Retrospect: 1979

By Steve Wolfgang

Mike Willis’ request for this article arrived as I was departing for a meeting in Grinnell, Iowa, where this is being composed. I applaud Mike’s desire that Truth Magazine contain more material of this nature. As he said in the letter requesting the staff writers to submit such articles, the authors of these “field reports” may run the risk of being accused of “tooting their own horns” or incurring the ire of some brother who may not like what another writes about the work in a given location. I found this to be true regarding the reaction to a series of three articles which appeared last year in this paper (“The Lord’s Church in the Upper Midwest,” April 12, 19 and 26 issues of Truth Magazine). Though the reaction to those articles was generally favorable, I did receive a number of criticisms from various brethren. Some of it was perhaps justified, but I felt much of the criticism stemmed from the simple fact that some did not happen to like or agree with my assessments of the situation at several points. I expected just such criticisms, but did not allow that anticipation to deter me from writing the articles (though while reading some of my mail afterward I often resolved never again to write any more such articles!). However, I do feel keenly that great good can be accomplished by keeping the brethren generally informed about encouraging work being done in other places, as the majority of my mail response to those articles clearly indicates. Brethren are interested and want to help! It would be best if the men actually working in areas of this country such as the Upper Midwest or Northeast would write such articles themselves, but many of them seem disinterested or have outright refused to do so. Thus, it seems to be left to younger or brasher “visitors” to write such reports.

My local work for 1979 involved two congregations. We concluded 4’h rewarding years with the Expressway church in Louisville, and began work in the fall with the good church in Danville, Kentucky. Since this paper carried our report and accompanying picture of the Expressway work only about a year ago, we will not go into detail again, except to say that Expressway is a truly outstanding congregation of 200 + members. It was doing much good work before we were associated with it, and we know that work will continue long after our departure. We count it a singular honor and a great pleasure to have worked during most of this period in tandem with Connie Adams. Expressway also has three active and diligent elders who were a joy to work with and be under. Expressway sends significant support to men in Iowa, Japan, Italy, as well as men in various places in Kentucky, including the black congregation in Louisville. One of the most rewarding aspects of the Expressway work was the special series of classes conducted for several months each winter. These were designed to edify the members and as well to train some of the young men there who expressed intentions or desire to preach the gospel in future years. During the winter of ’79, we taught 13 of these young men in a course on the preparation and delivery of sermons, as well as more general courses in Biblical history and geography and church history.

It was just such a special training program, though a more extensive one, which caused us to sever a most pleasant relationship at Expressway to move to Danville, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, 35 miles south of Lexington. Truth Magazine readers have no doubt seen the descriptions of the Danville preacher-training program which have appeared in the paper periodically. The Danville program consists of a two-year curriculum involving classes which meet regularly from late August until early June, five days per week, three hours per day. The curriculum is designed to include study of every biblical book and additional areas such as church history, evidences, sermon preparation and delivery, and the study and refutation of various false doctrines. It was designed and conducted for several years by Kelly Ellis, an elder at the Danville church, and by Royce Chandler, the local preacher whom I followed in the work here when Royce moved to the Franklin Road church in Nashville after more than seven years in Danville. Brother Ellis, a retired school teacher and guidance counselor who now serves as a fulltime elder, is the author of God’s Perfect Plan (published by Cogdill Foundation) and provides valuable experience and insight for the training of young men in the program. Kelly has been preaching and holding meetings during his summer school vacations for several decades, and is an invaluable resource in such a training program.

There are currently ten men enrolled in the Danville training program, ranging in age from early twenties to late thirties. They come from Danville and as far away as Canada (2), as well as from Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida. Most if not all have regular appointments to preach at the invitation of various smaller churches within driving distance of Danville, and thus are able to gain valuable practical experience in addition to classroom studies. Men who have already completed the two-year curriculum at Danville are preaching in Kentucky and other states, and one, Efrain Perez, has returned to his native Chile and is establishing churches there and has also begun a training program (one day per week, I believe) for some of the new converts and potential preachers in that country.

A number of the young men currently enrolled have expressed a desire to work either in foreign cultures or needy and neglected areas in the North, East, and elsewhere in this country. The two young men from Canada (David Spiece and Chuck Bartlett) are planning to return to provide needed manpower in their native land., Though not especially large (about 165 members), the Danville church has exerted much good influence for a group’ its size. Through the correspondence course here, and the untiring efforts of several members, Royce Chandler, and Bob Crawley (preacher at University Heights in Lexington), Carlos Restrepo was converted several years ago. He has now returned to his native Colombia to begin a work which consists now of about 75 Christians meeting in Bogota. It may be possible for some of the members here and myself to visit the work in Colombia (as brethren Chandler and Crawley and others have done periodically) to render what assistance and teaching we can. It is indeed refreshing and invigorating to be associated with such a group of Christians.

Ten meetings and one debate (for which I moderated, as reported in an earlier edition of this paper) took me literally from Maine to California in 1979. As always, I was impressed and encouraged both by growing and prosperous churches on the one hand and by strength and resolve in the face of adversity in other cases. After moderating in the Ashworth-Rudd debate near Dickson, Tennessee, I was with the Englewood church, near Dayton, Ohio, in March. Englewood is a growing young congregation, begun just a few years ago. They had just occupied a new building adjacent to I-70 northwest of Dayton. Composed largely of active young couples, this church faces a bright future. In April, I was with Steve Ballou in a meeting in Milbridge, Maine, and then in Milton, Vermont. Owen Beal preaches for the Milbridge church in addition to laboring daily as a lobster fisherman, interesting but demanding work. The church there is small but composed of hospitable brethren existing under circumstances which would likely discourage less hardy christians. In Vermont, Keith Clayton is doing commendable work; it was a pleasure to become better acquainted with Keith and his good family. I look forward to being with the brethren in Maine and Vermont again in 1982.

In May, I held meetings in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Ft. Collins, Colorado (Foothills). The Summitt & Grotto church (St. Paul) is an older and well-established church, racially integrated, which is seeking to assist in establishing congregations in other areas of Minnesota where no church now exists. This church, again, consists of a number of talented and active young couples, such as those recently described by Ed Harrell in Vanguard. Ron Howes continues to do a good work with this congregation. The Foothills church has been without a full-time man for two years, since John Flannery moved to labor with a new work in Exton, Pennsylvania. Since that time, Mark Qualls (one of the Foothills members), has “inherited” the preaching duties at Foothills. Mark has done yeoman service for several years, driving about 75 miles round-trip from his farm near Longmont (which he operates in his “spare time” while holding down a full-time secular job). Feeling that this sort of arrangement put too much of a burden on Mark, the brethren at Foothills have been searching for someone to move there to work on a fulltime basis. There is another faithful congregation in Ft. Collins, the Downtown church where Johnnie Horton has labored faithfully for several years.

June took me (again with Steve Ballou) to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a meeting with the church in West Allis. David Girardot, a Milwaukee native and convert from Roman Catholicism, is working patiently to strengthen the church and cause it to grow. This church, as with the St. Paul church and others in the upper Midwest, has benefited in years past from the work of Leslie Diestelkamp and members of his family.

The remainder of the summer occupied me with moving and attendant preparations as well as minor foot surgery, but I was able to do a week’s series on Restoration History at the Valley Station congregation in Louisville. This is the fourth or fifth time within the last year that I have been requested to do such a series, often for day services during a meeting. I am encouraged by the increasing interest in the history of the Lord’s people in the past two centuries, and the desire to learn thereby to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

Meetings this fall took me to Susanville, California and Colorado Springs, Colorado. (The proposed debate on the institutional “issues,” scheduled with Don Hinds for October, is now tentatively set for April 7-11, 1980 in San Francisco and Alameda, California). The congregations in Susanville and Colorado Springs are further examples of active churches composed significantly of young couples (though there are enough “older” Christians to provide stability in both places). Both groups meet in commodious facilities, built within the last few years and featured in the past on the cover of Truth Magazine. R.D. Huntley and Gailen Evans are young preachers, both in their first fulltime work; I was impressed with the condition of both these churches and the work of these two men.

My meeting schedule closes for 1979 with the current meeting in Grinnell, Iowa – a meeting scheduled for the week between Christmas and New Year’s partly to attempt to attract some to the services who are hindered by agricultural occupations at other times during the year, and also to permit my absence from the Danville teaching program, which is in recess during the holidays. One has been baptized so far – a former Roman Catholic who had begun studying with Dana Emery, the preacher in Grinnell until recently. This church is now in need of someone to move here and work in what most would consider a “hard area.” I regret that being away from office and files precludes a more detailed “statistical” report of the year in terms of baptisms, restorations, membership figures, contributions, etc ., but I am not sure that a “body count” is appropriate, anyway. In fact, I am convinced that the raw statistics do not tell the whole story in terms of the good which is accomplished in meeting work with small churches, often without a local preacher, which is where most of my meeting work has been done for the last few years.

Two final observations: during March I was invited to present prepared papers on the history of churches of Christ in the early 20th century (which I have been researching for the last several years) at two professional historical meetings (the American Academy of Religion Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Atlanta, and the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History at Southwest Missouri State University at Springfield). I mention this only because of several interesting incidents which occurred at each. Both of the sessions in which I read papers were well attended by members of “Churches of Christ” of varying degrees of liberalism. These same people would not come to hear me preach, of course, but schedule a “paper” for a historical convention, and put it in that context, you might be surprised who will show up. In both sessions there was lively dialogue in the question-and-answer period between myself, the panel of historians, and the members of the audience, including representatives of various “Christian Colleges” and those who have been dismissed from such colleges when their views became “too liberal.” Such instances simply reinforce in my mind the fact that those who begin the long walk away from devotion to Scriptural authority can only end up becoming simply another denomination – or two or three. Some of them have arrived there already.

Finally, I am encouraged by the number of hardworking churches which I have been able to observe and work with during the past few years. There are problems, to be sure, but I am generally optimistic about what the immediate future holds, at any rate. These churches are often composed largely of young couples who have not “grown up in the church” but are converts from all the other religious groups that we are not supposed to be able to convert people from anymore. Obviously they have not heard that we are simply answering irrelevant questions which no one is asking anymore, and certainly they do not know that they are not supposed to ask certain questions. Though they have usually never heard of Campbell, Lard, McGarvey, Whiteside, etc., and have known only denominational study aids in the past, they are hungry for solid, biblical teaching and willing to compare the writings of the above men, and all others, with the standard of New Testament authority. If we can continue to reach and convert those of like mind, the churches will continue to grow and prosper, and be able to face problems as they arise. Though no one can say with certainty what the future may hold, the immediate prospects of these churches look bright indeed. Though my meeting schedule has been certailed somewhat do to involvement with the program at Danville, current plans call for meetings in Texas, California, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and possibly a trip of several weeks work at several places in South America, plus the previously mentioned debate in April in the San Francisco Bay area.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 13, pp. 203-205
March 20, 1980