By Marc Smith
Urged by brother Ron Halbrook and my father, Truman Smith, to write about our good news, I hope to share with the readers of this journal the events we have enjoyed over the past eight months in the Estates church of Christ in Hewitt, Texas (a suburb of Waco). We have had almost unprecedented success here among the liberal brethren in taking an active stand for the truth and truly letting the community know where we stand. Perhaps others can take suggestions from what worked here to apply to the works they are involved with in other places.
The Beginnings of Success
I began my work here at the end of June 1991. The membership only numbered about 25 at the time but it was evident to me that there were talented people here and possibilities in this small number. The first year or so we had six baptisms and the second year four. Our member-ship increased to about 40. The 25th Street congregation merged with us adding about six more at the beginning of 1993. This merger realistically represented that the two groups could get along and this was perhaps the most positive thing that had occurred in many years to promote a sound unified work in the Waco area. We did not know at the time that we were making a deep impression upon the liberal churches of Waco.
Not long after we moved here I made contact with an elder in an ultra-liberal church close by. We conversed many times, at first only on the phone because he could not afford to be seen with me, an “old Anti.” He was extremely disturbed at the level of digression in his congregation and was actively fighting it. He began giving me printed material of liberal teachers and preachers that taught modernistic heresy, namely the so-called “new hermeneutics” line of thought. Some of this stuff had been taught where this brother worshipped and many there were upset about its blatant error. I studied this material and in the mean time arranged to have a gospel meeting this past April featuring Ardie Brown as the speaker, to whom I had forwarded all the printed material. In preparation for the meeting I sent out a letter to 700 homes of Christians in the Waco area, after obtaining their church directories from helpful members. The level of concern among the moderate liberal element of Waco was at an all time high and my letter got to them at a critical time. We got an immediate response to the letter mailout, in that two elders with their wives immediately left the group they had been working with and began attending with us, not knowing of our existence previously. We began the meeting the following Sunday after this and we never dreamed, though we had prayed for it, that people would respond the way they did.
Elders Leave Liberal Churches for the Truth
Folks came from all over Waco. Our comfortable little building can seat only about 70 or so in the pews. Every night of the meeting we had in the high 90’s and many had to sit in rows of folding chairs. On the last night of the meeting we had 119 in attendance with people standing in the foyer! The two ex-elders and their wives placed membership that night. Brother Brown did an outstanding job and we thank him for his fine efforts. The meeting left us with great expectations for the work, not to be unrealized.
Since that meeting we have continued to increase in number and are 76 in number at present. We have a permanent row of folding chairs along the back wall in constant use. People must park up and down the street and walk in the mud to get to the building, but they are willing to do so to be a part of this work. Among those who are now members with us are five former elders and their families including the elder I first made contact with in the “ultra-liberal” congregation. We are told by all these good people, who have fled the fruits of liberalism, that all eyes in Waco are on us to see what we are going to do. These folks assure us, and I am completely convinced, that there are dozens if not hundreds of people hoping we will get into a larger building so they can conveniently worship with us. It really is a terrible situation to be in to actually not be able to get these spiritually weak folks to come and work with us when they know they are in fellowship with error, simply because we cannot fit them into the seating in the auditorium!
Planning to Build New Building
To Hold Burgeoning Numbers
With this in mind we have purchased 2.55 acres on Interstate 35 south of Waco, only about 2 miles from our present place of worship, to build a new building on. We applied to the Akin Foundation for their support in this, and were sent $10,000.00 to go toward the $30,000.00 price. We were able, by donations made by the members, to raise another $5,000.00 and make a total down payment of $15,000.00. We hope to pay this off very soon and get started on a new building that will be adequate to hold the growth we expect to follow. Brother Harold Fite has assured me that the Akin Foundation will stay with us and help the congregation “for a long haul.” Brother Fite has also agreed to come on a Sunday soon to visit with us. I have already shown him the new location and he is satisfied that it is prime, where thousands of cars pass daily traveling between Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin/San Antonio. The new location is no longer in Hewitt but is in Waco itself, which is another advantage.
The whole idea is that there are so many people in the dozen liberal churches of Christ in Waco who are dissatisfied with the drift toward apostasy that we will benefit by standing by to receive and teach these under-spiritually nourished souls who yearn for the truth. These good people, many of whom I have already met, will join with us and increase our numbers, it is thought, to make a combined group of 200 or even more in the Estates church of Christ. We have already received a good many like this and these all assure us there are many more. We have had more baptisms in recent months with several restorations.
It would warm your hearts to hear the resolve in the voices of these good people who have come out of these liberal churches and are now active workers for the truth. These folks are already conservative minded in ways even when compared to some we have heard of in what we have always considered the conservative ranks. They are straight on marriage, divorce, and re-marriage; autonomy of the church; the need for church discipline; etc. They have readily studied in detail our major previous differences: eating in the building and support of human institutions, the sponsoring church arrangement, etc. They unanimously agree that these things caused the drift to the “new apostasy” and want no further part in them.
Setting Up Vigorous Sound Meeting Schedule
To Keep the Momentum Going
The brethren here have entrusted me to set up a vigorous meeting schedule to feature some of the most capable gospel preachers in the sound brotherhood for five to seven years in advance, three or four per year.
Brother Ron Halbrook just completed a five night series with us recently in a successful gospel meeting. He taught in a very effective manner on the theme of “Authority.” Hislessons went into detail about how apostasy developed historically with the Missionary Society heresy of the last century, and how it is that Christians who leave New Testament authority continue this same digression today in different ways and drift into apostasy. Attendance during this meeting was not as heavy as the last meeting, but our membership needed to study these things in a concentrated manner like this and it has done us lasting good. We also had a good many visitors from area liberal churches who are still curious and some want to talk with me about working with us.
Opposition to Our Efforts Begins and Turmoil In the Ranks Arises Among Area Liberal Churches We learned after the meeting with Ron Halbrook was over that once our mailout letters were received (960 were mailed out this time to the homes of Christians in Waco) there was strong opposition to the meeting by preachers from their pulpits and in bulletins. One preacher, who supposedly preaches for the most “conservative” of the (liberal) churches in town, told the assembly to throw the invitations in the trash like he had done! The elders of an “ultra-liberal” church published a warning in their bulletin for members to come to them for “counseling” if troubled by our letters or phone calls! An-other church recently met to discuss whether they should give up support of orphan homes and whether or not they should sell their fellowship hall. We expect to have to work a little harder now than before, but we have definitely shaken up the status quo of these weak liberal brethren who could not defend their beliefs if their lives depended upon it, even if their souls do!
We will show in the passing of time that we are not going anywhere, so laying low will not help. They are going to have to face the reality of the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ will be taught in this town and can be found with the Estates church of Christ! Their liberal and ecumenical drift will continue but we are going to teach as many out of error as we can and it is going to upset the applecart. Waco has gone for too many years without a strong sound church proclaiming the purity of the Word and that time of inactivity has ceased. I am reminded of Acts 17:6 where it was charged against Paul and the faithful brethren by the Jews of Thessalonica, “They that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” The gospel of Christ is still a potent force after nearly 2,000 years and we can see its power and the fear it instills in those who jealously guard their apostasy.
“… there are so many people in the dozen liberal churches of Christ in Waco who are dissatisfied with the drift toward apostasy that we will benefit by standing by to receive and teach these under spiritually nourished souls who yearn for the truth.”
This situation requires an extra effort to be made in order that the gains and successes of the past continue. I have really worried that the momentum achieved in our past work and the events that followed will be lost if we do not act quickly. Having measured the situation here against all I have ever heard of, I am convinced that what we are dealing with here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Waco has never had a sizeable sound congregation, self-supporting and without some problems and peculiarities, since the brotherhood split here in 1962. We are faced with having prayed for an opportunity to be afforded us and the Lord having definitely provided it. I truly believe we can build a strong and effective local congregation. With God’s help there is nothing that will prevent it!
Elders Selected to Serve
On top of all these developments, we have just selected six men to serve as elders. These brethren just began this work at the beginning of November, 1993. You may know one of them. He is Jim Wellman who served as an elder with the South Houston church of Christ for about 10 years. He is the only one of the six who is not from Waco and is from a long-time sound background. All six men however are good men in whose capable hands the work will be well served. In fact, recently they contacted members of a small liberal church of 45, and talked to them about our differences and were warmly received. While we want to proceed with caution in this situation, not ever compromising the Truth, it seems like a situation loaded with promise!
Perhaps a Second Preacher is Needed Here
There is so much going on here that the elders are now considering asking for another preacher, perhaps a more senior man, to come and work with me because so many of those coming out of the liberal churches are folks in their 60s and over. Such a man would need to provide one hundred percent of his support because we are unable at this time to provide anything toward his living expenses.
But again, this is a highly unusual situation that needs desperately to be capitalized upon.
Come Move to Waco and Work With Us!
We are also calling upon sound brethren to think of Waco as an excellent place to move to seek employment or to retire. The climate is moderately dry and warm, with brief, rather mild winters. Waco is located 90 miles north of Austin and about 90 miles south of Dallas/Fort Worth. Two scenic rivers, the Bosque and Brazos meet at Waco and the city sports a large man-made lake within the city limits that is surrounded by beautiful cliffs with homes overlooking the water. The countryside is mostly open, low rolling hills with wooded areas along rivers. Waco is a college town with Baylor University, McClennan Junior College, and Texas State Technical College providing lots of young people and cultural advantages to the whole area. Waco and suburbs have a combined population of about 150,000 with a V.A. hospital and two large public hospitals. The city is located about 30 miles north of the Temple, Belton, Kileen and Ft. Hood Army Post combined area. There are two shopping malls in Waco and an inordinately large number of good restaurants.
I say all of this about this area because we have come to love not only the church here but also this portion of Texas is really to be highly recommended simply as a good place to call home. If you are interested in making a change, consider Waco as a prime place to live and because there is a church that meets in this town that would appreciate your help and talent. Feel free to contact me for any information you may require. You will be greeted warmly and be highly appreciated but we will put you to work!
We ask for the prayers of all the brotherhood that we may remain strong and determined to do the work at hand. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 9, p. 13-15
May 5, 1994