A Plea for Unity that Realty Isnt
Edward O. Bragwell
"Behold, how good and how pleasant, it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." Psalms 133:1
It is hard to find a brother opposed to unity. We have yet to meet the brother who thinks unity would be unpleasant. We have yet to meet one who is unwilling to unite. How could one beg against unity when both the Scriptures and experience teach us how pleasant it is! Why, then, are we still divided over various issues? It is because that each holds to something that, to him, is more important than unity. "Dialogue" will not bring unity until one or both parties come to consider whatever divides them less important than unity.
There is much talk these days about religious unity. We talk about how pleasant and advantageous it would be to be united. It would be great to have a "united front" against common foes. The Ecumenical Movement folks tell of the benefits of all religious bodies being united in a common effort against "godless" systems. "Evangelical" denominational leaders plead for unity against rank Modernism. Conservative "Christian Church" leaders and leaders from some churches of Christ have met to explore unity so as to form a united front against more liberal "Christian Churches" and others. Conservative brethren have met with the "More-Liberal-Than-Some - But - Less - Liberal - Than - Others" brethren to explore unity and ways to come to a united stand against "classic Liberalism" invading churches of Christ in some areas. It seems that nearly everybody wants to unite with someone against something. So the beat goes on.
Brother Ira Y. Rice, Jr. has been doing a wonderful job of exposing more radical thought among brethren. He has devoted several issues of his paper, CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH, to spanking Pat Boone, Ben Franklin, and others for their liberalism and "Pentecostalism." He spanks the Inglewood, California elders (Where Boone is a member) along with Reuel Lemmons and Jimmy Lovell who, says Rice, "continue to drag their collective feet on what to do about Pat and Shirley." Brother Rice is doing a job that needs to be done. We commend him for it. We only wish that many other influential brethren had half his courage. Maybe his efforts will help to "head off at the pass" some of the radical influences.
Between Brother Rice's splendid attacks on those fellows, he sandwiched in an issue of
CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH (September-October, 1970) that deserves our notice. His feature article was headed: "WOULDN'T IT BE WONDERFUL IF WE COULD ALL GET BACK TOGETHER AND CLOSE RANKS AGAINST ERROR!" Of course, it would! No right-thinking brother could say otherwise. But, in the body of the article, we learn what is meant by getting "back together and clos(ing) rank." It means getting together with Rice on HIS terms:
"Although there cannot REALLY be, in fact, any fellowship worthy of the name between us and them (those who oppose Rice's brand of cooperation-EOB) as long as those who made those old contentions against such cooperation continue to do so...
"Down to this point in his discourse I was deeply pleased with what brother (Herschel) Patton had had to say. It was not until the closing moments of his broadcast in which he began attacking 'such things as church-sponsored recreational and dining activities, playgrounds, camps, kindergartens, church founded and supported institutions such as schools for edifying, hospitals for visiting the sick, and asylum type homes for orphans, old folks and unwed mothers' that I could find anything to take issue with AT ALL. Recognizing as I do, that MOST of THESE activities come under the 'good works' it is the duty of Christians to be 'ready unto' ' and most of the rest are but METHODS (specifics) for carrying out GENERAL commands of the Lord, I thought to myself how wonderful it would be if not only he but thousand (sic) of others just like him could give up these unprofitable contentions and unite with us in an all-outfight for the truth against liberalism and modernism in the church!"
There you have it. That is the price tag for unity with Rice and most of those whom I know of his persuasion. All we need to do is to give up our opposition to such things as church-sponsored recreational and dining activities, playgrounds, camps, kindergartens, church founded and supported institutions such as schools, hospitals, and asylum type homes for orphans, old folks and unwed mothers. Yep, that's all. Just make this little (?) concession, and then Rice will let us close ranks with him in the fight against liberalism. How generous can one get! It may sound a bit callous to some, but I consider my opposition to the above mentioned practices more important than even unity. Of course, if these brethren were to come up with the passage that justifies such things, then I would gladly lay aside my opposition and "close ranks." This they have not done to date.
Just a word to brethren (including editors and publishers) who keep hoping that unity can be brought about between those who believe as Rice does and those who oppose the innovations mentioned above: Your efforts are commendable. Your appearances at various liberal gatherings may well serve to keep communications open. We all hope so. But if you really think unity can really come about from your efforts - don't hold your breath until it does. If Brother Rice's pulse is indicative of the pulse of the "brotherhood" (and I suspect it is) concerning these matters, I am afraid unity is a long way off. Unless you are willing to give up your opposition to the innovations, then all the talk about unity is probably "much ado about nothing."
Are we against closing ranks against liberalism and Pentecostalism? It May come as a surprise to Brother Rice, but I already joined the fight. We are already together on THIS issue. But mutual opposition to these things does not mean we are about to become united on issues. In fact, we and most "fundamentalists" are together and have closed ranks on the issue of verbal inspiration - but we are still far apart on other issues and will continue to be until the denominationalists either put aside their practices and return to New Testament Christianity or else point to the passage justifies their practices. We applaud every effort (sermon, debate, or dialogue) to reach and teach the truth on any issue - but would be merely "whistling past the graveyard" to think that standing against a common foe can be a basis for real and lasting unity. We would like to accept all invitations to get together in religion but in some cases the price is too high. We hope to continue to fight error (be it Modernism or institutionalism) among brethren - but we not plan to lighten our opposition to one in order to get help in fighting the other.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 16, pp. 5-6