religion, christianity, articles
Abilene Christian University article

"On This Rock: I Will Build My Church"

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

The above is the title of the address delivered by Dr. Royce Money, which opened the 1993 Abilene Christian University Lectureship. The speech had the endorsement of the ACU board of trustees and was sent out to the ACU mailing list. The speech addressed critical issues and challenges facing churches of Christ. Dr. Money said that he faced his task with a heavy burden on his heart. His primary purpose was to avoid fracturing, dividing and losing the vision that Christ intended for his people.

The Christian Chronicle editorialized in the January issue of 1993 that brethren have not in their lifetime witnessed the kind and amount of turmoil now afflicting the churches. Some of our liberal brethren appear to say, "If you can't fall in with us, then fall out with us!" What sickens this writer is that great crowd of Christians who sit in their pews and become pawns in the church games we play, as we wallow in our maudlin love for one another.

The ACU board of trustees gave a blanket endorsement to the address:

The Board of Trustees of Abilene Christian University is dedicated to assuring that the university will always be true to the purpose for which it was established. Along with the administration, faculty, and staff, we pledge to preserve our heritage and uphold the ideals set forth by our predecessors. With God's guidance and blessing, Abilene Christian University will continue to succeed.

We are greatly encouraged that the ACU board of trustees will fulfill their pledge to pass on to future generations the time-honored heritage of the institution.

The College of the Bible "Board of Trustees"

Historians are not clairvoyant. We should learn from history to avoid making mistakes of the past. The Christian Churches and the College of the Bible were facing major problems in 1917. The outcome was a wrecked college, and the Christian Churches were thrown into a state of turmoil for the next 50 years.

A Lesson from the Past in Shorthand. The classic case of a college "take-over" among the "Disciples" took place in the College of the Bible in 1917. On March 12, 1917, Benjamin F. Battenfield mailed out a circular letter to 300 Christian Church ministers and other Disciples. The letter charged that President Richard Henry Crossfield and four of his faculty held advanced "critical views" (liberal theology identified with the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis and form and source criticism in the Old Testament and New Testament). E. E. Snoddy is alleged to have said that "I am a hard evolutionist." W.C. Bower was reported to have said that "Jehovah is the tribal God of the Jews." A. W. Fortune was quoted as saying that the "New Testament writers were inspired, not their writings." The accused never denied the allegations.

Lexington "Fire Storm"

The Christian Standard published on March 24, 1917, the statement of H. L. Calhoun that "candor compels me to state that for more than a year, I have been fully convinced that 'destructive criticism' (liberal theology) was being taught in the College of the Bible." Throughout the spring and summer of 1917, a theological "fire storm" was ignited in the College of the Bible, the Christian Standard, and Christian Evangelist. The Christian Standard during the summer of 1917 and beyond headlined the controversy.

On May 1, 1917, the board of trustees went into the first of 15 executive sessions to get at the bottom of the whole matter. All parties were heard from, including administration, faculty, and students. The proceedings reached a fever pitch. W.C. Bower threatened to resign under the pretext that he would not be a party to a "heresy" trial. Calhoun had no choice but to resign. He left Lexington dejected and defeated.

The last two sessions of the board were occupied in writing the final report. The board reported that the proceedings were not in any way a "heresy" trial. Furthermore, the board completely exonerated the accused faculty and found that their teachings were in harmony with the traditions of the Christian Church. The board found no student who said that his faith had been shaken by the instruction of the accused faculty.

Any hope that this would be the end of the matter was dashed. The Christian Standard was turned into an open forum. Witness after witness was paraded through the pages of the journal. The allegations against the accused facility were fully documented. All of this proved fruitless. The College of the Bible was lost to the church. The name of the College of the Bible today is the Lexington Theological Seminary, and it is as liberal as any seminary in the nation. (Read the Doran-Choate book, The Christian Scholar, for the complete story.)

Questions Addressing Dr. Money's Speech

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the problems facing the churches of Christ surfaced two years ago. Roots of the problems are easily traced to the 1960s. Some of our brethren trained in liberal schools of religion began to infiltrate the Bible departments of our schools. Dr. Money does touch on the major "nerve endings," however, with a lack of specificity. In reading the speech, some questions jump out at the reader, begging for forthright answers.

Selected questions: Who are the voices on the extreme fight and left who are unduly influencing the brotherhood? Would I be included among them? The Gospel Advocate published four of my Restoration biographies, and I served as a staff writer under B.C. Goodpasture. What does Money mean when he says that unity must be forged from a diversity of beliefs that are beyond the core beliefs of Christianity? How would we go about separating the apostolic faith from apostolic traditions and customs? Is it suggested that there can be a limited level of fellowship with the denominational churches? How can we identify those who sow discord and strife among the brethren? How must they be marked, so we may know who they are?

How may we define the role of women in the worship and work of the church? We are informed that the old hermeneutic is not all that good and that the new hermeneutic is not all that bad. Some scholars, in their Christian Scholar's Conference papers, gave the old hermeneutic low markings. Some brethren would tell us what the new hermeneutic is but neglect to set up their concept of a working model. The problem could be cleared up if the advocates of the new hermeneutic would define it. College presidents in providing leadership for their faculty should be more definitive than merely to say that the old hermeneutic is not all that good and the new hermeneutic is not all that bad.

The Boards of Trustees of Our Christian Colleges

If the trustees of our schools will study in detail what happened to the College of the Bible in 1917, they will get useful and crucial information attendant to their responsibilities. It is incumbent upon the board of trustees to appoint administrators and faculty and to remove all who will not abide by the rules of the institution. From time to time, a brother will tell me of some problem, e.g., in the Bible teaching program of a school. He wants to know what he can do about it. My advice always is to go to a board member(s). His is a church and public trust, and he has the moral responsibility to listen.

A Summary Appraisal

The problems set forth in the speech are already being addressed, and no end is in sight. Only the tips of the problems have so far surfaced. We urge those who speak and write about "church renewal" to be precise and tell us what they have in mind. They are given too much to continual posturing and sweeping under the rug what they do not want us to see. We long for the time when the editors and writers of Wineskins, The Second Incarnation, and The Church in Transition will mount their courage and tell us plainly exactly what they wish to change. These brethren are qualified to do this. We shall maintain eternal vigilance lest we lose our "freedom in Christ."

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Published July 1993