A Vision for the Third Millennium

Keynote lecture by Dr. Royce Money
President, Abilene Christian University
ACU Lectureship, February 20, 2000


I like our Lectureship 2000 theme of "Unfinished Business." The "unfinished" part reminds us that there are things yet to be done. 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.

The "business" part reminds us that we are not just engaged in "busy-ness" or something trivial or optional. We are engaged in something that is at the core of who we are and what we are about. It is something that needs to be done.

As for predicting anything about the future of our movement known as Churches of Christ, you won't get it here tonight. If that's what you came for, go to the ticket window and get a refund! Mark Twain said that prophecy is a dangerous thing, especially when it pertains to the future.

I was in full-time local church ministry for fourteen years and was the pulpit preacher for over half that time. That's the hardest job I ever had, not this present one. My hat is off to the dear brothers among us who do that task so faithfully and so well Sunday after Sunday, year after year.

I remember that in the preparation of the sermons I would often be changed and convicted during the process in a significant way. The same thing happened to me as I prepared these remarks over the last few months. I need to tell you what effect it has had on me. I was profoundly humbled in the presence of God's sovereignty. I found my human ideas so frail up against the wisdom of God. I felt a deep need to let the Lord deal with answering the tough questions we tend to ask each other. I felt the need to give the church back to Christ, the head. I felt the need to get out of the way, and let God be God.

But then I had to deal with the human reality of Lectureship and the fact that Bill Young periodically reminded me that I was giving the opening lecture Sunday, February 20, 2000. Something about the "third millennium" and "unfinished business" and of all things, something about the future of the Churches of Christ! Woe is me! How in the world did I ever get into this mess? I remember back in those preaching days, when I would sit on the front pew during that last song before the sermon. My most frequent thought was one that reached back to my childhood and my favorite game of "hide and seek." You know the phrase - "Ready or not, here I come!"

One other thing before we really get started. I love who we are as "Christians only." I love our fellowship of the Churches of Christ. I was born into a Christian family to two of the dearest of God's servants He ever created. Then I made the choice on my own by the grace of God in 1955. I'm a "died-in-the-wool" believer in our heritage and in our future. And I hope that you and many generations to come will believe in and love that heritage, too, and love the universal church, the bride of Christ.

I heard recently the comment that Jesus does not come to us as a single. He has a bride, and you have to deal with His bride. There are many voices who would tell us, "Jesus, yes; the church, no." But He has a bride, and you can't have Jesus without His bride. And Jesus knows His bride. And He loves His bride, and He laid down His life for His bride.

A Few Observations at the Start

1. It is extremely hard to be truly non-denominational in our approach. In a time where denominationalism is fading away, it is all the more important that we understand our calling to be un-denominationalized and be "Christians only."

My friend Dr. Prentice Meador and I recently observed the power of the spirit of Jesus at the National Prayer Breakfast. Over 3,500 people from 160 nations came together in the name of Jesus, not in some sort of denominational approach to Christianity. But here's our "Achilles heel." Our historic tendency is to start, believing in the ideal of non-denominational Christianity and practicing it. But over time, the emphasis shifts to maintaining our orthodoxy and gathering around a few key doctrinal ideas - even so much as to decide who's "in" and who's "out." We like to call ourselves "non-denominational" in our approach. But to call ourselves that does not make us that. We can act like a denomination or exclusive sect while all the while denying that we even believe such an approach is legitimate.

2. It's hard to stay out of the ditches. Let me describe the ditches. On the one hand, I see some brothers and sisters who are pretty frustrated with traditional ways in the Churches of Christ, so they want to remove all the theological barriers and proclaim that whatever one believes surely must be OK with the Lord as long as they are honest and sincere in their belief. They take a little theology from this group and a few practices from that, never realizing the implications of their choices. It just feels right and besides, it "meets my needs," so there can't be anything wrong with it.

In the other ditch are those who fear almost any change in the church, so they beat a hasty retreat into isolationism and sectarianism and a spirit that excludes all others. They want nothing to do with any believers who don't see things pretty much as they see them. They view those who think otherwise as "liberals" at worst or victims of faulty judgment at best. They are afraid of any contact with "outsiders," even though the outsiders also claim to be Christians. They want to stay to themselves.

It's hard to stay out of the ditches. But there's no future in either ditch. Which leads me to my third observation.

3. You cannot "not" have a history (with apologies to my college English teacher, Mima Williams). I had a preacher friend tell me once that he didn't care what Alexander Campbell or Barton Stone or David Lipscomb thought about anything. He just believed in the Bible. On the surface, that sounds noble and even desirable. But you cannot "not" have a history. You cannot approach the text without a context, without glasses, without some set of presuppositions you got from somewhere. Every one of us views "what the Bible says" out of our historical context. We cannot help but do so.

There are two kinds of people who approach the text - those who know they are wearing the glasses of time and place and culture and those who don't know, or who deny they have glasses on. To wear no glasses is not an option. I think there have been times in our history where we thought everyone else approached the Scriptures with the "glasses" of cultural or social or theological bias on, but we didn't have glasses on. The truth is that we did have them on and may not have been aware of what they were.

Each of us admits that our childhood and family have profoundly affected who we are today and how we see things. The same is true of our spiritual family. You and I are a part of a Restoration history that has made some assumptions about Scripture that do affect the way we interpret them. As mature adults, we certainly have the opportunity to change the direction of our future in our thinking and behaving. But it is foolish to say that we can view anything - spiritual or otherwise - in a historical vacuum. Therefore, it is important that we understand our past and the forces that helped shape our present thinking. I'll leave all the details of how that takes place to Dr. Jack Reese and others on the Lectureship program. But we do wear the glasses of time and place and culture.

A modern-day example would be for us to see how many in the church today view the work of the Holy Spirit versus how it was generally viewed among us as recently as thirty years ago. Same Holy Spirit, but viewed differently by many. I think you get my point.

We certainly have an infallible Scripture, but the human interpretation of this infallible Word of God can be selective and subjective and flawed. This awareness should produce in us a spirit of humility and not one of arrogance. We have to interpret the universal, eternal Word of God for our time and our place and our culture. And that means that the process is ongoing. Truth never changes, but the interpretation of that Truth in any generation is not inherently infallible. This leads me to my fourth observation.

4. We often refer to our religious situation as a movement - the Restoration Movement. And correctly so. This is a critical term for us, and one that I am not sure we are in agreement on when it comes to what it exactly means. Here's what I think it means. For example, one characteristic of a movement is that it is constantly changing and is never finished. It is in process. It is not a point in time or a goal at which we arrive. It is not afraid of new ideas and does not view truth as so fragile that we can't discuss it openly and boldly, even when people disagree. Also, a movement rises from the ranks, not from the top. We refer to "grassroots movements," meaning that the ideas come from the masses of people, not necessarily top leadership. Another characteristic of a movement is that while it can be led and shaped, it cannot be managed and controlled by any one group.

While we are re-defining terms, let's move on to the fifth observation, this one on unity.

5. The concept of unity is elusive and confusing to most of us. In the last prayer of Jesus on this earth, in the Garden of Gethsemane, it is almost as if Jesus is saying to the Father, "I know my followers are going to have trouble staying together." Eugene Peterson in "The Message" calls this unity "one heart and one mind."

We can be very different and still be one. It's a mystery - like marriage. Pam and I are very different, but we are one in the basics that hold our marriage together - the commitment, the covenant, the core beliefs we hold about the relationship, and the love we have for one another.

The further we go on toward the legalistic end of the spectrum, the more likely we are to confuse unity with uniformity. Unity, in this case, is defined by a set of standards or beliefs by which one group measures the other group. When you look at the marked differences in the early church (culturally, geographically, ethnically, socially, economically, etc.), surely unity did not consist of a lot of "alikeness" - except in some basic and essential truths that span time and place and cultural understanding. There is an opposite danger, and that is watering down core beliefs to the lowest common denominator. The failure of this approach in the broader Christian world is silent testimony that it is surely a futile understanding of unity.

Paul urged the Ephesians to "maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3)." That was something they had to do. Much of the New Testament was written to preserve that unity. It's a paradox, isn't it? Unity is already given by the Spirit, but we have to work hard to maintain it. The unity exists, whether we recognize it or not, and we have the choice to either maintain it or disrupt it.

Biblically defined, unity may be the forgotten doctrine among us. What a disappointment it must be to Jesus. Practically every day, I pray for the unity of all people who are believers. I don't know how, or when, but I believe that if it had been an impossibility, Jesus and Paul would not have made it so important. I invite you to join me in that prayer. I can tell you one thing. If 2000 years of Christian history mean anything to us, we have learned that unity will never be achieved through doctrinal uniformity around issues that are not a matter of the core Gospel. In fact, unity cannot be achieved by any sort of human effort.

I believe that unity is an attitude, just as divisiveness is an attitude. The Bible is full of admonitions about attitudes toward others. Three passages will suffice as examples. In the great unity passage of Ephesians 4, Paul says in verse 2, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." And in I Peter 3:15, Peter admonishes Christians to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." I suspect if the larger Christian world were to describe our attitudes at times, "gentleness and respect" would not be the first two words that popped into their minds. The third is the monumental chapter 13 of I Corinthians that reminds us that if we do not have love, nothing else that we do or say or believe really matters.

My friend, Dr. Charles Siburt on our Bible faculty, does a lot of conflict mediation in troubled congregations. He says that rarely, if ever, do the parties involved see passages such as the ones we just read as having anything to do with their present problem.

In any discussion of unity, we must come sooner or later to a discussion of what the church should tolerate and what the church should not, which leads me to my sixth observation, in the form of a question:

6. What kind of things would get you kicked out of the first century church? If we are true restorationists, we should be extremely interested in this question. As a matter of fact, we do have some definite items mentioned in Scripture. Amazingly, the Scriptures are pretty clear about when the church should not have anything to do with a fellow-believer. But I'll warn you, the list is pretty short. Here it is, with appropriate references: (1) the refusal to repent of personal sin against a brother or sister (Mt. 18:17); (2) the practice of gross immorality and greed, accompanied by an unrepentant spirit (I Cor. 5:5, 11-13); (3) a selfish lifestyle (2 Tim. 3:2-5); (4) refusal to work (2 Thess. 3:6, 14; (5) denial that Christ came in the flesh (2 John 10); (6) trying to be righteous through one's own efforts (Gal. 5:4); (7) blasphemy, godless chatter and denial of the coming resurrection (I Tim 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18); and (8) causing division (Titus 3:10).

That's it. Isn't it interesting that most are matters of personal morality - the actions and the unrepentant heart. The list is striking in terms of what is not on it, versus the lists some of our brothers and sisters work from these days.

Are there going to be false prophets? You can count on it. But Jesus reassures us in Matthew 7 that we will know them by their fruits. Just watch what they produce over time, and you will have your answer. You remember the acts of the sinful nature listed by Paul in Galatians 5, contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit. Watch their behavior and the results over time, and you will have your answer.

The most important observation is this:

7. Jesus has to be the central focus of our faith. Salvation is in Him alone. It is by faith in Him as the Son of God, and not of our own doing. He is the head of the church, and He knows those who are His. He doesn't need our help.

For all my life, I have believed in the universal body of Christ, His church. He adds to it daily those who are being saved. I have some pretty definite ideas from Scripture as to how one is added to the body of Christ, which I will reserve until later. But here the reminder is that Jesus is the focus of our faith - not doctrine, as important as that is - not good deeds, as important as they are - not perfect obedience to God's will, as noble a goal as that may be. In the end, we stand as helpless sinners in need of a savior. And because of the love of God and His grace extended to us, we have one. Thank God for His inexpressible gift!

Out of many ideas we could discuss in the rest of our time, I want to single out three things that we must address if we are to remain a viable force for restoring New Testament Christianity in the 21st century:

1. We must commit to growth and maturity in our Christian walk

The Hebrew writer in chapter 5 calls this kind of thing "solid food," you will recall. Get off the milk and on to the solid food, he admonishes. Then, in verse 14, he says, "Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." Such training involves daily repentance, confession of sins and turning away from Satan, as well as the study of God's Word.

We will all need a renewed vision and awareness that God is sovereign. His will shall be done on earth, in our lives, as it is in Heaven. We have to proclaim all over again that the Scriptures are relevant in every time and place. Their truths are eternal. Our task is to understand them for our time and make them known.

We have to re-commit to the idea that we are disciples, we are learners, we are followers - students of Jesus Christ, if you please.

ACU is going to be more proactive in the future than we have been in the past in equipping fellow-believers for the task ahead of us. We have some of the finest minds and hearts in our religious tradition right here on the faculty of the College of Biblical Studies. I have commissioned some of them to begin work on a series of publications that will address frankly and forthrightly how followers of Jesus Christ can equip their heads and their hearts and their hands.

They will discuss, in clearly understood detail, some of the central themes of the Christian life and faith. Dr. Doug Foster will be the general editor. The series, entitled "Heart of the Restoration," will seek to articulate an authentic biblical theology and will represent the highest scholarship and clarity in our "Back to the Bible" movement. The first volume will be out in the summer of 2001 and will be authored by Dr. Jack Reese, our dean, and by Dr. Jeff Childers and Dr. Doug Foster. I am excited about this landmark project, and I predict it will give us all plenty to think about and talk about and pray about in our individual study and in our church gatherings.

In addition to the writing efforts, we will be sponsoring more and more conferences, seminars, and short courses on topics of interest to men and women in roles of leadership and ministry. God has blessed us with a wonderful gift of property 1-1/2 miles from the campus on E.N. 10th, near I-20. It will be known as the Zoe Conference and Retreat Center. "Zoe" is the literal translation of the Greek word used more than 50 times in the New Testament to signify "spiritual life." Jesus said in John 10:10, "I have come that they might have life (zoe), and have it abundantly."

The estate contains a 26,000-square-foot house that will be used as a conference and retreat center for the building up and edification of God's people, to equip them to lead and to serve here and throughout the world in the name of Jesus. This marvelous facility sits on a 150-acre site, with about 2,500 large trees surrounding the facility (yes, we do count our trees in West Texas!). Our future plans call for conference housing for up to 150 people on the site. We look forward to the renovation of this property as soon as funds are secured.

ACU was created as an educational institution about 95 years ago by members of the Churches of Christ primarily to serve the educational and spiritual needs of our fellowship, although we have from the early years welcomed qualified students from any religious tradition who are sympathetic with our Christ-centered emphasis. We remember our past, and we commit to be faithful to our future in the new millennium. Our mission is unchanged.

2. We must address issues of a racial and ethnic nature (such as discrimination and division) among Christians.

As a movement, we have a long way to go in an area that we have not dealt with completely or well in our past. I have come to the sad conclusion that, in the Churches of Christ, we have at least two distinct fellowships: predominantly white congregations and predominantly African-American congregations. There is a different theology in many respects about things such as the doctrine of the church and theology of worship, to mention a few.

For quite some time, I have wanted to call a conference together of some leaders among both groups and talk about racial reconciliation. From what I could find out, the last serious attempt to do this was in 1968. That meeting was prompted by several of our brotherhood leaders to build a bridge of reconciliation. But not much happened in the intervening years, and the two fellowships remained with very little dialog between them.

We were finally able to have a conference here at ACU in late October of last year. About thirty leaders met together for most of two days. It was a marvelous occasion of fellowship and a frank but cordial exchange of views. The conference was titled "One in Christ," building on the idea of Romans 12:4-5: "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."

The makeup of the group was interesting, because among some of the leaders, there was wide theological diversity. It was tempting to get off on tangents and talk about all our doctrinal differences. As an aside, doctrinal differences are not insignificant. But, in my opinion, they can only be dealt with effectively when there is first an acknowledgement of oneness in Christ and a relationship of mutual love and respect established as a foundation.

At any rate, we somehow were able to steer clear of that dead end street (I think by the power of the Holy Spirit). Instead, we focused on the kind of spirit we would need in our hearts to overcome historical racism and its more modern form of a subtle racist attitude. We focused on reconciliation, for that is truly the work of God.

After several intense hours on the final day, the question began to be asked by some of us, "What do we need to do that will promote the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace in the future?" Some of our black brothers gently replied, "It might help the healing process to begin with an apology." My immediate response was that I was willing. Don Crisp, our chair of the ACU Board of Trustees, was present, and he was willing.

We made it known to all that we could not speak for the Churches of Christ as a group, but we could be spokespersons for this university. Until the 1960s, African-Americans were not admitted to ACU on the basis of race, even members of the Churches of Christ - even some that were present last October were denied admission many years ago. You could feel the spirit of suspicion subside and the spirit of unity build as the day moved on to a close. We ended with a prayer in which we joined hands and got on our knees before God and prayed for unity and reconciliation and forgiveness and healing. It was a day I will never forget.

Don Crisp informed our Board of Trustees about the proposed apology - to be done first at the Southwestern Christian College Lectureship on November 21 of last year, on their Founders Day, in which they celebrated 50 years as a Christian college. The board's response was quick and positive. The purpose was to bring closure on a past that had all too many examples of overt and more subtle racism among Christians and to pave the way for a brighter future as members of the body of Christ.

Jesus, in the context of a discussion of anger and hatred and even murder, said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift (Mt. 5:23-24)." We think that Scripture applied to this situation.

Thanks to the graciousness of Southwestern Christian College, on the video screens to my right and left, you will see what took place.

[The video clip was shown at this point. The text of the apology follows:]

"Abilene Christian University has been a Christian institution of higher education for more than 90 years. Its doors were not open to African-American students for well over half that time. We are here today to confess the sins of racism and discrimination and to issue a formal apology to all of you and to ask for your forgiveness. We understand from the Lord that part of repentance involves the resolve to go in a different direction in the future than we have in the past. But before we focus on the future, we need to confess the sins of racism and discrimination of the past against our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ.

As we look to the future, we pledge to walk together with you as those in the body of Christ should always do. As Paul says in I Corinthians 12, we pray that "there should be no division in the body, but its parts should have equal concern for each other." ACU is dedicated to building up all of the kingdom of God through service and leadership. May God help us in word and in deed to be truly 'one in Christ.'"

Our greatest threat today is not overt racial and social discrimination, but a more subtle and unthinking discrimination. We, as Christians, must become more aware of what is happening and make the necessary corrections. Jesus said, in Matthew 22, that the greatest command was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. "And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Mt. 22:39)"

That's our goal - to treat everyone with the same respect as we would want to be treated. In fact, Paul admonishes us to treat others better than we do ourselves. The world we live in has a lot of people in it who are different than we are, ethnically, socially, racially, and in other ways. Surely, the Gospel has a word for us in these times. 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.

3. We must develop a greater spirit of tolerance and cooperation, both within our fellowship and beyond.

Somewhere we have 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. Certainly some of us get nervous when others of us venture beyond the borders of our fellowship. Some of us suspect that those who do so somehow compromise their faith. Ministries that mix believers from a variety of religious traditions, such as Bible Study Fellowship, Promise Keepers, and Youth for Christ, to mention a few, raise questions from among our ranks. I believe that the principles of Romans 14 apply directly here. Paul says we are to be slow to condemn and really have no business judging someone else's servant (that is, one who belongs to Jesus). If we don't want to do that sort of thing, fine. But we don't have to condemn other Christians who make other choices. Paul said in Romans 14:5, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind."

When I think of a spirit of tolerance and cooperation beyond the borders of our fellowship, I think of our own Dr. Doug Foster on our College of Biblical Studies faculty. Here is an example of a man who believes deeply in the principles of Jesus and the apostolic writers, including a strong view of the central role that baptism obviously plays in conversion into the body of Christ from a New Testament perspective. Yet he has for years frequently been involved as a Christian scholar in interfaith dialogs among believers literally all over the world. He boldly and humbly proclaims the biblical role of Christian faith and response in the life of the believer and is readily accepted and respected by fellow scholars and believers from various religious traditions. I know because I have read his speeches, and I have talked with him for many hours over the years. I also have talked with fellow believers who know him. He seeks all the common ground he can and celebrates that. He listens, he learns, he fellowships as far as his conscience will let him. And he does so without compromising his biblically held beliefs. Is that OK? I believe that it is.

I could say the same thing about a number of us at ACU and a number of you, as well. 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. We come as imperfect people in need of a Savior. 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, wherever they may be found, 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 is more defined by such association.

I don't claim to know the fate of all the 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.

There is a lot of interest lately in a doctrine that is central to the Scriptures and central to our religious heritage - that of baptism. Perhaps some comments about it at this juncture would illustrate the kind of attitude I am advocating. I once again firmly state my belief that the repentant sinner comes into contact with the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ in the act of baptism, where one's sins are washed away. I believe it now more than I ever have.

Baptism for remission of sins is not just a quirky Church of Christ doctrine that we doggedly hold on to. In addition to being taught in numerous places throughout the New Testament, the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D., the creed universally recognized in the Christian world for its confessional nature of biblical truths, states, "I believe in baptism for the remission of sins." This teaching has been around for a long time. Of course, the biblical witness is just as concerned about what happens in the believer's life after baptism as it is in what happens in baptism. To fail to teach emphatically about the spiritual life after baptism is to fail to teach the text of the New Testament. And in no way is baptism ever to be seen as a work of merit on our part. God does all the work of redemption.

Having said all that, I believe the rule is that one must be born of the water and the spirit to inherit the Kingdom of God, as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:5. That's the rule, but what about the exceptions? What about countless believers who demonstrate, at least to my observation, the fruit of the spirit in a compelling way and whose spirituality and Christian virtues at times far outstrip mine? What about all that?

I don't know, but the Lord knows the exceptions, and I hope that he makes a lot of them. Our job, it seems to me, is to teach the rule, and let the Lord deal with the exceptions. Jesus Christ knows those who are His. It's time to give the church back to Christ. Perhaps we need to spend more time preaching Jesus and making disciples and less time wrestling with who's "in" and who's "out." Perhaps it is time to spend less time in front of the mirror and more time fixing our eyes on Jesus.

I am increasingly suspicious of people who are certain they know who's "in" and who's "out." I keep thinking about the Pharisees who were dead sure they were right - about Jesus, about God, about the Law, about everything. If it's up to us to get everything doctrinal just right, then Christ died in vain, and our religious neighbors aren't the only ones in trouble - we all are.

There is a passage in Mark 9 that disturbs and haunts me when we come to discussions like this. It is a passage we are tempted to conveniently pass over because we don't know what to do with it. Verse 38 begins like this: "'Teacher,' said John, 'we saw a man driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.' 'Do not stop him,' Jesus said. 'No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.'"

There is one body, the church, which is universal, and the Lord adds to it those who are being saved. Of that I am sure. I guess I will have to learn to live with the unanswered questions and gray areas from my human perspective. I am glad that God is God, and Jesus is Lord and Judge and Merciful Savior.

All I am doing is 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.


Let me leave you with a few closing thoughts. In trying to define what "Christians only" should be about, I do not find popular designations such as "Evangelical" altogether appropriate for us. To be sure, there is much in evangelical theology and practice that I find to be biblical and personally attractive to my own Christian value system. But I don't think that we, as a fellowship, exactly fit there. In my worst fears, I think that some of our more open-minded congregations are consciously or unconsciously adopting a generic, pop conservative evangelical theology that is not well thought-out from a biblical perspective. It is more seeker-driven than Bible-driven.

On the other hand, I certainly don't see us fitting into the "Fundamentalist" label. The general characterization of people who carry this label is one of mean-spiritedness and dogmatism. The condition of their hearts negates any gains they may have made toward doctrinal correctness. I don't want that label for us in the Churches of Christ.

Furthermore, I do not think the label "Christian Right" appropriately describes us. This term is not from the New Testament but from current American politics.

What I really pray for us to have is an authentic biblically-based theology that enables us to be Christians only. Open-minded but cautious; conservative but tolerant; liberal - but only in our giving. Enough of labels! "Christians only, but not the only Christians" is an old Restoration slogan that deserves dusting off and putting back on the shelf.

I must tell you that it is easy to say we all want an authentic biblically-informed Christian viewpoint, but it is extremely hard to obtain. And we may not be ready for it. We've bought into our cultural values and mores and behavior and styles and materialism in a pretty big way. We may be trying too hard to be in the world and of the world, which Jesus said we can't be.

My vision for the third millennium is that we will humble ourselves before our sovereign God and wait before Him and listen to Him and respond to Him in ways like we never have before. What we restore is the image of Jesus Christ in our lives, so that the people in the world will see us and say, "Look how they love the Lord; look how they love one another; look how they love us. We want to be like them."

Today, I am issuing a call - a plea - to get off our old, worn-out issue-oriented agendas and get on with the unfinished business of reaching a lost world for Christ. We've been muddling around for a while. It's time for us to move on. It's time for us to give all authority back to Jesus Christ. It's time for us to get back to our real mission. It's time for us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything Jesus has commanded us. And when we do, the Lord will be with us, both now and forever. May His name be praised!

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