TRACING THE LINEAGE
As we try to understand the swirling changes that are being thrust upon the church, one is led to wonder where did such far-out ideas originate? We must look back to the 1960s when W. Carl Ketcherside resolved to abandon his position as leader of the small group of Churches of Christ know for their opposition to located ministers, Christian schools and children's homes.
They emphasized mutual ministry and evangelistic oversight of churches. When Bro. Ketcherside realized his past mistakes as an antagonist of the mainstream churches, he did not seek a place among them, rather his conversion took him far to the left of them. He still saw himself as the liberator of the churches of Christ. From his base in St. Louis, he issued his monthly journal called the Mission Messenger. Always viewed with suspicion by the larger brotherhood, he found his fellowship with splinter groups such as the premillennial churches and the Christian Churches. That he would fellowship those churches using instrumental music was considered a great triumph for them. His appearance was always trumpeted as evidence that a great leader of the Churches of Christ had come to them as an accepting brother.
While virtually all of our schools, papers and mature preachers still shunned Bro. K, he was undaunted. He gathered sufficient support to travel the world with his new gospel and to mail his paper and books to hundreds, if not thousands of our young preachers; especially those enrolled in Christian Colleges. With his smooth and faith speech, he sowed his seeds of a liberal ecumenical brand of Christianity in the hearts of many men who are now preaching among us. Joining him in his subversive mission was his old cohort from his mutual ministry days, Leroy Garrett of Dallas, TX. Garrett also had a little paper, The Restoration Review. Both men's journey of faith led them far away from the Bible-based beliefs and practices of the mainstream Churches of Christ They found they could fellowship virtually anyone that believed in Christ. One of Bro. K's most notable publications was the book, "Voices of Concern," edited by Robert Meyers, which contained articles by a dozen or so apostate members of the churches of Christ, telling why they had left.
Among the early converts of Bro. K's ecumenical gospel was M. F. Cottrell of Denver. His book "Refocusing God, the Church and the Bible" set forth his views. He left us for the Baptists. Roy Osborn of California took up a similar message. But it was primarily out of Abilene that the virus slowly spread that now is manifesting itself among many of our professors and preachers. From the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene the new message was spread by Lynn Anderson and his disciples. Following the administration of Don Morris of Abilene Christian University, a band of liberal professors gradually gained positions there. The students under their influence have carried their tainted views across the western portion of the country. The Restoration Quarterly journal was co-opted for their purposes.
In his declining years, Ruel Lemmons, long time editor of the Firm Foundation, * drifted far to the left of center and used his paper and influenced to instill those views in others. Another publication from Texas was the Mission Magazine, which featured the most extreme writers of that early day.
Slowly, quietly, the leaven has spread. When Rubel Shelly, former conservative teacher at Freed-Hardeman College, entered Vanderbilt University he came forth a changed man, with a new vision for the church, after the order of Ketcherside. His first book to articulate his conversion was, I Just Want to Be a Christian (1984). Additional volumes, each more liberal than the former, have followed. Bro. Shelly also has used his formidable literary skills to edit a journal called Wineskins that boldly promoted radical change. He also was a prime mover in the Jubilee lectureships conducted in Nashville that feature an array of liberal change leaders. Other journals devoted to change have been Image and One Body.
With the retirement of Willard Collins as president of David Lipscomb University, men were added to the faculty of that school who embraced this new theology of change. Although public opinion in the churches about Nashville kept Bro. Shelly from being invited in an official way to DLU, his influence and message was such that soon a large number of the Lipscomb faculty were worshiping with him in the Woodmont Hills Church. Randy Harris, Bible Professor at Lipscomb and Shelly have teamed together to give us "The Second Reincarnation" a book dedicated to promoting change in the church. John Mark Hicks of the DLU faculty has recently published his book "Come to the Table" which is a radical revisioning of the Lord's Supper.
In the last ten years a flurry of books have been issued from Bible teachers at Abilene Christian University. All of them designed to reinterpret the faith of churches of Christ and to change our practice in numerous ways. Three things stand as the foundational points of this new theology. 1). That churches of Christ have failed to properly interpret the Bible's message of salvation, worship and the church. 2). That churches of Christ are only a denomination, originating in this land a century or two ago. 3). That the use of instrumental music in worship is an option not forbidden by God's Word. One of the most recent of these books, entitled, "The Crux of the Matter," advocates all of these points. This book is published by the ACU press and highly endorsed by Dr. Royce Money, president of that school. God's Holy Fire has recently been issued. It questions the inerrancy of God's Word and the exclusive authority of the New Testament of Christ for his church. Other titles in the same vein are soon to be issued.
The threat of liberalism among us is no longer a thing to be anticipated. It is now flourishing in an advanced state with deep roots in the heart of our brotherhood. To defeat and excise it is going to be a long and painful operation. If such is not done, it will wreak havoc among our churches as it has in every other Protestant body that gave it room to grow.