hree "Truth And Freedom Forums" were held in 1989: in Chattanooga, TN; in Irving, TX; and in Tampa, FL. There have been six Forums since the first one in West Memphis, AR, in 1987. Having attending all six, I feel that some evaluation and observations about them are in order and could be profitable.
These Forums were born of a need felt by Christians to come together for a few days of fellowship and learning, as well as to pose questions concerning various vital subjects of the Bible. We soon found that we had special things in common: 1) we were challenging the status quo, the "traditions of the Church"; 2) we were in conflict with the "powers that be," the authoritarian preachers and elders of "the Church" (some disciples had been ostracized); 3) we had discovered each other by reading and studying The Examiner, and 4) we found that there were literally thousands of Christians across the land that "felt the same way" about many of these important subjects.
The "Forum" is not an expression of a "movement," nor does it constitute a "new group," "church," etc. There is nothing "official" about it at all. It seems that some have trouble understanding that. We had one person come to the Forum in Tampa, evidently out of curiosity or out of a sense of "defending the truth." He repeatedly stated that "he was not a member of this group or movement." He reflected a certain attitude that says that individuals cannot come together even for a few days without becoming some kind of official group. We pointed out to him several times that the Forum was not called in order to advance a peculiar "group" or "movement," but just simply a means for Christians to come together for the expressed purpose of fellowship and edification.
I have heard Charles Holt and others state many times that we are not interested in "starting a new 'church' or beginning a new 'movement.'." We are keenly interested in providing a forum for honest and sincere discussion of pertinent Bible subjects, whether it be in meetings such as a Forum, or in The Examiner. Several of us feel very strongly that many ideas surrounding the concept of the "local church" are unscriptural. We would prefer that an open discussion and study be possible in every congregation across this land, but such is not permitted. In fact, the idea of free, open discussion is violently opposed. Therefore, brethren who are calling these things in question and asking for re-examination of certain traditions will resort to other measures to accomplish the task. Hence, the need for a magazine like The Examiner, and Truth and Freedom Forums.
Why is it we have such a difficult time understanding that Christians can come together without forming "something"? The disciples of the Scriptures didn't have that problem. We don't read about them forming organizations, entities, units, and such like. We can't read anything about a "local church" organization. God never described one, nor did He give instruction on how to "set one up." The ekklesia of the New Testament always referred to the people and never to a "something" in the abstract. It wasn't until around 200 AD that the word, ekklesia, was used in an institutional sense, and that by Clement of Alexandria. Brethren have been tripped up by the concept ever since. They have a hard time reading the Bible today without seeing the "institutional church." They see a group of Christians come together for the weekend in a Forum and they automatically think it has to be an official group. My, oh my.
The Forums have been set up to encourage open and free discussion. Usually, an assigned speaker talks for a short period and then answers questions posed from the floor. Both men and women are encouraged to enter into the discussion. Sometimes questions are asked and other times a fresh point is made that embellishes the theme. On occasion, differing points are made and for a limited time a debate ensues, but no one gets angry or "up tight." A wonderful spirit prevails. If I have heard it expressed once, I have heard it a dozen times: "It is so refreshing to be able to raise a question or make a point without the threat of reprisal!"
Generally, the people in attendance are "free-thinkers," meaning, they are not content to accept something just because a preacher or elder has said it is so. They study an issue for themselves. Sometimes it goes contrary to the "party-line" and they must question the teachers. Often this "questioning" has gotten them into difficulties with the "authorities," and has led to excommunication.
In my opinion, there are too many brethren who have given up. They have stopped insisting to be heard. They shrug the shoulders and say, "What's the use?" They end up occupying a pew and keeping their mouths shut. They know something is wrong, but they don't know what to do about it, and so ... they sit! The people who are attending the Forums have become sick and tired of sitting. Instead of doing nothing, they now are doing much in a constructive way. Some still remain with the Institutional Church, but others have "come out from among them" to begin new works .of ministry. It is refreshing ... it is exciting!
We live in an age when it is not acceptable to question the "traditions of the elders." Each "local congregation" has its own creed, written or unwritten. If someone questions a tenet of the creed, or suggests another possibility, it is considered "unsound," or a sign of weakness. "Major" differences cannot be, and are not, tolerated, and of course, the "powers that be" determine what the acceptable belief standard shall be. Anyone deviating from the standard will be ostracized. There is very little spirit of tolerance because that is perceived as being "unfaithful" to God. Better to be a "defender of the truth" and mow down all Christians who differ from you! On occasion, I have seen one with this disposition at a Forum, and have listened to him as he seems driven by an obsession to argue with everyone who differs the slightest with his point of view. He will not be satisfied until every Christian believes just as he does. So he will live out the rest of his days in absolute misery, not enjoying his freedom in Christ, but doomed to frustration and failure. Such are the works of the flesh! Thank God I can count on one hand the number of headstrong, self-willed, contentious persons who have attended any of the six Forums. Usually, they feel very, uncomfortable and end up not staying for the whole time.
Characteristically, what openness, what honesty, what tolerance, is found at the Forum, and I love it. It is beautiful to see brothers and sisters in the Lord, even in their differences, treating one another with loving kindness and respect. This is as it should be. This is the attitude that prevails among all God's people who are conscious of the charge "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Alas, this attitude is not prevalent in a number of so-called "local churches," where brethren are made afraid to question and are not allowed to differ from the "traditions."
How is it where you meet with the saints? Are you free to question the existing teaching on any subject? Can you differ with the teacher without being put to shame? Wouldn't it be nice if we could have open discussions again on the congregational level. This is healthy. But don't hold your breath. The clergy has too much at stake. They want it as it is and will fight to keep it so.
If you enjoy being with people who love one another, who love to study the scriptures and discuss His word openly and frankly, who love to sing and pray, who love the fellowship of the saints, then you need to be at the next Forum. To date, the next Forum is scheduled for West Memphis, AR on July 4-8, 1990. Put this down on your calendar and plan to be with this gathering of God's people. Blessings will come down!