The Social Gospel?

north,ira08Ira North passed away in 1984. When he came to be the preacher for the Madison (TN) Church of Christ in 1952 they had 400 members. During his 30 years there they grew to more than 5,000, easily the largest Church of Christ in North America. With his trademark red coat and big smile, he not only preached to his local congregation but also to millions more through the Amazing Grace Bible Class that was televised across the nation.

The April, 1977 issue of Nashville! Magazine featured North on the cover and identified him as “Nashville’s Most Powerful Preacher.” What set Ira North apart from the crowd of his day – and thus the Madison Church of Christ – was their belief that by serving and loving their community they might have more opportunities to share the Gospel. The Madison church focused it’s attention on benevolent ministries such as summer camps, meals on wheels, ‘Saturday Samaritans’, a furniture warehouse, sewing and clothing rooms.

“Beautiful, mysterious, wonderful and glorious things happen to the church of Christ in our day and age that gets involved up to its neck in a great program for the poor, the lowly and the downtrodden … It seems the more we give ourselves and our money and our hearts to help the poor, the lowly, the homeless… the more the good Lord blesses us with new people, new resources, new financial strength and a depth of love for our Lord and for our fellow man.” ~Ira North

As you might guess, North was vilified by some as promoting a “Social Gospel”, with more emphasis on the social than the gospel. Even so, his immense influence among churches of Christ probably laid the path for today’s emphasis on social justice in our tribe.

When we talk about loving others, we often recognize that Jesus identified this as the second greatest commandment. It seems odd that some in the churches of Christ in the 1950s felt this was inappropriate activity for a church. Their idea was that a church was to be aimed at the spiritual needs of men and women. They also had an idea that the church treasury was to be used in only a few very specific and narrow ways. While I disagree with those conclusions, I do admire that there was a deep concern that money given to the church not be misused.

Although there are a few congregations still hanging on to those principles, most have the freedom to utilize all of their talent, time, and money to reach out to the poor and hurting in the communities that surround them. Looking at our own lives today we ask an important question. Are we just acknowledging that serving others is good and right? Or are we loving our neighbor as Jesus commanded? Is this a really big part of our work as a church, or is this something we glance at now and again. There isn’t much justice in social justice if in their freedom to extend the love of Christ churches are looking the other way.

I’m thankful for pioneers like Ira North and others who would not look away.

Thanks for reading, John

Kindle book by Ira North



Thoughts on the Passing of Ira North

Ira North

Could Jesus Have Imagined?

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. Matthew 18:3-5

As Jesus went about teaching the good news of the coming Kingdom, how much knowledge did he have of the coming ages? Haven’t you ever wondered if he was aware of how things would turn out and the challenges that would be faced in the coming centuries? Did he know about the questions we would ask and the sometimes confusing choices we would consider?

I do believe that the Bible speaks to all ages and addresses the true existential and religious questions that humans face. I believe that all truth is the same for those living in 1700 and 1805 and 1950 and 2007. Truth and the reality of life in God’s view have not changed and do not change. The gospel is the same good news it has been since that misty resurrection morning when the tomb was found empty. I believe all that we need to know in order to be assured of our redemption is to be found in the pages of the New Testament, and that the richness of Israel’s history offers even greater insight as we read the Hebrew Bible.

 So when Jesus, the Son of God, walked this Earth and imparted divine wisdom to carnal creatures, why did he not address things that would be major issues two thousand years later? Did he not know that there would be 26 different sects within the Churches of Christ alone? I’m talking about things that are issues now that were not issues then. Do you think he could have?  He did address the future on more than one occasion.

I hear answers. I read them with interest. Some of them I’ve been hearing my whole life. I have studied the various forms of study by which we reach those answers … the forms of study (hermeneutics) that force a particular answer. On one friend’s blog this week detractors left comments full of name calling and bitterness. I’m sure they thought it was deserved. They have answers … he has questions … everyone has words.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Jesus did know the end of the story….just as he did from Creation onward. I think Jesus knew about Catholicism. I feel sure that Jesus knew of the Protestant Reformation. He was aware of the struggle of Restoration. He knew that brothers and sisters in America would reject one another for two hundred years because of attitudes toward a keyboard.

Inching out on the limb a little further … if Jesus did know these things … perhaps he did address the questions that perplex us. It could be that we do not like the answers. It could be that we never thought that he could have imagined what we have become. In the early days of his ministry as he called the kingdom into being, could he ever have imagined brothers hating one another over use of the treasury … or versions of the Bible … or the qualifications of elders … or the use of power point? Could he have imagined heated exchanges over women making announcements or the placement of a communion table? Yes, he could. And if I’m right, he did.  Are the real struggles of the kingdom to be found in an eis or a psallo? The greatest person in the kingdom of God could not have grasped the significance of such.

As I re-read the kingdom message above, I’m thinking we ought to try to be great, and not necessarily right. One may lead to the other … but which is more important? We would all like to be great and right. But if you have to choose, which would it be? What do you think?

Talking Points

Today begain with some pretty heavy rain showers. It’s a wet and overcast day on the Coast. Today I will attend a funeral. The father of a new friend of mine passed away this past Saturday. He was a military hero, spending many years aboard a submarine. My friend’s grandfather has the distinction of being the man that John Kennedy jumped off ship to save a long time ago. Tonight Ross Jordan will speak for us, which is always a treat.


Do you ever get tired of the talking points? Within our branch of Christianity is a set of talking points that (1) always stirs up big talk and (2) never get resolved. Just hang out on one of our e-mail lists for a month and they make regular appearances. These are actually an unwritten creed that we have memorized and that our preachers and editors fling out as if they are proof of something.

A younger brother in Christ who has grown disenchanted with the Church of Christ that he grew up in says this in a recent e-mail: “…I dont think there is a place for me in “Churches of Christ”… I read those things [ talking points in some of the blogs, jd ] and I say “Are you serious?  Do people really believe any of those things?”  And then I remember my time at [brotherhood college] and I say, “YES!  There are many people out there in Churches of Christ that believe many of these statements … people in other denominations don’t even think about this stuff.”  So, I just write this because of the conversation we were having … about me coming back to the Church of Christ and when I read this it totally reminded me why I just dont fit.”

I admire my young friend’s honesty in his journey with Jesus.

Don’t you ever get tired of the ‘talking points’ … the repeating of the same old stuff over and over again until it has begun to characterize who we are. It leaves the impression that we can never dive deeper into the Word because these talking points are taking up our time.  They are mentioned and brought up in classes and sermons on texts that have nothing to do with them.

One of our past ‘talking points’ that I do not hear much any more is ‘undenominational Christianity’. It seems in the last decade that all across the country undenominational groups started forming and stole our thunder on that matter. While we were looking to see if any of our talking points applied to them, they started reaching people who were tired of mainline denominationalism and wanted something fresh. Something independent. Something that related to their community. Something that was connected to the Bible. Something that gathered people in instead of shutting them out. That ‘something’ is what we were supposed to be … autonomous, independent, Bible-believing, Jesus-preaching, community churches. Nowadays the talking point has us believing that to be a ‘community church’ is somehow antagonistic to the gospel.

So we do not talk about ‘undenominational Christianity’ any more. Our talking point was taken by someone who practiced it. Instead, we are a bit sheepish when we talk about being an undenomination. We have editors who are drawing up creeds by which the entire brotherhood is to be judged. (Judge Highers, in the recent Spiritual Sword,  sealed up Richland Hills Church of Christ’s fate by calling their leaders ‘wolves in sheeps clothing’ – and attempting to bully anyone who would walk outside of his perspective of what a Church of Christ ought to be). Our schools are walking tightropes of fear because if they take an unpopular ‘position’ they lose precious funding. At one brotherhood school some students are ostracized and spoken harshly to because they attend the ‘liberal’ church of Christ in that town. One of the teachers at that school says that attending that church makes things difficult for him at the University. It’s not enough to belong to a ‘Church of Christ’ any more … it has to be one that meets all the criteria imposed by our unelected and non-title-bearing bishops. Our people believe this to the point of hopping from church to church, usually damaging the church they leave and the church at which they arrive with this type of perspective. Who can find a church where everything is just like we want it and where the preacher says things just the way we want him to say it?

I want to be clear and say that I love the Church of Christ. I do not want to be anywhere else. I do think we need some new talking points. I think that those who have some new talking points are harshly criticized because they are leaving the denominational aspects of the church behind. I’d like for us to be undenominational again. I’d like to see Christians living free in Christ, not burdened down by the traditions of men that have been translated into law for the church. I’d like to see our doors open wide, inviting all believers to join hearts together as we study, pray, grow, serve, and progress in our spiritual life. I’d like to see real spirituality discussed instead of memorized talking points and tired arguments from debates that have long since died. I’d like to see us move away from a schoolhouse mentality and into a family mentality. I’d like to see us re-create that time in the book of Acts where people loved and served one another, where prayer meetings shook the house, and where needy people found relief. No group is perfect, but if we do not change our talking points, we can’t even move in that direction. What do you think?


Gary Kirkendall posts a response to the newest issue of the Spiritual Sword.

Ben Overby suggests that we are not good, apart from God.

Get Overwhelmed, along with Terry.

***Search Engine Terms***

Spiritual Sword and Rick Atchley – there is interest in this!

Did darlene zchech leave hillsong – Oh, I hope not.

wise words on confusion – at this blog???

Thanks for reading!

Human Tradition

See to it that no one takes you captive

through hollow and deceptive philosophy,

which depends on human tradition

and the basic principles of this world

rather than on Christ.

(Colossians 2:8)

The heresy at Colossae is a mystery of the ages. There are few details. At once it sounds Jewish and Gentile in origin. There are elements of the Law of Moses and also pagan mystic practices. It seems that Paul’s’ primary concern is not the origin or details of such heresy, but to battle the essential damning element of them: they replace Christ as our sufficiency. They promote the idea that it is good to have Christ in your life … but only as one of the elements that demonstrate true spirituality. The philosophy and tradition of humans is ranked highly … perhaps even as high as the knowledge of Christ. What are we to make of the Apostle’s instruction today?

We must be cautious when talking about traditions. Traditions are easily born and difficult to kill. Traditions are not evil within themselves. This text is not concerned with the habits that develop over time within any group of people who meet for any reason. I think it is concerned with any human tradition that takes on equal importance with the authority of Christ. What makes it ‘hollow’ and ‘deceptive’? Is it the practice itself, or is it the value assigned to the practice?

Can you think of ways that churches can be taken captive to practices that are held up as equal to Christ? At first we may say no … they are not equal to Christ. But take a look at some of our journals / papers / websites. Are we not quick to condemn people that do things differently than we? In so doing, are we not saying that their practice (whatever it is) is of equal importance to their commitment to Christ … because the practice damns them?

One church decides to have a Saturday night instrumental service. Another church decides to allow women to serve communion and make announcements. Yet another church allows ministers from the Christian Church to speak to them. In another locale the words “church of Christ” are removed from the outside of a structure. And when these kinds of things happen, some of our brothers are quick to say that these people are now “apostate”, “digressives”, and sometimes it is explicitly stated that they have lost their souls.

So, the use of instrumental music is equal in importance to the doctrine of Christ? The metal letters on the outside of a building are of equivalence to the pre-eminence of Christ? Hearing a message from someone who practices their Christianity a bit differently than we do is on the same level as the supremacy of Christ? If a woman passes a communion tray, Christ has somehow been dismissed from the service?

It has been said by an acquaintance that they would rather their children never attend church at all than to attend something other than a ‘Church of Christ’. In that statement alone every human tradition practiced by men is elevated to the importance of the doctrine of Christ.

Music, women’s roles, unity, and identity are all important issues but the truth is that most of our conclusions about those matters are based upon human tradition, and not on specific commandments from God. We may have thought through them and come up with a system whereby all answers are decided for us … but the system itself (hermeneutics) is not commanded by God. How can it determine all of our answers for us?

Many Christians remain captive to human tradition. Recognition of these practices as ‘tradition’ renders them of less importance than Christ in our lives. In fact, all congregations have traditions. Observance of traditions can be a source of peace and identity, joy and comfort. That is, unless those who enjoy those traditions seek to burden other believers with them and turn them into commandments. And that is where we always seem to go with traditions.

The trouble with traditions is that they are equated in importance with Christ in our lives. Some of us can envision Christ getting up and leaving an assembly if someone strummed a guitar. Some can see Christ turning away from a woman who is attempting to serve Him communion. Some can see Christ passing by a building that didn’t have the right words on it’s sign. If you have that vision of Christ, you have forgotten with whom Christ spent most of his time! Even our view of Christ can be manipulated by our slavish adherence to tradition.

The answer is not to dispense with all tradition. Even being non-traditional can become a tradition!  The answer is to give Christ the proper place in our hearts … and in our practice. What do you think?


100 Homes in 100 Days Project Continues. This is a fantastic project and should serve as a model for disaster recovery in the future. In the mean time thousands of people need help buying building materials to finish their homes. Is money available? In theory, yes. However MILLIONS of dollars sit untouched in a fund that is being overseen by a foundation here on the Gulf Coast. Why is it basically untouched? Because to access it you have to (1) apply to Salvation Army and receive their funds, (2) apply to Red Cross and receive their funds, (3) have matching funds, and (4) have volunteers available to do the work … and if you do all of that (which could take months), THEN you can have access to this money that was donated from people around the world for Katrina relief. I understand that this may be changing, but almost 20 months after the storm these funds sit unallocated. Someone from the press should investigate what’s happening here … and who is benefitting from holding these funds. I’m sure they are earning interest…for someone.

American Idol chat. Who do you think will get to go home tonight? MSNBC predicts it will be Haley or Phil. Goodbye Phil. Simon said Sanjaya “wasn’t horrible”. C’mon Simon, get real.

Choctaw Indians Want a Casino in Jackson County. In November we will vote on the issue. I thought they could do this with or without permission? In my opinion, they are going to go ahead no matter the vote. But maybe I’m wrong in my understanding about the legality of the issue.

Trey reveals 10 Traits of a Healthy Church.

Mark Copeland suggests that People Don’t Want A Friendly Church.

Phil touts the Spiritual Sword. I feel he will approve the comment I left, and he usually will respond. Phil and I see things very differently … but I do think he has a lot to offer.

Royce reflects on how far we may have traveled from the vision of the Restoration fathers.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday Night on the Coast

Robbie Woods Relaxing in John’s Office This Afternoon.

Good news today for Robbie Woods. I know many of you who have been down here to volunteer think of Robbie often. He is always surprised to hear from you, and he is always blessed. Robbie has done very well at his job and has been able to save some money. Tonight he moved into an apartment of his own. You have to understand what a great accomplishment this is, and how far Robbie has come since he walked into the Central facility with nothing but the clothes on his back. Alcohol and drugs robbed him of many blessings over the past years, but he is doing great in recovery. I am proud of Robbie. I am always blessed by his ready smile, his willingness to help, and his humility in the shadow of Jesus Christ. Occasionally he gets to update his blog, located HERE.

As I sit at my dining room table and type these words on a crystal clear night, a full moon is shining through the window. A candle is in the window sill with a calming flicker and a relaxing aroma. It’s been a cold, crisp day here on the Coast. For a third night we are under a freeze warning.

 For some reason some comments are being held back as SPAM by the filter at WordPress. Nick, your posts were being held back. I approved them today. Thanks for the birthday wishes…I did finally receive them! Thanks for posting! I’ll try to check the filter more often.

Bringing about a tremor in The Force, Richland Hills Church of Christ, the largest acappella church of Christ in America with 4,000 members (Did I get an e-mail that said 7,000 members?) has decided to add a Sunday night worship service using instrumental music and a second communion to their schedule. This is not lost on the bloggers….I’m sure there will be much typing through the nights to come.

Jeff Richardson posts Leroy Garrett’s reaction.

Mike Cope weighs in.

Greg England says ‘Wow’.

I looked for some negative reactions but could not find any neg-a-blogs. I’m sure they’re out there. Post a link if you find them. I’d like to know your reaction … where does this lead…how important is it to most churches of Christ?

 ***More Links***

Larry James describes A Post Office I’d like to visit!

Mark Elrod tells us What’s wrong with this world.

Bobby Cohoon suggests that Elvis had it right.

Bobby Valentine departs from the cheer of the season to post a message for those going through a rough time. The holidays aren’t happy times for everyone.

Mason McClain has a new post from True Hope.

Thanks for reading. I hope you are warm in your home, and aflame in your soul.


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Kingdom Come: Chapter Four

I do apologize for the long delay, and hope that those who have read the book or are reading will take a few moments to share their reflections.

Chapter Four is The Holy Spirit: God’s Redemptive Presence in the World. It concerns Harding’s appreciation for the indwelling Spirit in a church climate that was largely rejecting this vital teaching.  After a brief introduction of the subject, readers are informed of influential writer J. C. Hollowway and his attacks against Harding’s stance. Those who are familiar with the arguments, still presented today, will not be surprised by them.  (The Spirit works only through the word, etc.) Holloway actually thought that Harding was “a danger“. Harding thought that Holloway was “an example of rising deism among churches of Christ.”

The Holy Spirit in Harding’s theology was the Christian’s enabler. The Spirit is the secret to living in the shadow of the second coming.” Far from viewing this as an inconsequential matter, the indwelling Spirit was a centerpiece of Harding’s apocalyptic worldview. Harding and Holloway regarded each other with pity, each believing the other was treating the Word of God disrespectfully. As a result of their differing views, Holloway and Harding also disagreed on subjects such as special providence, grace and prayer. By the 1930’s Holloway’s view had emerged as the dominant tradition among churches of Christ.

The next sections identify aspects of this discussion and present Scripture that teaches the same. God is presented as relational – seeking intimate communion with His creatures. “The narrative of Scripture reinforces the longing of God for relationship with his creation.” Both in the Old and New Testaments The Spirit of God plays a predominant role in the Father’s relationship with humans. In the life of Jesus, the Spirit is present at baptism and birth. He is also present in the re-birth of those who have faith in Christ. The church is “God’s new community ….born and baptized of the Spirit.” In an excellent manner Hicks and Valentine lay out a theology of the Spirit from the pages of the New Testament.

In a following segment of the chapter, Living In The Spirit is the subject. Readers are encouraged to “learn to enjoy God.” “Prayer and worship, as means of being filled with the Spirit, bring us into intimate communion with the triune God as a foretaste of the new creation.” Living by the Spirit also means that we are longing for transformation. In our ongoing participation with God in life we are also equipped to serve God, using gifts that He has given to us.

 In conclusion Hicks and Valentine write, “Though surviving in pockets in the Churches of Christ, Harding’s perspective was soon eclipsed by rationalistic and symbolic views.”


What do you think…. is the Spirit actually the Word … or is the Spirit of God alive within the Christian?

In your experience, what is the view of most people with whom you have been associated?

Does it matter to you if the Spirit indwells via the word or personally? Why?

How important is this issue in regards to fellowship?

Why could it be said that our culture is more open to the personal indwelling today?

What does the Bible say?


NC sees tornadoes; 8 die in the storms.

Doctors in Biloxi are studying inhaled insulin … good news for diabetics.

Elderly Gulfport Storm Victim Gets New House!

700 People Sick On Cruise.

Ongoing Relief Work In Slidell, Louisiana.


What happens when someone who knows nothing about the Bible starts reading it … and Blogging about it?

Danny Dodd’s discussion of Should We Fight continues…