No. 21, December 1996
HAPPY 200TH, WALTER SCOTT!
The 200th anniversary of Walter Scott’s birth (Oct. 31, 1796) has not gone unnoticed in Stone-Campbell circles. The Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville is honoring him by creating the Walter Scott Honor Roll of Preachers. One can honor a preacher, living or dead, by way of at least a $100 donation to the DCHS. In so doing one not only honors a preacher in Scott’s name but makes an investment to the ministry of history.
Brite Divinity School of TCU also honored Scott with a bicentennial celebration that featured lectures by Thomas Olbricht and David Edwin Harrell of Churches of Christ and Fred Craddock and Jim Duke of the Disciples of Christ. In the company of Charles Turner, a lawyer/professor at Texas A&M University at Commerce, I attended the TCU affair. The old hero was given his just dues.
Fred Craddock in particular hit a high note when he urged us all to recover the preaching of repentance after the order of Walter Scott – and the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, from whom Scott drew his five-finger exercise.
Dean Newell Williams of Christian Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ) in a recent study of Scott in Discipliana notes that while earlier historians saw his contributions as positive, more recent studies have viewed Scott more negatively. He named histories by Henry E. Webb and Richard Hughes in particular, the first of which charged that Scott hardened Campbell’s position on baptism, while the second accused him of radicalizing Campbell’s Christian Baptist, which set the course for the sectarian Churches of Christ.
Williams’ observation reminded me of what another responsible Campbell scholar told me some years ago. She said in effect that if we in Churches of Christ were looking for a patron saint for our legalism we should choose Walter Scott!
I agree with our earlier historians and take exception to some of these more recent interpretations. Walter Scott was into the Person of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit too much to be blamed for any of our sectarianism. Instead of hardening or radicalizing anybody, Scott simply outlined what the apostle Peter preached in Acts 2:38.
Unlike many in the Churches of Christ of the 20th century, Scott didn’t preach the church or baptism or some plan. He preached Christ and him crucified. That is the “golden oracle” of the Bible, as he saw it: Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world!
Once he had preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, he told sinners how to respond to the gospel, as Peter did in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And so his so-called five-finger exercise: faith, repentance, baptism (the sinner’s response to the gospel); remission of sins, the Holy Spirit (God’s gifts of grace). If that is sectarian, then the apostle Peter was sectarian.
Scott was not unfaithful to us; we have been unfaithful to him. The Churches of Christ fouled up his five-finger exercise by revising his order into a “five step” plan that included only what man does, as if it were a works salvation: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized. The Independent Christian Churches also revised Scott’s order. We both left out the Holy Spirit!
If we had preserved Scott’s passion for the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the church, we would be a more spiritual people today. He had a unique way of describing the Holy Spirit as “a missionary to the church:” As a missionary to the church, the Spirit’s mission is to conform the believing community into the likeness of Christ. What a beautiful truth!
Scott’s theology was in terms of mission. God’s mission was to all the universe as creator and preserver. Christ’s mission was to the world as Lord and Savior. The apostles’ mission was to the world as envoys of the gospel of Christ. The Holy Spirit’s mission was to the church as comforter and teacher.
He saw this arrangement as crucial. If you make the Spirit a missionary to the world as an enabler to faith instead of the apostolic gospel, as in Calvinism, you foul things up. The gospel brings them to faith (the church); the Spirit as a missionary to the church conforms believers into Christlikeness.
This emphasis may explain why Scott was such a spiritual man, one of deep devotion and prayer. And he was a passionate preacher, eloquent in divine oratory, an irresistible persuader. A sinner was hard put to stay in his seat in the face of his pleading. Once when he preached near Bethany, he brought Alexander Campbell himself out of his seat praising God! Lest we forget, this man, our greatest evangelist, brought sinners out of their seats to be baptized at the rate of a thousand a year.
Recent historians have made a big deal out of Scott’s claim that he had in 1827 “restored the gospel” according to the primitive order. A bold, sectarian claim, they say, one that even Alexander Campbell bought into for a time.
If it were an overstatement, it was understandable and forgivable, for insofar as Scott knew he was the only one since Pentecost who had preached the gospel like Peter did. Years later Scott modified his claim, explaining that it was the “practical application” of the gospel that he restored in 1827, not the gospel itself.
Let’s face it, when it comes to the glorious heritage we have in Walter Scott, “the voice of the golden oracle,” we have blown it. To make him some kind of a radical sectarian is not only a grave injustice to a great and good evangelist but it is also a betrayal of our history at its best.
UNITY, LIKE POLITICS, IS LOCAL
Now and again some wag reminds us that all politics is local. I suppose that means that whatever good thing (or bad!) may happen politically at the national or international level must begin in one’s own precinct. Politics, like charity, begins at home.
I had cause recently to apply that to unity among Christians. People who may find a worldwide ecumenical movement too much for them are less likely to balk at the idea of Christian unity in their own neighborhood. Unity, like politics, is local or should be!
Unfortunately, that kind of thing often works the other way, human nature being what it is. Some people will show compassion for starving people in Rwanda or Ethiopia and yet be indifferent toward the dispossessed at home. There are churches that get excited about evangelizing Africa that are less than enthusiastic about having blacks in their own congregation.
I thought of “local unity” when Troy Singleton called from Austin to tell Ouida and me about something exciting going on in his congregation, the Pond Springs Church of Christ. It all started when a nearby Community church sent Pond Springs a “love offering” check to be used in their own program. Stunned by such a surprising gesture of love and fellowship, Pond Springs in turn invited Community to a chili supper.
That started it. Other churches are now involved, all within a mile or so of each other. They are finding things to do together. Troy reports that he has longtime members of the Churches of Christ who have never been so excited. They can’t wait to reach out and enjoy fellowship with other believers.
When our folk get loosened up like that - after being self-deprived for so long - they remind me of that description in Mal. 4:2, “They are like calves let out of a stall, happy and free.”
Local fellowship! It’s not the same as sending a check to India or praying for folk in Russia. Flesh and blood relationship in one’s own community is of a different sort. Have you ever thought about it: all of Jesus’ ministry was local!
Ecumenicity may be too big a word and too big an idea for most of us. But it doesn’t have to start in Rome, Geneva, or Amsterdam, but with the church nearest you. Perhaps only a note, a phone call, or a handshake to start with. We begin with our mutual love for Jesus Christ, and go on from there, letting the Spirit lead the way. – Leroy
PASSION AND COMPASSION
One only rarely sees these ardent emotions in the same context, such as when parents show passion for the values they have always held to and yet have compassion for a wayward child. One may see it on the witness stand when one testifies against a friend: passion for integrity, compassion for the accused.
It is especially inspiring to see passion coupled with compassion in a church controversy. A case in point is an article by Thomas Gillespie, president of Princeton Seminary, in ReNews, a publication of Presbyterians for Renewal.
President Gillespie is deeply concerned that his denomination is on the verge of dividing over the issue of ordaining gays/ lesbians to the ministry. He is at the same time compassionate toward the homosexuals who are caught up in the controversy.
Even more impressive is Gillespie’s passion for what he deems to be the truth in the matter, which is that homosexual practice (to be distinguished from homosexual orientation) is a sin according to Scripture, and on this matter the church cannot compromise. The well-known texts that clearly condemn homosexual acts, he insists, mean what they say and say what they mean.
Gillespie is (passionately?) impatient with those scholars/ revisionists who confuse the issue by using “technical” devices to make the texts mean other than what they say. He says point blank, after noting that he himself is trained in New Testament studies in the Greek language: all revisionist attempts are bogus.
He assures his Presbyterian readers that he is not interested in condemning anyone, and his passion for truth is matched by his compassion for the homosexuals. The issue, he says, is God’s redemption of all people. The church cannot be asked to condone those sins that God seeks to redeem. If the church is pushed to the point that it ceases to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm and recognizes same-sex marriage, he concludes, it would no longer stand on biblical ground.
It is reassuring to see such passion for truth and for the church coming out of such a theological center as Princeton. The Presbyterians took three years to study the question of whether gays should be ordained as ministers. Their General Assembly at last passed an Amendment to their Book of Order that states that for one to be ordained he/she must either “live in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman, Qr chastity in singleness.”
This means that a homosexual (or a heterosexual!) could be ordained if he/she lives in chaste singleness. Sexual orientation does not disqualify one for ministry, they say, but sinful sexual practice does.
But the Amendment must yet be approved in the presbyteries. Whatever the outcome, the Presbyterians are “skating on the blue ice of division of the church,” as Gillespie puts it. The problem they face is the problem we all face in one way or another, if indeed we face it at all.
Gillespie has set an example for us all in the way he blends passion with compassion. The church must preserve its historic passion for truth and the authority of Scripture. A passion that brooks no compromise! And yet we are to reflect the gentleness and the compassion of Christ. The church, like its Lord, is in the world not to condemn but to save. – Leroy
OUR CHANGING WORLD
During the fall I taught a short course on Socrates to a class of senior citizens at Richland College in Dallas. They were intelligent, enthusiastic, and young for their age. We had a great time exploring what the old philosopher meant by saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We also looked at him as God’s prophet to a pagan world. It was all the better with Ouida in the class, even though that meant I had to behave better than usual.
Ouida was also with me when I spoke for the Pecan Grove Church of Christ in Greenville, Tx. in October on “Heaven According to Jesus.” I pointed out that we do not yet know much about what heaven will be like, but there is one big thing we do know: “when Jesus is revealed, we shall be like him” (1 In. 3:2). And isn’t that something to know! We always enjoy going to Pecan Grove because of the free, beautiful fellowship that includes a love feast.
We do Meals on Wheels together here in Denton. I drive and Ouida delivers, in her business-like way. It doesn’t pass me unnoticed that the old folk we take meals to are often younger than ourselves. So are the people I meet when I run each morning. I am not sure what this means unless it is that its difficult to be as old as we are!
We also visit folk at several of our nursing homes, most of whom are older than we are, which helps some. I called on one man, who was in a wheelchair with a muscular disease, for almost eleven years. Even though defective in speech, he would join me in the Lord’s Prayer. As his condition worsened, he asked me over and over for years to pray that he would die. I would pray rather that God would bless him in his pain and use it to bring him closer to Himself. But still he longed for the end, which came ever so slowly. The last time I was with him he stared at me with empty eyes, unknowingly, no longer able to join me in prayer. The old pale rider called at last a few days later and bore him away. Free at last! I kept a promise that I had made through the years. I did his funeral at a country church in Tye, Texas, out beyond Abilene, near his old farm. “John, what shall I say at your funeral?,” I would occasionally ask. He would never answer. One time I said, “I might tell them how you’d go to that little church and teach that class of boys, year after year, and that those boys are men now with families of their own; and there’s no telling how much good you did for those boys, John; and that was your faith. That’s what I could say.” His eyes sparkled at that. And that’s what I told them at that old country church way out in west Texas.
We spent Thanksgiving with Ouida’s family at her brother’s pig farm in Missouri. There were 31 kith and kin and some 10,000 hogs. We had a squealing good time! On our way home we were guests in the home of Betty and Bob White in Miami, Ok. and I addressed the Eastview Church of Christ twice. I spoke on the Christian attitude toward death in the a.m. and gave an introduction to the Psalms in the p.m. It was delightful fellowship!
We have been blessed recently by visits by influential leaders among Churches of Christ. Roy Osborne shared with us his ministry in retirement after a long tenure with the Sunset Ridge church in San Antonio. Bill Love, longtime with the Bering Drive church in Houston, told us of his new assignment with Lifeline Chaplaincy ministry at the hospital complex in the same city. Reba and Stephen Bilak, Lausanne, Switzerland, missionaries to the Ukraine for a half century, blessed us with their company on their way home from Abilene, where they visited the Minter Lane church, their sponsoring congregation. They told us of their difficult but exciting experience of starting a congregation in Ternopil in the heart of the Ukraine. They assure us that with the fall of Communism there is freedom of religion in the former Soviet Union. But it disturbs them that even in the Ukraine Americans export their sectarianism, including Churches of Christ who have several factions at work, which have no fellowship with each other.
Another missionary couple to visit with us of late was recently married Martin and Norma Sarvis of Israel. Norma is Jewish and has been in Christian service in Jerusalem for several years. On a visit back home in Denton she met and married Martin, a Gentile Christian. We attended their Jewish wedding. The music and dancing reminded us of Fiddler on the Roof, and they exchanged vows under a canopy. It impressed Ouida that the groom escorted the bride to the altar once she made her appearance, and he crushed the wine glass under his foot once they drank together. It was a gala affair. Married in mid-life, they say they may spend the rest of their lives as missionaries in Israel.
Have read your history of the Stone-Campbell movement and found it refreshing, well-written, and extremely fair to all sides. Thank you for writing it. - Richard T. Anderson, Dalton, Mass.
We believe your history book is written in a very objective manner. It allows us to see ourselves in the context of the universal church of Christ. It helps us to see why we are where we are. Prayerfully, we can emulate the lives of those in our movement who glorified God in a spirit of love and unity. - Tom and Elaine Brisker, Reynoldsburg, Oh.
(Perhaps these unsolicited commendations will encourage you to read The Stone-Campbell Movement: The Story of the American Restoration Movement, Revised Edition, for yourself. You might even do as the Briskers did and give a copy to the elders of your church. We’ll send you a copy postpaid for $25 or two copies for $45.)
I don’t see why we can’t fellowship together and accept each other in spite of the differences. We should quit ignoring each other, and cease pointing a finger and saying “We are right and you are wrong.” Division is a tragedy! What the next century will bring remains to be seen. At 93 I haven’t much time left, but I would like to be a part of a movement for unity among us. - Ralph Davis, Columbia, Mo.
I began sometime ago to reread the bound copies of Restoration Review. I appreciate them even more the second time around. I am pleased you included essays by Carl Ketcherside, Cecil Hook, Robert Meyers along with your own perceptive writing. - Rolland Steever, South Bend, Ind.
(While the supply is diminishing, we still have five bound volumes of Restoration Review, which includes all issues of the last ten years, 2,000 pages in all. $65 postpaid. It encourages me to believe that the effort was not in vain when discerning folk like Rolland Steever read through it a second time.)
It is hard to believe that Fred Craddock (Disciples of Christ) spoke to our preachers at ACU. I’m sure that some of our more conservative brethren were ripping their clothes! May the time come when we can listen to one another without prejudice. - Ron Speer, Searcy, Ark.
We hope that our remaining bound volumes of Restoration Review might be placed where they will be used, such as with young ministers, church libraries, colleges. You might help us do this. We have five volumes in matching hardcovers, ideal for a gift. $65 pp.
Hearing God’s Word: My Life with Scripture in the Churches of Christ by Thomas Olbricht is resourceful as to the goings-on in Churches of Christ as well as a study in interpretation. I’ve been reading it with great interest and highly recommend it. $21 postpaid.
Harsh Realities, Agonizing Choices by Perry C. Cotham is a hard-hitting book about making moral decisions in a morally complex world. Along with principles of ethics for decision-making, there is helpful information on abortion, criminal justice, euthanasia, homosexuality, pornography. In this book even animals have rights! Well worth its cost of $14 postpaid.
The Twisted Scriptures by W. Carl Ketcherside has been reprinted, with a foreword by Leroy Garrett. This is not only Carl at his best but an important testimonial to what a mishandling of the Bible can do to a church. $9 postpaid.
The revised edition of the Stone Campbell Movement by Leroy Garrett is available from us at $25.00 or two copies for $45.00, postpaid.