The following interview was conducted by Jim Mitchell, and was featured in our magazine, The Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1 (January 2017). We hope you enjoy it!
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with two men who have been a part of Oklahoma Christian University for decades and have had a positive impact on thousands of students over the years. Both are still very active in the Lord’s work, and their insights on how things have grown and changed carried both encouragement in things which have been positive as well as concern for the challenges the Lord’s church faces.
Dr. Loren Gieger served as a Professor of Biblical Studies at OC for 31 years before retiring from the University classroom. He continues to teach the Early Bird class on Wednesday evenings at the Memorial Road church of Christ in Edmond, OK – which he has done for over a quarter of a century, and he preaches for the church of Christ in Stroud, OK. Dr. Gieger is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Near Eastern Archaeological Society. He has done archaeological studies in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt.
What changes have you seen within the Lord’s church through the years?
LG: The first change I see is a decline in numbers. Small congregations in rural areas continue to decline as smaller communities dwindle and people migrate to the cities. It seems like congregations that are doing well are the larger congregations as people become more attracted to congregations with huge numbers. The strength of the leadership within many congregations is declining as membership in general is “graying.”
My second concern is with the soundness of the church. I think that younger ministers have not fought the battles a previous generation did with denominationalism. Younger ministers in general seem unaware of the dangers of the vocabulary used where there are non-Biblical terms frequently used in the religious world. Generally, as I listen to younger preachers, they don’t seem to know the book or how to exegete passages properly. They endeavor to appeal to a wider diversity of members and as a result, the distinctiveness is losing ground. I do think we need to turn some of these trends around.
What things do you see happening today which are encouraging?
LG: Our preachers are more formally educated than ever before. They tend to be very sharp, eloquent and good communicators. They are much better at illustrating lessons, stories are interesting, the lessons they give include lots of examples. However, as a result of that emphasis, there is a lot less Biblical proclamation in their preaching.
There are more opportunities and ministries for local congregations which is fantastic. Visual presentations (utilizing things such as power point) make lessons interesting and memorable more than ever before. The internet gives us opportunities which are unparalleled as we can communicate with Christians and missionaries around the world. Generally speaking, members of the church are more prosperous (at least in this country). We have finer homes, but may actually use them less in Christian hospitality than previous generations. The younger generation in the Lord’s church are very service oriented and take advantage of multiple mission trips, camps, and campaigns around the globe.
Within the younger generation, the commitment to the restoration of New Testament Christianity is not something which I see today as much as in the past.
What can you share from your ministry which was unusual or humorous?
LG: When I was in Fort Worth, one of the elders gave me a call late at night about the death of one of our members and told me he would come by and pick me up to go visit the family. I dressed hurriedly and slipped my shoes on (I had two pairs of shoes sitting by the couch). When we arrived at the home and rang the doorbell, one of the two elders with me said “Hey preacher, look down at your feet.” I had put on one white shoe and one black shoe. I tried to hide one foot behind the couch, but finally just brought both feet and told them that I have on one black shoe and one white shoe as you can see, but that I had another pair just like it at home. When I arrived back home, the front porch light was on, and my wife had set the other white and black shoe out on the porch. Later, the congregation took up a special contribution to give me a trip to the Bible lands. They rented a banquet room and had a dinner to see me off on the trip. Every man who came to that dinner came wearing one white shoe and one black one. The story made the front page of the local paper in Fort Worth.
What concluding thoughts do you have as we bring this interview to a close?
LG: I am afraid that the restoration mindset may be fading away, and I’m not sure how to stop that from happening. I also think there are some things we have taught we need to continue to revise, we never want to get away from scripture, but there are some things that are problems in today’s society that we really haven’t faced as well as we should. We have taken a [prohibitive] stance in churches of Christ (you can’t do this and you can’t do that) but we have not taken a redemptive stance, that is, how do you handle people that are in certain situations. I think we need to take another look at how we conduct funerals. We can do a better job ministering to the family of the deceased in times of grief. I think we need to teach people how to give. I think we have converted people (even on the mission fields), but we don’t teach those people to give like previous generations have given. I don’t want to sound negative, but I do think that along with the positives taking place, there are problematic areas we need to continue to address.