Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 8, no. 2 (Summer–Fall 2017)

playlist_add_check Review Article

Gary Holloway. A Global Fellowship: A Concise History of the World Convention of Churches of Christ. Nashville: Gary Holloway, 2017. 146 pp. Paperback. $10.00.

Gary Holloway, executive director of the World Convention (WC), formerly dean of the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University, states in his introduction that his self-published book, “although concise, attempts to give a fuller account of the World Convention of Churches of Christ that also gives these churches a seat at the table with other Christian World Communions, praying and working to fulfil the prayer of Jesus that all who believe may be one so that the world may believe” (5). A Global Fellowship is meant for those interested in understanding the Stone-Campbell Movement and its quest for unity in the ecumenical circles. The author divides his book into eleven chapters in addition to the introduction and conclusion.

Chapter one delineates the genesis of the Stone-Campbell Movement (SCM) and the circumstances and doctrinal differences that led to its division into three “denominations”: Christian Churches, Churches of Christ, and Disciples of Christ. Holloway does not include the International Churches of Christ, the fourth group that came from SCM during the last quarter of the twentieth century. By 1930, these churches had spread to “over thirty countries on every continent” through evangelism, thus creating the necessity of a worldwide conference. As a result, the World Convention of Churches of Christ—the brainchild of Jesse Moran Bader (1886–1963)—was established that year. Bader was appointed the first secretary general during the first convention in Washington, DC, in 1930, when around 6,300 people attended despite the ripple effects of the Great Depression. Although the SCM has been plagued by divisions, Bader worked indefatigably, convinced that the “convention [took] in all our people without reference to shades of theology, geography, color, or language . . . [it was] not controlled by any group, it [was] not held in ignorance of any group, and [was] not for the propaganda of any group. It [was] a great fellowship for mutual helpfulness and acquaintance” (15).

After narrating the historical background of the SCM in chapter one, Holloway describes each of the conventions in the following ten chapters. Chapter two deals with the third convention held in Leicester, United Kingdom, in 1935; chapter three, Buffalo, New York (1947), and Melbourne, Australia (1952); chapter four, Toronto, Canada (1955), and Edinburgh, United Kingdom (1960); chapter five, San Juan, Puerto Rico (1965); chapter six, Adelaide, Australia (1970), and Mexico City, Mexico (1975); chapter seven, Honolulu, Hawaii (1980); Kingston, Jamaica (1984) and Auckland, New Zealand (1988); chapter eight, Long Beach, California (1992), and Calgary, Canada (1996); chapter nine, Brisbane, Australia (2000), and Brighton, England (2004). Chapter ten deals with the Nashville convention in 2008 and the events that led the next two conventions to switch locations. The 2012 meeting had been slated for Zimbabwe; unfortunately the economic meltdown in that country, precipitated by jingoistic political decisions, compelled the organizers to move it to Goiânia, Brazil. South Korea was scheduled to host the 2016 meeting, but it was cancelled after Kang Lee, the WC President, “led a protest in Busan [South Korea, in 2013] against the World Council of Churches” (110). The meeting was held in Damoh, central India, in January 2017.The next meeting will be in Manzini, Swaziland. Interestingly, the continent of Africa was called “The Dark Continent” during the first WC meeting in 1930. Now missiologists and church planters are forecasting that by 2050 Africa will have close to one billion Christians.

Holloway argues that the WC has cherished ecumenism since its inception, encouraging and accepting delegates from other Christian fellowships. However, it took thirty-five years from its inception before a member of the a cappella Churches of Christ spoke at the WC. Carl Ketcherside was the first person from this fellowship to speak at the WC in 1965 at San Juan. He was known for his conservative views of the Bible, yet at that meeting he said, “The Christian concept is not one of Jesus pointing to a book but of a book pointing to Jesus” (58). Leroy Garrett, another member of the Churches of Christ, participated in the 1992 meeting. Rubel Shelley, then minister for the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, delivered a lesson on Christian unity at the 1996 convention. Shelley said, “Unity is not ours to create but ours to receive as God’s gift” (91).

High profile politicians have also graced WC meetings. Herbert Hoover, the thirty-first President of the USA, “hosted about 5,000 convention delegates at tea on the White House lawn. This . . . reflects Hoover’s Quaker spirituality, the simplicity of the times in 1930 (with few worries about Presidential security), and the significance of the Disciples [SCM] and other Christian denominations as a political force” (19). In 1955, “Lester B. Pearson, Canadian Secretary of State, who later would win Nobel Prize for Peace and became Prime Minister of Canada” addressed WC delegates in Toronto (43). Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a keynote address at San Juan (1965).

I found Holloway’s discussion about the Bader Lectures fascinating. These lectures, named in honour of Bader’s thirty-three years of WC leadership, have been given by outstanding academics irrespective of denominational affiliation, color, or gender. At the 1984 meeting, Eugene A. Nida of the United Bible Societies, whom Holloway describes as “the foremost authority on Bible translation, . . . enthralled the audience with many examples of the difficulty of translation [and concluded by saying] ‘There’s enough gospel preaching in one week to save the whole world, just not enough gospel living”’ (78). Fred B. Craddock, professor of New Testament and preaching at Emory University, delivered the Bader lectures at the Long Beach Conference in 1992. In 2004, Musa Dube, a feminist theologian from the University of Botswana addressed delegates at the sixteenth assembly in Brighton, England, arguing for reconciling God’s people for mission. Holloway argues that the WC is the only institution that gives the SCM a voice at global ecumenical meetings. Its past and present secretaries general (or executive directors, as they are now called) have attended meetings hosted by the World Council of Churches, the Second Vatican Council, and Secretaries of Christian World Communions, to mention a few.

A Global Fellowship is an indispensable historical account of a pivotal institution whose mission resonates with that of the chief architects of the Stone-Campbell Movement. It is accessible while filling a gap in academic study on this topic. It is central in understanding the SCM in the twenty-first century as the majority of its members are gradually shedding sectarianism and embracing ecumenism. Although the SCM is now global, just like any evangelical group, it is grappling to grow numerically in the Majority World because of failing to contextualize its theology, an area I expected Holloway to briefly discuss in this little informative book.

Paul S. Chimhungwe

African Christian College

Manzini, Swaziland