Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

Reader Response (Jan-Feb 2002)

Filed under: — @ 12:03 pm and

Dear Editor:

I must comment on the review of Tim Woodroof’s book, The Church That Flies, by F. LaGard Smith in your December 2001 issue. Smith does a good job of encapsulating the essence of Woodroof’s book in the first six paragraphs of his article, but then seems to falter when it comes time to evaluate what he has read. I believe the central roadblock to Smith’s understanding of the book comes as he attempts to contain new wine in an old wineskin. Smith wrestles dismissively with the new “function approach” of the book while locked rigidly in our Brotherhood’s “restore the ancient church” mindset. This is evidenced in his use of phrases such as “classic Restoration thought”, “time-honored doctrinal understandings” and “accumulated traditions.” It appears that Smith uses the form focused thinking of the Restoration philosophy to evaluate the function focused philosophy espoused by Woodroof and dismiss it when it does not deliver us to the same destination as the prior thinking.

It is time for a new approach, no; it is past time for a new approach. To focus on Jesus and his purpose statements makes much more sense than does our endless arguments about what form is “authorized.” If we as a movement had begun with Campbell pointing us toward Jesus’ teaching on function and the “weightier matters” and today someone proposed that we should instead focus on imitating the actions and forms of the 1st Century Church we would have never given a moments pause to consider taking such a foolish tangent. In fact, Smith finds himself arguing that we should stay the course and continue with our church-form focus rather than trust believers to individually adopt the character of Jesus as a their guide. Smith laments the lack of “sufficient safeguards” as if the character of Jesus is a poor standard, which after all is the standard Woodroof suggests. I might ask does our Brotherhood have “sufficient safeguards” to prevent division over foolish interpretations on multiple cups, classes, singing during communion, contemporary songs or any number of Biblically irrelevant issues that work our folks into a lather? What silly positions our Restoration mindset leads us to defending.

We are a people who have a history of keeping tabs on one another lest someone slip into error (error such: formerly, eating in the building or presently, having a praise team). Tim’s suggestion to center on the more important issues of function and letting those functions define effective forms is a proposal that will shake our traditional brethren to their core. It certainly parallels Jesus’ verbal shaking of the Pharisees in Matthew 23. I can’t recall a single time that Jesus counseled the Pharisees, “Boys, you’ve got to improve your attention to form! You get those forms right and you are home free!” Rather, time after time, the focus of Jesus words toward the seed-counting sect concerned their missing the heart and soul of their absent relationship with God. In place of their relationship with God, even preventing a relationship with God was their focus on their all-important forms. Strike a little close to home?

Smith makes this statement: “classic Restoration thought asserts that God himself has given us in the pattern of the first century faith and practice the very forms which best will achieve the functions of faith and practice which he has purposed for his people.” Yes this is “classic Restoration thought.” (I will assume when he says, “God himself has given us,” Smith was not referring exclusively to the Church of Christ!) The Church That Flies offers convincing arguments for why this “classic, form-first” thinking upon which we rest the foundation of our Restoration Movement is absolutely the wrong approach to help us become God’s people. God save us from “classic Restoration thought” and one of its main fruits—division. I don’t want to conform to a pattern any longer; I want to be transformed by the Son with the help of His Spirit. Tim, thanks for your encouraging book. I pray that many will read and understand it.


Sherman K. Dye
Vienna, WV

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