I returned yesterday from the rolling hills of West Virginia where I attended the 55th annual Oreon Scott Lectures at Bethany College. I was invited by a friend who is a regional elder for the Disciples of Christ with whom we in Churches of Christ share a common heritage.
Bethany College was founded as a liberal arts school by none other than Alexander Campbell, a pioneer not only in religion, but in education as well. You might even call him the founder of the town of Bethany itself where he farmed nearby and also served as preacher, professor, post-master, politician, publisher, and the school's first president. It was from here that he published his popular Millennial Harbinger periodical.
While on the grounds, I naturally visited Campbell's mansion. I felt like an Elvis fan touring Graceland for the first time. My wife said, "Oh, come on! It couldn't have been that exciting." But for me it was. Perhaps more so. I felt excitement as I toured Campbell's home and a deep sense of reverence as I stood at his graveside.
Campbell was a great man who made much more significant contributions to the world than Elvis. Campbell opposed religious division within the church, arguing for the unity of all believers in Christ based upon the restoration of the ancient order of faith. He also opposed socialism and eloquently defended American liberty. HIs debate with atheist Robert Owen may now prove to be as timely as ever.
As exciting as the Campbell home were the lectures themselves, this year conducted by Bonnie Thurston, a native of West Virginia and longtime New Testament scholar. She spoke on the Lord's Prayer from Matthew's Gospel as a model for personal piety and global justice. This was very timely for me since I recently taught a class on Matthew's use of Isaiah in terms of the Messianic expectation for a kingdom in which justice prevails. While I hammered on texts from Matthew 4, 5, 11, 12, and 25, I can now connect the dots by seeing how the Lord's Prayer in chapter 6 so perfectly fits into this theological context.
So I learned some things about the Lord's Prayer. When I heard the topic announced I thought, "What new can I possibly learn about the Lord's Prayer?" I should have known better since the Scripture is so deep and inexhaustible. Thurston's presentations were as relevant as they were scholarly, furthering the formation of my heart as a vessel desiring more of God and longing to do his will. My prayer life will especially be richer as a result of this event.
I enjoyed the fellowship with other attendees, mostly Disciples ministers. The Monday night worship was certainly different from that to which we in churches of Christ are accustomed. But the sermon by current Bethany minister, Scott Thayer was quite relevant. In a culture where church again feels like a minority, what opportunities might there be for a church in the desert?
I may have been the only attendee from the A Cappella Church of Christ. At dinner some church organists complained of past experiences in which the keys to some old church organs tended to stick. I could not resist interjecting that we don't have that problem in the church where I preach.
The three branches of the Restoration Movement need each other. More from the Church of Christ should commit to attending these lectures and engaging in the dialogue.