Interview with Leroy Garrett

The final installment on tithing will wait till tomorrow because I have finished my interview with Leroy Garrett.

For those who don't know who Leroy Garrett is, he has spent his life trying to reform the Churches of Christ. If you went to a Church of Christ Bible college, you might have used his book, The Stone-Campbell Movement: The Story of the American Restoration Movement, in Restoration History. He also recently wrote and autobiography, A Lover's Quarrel: My Pilgrimage of Freedom in Churches of Christ. Reading this book is what inspired me to interview him. He touched on a few topics of interest to me.


On His Life Achievements

Regan - You have spent your life reforming the Churches of Christ. What do you feel are some of the greatest changes you have seen in your lifetime?

Leroy - The greatest change relates to our greatest need -- to get beyond our sectarianism. This has begun to happen to an encouraging degree. Other changes that relate to this: a larger view of the church, more self-criticism and consciousness of our history, greater awareness of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, a more responsible view of the Bible and acceptance of modern biblical scholarship.

On Sectarianism

Regan - How much credit for the decrease in sectarianism should we give to proper Biblical understanding of the love of Christ and desire for Christian unity rather than our buying into America's religion of tolerance?

Leroy - I would say that a responsible approach to Scripture generally -- including the love of Christ and a desire for unity -- is the key to
overcoming sectarianism. It is basically a hermeneutical problem --
warping Scripture to justify our divisions. Our sectism is largely due to making the NT a kind of book it is not.

Changes that still need to Happen

Regan - What are the changes that still need to take place?

Leroy - The changes mentioned above have only begun. We need to continue in these changes. I would point to "bringing women into the church as equals and cease to be male-dominated" as one of the most urgent, and here we have made little progress. The servant concept of discipleship – taking following Jesus seriously -- is a need we share with all denominations.

On Mutual or Lay Ministry

Regan - In your book you have the following quote from Alexander Campbell: "To employ men to preach the gospel to a Christian congregation is a satire upon that congregation that employs them." If we are to not pay ministers, who would do the teaching? What would a church look like without a paid minister? In mentioning it to friends, I have heard the reply that it isn't feasible and things wouldn't get done. What do you think?

Leroy - The minister or pastor system is a modern innovation. The NT
Churches were able to do mutual ministry, apparently quite well (Rom. 15:14), and the "ancient order" -- as Campbell called it -- provided for "the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry" (Eph. 4:11-13). Basic to the Reformation was "the priesthood of all believers" and every Christian a minister. In the Restoration Movement this was followed for the first few decades. Today members are not ministers to each other but an audience, entertained by a professional staff.

Regan - Do you know of any good resources to read on this subject?

Leroy - Ketcherside's The Royal Priesthood; James H. Rutz: The Open Church powerful)

Regan - Do you know of any churches that have made the transistion from a paid minister to the model you propose?

Leroy - The Restoration churches in Britain -- the Old Paths group -- are mutual ministry. It has been generally practiced among Quakers and Plymouth Brethren. The Sommerite CofC in this country. There are scattered instances among mainline churches. I've just returned from Calico Rock (Ark) CofC that has six to eight men who take turns edifying the congregation.

Regan - Concerning lay-led churches: Do you notice a more vibrant church life in these churches? What changes? Is it worth it to do church without a paid staff?

Leroy - Mutual ministry churches are usually smaller and more intimate, and more like an assembled family. But not necessarily more vibrant, whatever that means. I personally believe mutual ministry has much to offer -- the saints are relating to each other and not merely an audience.

On House Churches

Regan - House churches don't have the expense of either a building or a minister. All they have is money to further the work of God's Kingdom. What do you think about house churches?

Leroy - Unfortunately when they are "walkout" groups from churches they don't usually last long. I have more heart for units that meet in homes such as on Sun p.m. who are in mainline churches. Here is captured what I would like to see more of in mainline assemblies -- open to women equally (often at least) and mutual sharing, love feasts (often).

Regan (a rather lengthy question) - When I moved to Lansing, Michigan, and started a house church, we were not a "walkout" group from churches.
We had some people who hadn't been going to church because they were disillusioned by the use of money. We had people looking for a place to worship because they were driving too far to church. Nobody in our
original group were leaving another church because of a difference of any sort. It was a church plant rather than a church split. One of our main purposes was to use the finances that would've been spent on
paying a minister and building a facility on loving the community we lived in and meeting one another's needs. We wanted to be a community of believers that were focused solely on the will of God. We wanted to
show to the world what it is like to live in Christian love.

After a rough start and a "healthy" church split of our own that completely defied the Christian love we were trying to display, the church is doing great. There are now two different house churches that are in close association with one another. They are focused on being the Kingdom of God, loving one another, and loving the community. They are what I felt laid on my heart when I moved up there to plant the church.

The reason I give you all of that background is because I agree completely with what you said about "walkout" groups and house churches. All of the ones in the area I live in now seem to be self-centered and
the result of some conflict at another church. They are not doing anything to further the Kingdom and are a blight on the idea of Christian unity.

My question then is this. Do you see house churches like the one I described in the first two paragraphs as a good thing for the Kingdom? Can they play a growing role in the growth of the Church in America?

Leroy - They must avoid the image of being tentative, with no plans, no
goals. If it is a church plant, there should be set goals, then a plan for reaching the goal. While some spontaneity is important, there should be enough structure that the little assembly moves along in its teaching and edification. Those able to teach should lead and gradually bring less able into the edification process.

Regan - What is a house church of 20 people missing if they don't have
the larger assembly every week but only have the house gathering?

Leroy - They may not be missing anything, depending on whether their
"little flock" loves each other and builds up one another in the faith. They may well have what larger assemblies do not have. An assembly of saints should be made up of participants, not simply auditors.

Tough Teachings that are being Ignored

Regan - What tough teachings of Scripture is the Church ignoring today?

Leroy - Spirituality and discipleship, not taking call of Christ seriously -- accumulation of wealth and not sharing our wealth, spending money on ourselves, consumerism, luxurious living rather than simple lifestyle.

Regan - This is not part of the interview, but the conclusion. We will finish up money tomorrow. Feel free to post replies to this interview and say what you think about what Leroy said.

Watch out for potholes.