Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 17, 1969
NUMBER 49, PAGE 2b-3,5b

"Imaginative Works" And "Creativity" At Madison

Sewell Hall

Recently, in an article appearing in this journal, we suggested that Dallas' First Baptist Church as described by Time, occupied the end of the long road that many brethren are now travelling. But between the writing of the article and its appearance, another far more knowledgeable observer (Norman Vincent Peale and Guidepost magazine) cited quite a different church as leading the way on the Positive Thinking road. His nomination was none other than the Madison, Tennessee church of Christ.

"Spiritual Creative Beyond The Normal Reach Of Religion"

To positive thinking Dr. Peale, the "normal reach of religion" encompasses many things indeed. Yet the Madison church is cited as one which goes beyond that. And when you read the complete list of activities "carried on by the church" the citation is understandable. As Guidepost observes, their projects are "almost uncountable." As listed in the Nashville Banner they are:

Sunday School Hospital Visitation Zone Committees Kindergarten

Furniture Workshop & Warehouse Mission Christian Retirement Home Library

Homes for Orphan Children Maintenance Printing and Mail Room Home Bible Study

Jail Work and Preachers Food Room Women's Sewing Communications

Building Committee Scouting Zone Committees Kindergarten

Bible Camp Bus Ministry Hospitality Art

Ladies' Visitation Finance Little Angels, a class for retarded children

In addition to all of this, Guidepost adds word of a "church sponsored class" in millinery design and a "Thursday School, a scheme whereby children are looked after from 9 to 5 o'clock while their frazzled, overworked mothers get a day off to do simply what they want — shop, go to the beauty parlor, a movie or maybe just rest."

We would certainly agree that most of these activities are, indeed, beyond the normal reach even of modern religion. This classifies them precisely: they are simply non-religious, secular activities which Madison has attempted to sanctify by church sponsorship.

Much is made of the fact that 90% of the congregation "participate in some church sponsored activity each week in addition to attending services." But what does this prove? Where church sponsored activity includes everything from hat design and art to scouting and furniture manufacture, there is no proof of spirituality in such participation. Church sponsorship of secular activities does not sanctify the activity; it simply secularizes the church.

If 90% of the membership were attending Bible Study this would be more significant. But its much heralded "Sunday School Attendance" (2300) is less than 70% of its announced membership (3300) and less than 40% of its publicized Sunday morning attendance (6,000). No figures are given for Wednesday night. From this it would appear that at least 20% of the members are more interested in the "church sponsored activities" than in the Bible study.

"Imaginative Works" Beyond The Doctrine Of Christ

We would not, however, be concerned that these works are "beyond the normal reach of religion" were it not for the obvious fact that many of them are also beyond the teaching of Christ. And through it all, the words keep ringing in our ears: "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God." (II John 9)

It would be interesting to see the scripture cited to authorize the kindergarten, the Bible camp, the scout work, or the "Thursday School" to say nothing of the "church sponsored class" in art and millinery design.

The "Christian Retirement Home" is worthy of special notice. On a 42 acre sub-division owned by the Madison church, they plan to build 96 apartment units. According to the Gospel Advocate, couples or individuals over 62 years of age are offered "a lease for luxurious living... You select your home in the model. When you purchase your lease the home is yours for the rest of your natural life... Your name is placed on the door in a plaque and when you have gone to your reward the home stands as a monument to your memory as it is used by the Madison church of Christ in a program of care for retired preachers, widows, etc. There is a small service charge that takes care of routine upkeep on the grounds and houses."

What scripture could possibly authorize this? I Tim. 5 surely would not work. These "leases on luxury" are not for the poor, for those who live in them have to pay. They are not for widows alone. They have even gone beyond the age set in I Tim. 5; Madison's is three score and two. It is purely and simply a money raising business scheme such as that for which we have been rebuking the denominations for decades. But then, "Think of the joy of being a part of this delightful village owned by the largest church of Christ in the world."

The source of these works? Guidepost calls them "imaginative" and the product of "spiritual creativity." With that we are in hearty agreement, except that we would likely delete the word spiritual.

Fellowship Beyond the Family of God The night of the presentation, no distinction apparently was made between brethren, Baptists, Methodists, Dutch Reform, or what not. Baptist Bob Bell was master of ceremonies and Dr. Peale, Minister of the Dutch Reformed Marble Collegiate Church, spoke after an introduction by James Stahlman, publisher of the Nashville Banner.

According to the Banner, in his introduction of Dr. Peale, "Stahlman told the Madison church members `... You have invited to be your speaker here tonight a man who preaches what you and I believe in."' Was this accurate? Was it challenged?

Jesus and his disciples were particular about the kind of endorsement they received. Jesus "suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him." (Mark 1:34) Paul was grieved by the girl who had a spirit of divination who followed them crying, "These men are the servants of the most high God." (Acts 16:16-18) We are neither equating Dr. Peale with the devil nor implying that he has a spirit of divination. We are simply suggesting that before becoming so elated over an award it is wise to consider the source.

Is it really such an honor to receive an award from Norman Vincent Peale, a man who has so little real conception of the New Testament church? Is the praise of Guidepost so greatly to be desired when other stories in the same issue tell of a woman who had a vision of Jesus, of a man who saw a miracle in a coal mine, and of men who received a message from God during a period of silence?

Many who have known and loved Brother North and other brethren at Madison are deeply concerned with the course they are following. The writer and many far more able men would eagerly accept an opportunity to speak to them, searching the scriptures with them to determine how many of their projects are really scriptural. We do not wish to cavil or criticize. We are neither opposed to them because they are large nor jealous of them because they are successful. Our concern is for their souls. Will they allow to one of us, their brethren, the same privilege (without the fanfare, please) allowed the alien Dr. Peale? And if one of us were introduced as preaching what Madison believes, would the statement go unchallenged? Is it possible that they feel more sense of fraternity with him than with us?

Not An Isolated Case

Our chronic naivet led us to expect that brethren generally would not approve such flagrant departure from the divine pattern and the resulting award. But to our disappointment, we learned that the DLC Chorus sang at the program, the preacher from the West End church "gave the invocation... and Bill Ruhl, president of Goodpasture Christian School pronounced the benediction." Volume II of Churches of Today is dedicated to Madison. The Gospel Advocate, Christian Chronicle, and perhaps others glowingly reported the award; The Twentieth Century Christian is publishing a special issue featuring the Madison church.

Surely brethren who have thought that all the controversy of the past few years was a simple matter of a few orphan homes and a radio program will wake up to the fact that the identity of the Lord's church is on the line. It is not a time for saying, "I told you so." Nor is it a time for regrouping to defend past or present mistakes. It is a time for a humble, brotherly reinvestigation of the Father's will. It is a time for all men of conviction to "ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein." (Jeremiah 6:16)

— 108 French Way, Athens, Alabama