The Basis of Unity
Regardless of how much disagreement there is among brethren, there is one point on which all will agree, always, and that is the acceptability to God, and desirability among brethren, of unity in Christ. So much has been written and preached on this subject, that we are all familiar with the texts in the Bible, showing it to be the will of God. When brethren can live and work together in harmony and love, with mutual concern for each other, and an enthusiastic optimism toward a common spiritual goal, no experience as a Christian can be more blessed or wonderful. No brother can be so depraved in mind and heart as to contend that division and alienation of brethren can be either desirable or profitable. If brethren then who disagree so widely on issues of present controversy, can agree on a common goal of achieving unity, then progress can be made toward that end.
A few brethren have desired complete separation from their brethren who disagreed with them from the very beginning of controversy. The number has become greater with each passing year, and attitudes have become more intense and pronounced. This has been brought about, not only by the differences themselves, but by the misrepresentations of those with whom one disagrees, slurring and belittling. A brother who is determined to maintain "brotherhood favor" toward institutions he is defending, can give his own interpretation of another's position in a paper that will refuse to publish a correction, and thus lead thousands of readers to believe the victim of his false statements actually believes what he says he does. This kind of tactics is one of the chief contributing factors to the unfortunate state of affairs as we have them now. One of the surest signs of sectarianism is to teach a controversial doctrine and refuse a reply in the same medium, and misrepresent the position of an opponent and refuse him the opportunity of correction. These two offenses are grave, and the seriousness of it is that they have not been committed on occasion, but constantly, and have become settled practice by some.
Another factor that threatens unity among brethren is misunderstanding of positions advanced. How often has it been implied, if not declared outright, that brethren on the negative side of the present controversy oppose co-operation, and do not believe in helping the needy? I just read today an orphan home superintendent's charge that one brother who opposes church supported benevolent institutions was teaching the doctrine of the priest and Levite who refused to help the wounded man by the road. He wants it to appear that the brother does not even believe Christians should help anyone in need who is not a member of the church. So long as brethren are so disposed to misrepresent those who disagree with them through mediums that will not print a reply, and read by hundreds and thousands who will never have opportunity to know otherwise, progress toward division will be rapid.
Still another factor that may hasten division is the shift of the discussion from centralized control in evangelism to institutionalism in benevolence. Much more sentiment and emotion can be aroused by discussing the needs of the body than of the soul. Even among Christians, more intense emotion responds to any empty stomach than to an empty soul. The identity of institutionalism with the care of the needy has been a most clever device, making it appear that one who is opposed to one is opposed to the other. It is easy to see that progress toward division has been far more rapid since the turn of discussion to benevolence from evangelism, than it formerly was.
One hopeful development has been the public expression of differences between those who uphold the "board" homes, and the ones who contend for the "eldership" homes. I say hopeful, because it at least shows that brethren are thinking and studying, that they have convictions about these matters, and realize that in the light of Bible teaching, there can well be caution exercised in our movements. So long as these different shades of convictions continue, general division may be delayed in proportion.
When Paul discussed the problem of eating meats offered to idols, he said eating or not eating was a matter of indifference, I Cor. 8:8, but whether a brother caused another to offend in eating, was a matter of considerable difference, I Cor. 8:9. Paul also said that whether a person was circumcised or not made no difference, Gal. 5:6, but Peter said it made much difference when brethren tried to bind circumcision on others, Acts 15:1, 10. But no inspired writer ever reproved anyone for urging a brother to refrain from circumcision or eating of meats, out of consideration for his brethren. The teaching of God's word has always been more favorable to those who opposed matters of indifference, than to those who desired liberty in them. All we can bind on a brother is what God has bound. We cannot bind expedients, methods, or anything else against his conscience and please God.
Granting that orphan homes are nothing more than expedients, methods, or "ways" of carrying out God's command, and suppose the same about centralized arrangements for preaching the gospel, their promoters agree they are only "ways" and that other "ways" can be used, and their opponents see in them a violation of scripture, so why have them? Why persist in maintaining that which we know is a great threat to peace and unity in the church, when we know we could fulfill our dutv to God and to, humanity without it?
But if these introductions into the work of the church are more than just methods and expedients, then this makes a double reason why they should be discontinued. Methods do not use still other methods, but like the missionary society, elders who function for many churches in evangelism do use methods of their own, and are not themselves a method. Likewise the orphan home uses methods of its own, and itself is not a method. Money contributed is sent to the orphan home, and the home uses the funds. When one wants to work for a home, he goes to the home administration to make application. The entire work of the home is supervised and directed by those in charge, just as any other institution. So we have the church on one hand, and another institution on the other. Can the church contribute to it? On the answer to this question depends the unity of God's people. Can something so supremely important be affected by such a simple proposition?
We have shown that even expedients must he sacrificed if the unitv of God's people is involved. It is not always easy to determine when an expedient becomes an innovation without authority, but when and if it does, this is only additional reason why it should be given up. But must we close up all orphan homes and turn out the children? Must churches near each other ignore common opportunities in which all have a mutual interest? What can be done to use our opportunities well and fulfill our duty to God, and yet avoid the danger of acting without divine authority, and setting precedents for even greater departures?
1. Let each church help in all the gospel preaching it is able to help. There are multiplied opportunities for small churches to send even small amounts of money they can afford to preachers and churches in need. Let any number of churches send to the same preacher or small church for its needs, each one retaining equal relationship to the preacher or place to which thev are sending. And let my number of churches participate in whatever common effort that w 11 be mutually beneficial to all, and let each be equal with all the others in such work. This has been and is being done, and it can continue to be done with God's blessing, and the favor of all brethren.
2. Let each church recognize responsibility for the poor and needy of its number who need its help, according to the specifications of Bible teaching. Let any number of churches send relief to any other church with more needy than they can afford to care for. This will be benevolent work, fulfilling our duty to God, and furnishing no occasion of offense to any.
3. Let the orphan homes "among us" continue as they are, with a policy of refusing general contributions from churches, as a few colleges have done. If brethren can oppose church contributions to colleges without opposing the colleges, why can't they oppose church contributions to orphan homes without being branded "anti-orphan home?" This is exactly what all the difference boils down to. It isn't opposition to church care of the needy among us, or even the existence or use of orphan homes. The one and only issue is the divine authority for churches to contribute to orphan homes. The homes could exist on the same basis colleges do, and offer services to both churches and individuals with the favor of God and good will of brethren. Under this arrangement, they would be at liberty to develop any source of income available to them through business channels, as well as individual contributions. If churches had children to care for without local facilities, they could send them to any of these homes, and pay for their care. Even people who are not Christians could do this, as they often use colleges operated by Christians. Even if, as some brethren content, the church cannot care for its needy within its own framework, the church could still pay such an institution to do it.
I have shown here "how" brethren can do their work of caring for the needy even in the most extreme and exceptional cases, and at the same time maintain harmony and unity within, as well as avoid setting a precedent for others to follow that can lead to digression from the truth. I have also shown "how" orphan homes now existing under the control of brethren can continue to function, prosper well and do good, with the united and enthusiastic approval of brethren everywhere, but most of all, the favor of God. I still believe there is danger ever near, in any such private, secular institution being too closely aligned with the church in the minds of brethren, but certainly their right to exist and operate on this basis cannot be doubted by any. Surely this proposal cannot be thought by any to be either impractical nor unreasonable. In fact, so very little is urged here that we should do, for the unspeakable blessings that would result in unity and peace, and spiritual prosperity on Bible terms.
4 Let each local church set out on a well defined and determined program of spiritual development within, of each member for service to God in the place he can best fill. In his work on the Search for the Ancient Order, Earl West said that when spiritual zeal declines, the demand for institutionalism increases. Is that the case now? If local churches were doing their duty, there would not be near the sense of need for institutions and centralized combines that there is. A substitution of these for individual service and personal devotion to God, is a substitution of human wisdom for divine. Let us renounce those elements of human wisdom among us that divide, and develop these neglected areas on which we can unite, and all will be well.
Truth Magazine II:2, p. 18-19, 24