A primary objective of this article is to awaken our brethren to the stern reality that formidable foes are stalking the conservative churches of Christ. They clearly identify themselves with their proposals to alter and to change the organization, worship, practices and biblical traditions of the conservative churches of Christ. Their proposals are not generally well understood because they have been less than candid to divulge what they have in mind.
An inflexible minority of "scholarly" brethren and such popular pulpiteers as Mike Cope are determined to replace what they call the old hermeneutic -"precept, apostolic example, and necessary inference"-with a new hermeneutic which they do not define. They have spoken much of the "paradigm" versus the "pattern" in referring to the model, or pattern for churches of Christ. With the same token, when they also talk volubly about parameters and perimeters, we have a clearing picture of their intentions.
This matter was clarified and laid on the table by two of our astute "scholars"-Michael R. Weed and Gary Holloway who put it all down in black and white in a paper which was read May 56, 1995 during the Second Annual Forrest K. Kirkpatrick Seminar for StoneCampbell historians sponsored by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville.
The HollowayWeed paper was titled The Gospel in Urban Vessels: Churches of Christ Face the TwentyFirst Century. Holloway and Weed obviously endorse the FosterHughes contention that the "Church of Christ" denomination started as an exclusive sect in the early 19th century. Both reject the biblical doctrine of the apostolic pattern of the church.
Instead they allege that the "'Churches of Christ" have societal origins. The HollowayWeed paper proposes three options as possible replacement models (paradigms) for the churches of Christ as they enter the 21st century. Holloway and Weed name three opt ions, or models which churches of
Christ could adopt in part or whole, and which are already adopted in some churches.
The models are namely: The Willow Creek Community Church model; (2) the Vineyard (Third Wave Pentecostal) Movement model; and (3) the "Neoconservative," or "moderates" which identify with postmodern theology. The rank and file of churches of Christ have no understanding of the structure of the three proposed models. To be sure, the better informed "change agents" do.
I propose over the next several months to explain in simple terms what we are talking about when we refer to the Willow Creek Community Church, the Vineyard Movement (Third Wave) Pentecostal movement, and the "neoconservative," or "moderates." We have over the past year dwelt at length with postmodern theology. This is the theology which comes after Barth, Bultmann, and Tillich.
It is imperative, to weed out these noxious plants, that we recognize these destructive influences. It can not only be done, it can be easily done. The best way to learn is to go to those who know the most about these matters.
The current bibliography is set up that we may understand the latest church "crazes"' sweeping through the churches like wildfire. Then we can understand what the Willow Creek Community Church is all about and how it operates. The bibliography can be easily accessed in college and large public libraries. The search is worth the time and effort, and besides the documentation becomes one's personal property. There are some matters too complex to be spoon fed.
The most significant of these sources are:
<ol>[*]The New York Times (Sunday, April 16, 1995) carried a series of four special articles on the Willow Creek Community Church. The first article is titled "Where ShoppingMall Culture Gets a Big Dose of Religion."
</li>[*]The New York Times Magazine (July 21, 1996, Section Six), "The Capitalist: God in the Packaging." The lead sentence is: "A few years back the Harvard Business School gave its blessing to the Willow Creek Community Church. In this flattering case study, it was shown how in less than fifteen years, Willow Creek had grown from a hole in a wheat field in Illinois into the largest church in America.
</li>[*]By far, the Atlantic Monthly (August, 1996) carries the most penetrating and definitive feature article titled "Welcome to the Next Church," written by Charles Truehart on the Willow Creek Community Church and other similar churches. The names on the packaging are different, but the content is the same. Kindred churches using the megamarket packaging of religion wear such names as Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Mariners Church, and the Church of the Open Door.
</li>[*]Coming from the religious side of the picture, an article was published duly 18, 1994 in Christianity Today titled "Selling Out the House of God" with a decidedly negative, if not unfriendly, approach. Bill Hybel, the genius who brought his Willow Creek dream to reality, answered a series of critical questions put to him by Michael Maudlin and Howard Gilbreath from Christianity Today. The Willow Creek Community Church is singled out as the undisputed prototype of this new pop 'Shoppingmall culture" organized church where the biggest doses of this makeyoufeelgood religion are dispensed.
</li>[/list]Max Lucado was the first to give a glowing and approving report of the Willow Creek Community denomination in the 1993 January/February issue of Wineskins. He endorses the doctrine that there are Christians in all churches regardless of beliefs, practices, and denominational distinctions. Jeff Walling is the debonair front man who goes across the country selling the "community church" concept. He delivered a series of lectures during Jubilee '96 under the title A Truly Community Church. I listened attentively to him. He divulged absolutely nothing about the parent Willow Creek Community Church. Nor do any of this ilk.
The only bona fide community church in the Nashville area is the Hendersonville Community Churches. The Masons are no more secretive than the Church of Christ community churches who leave the false impression that they form an open religious society. My big question to the Hendersonville Church of Christ Community Church is: "What are your official ties to the Willow Creek Community Church Association?" Don't tell me you have none.
We ask Doug Varnado of Hendersonville Community Church: Does your church belong to the parachute organization called the Willow Creek Association whose church memberships number 70 denominations with a total of 1700 churches? Harold Hazelip and Carl McKelvey preach in your pulpit. The churches of Christ in the Nashville area are entitled to know this much. And before you and your kind further milk the churches of Christ tell us really who you are?
I have the resources of David Lipscomb University, and Vanderbilt libraries and their professional librarians who assist my research efforts. My purpose is to put the fear of God into the liberals lest they should be so foolhardy as to question my sources.
We are now at the fork of road as church leaders will either opt for the liberal image or remain committed to the patterns of New Testament Christianity.
Published January 1997