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The Sweetest of Reunions, the Grandest of Communions

Jerry Rushfordby Jerry Rushford

Director, The Jerry Rushford Center for Research on Churches of Christ and the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement

The 75th annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures are only a few weeks away, and the anticipation is building for the sweetest of reunions and the grandest of communions. Springtime in Malibu is a lovely season of the year, and the annual 4-day Bible Lectures event draws thousands of guests to the stunningly beautiful campus of Pepperdine University.

We hope you are planning to join us this year. Mike Cope and his talented team have crafted an exciting program built around the theme of "The Spirit-Filled People of God" that includes ten keynote addresses and a wide array of classes and special events for all age groups. The daily schedules are non-stop from early morning worship experiences to multiple late night events, and there is something wonderful every day for each member of the family.

Mike has asked me to organize a three-class track this year reflecting on the 75-year history of the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and I have chosen Rubel Shelly and Rick Gibson to help me tell this fascinating story.

I attended my first 4-day Bible lectureship when I was a student at Great Lakes Christian High School in Beamsville, Ontario, Canada. For me, it was a life-shaping experience. In the following years, I attended Bible Lectureships at Rochester College, Oklahoma Christian University, Harding University, Lipscomb University, Cascade College, Abilene Christian University, Pepperdine University, and several other locations. When I was invited to become the director of the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, it did not take me long to accept the challenge.

Directing the Pepperdine Bible Lectures for 30 years was the most rewarding chapter of my life. I will be forever grateful to President Howard A. White for his confidence in me and for trusting me with this grand opportunity for service. I am thankful for the enthusiastic support of Presidents David Davenport and Andrew Benton whose personal involvement in the Bible Lectures strengthened the program every year. When I had decided to retire from being director of the Bible Lectures in 2007 after completing 25 years, it was President Benton who encouraged me to keep going and complete 30 years.

My final year of directing the Pepperdine Bible Lectures was in 2012. On the day before the program began, I received a letter from a brother in Christ who lived in a distant state. He and his wife had always found time in their busy schedules to make the trek to Malibu every year. As he wrote about the impact of the lectures on their lives, I realized he was describing some of my own feelings about the significance of this annual event. He wrote:

Dear Jerry,

Tomorrow is Pepperdine. Pepperdine is a highlight in our life. We love the atmosphere. We love seeing familiar faces from the past. We love being inspired by others and their thoughts about God, and our own immediate issues in the brotherhood of the Churches of Christ. This is our heritage. This is where we belong.

When I think of what I'm thankful for, this is near the top of the list. For in spite of the stress and suffering that has come upon all of us from the judgmentalism of some, and the works-based theology that was so prevalent in the tradition of the Restoration Movement, this heritage has blessed me with the challenge of holding all my ways – and all of our ways collectively – up to the mirror of God's word. We are, indeed, people of The Book, and that has been a treasure to me. We believe your work with the Pepperdine lectures was an integral part in bringing so many of us from the Restoration heritage together again. Although we may disagree here and there, you have provided a forum to maintain these discussions in a spirit of love and unity.

So every year, with great anticipation, I look to the day the Pepperdine lectures begin. And during the week, I'll be frustrated that I cannot attend all the lectures I'd like to attend. And on Friday night, the lectures will end, and I will be sad once again – because I'll have to wait another year to be revived once more. And I wonder if that's not what the ancient people of God experienced at Passover, when the God-worshippers made their annual trek to Jerusalem.

As the Pepperdine Bible Lectures enter their 75th year, there are a great number of "Christ-followers" who are preparing for the annual trek to Malibu. When the exhausting week is over, some of them will write letters to Mike Cope and tell him that "Pepperdine is a highlight" in their lives and about how much they "love the atmosphere" of the Bible Lectures.

There may be some lecture guests who write to thank Mike for "bringing so many of us from the Restoration heritage together again" at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Their letters will probably express gratitude to Mike and his wonderful team for creating a forum (or they might call it a harbor in the storm) where the most difficult questions relating to church life and Christian commitment can be discussed "in a spirit of love and unity."

These "Christ-followers" who make the annual trek to Malibu might even see some similarities in the feast they experienced at Pepperdine with "what the ancient people of God experienced at Passover, when the God-worshippers made their annual trek to Jerusalem."

In the printed program for the 2012 Bible Lectures, we included 3 sentences that had been written for us by our good friend, Bill Henegar. They sum up what I loved best (and what I continue to love best) about the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. 

Bill wrote: "Of course, one of the things most loved by regular attendees is the heart-warming fellowship of kingdom people. Everywhere across the campus, from early morning till late evening, there will be embraces, laughter, tears, conversations, and prayers. It is the sweetest of reunions, the grandest of communions."

I am looking forward to seeing all of you again at the reunion in Malibu May 1-4, 2018.