Ruby Clark wants to help. Shortly after CDF established a new orthodoxy for the NACC, this twenty-year-old “activist” *(and daughter of a CDF employee) addressed the crowd during one of the convention’s main sessions. Clark advised the Restoration Movement of its first order of business:
“Imagine you’re at your church, what would it look like if you started to empower the young women in your church? To say, ‘I see value and you can do this and you can be all that God has called you to be.'”
She goes on to say that, “In 2 Corinthians 12 the Holy Spirit is talking about how He is dividing up the spiritual gifts, right? A lot of you guys know that, we’re church people, and it talks about how the Holy Spirit is giving them out not based on your gender, your race, what you’ve done . . . So what if that was what our posture was?”
That Christian churches across the country already “empower young women” (and young men) with “practical opportunities” to become “all that God has called them to be,” seems not to have occurred to Ms. Clark. Nor did it seem to matter that the Restoration Movement had been developing young leaders for years through Christ In Youth conferences, church camps, youth-led mission trips, youth ministries, Bible colleges, and college-age programs – or that the young-adult ministry she alluded to attending herself had existed for decades. Making the mistake of judging the entire RM based solely on the narrow political opinions of her mentors, Clark, no doubt assumed the worst of her audience.
And as ham-fisted and clumsy as her commentary on scripture was, a crude and obvious blend of self-involvement and social justice, it probably would have gone down a lot better had Clark bothered to actually look-up and read the scripture she authoritatively referenced. Had she done so, she would have discovered that spiritual gifts are not discussed in 2 Corinthians 12 . . . but 1 Corinthians 12. One wonders whether she considered the matter long enough to even do a cursory search of the Bible, let alone read the actual passage she claimed to exposit.
The whole thing was, as is so often with Millennials, all about her.
More notably, Ms. Clark’s activism signaled that convention leaders have migrated from asking for doctrinal tolerance to pleading for doctrinal compliance.
All of this raises a question, when is it okay to stop supporting the NACC?
In an online article entitled “A Plea For The Restoration Movement” posted this month by the Christian Standard, newly appointed publisher, Jerry Harris, (also Director of The Solomon Foundation – a financial institution founded in 2010 by a former CDF President) defines the Restoration Movement as:
“1.3 million members, 5,300 churches, 18,000 ministry professionals, 20,000 students in undergrad and grad schools, 900 missionaries, 48 colleges and universities, $1.3 billion invested and put to work in our extension funds, and the largest gathering of church planters in the world.”
In other words, he demonstrated the boundaries of our movement by its people, investors, academic degrees, real estate holdings, buildings, and financial assets, rather than by its beliefs.
That’s fine with me, I suppose. But in his plea, he describes the RM as one of any number of “tribes” (read denominations) each of which considers its beliefs to be authoritative.
And that’s correct. Every “tribe” has its own beliefs. But the specifics matter. It’s a bit like saying every doctor believes he has the power to heal – sure, but some doctors are greater than others. A great surgeon and a sub-standard surgeon may possess the same degree of education and training, yet be unequal in the quality and desirability of their talent. In fact, the latter can cause you great harm – up to, and including, death. So it is shocking that Mr. Harris et al. would blithely reduce all biblical doctrines to the same half-off discount-bin which are then rolled out at our national convention and sold to any of our churches credulous enough to take them.
Are our beliefs really no better than any other? Are they worth defending only because they are ours?
It seems the current overseers of our convention and, now, our national periodical believe exactly that. Furthermore, the implied message is: there is no such thing as bad doctrine, only badly managed churches.
So, just how “Restoration Movement” is today’s NACC? This is a question that has been wrestled with for sometime. The NACC is very much part of the Restoration Movement, but with recent changes, both culturally and spiritually, it is becoming very much another thing entirely. CDF bought the convention in the late 1990’s, which ushered in a gradual but steady Californication of its customs and doctrine. Midwestern Christians have struggled mightily to hold on to the convention’s heritage and beliefs, but issues of false doctrine and private notions of disfellowship persist, to some extent, even today.
As an expat from the Midwest now permanently residing in Los Angeles, I have a unique perspective which helps me understand a little bit of what many in our brotherhood feel is at stake. Don’t get me wrong, I love California “from Oakland to Sactown, the Bay Area and back down,” I lean west coast – hard. But I am also enormously sympathetic to those, back east, who are concerned about the future.
Forget dystopian scenarios of Universalism or a national Ecumenical religious order. What if the NACC just had the social and political priorities of say . . . the United Methodist Church?
Take, for instance, 2017 NACC main-session speaker Kevin Haah, a former lawyer turned CDF church planter, who lets down his guard here in an online article regarding homosexuality in which he reveals:
“There are some ambiguities, and therefore, reasonable people can disagree about this . . . the Romans 1 passage is reasonably clear that homosexual relationship is not within God’s will.”
However, he adds accommodatingly: “This should not be a big issue in our relationship with God. God cares more about justice, mercy, grace, love, helping people who are in need, and sharing the gospel of Jesus. We are all on a journey together. We must listen, stop judging one another, and love and support one another.”
It should be noted that the NACC, only three years ago – using the rationalization that “reasonable people can disagree” – overturned an entire history of Complementarianism.
One wonders what’s next.
Sadly, this social justice bias seemed to permeate every other message on the main stage at this summer’s convention. In fact, during the 7 for 7 session there was only a single discordant note – Pastor Reggie Epps. Pastor Reggie, after admitting his discomfort with the “This Is For Everyone” theme, warned that while “the grace-call to enter the kingdom is for everyone, no one enters on their own terms” . . . . “Radical Grace” through “Radical Faith” leads to “Radical Changes.”
It was a clear call to faithfulness in an otherwise bleak assembly of confusing voices. The fact that he was the only individual on stage who did not applaud Ms. Clark’s Egalitarian agenda, only added another layer of awkwardness to the whole affair.
In any case, many have conceded, grudgingly, to remain a part of the convention – for the sake of the brotherhood. And if I didn’t know and love these people, I would say that this is all terribly wrongheaded. But I am more than confident that my colleagues and peers do believe that sound doctrine matters – their continued support of the “everybody’s special” school of divinity notwithstanding. While some acknowledge that a relationship between sound doctrine and support for this convention should exist, they can’t quite bring themselves to stop loving this longstanding national gathering – and I get that.
But I continue to hold that beliefs say a lot about a person, a church, and a movement. Change the doctrine, you change everything. It sounds spiritual to say that evangelistic culture is more important than beliefs. But what shapes evangelistic culture? Well, a lot of things. But very near the top of the list are beliefs. Change the beliefs and you change the nature of evangelism itself.
So let’s be honest, how can there be no bad beliefs, only bad churches? Don’t bad churches, often, reflect the shortcomings of their doctrines? Isn’t this why Paul charges Timothy and Titus no less than five times within 13 chapters of pastoral epistles to preach and teach sound doctrine while being on guard for those who don’t ?
Which brings me back to the whole notion of how our movement is defined. Are we defined by our physical and material resources or are we defined by our shared beliefs?
The article on unity by Harris is all well and good, I suppose. But it leaves out the context of his larger project to elevate crowd-building into an all encompassing organizing principle. His appeal is based on potential resources and influence. Appeals to join our movement could be based on ideals, but usually they are not. They are simply appeals to a form of religious populism, which says we’re right because we’re bigger, richer, and more prestigious. But consider this, appeals to join our brotherhood based on sound doctrine helps a church to act in accordance with its best self, as demonstrated by Christlikeness. Imagine that.
So, it’s fine to say you’re going to continue to support the RM through its national convention. But you know what? It’s also fine to say you won’t.
*Note: since the publishing of this post, the CS article referencing Ruby Clark as an activist has been changed. While activist is still mentioned in the article, it is no longer clear to whom it refers.
Terry Sweany serves as Senior Minister of Playa Christian Church. He received his Bachelor’s in Christian Ministry from Cincinnati Christian University and a Master’s in Marriage, Family, & Child Counseling from Hope International University. He and his wife, Patty, reside in West Los Angeles.