Just a few years after retiring as editor, Sam E. Stone was asked to reflect on his 25 years in that role (1978–2003) for the 140th anniversary issue of Christian Standard in April 2006. Those thoughts and reflections will serve as our final Throwback Thursday for February, a month during which we have shared writings from Sam, who died Jan. 25 at the age of 84.
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Christian Standard at 140: 25 Years as Editor
By Sam E. Stone
April 2, 2006; p. 8
I can’t remember just when I started reading Christian Standard. My dad subscribed to it for many years. Each week it arrived at our home in Clovis, New Mexico. I do know for sure that I was reading it regularly when I was a teenager. The evidence for that is my letter to the editor that was published on August 28, 1954.
At that time the venerable W. R. Walker wrote a weekly column, “The Counselor’s Question Box.” In it he responded to questions and comments from the readers. I wrote in to take exception to his observation that all of us should use the Old English forms “Thee” and “Thou” whenever we pray in the service. It still amazes me that I had the courage (or chutzpah!) to tell this 85-year-old patriarch I thought he was wrong!
Brother Walker was typically gracious in his reply. I learned early on that this magazine considers and respects the opinions of its readers, even when the editor personally may disagree with them.
In my early years as editor, I was doubly blessed by having my two predecessors—Burris Butler and Edwin Hayden—living nearby. They never sought to tell me what to do, but were always willing to give advice when requested. They taught me a lot about “speaking the truth in love.”
The Christian Standard has always allowed for a discussion of issues in a context of respect both for the authority of the Word and for the opinions of other believers.
In college I came to understand more clearly this publication’s unique role, as it provides a point of identification and contact for folk within the Restoration Movement. It also serves to help identify this fellowship of churches to outsiders in our confused religious world. As editor, I had the opportunity to maintain contacts with believers from many theological perspectives. I found we could learn from them, as well as explain to them the views of those who seek to be “Christians only.”
Over the years “the Standard” (as readers frequently speak of it) has provided a place where members of Christian churches and churches of Christ can discuss current problems and questions. Talking things over in print can sometimes help defuse a volatile situation. Left to fester, some of these differences might easily have led to another division in the ranks of the Restoration Movement, much like the conflict over instrumental music did a hundred years ago.
During the 25 years in which I edited the journal, we dealt with a variety of brotherhood issues. These included: the charismatic movement, the elder’s role and duties, inerrancy, the “pastor system,” Saturday night services, women’s role in the church, the significance of baptism, and worship styles/church music.
Often Christian Standard has sought to focus attention on special needs in our brotherhood. During Edwin Hayden’s tenure as editor, for example, the magazine led the effort to raise funds for a missionary hospital at Mashoko in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Between 1978–2003, we supported other projects. The Standard made a strong effort to raise awareness of the needs of people with disabilities starting in 1981. Out of these efforts the Christian Church Foundation for the Handicapped was born. Increased concern for the disabled began to be displayed across our movement.
The magazine encouraged discussion of important topics within our fellowship of churches at meetings such as the Open Forum. Other emphases included the Year of the Leader, new church planting, Outstanding Young Ministers, and meetings with the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).
Christian Standard called for a Restoration Heritage Conference in 1996 to “encourage leaders to refocus on the biblical truths of our heritage and share that vision with others.” Over the years the magazine published various inserts introducing Restoration Movement principles in a brief, popular format. We joined with other Christian publications to promote TV boycotts at times, and to encourage more scrutiny in TV viewing in general.
Each year we announced the North American Christian Convention program in a special spring issue, then reviewed it in a special fall issue. The National Missionary Convention was also publicized annually.
Back issues of the magazine provide a bird’s-eye view of trends that have come and gone. The Christian Standard has provided a forum for discussion of issues and developments in our colleges. Topics explored include the number of Bible colleges, the possibility of mergers, and the future of our schools. Since 1959 the magazine has published an annual Christian College issue telling the story of the various colleges, seminaries, and universities that serve our movement.
With the growth in the number of megachurches, the magazine began listing all Restoration Movement congregations with an average attendance of more than 1,000 in the previous year. The first such list appeared March 15, 1998, and it has been a regular feature since.
As technology improved, the magazine encouraged churches to use the Internet and e-mail (for the cause of New Testament Christianity).
Because Restoration Movement churches have neither a centralized authority nor official headquarters, maintaining good communications can be a challenge. Brothers and sisters in one area often don’t know who all is in their “family” and what good things are taking place across the United States or in foreign countries. Here Christian Standard has been particularly helpful.
One of my early goals as editor was to introduce some of the giants of the movement to those who had not yet met them. In 1979 we began a series of interviews under the heading “An Hour With . . .” These included one-on-one talks with Dean Walker, Enos Dowling, George Mark Elliott, and Joe Dampier. And the editor did not do all the interviewing.
Other writers talked with Dean Cachiaras, Lee Carter Maynard, Mildred Welshimer Phillips, Bill Jessup, and Edsil Dale. People from a cross section of the movement were introduced (e.g. W. F. Lown, Clarence Greenleaf, Willie White, Seth Wilson, Olin Hay, Bob Cox, Ernest Chamberlain, and the Good Twins).
In 1980 the Reflections column was expanded from four to 13 different writers each year as we attempted to use a representative cross section of capable brethren. Similar balance was sought by including a variety of Communion meditation writers.
Individuals with a significant ministry were noted. Lewis A. Foster had served on the General Editorial Committee for the translation of the New International Version. He also wrote the study notes on the books of Luke and Acts for the NIV Study Bible, an extremely significant role for someone from the Restoration Movement!
Folk from the noninstrumental churches of Christ were also featured prominently (e.g. Jimmie Lovell). Some were included as Reflections columnists as well (e.g. Bill Humble and Rubel Shelly). We regularly encouraged fellowship with those in the a cappella churches.
Missionaries were included too (e.g. J. Russell Morse, John Chase, Isabel Maxey Dittemore, Max Ward Randall, and Dr. Zoena Mae Rothermel).
Ministers with growing churches were also interviewed by the magazine. These included Bob Russell, Dale McCann, Gary York, Dennis Fulton, Ben Merold, Wayne Smith, LeRoy Lawson, Wally Rendel, Alan Ahlgrim, Roy Wheeler, and John Caldwell.
From my first days as editor, the publisher encouraged me to be an ambassador for those who seek to be “simply Christians.” This took me to the World Convention of Churches of Christ meeting in various locations around the globe, as well as to meetings within the United States with groups like the Evangelical Press Association.
One of the special blessings in my quarter-century in the editor’s chair was the opportunity to visit with and encourage missionaries and national Christian leaders in many countries around the world. After these visits, the editorial page usually contained a report (often with pictures) telling how the gospel was progressing in such places as Poland, Thailand, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia. Through the magazine readers got to know such outstanding leaders as Sir Garfield Todd, who went from New Zealand as a missionary to Rhodesia and eventually became prime minister of the country!
The future has great potential. With denominational distinctives becoming still less important, Christian Standard can render a valuable service by continuing to point readers everywhere to the church described in Scripture. New technology provides new opportunities.
The magazine’s capable editor, Mark A. Taylor, and his talented editorial team recently added a weekly e-newsletter. This permits much faster dissemination of news. Whether it concerns a hurricane’s devastation or the nomination of a Supreme Court justice from a Christian church, readers can now get the facts within a day after the event, rather than waiting six weeks for the print issue to reach them.
Throughout its 140-year history, Christian Standard has remained true to its original aim “the restoration of New Testament Christianity, its doctrine, its ordinances, and its fruits.” May it maintain this purpose until Jesus returns.