Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 22, 1958

The Tidewater Bible Forum

W. P. Risener, Uss Norfolk, Fpo, N. Y.

In reading the papers, I notice that brethren continue to wonder if "the gospel meeting" is still an effective means of teaching men the Word of God. Some, therefore, may be interested in the effort now being made by churches in the Norfolk, Virginia area.

When I was a child, in the part of the country where we lived almost everyone welcomed the opportunity to attend a "meeting," and unless the weather was bad, or a mad dog scare was on, we usually had good attendance at these gatherings. Now the problems of attendance are many and complex. Perhaps no one could analyze all of them, or recommend an effective cure.

The Tidewater Bible Forum, with Brother James D. Willeford doing the speaking, and Pat Boone present to lead the singing at the initial service, began April 13th and is to close the 24th. Seven churches, numbering about 500, are "sponsoring" the effort at a cost of $5,600; three congregations supplying $1,500 each, and another $500. The Norview church, I was told, received the money into their treasury, and handled the necessary details, assisted by members from the other churches appointed for that purpose.

The effort has been planned for at least a year and a half, and was very extensively advertised. Twenty-five large billboards were erected, and some twenty thousand pieces of printed matter were used, besides the advertising on television and radio. Telephone directory pages were assigned in order that those with phones could be called and invited. It was advertised that Pat Boone would be present to direct the singing at the opening service.

Also, special services were held to encourage the effort and pray for its success. All were deeply sincere and earnest, I'm sure, and it is doubtful if greater zeal could have been achieved.

One of the finest auditoriums in Norfolk, the Center Theater, arranged to seat about 1800, was rented for the occasion, and was filled to capacity at the opening service, some fifty to a hundred others being turned away.

Since I was not present at the initial service, the following account from The Virginian-Pilot, of April 14th, is quoted.

But Teen-Agers Squeal At Center Theater

BOONE SAYS, 'I COME NOT AS SINGER' NORFOLK — The Tidewater Bible Forum, with an able assist from entertainer Pat Boone, packed the Center Theater to capacity Sunday afternoon.

There was standing room only in the 1,700-seat theater, and some of that was taken, as hundreds of teen-age fans joined more obviously worshipful members of the audience.

Boone, who told the audience, "I come not as a singer" but as a Christian, evoked a squealing reception when he first appeared on the stage.

Except for frequent popping of flash bulbs, that was the only incident during the Church of Christ-sponsored service.

But as Boone left the theater immediately after the service, restraint was thrown to the winds. "I touched him! I touched him!" squealed a young girl as police whisked him through a crowd of a couple of hundred persons to a waiting taxi.

The article further mentions that four songs were led by Brother Pat, and quotes him as follows: "My own membership in the Church of Christ is the most important thing in my life, . . . I come as one interested in your souls, and I hope you are here because you are interested in your souls."

In an interview, he was reported as saying that being a "teen-age idol" gives him a "great feeling, a feeling of responsibility — and opportunity." His advice to young people: "Educate your conscience and live by it." He was reported as thinking that rock and roll is here to stay, and that it does not contribute to juvenile delinquency. The article reported him as saying that before becoming a success he had been interested in preaching, teaching and singing, but that the first two fields are now remote, "but still possible."

According to the article, he has not made up his mind about the movie kiss. He was reported to have said that it is a mistake that he won't kiss a young lady if the scene is wholesome, that he only asked for time to think, and has not made up his mind about it.

The article closes with the following: "Boone left a package of autographed pictures to be distributed after his departure. The pictures drew about as much enthusiasm as the singer himself. An officer passing them out was mobbed.

"The enthusiasm seemed to be genuine. No one could be found who was willing to swap a Boone picture for one of Elvis Presley."

In sharp contrast with this scene, however, was the picture presented at the second service, Monday evening. There were perhaps 250 present, all of whom could have been very comfortably seated in the center section of seats on the main floor of the auditorium. By Saturday night the number had diminished to about 120, but was back up to about 180 the following Monday evening, which was the last service I could attend, due to the departure of my ship from Norfolk.

I have no desire to be unkind, especially to my brethren, and I do not write these things as one unmindful of the problems we face in our efforts to proclaim the gospel by means of a series of meetings. I hope none will think evil of me, or imagine vain things.

During these nine days, the weather was splendid, and Bro. Willeford did some excellent preaching, especially, I thought, on the two Monday evenings — on the last of which, his subject was, "Why we sing and do not play." He clearly and positively affirmed that we must "prove what is that good, and acceptable - - - will of God," by command, approved example, or necessary inference. Brother Willeford spoke with courage, and yet with kindness, dealing, at times, with subjects no longer popular in some circles, and he did his part in a commendable way. During this period two came forward, one confessing sins, and one to be baptized.

Let no one conclude, however, that I believe churches may, by divine authorization, join themselves together into such an arrangement as this and do such work. Aside from the question of Bible authority, I seriously question the wisdom and practicality of such a joint effort and the kind of "enthusiasm" evidently prevailing at the initial service, however sincere and earnest the brethren involved; and I know of no way to "prove" that such an arrangement is good, and acceptable as the will of God, if one follows the rules on how to establish Bible authority, which Bro. Willeford so clearly set forth in explaining "why we sing and do not play'