In the 1930s, James DeForest Murch started the Christian Action movement and actively promoted it “as a means of restoring the spiritual vitality in the church during this time of great social upheaval,” according to a biography of Murch written by our friend Jim Estep and posted at Biola University’s website.
We found this interesting article on the “Christian Action” page in the July 18, 1936, issue of Christian Standard. It describes an Ohio church that “scrapped” its existing membership roll to focus on her most committed churchgoers . . .
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A Church that ‘Cleansed the Temple’
No author listed (but quite possibly James DeForest Murch)
July 18, 1936; p. 11
“Our present church membership roll will be scrapped on Friday, April 10, and the entire membership will be called upon to reconsecrate themselves to Christ and His church.”
This startling statement was made to the church at Blanchester, O., last spring as a part of the CHRISTIAN ACTION crusade which has been carried on there since early in 1934.
So far as is known, this is the most radical step which has yet been taken in the crusade which is destined to regenerate the churches of the brotherhood.
The Blanchester Church is a small one located in an Ohio village of two thousand population. There are six churches in the community. The church has had a checkered career, being split several times and losing most of its substantial members. At one time it was closed. For years only a small handful kept the doors open. Recently, by the usual high-pressure methods the membership was built up until the congregation became the second numerically in the village.
On the membership roll were many worldly and indifferent people who seldom came to church and disregarded their Christian obligations.
When CHRISTIAN ACTION was launched the Blanchester Church recognized it as the need of the hour. All the adult classes of the Bible school undertook the study of the CHRISTIAN ACTION pamphlets. Many lives were changed. A new Christian idealism was born in the church. Without particular stress by the leaders, the rank and file of the membership began to question certain church practices.
At the annual roll call of the congregation last January the question of qualifications for church membership was raised. Some proposed that all who were inactive should be dropped from the roll. Some questioned whether there was scriptural warrant for church rolls at all. As a result of the discussion, the pastor agreed to preach a series of sermons on the qualifications for church membership. They followed much the same outline as the series which Brother Murch has recently written for his page in the Standard. During this time special effort was made to get inactive members to attend the services.
At the conclusion of these sermons a meeting of the elders of the church was called to take action and make a recommendation to the congregation. The following resolution was drawn:
WHEREAS, The church of Christ, according to the New Testament, was composed of baptized believers who continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, in the fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers, and endeavored to show by their lives that they were striving to grow in grace and the knowledge of the truth; and
WHEREAS, After due prayer and effort, we realize that there are many on our membership roll who have grown worldly, indifferent, and have little or no regard for their Christian obligations, and
WHEREAS, While earnestly desiring their soul’s salvation, we also realize our obligation to keep the body of Christ unspotted from the world; and furthermore,
WHEREAS, We recognize our own need of reconsecration to Christ and His church;
THEREFORE, be it resolved by this regularly called business meeting of the members of the church of Christ worshiping in Blanchester, O., that all present membership lists of said congregation be declared null and void as of April 10; and that our membership be reconstituted during a series of meetings to be held in the church house, April 9-12; and that henceforth we recognize only those who are baptized believers, habitually in attendance upon the Lord’s Table, and earnestly striving to grow in grace as worthy to be members of the said congregation.
It was directed that a congregational meeting be called to consider this resolution. A copy was mailed to everyone on the church rolls ten days in advance of the meeting so that there was ample time for consideration.
To say that the letter created a sensation in some quarters would be putting it mildly. Some said it was a move to put the church business in the hands of a few. The officers countered by offering to resign their positions and let the newly constituted congregation elect any one they chose. Some “non-resident” members objected, but they were told to join the church of Christ nearest them. Some said such a procedure would be illegal, but they were told that care had been taken to comply with every requirement of the state law regarding church meetings. Some insisted that the whole proceeding was in disregard of the rights of those whose names were on the book, but those were invited to come to the congregational meeting, present their protest and register their vote against the resolution.
At the congregational meeting the resolution passed unanimously. The short “Consecration Meeting” from April 8-12 was well attended. All the active members stepped down the aisle to reconsecrate themselves to Christ. A number of inactive members took the step and are now loyal in the support of the work. There were four added from the M. E.’s, one by statement from a church of Christ elsewhere and one confession. The members who showed no interest in the meetings and refused to reconsecrate their lives to the Master’s service, by their own act, automatically withdrew from the fellowship. Every one of them had been visited during the meeting and urged to become an active member.
There has been no drop in attendance at Bible school or other church service. There is a 10 per cent increase in all departments over last year. Financial receipts have suffered no loss. All bills are paid and there is around $1,000 in the treasury. In fact, there are signs of healthy growth.
Many outside the church have congratulated them on the step taken. A leading M. E. business man: “That takes real courage. There is a bright future for the church.” The U. B. pastor: “I wish I had the right to do the same thing in my church, but my superior would not allow it. Sooner or later we must all clean house.” A Baptist layman: “You now have the cleanest bunch of Christians in town. The way your young people are sticking with you is a marvel in these days!”
The future program of the church is being mapped with the second chapter of Acts in mind.
On August 16, a “Pentecost Revival” is being held with the pastor doing the preaching and Mr. and Mrs. Owen M. Walker in charge of music, indoctrination and personal work. In former years the first week of the revival was spent in “warming over” the lukewarm, indifferent church members. This year an immediate offensive will be launched to “reach the unreached.” All the children and young people will be given intensive training in the doctrinal fundamentals.
The eldership of the church is planning a careful shepherding program. When people are unable to attend the weekly communion service the emblems will be carried to the homes. Spirituality, indoctrination, benevolence, prayer, discipline and evangelism all have their place in the plan. Some features are yet to be worked out.
It is generally understood that the congregation at Blanchester is made up of “baptized believers, habitually in attendance upon the Lord’s Table, and striving to grow in grace and the knowledge of the truth.” The old membership roll is in the discard and everybody is “of one heart and mind.”