It is 3 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 23 in Moody Coliseum at Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas, and the air is thick with nervous anticipation.
Soon to begin is a three-day Lectureship Forum termed Faithful Conversations featuring eight representatives of the International Church of Christ (ICOC) and the churches of Christ (termed for the purpose of this coverage, mainline).
The audience is slowly assembling. Some faces are familiar to those who attend the ACU lectures each February. But many are newcomers unknown to the majority of the audience and to this venue.
People see and are seen, renew old acquaintances and make new ones, and enjoy themselves while keeping an eye on the row of chairs soon to be filled.
Occasionally, an ICOC leader will warmly greet a well-known mainline leader rarely seen since college days.
Old ties a new era.
At this first session, moderator Mark Love, lectureship director, will lead the discussion with four ICOC leaders. At the second and third sessions those four will be joined by four mainline leaders.
Promptly at 3:15, the participants take their places and hours of heartfelt dialogue begin.
THREE HISTORIC DAYS
ACU president Royce Money termed the first days session historic. The four-and-a-half hours of total conversation illuminated many of the issues on the hearts of both groups.
Discussions included the ICOCs status today, the role of Kip McKean, helping those still hurting, the failures of the mainline church of Christ, church autonomy, future visions and cautions to observe.
Participants and observers alike were heartened and warmed by a spirit of fellowship and interchange that panelists said they wouldnt have thought possible.
An estimated 40 ICOC ministers and many ICOC members attended the Forum. Times of discussion, prayer, and requests for forgiveness on both sides were highlights of the meeting and the lectureship, participants said.
As the Forum progressed, some mainline members expressed concern about how long it would take the ICOC to regroup and how clearly it would abandon the practices of over/under discipling and performance-based congregational life.
However, ICOC participants were unequivocal in their statements about such practices.
ICOC participant Gordan Ferguson said, We have ended the practice of over/under discipling. ... We are moving away from performance orientation and are getting back to basic Bible, as we should.
And what about Kip McKean, now an ICOC evangelist in Portland, Ore., and his relation to the ICOC?
ICOC panelist Gregg Marutzkys response: Please dont believe the comments he makes are as if he is speaking for all of us; thats not the case, and thats not going to be the case in the future.
Ferguson said, ... we will not go back to one man leading the movement again.
Mike Taliaferro of the ICOC said, We are going to have one man leading the movement, and that is going to be Jesus Christ.
SIX PLACES TO LEARN
On the Forums last day, moderator Mark Love enumerated six areas the eight participants had discussed outside the formal discussions where we can learn from each other.
The mainline wants to learn more from the ICOC about church planting.
Both groups want to learn from each other about training ministers.
Both groups want to learn more about how Christians are formed over a lifetime.
Both groups want to learn from each other regarding sectarianism and elitism about loving despite differences.
Some ICOC leaders want to learn from the mainline regarding worship.
Within days of the Forum, discussion boards and publications of the ICOC and the mainline had registered response.
The Chicago Tribune in a March 5 article quoted Chicago elder Steve Staten as saying, We were expressing how we hurt the people in the audience. We had lots of tears in fellowship. Lots of hugging, reconciliation. People making plans to do things together.
ICOC participant Mike Taliaferro said of the Forum, ... maybe we are not getting married, but it was a real nice first date.
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