“Free to Be One”.. A Report on the Nashville Unity Forum

By Ron Halbrook

July 4-6, 1974, the 9th Annual Unity Forum was held at Scarritt College in Nashville, Tennessee. Leroy Garrett proposed this forum while at Bethany College nine years ago; the forum moves from. campus to campus. The writer understands that the forums are usually held at some college which has historic connections with the effort to restore New Testament Christianity in America, but Scarritt is Methodist.

This year’s theme was “Free to Be One.” An effort was made to use men from differing backgrounds, including James L. Barton, Claire E. Berry, A. A. Boone, Ed Neely Cullum, Fred Hall, Roland K. Huff, and Robert Neil, all of Nashville; David Bobo of Indianapolis, Indiana; Pat Boone of Beverly Hills, California; Hall Crowder of Gallatin, Tennessee; Frank Allen Dennis of Cleveland, Mississippi; Robert O. Fife of Johnson City, Tennessee; Max Foster of Arkansas City, Kansas; Edward Fudge of Athens, Alabama; Leroy Garrett of Denton, Texas; Perry Gresham of Bethany, W. Virginia; Thomas; Langford of Lubbock, Texas; F. L. Lemley of Bonne Terre, Missouri. Each is associated with the Disciples of Christ, Christian Church, or churches of Christ, except Pat Boone now.

The United Church

David Bobo (“The Nature of the United Church”) said the Restoration Movement started well, but then had “steering problems.” “Restructure on simpler lines” is the solution; since “the New Testament does not give a standard blueprint for all churches,” each congregation should “design its own structure with emphasis on simplicity.” The early church was not guided by “patternism.” Phil. 1:1 suggests “city-wide organization,” and “benign monarchy (`monarchal bishops’) is better than the tyranny resulting from the “dogma of local autonomy.” Our approach to doctrinal division needs restructure in the united church. We agree on baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “essential.” Beyond that, we need both “freedom” and “unity” in the Spirit. “Literalists” lack the “sine qua non for the united church:” tolerance. “Unity in the Spirit” is found “beyond our disagreement over the letter or doctrine.” We must “make room for all . . . sincere expressions of worship,” as well as doctrine (including differences on “the Genesis account, inspiration, resurrection, the virgin birth”). After all, “Who can pontificate answers?”

Unity of the Spirit

According to Pat Boone (“The Unity of the Spirit”), we have “unity on Jesus, not doctrine.” The way to solve “clashes” and contradictions in scripture is to take what John says over other writers; “the beloved disciple” knew the Savior best. 1 John was read extensively to emphasize that one who acknowledges Jesus has come in the flesh is a child of God. But when Pat read, “Every one who loves is born of God,” he hesitated, then mused, “I can’t grapple with that; it is too broad for me, so I’ll just go on.” Pat was sorry to note that whereas the thief on the cross was not baptized, “We think we must convert people who are more dedicated than we are.” Jesus is “dealing with these people” because the Spirit is “not bound” by the word.

Pat’s wife and daughters spoke. One daughter was having her car gassed up when a young man drove up next to her and said, “I love Jesus.” She said she did, too, then asked, not knowing the boy, “How did you know I did’!” He answered, “We have the same Spirit,” and drove off.

Faith and Opinion

F. L. Lemley presided on the panel which discussed “How Do Faith and Opinion Relate to Unity and Fellowship’!” The first speaker was Edward Fudge. A key point urged by Ed was, “Fellowship and unity, therefore, do not mean the same thing.” (This and other quotes of Ed’s speech taken verbatim from tapes. Cf. William R. John, “Equating Fellowship ..with Being One in Christ,” Truth Magazine Sept. 12, 1974, p. 11.). “Unity” is a “state of being,” sharing “oneness” in Christ. But “fellowship” does not mean that “oneness” which is unity in Christ; it only means sharing or _”joint participation” in certain, actions.- Therefore those who are one in Christ (“unity”) may or, may not have “fellowship” in specified activities. Not sharing in a certain action (because it would violate one of the party’s conscience), does not exclude sharing in mutually-approved, actions “nor does it necessarily affect their essential oneness in Christ as members of his body . . . .” in short, lack of “fellowship” does not affect “unity” in Christ.

Unity in Christ “is manifested only by fellowship on a local basis in this congregational capacity and on an individual basis by the brotherly acceptance of others who are joined with Jesus.” “The relation of faith and opinion to unity and fellowship boils down it seems to me to this: how do brothers and sisters in a given assembly, one already in Jesus, deal with one another when they have differing consciences and scruples concerning the will of the Lord’!” Ed offered Romans 14 as the solution.

A groundwork was laid to the discussion of Romans 14 by defining “faith” early in the speech. It is used (1) “objectively” in Jude 3, (2) “subjectively” in Romans 10:17, (3) and in Romans 14:22-23 of “conscientious persuasion,” “binding on self and not others,” “personal conviction.”

Two basic rules guide (those who have “unity”) in seeking “fellowship.” First, one should never violate his conscientious persuasion or personal conviction, while seeking fellowship with others. Second, others who do not have the same scruple should submit to it anyway in cases where they are seeking fellowship with one who has the scruple. In every case, it must be understood that one who “violates his conscience, even if his conscience is wrong in forbidding a thing, sins.”

“Brothers who are separate because of honest differences involving congregational practice, cannot come together regardless of how much they love each other, until the impediment is removed for a clear conscience… I refer specifically to honest scripples over such issues as instrumental music in the assembly, congregational support of various institutions and societies, methods of cooperation, use of Bible classes, the number of containers used in the Lord’s Supper.”

So Romans 14 guides in dealing with these issues. Issues like instrumental music may separate brethren in regard to “fellowship” (sharing in the act of worship), but such practices are not sin (i.e., do not separate one from his “unity” in Christ).

The “impediment” spoken of is not an impediment to unity with Christ, not an objective sin, not a violation of “the faith” as used in Jude 3 (see Ed’s definition of faith). Rather, it is an impediment to fellowship in a given local church–a matter of “conscientious persuasion,” “personal conviction,” “binding on self and not others” except as necessary in specific cases to share with the man who has the scruple.

Ed does think those without the scrupple must bow to it rather than force a man to violate his personal conviction in specific instances where fellowship is sought with that man. On the other hand, the man with a “personal conviction” that instruments in worship are sinful, cannot consider the one who uses it as cut off from God. When Ed relates what God has “revealed explicitly” about the condemnation of sinners, “I’m not judging a brother.” But in many things like instrumental music and similar issues, God has not spoken expressly. We, cannot relate what God says about the destiny of sinners to these issues.

In the question period, Ed responded to Steve Wolfgang’s request for clarification by saying when one uses instruments and another does not, they have “disor un-fellowship, but not disunity.” They do not have fellowship in one act of worship, but they do have oneness, life, or unity in Christ. Gene Frost asked if one who does not use the instrument moves into a town that has only a church that uses it, should he consider the church heretical. Ed said he was “not sure,” which seemed to mean not necessarily; it would apparently depend on circumstances other than the mere use of instruments. In persuing this with Brother Frost and others after the formal program, Ed indicated such a church would have to give up the instrument to receive the brother, or else become heretical. (Note: According to Ed’s underlying concepts of “fellowship” and “unity,” the church was in unity with Christ before the man came, apparently would have to relinquish the instrument when the man came, but then could resume using it after his departure-all the while maintaining oneness, life, and unity in Christ.) Under Frost’s prodding, Ed conceded the church would be heretical if it had previously driven people off rather than relinquishing the instrument. In other words, Ed sees divisiveness as the objective sin and not merely worshipping with the instrument. (This has consistently been his position through the years.)

The second speaker on this panel was Thomas Langford, who said Ed’s speech left “very little to disagree on.” In rejecting “patternism” and “blueprintism,” he observed that “the faith” is not the correct interpretation of various issues, such as , instrumental music, Sunday schools, and missionary societies. He said there is no explicit, specific “warrant or condemnation” of these things in scripture. He opposes Sunday school classes, yet says all such issties involve “deductions and inferential truths” or “human reasoning.” Therefore, he not only believes such matters stave no effect on “unity” in Christ, but also none on “fellowship.” Langford pointed out to Fudge that some passages use unity and fellowship to mean the same thing, so he did not accept Fudge’s strict distinction. Fudge admitted that point in the question period, but told Langford he would “retain my distinction” as basically true.


Ed Culluni presided during the discussion of “What Freedom in Christ Means to Me.” Max Fosters “freedom” began when he left the church he had worked with and was disfellowshipped. Freedom meant rejecting the New Testament pattern on church organization, giving women a public role, and participation in denominationalism. In their ultra-liberalism, Foster admitted his “free church” was dwindling. Fred Hall of the ultra-liberal Belmont church in Nashville. found freedom in “a supernaturally imparted love.” Christ “deals with me personally and tells me what to do and when to do.” James L. Barton of the First Christian Church in Nashville joined the chorus of glittering generalities; freedom is a fact, frightening (“regimentation is secure”), and fantastic. Even Ed Fudge was moved to ask what they all meant by their “law of love.” Barton told him, “If someone is not keeping a commandment of the Lord, I should help them learn it.” (Very good, until we get down to specifics. That’s just the problem with much of the questioner’s teaching, as well as the respondent’s teaching, in this case.-RH)


“What Does Our Historic Heritage Mean to Us in Relation to Unity and Fellowship?” was answered by Perry Gresham of Bethany College. This notable among the Disciples of Christ gave an eloquent address comparing initial efforts in Jerusalem and in the American Restoration Movement. The general principles stated and the simplicity of his approach made Gresham’s speech a highlight to this writer. He spoke of “the time,” “the place,” and “the power,” then asked why not let now be the time again, here the place, and God the power. Of course getting down to specifics and applications is something else. For instance, he constantly spoke of “the winds of God sweeping through our lives” as on Pentecost, whatever that means apparently a liberal rationalization of the miraculous work of the Spirit in Acts 2. The “wind” had swept through men like Leroy Garrett, Carl Ketcherside, and Robert Fife, he claimed. Such nebulosity moved one observer to comment, “I never saw so little said in such a pretty way.”

More on the United Church

Robert O. Fife of Milligan College answered the question, “What Will the United Church Be Like?” It is already united in Christ; we simply need to “develop bridges in our own persons, to re-establish fellowship.” Differences over “open membership, missionary societies, instruments of music, Herald of Truth, multiple cups, millennial views” do not deny “the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus” and “ought never be treated as heresy.” Those who are separated over such issues can hold “sincere conviction,” yet should “begin somewhere along the spectrum” in coming closer together. Individuals can quietly work to form bridges in four areas.

“These four dimensions” for bridge-building, include (1) the “inter-personal” — “enrich the unity through friendship and association,” visit “schools” representing different views, read and write for “journals” of different groups, participate in different “conventions and lectureships.” (2) The intro-congregational-seek fellowship, at least in some areas, “with a congregation whose doctrine or practice I do not fully approve,” not in compromise, but in showing acceptance of “those `in error’ ” and in trying to “help” them. (3) The intercongregational differing “congregations support one another” in some activities such as “subsistence program(s) for the needy,” “evangelizing metropolitan centers,” “share Vacation Bible School `across the lines.’ ” (4) The extra-congregational-Christian Churches and churches of Christ doing some things “together beyond the realm of the worshipping congregation” such as “support the work of Juan Monroy in Spain . . . . Herald of Truth …. the Institute of Church Origins at Tiibingen . . . . Shiloh in New York City . . . . the Christian Service Center of Chicago . . . .”

More on Freedom

“The Blessings and Perils of Christian Freedom in Our Time” by A. A. Boone (pentecostal; Pat’s father; recently disfellowshipped in Nashville), Hall Crowder (premillennial), and Frank Allen Dennis (ultra-liberal) was an appeal for unity of those who agree and disagree with their views. – Along the same line, the printed program said, “No one asked to surrender any truth he holds or endorse any error on the part of others.” Leroy Garrett’s premise is that in Christ and by the Spirit members of the Disciples of Christ, Christian Churches, and churches of Christ are united regardless of “any truth” or “error” which separates them outwardly. Therefore he constantly commended those who are “non-instrumental,” or “non-class” or “one-cup,” for “staying among those people” which share such convictions, yet are working for broader concepts of unity.

Truth Magazine XVIII: 7, pp. 104-106
December 19, 1974