FELLOWSHIP AND THE CROSSROADS QUESTION
T. PIERCE BROWN
The subject with which we are dealing is, in my judgment, one of the most difficult issues of our time. One of the reasons is that I know of no way to define the terms in a precise and satisfactory manner. What, exactly is the “Crossroads Question?” I can define it to MY satisfaction, but have little doubt that when I did that, those who are ardent advocates of the system of evangelism advocated by the Crossroads church inGainesville,Floridawould accuse me of maligning and misrepresenting them.
In order to clarify what we are discussing, we shall define the subject as that which relates to the system of evangelism which is carried on in accordance with the principles advocated in the book, “The Master Plan of Evangelism,” by Ronald Coleman. Any time a congregation ceases to use those principles, instead of simply denying that they believe in them, then this discussion will not apply to them. However much we might disagree with the propriety of calling a Bible study a “soul-talk,” that is a relatively insignificant thing. As much as we might now question the propriety of what is called a “prayer-partner,” I do not personally object to having one, nor do I think it would cause any great difficulty. It is the practice of the PRINCIPLES involved in the carrying out of these “soul talks” and the functioning of the “prayer partners” as they are trained in the system to which we have alluded that creates the problem. To those of you who want a more concise analysis of the perversions of that system, I recommend that you get my little booklet, “The Root and the Fruit of the Total Commitment Movement.”
To help you get your prejudices all lined up at the beginning, let me say here what I said in that booklet. I believe wholeheartedly in the principle of total commitment TO CHRIST. But I object seriously to ANY kind of commitment, total or otherwise, to a SYSTEM which perverts the teaching of Christ so consistently, so subtly, and so effectively as the Crossroads church does, and as those do who are so well trained in the philosophy and methodology of “The Master Plan of Evangelism.” I have stated publicly and privately that if I had to stand in eternity and be judged in a group, I would rather be in a group of sincere, earnest, evangelistic, Christ-loving, soul-saving people who were so very wrong in their application of some very important principles than I would to stand with a group of self-satisfied, lazy, indifferent, good-for-nothing, so-called Christians who were committed to practically nothing, and who did not even practice what they claimed as their commitment, even if they were doctrinally orthodox.
But what does that have to do with the price of butter? I do not have to stand with either group and be judged. Nor do I have to uphold the wrongs of either group or of individuals who may belong to either group. Nor will I be judged in that DAY in terms of whether I stood with some particular paper, editor or school on some issue.
As many of you may know, when I wrote the article, “Cultism in the Church,” published in the Gospel Advocate in February 22, 1979, which was among the first in the brotherhood pointing out some dangers in this movement, I was not then referring directly to the Crossroads Church, not did I assume that they either taught or created the problems I mentioned. But when telephone calls and letters came from all over the nation, saying things like, “Thank God for a man who has the courage to oppose the terrible things which are being fostered by the Crossroads church,” I began to examine more carefully what was going on on a nation-wide scale. This concern was increased when I got a letter from the Crossroads congregation saying, in effect, “Brother, if you are talking about us, it is all a pack of lies.” I had apparently touched a raw nerve, and what I thought was a straw in the wind turned out to be a haystack.
So I began to do more checking, and found that most of the perversions I had noticed were apparently produced by the philosophy of “The Master Plan of Evangelism.” Since I was one of the first persons in the brotherhood to use that book in my classes on personal evangelism, I felt that a review of its principles and their perversions was in order. The thing that makes it so dangerous and insidious is that most of the principles enunciated are true, but when applied in accordance with the basic philosophy of the book, are untrue, perverted, and divisive. For this reason I wrote the booklet, “The Root and Fruit of the Total Commitment Movement” to help persons see the principles behind the perverted system about which we are talking today.
But the question with which we are dealing today is, “How does the Bible teaching on fellowship relate to the Crossroads Question?” To those of you who think it is a clear-cut, open-and-shut case, let me present you with some of the situations with which we have to deal.
Suppose you are an eldership, strongly evangelistic and mission-minded. You are doctrinally sound, opposed to any deviation from scriptural principle or practice. You have a strong, organized visitation and soul-willing program. Your most active and devoted leaders work among college students. You are not frightened by the term “campus ministry,” for you know that when you reach the hearts and minds of these young people, you are accomplishing a most worthy and rewarding task. Your young campus minister, or deacon, or whoever is in charge of that aspect of your work has a Bible study in his home almost every night, with singing, praying, and in-depth Bible study with a large group of students. At that point, do you even think of criticizing, rebuking or withdrawing fellowship? Surely not! Some of the students begin to call the Bible studies “rap sessions.” You are not sure what that is, for you went to school over 40 years ago, and never had one of those. So you go and listen. You discover that it is a study where they bring up their personal problems and discuss the Bible solution to them. Do you now rebuke or criticize? I think not! You are really glad that SOMEBODY is now making the Bible come alive and be applied in day-by-day activity.
Another group begins to call the studies “soul talks.” You are not sure how orthodox THAT is, but you go and listen, and discover that it is about the same as a “rap session.” It is simply an effort to apply Bible truths to the souls of those who come. You are of the old school, and conservative, and would rather they would be called “Bible studies,” but you are not really “hidebound or fossilized,” so you do not object very much.
You listen to one of the most dedicated teachers telling the boy with whom he is studying, “You need to understand as fully as possible what being a Christian involves. It is not enough to accept Jesus as Savior unless you also want him as Lord of your life. Jesus put it this way, `If a man comes after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me’.” Since you, as an eldership, had just hired a man to work full time with delinquent members, and are convinced that about half of them are delinquent because they were not taught properly, you certainly do not criticize THAT kind of teaching!
After he baptizes the boy, you hear him say, “Now, if there is any problem or question you have with which I can help you, do not hesitate to call me, for I love you, want to be your friend and brother in every way I can.” You think, “I thank God for that kind of devotion, and wish that even half the membership here had half that much concern.” You do not want ANYONE to criticize or rebuke that sort of attitude or action, for you know that we desperately need some sort of “brother’s keepers” program. I could go on for at least another hour with various things you might find in that wonderful group of personal evangelists without touching a thing that would cause you to want to criticize, and even if you found a few things, it would certainly NOT give you any cause to withdraw fellowship from them.
But that is exactly what the advocates of the so-called “Crossroads Movement” are claiming to be doing, and what they can prove they ARE doing by the testimony of dozens, if not hundreds who have gone there to check on them. Now the question is, “Are they doing that?” From the best information I have, the answer is, “Yes, and considerably more.” That “considerably more” is where most of the problems come. But the point I am now making is: There may be dozens of congregations, and hundreds of individuals who are practicing all of those, who may ASSUME that is all that is involved in the movement. THEY assume that since it is so much more appealing and effective and challenging than the ordinary, haphazard, happy-go-lucky brand of “Christianity” to which they are accustomed, they may be severely criticized by those “nominal” Christians. They are even willing to be branded as part of the Crossroads Movement if some ignorant, jealous, do-nothing person wants to brand them (just as some of us are willing to be branded “Campbellite” if some ignoramus wants to do that). But they do not really know the philosophy underlying the movement, and many cases, may not be actually practicing the perverted principles that do the damage.
So the question is: Do we lump everyone in the same category and disfellowship them because they at least SEEM to approve of what we disapprove and find unscriptural? My answer is, “No.” We have to “slice the bread” a little thinner than that. We have the right and responsibility to withdraw fellowship in an official way from certain kinds of persons in a congregation. We have the right and responsibility to refuse to use other kinds of persons in certain situations. Let me try to illustrate that you may see the difference more clearly.
When my article on “Cultism in the Church” first came out a dear friend and brother called me and said, “Pierce, I am astounded and surprised at you. You have done a great disservice to two great congregations.” I asked, “Which ones”? He replied, “Crossroads andFlorida Boulevard.” When I replied, “I was not writing about Crossroads. I did not even mention them,” he said, “Pierce, you know you were.” I said, “I hate for you to accuse me of lying, but everyone seems to know what I was writing about except me.” But I did not withdraw fellowship from him, or even resent him for that. I love him dearly, and although I think he has acted terribly blind, deaf and dumb in not being able to see some of the things I think are quite clear, I do not believe he approves of the philosophy, nor practices the principles of the system. I think I could make the same general statement about many others whom I consider great and good brethren, whose actions and attitudes seem blind almost to the point of stupidity. But the Bible does not require me to withdraw from a person because he seems to act in a blind or stupid manner. The question is, “Does he teach, advocate, or participate in activities which are destructive to the Christian system, or does he merely uphold, because of a mistake in judgment, one who does?” It almost boils down to, “Do I have to withdraw from everyone who does not withdraw from everyone who does not withdraw from everyone who is withdrawn from?” If a faithful and godly eldership withdraws from some person, it is totally improper for another congregation to casually receive that man into its fellowship. But that is altogether different from a congregation marking another congregation or person and warning against certain practices, and then teaching that there must be a withdrawing from every person or congregation who does not agree to have anything to do with that congregation. I see no escape from the conclusion that the Crossroads church itself DOES advocate, teach and practice these principles that are erroneous and destructive and trains others to do likewise. But it is my judgment that there are many persons who do NOT believe in nor practice them, but are merely deluded by those who do, and then deny it.
We have the right and responsibility to take certain kinds of actions, but I do not call it “disfellowship” in the sense in which we commonly use the terms. One may ridicule what some have called “fellowship” with a capital “F” and fellowship with a lower case “f,” but everyone practices something like that, whether or not they admit it. Paul said, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph.5:11). But Jesus had “fellowship” with publicans and sinners in eating and drinking with them. Did he thus transgress the command of God? Of course not! His “fellowship” was not the kind of fellowship Paul had in mind. Whether we like it or not, or whether we deny it or not, there are different kinds of fellowship. For example, as much as I love and respect those brethren who see nothing wrong with the Crossroads practices because they do not understand the philosophy behind the practices, and Crossroads denies the practice, I would not ask them to participate in a lecture program or gospel meeting as long as they show that kind of blindness and ignorance about some very grave danger. But I would not therefore disfellowship them. You may say, “That is practical fellowship, but not legal fellowship, and you have no right to make that distinction.” Whatever you may say, you do it all the time. Even in a lecture program, you sit and eat with brethren with whom you have a greater affinity, but you do not seek out and “jointly participate” with others. You do not “disfellowship” them in the sense that you officially mark and avoid them, but you simply do not have certain kinds of fellowship with them, and would not invite them to preach where you are.
If I were the president of a Christian college, and had the right to do so, I would fire a man from the faculty who did not have enough judgment and understanding of reality to see what was wrong with the philosophy of “The Master Plan of Evangelism,” but I would not disfellowship him unless he taught false doctrine, or actually advocated or practiced the principles which were unscriptural. In simple language, I would have fellowship with him as a brother, but not as a faculty member. Paul shows in 1 Cor. 5:9-11 that there may be a distinction in kinds of fellowship. One may have a kind of fellowship with those in the world, but not the kind he has with a brother in Christ.
Do you not recognize the fact that we have the right and responsibility to refuse to use or encourage the use of ANY person whose views, leaning, or attitude is wrong, ignorant, or otherwise improper on any issue we deem important, but that does not give us the right to disfellowship him in a spiritual sense. For example, those from this college, or any elderships that are now listening to me, who do not think that I am correct on this matter of fellowship have the right to refuse to ask me to be on your program, or have fellowship with me in that sense, but you have no right to disfellowship me as a brother unless I teach a doctrine that would cause a man to be lost, or engage in a practice that is contrary to the scripture.
Therefore I do not think the question can be dealt with appropriately nor solved in any major degree by disfellowshipping congregations (however that is done) which have certain leanings, tendencies, or qualities which we do not approve, or even by disfellowshipping individuals whom we feel are “tainted” with certain strange attitudes. Let us try to make clear what the controversy is and is not about, then suggest the conclusions to which we come and the reasons for those, if they are not by then apparent.
First, it is not about someone who has a more active and effective program of personal evangelism than someone else, and thus makes the rest of us jealous or ashamed. There are congregations and preachers all over the brotherhood who have had active and successful programs that have caused no such division, confusion and difficulty as that which is under consideration here. Second, it is not the emphasis on total commitment that makes us feel uneasy or guilty enough to fight back at those who make us feel that way. We MAY feel uneasy or guilty when we realize that there are many who are so badly wrong, such as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, and yet are far more zealous in teaching their false systems that we are in teaching the truth, but this is not what THIS problem is about. Third, it is not about some minor differences in methodology that may seem unorthodox because we are not accustomed to them. Fourth, it is not because the basic doctrines relating to salvation are wrong. I am not aware of any basic false doctrine in that area espoused by the practitioners of the Crossroads philosophy. That is, one can listen to everything they VERBALLY TEACH about Christ, his nature, and the plan of salvation, obey it, and be saved, as far as I know. There are literally hundreds of false applications of scripture as the system is practiced, but only occasionally, as far as I know, any false doctrine that is openly taught that would keep a person from being a Christian.
My whole booklet on “The Root and the Fruit of the Total Commitment Movement” deals with that, but I will give one example so you will be able to see more clearly the thing about which I am speaking. For example, I have never heard anyone SAY that a leader or “spiritual advisor” actually has Apostolic authority since he has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. But one of the underlying assumptions on which the whole system is based is that the leader has the right and obligation to direct and control his convert. It is not enough for those who are responsible for the continuation of the system to say in a grieved tone, “We have heard a few times of some remote possibility that this may have happened, but if it has, it should be stopped.” They and you should know that it cannot be stopped as long as the whole system is based upon the premise and the practice that each leader has the right and responsibility to do it that way.
What is the controversy about? It is about a group that originates and/or promulgates a system of religion and life that is based upon and gets its power and force from literally dozens of misapplications of scripture. This is basically what makes it dangerous, deceptive, disruptive, and divisive.
At this point, the question may be raised to me, “Why then, do you not oppose the system with all your power, without apologizing for its proponents?” There are those who are more adamant in their vocal opposition to various things who criticize me for being more conciliatory. They have that right. But I DO OPPOSE THE SYSTEM with all my power, limited as that power is.
However, I am confident that there are hundreds, and maybe thousands of honest, devoted, sincere Christians who are upholding what they HEAR TAUGHT, upholding the dedication, devotion and commitment they SEE EVIDENCED, and rejoice in what they SEE as the fruit of the effort (that is, hundreds of baptisms into Christ) who do NOT believe in the misapplication of the scriptures that are being practiced. But because they have been deluded into looking at the wrong thing by those brethren whom they trust, they do not believe there is this misapplication. This is especially so, since the leaders in the church there are apparently able to look a person directly in the eye and say, “We are not aware that these so-called perversions are being practiced anywhere. But IF they are, we want them to be corrected and stopped.” If YOU found a person or group that was apparently far more devoted to Christ than most of their critics who said, “We repent of any thing wrong we may have done, and will try to correct anything wrong that is being done,” would you not have a tendency to believe and accept their statement, and tend to disregard some crude critic of their wonderful efforts?
Although I have not had a formal debate since about 1947, I believe it is still considered improper to attribute to a proponent of a view the consequences of that view unless he expressly avows those consequences. However, it IS proper to point out those consequences, and to point out the unreasonable nature and illogical posture of one who takes a position, yet avows his opposition to the natural and inevitable consequences of that position.
So in this case, it is my opinion that many preachers uphold what they THINK Crossroads stands for, but would not approve of the system as it actually operates, if they understood how it actually operates. Of course, it seems to me that they must be willfully blind, obstinately unreasonable, or strangely stupid, since I see them apparently effective or brilliant in other things. I must confess that their position bewilders me. But I do not want to attribute unworthy motives to a person. One of my dear friends who died not long ago gave aid and comfort to this, and other strange causes. I said to him, “I think you are surely cracked in the head. You seem to be able to take both sides of many issues. I have loved you dearly for at least 30 years for your love and devotion to Christ and the souls of men, but you do not seem to know whether you are coming or going half the time.” He knew I loved him, and would put his arms around me and say, “Pierce, I love you,” even though I thought he was as blind as a bat in some areas, and told him so. But I counted him as my brother in Christ, and hope to see him in heaven someday.
What are the general scriptural principles that would be applicable to our approach to what we call “The Crossroads Movement,” and how should we apply those principles to specific situations?
First, let us postulate some one or more situations. Here is a congregation that gets excited about personal evangelism and wants to encourage its members to do more. They hear of a Crossroads-trained minister and wonder if they should invite him to come and show them how. What should other congregations and individuals do at that point? I think they should warn that church to check with a great number of congregations who have gone that route, and see what kind of division, confusion and heartache have resulted therefrom.
So they check, but they check with the congregation that was formed AFTER the division and confusion, and find a large number of persons who report that everything is fine, and that the division was simply a result of personality clashes, or some misunderstanding about methods that is all worked out. So they decide to bring the man and let him work with him, for they have spoken to him, and he has a wonderful personality and impressive record.
Should they, at that point, be officially marked and disfellowshipped? I do not think so, for I find no scriptures that I understand to so teach. There are basically two kinds of persons from whom we should withdraw fellowship. First, there are those who teach false doctrines, the belief of which will cause a man to be lost (Romans16:17). My understanding of Romans 14 is that not every false belief is the basis for disfellowship, but only those of such a nature that the practice of them will cause a person to be lost. Therefore I would not withdraw fellowship from a person just because he thought it was unscriptural for each member to drink the fruit of the vine from a different container. If I were in that congregation and could not find a seat on the front row, I might decide to meet with a different congregation. So I would cease to have fellowship with that congregation in a PRACTICAL sense, and I would try to teach them, both while in their presence, and after I left, that they were wrong in their assumptions that every one must drink out of the same container. But I would not, just because of that, withdraw fellowship from them in the sense of which we are speaking of it, and treat them as publicans and sinners. If a person could obey the gospel there, worship God acceptably there, and be saved in that context, he is still my brother, and it is a church of the Lord.
Notice that they may be wrong, to the point of seeming silly to me, but God nowhere authorizes my disfellowshipping a person because I consider him wrong and silly! If he pushes his opinion to the point of division, or introduces into the corporate worship that which corrupts the worship, that is a different question. That point, I think, is not clearly seen by many. I have no doubt that I have fellowship with many who do not see anything particularly wrong with worship with instrumental accompaniment. They are in error, but I can fellowship them. But when and if they introduce it in a situation where it corrupts the worship of the whole group, I can no longer fellowship them. It is true that I can worship God with a cowbell ringing, or a freight train blowing and it will not corrupt my worship. But I can not fellowship those who would introduce the cow bell or train whistle as a part of the corporate worship.
As I told the President of a college who is a friend of mine, but believes it wrong for a congregation to support a home for homeless children, “I do not think you will be lost because you are mistaken about this issue. If you are lost, it will probably be because are so cantankerous no one can put up with you.” Of course, if any of those considered that I was teaching a false doctrine that would cause a person to be lost, they would probably disfellowship me, if they were consistent. But that is their problem.
The same principle is true with a group that does not have Sunday morning Bible study. They think it is unscriptural because they do not find a scripture that authorizes it, in their opinion. But they teach a sinner how to be saved, and encourage every act of worship God ordained. Are they brethren? I think so, and will preach for them if they will allow it, trying to get them to see better and do better. In fact, I have done so. Why they allowed me to teach when they knew that I believed in EVERY member attending Sunday morning Bible study, I never knew. But they did learn better, and now have regular Sunday morning Bible study. Do you disfellowship all those who do not believe in Sunday morning Bible study? If so, a large number of the congregation you attend will be disfellowshipped.
So when a group or a person teaches a false doctrine, the belief and practice of which will cause a person to be lost, or when an ungodly or disorderly life which fails to glorify God is persistently and deliberately practiced, causing divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine as described in Romans 16:17 and other places, then that person should be disfellowshipped.
I believe the examples of the churches and individuals inCorinth,Jerusalemand the seven churches ofAsiagive us some general principles and pointers. The church inCorinthwas cursed with several bad things. Chapter three shows carnality and immaturity. Chapter 4 shows arrogance and pride. In chapter five, we find fornication. In chapter 6 we find lawsuits among the brethren, and many other things in the book with which you are familiar. Notice what Paul did and did not advocate. He did not say, “This congregation is a hotbed of ungodly living and false doctrine. It has ceased to be the church of the Lord, and no one should have anything to do with it.” But he DID warn of the specific things that were wrong and rebuked those who practiced them. He did advocate withdrawing of fellowship from those who were living ungodly lives and would not repent. If I were going throughCorinth, and knew of a congregation that did not have those situations in it, I would worship with it rather than with the one that did have. I would cease to have fellowship with them in a practical sense. But I would not go beyond what Paul did and say, “You have ceased to be the church of the Lord. I will therefore conclude that all who have fellowship with you are no longer in Christ, and anyone who has fellowship with those who have fellowship with them are not to be recognized as Christians.” A church, though having many faults, does not thereby cease to be the church of the Lord until it becomes such that a person going there and obeying what they teach is lost.
My conclusion with regard to having fellowship with those connected with the Crossroads movement is this: I do not find any scriptures that lead me to the conclusion that we should advocate a broadside withdrawal of fellowship from some person or group which we classify as “The Crossroads Movement.” However, there are some in that category I do think we should withdraw from.
Whenever we find a person in our congregation who is teaching a false doctrine that would cause a person to be lost if he believes it, if he refuses to correct it, we should withdraw from him. When we find a person who is advocating an unscriptural practice which is causing division and confusion and refuses to stop it (such as those practices which are often called “Crossroadism”) we should withdraw from him. When we find a person or group that refuses to submit to the leadership and God-ordained authority of the elders of a local congregation in matters of expediency, since they are thus rebelling against the commandments of God, we should withdraw from them.
What is my attitude toward the Crossroads congregation inGainesville,Florida? At this moment, it is what I think John’s attitude was toward the majority of the churches mentioned in the second and third chapters of Revelation. It is still a church of Christ, but as long as it continues to teach and encourage the perversions of God’s Word of which it has been guilty, then every false idea, tendency and practice should be exposed and rebuked, and every person who encourages these practices should be marked and avoided until he stops such and repents of having done them. But if I were an eldership, and there was in my congregation a person who did not see anything wrong with what he thinks goes on at Crossroads, I would not withdraw from him until and unless I found him actually advocating or practicing the things which are contrary to God’s will. I have read articles in which the author advocated the idea that the Crossroads church is no more than any denomination. I do not, at this time, believe that. I think a person who goes to a denomination, hears what they call the “gospel,” and obeys that doctrine is lost. If a person obeyed the gospel of Christ, then went and joined some denomination, I think they are in a lost condition. But I believe a person can go to Crossroads inGainesville, hear the gospel preached, obey that gospel, worship there in accordance with God’s will, and even go out and win souls to Christ without ever understanding, believing or practicing the perverted principles which their system has imposed on hundreds of unsuspecting congregations. If that is true, then while we should mark the Crossroads congregation–and all others who are practicing what they practice–show its deceitful practices, expose its harmful and destructive tendencies and activities, refuse to participate in its programs, refuse to have men who are trained in its methodology and uphold its practices to participate in our programs, we should NOT assume that all who have not yet seen the results of their philosophy and practice are lost, and that we must therefore disfellowship them.
We should follow Paul’s advice in Romans 14:19, “Follow after things that make for peace and things wherewith we may edify another.” We must not let that attitude of making peace blind us to false doctrine and perverted practices, but we should try to correct and bind up rather than merely criticize and tear down.