NOTE: A few months ago Jimmy Lovell invited me to write a short article in his paper "Action." Revel Lemmons, Yater Tant, Carl Ketcherside, Norvel Young, B. C. Goodpasture, Charles Holt and a few others were asked to write. Following is the article which I submitted.
The invitation to write in this paper most sincerely is appreciated. Furthermore, the fact that Brother Lovell did not tender the invitation with certain strings attached is also much appreciated, and this fact made it possible for me conscientiously to accept his gracious invitation. Brother Lovell said, "You are at liberty to write on any subject you prefer. . ." He even added, "If you care to 'expose' me or what I teach and believe, do so. What you send me I will print as I have this much faith in you."
However, Brother Lovell did recommend that I "as far as possible, suggest ways for more love and better understanding." This I will try to do. The first step in the solution to problems before the Lord's people today is recognition of the fact that we do have some problems. Some act as though they would like to ignore our problems, or to deny that we even have any problems, with the hope that these problems somehow miraculously will disappear. The people of God in the time of Jeremiah were in deep trouble. There were prophets and priests who dealt with these problems "falsely." Jeremiah said, "They have healed also the hurt of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace" (Jer. 6:13, 14). But merely crying "Peace, peace" never resolved any difficulties.
The lamented W. W. Otey once told me that in his 75 years of preaching he had never known a single time where the Lord's people were not confronted with some kind of crisis. Brother Lovell quite correctly said recently, "As for the church, it was born in trouble and will never be beyond it." Some eternal optimists among us never want to see that we have any problems. Like those in Jeremiah's day, these are forever crying, "Peace, peace."
It is sad to say that division even now within the Body of Christ is an incontrovertible fact. Surely all of us are aware that this divided state is contrary to the will of Him who died that men might be one (Eph. 2:14-16; Jno. 17: 20, 2 1). If there are those among us who are not concerned about alleviating these causes of division among us, they are less than what Christ would have His disciples to be.
It is naive to attempt to effect unity without discussing the causes of division. Pious and prolonged platitudes on unity are valueless until we deal with the actual causes of our divisions. A good many of our brethren are speaking now of the need of our being relevant to our times. I therefore speak freely of the current division upon us the, one that now has been in process for a quarter of a century.
The specific causes of our division might be multiple. Basically our trouble has come over a difference in our attitude toward scriptural authority, and until we get this question resolved, it is probable that we will get further apart rather than to heal the breach. But specifically, we have had controversy; over the establishment of human institutions, and cooperative arrangements through which churches might act in concert. Also, the mission of the church has been perverted.
The Body of Christ gradually has been renovated into a welfare body, perhaps comparable in the minds of some to the Salvation Army. Thus we have built all sorts of recreation facilities, camps, kitchens, "Fellowship Halls," Homes for Unwed Mothers, Orphans Asylums, Hospitals, Kindergartens, Inner City Welfare Distribution Centers, etc., etc.... On this, point Brother Lovell recently said, "Let me make it known that I believe the basic mission of the church is that of saving soulsI think we should try to convert the world to a Savior and when this is done these matters, Of liberalism, social gospel, racism, and at the general disturbances of today will pretty well take care of themselves." But to some among us, the primary mission of the church seems to be social and welfare rather than spiritual work.
For 150 years the Lord's church has been, enmeshed in controversy and division over the establishment of human institutions through which churches are to function. One of the most divisive issues among us today is whether churches scripturally may function through human institutions, and this issue has been before us unabatedly now for at least 30 years. It seems that we will never learn that the involvement of churches in support of human institutions inevitably causes division. Even a cursory study of the history of last century should indicate this: Yet institutions which cater to churches for their support are proliferating among us. Brother Glenn Wallace has said that there are now more than 100 projects and institutions vying for church support. This fact does not portend a peaceful future for the Body.
Brethren seem to be so emotionally involved with the welfare of their own projects that they have difficulty objectively considering the effect church sponsored or supported human institutions have on unity. In the controversy on the same subject a century ago, Brother John T. Walsh said, I think it is an undeniable truth that men never departed from primitive Christianity until they lost faith in it. And no Christian ever yet adopted human systems and appliances until his faith becomes weak in the divine.... I repeat, therefore, that what need is not a new plan of missionary work but more faith in the old Jerusalem plan" (AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW June 18, 1867). Such we still need.
It needs to be recognized that the only organization authorized by God through which the church is to function is the congregation. Brother Earl West, the well known historian, said: "the Society could be a friend of no man who was not first a friend of it. To feel the indignation of the Society one needed only to let it be known that he was not one of its advocates. Ways and means would be found to limit his influence." Such is likewise true today.
It is my conviction that human institutions (whether evangelistic, educational, or benevolent) which cater to churches for their support are one of the main causes of the current division. The other major contributor to division is the perversion of the work of the church into secular fields. A century ago Brother Benjamin Franklin said, "The simple question is, whether we shall honor the churches in working in them and making them effective as the Lord's appointed societies, in converting the world, or declare them insufficient to do the work which the Lord committed to them, and substitute a creation of our own hands, to do the work of the churches ordained by the Lord. Others may do this latter, but we cannot" (AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW, May 7- 1867). Neither can I!
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 10, pp. 3-5