Another Summit has come and gone. It occupied my time almost totally for three and a half days, and has now moved into the history journals and mind’s memory. I am now back home and facing the never ending story of farm life in rural Texas. Each year I attend Summit, which was the outgrowth of the old ACU Bible Lectureship, and I come away feeling like I have been to the summit of a mountain and actually come just a little closer to God. It is a place to be challenged spiritually and mentally. A place to be challenged by having the walls of our boxes battered down a little by new ideas and a place to have the old traditions that are good brought up to the present while having the old traditions that are not so good moved a little farther into the past while new traditions are birthed in the process. It is a place to see old friends in Christ and a place to meet new friends in Christ, a place to relax from the grind of the everyday while rebuilding a spiritual energy to meet the world on a new level when we leave, and a place where we can talk about, listen to, and even participate in the discussion and application of God’s word in ways we would never consider doing in our home congregations. Maybe even more important, it is a place where us older generations, who are worn down by life’s events and challenges, who are wondering how the church and the world will continue on as we slowly become less able to fight the battles of life, can come into contact with the generation that is about to and eager to meet life’s events and challenges head on. It is a generation that is now just coming into the young adult world as they prepare to enter it with advanced studies and degrees, with strong ideals, new ideas, and a strong faith with an even stronger drive to grow in that faith to become closer to God. I can see God’s hands more clearly on the future when I see these young adults, talk to them one on one, and listen to them as they prepare to meet the world head on at high speed. I had the pleasure of meeting one young lady who was entering the ACU Graduate School of Theology to study for an M.Div. Her father, a well known minister, told one assembly of about two thousand listeners that he had four sons and only one daughter and his daughter had more ministry ability in the tip of her little finger than all of the males in the family put together! Summit is all of that and much, much more for me. When Summit opened its doors to speakers and teachers outside the Church of Christ, something Lectureship never did, we felt the fresh air sucking into the vacum that is created in a closed setting. It’s like a fire in a closed up structure. Anyone who has ever been a firefighter knows that when a structure is closed up fairly tightly and a fire starts, as the fire grows it sucks the oxygen out of the interior of the structure. The fire can be wide spread in the structure without ever being a brightly burning fire. When a door is kicked open, the inrush of oxygen causes a huge fire to erupt very quickly. It’s like blowing on the embers of a campfire after adding a pile of very dry twigs and branches on top and watching the fire grow out of the coals as oxygen is blown onto the coals. Dr. Brady Bryce, Summit Director, has done an excellent job of building the fire of spiritual growth and creating a desire to look at the old in fresh new ways to see where we can move forward, keep what is tried and true, and shed what is old and dead, like a rattlesnake crawling out of its old dried out skin with faded color and immerging with a fresh new skin that is brightly colored.
My study track this year was, of course, gender equality and inclusivity in the church. DUH! as I have heard children say occasionally. The lack of gender equality in the Churches of Christ has been, is, and will continue to be, my prime interest at Summit. Summit dove into the discussion two years ago with a class track the first year that I felt was somewhat limited based on the importance of the discussion. However, each year they added to the class track on gender, becoming more indepth, more challenging of the old traditions, more thought provoking, and more attendance drawing. This year, each day started with a class by Dr. Everett Ferguson, the voice of traditionalsim and conservatism. Now, if you don’t know who Dr. Ferguson is, he is a highly respected professor at the ACU Graduate School of Theology. I have a couple of his books, one of which is 900 pages of very tiny font! He is a scholar. He is also very traditional in his approach to women in the church and holds to the belief that women are to be silent in the worship, cannot be in any form of leadership, and God places men ahead of women in these areas. It is a man’s responsibility given by God. Everett presented the standard traditional theological point of view for his beliefs. It wasn’t anything we haven’t already heard in most churches in the past but I believe it was important that this point of view be presented because it established a point of reference for everyone who would stay for the next class by Dr. Ken Cukrowski. Ferguson tried to say that women could probably be used more than they are but he did not present any concrete ways to do so. It was the same old same old. Dr. Ken Cukrowski, also a respected member of the ACU Graduate School of Theology, presented the opposing view of gender in the church which is that God does not limit service based on gender. This is now being commonly referred to as the Gender Inclusive or Biblical Egalitarian point of view in the Churches of Christ. Ken did an excellent job in his presentations. They were very informative with solid scriptural backing and sound theological reasoning for their side. They would have been very new ideas to some who may have been entering the gender discussion for the first time but Ken’s ability at presenting these theological views left no one behind, and provided even new comers a good basic understanding of what the inclusivity/egalitarian side believes Scripture, while also providing some of us old time biblical egalitarians an even better understanding of Scripture. The third day of the gender classes was a question and answer type forum that allowed questions that were submitted by email or text. Cards for written questions seemed to just dissappear before some of us who do not do that young generation text thing on our phones or who do not carry the “oh so popular on campus iPad with connectivity” could submit questions. The forum was friendly, respectfull, and Christian values were held to and displayed during the entire process. This is not always true when the discussion of gender comes up, especially in our local congregations. The questions that moderator, Dr. Brady Bryce, chose were not easy ones. Which ever view one held to, there was solid support available from these very knowledgable men. The most encouraging thing in those classes was that I saw friends in these classes that I knew were on one side of the fence or the other, stay for both classes and then show up the next day to continue listening to both sides present their theological positions. Of course, I take the view that the gender inclusive/egalitarian view is how God expects us to be in the church and that we MUST change if we are to survive the next century. At almost 64 years old, I don’t imagine I will live to see a culmination of what we are working toward. God has his own time frame for everything. The other classes on gender I attended were just as good. Several classes were presented by women ministers from the Christian Church DoC. The women who taught the classes I attended all left the Churches of Christ in order to be able to become pulpit ministers and fullfill the calling they had heard from God, and to be able to use the gifts he had given them. They were definitly gifted! They were excellent speakers and very thought provoking, touching on the personal lives of women in ministry.
The speakers at the assemblies continued to be very capable speakers and the worship, with attendance of up to a couple of thousand attendees and students, was outstanding. However, we have not yet reached the point of being able to hear from a woman during those assemblies! A highlight was the talks by Walter Brueggemann. He was one of the non-Church of Christ speakers and it was a real treat to hear and watch him as he spoke. If anyone reading this ever has the chance to hear Brueggemann, I highly recommend doing so! A surprise for some of us was finding out that we would be able to attend a pre-release showing of the movie “Hell and Mr. Fudge”. For a members of the Churches of Christ, this is a must see movie, especially if you were a part of the 1970’s to 1990’s Church of Christ. It will bring back good and bad memories of some of the traits that prevailed across a large part of our congregations. Those bad traits are still there but they are slowing dying. The movie is about Edward Fudge, when he was still in college, followed by the early years of his ministry career, and his study of the subject of Hell, which he wrote and published a book under the title of “The Fires That Consume”. I highly recommend not only seeing the movie, but reading the book as well because it is one of the most important studies of a traditional belief on Hell ever done, not just for the Churches of Christ, but for Christianity as a whole. This book has indeed crossed all denominational lines in its reach. If you can read the book before you see the show it will make the show even better. One word of advice. If you lived through the era of the Church of Christ that this movie is based in, you may find some emotions come up. I saw tears on some, and there was probably some bad memories brought up for others. There is also good feelings that will come from this show and even feelings of relief fom others. And, yes, I had some feelings also that I didn’t expect. Edward was in the theater a couple of rows behind us and had a talk session that night after the assembly. The movie will be released to theaters sometime this Fall.
On a grading scale of 0 to 10, Summit gets a 9.9 overall this year, and that is only because I want to leave some room for improvement! When I see and hear a female minister be the featured speaker during a morning or evening assembly, then a 10 will be earned!