"What Are Bible Chairs"
Jimmy Tuten, Jr St. Louis, Missouri
Recently someone raised the question, "What are Bible Chairs?" As I attempted to answer the querist, I recalled that of all the arrangements promoted by "churches of Christ," the "Chairs" have received less attention than others, even though they are increasing at an alarming rate over the brotherhood. Some of these chairs are supported through sponsoring c h u r c h arrangements (plurality of churches working through one congregation) and others are the work of single congregations. According to the "Directory of Churches of Christ Bible Chairs," there are well over forty-eight "Chairs" offering accredited Bible courses (The Bible Chair Journal, Vol. 4, no. 2, P. 8). At various college lectureships over the country, maps are displayed, giving the various locations of "Bible Chairs." The "Bible Chair" movement is becoming very popular.
The Chair Defined
It is difficult to define a "Bible Chair," due to the fact that the "Chairs" vary in arrangement and function. One would almost have to deal with each "Chair" in order to get to the heart of the problem. To illustrate, the "Chair" at the New Mexico State University is under the oversight of the elders of the Las Cruces church in New Mexico. Since the facilities of the church are near the university, the Bible Chair in its program uses these facilities. The Las Cruces church alone finances this "Chair." At the University of Texas, things are different! The responsibility of this "Chair" is shared by both individuals and church, and has a director and a fund-raising manager. Property adjacent to the university has been purchased from the American Foundation Insurance Company at a cost $130,000. These facilities include a parking lot and a two-story building. Apparently, this "Chair" is under the oversight of the University Avenue church at Austin, Texas. According to a report given by Gordon Downing (Ibid. p. 2), the Bible Chair at West Texas State College is offering in addition to its eleven hours of accredited Bible courses, a correspondence course for which it charges four dollars! There are thirty-two churches supporting this "Chair."
The function of the "Chairs" is equally diversified. Generally speaking, certain individuals and churches are seeking to provide adequate facilities and teachers capable of providing a program "to meet the complex problems of college life." Viewing the Bible Chair at the University of Texas can see just what this involves. This "Chair" will have a student center. It is designed to not only teach the Bible, but to prepare "Christian" youth "for leadership," give attention to the "preparation of vocational missionaries," and offer "counseling and association." One brother maintains that the "inestimable value" of the Bible Chair "is the CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP" (Ibid. p. 3). By "fellowship" he means social and recreational participation.
In spite of this rather complex picture of "Bible Chairs," advocates have tried to define this promotion even though the definitions are not in harmony with the functions thereof. Carl Phagan says, "the term 'Bible Chair' is used here in a broad sense to include the totality of a spiritual program for the benefit of students on the campus of a college or university" (Ibid.). The Bible Chair Journal (published at Austin, Texas) defines the "Chair" as "an arrangement by the church with a state college or university whereby accredited courses in Bible and related subjects are taught. The instructor is selected by the church and approved by the school. Courses are taught on the academic college level; the church provides expenses for the work. Such work is sometimes done in a Bible Chair building or Student Center adjacent to the campus."
Neither of these definitions is broad enough to cover the function and organization of the "Bible Chair." Since the "Chair" stresses social and recreational activities, they do not constitute "the totality of a spiritual program." If it constitutes the totality of anything, it would be spiritual, social, and recreational! They do more than merely "promote Christian Education." The definition taken from the apparent official medium of the Bible Chair movement fails to define the "Chair" in that the "Chairs" are more than arrangements by the church. Not all the churches of Christ promote the "Chairs," hence "church of Christ Bible Chair" is a misnomer! Furthermore, INDIVIDUALS as well as certain churches are promoting and supporting the "Chairs."
Broadly speaking, the Bible Chair is an organization of separate direction (with one or two exceptions; the character of the "Chairs" demonstrate that they are separate entities from the church) from the church, supported by individuals and churches, designed to provide spiritual guidance, social and recreational opportunities.
Why Oppose the Chairs?
Paul taught two years in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), yet there is not the slightest hint in the entire New Testament of brethren or congregations of the Lord ever setting up any organization to provide or promote "Christian" education for colleges and universities. I can conceive of a brother, being supported by the local church where he preaches, or some other congregation, teaching Bible in a university. But for the life of me, I cannot see any facsimile between this and the so-called "Bible Chairs." The church is the "pillar and ground of the truth; " it is not the function of the church to provide social and recreational activities. The church may certainly teach the Bible to college students, but it may not (without going beyond that which is written) provide matters that in no way relate to the truth. Nor does it have the authority to set up an entity separate from the church to do this work. The sponsoring church arrangement for Bible Chairs are just as unscriptural as the same type of arrangements for the promotion of benevolent societies, etc. Can you picture the New Testament churches setting up such organizations and charging fees and tuition for the instruction in Bible and related subjects?
There is no doubt that the evil association, the worldliness, and anti-Christian philosophies in various schools and universities are taking their toll among the youth of the nation, and something needs to be done to off-set this problem. But brethren, the end does not justify the means! We must stop and consider the scripturalness or unscripturalness of this rapidly expanding program. I am convinced that this is another step in the direction of denominationalism. What do you think?
Truth Magazine VIII: 1, pp. 12-13 October 1963