By Eugene Britnell
It has been said that if the South is the Bible belt, Lime- stone County is the buckle. There may be some truth in that, but the buckle is becoming a bit tarnished. There are more than fifty churches of Christ in this county. Some of them have attendance from three to four hundred people. The vast majority of these churches are conservative — opposed to sponsoring churches, institutionalism, and the social gospel. For that we are thankful!
It may be that not enough preaching has been done in the county in recent years concerning the unique position of the church, its distinctive plea, and opposition to denominationalism. This lack of under- standing and conviction has produced some members who are dissatisfied with the church and want to change it. A number (mostly younger people), unable to get their way, left two congregations (along with a few from others) and started what is known as “Valley Church” and the one meeting on Seven Mile Post Road west of Athens. A few of those misguided members went into the few churches known to be liberal or into denominations. They seem to be under the influence of the Nashville Jubilee, Rubel Shelly,
Max Lucado, Mike Cope, Lynn Anderson, Randy Mayeux, Edward Fudge, and others.
These brethren have followed the four steps outlined by Dave Miller in his book Piloting the Strait:
There was a time among churches of Christ when there was a spoken understanding that members of denominations were lost since they were not members of the church described in the New Testament. With time, we moved into a period of unspoken understanding. Everyone knew what shape denominations were in; it was understood. But we shied away from verbalizing it, “lest we offend.” Tragically, the generation that grew up with such silence ushered in a new period that entailed unspoken misunderstanding. They had not been taught (Deut. 6:7). They mistook the silence of their parents for indifference and approval.
We are now reaping the consequences of these failings. We have now moved into a period of outright spoken misunderstanding. Brethren are openly declaring their conviction that the church of Christ is simply one denomination among many and those who are in denominations are saved Christians. They maintain that teachings like “the sinfulness of instrumental music” and “baptism unto remission of sins” are trivial in comparison with the need to “fellowship” and “unite” with those in the denominations (286-287).
That describes the local situation completely! Some brethren have followed this pattern of apostasy.
In July of 1998, Edward Fudge returned to his native county for a series of lessons at the SMPR church. He returned to Houston and placed a message on the Internet in which he said:
What a feast of fellowship we enjoyed in Athens on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday at the Seven Mile Post Road church (a church of Christ) — in ministry from God’s Word, roof-ringing congregational worship and praise, and testimonies to God’s kindness and love! We ended the feast Sunday noon with a table laden with food for our bodies. We are holistic beings; God provides for the entire person.
Shepherded by my life-long buddy Joe Curtis, and our brother Dwight Ridinger, the 7MPR Church fulfills Isaiah’s messianic vision of a time when “the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before the nations” (Isa. 61:11). God has wonderously saved some from drug addiction, delivered others from alcohol, healed others who were sick, mended troubled families, and transported many from the bondage of legalism and the ceaseless task of joyless religion to the freedom of a personal relationship with the living Lord.”
It was a treat to welcome visiting believers from Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, as well as from many churches of Christ.
Pentecostals would make the same claims about those who were “wonderously saved.” His reference to the “bondage of legalism” was directed toward relatives and fellow-Christians among whom he was reared — the faithful churches of Christ. He is referring to those of us who believe in giving book, chapter and verse for what we believe and practice. He and his “buddies” argue that we are not under law today. He implied — and he believes — that those “visiting believers” from denominations were saved believers. And of course they had that “feast” on Sunday. Edward can remember when there was not a kitchen or banquet room in churches of Christ in Limestone County. It’s another mark of apostasy. Would he say that the church is to provide every need of “the entire person”? Every need, Ed?
On May 8, 1999, a much-publicized musical show known as “Soul Stock 99” was held at Beasley Field at Athens State University. It was promoted by some sectarian organization known as “Lightly Salted Ministries” — whatever that means. They featured two rock groups and a football player. Their aim was “to plant the seed of Jesus Christ in the hearts of our youth and to promote a spirit of unity among all who put their trust in Him.” The sponsoring churches include Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians — and the Valley and SMPR churches. This has really opened some eyes among Christians in the county. Co-sponsors were the local newspaper and Harvest Field Bookstore.
Scott Tidwell, a Baptist, of Harvest Field Store, writes a weekly column in the local newspaper. Following the gospel/rock show, he wrote a report of what happened. We quote from him:
What a great event! There was a tremendous crowd, good music, great Christian witness and testimony, fun, friends and food — and most importantly, souls were saved at Beasley Field last Saturday night.
Last Saturday night in Athens, Alabama, thousands upon thousands of people gathered and praised God, heard about God’s life-changing love, were encouraged, to practice a life of purity, and caused a celebration in heaven as sinners accepted Jesus as their personal Savior (The News-Courier, May 14, 1999).
In a letter to Joe Curtis and Dwight Ridinger dated May 18, 1999, I gave the above quotes and asked:
“Since the Seven Mile Post Road Church of Christ was listed as one of the sponsors and promoters of the show, do you endorse Tidwell’s statements that some people were saved at Beasley Field? If not, will you seek to correct his false and misleading statements?”
I have not received a reply from either preacher.
If they do not agree with Tidwell, they should realize the dangers of their ungodly compromise with sectarians, repent, and seek forgiveness from God and offended brethren.
If they do agree with Tidwell, then they do not believe the truth! They believe in salvation by faith only and with- out baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). In other words, they endorse the kind of “conversions” as seen in the Billy Graham services.
If they refuse to answer (and it seems so), then they disobey a scriptural command (1 Pet. 3:15).
In the dedication service for their new building, the Valley church used denominational preachers as guest speakers. Now contrast that with the attitude of the early Christians as described by J.L. Hurlbut, in The Story of the Christian Church:
Heathenism was hospitable to new forms and objects of worship, while Christian was exclusive. Where gods were already counted by the hundreds, even by the thousands, one more god would make no difference. One emperor wished to place a statue of Christ in the Pantheon, a build- ing in Rome, still standing, where all the important gods were worshiped. But the Christians rejected the offer with scorn. They would not have their Christ recognized merely as one of many deities (50).
The apostle Paul instructed the Christians at Ephesus to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).
This paper is read across the nation. Many of you do not live in Limestone County, Alabama. These dangers and departures may not yet affect you, but to be forewarned is to be forearmed. This compromising, stand for nothing, accept everybody and any religious practice is spreading, and it will continue. We must oppose it with all means available and defend the one true church built by the Lord and to which he adds all the saved who have obeyed him as we read in Acts chapter two!
We close with another quotation from Dave Miller. He concludes his chapter on “Embracing Denominationalism” with this wonderful statement:
How tragic, that at the very time when our nation needs to have God’s truth clearly articulated, so many within churches of Christ are selling out and blurring the distinction between the false religions of man and the religion of God. Those within churches of Christ who are embracing the denominations and working hard to get others to do the same are, in reality, participating with Satan to fool people into thinking they are acceptable to God when they are not. Of all the changes that churches of Christ are currently facing, surely this fraternization with denominational- ism is the most sinister, the most destructive, and the most tragic in its implications for the future of the church and for eternity. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do! (Piloting the Strait, 323).