Crossroads: Cult Or Commitment? (1)

By Jimmy Tuten

Our visit to Crossroads in Gainesville, Florida in January was a pleasant experience. All around us was spirituality, friendliness and activity. Her elders were anxious to communicate and Chuck Lucas was the dynamic person we expected to find. I frankly confess that after months of study regarding the so-called “Crossroads Philosophy” and charges of the cultic movement emerging from this collectivity of God’s people, Betty and I did feel strange in this environment. We were not accustomed to such extraordinary demonstrations of liveliness. Even though we did have to restrain ourselves from unwarranted conclusions based on first impressions, we did feel as if we were entering into a physician’s clinic as we entered the reception room of the church building. Giving the receptionist our names for an appointment fulfillment, sitting with others waiting for their appointments, seeing consultations going on through opened doors and young, lively secretaries scurrying about was something new! We had never visited a congregation of God’s people under these conditions before. But what if this form of orderliness so impressed us? Appearance is sometimes deceiving. To my mind immediately came the question: “cult or commitment?” I am convinced that the truth about Crossroads lies within these two alternatives. Charges of “mind control” on the part of mass media, “pressure tactics,” “persecution,” etc. as expressions of fear by our brethren, and the fact that here is something innovative (i.e., because it is new to us, it cannot be Scriptural) tends to distort rather than enlighten. There is a lot of unnecessary smoke in this controversy among our liberal brethren. Certainly Crossroads has reacted to some of the false charges hurled against her (she has been misrepresented on several occasions). My research for more than a year and personal contact with these brethren have not revealed a “martyr’s complex,” nor a “thriving on criticism” and an exaggeration of persecution against them to gain sympathy. I had been told this and I had read it over and over in various writings, but what I found was the very opposite. Crossroads members want you to visit them and see firsthand what they are doing. They are not a despondent people. Brother Lucas is not afraid of your inquiries and the elders will assure you that they will discuss their work with you. Is this not in keeping with the inspired principle, “prove all things and hold fast to what is good”? Should we not be ready to give to all men a reason for the hope within us (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:15)? What about judging a matter before we hear it (Prov. 18:13)? Many criticisms and objections to her are valid. Some are unwarranted and would not have been made by right thinking people if they had checked their source of information. At the time I visited Crossroads, not a single “torch-bearing” vocal criticizer among the institutional brethren had bothered to see for himself what is happening. Fairness demands that we give Crossroads a hearing before we condemn them. I am not suggesting the “go to hell to find out what it is like” principle. I am saying that it is a sin to misrepresent brethren. Should we not practice love toward our own? Crossroads is willing to make her own defense, and I defend her right to be heard.

You View It From Where You Stand

How you view Crossroads is a matter of where you stand. One must shell off the husks of innuendos and alarmist like tactics in order to get to the kernel of valid objections. For the sake of clarification, a break-down of views held by various groups are presented:

(1) Crossroads View: Crossroads views what she is doing as the development of an “Evangelistic Church” (20th Century Christian, February 1977). Other matters, such as benevolence and edification are not viewed as unimportant. A realization of her mission to the lost, compelled by a sense of love and concern, and a desire for a complete involvement is the true “Crossroads philosphy.” They are totally committed to this concept. They believe it can be done and they are putting their belief into action (Campus Journal, Fall 1975). Brother Lucas told me in January that 90% of their people are involved in a direct, positive way in their “program of work.” This is what brother Baxter calls a “total commitment movement.” While we cannot concur with her methodology in general and while we do not like some of her terminology (soul talks, prayer partner, etc.), we cannot question her motives nor deny that her goals are noble. I agree with brother Virgil Poe (January 23, 1979 letter) that “all is not well with the Crossroads effort either in doctrine or in methodology.” That “we have observed the consequences of the soul talk, prayer partner, quiet time, Holy Spirit Power commitment regimentation of the Campus Advance program at close range and cannot recommend it. Although the plan has much to offer on the surface, the roots of the tree are terribly diseased.”

(2) “Conservative “Liberal View: The Gospel Advocate, Contending For the Faith, etc. people do not like the fruit of their preaching and practices over the past few years. While the real issue is clouded by petty charges and the prejudicial “we believe the Lucas movement is cultic” philosophy, the truth is that these brethren do not like the methods and terms used to describe the work. They are plucking fruit when they should cut the tree. Some have said that liberals are resentfully envious. I leave this for others to decide. Crossroads, with its thousand members, baptize three hundred a year while a Tennessee church with four times that membership, baptizes a hundred. A typical expression of contempt, mildly stated, is that of Virgil Poe of Houston, Texas. He says, “It has its own peculiar doctrines, its words and definitions of those words, and it has its influential leader in whom can be found (by them) absolutely no fault of any kind . . . .” There are definite doctrinal issues involved, liberal churches are splitting and others are deeply troubled. Brother James Adams has well stated, “Chuck Lucas and Crossroads really have the pot boiling” (Gospel Guardian, January 1980). I would like to add that the Crossroads Philosophy is a fly in the ointment! G. James Robinson expresses it like this: “Actually, however, the Crossroads phenomenon can be viewed as a remarkably successful result of an `official’ position shared by mainstream ( Gospel Advocate style, jt) churches of Christ” (Mission Magazine, June 1979). Like a grand finale leaving you hanging in mid-air, brother Robinson concludes, “Chuck Lucas has been able to do what no other Church of Christ preacher has done, despite valiant efforts from Nashville to Little Rock to Dallas and Abilene. He has finally given birth to the seed planted many years ago” (Ibid, p. 13). yes, Chuck has indeed turned up the volume on what Goodpasture, Woods and others have been saying all along. It is their Mecca, and they do not like it! They cannot, however, disassociate themselves from it.

(3) Ultra-Liberalism: Viewing “book, chapter and verse” please as divisive and a “contending for the faith once delivered” as a backward look, it is obvious that these brethren would view Crossroads as neo-legalism “from the stance of the Gospel Advocate and its following” (Mission, June 1979). Simply stated, they feel that brother Lucas has simply nailed down tighter the narrow, rigid, self-righteousness of the old paths advocates. (I do not believe that a plea for “old paths” is any more rigid than God made it, any more narrow than the Lord intended it and no more self-righteous than the apostle Paul who knew in whom he believed.) The following quote sums up their view: “The result is so repulsive, so horrifying, and so absurd that even the most legalistic mainstreamer is shocked and frightened by the accusations of cultism. In other words, we now see very clearly where we’ll be when we get where we’re going – and we don’t like it one little bit” (Ibid, p. 13). They view the Crossroads Philosophy as the very epitome of exclusiveness, over-aggressiveness and conformity.

(4) Denominationalism’s View: Headlines of various papers seeking news-worthy print have played to the hilt the cultic implications of the Crossroads Philosophy. “Cult like church moving into the area” (Outlook), “Ex-Crossroader Assists People In Leaving Religious Groups” (Sun), explosive words like “rapes the human mind” (Ex-Crossroader, University of Florida co-ed), “brainwashing” (Richard Bowaman, Episcopal minister), etc., are shocking and horrifying. I concluded early in my investigations that even if there were no doctrinal errors at stake, the adverse criticism warrants a cessation of activities that are purely expedients and/or aberrations. The reputations of those churches of the Lord who contend for the old paths have been seriously hurt, generally speaking, by the controversy. This is sad. 1 Peter 2:20 certainly has relevancy here. I doubt if the charge of cultism would ever had been hurled at Crossroads if it had not been for Jim Jones and Jonestown. Brethren, there are indeed doctrinal issues at stake, but to charge people with cultism simply because they do some things that Jones did, though admittedly not to the same degree, is serious. Are we cultic because we stress mind control as taught in Philippians 4:8, or separation from family in keeping with Matthew 10:37, or assurance of salvation in Christ as taught in 1 John 2:3? I am suggesting that Crossroads is charged with the same things we are doing. A “cult” is whatever you want it to be. Can the experts help us through the maze of shaded meanings? Crossroads certainly has cult-like tendencies, but I, for one, am not ready to call her a cult.

(5) Conservative View: How are we to view the Crossroads Philosophy? “Another fruit of liberalism?” Certainly, but only if we understand what the “Crossroads Philosophy” really is, not what some say it is. What I am saying is that their purpose, i.e., conversion of the lost and a commitment to Christ, is commendable. Some of their methods of achieving that end are highly suspect and objectionable. Some practices are unscriptural. But please do not make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the dish water. My efforts in times past in the area of “personal evangelism” have met with good success. From time to time, I have run into those who cried “organization!” This was suppose to mean that efforts for systematic arrangement for motivational purposes within a congregation constituted an organization usurping the local church. These efforts are in fact a functional arrangement within the local church under the oversight of the elders. They are no more unscriptural than a Bible class. Here is my point: some no doubt will now point to Crossroads and say, “I told you so!” Even if they were parallel (some things similar, yes), the abuse at Gainesville, Florida would not argue for its unscripturalness. We have been known as a bunch of “do-nothing, negative-minded people” long enough. Many of our brethren are coming out of this and are offering something positive in evangelism. But if we are not careful we will suffer a setback because of improper conclusions regarding personal work. I commend the editor who restrains himself by not jumping onto a bandwagon of popular dissent. I am concerned that restrainment might lead to compromise (whatever the motive), but more so the withholding of judgment an indication of weakness. I do not speak for conservative brethren. I do feel that some brethren are exercising the true spirit of Christianity by seeking facts first, founding convictions on these facts and then speaking out. This is not the only issue that has been placed on the back burner for reflection after research has been completed.

James said, “be slow to speak” (Jas. 1:19).

Next Installment: Crossroads Philosophy: An Attempt At Clarification.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 31, pp. 497, 508-509
August 7, 1980