By James L. Yopp
The Crossroads church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida is one of the fastest growing congregations in the United States. They baptize over 200 people per year. Their attendance is in excess of 1000. Their budget exceeds $9,500 per Sunday. They are effectively activating almost every member of the local church. In many ways, they excell more than any church of Christ in the recent past.
For all of their growth, enthusiasm, and dedication, heated opposition has come from the other churches of Christ, especially among those who are sympathetic to the Gospel Advocate and Contending For the Faith. Others, as Fanning Yater Tant, having observed the phenomenal growth, became interested in the methods they used and whether these methods could be adopted for use by conservative churches. (In all fairness, brother Tant’s first visit to Crossroads earlier this year had somewhat of an adverse affect upon Northeast in Gainesville. However, that seems to have disappeared.).
The elders at Crossroads are very cordial men, and this writer, in company with Yater Tant and one of the other Northeast elders, had a very congenial discussion with the local preacher, Chuck Lucas, and the two elders, Rogers Bartley and Richard Whitehead. They seemed willing to try to answer any question that was put to them. They repeatedly offered to discuss their work and position with others.
The growing influence of the Crossroads’ church (through various enterprises, to be discussed later) has been felt throughout the nation. Many elderships come to Gainesville to study the methodologies followed in their work. They offer “seminars” in which people from everywhere are encouraged to come and be taught (indoctrinated?). Reactionaries to Crossroads would say they are trying to sell their philosophy. Some conservatives would label their activities foolishness. Still others would admire their fidelity. So, what is it with Crossroads? Philosophy, foolishness, or fidelity?
There are many commendable things that can be said of those who make up the Crossroads’ leadership and membership. They seem to be extremely effective in teaching (perhaps part of this is because of the number of contacts made – a lesson for us?). Their zeal, even if it be like those of Romans 10, is indeed evident. There is a devotion to the work within the people at Crossroads that cannot but be admired. There is a strong sense of unity that exists among the membership. The outward manifestations of love are clearly seen. They demonstrate a deep concern for one another and for the unfortunate, including the aged and widows. One has to admire their courage to stand against the secular press and other criticisms that have been made of them and their work. My one regret is their hesitancy to face issues of concern to conservative-minded brethren.
It is fitting also to observe at this point that part of the criticisms against Crossroads are for practices they deny and disclaim any responsibility for occurring. It is regrettable that any group of brethren would launch an attack against a congregation without being able to prove what they say. This writer readily admits that some things which have been said about Crossroads are not true. That does not remove the fact that some of the members will do (and have done) things which are not approved by the elders. As is true in many churches, there is sometimes a difference in what is taught by the leaders and what is practiced by the members. This article will deal only with those teachings and practices of the elders and preacher, and those experiences with Crossroads’ members where proof of occurrence can be given. Even Lucas has said, “Abuses and misrepresentations can occur in any program or teaching.” Hence, certain practices and positions charged to Crossroads are not sanctioned by the Crossroads’ elders and/or preacher.
The Crossroads’ influence has been most strongly felt in communities where colleges and universities are located. The activities and approaches used by the Gainesville church appeal strongly to college-age people and their greatest success in conversions comes from that age group. While intellectuals have tried to explain this in terms of psychological needs felt among these young people, I would explain it in terms of hard work. Any group, full of zeal and determination, with sufficient sweat, can (and will) grow (brethren – there is another lesson here).
Since college communities are often the targets of various cults, the success of Crossroads has attracted the secular press (an undependable source of information) and caused much attention to be drawn to Crossroads not only in Gainesville, but in places such as Orlando and St. Petersburg. From this mostly adverse publicity and with the aid of liberal religious leaders, Crossroads has been labeled a “cult.” Is it or is it not? In the eyes of the world, it probably is. But, then, in the eyes of the world, so would any congregation of God’s people be so identified. I have often stated that if the world knew truly what the Bible teaches, they would like Christians less.
There is a certain amount of jealousy toward Crossroads from the denominational preachers of the area. This is evident from what they have said and what they have done, to discredit Crossroads. Anyone who has been able to make inroads into their memberships as much as Crossroads has, would probably incur their wrath as well. But, one wonders if this may not be some of the problem stemming from the opposition of the Gospel Advocate and Contending For the Faith. Crossroads has effectively utilized in their programs what the liberal-minded churches have been doing for years and she has done it so well that a little(?) jealousy may be behind part of the opposition.
But back to the question: Is Crossroads a cult? To state that Crossroads is a cult, in the same sense that the “Moonies” constitute a cult is a misnomer. This is not to say that at times certain cultic characteristics do not surface among the members. For instance, in working with a young lady who was involved at Crossroads, she had to slip away to one of the Northeast members’ homes to talk with us. All of the time she was present, she expressed fear they would find out and continually pressure her with admonitions, rebukes, etc. Additionally, when trying to get in touch with the woman, her roommates (Crossroads’ members) would attempt to interrogate me before telling me the lady was not at homy (I do not know whether she was or not). This type of protectionism and isolationism has added some fuel to the charge, for it does contribute to destroying the individual nature of Christ’s disciple.
Crossroads does not only incur the wrath of certain churches and papers in other parts of the country, but the liberal-minded churches in Gainesville shun her. The attitude that is shown by members at Crossroads contributes, to some degree, to that reaction. One student wrote to me, “I am very involved in another church of Christ in Gainesville and am not interested in any other one.” Many of these young people have closed their minds and refuse to study (or investigate) the differences in Crossroads and others. I have more than 50 letters from students who wanted their names removed from our mailing list and most of them contained statements similar to the one quoted above.
The intensity that as built around Crossroads could also be interpreted by some as being characteristic of a cult.
I am doing great spiritually, by the way I am attending a church of Christ here in Gainesville that has been able to meet all of my physical, spiritual and other needs.
While faithful saints know the foolishness of this claim, it does illustrate why some feel it is cultic in nature, even though this writer does not, at this point, believe such.
What Some Object To
Crossroads has made different attempts to defend her teachings and practices. These have included use of “seminars,” articles in various national publications, visits by different brethren from throughout the nation to Crossroads, and the local preacher wrote a series of articles in the local bulletin. The attitude was expressed by Lucas in these words,
We, of course, stand ready to defend from the scriptures what we DO believe and practice and are always open to change if shown wrong in any point (At the Crossroads, June 16, 1978).
Unfortunately, many of the articles written by Lucas in defense of Crossroads never get down to the specifics. They especially do not defend the very teachings and practices to which conservative-minded brethren object.
In spite of the protectionism, the harassment methods with which they are charged, and the isolationism being promoted, what is it, specifically, that Crossroads is doing that is different from other churches of Christ and to which many liberal minded brethren object?
1. Much has been said about the “total commitment” advocated by the leaders at Crossroads. In the minds of some, this involves becoming so involved in the local program that people neglect their families, their work, and their civic duties. Among students, different ones charge that grades fall and academic accomplishments suffer (I have a copy of a letter from a mother claiming this.). I have worked with some who were so affected by Crossroads membership. However, the elders do not approve’of any such abuse. Lucas has defined “total commitment” in this manner:
Jesus is not requiring that we “sell all our possessions,” rather that we totally surrender to him everything that we are and everything that we have – our time, our talents, our will, our bodies, our possessions. Everything is to be at his disposal and to be used for his glory. That’s total commitment! (At the Crossroads. May 6, 1979).
One could agree that total commitment to Christ is right, but total commitment to Crossroads (out of love for a group and a work) is wrong. Some experiences of this writer point more toward commitment to Crossroads rather than Christ.
2. Articles that appear in Crossroads’ publications continually advocate what they call “one another” Christianity. Great stress is placed upon all of the passages in the Bible where such an expression occurs. While no Christian would deny the necessity of being concerned for one another, to build a concept with a sectarian flavor from any scriptural principle is an abuse of the word of God. There would be no limit to the ideas that could be promoted. Why not have “caring” Christianity, or “loving” Christianity, or “concern” Christianity, or “giving” Christianity, ad infinitum? A person could take any word, or any expression, that describes the life, faith, or work of a disciple and build a sectarian concept around the idea. Being a Christian embodies all that pleases God without having to promote a particular item or practice.
3. “Soul talks” have been another target of those who criticize Crossroads. Certain ones may envision “hand holding,” “candle burning,” and “spirit moving” when hearing the term. While there may have been abuses in soul talks, they are defined as “small group evangelistic Bible studies,” “discussions about the soul,” “Bible study groups hosted by committed Christians,” “Bible studies led and directed by competent Christian teachers” (At the Crossroads, October 14, 1979). While some may think (this writer; included) the description “soul talks” somewhat questionable, they are nothing less or more than Bible studies. Do we not all need to talk more about the soul?
4. “Prayer partners” constitute another area where much objection has been made. Lucas defines the concept in this way.
We must find ways to implement these “one another” commands. The “prayer partner” concept is one way to do so. In our ministry we have found that having an entire membership involved in “prayer partner” relationships has strengthened us immeasurably as individuals and as a congregation. It has enabled us to meet one another’s needs and to assure that every member of the body is being ministered to. The “prayer partner” arrangement has no connotations of “superiority” or “inferiority,” but the emphasis is on mutual ministry to “one another.” Some have described it as a “spiritual buddy system” – and we do “need one another” (I Corinthians 12:21). (At the Crossroads, October 21, 1979).
When this concept is carried into practice, prayer partners get together “on a regular basis each week.” Shortcomings, failures, weaknesses, and sins are discussed (and confessed) to this prayer partner. At times, the most intimate transgressions and feelings are bared to the “partner.” What is wrong with such a practice?
(1) There is little difference in this and having a priest to which one would go to “purge” his soul of his sins. Much emphasis is placed on guilt in Crossroads’ writings, and this is supposed to be one way of freeing people of guilt. Such a practice is absolutely without any New Testament authority whatsoever.
(2) The only sin that one is obligated to confess to another human is one of whi-ch-the-person to whom it is confessed is knowledgeable: All such confession was made with the idea of correcting faults (see James 5:16-20). No Christian is commanded to confess a sin to a person that person does not know about!
(3) The command to confess faults (James 5:16) is not a practice that involves a one-to-one basis, but is a practice that involves all of the brethren. To isolate one brother or sister (prayer partner) to which confession is made without equal involvement of all, is without scriptural foundation.
(continued next week)
Truth Magazine XXIV: 49, pp. 785, 794-795
December 11, 1980