This program has been occurring each year, in early July, for about 5 years, in Nashville, right in the heart of "conservative" country. It has gotten a lot of attention but I don't think many realize what it indicates. It reflects a situation with which many readers of The Examiner would identify. In churches of Christ everywhere there is a hungering for more freedom in the matter of studying the Bible and a great many are searching for more spiritual meaning for their lives. This is being opposed by many "church leaders" who evidently want to retain an awful lot of control. They refer to Jubilee as apostasy, an outbreak of "heresy", and a departure from "the old paths".
In some ways Jubilee resembles the "Truth and Freedom" forums of the past decade, except that this one is on a very large scale. I am told that over 10,000 people registered there this year. The "keynote" speeches did not feature open discussion sessions but many of the classes did. Most of the speakers are men who do not say what traditional leaders want said, so they have been labeled by the "guardians of orthodoxy" as "heretics". Attempts have been made to "cast them out of the synagogue". A few have not been so labeled but they probably will be now after participating in this program.
This is the second straight year we have had our exhibit booth at Jubilee. We were privileged to hear some of the speeches, to fellowship with many of the speakers personally, and to talk with many among the huge number of people who came from all parts of the nation to attend. Since this event is being criticized by some churches of Christ and openly condemned by others, I would like you all to know more about what it is and what it signifies from one who has the first hand experience of being there and of knowing personally most of the speakers and others who head it up.
The uprising here is not against the "church" as such. These men preach in prominent churches of Christ and most of the people who attend are members. The program is hosted alternately by three of the most prominent churches of Christ in the Nashville area, Madison, Woodmont Hills, and Antioch. But within that framework a strong current has developed relating to a desire to recover "the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free" (Gal. 5: 1), and to avoid being in bondage to human opinion. The situation is very much the same in both the so called "Anti" camp and the so called "Liberal" camp. Both refer to themselves as "conservatives", but, as most of us have found out, they are not conservative in the sense of being tightly bound to the text of scripture. They are conservative in reference to their interpretations, their creed, in the sense of being unyielding. It seems not to matter whether scripture is contradicted. They seem to feel that they have the right, even the obligation, to compel everyone to reach the same conclusions they do. So they are not pleased with folks who do any independent thinking. What they call "conservatism" is actually sectarianism in an abusive form. It features a closed mind and an intolerant, judgmental attitude. It is no surprise that church leaders of this sort would condemn Jubilee and say all manner of evil things about it.
This year an interesting thing happened in that regard. The "Robertson County church of Christ", which I was told is an "anti" church, placed an ad in The Nashville Banner fiercely denouncing Jubilee. The content of that ad was picked up by the Tennessean and run as a news story on their front page. In this news story they also included an interview with Tom Holland, who is the preacher for the Crieve Hall congregation, a "mainline" church. I did not see the news story but I do have a copy of the ad from the Banner. Some who did read it told that Tom Holland's remarks were just about an echo of the nonsense contained in the ad.
At the top of the ad in bold headlines this was said: "WHY OPPOSE JUBILEE? HERE ARE FIVE GOD GIVEN REASONS: II JOHN 9-10, GAL. 1:6-8, ROM. 16:17, JUDE 3, AND MARK 8:38". Ironically, these passages all simply say that the teaching of Christ is the only Gospel and that we must not receive nor fellowship anyone who does not accept it. As far as I could determine, everyone connected with Jubilee in any way believes exactly that. In fact, the theme for this year was "TO GOD BE THE GLORY". Constantly the emphasis was upon our need to look to the Bible for instruction and to recognize that it is God who sustains us and to whom we should give honor, praise, and glory. Whatever they think Jubilee is guilty of, evidently it is something that is assumed, not something that violates these scripture verses. In fact, I would venture to say that the opposite is the truth. It is because the Jubilee brethren do accept and practice these verses that those brethren are unhappy. Looking directly to the Bible for yourself and not allowing them to dictate its meaning to you seems to be where the real offense is.
As the ad continued it became a little more specific, saying this: "There was a time in the not too distant past when churches of Christ in Nashville and the middle Tennessee area were united and marched forward as a solid phalanx, but within recent years the situation has drastically changed. Divisions, discord, rancor, ill-will and an open split have developed between the liberals and conservatives. No one would deny this. Who is to blame? One of the contributing factors which has been successful in driving the wedge of division is the notorious Jubilee affair with its modernism, liberalism, and its continuing parade of heretics. No doubt the list of names given in the Saturday Tennessean in support of the Jubilee must have been impressive to some people. Let it be clearly and distinctly understood that there are thousands of faithful members of the church of Christ who do not bow before the Jubilee shrine."
Notice they say the breach is "between the liberals and conservatives". But in this ad the phrase "its continuing parade of heretics" reveals quite a bit about what the real problem is, what it is that sticks in their craw. They have declared these men "heretics" and the producers of this program had the audacity to ignore that and to use speakers not approved by these "guardians". No doubt the pope and his college of cardinals would say something like that too. They also claim the right to designate who is a heretic, on a world wide basis, but their list of heretics would also include the Robertson County church of Christ. How does one decide who really has this authority from God?
Their final paragraph in the ad suggest a public debate. "We hereby issue a public challenge to any and all of those whose signatures appeared in the paper to come forward and meet us in a public debate or debates regarding the Jubilee heresies. Frankly, we do not believe there is enough conviction, courage and strength in the combined lot to stand for anything, except to stand against the truth as revealed in the Word of God. We shall see." A kind of postscript then says, "Brethren, why not, in the interest of truth and souls, have in the Nashville area a public debate such as those of Campbell or Wallace? Has truth also changed and now fears open investigation? Is Paul no longer a pattern? (Acts 17: 17)"
It is strange that they would appeal to Campbell and Wallace since they do not agree with what either man believed. If these two lived among us today they would not fellowship either one. Campbell rejected the traditional premises concerning divorce and remarriage (Mil. Harb. Vol. 5, pg. 72), and these men now disfellowship people who do that. He also approved the missionary society, in fact served as its first president, another position they do not fellowship. Foy E. Wallace Jr. sharply denounced the very position they hold in reference to divorce and remarriage. He said in part, "The course of some preachers in demanding separations and the breaking up of family relations, and the refusal to even baptize certain ones, whose marriage status does not measure up to his standard of approval, is a presumptuous procedure. It reveals the tendency to displace God as the judge of us all and a preacher ascends to the bench." (Sermon on the Mount & the Civil State, pg. 41). That is a pretty strong statement. They disowned Homer Harley for his statements on that matter, which were much milder than this. Do they yet put forth brother Wallace as an example that we should all follow?
Before these brethren can be in a position to debate anything with anybody they first need to learn two things: 1. What the disagreement with Jubilee consists of; and 2. What the standard is by which divine truth is to be determined. There are two different schools of thought here to be sure. But the issue between them is not how many Gospels there are or whether one must be guided by scripture to please God. The issue between them is the nature of the relationship Christians have with God. Does it consist in submission to a human hierarchy or do they have the freedom to study the Bible for themselves and to teach and practice what they find there? This is what the Jubilee speakers did. Were they obligated to consult with and submit to the judgments of such brethren as the elders at Robertson County who would presume to dictate in such matters? This is the real issue. The protestant reformers referred to this concept as "the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer", although they were inconsistent in their own abuses of it.
What if a debate did occur and this question were taken up? On this one also they would find themselves going against Campbell who, along with the other restoration pioneers, strongly opposed the idea that Christians are required to submit to the inferences and deductions of any human or group of humans. From the Declaration and Address forward their writings are filled with denunciations of that whole idea, such as this one: "The inferences drawn by the human understanding partake of all the defects of that understanding... These conclusions then are always private property and can never be placed upon a level with the inspired word of God. Subscription to them, or an acknowledgment of them, can never be rationally required as a bond of union" (Christian Baptist, Vol. 2, pg. 155). Wallace was equally independent in teaching and practice and would strongly oppose what they are doing. The apostle Paul, whom they also mentioned, would stand against them too, opposing their authoritarianism as well as their divisive sectarianism. So would Peter and John and, in fact, all the apostles.
I think a major thing indicated by the Jubilee event is the fact that a burst of freedom is taking place in churches of Christ, especially at the "grass roots" level, and it reaches to the top level. In their ad they said that not long ago the churches of Christ "marched forward as a solid phalanx". It is a reference to the days when no one dared break rank. The hierarchy in place at that time could blacklist a preacher and he would immediately be required to conform to their view or be fired. Professors at our major colleges were under the same kind of threat. Anyone who dissented was silenced, not by proving anything but by bringing to bear some kind of physical peer pressure, and they could apply a frightening amount of that.
But those days are gone and Jubilee signifies it. In this they are correct. It was a "phalanx" that needed to break up and it is doing so. There yet remains a good many local churches whose leaders still breath out threatenings and slaughter when disagreed with, as the one who sponsored that ad, but not many people fear them anymore. They are scattered and virtually powerless now. The very fact that a program of this kind could be staged in Nashville, in middle Tennessee, and 10,000 people would attend, mostly members of churches of Christ, tells us that a new day is here. Consider also that it is hosted by three of the most influential churches in the area, one of which is the largest congregation in the state. Among the speakers are several of the best known, most respected Bible scholars among us. They cannot silence these men merely by ordering it.
No one knows for sure what lies ahead. I am thankful for the coming of "emancipation" among us. I suppose it is to be expected that not everyone will use it rightly. Some things about the way the freedom is being handled by many folks troubles me. The Jubilee speakers delivered a lot of very good material, but an awful lot of people in the audience seemed to have a pretty shallow appetite spiritually. Yes, they were responsive, but it seemed to me their response was mostly to "kernels" lying on top of the ground. Over the whole country I see the hunger for freedom to make one's own religious decisions and I am glad for it, but too often it is not coupled with a real hunger for deep and thorough study of the text of the Bible. I am not generalizing here. I know that this is not true of anything like all of the people we encounter. But there is a disturbing extent to which a great many seem to want more to be entertained than to really learn the deeper things of God. It could be that they have been so long under a stifling blanket of oppression that they are excited just at getting out into the open air. Hopefully it will develop into a greater caution about what to believe and accept as truth.
In any case, I am much more optimistic about the future than I was 10 years ago. I would urge that we all accept and enjoy the "liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free". But I would offer this word of caution. Let's not trade one form of immaturity for another. The Bible is still the truth of God and nothing that contradicts that can be the truth. This is important. So with our appetite for the superficial and the entertaining, take care that we do not refuse to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ", as Peter wrote (2 Pet. 3: 18). Freedom is not an end in itself. It is of value only if it is used to bring us closer to God and make us more faithful in His way. May God help us to use the blessing of this freedom in that way. If we do it will mean that a lot of questions long needing to be raised will get an honest, open minded, consideration before the text of the whole Bible, and it will indeed be the dawn of a new day of prosperity and progress for the cause of Christ on earth.