REPORT FROM AN OUTSIDER
Last weekend, 31 October-2 November, hundreds of Christians converged on Gainesville, Florida, for a very large family reunion. This was the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Crossroads Church of Christ, the joint labor of Chuck Lucas, Sam Laing, and many others with the vision for dynamic campus ministries at the University of Florida, through which colleges nationwide and worldwide would be used by God for the spread of the gospel. And I had the thrill of attending. As an outsider.
Oh yes, there were others present not baptized at Crossroads -- spouses and children -- but I was a true outsider. A couple of my family members went to UF, and through the campus ministry launched from Gainesville by Wyndham Shaw, eventually I would be invited to know the Lord through a secondary outreach at Duke University (1977), but I was still an outsider. Yet warmly embraced. What did this outsider see?
Friday night of the Reunion, a fellowship meal was followed by a time of remembering the past. Dozens of brothers and sisters shared about how they were saved in Gainesville'some in the period 1967-73, when the young Chuck Lucas began the campus ministry at the 14th Street Church of Christ, others during the Crossroads years, from 1973 to 1987. They highlighted the basic biblical principles which kept them faithful for the past 25 or 35 years. They thanked those who had touched their lives. Moreover, this was not an 'ICOC' reunion. Present were members of at least four or five subgroups within the Churches of Christ. The vision of unity and reconnection was fueled by Reunion organizer Frank Bogle, elder statesman in the recently formed Gainesville Christian Church.
Saturday was one long party, as Gator fans -- the Gators are the UF American football team, for any international readers -- prepared mentally for the big game against the Georgia "Bulldawgs." (Hey, I wasn't the only Georgian in the room; it was somewhat comforting to see 5 or 10 non-Gator fans, against the hundreds of Florida supporters.) The Gators triumphed over the Dogs. Most people were so deep into the fellowship, though, to pay complete attention to the athletic struggle. Rather, we were struggling to reconnect, remember names and events, meet former members' children, and process the flood of emotion set loose the night before.
Sunday was phenomenal, a three-hour worship service followed by a Crossroads Singers concert. Chuck Lucas, now 65, shared from the heart, and spoke of "precious memories, and painful memories" Though he sees God's hand in all that has happened (Romans 8:28), he asked the church's forgiveness for serious sins and shortcomings during his time in Gainesville. He said, with tears and great courage, "I failed you, the church. And I failed God." He specifically identified such sins as pride, anger, and defensiveness. Those who know Chuck were deeply touched; over the past 18 years, he has obviously changed. The audience was profoundly moved, as I certainly was.
"Whatever the Lord is going to do with his church, I plan to be part of it," Chuck positively assured the audience of 800. He concluded by preaching of "God's unity platform" (Ephesians 4), emphasizing how the Holy Spirit is grieved by slander, and asking the much-needed question, "Can't we disagree on non-central issues?" A true unity message, superbly delivered.
Note: Chuck Lucas has been preaching and building a solid ministry in Thomasville, Georgia, for the past 18 years. Also, all of his children are strong disciples married to believers.
After communion, Sam Laing, beginning in Ezra 3:10-13 and (of course) Jeremiah 6:16 -- the "crossroads" passage -- called us to true restoration. He reminded everyone what made the Crossroads church strong: Jesus as Lord, every member evangelistic, one-another relationships, spirituality, and preaching and teaching the Bible. Sam called us to the fundamentals of faith and worship; he does not believe church has to be high-tech or highly structured in order to be successful. In his characteristic manner, he mixed humor with seriousness as he laid out the truth. The old Lucas-Laing combination was bringing light and hope to the church.
As always in the Crossroads tradition, the post-service fellowship was long! And personal. Most people remained for another thirty or forty-five minutes, even after the ushers had pushed us out.
Why was this reunion significant? Because it was the link between our common heritage in the Restoration Movement (from the early 1800s and onward) and the so-called "Boston Movement," which in time morphed into the ICOC, which itself is decentralizing, reshaping, rethinking, and re-envisioning itself. A return to true non-denominational Christianity -- that's what this weekend meant to me. A time of openness, tears, and reconnection. To omit the Crossroads story is to remove a vital chapter from our own heritage, one without which too many unanswered questions beg our attention, or else lead to simplistic answers.
At the service I had a guest with me, a fellow Duke student living in Gainesville, who used to be part of the fellowship. (He had lost touch with me for over 20 years, and "happened" to track me down a few days before the weekend. I had to invite him.) He, like many others, is closely watching our churches to see where this time of reform is leading. And he, like many of us, is not content with easy answers or platitudes. Deep questions demand biblical, spiritual, and consistent answers. Are we not all striving to emulate the Bereans of Acts 17?
The Crossroads Reunion was an event commemorating healing and resolution -- placing into perspective a vital and too-little-told chapter in the history of our churches -- and modeling sincere, brother-to brother, sister-to-sister, fellowship. For that, I was honored to attend. I sensed I was witnessing something historical'an event whose meaning transcended itself, and that bore witness to a number of deeper realities too many of us perhaps have forgotten.
Let us remember.