Buoyed by an agreement to accept one another’s baptism as the gateway to full membership in any one of the nine Protestant churches involved in the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), elated delegates to the twelfth COCU Plenary in Cincinnati left town convinced they had inched a little closer toward a Church of Christ Uniting.

COCU enthusiasts yearn for the day when the 23 million members of their denominations* will “all be one” inside a superchurch—the shape of which is still to be defined. Because of earlier disagreement over structure proposals, the de facto merger plan is years behind its original planners’ schedule.

But if the “mutual recognition” of one another’s baptism is a high-water mark in the ecumenical movement—as COCU leaders proclaimed—it may be at the expense of unity among congregations within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that practice “believer’s baptism” by immersion. Applicants for Disciples’ membership who were baptized as infants in other denominations and not immersed are required to be rebaptized. The other eight COCU churches practice infant baptism, and even for adults the usual mode is sprinkling or pouring.

“We have on our hands a considerable pastoral problem,” warned Professor Ronald E. Osborn, a Disciples delegate from Claremont, California. “Many of our congregations insist on immersion as a direct commandment of the Lord,” he said.

But delegates of the other eight communions seemed willing for the Disciples to pay the price of compromise. A statement in one of the COCU documents referring to the distinctions between infant and believer’s baptism noted: “This fact presses on eight of the churches the responsibility for assessing such a declaration as meaningful enough for them to make worthwhile the agony which one will face.”

Generally, churches of the eight other COCU denominations already accept one another’s baptized members with no requirement for rebaptism. But it was the “putting it in writing” that seemed to cheer the ecumenists. Methodists among the 250 delegates voted against the proposal, but only because it didn’t go far enough. They wanted a stronger statement calling for outright recognition of mutual membership. As it was, the approved document, “An Affirmation Toward the Mutual Recognition of Members,” was somewhat ambiguous. It said, in part:

Affirming our oneness in baptism does not abolish membership in a particular church and substitute a common membership in all particular Churches, nor does it mean plural simultaneous membership in several nor does it refer merely to the practice of transferring membership from one particular church to another.
Article continues below

Full effect of the COCU action must await formal approval by the respective denominations.

COCU still has a selling job to do at the congregational level, both leaders and delegates freely admitted. COCU’s new general secretary, Gerald F. Moede (pronounced May-dee), formerly a World Council of Churches executive, cautioned delegates with a line from cynical Nixon power brokers who often asked before making policy: “Will it play in Peoria?” Clergyman Harold A. Thomas, a United Presbyterian delegate from Fairway, Kansas, was even more blunt. “At the local level,” he said in a workshop session, “COCU is not alive. It hasn’t filtered down to where the ordinary person can say, ‘Hey, this concerns me.’ ”

To broaden its base of support among member churches, COCU is now attempting to penetrate the “middle judicatories”—dioceses, presbyteries, conferences, districts, synods, and the like. In the phraseology of COCU technicians, “it is important now for the ‘ownership’ of COCU to move outward from the national ecumenical offices and program agencies to the decision-making arenas of middle judicatories and their leaders.” COCU has decided, explained Moede, “not to alter the goal, but to affirm a new approach … to move from designing union from the top … to ‘living’ our way to union, especially by growing together at local and regional levels.”

COCU leaders also discussed “generating communities”—another new phrase in the COCU lexicon. Translated, it means local congregations that covenant to work and worship together; they will, it is hoped, produce a grass-roots model of togetherness that could be copied at the national level when the fullness of time comes for organic union.

Debated at length was whether COCU-sponsored generating communities should include representatives from at least one of the three black churches involved in COCU (the four existing generating communities are all white). Several black churchmen said all-white communities projected an image of racism and exclusiveness.

Black cleric U. Z. McKinnon of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Cincinnati noted that in some parts of the country there are no black churches. He said that under those conditions the only way to insure a black-white mix in the generating communities would be to resort to “ecclesiastical busing.”

The delegates finally adopted an amended motion stating that future COCU-initiated generating communities should include representatives from at least one of the three black denominations involved in COCU.

Article continues below

Professor Paul L. Lehmann of Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, aroused the ire of women delegates when he said that COCU should concentrate all its energies on eradicating institutional racism before moving to deal with sexism.

Episcopal delegate Cynthia Wedel, former president of the National Council of Churches, led the revolt. Charging that Lehmann was expressing the way men think—a linear way that does only one thing at a time—she persuaded the delegates to adopt a resolution setting up a task force on women. Its basic purpose will be to assemble and release materials related to women and the church.

Dr. Wedel also got in the last word by saying that women, unlike men, can keep in mind and work on a number of things at one time.

At least one major speech may jolt some COCU constituents. Dr. John H. Satterwhite, COCU’s associate general secretary (he and Dr. Moede were installed on opening night of the COCU sessions), in a talk entitled “Church Union for Justice and Liberation” suggested that church union is the first step toward solving all of society’s major problems. But, he said, “we may … find it necessary to give a place in our tragic historic circumstances to force in really making ‘human life more human.’ ”

He said that many church persons are “ready to enter upon the tactics of confrontation in order to provoke this nation and our world to recognize the seriousness of the demands for justice and liberation.…”

“I am not suggesting,” he said, “that our churches abstain from force and violence in seeking alternative strategies for justice and liberation out of fear of our lives.”

It was the sound of the sixties all over again.


A lot of churchgoers around the country are upset about this year’s spate of profanity and suggestive programming on television. Most of them grumble a bit and go on watching. Not everyone, though. Members of the 1,100-congregant Pennfield Church of the Nazarene in Battle Creek, Michigan, staged a Sunday-night television bonfire on the church parking lot after talks by Michigan evangelist Paul Wilde on “Who controls your mind?” At least eleven sets worth a total of about $1,400 were thrown into the fire.

Pastor Earl Burdick, who hasn’t owned a TV set for seven years, said that the action was a spontaneous one on the part of a few concerned people, and that now others want to get rid of their sets, too. The TV network news shows will cover the next burning.

Article continues below

“The programs are poisoning our children’s minds,” complained Mary Lou Bax, a Sunday-school teacher whose family destroyed two sets, one of them a $600 color model.

Another church member blew out the picture tube of his set with a shotgun before throwing the sin box into the flames.

Courtship In Question

Canadian Anglican opposition to the proposed merger with the United Church of Canada and the Church of Christ (Disciples) is surfacing in two influential quarters.

Several bishops have objected that the Plan of Union discards the traditional Anglican view of the office of a bishop. The protesting bishops were confirmed and hardened in their opposition on receiving comments on the Plan of Union from the international Anglican Consultative Committee. The committee reminded Canadian Anglicans that the church’s traditional view of the bishop conceived him to be a spiritual father and not merely an administrative officer.

In September, a second voice of dissent was heard. The national long-range planning committee of the Anglican Church issued a surprisingly blunt statement: “In the light of the hurt which has accompanied the development of the Plan of Union and that which we foresee will be caused by proceeding with it, we feel that the Anglican Church should be honest and forthright in saying to the other churches, in penitence, that we cannot go ahead with the Plan.”

The bishops’ apparent reluctance, the planning committee’s statement, and the utterances of other individual Anglicans and interest groups within the church are adding up to an Anglican rejection of the Plan of Union as it now stands.


The Tide That Binds

Sorrow and joy were intermingled last month as evangelist Billy Graham conducted a ten-day crusade in the populous Tidewater region of Virginia. The sad note was the death on November 8 of his widely revered mother-in-law, Mrs. Virginia Myers Leftwich Bell. The happy part was the enthusiastic support given Graham and his team despite intensive criticism from separatists, most of them independent Baptists. Graham was so moved by the spirit of Tidewater Christians that he made a rare public commitment to return for another event during bicentennial year.

Mrs. Bell, widow of Dr. L. Nelson Bell, succumbed to a stroke. Graham immediately returned to his Montreat, North Carolina, home to be with his wife and to participate in a private graveside service and a public memorial service. Associate evangelist Grady Wilson preached in Graham’s place at one meeting. Graham returned the next day and spoke at the closing two services.

Article continues below

The crusade was divided into two parts to accommodate people on both sides of the waterway known as Hampton Roads. The first four services were held in the Hampton Coliseum, and two of them were relayed by closed circuit television to an arena in Norfolk’s new Scope convention and cultural complex. The remaining meetings took place at Scope and were televised back to Hampton. The two Tidewater areas, connected by a toll tunnel, are often considered distinct in a number of respects. Local churchmen said the crusade produced a spiritual tide that united the people of the two areas as few events have.

Average daily attendance at the twin crusades was more than 18,000, and 6,296 commitments to Christ were recorded.

The participation of military personnel was a notable point of the crusade. There are more than twenty major military installations and commands in the Tidewater region, including the naval base at Norfolk, which is said to be the largest in the world.

Among guest celebrities at the crusade was Navy secretary J. William Middendorf, who told of his conversion six years ago under the influence of Corrie Ten Boom. Middendorf was U. S. ambassador to Holland at the time. Others who spoke included Virginia governor Mills Godwin, Johnny and June Carter Cash, and Admiral Jeremiah Denton, a former prisoner of war in North Viet Nam.

There were also testimonies from students at the nearby College of William and Mary, after Harvard the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and like Harvard a school originally founded to propagate the Christian faith.

Several of the Tidewater services were videotaped and will appear on television in hundreds of places beginning early next year. A crusade official expressed hope that the meetings, which were held at the place where America was born, would contribute to the nation’s spiritual rebirth. The allusion was to the English settlers who landed in Virginia in 1607 to establish the first permanent colony in what was to become the United States of America.

Graham turned the other cheek to his separatist detractors. “We thank even those who felt they could not support the crusade,” he said. The evangelist asked the crowd not to criticize them.

Graham paid tribute to his mother-in-law when he returned from the funeral. Both she and Dr. Bell, the executive editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, who died last year, were born and reared in Virginia. They were high school sweethearts who played on the tennis team together and went on to become medical missionaries to China for twenty-five years. They are survived by three daughters and a son.

Article continues below


Bolivia In Time

Evangelist Luis Palau and his team got in three weeks of evangelistic meetings in Bolivia just in time. As they were leaving, a coup attempt took place, resulting in martial law and a ban on public gatherings.

Palau, an Argentine-born staffer of the California-based Overseas Crusades mission agency, described the meetings as some of the most fruitful of his career. They began in mid-October in the mining-district city of Oruro (elevation: 14,600 feet). Despite cold weather large crowds gathered for the nightly open-air meetings. Local radio stations carried some of the services live.

From Oruro, the team moved to the warmer lowland city of Santa Cruz. Heavy rains fell at times, but an average attendance of 5,000 was recorded at the stadium meetings. Some 3,000 decision cards were signed. Among the counselors were Catholic charismatics. Every participating church in Santa Cruz reported new converts in their services (one had sixty), and a new Assembly of God church was organized as a result.

The crusade series concluded in Cochabamba. Palau also appeared on television in La Paz, the capital. Local pastors and missionaries organized the meetings.

Accompanying Palau was Larry Ward of Food for the Hungry, who lined up relief programs with authorities. (Bolivia is South America’s poorest country, and many people go hungry.)



Big Flatrock Christian Church of Rushville, Indiana, was recently the scene of commemorative services honoring the 140th anniversary of the birth of Knowles Shaw. Shaw, a Disciples of Christ singing evangelist and hymn-writer, preached his first sermon in the little church. He was born and buried nearby. In between, he preached across the country and wrote 119 hymns, among them “Bringing in the Sheaves,” one of the most popular hymns in the world. He was killed in 1878 in Texas in a train accident en route to an evangelistic service. Several of Shaw’s descendents and a number of Big Flatrock oldtimers were among those attending.

Religion In Transit

For the second year in a row a private, non-profit organization will sponsor the annual nativity scene in Washington, D. C. The American Christian Heritage Association took over sponsorship when an appeals court decided that government sponsorship was “excessive entanglement” in religion.

Article continues below

A new Lutheran Television holiday special, “The City That Forgot About Christmas,” will be aired nationally this month. It features Benji and Waldo, the popular animated boy and shaggy dog team who made their TV debut in 1970 in “Christmas Is” and appeared later in “Easter Is,” both produced by Lutheran Television, communications arm of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The shows have brought hundreds of thousands of responses.

Last summer Bible Presbyterian minister Carl McIntire nearly lost his 300-acre Cape Canaveral, Florida, complex for nonpayment. He won a reprieve until December 27, when a $1 million payment is due; the remainder of the $14.5 million mortgage will be due over the next seven years. The site includes McIntire’s Shelton College and a Bible conference facility that apparently will be secured by the $1 million even if the balance is defaulted. Shuford Mills, a North Carolina textiles firm, owns the complex.

Alaska has only two four-year colleges, the University of Alaska and the 428-student Alaska Methodist University in Anchorage. AMU will close in July barring a major financial windfall. The United Methodist Church has pumped $9.6 million into the school since its founding in 1958, but officials turned down a request in October for a $1 million loan. AMU trustees voted last month to try to sell the property and facilities to the state university.

The home-missions board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) terminated four important staff positions in an effort to cope with a budget crunch. Phased out: the associate executive secretary over women’s work, the director of worship programming, a social-concerns position, and the director of youth ministry. Other reorganization and program cutbacks were also announced.

Navigators executive Waldron Scott, 45, of Colorado has been appointed international administrator of World Evangelical Fellowship, WEF’s top international liaison post. Prime attention will be given to establishing new regional fellowships and nurturing existing ones.

Dr. Dow Kirkpatrick, 57, the embattled pastor of First Methodist Church in Evanston, Illinois, has resigned to work with an ecumenical project in Latin America under an arrangement with the United Methodist missions board. First’s membership has declined more than 2,000 to its present 1,200 since Kirkpatrick arrived in 1962. Last summer Bishop Paul Washburn stepped in as “chief pastor” during a dispute in which hundreds of members asked for Kirkpatrick’s ouster.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.