(Editor's note: Doctor Shelly's portion
of this debate is taken from a transcript of a tape recording
of a speech Shelly made at a "spiritual renewal conference,"
Florence, Ala., April 19, 1996. L. Toreador is responding to the
Fourth Affirmative by Rubel Shelly
In Nashville I have been for the last two years
part of a group of men who come together and pray once a month.
It was called together by L.H.. Hardwick. He's pastor of Christ
Church. He called 7 or 8 of us out of a time of crisis in his
own personal life and in his church.
He said, "I know you. I trust you. I believe
that you're a man of God. Will you come and meet me at 8 a.m.
and pray for me?"
And 7 of us joined him that first day, and
he wept and he poured out his heart out what was going on. And
we stayed together-a couple of Baptists, and a Presbyterian, and
three independent charismatic churches, and the church of Christ
guy-we stayed together and prayed for 2, 2 ½, maybe 3 hours.
And we laid our hands on each other, and we cried.
As we were about to leave, Rick White, who
is pastor of First Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, he said,
"I need to tell you guys something before we leave."
He said, "I need the kind of prayer that
we met today and offered up for L.H. Hardwick."
He said, "Can we not do this again?"
And we've been meeting once a month now for
two years. And twice a year, we take 3day retreats and go
where there's no television and no telephones and we pray, and
we confess, and we confide, and we ...
The group now totals 14. We'll not let it get
any larger than that. We have resolved that, not because we want
to be exclusive, but we've encouraged other ministers and pastors
in the town, to form similar groups.
A while back, at the Belmont church in Nashville,
we hosted a breakfast for all the pastors and preachers and church
communicators-whatever term you use within your tradition-that
would come together for breakfast. We really had no agenda except
each of us talked for about 90 seconds about what this time of
prayer had meant to us in our own personal, spiritual lives, and
urged them to form similar groups. And that probably was the largest
meeting, almost 200, probably the largest meeting of pastors that
Nashville's ever witnessed. We worshipped, and we praised, and
we ate, and we prayed and left with some resolves about trying
to lead our various congregations to unity in Christ.
The biblical message of one Lord, and one faith,
one baptism, and one body, one hope, that message is the message
that God has called us to share with the world, and we cannot
share a message about oneness while we are perpetuating our sectarian,
divisive ways. We will not lose our separate denominational identities.
We will not give up our particular heritages and histories. We
will not give up our distinctive practices with regard to our
different organizational structures, worship, and so on. I see
no need for that. But we will have to decide that there is something
that matters more than those things and we will have to quit being
idolaters who give those things such priority that we divide over
and refuse to recognize one another as brothers and sisters in
the Lord. Amen! And it really is idolatry to elevate any issue
higher than Christ and to consider that worth dividing over if,
in fact, you share Jesus.
Toreador's Fourth Response
Doctor Shelly, your report leaves me bumfuzzled.
Are you saying that after two years of meeting, praying, weeping,
and touching each other, you are still divided? You have had 24
monthly meetings and 4 retreats and are still as separate as you
were in the beginning. How long will it take you idolaters (this
is your word) to get over your petty refusal to get over your
distinctive practices? And, by the way, what are these distinctive
Doctor, did the first century church have any
distinctive practices? Baptism is distinctive. The church is exclusive-distinctive.
Worship in spirit and truth is distinctive. The name of the church
is distinctive. Even pure living is distinctive. What, Sir, are
you suggesting? Are you saying that baptism, the church, worship
in spirit and truth, and the names of the church are idolatry?
Doctor Shelly, you seem to be saying that the
touchyfeely, mystical type experience is what counts. Are
you saying that a small group of blubbering, crying, sentimental
people (laying hands on one another) are Christians, and all others
You say the biblical message is one Lord, one
faith, one baptism, one body, and one hope. Well, Okay. What is
the one faith? Is it diversity in critical, basic Christian doctrine?
What is the one baptism? Does it involve both action and purpose?
Is sprinkling baptism? What is the one body? Is the one body the
one church of Christ?
Doctor Shelly, when will you and your cohorts
give up your organizational structures? You have had two years
of meetings (eating, crying, and touching) and you still have
not resolved your differences. When, oh, when, will you give up
Woodmont Hills ought to merge with the Baptist,
Presbyterian, charismatic churches you have been meeting with
over these past two years.
You flippantly say there is no need for that.
In what, then, does unity consist? Is unity deciding to maintain
separate organization, worship, teaching, and identity? Rubel,
what did they teach you at Vanderbilt?
Now, Rubel, when you brought together this
mighty band of dedicated "pastors" in Nashville to have
eggs, bacon biscuits and prayer, what was the end result? Has
a single church merged with another church? Have any of the idolaters
repented? Has your historic meeting made any difference? Your
children may suspect that you are fiddling with an irrelevance.
What is the one faith? Paul commanded the Corinthians,
"Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord
Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there
be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in
the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10).
Hey, Rubel, was Paul wrong? You say that is
idolatry. Paul commanded it. Who is right, you or Paul? Jesus
prayed that his followers be one as he and the father are one
(John 17:21). That would be unity in word and deed. Was Jesus
praying for idolatry.
Doctor Shelly, real religious unity consists
in teaching and doing the same things. We can meet, eat, pray,
weep, touch, and be sentimental till the cows come home, but that
will not unite us. Meaningful unity comes from walking in the
"But if we walk in the light, as he is
in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood
of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin."
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