Dr. Royce Money expresses hope for future of Churches of Christ at ACU annual Bible Lectureship

For Immediate Release
Feb. 28, 2000

Dr. Royce Money, president of Abilene Christian University, expressed hope for the future of Churches of Christ Feb. 20 at ACU's annual Bible Lectureship, which attracted approximately 15,000 people.

"I like our Lectureship theme of 'Unfinished Business,' " Money said. "The process of restoring New Testament faith and practice is just that - a process and not a point in time where we have arrived. Our ship has not docked, but we are still sailing."

Money's message was one of several coordinated lectures related to the future of Churches of Christ. Money focused on three areas he believes the church must address to remain a viable force for restoring New Testament Christianity.

First, Money said, we must commit to growth and maturity in our Christian walk, "moving off milk and getting on solid food."

"We have to proclaim all over again that the Scriptures are relevant in every time and place," he said. "Their truths are eternal. Our task is to understand them for our time and make them known. We have to recommit to the idea that we are disciples, we are learners, we are followers - students of Jesus Christ."

Second, the churches must address issues of a racial and ethnic nature (such as discrimination and division) among Christians, Money said. At Southwestern Christian College in November, Money apologized for past racial discrimination in admissions policies at ACU. Like many universities, ACU did not admit African-American students until the mid-1960s.

He showed the videotape of the apology at the opening Lecture, emphasizing that he spoke for ACU and not for the Churches of Christ. The crowd clapped when the apology was completed, and they clapped again for the forgiving responses of Dr. Fred Gray, civil rights attorney and chairman of Southwestern Christian's board of directors at the time, and Dr. Jack Evans, SWCC's president.

"Our greatest threat today is not overt racial and social discrimination, but a more subtle and unthinking discrimination," Money said at Lectureship. "We as Christians must become more aware of what is happening and make the necessary corrections. Ethnic diversity existed in the church from its early decades. We have the same Creator, and we long to be respected and accepted for who we are. There is unfinished business in the church when there is reconciliation to be done."

Third, Money said, we must develop a greater spirit of cooperation, both within our fellowship and beyond.

"Somewhere we picked up the attitude that we cannot cooperate with, or fellowship to any degree, with any believer who does not share the same doctrinal mindset or religious heritage that we have," Money said. "Certainly some of us get nervous when others of us venture beyond the borders of our fellowship. The time has come for us to be active participants at the table with those who claim to be serious, conscientious followers of Jesus Christ.

"We have some things to contribute. We have some things to learn. Our calling is to be at the table … not in the corner or out of the room entirely. Our faith is not so fragile that it can be compromised or destroyed by merely associating with followers of Christ who are also struggling with how to follow Him more perfectly and who might not have it all down just right. In fact, the opposite is true. Our beliefs are sharpened and our faith defined by such association."

Money added, "I don't claim to know the fate of all believers in Jesus Christ who don't see things like we do. If I said they were saved or if I said they were not saved, it would not alter God's mind or the mind of Jesus toward them. Jesus ultimately knows those who are his."

In summary on this final point, Money said, "I want to encourage us to do everything we can to cooperate with other believers in ways that do not violate our conscience, which should be shaped by biblical principles. Surely there are more grounds for cooperation than anti-liquor and anti-gambling campaigns. That cooperation will vary from person to person, from congregation to congregation, and I would plead for a spirit of tolerance. I believe we can do these things without compromising or forfeiting our spiritual birthright in Jesus."

Dr. Monte Cox, director of missions and assistant professor at Harding University, sounded the theme that the unfinished business of the church is to seek and save the lost. Tying his message to Isaiah 49:6, when God said "it is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

"We often have too small an understanding of what God's vision is," Cox said. "God had a larger purpose for the Israelites, and he has a larger purpose for his church. Our own restoration movement began with a dream to preach to all the world. But drift happens. The bull's eye of the target keeps moving, and we move off course."

Cox said he believes that many people have focused on peripheral issues and have forgotten the core gospel. They have made various issues the "litmus test" of true Christianity through the past few decades: instrumental music, pre-millennium issues and many more.

"We look back at our history and think, 'How could we have let that divide us?' " he said.

Cox said he is thankful for the opportunity to update music and lyrics and to make other positive changes in the worship assembly. And, he added, churches needed to allow and even encourage emotion in worship.

"I don't want young people to base their faith on emotion," Cox said. "But once people have a relationship with Jesus, it will be emotional, and we don't want to squelch that."

He emphasized that if worship renewal becomes an end in itself, it's nothing but hype. However, if it brings us closer to the heart of God, and brings us closer to non-Christians, then it is a worthwhile change.

Cox strongly urged churches not to spend so much time looking inward. "If we're just focused on each other, who is reaching out to save souls?" he asked.

His final point regarded the church's identity crisis as we try to figure out where our "boundaries" are.

"Many of you may have grown up focused on boundaries - what made us Christians and made others not Christians," he said. "We need to reorient away from the boundaries and back toward the center. If there are going to be boundaries, let's make sure they're God's boundaries. We should reject boundaries where God has not clearly spoken. We need to be a light to the 'Gentiles' come what may. A dream any smaller is too small for God."

Dr. Jack Reese, dean of ACU's College of Biblical Studies and the Graduate School of Theology, discussed the theme, "May It Be According to Your Word."

He took the audience back to a little village where a young woman named many Mary was visited by an angel.

"God has always chosen the weakest of people - Moses, Gideon, Peter, David - and the weakest of nations - Israel," Reese said. "When he chose Mary, she said to the angel, 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord. May it be according to your word."

Reese's emphasis was that nothing is impossible with God.

"We are an ordinary people, we in the Churches of Christ," Reese said. "Some wise, some not. Some public ministers, some quiet servants. All shapes and sizes and colors. We have a checkered history, with occasions of startling unity and those of embarrassing division. But we have always been people of the Book."

Reese said one of the greatest traps Christians can fall into is reading into the Bible whatever we want to - just finding more evidence of what we already believe.

He made three suggestions. First, recognize that every passage of scripture has a context. Find out what question was being asked or what problem was being addressed.

"A passage of scripture cannot mean what it could not have meant," he said. For example, the Bible does not and cannot address such issues as fellowship halls, bulletins, or fellowship with the Methodists or Baptists because the authors could not have imagined those issues in their time.

"We should feel squeamish insisting on our own opinions on issues the Bible doesn't address," he said. "If the text doesn't address it directly, it's not an issue of first-order importance."

Second, ask what kind of literature that section or book of the Bible is. For example, Proverbs is wisdom literature, generally true, but not law, and Song of Solomon is poetry. Each type of literature has its purpose.

Third, some things are of first and primary importance.

"All scripture is inspired by God, and all is useful for teaching and admonition and encouragement," Reese said. "But not all the Bible is at the center. Justice, mercy, faith - some things are at the center and carry more weight."

He mentioned as extremely important Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, his ascension to heaven, baptism, the Lord's supper, the governance of the church and the nature of discipleship.

However, other things are much further from the center, such as washing feet, hand clapping, women braiding their hair and decisions on who should pass communion trays.

"We shouldn't flaunt our freedom because some things we are free to do may not be best for the church," Reese said. "Our desire is to serve others and not to get our own way. It's important to major in the majors and minor in the minors."

Just as Money and Cox did, Reese called people to draw closer to God.

"An encounter with God calls us to utterly surrender to him," Reese said. "It leads to a profound humility before God and others. It's presumptuous to treat each other the way we do, thinking we always have it right. We believe scripture is fully authoritative. Within that context, couldn't we find ways to encourage one another instead of tearing each other down? Will there be a time we can see each other as faithful even if we disagree?"

Reese expressed deep concerns about the church's future if we do not change.

"We fight for our version of the truth," he said. "We gossip and label and shame and embarrass and ignore. We know the landscape and we know what's at the end of the path - division."

Reese did not call for thoughtless tolerance of "anything goes," but an "aggressive pursuit of the truth in scripture."

He concluded, "With as much faith as this heart can muster, I call you to a little village long ago, to a trembling girl named Mary who said, 'Here am I, your servant.' I call you in the midst of all the forces that divide us. I call you in the name of God to listen to these words: With God, nothing is impossible! More than anything else, we must say, trembling but with audacious faith, 'Here am I, Lord. May it be according to your will.' "


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