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Shelly at Calgary

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

Dr. Shelly was a featured speaker for the 14th World Convention of the Churches of Christ which convened July 30 to August 4, 1996 in Calgary, Canada. This organization nominally identifies with Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ, but is not controlled by either. It has board members from the three mainstream churches identified with the Stone­Campbell Restoration Movement that is if the likes of Leroy Garrett, Rubel Shelly, and Douglas Foster are considered as representatives of the churches of Christ.

In fact, no person has the authority to represent the churches of Christ on the WCCC, or anywhere else. The WCCC is headquartered in the Disciples of Christ Historical Society Library in Nashville. It comes very close to being an organizational unit in the Disciples of Christ denomination.

The idea for the World Convention of Churches of Christ originated in the mind of Jesse M. Bader in 1924. At the Memphis International Convention, a Pentecost Committee of fifteen was appointed in 1926 to direct the l900th Anniversary Observance of Pentecost. (This takes on special significance since neither Rubel Shelly or Douglas Foster accept Pentecost A.D. 33 as the birthday of the churches of Christ.)

From these circumstances, the World Convention of Churches of Christ took shape. The first World Convention of the Churches of Christ convened October 19­23, 1930, in the nation's capital. The purpose of WCCC was designed to promote better acquaintance, closer fellowship, and mutual helpfulness with the three fellowships of the Restoration Movement.

A singular purpose of the WCCC was the intent to develop the consensus that the families of the Stone­Campbell churches belong together, and to see that the divisions do not continue to be a cause for further embarrassment before the world community. Today the Independent Christian Church and the liberal Disciples are locked in the grips of mutual hostility and suspicion with no fraternal grounds of communication.

(It was in the 1926 international convention that the Independent Christian Church organized the North American Christian Convention to check and counter the control of the more liberal Disciples over the organized societies and conventions. The NACC was a great success and prospers today in the form of an annual homecoming for Christian Churches. There are no resolutions and voting, and therefore no losers.)

The NACC flourishes today as a powerful counter force to off set the influence of the ultra­liberal Disciples. After fifty years of acrimonious strife, debate and struggle, the liberal Disciples sought to resolve the problem in their favor with the 1968 Restructure. They won the societies, conventions, and schools, but they lost the Independent Christian Church.

The 14th World Convention of the Churches of Christ

The 14th WCCC scheduled for July 30 to August 4, 1996 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada is now history. The announcement for the 14th WCCC explained the ministry of the organization in five areas:

  1. Assemblies: Every World Convention is held in different parts of the world. The conventions bring together people from the "Christian Family of churches identified with the Restoration Movement.
  2. Global Fellowship: The purpose of WCCC is to build up a sense of fellowship amongst churches with Restoration ties in 159 countries.
  3. A primary purpose of the WCCC is to promote unity in the midst of diversity in these church families who share a common origin and ideals in the Stone­Campbell Restoration Movement. The haunting specter which hovers over every WCCC meetings is that these churches are more divided than ever.
  4. The Wider Church: The church universal viewed by the WCCC is a like a global jigsaw puzzle with numerous denominations. The WCCC wants to help relate the churches in the Stone­Campbell Restoration Movement to the broader worldwide network of denominations.
  5. Each church has the responsibility for its own future, but the World Convention seeks to provide support for discovering our "together" destiny.

The WCCC is a low budgeted organization with a supporting membership of around 500. The Disciples of Christ is one of the primary supporters of the WCCC which is working from an office located in the Disciples of Christ Historical Society Library in Nashville. A married couple from New Zealand, Lyndsay and Lorraine Jacobs make up the only paid staff of the organization.

The Lindsays are sincere and intellectually honest. They are friendly and charming people for whom I have a personal fondness. Of all places on earth to be, they are positioned in the testing laboratory in Nashville where the Restoration churches were listed as divided and fractured in the U. S. Religious Census of 1906.

Is it not an irony of fate that the Lindsays should attend the Woodmont Hills Family of God and come under the influence of the one and only Rubel Shelly. He is doing more harm to churches of Christ than any since the days of Jesse B. Ferguson.

The recurring theme of the Disciples is always unity, but their fruits are always division and more divisions. Why do the leaders of both the digressive denominations join together to use the likes of Leroy Garrett and Rubel Shelly as representatives of churches of Christ. We have personally called this to the attention of responsible personnel in the Disciples of Christ Historical Society. We do not expect them to select a bona fide representative from the conservative churches of Christ for obvious reasons.

The Program

The Rev. Cynthia Hale, Senior Minister of the fast growing Ray of Hope Liberal Disciples of Christ in Decatur, Georgia, was the keynote speaker. Rubel Shelly was the featured preacher for the Thursday evening service. He was introduced by Douglas Foster who hyperbolically (a mile high ice cream cone) introduced Dr. Shelly as a world class preacher from the a cappella churches of Christ, the author of twenty books, and a Vanderbilt lecturer on medical ethics. (I have this on Calgary WCCC tape.) Just imagine a bragging contest between the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnagians. There is no society like a mutual admiration society.

Dr. Shelly switched to a different form of rhetoric in Calgary. His rhetoric was full of sweetness and light. Instead of his customary abuse and ridicule of the conservative churches which would not have played well in Calgary, he apologized for them and for his past behavior when he fought the digressives. His words dripping with sanctimonious piety would bring copious tears to a crocodile, and cause even a stone image to weep. Ah, Rubel, indeed a false consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds!

Putting Calgary in a Manageable Context

At this juncture, a statement is made and a question is asked to both the conservative churches of Christ, and the postmodern "Church of Christ." The statement is that the common denominator of the theology and agendas of the liberal element, whether it be in Image, Wineskins, Tulsa Workshop, Nashville Jubilee, Inc., College Lectureships, or the Christian Scholars Conferences, the conservative churches of Christ are subjected to coarse ridicule and abuse. Why do the liberals do this?

This does not require documentation. Why do our liberal brethren so despise the conservative churches of Christ, and will be content with nothing less than to bring them down? Wherever Rubel Shelly is positioned to attack the conservative churches of Christ, he always goes for the jugular.

I was present and heard him mock and make fun of the conservative churches of Christ in the Post­Easter Celebration Service on Hillsboro Road in the Woodmont Christian Church building just a stone's throw from what once had been the farm of David Lipscomb.

Dr. Shelly's satire and jokes in which he ridiculed the churches of Christ stimulated repeated laughter and applause. He said to the "wall to wall" audience of Disciples, Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians that they would be disappointed had they come expecting a fight. He facetiously told them that while they sang with the organ, piano, brass band, and mixed choirs that he was singing a cappella. This brought the house down.

The Post­Easter Celebration speech was just the start of this "merry­go­round" series of Dr. Shelly speaking engagements which led from a Nashville Jewish synagogue to his speech before the Spiritual Renewal Conference, April 19, 1995, in Florence, Alabama. Here he regaled an audience made up of postmodern charismatics from the Vineyard Movement (Third Wave) Pentecostals, and the postmodern Kansas City Prophets.

But without question the strangest of all the "unity" speeches by Rubel Shelly was his address on the ACU campus during the annual meeting of Restoration XII. His address was filled with his usual brand of satire and jokes. He was given a standing and prolonged ovation to the obvious approval of Royce Money and Bill Humble.

My writing efforts are not designed to change the minds of the postmodern liberals since this is most unlikely. I do not "call names" just to be recalling names. I use names as the biblical writers did to establish and explain facts in place and time. I am setting forth as a disciplined historian, the documentation for the facts and circumstance of the present time for the benefit and information of the next generation of Restoration historians.

That my writings bring anxiety and anger to the liberals is established by the fact that they have made calculated moves to stop or neutralize the influence of my efforts. When the fitting time arrives to set these matters forth in order, I plan to do so.

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Published December 1996