Monday, April 28, 2008


So how can I support a building project...

In my last post I shared my reservations about our building project. Yet I stood with the other elders and endorsed our decision to proceed with the entire project at one time, financing it with a combination of gifts, pledges, bonds, and loans. In addition, Marsha and I have pledged to give to this project and are doing so. It is fair to know why I support this project.

...Our decisions as elders are unanimous, even if the vote is not. The only way I would not be part of a unanimous decision after voting against it would be something that absolutely violated my conscience. This does not.

... My fellow elders are convinced that this is a wise stewardship decision. I would have to be pretty arrogant to believe I am smarter than they are.

... This eldership believes this is an act of faith and that this is the direction God would have us to go. I believe in this eldership and I support them. I submit to them.

...If we are going to be a church that reaches out into the community, and if we are going to be evangelistic, this project provides a number of physical facilities that will support this type of ministry.

... I am convinced we are getting as much "bang for the buck" as possible. This is a functional, no frills facility.

...The Visioneering group that designed this plant are faith based and they took on this project as a ministry.

... They have been very environmentally conscious.

... I do believe there are people who will give sacrificially to this project when they might not give to any other project.

... I do believe others see this as a great leap of faith. Just because I don't see it that way does not mean it is not true for others.

... Our elders are committed to not cutting missions to build buildings.

... If we use this resource to reach out into our community, this could mean supporting local missionaries (community service, evangelism, counselors, Hispanic outreach, , spiritual formation and discipleship, additional preaching ministers, etc.). And these would be to train us in these efforts, not do them for us. Our elders are committed to doing whatever it takes to reach our community with the good news of Jesus.

So...we are supporting the building. Would I have made this decision? Probably not, but I don't believe churches grow when one man leads them and/or makes all the decisions -- even if that one man was me. I believe in elder led churches. Our elders, including me, are leading us. I'm going to follow them in this.

You are welcome to respond or to ask questions.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


To build or not to build...

OK. Because several of you asked about it, I am going to take a couple of posts to explain how I can be personally opposed to building projects yet still stand up with the other elders here at Southern Hills and not only support it but ask others to give. Not only that, but Marsha and I have committed to give to this project.

Let me start by sharing my reservations about this project. Just do me a favor and be sure and read the next post to see why I support it.

First of all, it bothers me to invest in a complex like we envision when I realize how many missionaries we could support, how many hungry could be fed, how many Bibles given out, and what a difference that money could make right here in Abilene. However, some of the building financing will be with bonds and loans and I am not sure that is the way to support missions and service projects.

I am uncomfortable with the way building projects get couched in terms like "leap of faith", "step out in faith", etc. If the great leaps of faith made by this eldership and church are building projects, we ought to be ashamed.

We continue to set this project in the context of reaching Abilene with the gospel. Buildings have never led anyone to Jesus. If we do not reach out to people now, a more inviting complex will simply be a better building no one comes to. If we are not doing it now, a building will not change it.

I wonder about people who see this as a "new and wonderful" project, the likes of which have never been seen before. I have grown up in the church of Christ and trust me, building projects are nothing new in our fellowship. That is the one thing we consistently do well. And we always act as if it the fulfillment of the Great Commission. There may be wonderful and exciting aspects to this project, but it is still just a building.

This is a mega church project (at least for Abilene), and I am not sure we are a mega-church. Or if we want to be. Or if we even should be.

No matter what we say, buildings tend to be about giving us the glory, not God. In fact, buildings generally are about us, not God. It is the old "edifice" complex.

Finally, to be so intense about restoring the church of the New Testament... we sure are "building happy". The first century church was not.

Next time I'll share why in spite of all this, I am supporting the project.

Feel free to respond to any of my concerns.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Music and praise

Church music: did we get it right or wrong? I have been wrestling with this for some time, but I think by and large we in the churches of Christ have gotten this one right. Our people sing. One of the things that continually amaze visitors is our singing. Much of that has to do with the fact that we sing a cappella, without instruments.

I know we have struggled with this issue. While I do not think our fellowship split with the Christian church over this issue, it was a real and visible difference. We are now going thru the same discussions. Some in our heritage seemed to make the use of instruments a salvation issue. Wrong. And certainly some made it an issue of fellowship. Not sure we got that right either. So I wish we hadn't made singing a theological issue. It was never designed for that.

But don't let the wrong emphasis negate the things that we got right about worship music. We have been one of the major influences in preserving a cappella music. I do think that is the purest form of praising God in song. It is one of the areas where other groups solicit our advice. They wish they could get their people to sing like we do. We have kept worship praise a participatory event, we have made it more of a one another teaching experience, and we have made it a key element of our assemblies.

It fascinates me that as we wrestle with moving away from our a cappella heritage, groups that have traditionally used instruments are seeking to incorporate a cappella in their assemblies. A cappella music will be one of the hot new worship trends in evangelical circles in the next few years.

By the way, I still think we are getting it right. I think praise teams have helped maintain our a cappella tradition and have helped worship be more "one another".

Just my thoughts. Feel free to comment on this issue, or to share other things you think we have gotten right. I will start on what I think we have gotten wrong in the next week or so.

Thursday, April 17, 2008



One of the great strengths of the church of Christ as a fellowship is our elevation of Scripture to a place of high importance. One of the things I most cherish about my heritage is the Scripture I have learned. Yes, I know we have sometimes made Scripture a proof text. And sometimes we have been legalistic with it. But you cannot fight about the meaning of Scripture like we do unless you know the Word and place high value on what it says. If we didn't care what God said, we would not be so passionate about what it means.

Even our religious friends who thought we were narrow minded and exclusive acknowledged that we knew the Scripture. They would argue positions based on the teaching of their church or what they felt in their heart. We would argue from Scripture (whether we interpreted it rightly or not we still were in the text).

I love the fact that we had people in the pew who were Bible scholars. I love it that we had Bible class, not Sunday school. I love it that we were known as a people of the book. I love it that our preachers and youth ministers were mainly Bible majors at our colleges.

I worry that we may be losing this. I am concerned that most of the people who want to do ministry now, major in that ministry and not in the text. Will the next generation of preachers know the Word? Will we be known as a people of the book in twenty years?

The one thing that gives me great hope is the number of university students who bring their Bibles to church. And use them. I like the fact that in HIP they open the text with me. They like preaching out of the Word.

So I ask you... are we still a people of the Book?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008



Baptism. It is one of the things that most defines us as a fellowship. And I think we have gotten it right.

OK, let me get the out of the way the things we have not done well on baptism. Sometimes our practice made it seem as if was a work we had to do to get to heaven. Sometimes it became such a focus that many of our children did it because everyone else did, or they wanted everyone off their back, or it was just something you did if your were raised "Church of Christ".

We probably emphasized forgiveness of sins so much that we neglected the gift of the Holy Spirit. The five step plan of salvation many of us grew up on was horrible. It fostered the idea of baptism as a "step" instead of a commitment. And I still cringe when we baptize children so young they cannot even sit thru worship.

In spite of all that, we in the churches of Christ got it right. The idea that you could be a Christian without baptism is a relatively recent doctrine that primarily took root in the United States. For centuries that would not have even been considered. We continued to hold baptism as the response of faith for someone who was lost.

I am so pleased that it is our fellowship even today leading the way on emphasizing the place of baptism as sharing the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are using the terminology of dying and being crucified with Christ. We have held to the practice of immersion, which I believe is the New Testament pattern.

We are helping to mold evangelical thought on this subject. More and more community and evangelical churches are moving to a position of baptism very similar to what we have taught. We are a position to help them see God's teaching on this.

It will be incredibly ironic if, in our rush to not seem exclusive, we abandon our traditional position on baptism. How tragic if the evangelical world moves closer and closer to a strong position on baptism while we move away from it. I do wonder if that is where we are headed. I hear preachers who say they personally believe it is essential, but if you don't see it that way, we are still brothers.

Personally, I hope God saves those who are not baptized. He is God and he can save anyone he wants. And I would spend more time talking to other believers about unity and less time reading the Scriptures, I could even teach that. But I don't see where God says that. So I am first obligated to speak what I think God said in his word. Not what I think he must mean.

And baptism is different than other doctrinal issues. It is fundamental to the gospel. It is how we are crucified with Christ. Most doctrinal disagreements come under the description of family arguments. This one is about how you become a member of the family.

I still count the day I baptized my children (and my son in law) as the happiest days of my life. Not because they became members of the "Church of Christ", but because they committed their lives to Jesus and were crucified, buried, and raised to new life. I am thankful for those who have gone before me and helped shape my thinking on this.

Two last thoughts: those evangelical churches who are now baptizing non-believers are my brothers and sisters in the Lord. Second, if we abandon this core teaching...we will not exist as a fellowship in just a few years. But there will be the family of God and they will be baptizing new converts. Just as they did in Acts. It will be a shame if it is not us.

Your thoughts are welcome.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Lord's Supper

I think our treatment of the Lord's Supper is one of the great legacies of our fellowship. We have maintained a high theology of Communion. I know we have struggled to come to grips with how to do it effectively. I know that because of our emphasis on weekly observance it has sometimes become routine. But we have consistently elevated it as central to our life together as the body of Christ.

I am intrigued to see others in the evangelical movement begin to put more emphasis on this activity. Many are moving to some form of weekly observance. Churches of Christ have been the leading voice to keep the remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus at the center of our gathering.

Do we have problems with it? Certainly. We have emphasized weekly observance so much that by default we have not really evaluated more frequent participation. We have wrestled with making it communal among believers. And sometimes our practice has shown more importance on the sermon than the Supper.

We have a tendency to be critical of our heritage. I for one appreciate our emphasis on the Lord's Supper. It is the visible expression of the gospel for the believer. It is the core that brings us together as a body of believers.

I think we have gotten it right. Not perfect...but right.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Mimi's best birthday ever...

Marsha turned 55 Sunday. Those of you that know us are aware that we are not hung up on age. Marsha still looks good and we just don't get bent out of shape about numbers. Joe Don and Jamie brought Anna and Andrew down to spend the weekend. Julie, Bobby, Jake and Avery spent most of the weekend with us.

She loved it. Saturday morning she and Anna did breakfast together. Then we all went to the zoo, followed by Mr. Gattis. That night we had family and small group (who might as well be family) together for a party at El Fenix. What a great day. Then on Sunday we all went to church together, followed by family pictures (thanks Tammy Marcelain) after church.

It was a great weekend for Marsha. She loves family and she is perfectly content to get to be Mimi to her four grandkids. But I have to tell what she said was her favorite memory of the whole weekend. On Saturday night when I said "Let's pray", both Jake and Anna immediately folded their little hands and bowed their heads. Mimi said it filled her heart with joy to know that our kids are passing on their faith. They are raising the next generation of believers in our family. What a heritage.

God is good. Happy birthday Mimi.

Friday, April 04, 2008


7 Days of Prayer

Last Monday at 7 AM on the campus of ACU, a number of students, staff, and Christians around Abilene began a week of 24 hour around the clock prayer. This effort is student led and organized. There is a tent with stations, journals, maps, art pads, Bibles, and other aids to praying.

It was my privilege to speak this morning to a tent full of students and faculty about the power of prayer that enabled the first century church to boldly proclaim the message of Jesus to the whole world.

I hope we will do something similar at Southern Hills.

I can only imagine what God will do thru this. He will take ordinary men and women and do extraordinary things. Already during this time he has worked in the lives of individual students as they have made commitments to battle sin in their lives, or to speak to friends about Jesus, or to live radical lives for him in this world.

I was impressed by the passion and commitment for Jesus I saw among these students. It made me fired up to see what great things God will do next in my life.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Church of Christ Heritage...

Since I seem to have many discussions about what we as a fellowship have done wrong, or right, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and opinions about this subject over the next few weeks.

First, let me say that I was raised in the church of Christ. I grew up under the preaching of Hulen Jackson - one of the most well known local preachers of the 60's and 70's. My dad served for years as a deacon and then for several years as an elder. I graduated from ACU with a degree in Bible and a Masters in Restoration History. I worked in full time ministry in churches of Christ for many years, and now serve as elder at Southern Hills. I work at the Herald of Truth. For years I have talked to church of Christ college students about their heritage, their spiritual journeys, and how they see the future. So I think I have some basis for the opinions I hold about the strength and weakness of our fellowship.

I am not a pessimist concerning the church. I think many of the issues we struggle with, whether doctrinal or practical, are not going to determine whether we survive as a fellowship. I think God will determine that. I am not worried if the church of Christ as we know it today does not last for another twenty years. The church of Christ as God knows it will certainly survive, and thrive, until Jesus comes again.

I think we have gotten some things right. In fact, much of evangelical Christianity is coming to embrace some doctrinal issues we have always maintained. I am not sure that is due to our influence. I think it may be more due to the fact that these positions are Biblical and right.

I think we have gotten some things badly wrong. Some of these are so ingrained that they threaten our existence in our current form.

So, I'll share some of these over the next few weeks. Feel free to go ahead and start your own list. We'll see if they match.

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