By Jimmy Tuten
All the world is a stage and everybody is in a wild scramble trying to get on it. The controversy over so-called cultism in the church, cultism that is to have been initiated by the Crossroads brethren has seen its share of ingathering, both pro and con. Some on both sides of the issue have rashly entered the fracas. Charges and counter charges, explosive innuendoes and insinuations, libelous and slanderous statements have done nothing but confuse the issue for the average child of God. The only thing that is not hard about this issue is confusion. This is attributed to the fact that a lot of brethren seem to feel that it is more blessed to give criticism than to receive it. I wish brethren would learn that uncovering another congregation’s faults will never cover their own. I do not endorse Crossroads. But I find myself wanting to defend her from the well-meaning, but over-zealous zealots who have not bothered to walk in her shoes. Before condemning Crossroads, one should check reports for accuracy. My goal in this writing is to help our readers understand what the issue is involving Crossroads, why questions are raised about her work. When one compares the real issue with whole spectrum of opposition, one will be able to better discern what it is we are dealing with in this conflict.
Who Is Crossroads?
Crossroads is a collectivity of God’s people who work and worship in facilities near the University of Florida law school in Gainesville, Florida. These brethren, in spite of existence in an age of undramatic gains in membership have accumulated an enviable record. Two years after the present facilities were built in 1975, this church was forced to expand. It had reached its capacity. This capacity was doubled through this expansion and 1978 found her facilities too small again. A search has begun for a new site to accommodate 10 times its 1,000 member congregation. Growing from less than 300 in 1970 to over 1,000 in 1978 is quite a feat! With this growth has come notoriety in Gainesville and in the brotherhood in general. The Crossroads membership has an uncommon religious zeal and an evangelistic fervor that has given her a reputation unlike that known among churches of the Lord today. But all is not well in this beehive of activity: Rumblings first came from the dormitories on the University of Florida, then from the suburban developments around the city, telling of concentration camp tactics which fostered hate and disrespect for other religions. Crossroads was said to be discouraging thought, engaging in excessive pressure strategies, and was maintaining a cult-like control over its membership. Since Guyana, “cultism” hangs over Crossroads like a sinister shroud.
Denials And Affirmations
Evidence will bear out the fact that Crossroads brethren have denied in the past that such problems existed. Though this denial no longer exists, they are still saying that where problems do exist, others are at fault. Certainly she is not responsible for what is said and done by the fatigued-with-the-system individuals who have left Crossroads and she cannot control the excessiveness of those who go out propagating her principles. Remember too, that a number of people have picked up on her “philosophy” who have never attended Crossroads. I know of one such individual who causes serious problems in a southern city and, naturally, Crossroads was accused of infiltration and insurrection within the troubled congregation of that city. Check Lucas, the preacher for Crossroads, and her elders have made positive affirmations regarding her work. Those who are interested in pursuing this matter should write Crossroads for material explaining her program. Be sure to. get a copy of brother Lucas’ brief, seven point discussion of “The `Crossroads Philosophy.”‘
While he did cover in a general way the valid objections lodged against them, many side issues go unanswered. In all fairness to Crossroads, this writer does not see enough evidence to support the allegation that she is a cult. Given the general mood of the public after Jim Jones with a little yellow journalism, interpretations of a number of actions are bound to have cultic-like aspects. Above the general concept of liberal views of a church at work, I do not see proof that Crossroads is the center of a national movement (Times-Courier, Charleston, Illinois, April 7, 1979). It is reports like those that have appeared in public journals that have produced a general consensus that there is some sort of cultic conspiracy among churches of Christ. It simply is not true and it is time that we stopped increasing public suspicions with our talk of “cultism” at Crossroads. This is a serious charge and we had better have facts to back it up.
A Survey Of Criticisms
Brethren who have investigated the matter for themselves understand that Crossroads does indeed have a program of work “that is praiseworthy” (Baxter Tape). It is succeeding in fulfilling a deep concern for university students. The key to the “Crossroads Philosophy” is total commitment. This is something all gospel preachers know is Biblical and they have preached it as a personal responsibility of the Christian. The second aspect of the program is concern for the lost, something no child of God can eliminate from his life. Crossroads has established a procedure that is appealing in many respects. This method begins with soul talks, a term not found in our vocabulary until Crossroads. The term is not appealing in itself, but since the discussions taking place in “soul talks” deal with the soul of man, the term is as Scriptural as others we use. Bruce Williams (Campus Minister of Florida State in Tallahassee, sponsored by the Call Street Church of Christ) defines “soul talk” as “a small discussion group conducted in various dormitory rooms and apartments, hosted by committed Christians living in those areas.” Brother Lucas, in the October 14, 1979 issue of “At The Crossroads,” says “soul talks are not: `encounter groups,’ `sensitivity sessions,’ `group confession sessions,’ unstructured, interdenominational religious `rap sessions,’ a meeting of `prayer partners’ (discussed later, jt). To the contrary, Soul Talks are: `small group evangelistic Bible studies (some call them `life talks,’ `Bible talks,’ etc), discussions about the soul, Bible study groups hosted by committed Christians” and “Bible studies led and directed by competent Christian teachers approved by the elders of the church.” “Soul talks” are where about a dozen Christians meet once a week at a regular time and place. While the leader of each “soul talk” selects the appropriate topic to be discussed, members help and invite visitors. They are designed for various age groups, men, women, high school, college, etc. The average member attends one soul talk per week. What right thinking Christian would criticize this?
After a person is converted he is yoked to a prayer partner. Believing that Christianity is a “one another religion” (Rom. 12:5), where members are to “edify one another” (Rom. 14:19), a “prayer partner” arrangement implements the “one another” commands of the Bible (At The Crossroads, October 21, 1979). We are told that the “prayer partner” arrangement “has no connotations of `superiority,’ but the emphasis is on mutual ministery,” often described as a “spiritual buddy system.” Crossroads denies that they assign members, or require a pairing off. They merely encourage. In this arrangement, the partners confess to each other, pray for each other, with the older disciplining the younger. Certainly this is feasible, but whether or not this sytem is best, questioned.
Then What Is The Problem?
(1) Apparent, overt demand of one’s time. It is a stressing of the fact that nothing is to take precedence over “soul talks” to the point of abuse. This is demonstrated by the fact that some were indeed so pressured to attend soul talk studies that the fulfillment left little, or no time for family relationship, for holding down a job that might conflict, or other responsibilities. Many churches have complained that those involved in soul talk programs have no time to devote to “activities of the local church where they attend” and almost constitute a “church within a church” (T. Pierce Brown in a telephone conversation with this writer). Generally speaking, could not this charge be hurled at us, not just Crossroads, at most any time by anyone not particularly “sold” on a program of personal work that we espouse? What about those who feel that “attending every night of a meeting is too much?” What brethren must learn is that it is not necessarily “the program” that is time demanding as much as it is a personal failure to distinguish a division of responsibilities. We must learn to proportion church activities and individual obligations. Have we forgotten our formula for work: A + O + C = R (Ability plus Opportunity plus Common Sense equals Responsibility)? Why not teach young people this principle rather than denouncing them or labeling them a cult simply because they naturally have little obligation to people and things not considered an obligation?
(2) Confessing intimate sins of thought and action to more mature prayer partner. The fact that two people work closely together in such an arrangement naturally leads to abuses. How easy it is to need someone to talk to, to confide in and to find that person in a “prayer partner.” This is a risk that we all face in our inter-relationship in the church. But to look upon someone in whom we have confidence as a “spiritual mother” or “father” who controls our thoughts does indeed “ape the Roman confessional box” (Gospel Advocate, February 22, 1979, p. 120). What about persuasion? I know a couple of co-laborers who in times past would have convinced me that their proscriptions and anathemas were as binding as those of a parish priest, if I had let them! Who among us have never experienced attempts at “thought control” over our thoughts at one time or another? Thought and mind control is wrong no matter when it happens and where it occurs. James 5:16 is pertinent, but it is not limited to a certain group or particular individual in the sense of a “spiritual father.” As to this matter of “raping the mind,” I ask, “is this not a nebulous charge?” If after “public confession” at our assembly a brother or a sister is reminded of sins they continue to commit, is this “thought control,” or a rape of the mind?
(3) Crossroads Philosophy constitutes true religion. The brethren at Crossroads have been charged with advocating strongly that salvation is through the Crossroads church only and consequently attempt to lead people out of other churches (even churches of Christ) into Crossroads. The University Avenue elders, Gainesville, Florida, in a letter dated January 21, 1979 expressed it like this: “The idea is that believers who have activities and philosophies nearly identical to those of the Crossroads leadership are true Christians. This idea is divisive and is particularly devastating . . . . It has conflict between those who espouse the Crossroads philosophy and those who do not support the type of changes they advocate.” While in the next installment this factor will be covered under “Exclusiveness,” I want to say here that I never thought I would hear a congregation of God’s people saying to another such collectivity, “You think you are the only ones going to heaven!” I do not find any grounds for this charge as far as brethren are concerned. May I suggest that things are so dead in the so-called “mainline” churches, that a congregation displaying the kind of zeal Crossroads gives out is bound to do two things: (1) Cause alarm. After all, does it not point out even clearer the fossilness of the status quo? (2) It is just natural that the untaught youth of these churches would flock to Crossroads. After all, they want to be “where the action is!” I think our liberal brethrens’ true colors are showing in this matter, and there is a tinge of enviousness.
(4) Delaying and withholding baptism: Crossroads is criticized for withholding baptism from candidates “normally considered acceptable by New Testament standards” and rebaptism of baptized believers after they have submitted to Crossroads philosophy. Too, talk about “man-made judgments” in this respect is absurd. In Acts 8, Philip made a “man-made judgment” when he acted on the response to his question. We all have to exercise such in baptizing people. Have you ever refused to baptize a “child” who responded to the invitation and who could not give sufficient evidence that he believes? Have you ever refused to baptize someone who.failed and/or refused to repent of some sin? Would you baptize a person whom you knew was living in adultery? Is this not “withholding baptism?” Is this not the exercise of human judgment? As for rebaptism, I will baptize anyone who doubts the sincerity of a former baptism. This is involved in “make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10). Not all “baptized believers” are Christians. This is the fallacy of brother Ketcherside’s “I fellowship all baptized believers” position.
There are other matters that need to be dealt with, such as so-called harassment, “religious zombies,” preying on emotionally weak, vulnerable people, etc. Space will not allow it.
Next Installment: “Crossroads: What It All Boils Down To.”
Truth Magazine XXIV: 33, pp. 533-535
August 21, 1980