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The Greatest Generation

We must thank Tom Brokaw for the nomenclature, “The Greatest Generation!” His 1998 book of that name tells of those after World War II “who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America.”

From the dust cover comes this paragraph, “In the spring of 1984, I went to the northwest of France, to Normandy, to prepare an NBC documentary on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, the massive and daring Allied invasion of Europe that marked the beginning of the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. There, I underwent a life-changing experience. As I walked the beaches with the American veterans who had returned for this anniversary, men in their sixties and seventies, and listened to their stories, I was deeply moved and profoundly grateful for all they had done. Ten years later, I returned to Normandy for the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion, and by then I had come to understand what this generation of Americans meant to history. It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”

Currently, I am reading “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson, about the life of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England during World War II. England was trying to help the European continent nations in their fight against Hitler and his Nazis. Many countries had fallen, and Hitler had invaded France. Churchill knew that if France fell that England would be the next to be attacked. He sent troops to help the French but the Nazis were too much at this time. They got the English and Allied troops on the run and backed them up to the English Channel. Those troops must be saved so that England could fight another day.

The evacuation from Dunkirk proved successful. Over 887 vessels carried out the evacuation. Only about a quarter of these belonged to the British Navy. 91 were passenger ships, the rest were described as “fishing boats, yachts, and other small craft.” 338,226 men were rescued, “including 125,000 French soldiers.”

Churchill did not like the retreat as necessary as it was. Larson says, “On June 4, the last day of the evacuations, in an address to the House of Commons, Churchill again turned to oratory, this time to bolster the empire as a whole. First, he applauded the success at Dunkirk, though he added a sober reminder: ‘Wars are not won by evacuations.’”

Larson’s next paragraph reads: “As he neared the conclusion of the speech, he fired his boilers. ‘We shall go on to the end,’ he said, in a crescendo of ferocity and confidence. ‘We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.’”

The speech had mixed reviews. Those who would retreat and run said that the speech did nothing for them. But others, including America realized that Britain was committed to win. Hitler also got the message.

Let us jump ahead! (Spoiler alert!) America joined the war and the Allies won! Some, in this day and age, may not know that well known fact.

In reading parts of that speech, the one part that sticks out to me is when Churchill said, “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

As I look at the history of the Restoration Movement I am inclined to agree with Brokaw that the same group he called, “The Greatest Generation” were also the Greatest Generation of our Movement.

Alexander Campbell died in 1866. Isaac Errett began The Christian Standard that same year and carried Campbell’s obituary in that first issue. Although the Movement had grown almost beyond comprehension, around that time it began to fraction. Almost every major religious group split over the issue of slavery, except the Restoration Movement. Our split occurred over the musical instrument in worship. How interesting that the poorer churches in the South that could not afford pianos began to say that it was wrong to have them. The wealthier congregations north of the Mason-Dixon line thought they could be used. Thus, a split in fellowship!

Then another split took place as the intelligentsia and others who competed for the chief seats decided in the hallowed halls of learning took a left turn away from the Bible and in essence began to write their own Bible by changing the meaning.

Enter the “Greatest Generation of the Restoration Movement.” They accepted the Bible as the Word of God as it was written. They sought not to add or take away, but to live it, follow it, preach it, teach it, and obey it.

They rolled up their sleeves and went to work. They started congregations from coast to coast. At this point, please get out your old copy of Christians Only by James DeForest Murch and read chapter 19, “Centrist Status and Growth.” If you don’t have a copy, you should, and it can be ordered from Thecra.org.

In chapter 18, titled, “Leftist Status and Growth,” about the Disciples of Christ, Murch explains what happened to those who went off the deep end. “The impressive denomination-like machinery of the International Convention, the United Christian Missionary Society, and the state societies, largely under liberal control, becomes more firmly entrenched in the life of the brotherhood with the passing of years. The liberals have culture, prestige, and administrative wisdom. They have no doctrinal or traditional inhibitions; they are non-Biblical inclusivists. They seek ecclesiastical status and are willing to make concessions which will promote ecumenical achievement. Their strong supporters in local churches are of similar timbre. In earlier days, the leadership of these churches had strong sound Biblical doctrine, the meaning of church membership, and commitment to the Restoration causes are sometimes deemed less important than social status and business success. Church members covet social and cultural relationships with the prominent churches of the community which are often affiliated with liberal-denominated councils of churches. Church-going has been popularized and, while it is a deeply felt and soul-searching experience for many millions of Americans, they frequently cannot hear Biblical preaching. The denomination has status and is accepted by other denominations. Disciples on the extreme Left accept this position and are glad that they have the status the International Convention gives them.”

Remember the above paragraph from Murch. It is of historical importance.

Our Greatest Generation loved God and His Word. They understood. They sought, against the odds, to do the right thing. They knew that an educated ministry was needed so they not only started churches, but also Bible colleges. After listing about four Bible colleges, Murch goes on to say that from 1924 to 1962 about 35 other “educational institutions” were founded.

Murch then uses about 7 pages to tell about Mission works and fields that were opened by this pioneering greatest generation.

Now look briefly at the present generation. Far from the greatest they will go down as the generation who was given the most and did the least with it.

As far as Bible colleges are concerned, gone in my lifetime are Midwest Christian College, Dakota Bible College, Puget Sound College of the Bible, Nebraska Christian College, Southern Christian College, Eastern Christian College, Bluefield College of Evangelism, Minnesota Bible College, and of course The Cincinnati Bible Seminary and a few others. We now number somewhere around 25 in the United States. Some died after trying to merge with someone else. Others died from enemies of the faith rising to leadership. Still others died by looking at a lending institutions for help, but then were destroyed like the frog was by the scorpion. It was the nature of the scorpion to sting. As Churchill said, “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

The North American Christian Convention that sometimes registered more than 25,000 and serviced so many more is gone. What killed it? One insight: At one of the last 120 person continuation committee meetings that I attended, we were told that the executive committee wanted our input. We were divided into many small groups for discussion purposes. The chair then said something to the effect that the executive committee wanted us to discuss a new statement of purpose that they would like for us to adopt. He then read the statement. I don’t remember it in its entirety, but I do remember the first few words. “The North American Christian Convention is a leadership convention…”

I heard nothing after those first nine words. I knew that was wrong. I didn’t want to go to my small group because I would have to speak against that purpose statement. The NACC was never a “leadership convention.” It was never intended to be a “leadership convention.” It was meant to be a preaching and teaching convention for all of our people. It was a rallying place for our people to meet, be inspired, taught and encouraged to go back and strengthen our churches and evangelize our communities.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got to my small group and did not have to say a thing. Everyone already felt the same way that I did. As I remember, those running the big group broke up the small groups early because they were getting the same feedback in all the groups. The only comment by the leaders was, “We will have to visit this again in the future.” End discussion!

Changes were made and a convention meant to operate independently from year to year, added the machinations where leadership was centralized. A chart was made that showed the members of Standard’s Publishing Committee, Trustees of the Church Development Fund, and the Board of Stewards of the NACC. Lines were drawn showing duplications of personnel on the three entities. One person looked at the chart and said, “It’s kind of incestuous, isn’t it?” It was. Many of those same people are pulling the levers of organizational chaos today. They have forced an evacuation and as Churchill said, “Wars are not won by evacuations.” 

The leaders pushed that “leadership” idea quietly from then on. When they finally killed the NACC, a few were given the assets and SPIRE was started to be “More than a conference or a collection of resources, Spire.network is a developing ministry platform designed to be the place where ministry leaders who inspire a movement of healthy growing churches go to be encouraged and equipped” (taken from Spire website). In other words, it is a leadership convention, but more than that. They will train leaders. Of course, the question remains as to what type of leaders they will train. Jesus warned the Pharisees and told the kind of leaders they were producing (Matthew 23:15).

Was the North American Christian Convention shuttered because of malfeasance or calculated plan? Who knows? What caused the death of some of our Bible colleges; malfeasance or calculated plan? Who knows? What caused the death of Standard Publishing; malfeasance or calculated plan? Who knows? All I do know is that “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

And during this time the three funding institutions in our brotherhood continue to get larger and more powerful. I wonder why?

We are not winning the war! Jesus told about this day and warned us. Read carefully what He had to say in Luke 12:35-40.

Pray that God will raise up a future generation that will again be a “building generation!”

“Wars are not won by evacuations.”

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