A Conversation Between the Churches of Christ and the International Churches of Christ
Note: Although I was not present at the Abilene lectureship, I believe a good few of my readers will be interested in the following report.
We have just returned from what we feel was a very profitable dialog with several in the Churches of Christ (COC). Each year Abilene Christian University (ACU) holds its Lectureship on campus in Abilene, Texas. This year they invited four ICOC ministers to join them for a conversation about the ICOC and its recent events, which would include three one-hour sessions covering three days. It was a great experience, and we believe that much good was accomplished. More than 40 ministers and elders from various ICOC congregations were present for the Lectureship and were very positive about the proceedings. Gordon Ferguson, Al Baird, Gregg Marutzky, and Mike Taliaferro spoke with Jack Reese, Terry Smith, Jim Woodruff and John Wilson of the COC. We all met privately on Saturday for prayer and conversation. That was an extremely positive meeting. The Lectureship started Sunday night, and our forum began on Monday afternoon.
Day One included just the moderator, Mark Love, on the stage with the four of us in the ICOC before an audience of about 1500. We each presented a few opening remarks -- six minutes each. We noted that we were not speaking for the ICOC as a whole, nor did they speak for the COC as a whole. Each man spoke for himself. Al talked about our history, Gordon talked about our mistakes, Mike summarized our successes, and Gregg talked about the changes taking place in the ICOC as a result of the last year and a half. We expressed our regrets and recounted our mistakes. We apologized for not listening when they had voiced their concerns. We also reaffirmed our dream for evangelizing a lost world, and that dream is very much alive. The response of the audience was simply amazing. They were VERY kind and gracious. They clapped, said amen, and afterward swarmed to the front to encourage us. We were very moved by their warmth and the grace they poured out on us.
Day Two, the four COC panelists took the stage with us and made their opening remarks. They apologized for being judgmental, and they also apologized for having called us a cult. They promised to stop the name calling and the stereotyping of our churches. We were overwhelmed with their humility and love. Many openly cried. We were all very moved at their grace and willingness to forgive and move on.
Day Three was a conversation about the future. We each dreamed about where these talks might take us. Both sides affirmed that this was not at all a declaration of a merger. We acknowledged differences in our two fellowships of churches which include both our church culture as well as doctrine. We did not have time to discuss publicly those differences. But we each felt that there was a new spirit between us'a spirit of good will and humility toward one another. As Dr. Money (ACU president) noted in his opening remarks, we did not come to merge but to converse.
What does all this mean practically? For starters it means that we made many new friends. We began the healing of past hurts. We opened up lines of communication. It does not mean a merger. Day Three included many points of caution. There were warnings about being too euphoric. No one is about to start holding joint services. No one even recommended that our leaders knock on the doors of all the COC leaders in our town. Differences are real. We did, however, discuss the need and desire to get to know each other. Mike Taliaferro made the comment that while we aren't getting married, this was a nice first date! We in the ICOC expressed several areas in which we could learn from them. This included academic study, an obvious strength of theirs, praise worship and spiritual formation. They acknowledged our successes in evangelism and church planting, as well as our overall zeal for the lost. We left with a great spirit between us, committed to deepening the friendships begun there in Abilene. We were very impressed with the COC panelists. We want to underline their sincerity and integrity. They were very kind and loving, yet still very honest with their questions when we spoke in private. Publicly they were very gracious.
May God take the results of these three days together and lead us forward.
Gordon Ferguson, Gregg Marutzky, Al Baird, Mike Taliaferro