The Fading Fear and the Spirit of St. Louis (II)
Connie W. Adams
In the first article of this series we pointed to a summary by Carl Ketcherside in Mission Messenger, 1969 of a "fading fear" of fellowship between Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. He referred to several incidents which indicate this. We believe these events give evidence of a compromising spirit among some and that this is in reality the "spirit" of the Memphis and St. Louis meetings, the latter of which we shall consider in this article.
Two significant meetings were conducted last year. The first was at Memphis and the second at St. Louis. Thomas H. Olbricht of Abilene Christian College sent Brother Willis a copy of the interview he and J. W. Roberts had with Reuel Lemmons and James DeForest Murch after the St. Louis meeting. He suggested that brother Willis might want to report the matter in Truth Magazine and give his views. Brother Willis sent the material on to me with the request that I write something on the subject, which I am glad to do. I believe these meetings were Significant and that brethren who read this journal need to know about them.
How the Meetings Came About
In the spring of 1969 Reuel Lemmons wrote an editorial in Firm Foundation which led to the Memphis meeting. In the interview Roberts asked why Lemmons was to write the editorial. He replied to the effect that he thought the Independents of the Christian Church were making the arguments against Restructure which we one time made against the Christian Church. He said: "I felt that they might be in a better mood to take a second look at the causes of division."
The printed interview sent to us is entitled "THE SPIRIT- OF ST. LOUIS' AN INTERVIEW.'' The part of it involving Murch was in response to a written questionnaire. Following is page one of the published material:
"On September 18-20, 1969 a historic meeting took place in St. Louis, Missouri with members of the conservative Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ. The meeting was arranged by Reuel Lemmons of Austin, Texas, editor of the Firm Foundation and James DeForest Murch of Cincinnati, Ohio. Others present from the Christian Churches were: Russell Boatman of St. Louis Christian College, William Boice, minister and this year's president of the North American Christian Convention, Dale Crain a minister to students from Tenre Haute, Indiana, C. C. Crawford of Dallas Christian College, Dwain Dunning of Platte Valley Bible College, Nebraska, Robert Fife of Milligan College, Tennessee, Lewis Foster of the Cincinnati Bible Seminary, John Greenlee, minister from Wichita, Kansas, R. J. Kidwell of the Cincinnati Bible Seminary, W. F. Lown of Manhattan Bible College, Kansas, Max Randall of Lincoln Christian College, Illinois, Ben Schiller of Ozark Bible College, Missouri, John Wade of Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, and Palmer Young, minister from Louisville.
Others from the Churches of Christ were: Jimmy Allen, Harding College, Arkansas, Robert Bell an elder from Dallas, E. A. Cayce, an elder from St. Louis, Harold Hazelip from Harding Graduate School, Memphis, Bill Humble, Abilene Christian College, Texas, Hulen Jackson, minister, Houston, Raymond Kelcy, Oklahoma Christian College, Hardemen Nichols, minister, Dallas, Tom Olbricht, Abilene Christian College, Frank Pack, Pepperdine College, California, J. W. Roberts, Abilene Christian College, Jay Smith, Twentieth Century Publishing House, Nashville, Earl West, minister, Indianapolis and Harding Graduate School, and Norvel Young, Pepperdine College."
It is not only interesting to notice who was present, but who was not present as well None of the Gospel Advocate inner circle was present. Nobody was there from David Lipscomb or Freed-Hardeman Colleges. In the main, those who were there would be most clearly identified with what has been called "the middle of the road," though some of the men are much more liberal than that.
Brethren Roberts and Olbricht asked several questions of Lemmons and reported his replies.
(1) The Memphis Meeting was valuable according to Lemmons because it was an "ice breaker." He said "Brethren found that they could talk to each other and hold mutual respect for the sincerity and integrity of the opposing view."
Also at the Memphis meeting "the rationale for the St. Louis meeting" was worked out. "It was the consensus of opinion that further exploration of fields opened up at Memphis should be held, and that a larger group of brethren representing a cross-section of both bodies should be invited to participate. General fields of study were outlined, such as history, work, worship, government, fellowship, etc., were pointed out, and a man chosen later from each of the participating groups to deliver a prepared paper on the chosen subject. These two prepared papers were followed by extended open forum discussion."
(2) Focus on instrumental music. Apparently more time was devoted to the study of instrumental music than anything else. Lemmons explained the reason for this: "historically, this is the issue that split the church, and this is the issue that will have to be solved if unity is to prevail." He said, however, that instrumental music was not the main roadblock to unity; that it is simply the result of the real roadblock which is the contrasting attitudes regarding the scriptures. He suggested that the Christian Church people believe that "where the scriptures are silent we are free to choose."
While instrumental music was a divisive question, the initial real division on a wholesale scale came over the missionary society. It was this issue which quickly identified churches which approved and isolated those which did not. Usually the instrument came into those churches which stood with the society. It was several years after the society was formed in Cincinnati in 1849 that the first instrument was introduced (about 1860). It was several years before instrumental music was used very widely and by that time the fight was on in earnest over the society.
(3) Missionary societies. In his questions to Lemmons, J. W. Roberts observed that while they had not talked about it much at St. Louis that these Christian Church men did not seem to oppose the missionary society in principle. Then he asked "How serious do you think this might be as an obstacle to fellowship?"
Lemmons reply is significant. "I do not see this area as posing an obstacle that cannot be gotten over. We feel that the church is all-sufficient in itself to do what God commanded the church to do. They feel that the church may create any society or organization that it wishes to create and operate it under a board separate and apart from the church, and that the church then may support the society, whether it be benevolent, missionary, educational, or social. I believe that the light of intense scripture study will solve this problem for all concerned. It may be seen that this, again, is a part of the problem of whether we are bound by the exclusive nature of the silence of the Scriptures, or whether we are free to act in any way we choose to act in areas where God has not specifically forbidden a method."
I cannot resist paging Guy N. Woods and others of the Gospel Advocate position. What do they think of this summary, since it is their position that a benevolent institution must be under a hoard and cannot be under an eldership? Perhaps they could have gotten farther at St. Louis if they had let the Advocate promoters speak, for they could have found more common ground. Batsell Barrett Baxter and A. C. Pullias could have quickly agreed with them on the matter of church supported educational and benevolent institutions. Of course, the "middle-of-the-roaders" have the same things, only they seem to think that they are "sanctified" if they can somehow get them under an eldership. Maybe we could even have a series of articles in the Advocate exposing Lemmons' position on the all-sufficiency of the church. According to Lemmons, the position of the Christian Church people on this question reflects a lack of appreciation for the all-sufficiency of the church to do all that God commanded the church to do. That is what many of us have been telling liberal brethren for some time about human institutions built and maintained by the church to do the work of the church.
While brother Lemmons and others are engaged with the Christian Church men in "intense scripture study" to "solve this problem," perhaps in trying to teach them the "Exclusive nature of the silence of the Scriptures" they can themselves see what some of us have been trying to get over to our liberal brethren for so long. Perhaps they will have cause to think of the exclusive nature of what the New Testament teaches on the matter of cooperation and sponsoring churches. When God authorized the local church under its own elders and limited them to oversight of the flock "among" them (1 Pet. 5:1-3), and established the same order everywhere (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5), did He not exclude any such arrangement as we have in the sponsoring churches of today? Is the silence of the scriptures exclusive in this realm.
What will be interesting to see is how these brethren can show the erroneous principle involved in missionary societies without condemning the brethren who hold to the Advocate persuasion on other organizations than the church, and without condemning both themselves and the Advocate people for their sponsoring churches. I would like to see liberal brethren make a single valid argument against a missionary society which cannot be made with equal force against church supported orphanages, schools, unwed mothers homes, camps and sponsoring churches.
The conservative Christian Churches have just come through a severe battle with the ultra-liberal Disciples of Christ who voted in I968 to restructure themselves into a full-fledged denomination. They have severed all ties and many of them think they have far more in common with brethren such as Reuel Lemmons and those he gathered with him in Memphis and St. Louis than they do with their erstwhile brethren in the Disciples. The question of interest to many of us is whether they have come back much nearer the truth, or our liberal brethren have simply run to meet them in the direction of apostasy. Who moved? The next article will explore this question further.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 28, pp. 5-8
May 21, 1970