As I was backing up files, I came across an old letter I’d written in 2003 to PB about a group of us who had been meeting after services that summer in Florida. What a shock to the system to hear my own words spoken back to me! This was even before me and Sunset Chick. It was interesting to remember the ways God has shaped me into who I am today, and who I will be in the future. Sometimes we need reminders like this. Memorial stones in the middle of Jordan, if you know what I mean. Maybe I can fan some of these flames again. Here is the letter in its entirety, with the names replaced in brackets:
As promised, I am writing to let you know some of my thoughts about â€œthe groupâ€ and why weâ€™re not having it any more (at least in the format it was in). This letter turned out to be really long and I know you’re pretty busy, so just read it when you get the chance to.
Basically, we quit having it because people just couldnâ€™t commit on the level we needed to hold it Sunday mornings after worship, which I understand. Everybody has stuff come up, etc., and thatâ€™s always been a busy time. So I donâ€™t really blame anyone for that.
But there were other reasons, too. I felt it start slipping into a â€œclassâ€ format, which isnâ€™t really what I was looking for, though it was mostly my own fault. (More about that in a minute.) There were also some individuals who took exception to a few of our practices, (the collective saying of the Lordâ€™s prayer, for example, which is a very minimal disagreement that Iâ€™ll leave alone for the sake of harmony, but suffice it to say that it put a damper on things.)
But donâ€™t mistake me. Iâ€™m still strongly committed to the idea of spiritual sharing and collective growth, Iâ€™m just not sure of the best expression of it, at least not for our circumstances here at Rockledge. So basically Iâ€™ll just tell you my â€œstoryâ€ and what Iâ€™m thinking about a lot of stuff and what Iâ€™m looking for as a result.
It all basically started when I went to Lipscomb. Iâ€™d had a lot of ideas or little nagging feelings or whatever long beforehand, even since I was a little one, but none of them ever really surfaced or came to my consciousness until I got to school. It began with a bible study I went to during first semester, where one guy got up and basically told the story of how he rededicated his life to Christ. It was accompanied by a message of victory and power over sins that frankly blew me away. It was as if I had never heard that before. I realized that I was living in sin while denying it at the same time and still pretending and even thinking myself to be spiritual, when I was actually just being â€œreligiousâ€, which means I went to church and never missed the weekly communion and led singing sometimes, and so on. Living in this culture so full of sin had lulled me into thinking I didnâ€™t have to try, and even led me to think that some things that were so obviously sinful werenâ€™t really. I really needed that lesson which was just amongst guys (and very frank at that) to â€œwake me upâ€ and rock me out of that lull. At that point I repented and determined to submit to Christ not only as my Savior but also as my Lord. And not that I donâ€™t mess up anymore, but now I struggle, instead of willfully giving in, putting my faith in Christ to save me rather than saving myself by not cussing or having the right doctrines.
Anyways, as these ideas about personal spirituality started to take root, I started to hear unexpected things about the church collectively. I vividly remember one chapel session in the arena, where the speaker (LaGard Smith) had sort of a â€œmockâ€ communion amongst the people who sit in the seats on the actual arena floor. (Everyone else sits in the stands.) Well, actually there were two communions. On the left side the 100 to 200 seats were arranged in rows as usual, just like the pews at any church building. On the right side was simply a table with about 8 or 10 chairs around it. As LaGard explained what was going on, each group held their own â€œpretendâ€ communion. The ones on the left had men up front pray over and then pass around empty trays for the bread and the wine, very much like Rockledge or any other Church of Christ. On the right however, we saw the group pass around bread and pour the juice into cups, and after saying a prayer, they all ate and drank together. They had a regular meal along with the â€œLordâ€™s Supperâ€ and sang together (softly, because LaGard was still talking), and so on. Well, while most of my friends didnâ€™t seem to care too much about it, I found this to be absolutely fascinating. While I had always had little nagging wisps of doubt concerning the way we do things in the Church of Christ and if we were really emulating first-century Christians like we claimed to, here was outright questioning of something that I had just taken for granted. I was further fueled by some comments, in particular, one from [Rockledge elder], who said one day when they came up to Nashville in the midst of conversation that the Restoration Movement is an ongoing process that probably wonâ€™t end until Jesus comes back. In any case, I looked into the matter more, and found out that LaGard had written a book called Radical Restoration that basically â€œcalls outâ€ the church on a lot of stuff and gives a very different picture of what New Testament Christianity may have been like. (Iâ€™ll send you a copy of a speech he gave where he explains all about it.) So I borrowed it over Christmas break and read it, and shared some stuff with [A], who also got very excited about it (we were ready to start house churches the very next week!), and [J] too, who already knew about LaGard and had a lot of thoughts on the topic.
So anyways, Christmas break ended and I went back to school. (I promise you this all relates to the group. Sorry itâ€™s so long!) Early on I developed a strong â€œcravingâ€, if you will, for spiritual fellowship. I just had this strong desire to be with others who wanted to give themselves fully to God in all aspects of their lives, who I could have Christ in common with and who could strengthen me spiritually as I strengthened them. And I wasnâ€™t really talking about friends who were good. I had those. I meant people who were honestly devoted to God, to prayer and to reading the word, who didnâ€™t mind having spiritual conversations at any time, who were mindful of the Lord and his Spirit at work in the world around them, and a list of a hundred other qualities like that. (And not that I possessed all or any of those qualities, but the idea was that we could strengthen each other and grow together.) As I thought about it more, I came to realize that what I was looking for was the church. And Iâ€™m talking about the true, intimate, community of believers, not the individual Christians who happen to worship in the same building at the same time. So I started talking about this stuff with some of my friends, especially my roommate [B], who was also seeking earnestly something better. I remember the night it hit us while we were talking about this. Somethingâ€™s coming. The excitement was almost tangible. We still donâ€™t know what that something is or how weâ€™re to go about finding it or creating it, but we know that itâ€™s going to be something powerful, something in our generation. Maybe not now, maybe not even later, but itâ€™s coming. Maybe a new kind of church. Maybe an amazingly intimate fellowship of students on campus. We donâ€™t really know, but I personally think itâ€™s going to have a lot to do with LaGardâ€™s ideas. The point is we canâ€™t stop striving for it.
So the last â€œbig thingâ€ I encountered was what was called a â€œSpiritual Formation Groupâ€ at one of the congregations I started worshiping with. They were very much like what we attempted to do a couple of weeks ago. The whole concept was based on material from a group called RenovarÃ©, (www.renovare.org), which is attempting to, as it puts it, â€œput the church back in the churchesâ€. Anyhow, this group at Acklen (the congregation I started going to) managed to satisfy to a small degree the desires I had, and I found that I grew a great
deal from it. So thatâ€™s what I tried to â€œrecreateâ€, if you will, here. Well, the RenovarÃ© materials cost money, and I certainly couldnâ€™t afford them, so I decided to make my own, which were laid out very much like theirs, even if the content was a little different. But Iâ€™m honestly not sure if the maturity needed to do something like that is really here, at least not among more than a few of us. (You know who). So I certainly donâ€™t consider our short-lived â€œspiritual formation groupâ€ a failure, but rather a learning experience. What worked there didnâ€™t work here, mostly because of the different people involved. Not that thatâ€™s a bad thing or a problem per se, itâ€™s just a different situation. But in any case, weâ€™ve got about a month and a half before school starts, so the question is, â€œWhatâ€™s next?â€
I guess what Iâ€™m looking for is a group of peers who are deeply, even fiercely devoted to God, and donâ€™t mind showing it to each other. I want to see the faith of those around me who profess Christ in action. I want to hear from their own lips how they wrestle with Satan, how they depend on God, and how he works in their lives. I want to be uplifted and encouraged by them, and I want to uplift and encourage them by doing the same. I want to work and to sing and to pray and to eat and to grow with others who are doing likewise on a regular basis. And I think the first collective step for us here at Rockledge (the real first step is personal devotion to God) is simply to become better friends. That means spending time with each other. We really shouldnâ€™t feel like we donâ€™t have enough in common. We have Christ in common. What more could we possibly need!? Fun? Trust me, when a group of college-age people gets together, fun just happens. So maybe we could just start out hanging out at each otherâ€™s houses. If and when we get together, we could divide our time however necessary between spiritual matters and simple fellowship. And itâ€™s not like we need some formal structure or a set weekly date, time, and place to get together. Letâ€™s be spontaneous! Letâ€™s see what happens! But letâ€™s just do something! Iâ€™m convinced that thereâ€™s much more to the church than worship, and Iâ€™m anxious to start living that out, to try it, to see what works and what doesnâ€™t. I know that things will be difficult with work schedules, not to mention that we’re spread out all the way from Titusville to Palm Bay, but Iâ€™m sure if we all just got together for a few minutes on Sunday mornings when weâ€™re all already there anyways, we could figure out something to do during that week together. I say we be pragmatic about it. But for Heavenâ€™s sake, letâ€™s not be isolated from one another. I love you guys! I know the bible doesnâ€™t use the terms â€œbrotherâ€ and â€œsisterâ€ lightly. Letâ€™s take that seriously and live like we really are a family!
Whew. Sorry that was so long. I got a little excited at the end. 🙂 Anyways, please write back after youâ€™ve had a chance to think about all that. And Iâ€™d be anxious to hear your own personal â€œodysseyâ€, if you should feel the urge to share it. But of course you don’t have to, if you don’t want to.
OK. [CS] says hi and â€œsheepâ€. Talk to you soon.