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The Baby Boomers and Unity in Diversity

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

Some brethren paint a bleak picture for the future of the churches of Christ. The alarming note is sounded that the conservative churches must change their patterns of worship to accommodate the "paradigms" of the "new hermeneutic" or face extinction. They tell us that the hope of the church tomorrow is now in the hands of the baby boomers.

The editors of Wineskins would have us believe that they possess profound and unusual knowledge into the religious needs of the baby boomers. Indeed the baby boomers now sit in positions of power and authority in every segment of our society. They are enjoying the privileges which go with the "rights of passage" from one generation to another.

The Book: A Generation of Seekers

This is the title of a new book written by University of California sociology professor, D. Wade Clark Roof, which examines the religious status of the baby boomers in American churches. The scholarly study has been carefully researched and documented. No similar study has been attempted by our erudite brethren. In lieu of any documented study of their own, they fill the void with an assumed form of profound knowledge.

The author finds that one-third of the baby boomers remain in their childhood churches. About one-fourth of the defectors have returned. The large majority (42 percent) remain "dropouts" from formal religion. Dr. Roof reports that the Disciples of Christ have suffered the greatest loss (45 percent) of all the churches. Our liberal brethren have close ties with the Disciples, appearing on their lectureships and writing for their publications.

Reclaiming the Baby-Boomer Generation

How the Wineskins editors propose to reclaim the baby boomers remains a mystery. Rubel Shelly announced in the Woodmont Hills church bulletin, April 15, 1992, that "People lament everywhere that the churches are stagnant and dying. Can we figure out why? Is it possible to devise a better strategy for deepening faith, awakening churches, and challenging unbelief?" What is it that these brethren know about the baby boomers that we do not know?

The single accomplishment of Wineskins to date has been to stir up a firestorm in the brotherhood. Two articles in particular are at the center of the controversy, "The New Birth and Christian Unity" and "Christmas at Matthew's House." The first article sets an editorial policy of Wineskins which replaces the salvation doctrine of Acts 2:38 with the Landmark Baptist doctrine that "the new birth precedes baptism." This same doctrine appears in one guise or another in several Wineskins articles.

Our brethren with seminarian training have no difficulty deciphering the underlying meaning of Andre Resner's article, "Christmas at Matthew's House." Resner wrote that his purpose was to target the audience of Wineskins, the "baby-boomers" and the "baby-busters." He asserts his form of rhetoric allows the baby boomers to receive the Gospel in a fresh new way. I read contemporary magazines such as Time and the New Yorker for a broader understanding of world culture. The "baby-buster" rhetoric of brother Resner is foreign to my ears.

The Meaning of Unity in Diversity

The firestorm stirred up by the Wineskins article has pitched to a higher level the phrase - unity in diversity. We await clarification of the "diverse changes" that churches must make in the pattern of worship to achieve this much sought-after unity. In what respects must the church change or perish? The whole matter is tied in with change. It is not that we change, but how we change.

Proposals for Change to Achieve Unity in Diversity

  1. We must confess that we have been wrong about many things.
  2. We must repent of and confess our sins of internal bickering, debating, and dividing into sects and subsects.
  3. We must recover our heritage as a unity people.
  4. We must stop being sectarian about instrumental music.
  5. We must cease being male dominated.
  6. We must bring women into leadership roles in the church.
  7. We must learn that we can't be a first-century church in the 21st century.
  8. We must stand in the grace of God only.
  9. We must abandon claims to exclusive truth.
  10. We must change without chaos.

Do these proposals have a familiar ring? Women must have expanded roles in the public worship such as leading prayer, leading congregational singing, waiting on the Lord's table, teaching mixed classes, and preaching from the pulpit. Grant membership upon demand without inquiry as to the mode or design of a previous baptism. The use of instrumental music is regarded as a non-issue. And the list goes on.

How Some Churches Achieve Unity in Diversity

The Lake Highland Church of Christ in Dallas has a special time in worship when members move about praying, confessing, and praising God. A team of two men and two women leads the congregational singing. The church music is a cappella. The church does use instrumental music in special services.

The Downtown Church of Christ in El Paso has adopted instrumental music in worship but still calls itself a church of Christ. Women preach from the pulpit. The El Paso church boasts of being an instrumental church with an ACU preacher.

The Brookline Church of Christ in Massachusetts makes special gifts the tests of ministering. The church follows the traditional Catholic calendar with special attention given to Christmas and Easter. A cappella singing is the practice in worship, but the church also uses instrumental music. Baptism by immersion is taught but is not a condition of membership.

The Southern Hills Church of Christ in Tulsa adds a new wrinkle here and there. A preacher seeking employment presented the church with a "position paper." He disclaims a legalistic position on baptism. He endorses the ministry of women and the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. He says that he is not a Church of Christ preacher. He was hired.

Some readers may expect the Shelly church cadre to be named as the source of the foregoing information. Not so. The information was abstracted from the pages of the Restoration Review edited by Leroy Garrett. However, the identical proposals may be traced in the religious journals, lectureships, and forums directed by our "progressive" brethren.

Identifying the Extreme Voices to the Right and Left

Labels are loaded words and mean little until defined. How can the conservative brethren on the extreme right be separated from the liberal progressive brethren on the extreme left? The Christian Church fellowship at the turn of the century referred to themselves as forward looking "Digressives." This writer would identify conservative Christians with the likes of David Lipscomb, N.B. Hardeman, and Don Morris. In a like manner, our liberal brethren follow in the steps of their spiritual mentors -- Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann, Paul Tillich, and Hans Kund. For proof of this fact, study the footnotes in the Shelly-Harris book, The Second Incarnation. (I read the book review of The Second Incarnation written by Art McNeese for the Christian Chronicle. It would be good if one of his qualified, conservative brethren take him aside and patiently explain to him who Barth, et al., are, and what they have to say in their mighty theological tomes.)

It makes little difference what rationale our liberal brethren use to explain what they mean by what they say. Their messages are clearly written between the lines. Bible scholars ensconced in their liberal positions should know that conservative brethren, equally educated in schools of religion, understand and can read between the lines. We are on an level playing field, and our liberal brethren are advised to play by the rules or get off the field.

J. H. Garrson, editor of the Christian-Evangelist, remarked that the Disciples have no bishops; they have editors. The editors in that day were powerful and influential. These mighty "Goliaths" of the Christian Church came down to Tennessee in 1890 to move the organ and organized societies into the Southern churches. they expected to prevail as they had in Northern regions. It became clear by 1924 that they had lost their bid. Now our conservative brethren and churches are being challenged by our liberal progressive brethren who want to move everything into the church from a facsimile of a Catholic confessional ranging to the Baptist doctrine that baptism is not essential to the new birth.

Our Christian schools have become powerful well endowed citadels of higher education. Administrators sit in luxurious offices in the ivory towers of academia. They look down upon the church below, not as their benefactors, but as objects of their creation. The influence of the editors of yesterday is nothing compared to power and prestige of schools today. Who would have imagined 10 years ago that a college administrator would march into the office of an editor and call him on the carpet for publishing an article not to his liking?

We live in a constitutional society where the right of religious expression cannot be abridged by law. How dare any pious brethren deny that right to anyone! How do our institutions of higher learning come by the impression that they are immune from criticism? Indeed, the university offices are open to patrons of the institution. Go there with your compliments and criticism. If your case is correct that the traditions of the schools are being ignored, the next step would be to go to the trustee(s) for your legitimate complaint. The trustees are morally obligated to listen, and this is their responsibility as charged by law. And they can get the attention of their appointees.

There are ways of capturing the attention of the school administrators. Should the administrators and trustees handle in a careless manner the policies and traditions of the founders of the schools, do not lend financial support, and send your children elsewhere for an education. And should the editors of papers grow weak in their resolve to preach the Word and defend the faith,, then do not subscribe to their journals; purchase your teaching materials and supplies from brethren faithful to the Bible and its propagation, and withhold your advertisements.

The "tares" are recognizable from the "wheat" at a certain stage. Christians should not stay where liberal theology is taught. Conservative churches can save their membership from the ranks of the liberal Progressives and keep title to their church property. Our progressive brethren would inherit property they never earned, mount pulpits set up by faithful brethren in another time, and change the very scriptural foundation of the church with Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, Paul Tillich's Systematic Theology, and Rudolph Bultmann's Theology of New Testament.

However it is glossed over, the fact remains that the traditional conservative churches of Christ and the liberal progressive churches of Christ are two distinct fellowships. You would be persuaded there is little difference between the two, arid that the church must learn to accept a "unity based upon diversity" of denominational practices. The fact that liberal brethren control the main lines of Christian education does not conceal the fact that they are the bedfellows of the Disciples of Christ. A Southern Baptist Convention church historian said to this writer that the Disciples have gone to pot with their commitment to liberal theology.

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Published August 1993