The End of an Era

By Mark A. Taylor

“Do you still have a job?”

The text came to my phone Friday evening from a friend cross-country who had just read the news about David C. Cook’s purchase of Standard Publishing assets.

I assured him I’m still working at CHRISTIAN STANDARD, even though most of Standard’s product lines went with the sale.

David C. Cook, an evangelical publisher with almost as many years of service as Standard Publishing, has acquired Standard’s complete line of Standard Lesson Commentary products as well as our Heartshaper Sunday school curriculum and related teaching resources for children.

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Christian Standard and The Lookout remain as a part of the new Christian Standard Media LLC.

The purchase effectively ends the existence of Standard Publishing. Remaining is a new company with a new name, Christian Standard Media, comprised of CHRISTIAN STANDARD, The Lookout, the 2016 Vacation Bible School course “God’s Deep Sea Discovery,” and several VBS-related products created by Beth Guckenberger.

This follows the acquisition some time ago by Tyndale House of Standard’s successful Happy Day Books for children and popular line of stickers used by teachers and individuals. About that time Standard’s management decided to get out of the trade book publishing business.

Longtime Standard Publishing employees living with these changes can’t help but feel grief, or at least nostalgia. It’s not only that people are losing their jobs (in this latest move, some employees are now working for Cook; some will work for neither company). The bigger reality is that we’re seeing the end of an era.

 

Decades of Change

It’s an end that’s been coming for some time. I arrived at Standard 39 years ago when many Christian church leaders still viewed Standard as “their” publisher. In spite of the fact that Standard was selling a wide variety of materials to every stripe of church, including Roman Catholics, the special relationship between Standard and the independent Christian churches was strong.

This was because the whole company had grown from CHRISTIAN STANDARD magazine, published since 1866 and “devoted to the restoration of New Testament Christianity, its doctrine, its ordinances, and its fruits.” When heirs of the magazine’s first editor, Isaac Errett, sold the company in 1955, a Publishing Committee was formed to guarantee the doctrinal integrity of the company.

But between that time and the second sale of the company to the private equity firm Wicks Group in 2006, much had changed in the church and in culture. Christian churches were more concerned about a wide variety of pragmatic concerns (“Does it work? Is it fresh and fun and colorful? What does it cost?”) than about doctrinal purity. Through the years a growing number of Christian churches and churches of Christ chose Sunday school and VBS materials from other publishers.

Meanwhile, Standard Publishing itself did too little to nurture, lead, and serve the Christian churches. Sometimes this was because of budgetary restrictions imposed by a for-profit owner. Sometimes this was because it could not figure out how to tell a denominational world, “Our true-to-the-Bible materials are for you” while also insisting that the same material was especially suited for independent Christian churches.

A similar tension exists today in most colleges and many parachurch ministries started by members of Christian churches, as well as with both national conventions serving this group. Fewer and fewer “Christian church” ministries are surviving with the support of Christian churches alone.

Maybe this is good. In an increasingly secular culture, Christians are finding new ways to work together instead of staying and standing apart. The goal of the Restoration Movement has never been to create another denomination but to call all Christ followers to unity based on truth and committed to evangelism.

 

Unique Ground?

What unique ground should Christian churches and churches of Christ hold in today’s climate? How can we work effectively with other believers with whom we agree on so much without sacrificing our unique positions on the place of baptism, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, and the role of the eldership? How do we build on our heritage without being enslaved to it?

Those are issues we’ll continue to address at CHRISTIAN STANDARD. Neither that publication nor The Lookout has any plans to cease publication.

Maybe the opportunity will come for these magazines once again to be owned by those in the Christian churches. Or maybe someone outside that group will see in these magazines potential to serve a wider audience. In any case, it seems likely that in the current climate of constant change, something different will happen with these publications someday soon.

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10 Comments

  1. December 15, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks so much for the explanation, Mark. My sentimental mind goes back to the office in Mt. Healthy years ago, all the friendships built with co-workers, etc. I feel like I grew up in that place as people like John Samples, Barbara Bolton, Jim Dahlman, Alvalee, and many others, but in particular, you mentored me and encouraged me.

    Looking forward to what God has planned for the future of Christian Standard Media.

  2. December 15, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Hey Mark, thanks for your ministry, and for all those who labored so diligently at Christian Standard. As it’s been said, “Everybody likes progress, but nobody likes changes.” And so it goes. Blessings on you and the entire tribe this holiday season. wSc

  3. Jonathan Huddleston
    December 16, 2015 at 11:12 am

    “Maybe this is good. In an increasingly secular culture, Christians are finding new ways to work together instead of staying and standing apart. The goal of the Restoration Movement has never been to create another denomination but to call all Christ followers to unity based on truth and committed to evangelism.”

    Exactly.

    I spent several years of my life among noninstrumental churches of Christ who were striving to move past their schismatic history, admitting that there was nothing unBiblical or unChristian about using instruments. Even as I celebrated their maturity, I also was struck by their insecurity: “How will we be unique? How will we keep a heritage and identity of our own?” The question always assumed that identity lies in the things that distinguish us from other Christians–rather than in our loyalty to Christ, which we share with all Christians.

    I love the “restoration movement” positions on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and eldership; but then, some of my Baptist and Pentecostal and Methodist friends also love our positions on these issues. There is no reason to change what we are doing well, but there is also no reason to pretend that the things we are doing well must be “distinctive.” Most Christian groups are trying to follow the Bible. All of us miss the mark sometime, and all of us can learn from each other.

    In the process, we don’t have to worry about “losing our unique ground.” If that were to happen, it might be a good thing; our goal is unity, not distinctiveness! Would it be such a bad thing if one day our movement, as a movement, had the opportunity to “die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large” (Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery)? Our hope is not in our distinctive identity as a separate movement–it is in Christ.

  4. LW Park
    December 16, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Change IS hard…but I am hopeful. I read in my devotional this morning this perspective from author John Piper on what it means to take God’s name in vain: “The idea is…don’t empty the name…Don’t empty God of His weight and glory.” We misuse His name, according to Mr. Piper when we “speak of God in a way that empties Him of His significance.” Could this also apply to the way we write of God? When we fail to capitalize all references to Him, are we emptying Him of His significance? This has been a thorn in my side for many years with Standard Publishing; it is my fervent prayer that will no longer be the case under new ownership.

  5. December 16, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Brother Park . . .
    Regarding your “thorn in the flesh” considering our capitalization of pronouns referring to God . . . May I assume you have the same irritation with regard to the practice of several Bible translations and paraphrases, including the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the English Standard Version, and The Message? In our copy we follow the capitalization style of the Scripture translation predominantly used in the publication containing the copy. It is not a statement about our view of God; it is a matter of style, of preference. I’m sorry you’ve elevated it to something more.
    By the way, I really appreciate the quote from Piper. It certainly does remind me of the best attitude to take when approaching him in prayer.

  6. Bob Carter
    December 16, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Hi Mark. Thanks for this. You can probably imagine that the recent news sent waves of concern through our family. What we read before and now your explanation have helped us understand. We appreciate so much your part in the great legacy of Standard for all these years. I’ll pray that the doctrinal integrity of all these resources will be maintained and they will continue to bring great glory to God.

    In Him,
    Bob (son of John, Sr.)

  7. December 16, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    The end of Standard Publishing is nowhere in sight! Her influence in the Kingdom of God will still be felt at the end of the age. The Christian churches who grew strong during mid-twentieth century under the excellent study materials from Standard Publishing, have served as a source of leadership for the mega-church explosion of more recent decades. Even though their use of Standard Publishing materials has declined, the successes they have experienced would likely be much smaller (or not at all) without the financial and spiritual leadership from the previous generation of committed Restoration congregations.

    And the contemporary churches will eventually pass on their strengths traceable to those who have been faithful before them.

    I thank God for the continuing influence of Standard Publishing.

  8. Larry Carter
    December 17, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Thank you, Mark, for your explanation. Our family (John Carter Sr.) shares so many good memories of Standard Publishing. The picnics at Coney Island, the Carter’s friendships with the Burris Butler and Jay Sheffield families, the visits to that huge plant on Hamilton Avenue, printing out my name on the linotype machine back in the print shop. Yet, those personal memories pale in comparison to the importance this company has had on the churches of the Restoration Movement. It has been a voice of unity rather than division. It has tried to be doctrinal not denominational. It has helped to teach millions, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, what it means to live out the Christian life. The “end of an era” is bittersweet. It is sad to hear of the end of Standard Publishing. But, I know that its influence will continue to be a blessing for years to come. Thank you, Mark, for all your years of service.

  9. December 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Well now, that is a bummer indeed.

    I have been long removed from the Bible Belt, though not from the Bible. I grew up in the church and remember well seeing the pile of Standards available on the pew in the back of the church for whomever wanted one. I even got my ‘free subscription’ while I lived overseas for many years. CS kept me in touch with my roots. And I thank the publication and its editors, you Mark, for your part.

    The publishing world is tough business any more. It’s where I have drifted to and now make my living. CS is and can still be relevant. The publication just needs to learn to compete in the 21st century. We can maintain our commitment to unwavering principles yet still learn how the world works. I wish I had reached out to you earlier.

    I wish you well, Mark. Thanks for the explanation.

    A bigger question – why do these things happen at the end of the year when we are in a celebratory mood?

    Perhaps it’s because there is always promise in the New Year.

  10. January 1, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for the clarification about the recent changes. I have always been a fan of Christian Standard because it reminds me that I am part of something bigger than my present context. I will continue to pray for you and the rest of the wonderful staff as you navigate the rough waters of progress.

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