in general, I'm not all that sure many care about sound doctrine or biblical truth any more. The emphasis is on what works; what contributes to the big business of the corporation -- the megachurch. Not many of those articles in the Standard offer much help to the small struggling church or contributes to an understanding of biblical truth. Berean and LifeWay don't either!