[The following is an audio transcription of F. LaGard Smith's speech delivered at York College's Celebration Days, "Filled With the Fullness of God", October 13, 2000, York, Nebraska. The transcription begins after Smith's introduction and perfunctory remarks, directed primarily to the students during their chapel time. Transcribed by Sterling C. Morrow.]
I don't know,... I don't know... Normally when I go into to do a chapel they give me ten minutes. In fact, this intro that I use, I use pretty standardly to talk about some things that are pretty serious, but today you've given me more time... and that's always dangerous to give a lawyer time! [laughter] I need to reassess what I want to talk to you about and I what I thought, initially, I wanted to talk to you about,-- I lost the courage of my conviction, and almost decided not to do it. I thought, "Wrong time..., wrong place,...wrong audience..." and some things yesterday just said, "Go ahead,..risk it,...do it!"
I tell you what I want to do today. I want to have some sort of "stream of consciousness thinking". By the way, this is going to be kind of "all over the board." But it's something that I want to talk to you about in order to plant some seeds.
When I was sitting, where you are sitting, at a junior college in Florida (Florida College), I had some thoughts and some ideas,... some concerns,... that I couldn't share with a lot of people, because they were pretty unorthodox. And sometimes it takes a while for things to gather momentum,-- for you to think about it for a while, and to know what to do about it,--to implement it. You aren't always sure where to go, and that's what I've been living with for a lifetime. And now I'm wanting to share this with some people, and just plant a seed,--maybe for one of you,--maybe for only one person in here,--maybe a half dozen,--maybe fifty,--I don't know.
I remember when my father planted a seed in my mind when I was your age. My dad was a preacher and as we were going from the church building to the house next door where we lived across the parking lot, he said to me one line which I will never forget. It was just this one line,--he said, "Somebody ought to put the Bible in the right order." That sounds a little blasphemous in a way, doesn't it? Like we don't have it in the right order? But what he meant was that, if you get to the prophets, for example, they're not in any context historically. They're just sort of arbitrarily lumped together. I knew what he was talking about. In fact, I was dating a girl for some time who was Japanese, and who did not have any background in the Bible. She was trying to read it, but she just found it so difficult. I thought about my dad's idea, "Wouldn't it be great if it was in the order that the events actually occurred chronologically?"
Well, then it happened. My dad, at the age of 63, died suddenly. I thought in the aftermath of it all, "What can I do to honor my father in a very special way?" He was a very wonderful man, a man of God. I thought about that idea, and I started working on that idea to see if it might work, and five years later ended up with what is now called, "The Narrated Bible" in hardback and "The Daily Bible" in soft cover. Lots of people have been kind enough, even here, to say how much that book has been helpful to them. But it wasn't me, it was Dad's idea. He planted a seed that years later came to fruition. So, that's what I wanted to do today,--maybe just share some ideas and some thoughts and concerns that might plant a seed.
And I have to also tell you that this is a kind of a first public "coming out" with these ideas. I know that "coming out" has a different connotation these days. It's not very good, but this is a kind of "you're getting it first". For good or for ill, you're getting it first.
If you were to think of the churches of Christ, one word would probably stick out in your minds,--pop into your mind,.... "Restoration". The churches of Christ, the Christian church, and the Disciples of Christ came out of a movement known as the "Restoration Movement". Now, how many of you would say, if I ask you, "Could you talk about, --explain the Restoration Movement to someone?" How many of you think you could do that? I'm just curious in this day and age. [pause for show of hands] Now, see, that's very interesting. That's "telling" even right there, that we don't have that many people who would say, "I know enough about it that I could explain it." Because, see, when I grew up in the churches of Christ as a young man, I knew the Bible first, but second to the Bible, I knew about the Restoration Movement.
How many of you would be able to identify, on a test, the "Reformation Movement" and name at least two leaders of the Reformation Movement? How many of you could do that? [pause for show of hands] Ahhh....ahhh...there's so much work to be done! [laughter] See, the problem is, we have a heritage. We didn't just happen! The Baptists didn't just happen! The Methodists didn't just happen! The Presbyterians didn't just happen! The Catholics didn't just happen! We, like every other group, who has a Christian faith and a tradition that is rich, we come from "roots"! Something historically has happened to bring us to this point.
Let's go way back to the Bible. Have you ever heard the phrase "We speak where the Bible speaks" and "are silent where the Bible is silent"? Have you heard that one? How many of you have heard that one? Okay! Now we're starting somewhere! The Bible,--that's good! We've got the Bible down and we have the New Testament church.
Now, what happened after the first-century New Testament church? Well, we had early centuries in which, quite frankly, some interesting things had to have happened in order for us to have this discussion at all today about a biblical New Testament church. In order for there to be a New Testament church, there had to be a New Testament, and somebody had to decide which of the various writings out there were going to be collected into the New Testament. I mean, that's an interesting process. I believe that the Holy Spirit had much to do with it, but I also know that, what we now call, historically, the "early church fathers", had councils, and synods, and conventions, and ways that they were trying to understand which books ought to be there, in what we know as the "Canon". It was a very important process, because, if you get it wrong, then God's Word, as it were, is incomplete, or has books there that God didn't want us to follow.
And so, the church did some good things for us, but also it changed organizationally. Because when you look in first-century Christianity, you see a kind of primitive faith that has never quite been like that since that time,--primitive faith where you have just simplicity itself in terms of worship form and format. But gradually, simple things become complex. It just seems to be the way that simple things have to get complicated, that you start off with an organism that's "alive" and "on fire" and evangelistically "excited for God", and it grows and grows and grows, and it multiplies. But the problem is that the more it grows, the more it tends to get organized (no longer an organism, but an organization), and it becomes structured and heierarchal all the way from local elders in congregations to sort of a "head bishop" in each of those congregations who start vying for power. And then there's the "archbishop" over those, and there's finally the head bishop: the pope in Rome. And now we call that church, the Roman Catholic Church. There wouldn't be anything wrong necessarily, calling the New Testament church the "catholic church," because you and I believe that we are members of a catholic church. "Catholic" is a word that means "universal", that there is one universal church, and we're part of it, you see. That's not talking about dividing it into all sorts of denominations. It's just saying "All those who are saved are in the church." Don't we agree with that? We do, don't we?
That's a universal "catholic" kind of concept. But, that's not the same as the hierarchically-structured Roman Catholic Church. But then it was not just the organization. They brought in some doctrines that were verystrange: "worship of Mary" (or at least veneration of Mary, Jesus' mother); and "infant baptism". There had never been anything in scripture about infant baptism, and even then infant baptism wasn't immersion, it was sprinkling. There was the communion that sort of really, seriously believed that when you take the bread and take the fruit of the vine that those emblems truly, literally, actually, really change into the body, flesh, and blood of Jesus,--"transubstantiation".
There was also the "priesthood" that, all of a sudden, there were priests instead of everybody being a priest of God, under the high priest, Christ. There were special priests that you had to confess to and they were the only ones that could administer the "sacraments" of the bread and wine in all of this. So, there were a lot of changes in organization, but more than that, there was also corruption that came in. They sold "indulgences". Do you know what "indulgences" are? It's like if you "mess up" on a Friday night,--maybe it's the BETA-AXE people,--I don't know. [laughter] They are the wild bunch, aren't they? Amen? --Amen? So, the BETA-AXE people, after a wild raucous weekend, you see, could come into the priest and pay money. Well, that leaves the BETA-AXE people out, they're broke, aren't they? [laughter] They would pay money to have their sins absolved. That's got to be corrupt! How could you pay some man or church to have your sins absolved? It was corrupt! And priests were doing things they shouldn't be doing. There was just lots of corruption around!
So, there came a time when people like Martin Luther and John Calvin, and Zwengli and others who said, "Enough is enough! We need to reform this church". But, now, what is reforming? What is the process of reforming? Isn't the process of reforming a little "punching" here and "tweaking" there, and just adjusting a little bit and changing what is? It's not replacing it, it's just sort of changing what it is. And so there were still a lot of things left over. But those who were trying to do this were "protesting" against the abuses. Those "protestors" were known as "Protestants". That's where we get the "Protestants and Catholics".
The protesters against the Catholic Church were trying to reform the Catholic Church, but what happened was that they, too, then started generating their own organizations. And before you knew it, Luther had his own followers. And what were they called? Lutherans! And where did they immigrate to, eventually? Germany. And where did they immigrate to eventually? Minn-eh-soh-ta! [laughter] To Lake Wobegon! [laughter] I mean, they are Lake Wobegon people... filled with guilt, "the gift that keeps on giving"! [laughter] So, there were Lutherans, and then there were Presbyterians, and there were "Method--ists", because of the "method" that they used to evangelize. And Baptists, because they baptized people (adults as opposed to little children). They all came out of the same Protestant Movement trying to reform and get back closer to the New Testament pattern. But they didn't change it completely. Some of them still had priests. They got away from the "transubstantiation" idea of the communion, and said "No, it's symbolic. It doesn't really turn into the blood of Christ". They got away from that, but they still had their little communion cups and wafers,--all very Catholic.
That wasn't like the first century church. In the first-century church, Paul is rebuking them for the way they have the Lord's Supper. He says, "Some of you are not waiting for the others to get there. You're having a regular common meal. If that's all your going to do, you've got houses just to eat in!" A matter of fact, what he said was, "Some of you are getting drunk on the communion wine!"
Have you ever tried to get drunk on one little cup? I have. I tried ten of them. You can't do it! [laughter] It's Welch's Grape Juice! [laughter] You're never going to get drunk on 10 cups of Welch's Grape Juice. I mean, there's 48 in a tray. Try all 48! You still won't get drunk! [laughter] It's different from the way they did it in New Testament times. It seemed to be in New Testament times a part of a fellowship meal, an agape love feast that was being abused. Reproaching them for abuse, Paul makes an assumption that what they're doing when they come together to break bread on the first day of the week is something quite different from what we do with our little cups and wafers,--quite different!
And so there were changes that were made, but they didn't completely reform the Catholic Church, or restore New Testament Christianity. It was the same in our country, for many of those same Presbyterians and Baptists, in particular, and some Methodists and some Episcopalians and others.
So, at the same time and for a lot of different reasons that we don't have time here, we began to hear new sounds-- one of them being "America is a land of greatness and new beginnings", and "We are looking forward to the coming of the Lord, because this is going to set it all off, and we need to be ready for it, yet here we are: all divided". "We are hyphenated Christians: Baptist-Christians, Methodist-Christians, Presbyterian-Christians,--- all hyphenated Christians". And somebody says, "Listen, if the Lord is going to come, He's not going to come while we're all divided. We need to get united!"
And so this unity movement got started off, but somebody says, "Well, now,.. how are we going to be united? In what way can we be united?" Someone says, "Well, look, what's dividing us now are our names. Let's get rid of hyphenated names and just be Christians!" Make sense? "Let's get rid of those creeds that divide us, saying: 'We believe this.., 'We believe that...'. There's only one creed that we can agree on and that's what? The Bible! Let's just go to the Bible! Back to the Bible,--do Bible things in Bible ways. We'll speak where the Bible speaks and we'll be silent where the Bible is silent." And it made sense, didn't it? To restore the New Testament church, to restore first-century Christianity? "That's the way we'll do it!" And so it started off with great fervor and excitement and people were becoming Christians. Evangelism was rampant. It was going everywhere. It was a wonderful spiritual awakening, and renewal all throughout, particularly, the frontier of America.
Now, a funny thing happened on the way to unity, however. When you went back to the Bible and started looking how they became Christians in the first-century, all of a sudden it wasn't through infant baptism. In fact it wasn't even through Baptist-like baptism where somehow or another you say the sinner's prayer or accept Jesus into your heart and you're a Christian, and then at some point later in time--to show that you are a Christian, and that you are saved--then you're immersed. There's no picture like that in the early church as given to us by the inspired writers of the New Testament. No picture like that. And so little by little (and it did take them some time to do this) they figured out that adult-believing-immersion-for-the-forgiveness-of-sins, like Acts 2:38 says, was the normative way of becoming a Christian.
But once they started teaching that, look what happened. If they say, "That's the way you become a Christian", what are they also saying? "All these other ways are not!" And therefore, what's the implication from that? If you haven't been immersed as an adult believer for forgiveness of sins, then what? You're not a Christian,--you're not saved! "Excuse me,.. wait a minute,... whoa!" The Methodists and the Baptists and the Presbyterians and Episcopalians are all saying: "This little group over here, they're saying they're the only Christians."
And when it came to names, they said, "We're not going to use these other church names. We'll just be Christians." "But you gotta have a name on a building don't you?" And so you say, "Well, we're the church. We are the church of-of-of Christ. We're the church of, of, of, of, Christ! So, we'll put that on the building!" The only problem was that everytime we said it, we didn't say "the church of Christ" as in "Christ's church". We started saying, "Church-of-Christ church". And, "What are you a member of?" "The Church of Christ!"
At Pepperdine, some years ago, there was this little sort-of-sale. The women are having a sale here to support scholarships or something. We had one of those and it was all this bric-a-brac stuff and homemade stuff, but it was stuff that they had that was used. White elephant stuff. There was a little paper box that had a little plastic strip that came out of it with serrated edges, that if you'd run your finger nails across it real quickly it would set up vibrations which would set up a sound which you could actually hear and recognize. I couldn't believe it! (I can't believe that I didn't buy it so I could demonstrate it.) But, when you would run your finger across it, it would go, "Church of Christ",..."Church of Christ",.."Church of Christ"...! [laughter] Unbelievable! Unbelievable! That's how denominational we got!
You get a bunch of preachers and elders into a room today and you go around and they'll say, "I'm from the Whatever Church of Christ", and "I'm from the Whatever Church of Christ". They all know they're from Christ's church, but they're going to say "Whatever Church of Christ",.."Whatever Church of Christ,.."Whatever Church of Christ,-- because we think denominational! We act denominational! We look denominational! "You look like a frog, croak like a frog, you jump like a frog,...you might just be a frog!" Have you ever thought about that?
Now, we're having a lot of problems in the church today, and I'm not coming here to lay that on you. But, I gotta tell you just this much: If you don't know we have a lot of problems in the church, you must live in York, Nebraska. I don't know. [laughter] You must, because the rest of the world is having problems in the church! We're schizophrenic. We don't know where to go! We've got "the bookers" and the "non-bookers". Do you know what I mean? You've got the "screen people" and "the book people". [laughter] You've got "the clappers" and the "non-clappers". I decided today, you guys can't decide which you are. ["clap,clap,..(one person clapping),--laughter] Plainly clear who you are! We've got the same schizophrenia at Lipscomb.
You've got people who've done things traditionally. Typically, though not always, it's the older folks who've "always done it that way." You've got a lot of younger folks who are doing, in some congregations, anything and everything in the world they can possibly do to be different from the tradition! You've got people who are "conservative" theologically. You've got people who are "liberal" theologically. Now, when you talk about "liberal", that's on our "little continuum." That's not to be confused with the "huge continuum" out there of spiritually-thinking people of all sorts. But on our own little continuum, there's a sort of "liberal" and "conservative" theologically. Sometimes that lines up with "traditional ritual" and "contemporary ritual". Not always, but sometimes it does.
We are in the middle of lots of changes and people are nervous! Congregations are splitting, and people are literally suing people over who gets the building after these splits, despite what Paul says, "What are you doing going to law against your brother?" We're suing people, involving lawyers! I mean, how ungodly can that be?" [laughter]
While we're doing all this, maybe the reason that we're looking inward is because we're not looking outward. Because it doesn't take long, if you're really honest, to see that we are not evangelistic. We're not growing! Let me just be just very candid here. (This whole thing is candid!) Those who are the more traditional congregations have not been evangelistic, by in large, over the years. But, I have to tell you, I don't see a lot of evangelism taking place among those who are more "progressive" in their ritual,-- the "cutting-edge congregations". There's a lot of excitement and there's a lot of seemingly "joy" and "spirit", but it's not translating into headlines that say, "Cutting-Edge Churches Breaking The Way Evangelistically". Or Christianity Today, or the New York Times, all reporting on a movement that is turning the world upside down and it's coming from the more progressive Churches of Christ". I'm not seeing that. That's not happening! We're changing the "ritual", but, by and large, it's just a change in how we do things. In fact, what was traditional years ago, was at one time "progressive". It just became solidified! And what is "progressive" today (that you say, "Wow, this is new and different!"),--I'm telling you, your children are going to look at you and say, "This is about as stupid as the body piercing that you did in those days! [laughter] Oh, you're going to regret those pictures!--body piercing pictures!" [laughter] Your kids are going to laugh like crazy! (With the old long sideburns we us ed to have and the bell bottoms, yes, even I, during the hippie stage, flower power stage, at one time,-- for a short period of time--very short period of time--even I wore love beads.) Can you imagine it? I mean it's just a trendy thing. It's just that you've got to do it to prove that you're young. You're going to do what every other young person does to prove that!
But, will it change your passion for saving lost souls? So far, it hasn't! All we're doing is splitting congregations because the young people aren't talking to the old people and the old people aren't talking to the young people. The young people are saying, "You don't have the Spirit!" The old people are saying, "Excuse me, we may not be doing what we ought to be doing completely, but we do worship God too, even in our old ways!"
Here's my problem. Last year, by the way, coming into Nashville...(I'm on the road most of the time--Ruth and I live in England a half of a year each year, and in the States at Lipscomb, the other half of the year...During that time I'm on the road quite a bit doing this kind of speaking) When I wasn't on the road, in one semester last fall, we attended 18 different congregations in Nashville. Now, Nashville, you can't relate to that, can you? Are there 18 in Nebraska? [laughter] Maybe. Pretty close. That's 18 out of 5,453 congregations in Nashville (exaggeration). But, it's a lot, --a lot of congregations there! I visited large congregations. I visited small congregations. I visited "traditional-ritual". I visited the most "cutting edge"--"leaning to the left"--"Billy Graham Crusade-supporting congregations." I did it all. I did it all. And I wasn't "church-hopping, church shopping". I was looking to put my finger on the pulse of what's happening, and it seemed not to matter, large or small, traditional or progressive: we were still pretty much doing things in the same old way. Our communion was the same as the Presbyterians, or the Baptists. It's just that we had it more often, regularly, on the Lord's Day. But, it's still the little cups and the snippets of bread.
And we still have the buildings. Everybody's got a building and some them are big, and expensive, and some them are small, but they're all proud of their little building, and you don't dare change the way the building looks. You wouldn't move the pews out and "circle the wagons" so that you could see each other and have fellowship.
You wouldn't do that, because, after all, this building we're in right now,-- oh, I mean it's "a little liberal" because they sort of slanted the sides [laughter] and, of course, there's stained glass windows. They're not pretty stained glass, but they're stained glass. [laughter] They're colored glass. We wouldn't call it stained glass. And there's probably a cross around somewhere. There's one downstairs, I know, sitting in a corner getting dust on it. I don't know what that's all about,--in one of the rooms.
But, pretty much, we're really like another group somewhere across town and another group somewhere else across town, and another group somewhere else across town. They have their Christian colleges, and they have their churches, and they're good people, and they worship pretty much the same way we do.
You see, I'm a real believer in the Restoration Movement,--the idea! I don't venerate the movement, or its leaders as a movement, or as people, but the idea is right! "Lord, are you now going to restore the Kingdom?" That was the question that Jesus was asked by His disciples just before He ascended and they still didn't get it! He was trying to restore, not a political kingdom, not an organization, but something within them that multiplied, that would be vibrant,--alive,--moving,--living organism! They still didn't get it!
And in the first-century church there were Spirit-led apostles directing the first-century Christians to do the work of God. When Jesus said, "I'm going to go away, but I'm going to send you the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth",--and so we go back there! It's the only game in town! It's the only way to know how to do things! The idea of Restoration was, "If we can go back to the Bible, to primitive Christianity to replicate the forms of first-century Christians, then surely, that's the best insurance we have: to replicate the function." And it worked back then! Simple,--pure--primitive-- Christianity!
Oh, but now, I've got to tell you. I'm having a dialogue, a struggle with one of my cousins who's telling me, and others, that the form has to follow function. "As long as we get the function right, then the form isn't so important." Well, form may be important, of course, with baptism and with the Lord's Supper, but apart from that, I don't know what's important to him. Maybe instruments are up for grab, maybe gender roles can be changed. There's not much outright discussion of that, but we're in a "form-function" argument now. Does "form follow function", or "function follow form"? Do you know what I'm even talking about? "Function" is: We want to worship God. Right? That's the function. And so the question is: Which form shall we use,--traditional, or contemporary? --first century', or 21st Century?
Part of the problem is that "form often does follow function" because when you design something, you have an idea about how it's going to work, don't you? Then you create a form to make this idea work. So, if the idea is to worship God, then someone says: "We have to see what, in our time, is the right form to do that. Maybe it's a different form from the first century form."
You see, this is a core debate you're going to have to struggle with,--your generation. This is your issue! Of all the issues, this is your fundamental issue to struggle with. And I just want to say a couple of things. One is, "if" (big capital "IF"),--IF you know it is God's form,--IF you know it is God's form-- you've got to presume that He knows best about what brings about the function He intends,--IF it's God's form.
Now, I know that we don't wash feet. Nobody greeted me today with a Holy kiss. In Italy they kiss you when you get to the church building. In France they have this "holier than thou" attitude,--they give you a third one! [laughter] We don't give "holy kisses",--we don't wash feet. We don't meet in an upper room for the Lord's Supper. There are things that are difficult to know sometimes,--when it was meant to be a pattern for us and when it was not. It is difficult. You gotta struggle! It's not easy! And I'm not saying that. But "IF",..."IF,..."IF" we decide in our hearts, after much study and prayer, that it's God's form, how could we ever say, "We could do it better" ?
And all you've got to do is think about all the people in the Old Testament who said, "We can do it better!' And God said, "Maybe, but I didn't ask you to do it that way, and by the way, you're dead!" [laughter] I mean there's something to that! And the other thing too, is that, we just know that function often follows form. If that were not the case, then why urge us to change our forms today? You see,--it does matter. It does matter.
Tom, I gotta tell you. When we're singing songs without notes, when you're teaching me a song without notes,--I can't compute. Even with good singers on the front row, I can't learn those songs. I noticed a lot of other people who weren't singing because we didn't have notes in front of us. Give me some notes! Give me a form and the function will follow. You see, why do we have the screens instead of the books anyway? Because when we have the books (another form) we were looking down at the books and we weren't always worshiping God. "Form follows function",--"function follows form". It kind of goes together. We've got to think it all through.
But now, here's the thing. What about our form? What do we worry about? We worry about "buildings". We worry about "attendance figures". We worry about who we're going to hire as "the preacher", and more importantly, today (Can we be honest? Can we be frank? Are you listening to this? Will I just be a heretic for saying this?) We probably spend more time figuring out who's going to be the youth minister because we are (I say it frankly, plainly, bluntly,--think about it,--"it's a seed") --we are a "youth driven church". And that's simply not what the Scripture says: "Older men teaching younger men"!
We have "slightly older" men teaching younger men! Hardly ever do we divide up into "older men and younger men", and "older women, and younger women". There are some Biblical patterns here. If you believe in Biblical pattern, we're not following that!
What we're worried about are those things, and also "What are we going to do with the budget?"
And the shepherds are not shepherds, they're only "elders"--presbyters making decisions. And why are they chosen? Primarily because they're successful in business! They're good decision-makers and so let's make them leaders in the church!
And what do we do on Sunday morning? What do we do on Sunday morning in a building like this? What do we do? We come in and we have a ritual that for most congregations lasts an hour. Go over an hour and the preacher is in trouble! In fact, it's scripted most of the time, because you have a little piece of paper that says we'll sing this song and then we'll have this prayer. We'll have the Lord's Supper, and then we'll have the sermon. In most congregations, it's scripted. In fact in any congregation that's large enough to have two Sunday morning worship services, you're a slave to the clock, because the first service has to get out so you can have the Bible classes followed by the next one, or vice-versa.
And we watch the clock! We sing, "Take Time To Be Holy", but we watch the clock! We do not take time to be Holy! And I'll guarantee you, on Sunday mornings, in Nashville, Tennessee, when the Titans play, there are special services for people to go to in the morning so they won't be missing out on going to the stadium for the game. ["Eeeek!"--noise] Exactly!--the same way I feel! [laughter] Alright,--let me bring this to a bottom line for you. The bottom line is that we have a rich history of Restoration thinking, and I think it's the right thinking. But, I do happen to agree with my cousin that things have gone woefully awry. But, I don't think it's because we're trying to incorporate first-century forms in a 21st Century culture and it doesn't work. I think that we are very much 21st-Century-form people who have not restored first-century Christianity in its primitive purity.
What would it be like if we did? Now, that's the scary part! I've got preachers in here that are gettin' real nervous! And they should! And elders, and they should! We all ought to be nervous. Everyone of us, because, I tell you what: If we really went back to the Bible... Just suppose today...suppose you had a group of Christians who did not have a building at all, period! At least not one they owned--that they had a vested interest in--that 75% of the budget is going to maintain! Suppose they just have rented facilities,--bare minimum amount for a small group to meet together? Suppose there's no building? Suppose there was no name of the congregation like "The First and Broadway Church of Christ"? Suppose there was just no name at all! No sign! No yellow pages! Suppose there was no preacher in the pulpit? Because we don't have a pulpit! Suppose it was a mutual ministry of the men, all of whom would rotate, taking turns to participate, to lead the worship, and because of that, they flex their muscles and they grew instead of being a spectator like at a football game! What if all the men took responsibility for sharing that? What if we had a group of men that were so spiritually mature that when we started looking around for elders we didn't have to say, "Oh, well,.. nah,...nah,...nah,.." We just say, "Wow, we've got so many elders here,...you do it,...you do it,...you do it,..because you've all grown, you've all exercised, you know how to teach the Word, and you have a passion for God!" "You're not just a spectator, you're a participant!"
And what if we didn't have youth ministers? (I know I'm on thin ice.) But what if we didn't have youth ministers and youth programs? Suppose that we had parents who reclaimed the responsibility of bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? (I know some of them don't have parents and I know all the arguments, but that is atypical.) Most people have parents and in the church, the parents have "opted out" and allowed other people to do the work they ought to be doing. What if we had the parents taking care of them and not the programs, not other programs, not even good programs!
No programs! No ministries!..none!..period! No budget! My own wife, my dear lovely Ruth... when I started talking about this... Ruth said, "But LaGard! Who will we make our checks out to?" [laughter] "Aahh...Ruth! We'll use cash! It doesn't matter!" [laughter] We were at an antique store shortly after that and I saw a box of rubber stamps that had come out of a business organization, obviously. I picked one up and said, "Ruth! This is the answer! This is the answer! Here it is! We'll use this stamp! It says, 'Payable To Maker'!---our Maker!" [laughter]
I don't know,...but what if we had a group that did that,--we didn't have any externals. What would the shepherds have to do if there was no staff, no hiring, no budget, no building to worry about? What would elders have to do? Shepherd! They couldn't be confused about it! There's no decisions to make, really. Just feed the flock! You wouldn't hire someone to feed the flock for you.
If you want to have an evangelist, "e-van-gel-ism...Gospel...go-out-with-Good News", you could pay someone to be an evangelist to go out and convert people and bring them in to be fed by the shepherds. But even once we do that it lets the rest of us off the hook! And you know what we do? "We give of our means on the Lord's Day so that the Gospel may be preached". Wrong! We don't give of our means so that the Gospel may be preached! That's not Biblical! We're not even "Giving back a portion of what we have to the Lord!" That's not Biblical! If you want Biblical precedent, they took up a special collection for benevolence to send to Jerusalem when Paul got there. He said, "Save it up so that when I get there it'll be ready, and I'll take it." If that's our precedent for a budget, we've got to wait until Paul comes and takes it to Jerusalem! [laughter] I'm telling you, you can do this without a budget! You meet your needs, and it can be done simply.
And evangelism isn't done by vicariously writing a check for somebody else to do it! Evangelism is something that when we all start participating in instead of spectating,--when we all start growing and getting excited about being truly converted,--when, WE!...WE!...WE!..WE!.. are truly converted, we won't be able to help ourselves,.."can't hep ourselves!"..."can't help ourselves!" We've got to tell somebody!
When there's good news, you've got to tell somebody! "I made an 'A'!" You tell somebody! "I got a new car!" You tell somebody! "I had a date, finally!" [laughter] You tell somebody! You're excited about it! That's what evangelism is! You don't have "evangelism seminars" in how to do it! The guy who never kissed a girl before is worried about the noses,---"Where do the noses go?" "Where do the noses go!" [laughter] But he falls passionately in love with a young lady and he kisses her, and guess what? The noses take care of themselves! [laughter] You'll learn someday! They just do! [sustained laughter]
I'm telling you, we are so distracted by the "business of the church" that we are not about our Father's business! What I'm talking about today is not a "tweak". It's not an adjustment. It's not a "re-form-a-tion" of the churches of Christ. It's not a "contemporary idea". What I'm talking to you about is "radical restoration"! If we-claim-to-be-like-first-century-Christians, we-have-to-be-like-first-century-Christians! We are NOT like first-century-Christians! Something's wrong! Radically, dramatically! Revolutionarily wrong! Fundamentally wrong!
And I'll guarantee you, it's going to cause a lot of problems if this idea ever takes hold and generates among your generation, because then, what do those who are studying to become "pulpit preachers" do? And what do those who are studying to become "youth ministers" do?---and "music ministers" do? In fact what would be the impact on Lipscomb, York, Abilene, Pepperdine? Would we still have such institutions?
Because, you see, what I'm talking about here are small congregations that are like the "stealth bomber". You can't see them! They're stealth! No building! No sign! No yellow pages! They may not even know the other people in town in a large city. May not know where they meet. All you've got is something happening--a movement that's taking place! This little organism is growing and then, when it gets to the point (I don't know what that point is number-wise) where it's no longer intimate, and interactive, and mutually participatory, and mutually accountable,--when it's no longer able to be that because of sheer size, and you start to think, "Well, it's got to be organized in some way". But instead of building bigger buildings and having "church growth" (which is the latest mantra), you still want church growth, but you "clone", you clone, you clone, you "grow" and "clone",--you "grow and clone", you "grow and clone"!
You know if all these congregations were "stealth congregations", one of the most interesting things is: congregational independence and autonomy would be maintained in a way we talk about, but don't exercise. And there would be no room,--praise God!--no room for "brotherhood police"! They wouldn't even know where to find you to send their bulletins to you! [laughter,--applause] The older people appreciated that. You don't understand, yet.
I don't know how to end this thing because it goes on and on! There's just too many things to think about! I will tell you this, in the last month, a few of us have gotten together to see,-- could it work? Could it work? It worked beautifully! We met in sort of the social room of a condominium association,-- a club house. It didn't cost us any money. One of the couples in our group lived there and we used it for free. Might not always be the case. We sang songs that were certain to fit with the text for the day. We read the words that tied together the lyrics of what we were singing, with the lesson that we were about. Men read the scriptures and when they read the scriptures,--at the end of the reading the scriptures--they commented on it. They talked about: "What does this mean for us?"
The lesson moved, not to an invitation song, because that signals to everybody strange things about evangelism. It's a time for Christians. (If there are non-Christians there, let's do things decently and in order so that we don't run them away, but it's not for them by and large. That's "vicarious evangelism". We'll take care of them later during the week. We'll bring them into our group, but we didn't lead into an invitation song.)
We led into the Lord's Supper, and we took time around the table. Time! I understand that something like that is happening on this campus. "Time around the table". We waited for each other to pass the cup around. Nobody drank, because the Lord's Supper is not an individual thing, it's a communal thing. And when it was all around we took it together to remind ourselves that we were all in the same vertical relationship, and therefore we are all in the same horizontal relationship.
And then we had time for prayer, not "prayers intermixed with songs". We had time for prayer! And then we had time to discuss the lesson for the day, participate in the ideas, exchange, disagree, share a thought.
And then we took just a few minutes to say: "Are there some needs out there that we need to meet financially?" And we talked about how we might meet some needs, and finally, we decided, "Here's an urgent need...let's meet it", We collected money, and deputized one of us: "Take the money over there and meet that need."
The first time, it lasted for an hour and a half. Nobody was looking at the clock, but afterwards we said, "Well, how long did we go?" "An hour and a half". Next time, afterwards, we looked back and thought, "Well, we went 2 hours today." We weren't watching the clock! Have you ever gone on a date and said to a date, "Okay, I want to take you out Friday night, and--by the way--that'll be between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. You've got between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. You've got my full attention between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.,--that's our date." I'm telling you guys, that's not going to make a great impression! When you're in love, "Time flies", and you have no idea! Isn't that the same excuse you gave your parents? "Well, time just went by! I didn't realize I was supposed to be in at 2:00 in the morning!" [laughter] Time flies when you're passionate! How can our worship be anything less?
First-century Christians worshipped radically different from how we worship. Let's not kid ourselves any longer that "We are the restored New Testament church in faith and practice"! It is so radically different from what we do, we have to step back and say, "Wow!"
And I think we can replicate it today,--not with big "programs", not with more "excitement", not with more "youth ministries", but with "less",.."less",..."less"...! More is less! And less is more! I think some day that you'll understand that "less gives you more"! And there's more depth in "silence" than all the joyful happiness that sometimes we get involved in,--and "busy--ness" in the church.
It's just an idea. It's a seed I'm planting. I may be wrong about it. Please think about it. Please pray about it.
I've carried you very long. You've been very patient. It's time to go... [standing ovation,--sustained applause]
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon