By James W Adams
Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself . . .” (Matt. 16:24). Discipleship demands total commitment. If there is one thing, above all else, that causes people to be lost, it is their unwillingness to commit themselves wholly – body, soul, and spirit – to the Lord. Yet, it should be observed that this must be a completely voluntary act. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, it was prophesied that the Lord’s servants of the Messianic kingdom would be “willing in the day of his power” (Psa. 110:3).
There is a “philosophy” and a movement emanating from that “philosophy” among our so-called “liberal” brethren, and a few avant-garde, professed “conservative” brethren of the far left variety, which masquerades under the title, “Total Commitment.” In fact, however, it is no more than a highly organized system of coercive, psychological pressure. This feature of the so-called “philosophy” has been so marked in its practical manifestations as to evoke charges of “cultism” both from within and without.
The movement had its origin among professed churches of Christ, in Gainesville, Florida, in a congregation known as “The Crossroads Church of Christ.” The movement’s basic principles have come to be called by many, “The Crossroads Philosophy.” It has been the occasion of much consternation and heated controversy among various segments of the “On-the-march” wing of professed churches of Christ. Though it began ,yin Florida, its echoes have reverberated throughout the nation. It has given rise to morbid curiosity, spurious investigation, and tentative acceptance (somewhat timorous) even among persons professing to be “conservative” – persons possessed of a certain type of mentality which egotistically rejects the “traditional” and gravitates to the novel and unusual.
No informed, sincere brother in the Lord opposes “total commitment” to Christ, but coercion and cultic demagoguery are not to be confused with New Testament consecration. Total commitment which is motivated and sustained by personal faith in Christ and love for God and things spiritual is a blessed virtue. Coerced commitment – whether psychologically or physically induced and enforced, or both – is a pernicious evil, particularly in religion. It is enslavement to fallible, human masters as opposed to the hallowed commitment of gloriously liberated sons of God. Pragmatic though it may be in its immediate, visible effects, its ultimate end is spiritual suicide.
To teach total commitment, born of faith and love, as a solemn duty of eternity-bound men and women is one thing. To coerce “total commitment” to humanly conceived and psychologically implemented programs of religious activity which are totally consuming, under the guise of consecration to Christ, is quite another thing. In fact, it is the difference between a sectarian cult and a New Testament church. It is the difference between a devoted disciple of a crucified, risen, and coronated Lord and an idolatrous zealot of a charismatic Manipulator. It is the difference between a New Testament “saint” and Jim Jones devotee or a Ron Hubbard “Scientologist.” In the use of these illustrations, we do not imply that the Crossroads’ philosophy and practice are identical with those of the men mentioned, but we do perceive a striking parallel between the coerced commitment which characterizes all three systems, and we are as much opposed to said coerced commitment in one system as the other.
It is a source of never-ending amazement that some very respectable, “conservative” brethren have considered themselves under some sort of compulsion, if not overtly to defend, at least to publicize in a semifavorable light the so-called “Crossroads’ Philosophy.” This has been done in lengthy, highly qualified, and culpably ambiguous “analyses” – dissertations which have raised more questions than they have supplied answers. From the analyses themselves, even a casual reader can recognize that they are based on superficial investigations which accept as evidence the personal assurances of the persons promoting the philosophy rather than competent data. These apologetic exposes have served (we hope not intentionally/ to camouflage significant errors in the Crossroads’ philosophy and practice and to palliate highly questionable methods of procedure even in reference to things not wrong within themselves. One is forced to wonder about the motivation behind such efforts as those demonstrated in the apologetic disclosures to which reference has been made. A very pertinent question is raised by them: What possible, defensible interest can truly “conservative” brethren have in becoming involved in a quasi-defense of a neo-liberal gimmick which has finally concerned our “On-the-march” brethren enough to shock them out of their egotistical smugness and self-righteous sense of sufficiency to stir up a controversy among themselves over it?
Specious titles, such as “Total Commitment,” are often employed by propagandists to camouflage the unlovely features and destructive tendencies of their products. Semantics can be deceptive. This is well illustrated by an advertisement run in the daily newspaper by a bank in South Wales. The bank had sustained financial reverses and was not in a position to make loans. To make this known without hurting the image of the bank, the ad was thus worded: “Within the framework of existing ratios of liquidity and statutory reserve deposits, the banks have little room for maneuvering at present.” What they were really saying was: “We cannot lend you any money right now!”
In the same way, religious innovators and cultic demagogues cover many of the quagmires of their progressive (?) and personally self-profiting activities with dignified and traditionally acceptable religious nomenclature. Hence, be careful! Do not swallow their prescriptions without carefully studying the label and analyzing the contents of the bottle. In a word, beware of sectarian gobbledegook which has been sugar-coated with specious terminology! Shakespeare correctly noted that “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” Conversely speaking, it is just as true that sulphuric acid may be called “water,” but doing so does not make it any less deadly to him who drinks it. When I was in high school chemistry, more years ago than I care to admit, we used to recite a little piece of doggerel to the effect: “Johnny used to live here, but he doesn’t anymore, for what he thought was H20 (water) was H2S04 (sulphuric acid.” How very, very correct we were!
“Total Commitment” is the answer to the eradication of many spiritual ills provided it is produced and maintained by hearts voluntarily consecrated to the Lord in personal “faith, hope, and love.” Structured regimentation through psychological pressure and manipulation, however, is a deadly poison emanating from human, spiritual ambition and religious quackery. The Ephesian book-burners (Acts 19:18-20) learned this when they opened their hearts to the teaching of the Spirit-filled apostle of the Lord. Do we really need to be reminded of the “Jonestown Massacre” or be pointed to the recent revelations in Reader’s Digest (May 1980 and September 1981) concerning so-called “Scientology”? The path of religious history is literally strewn with the wrecks of the lives of millions who were not able to distinguish between “total commitment” as taught in the New Testament and cultic demagoguery as advocated and practiced by designing men. Shall we be totally deaf to the lessons of history?
Guardian of Truth XXVI: 5, pp. 65, 76
February 4, 1982