Issues that Divide Us (IV): Understanding the Reformation and Restoration
When we talk about issues that divide us, of course, we deal with two phases: We talk about issues that divide us with our friends, and we talk about issues that divide us among the brethren. As I have said before, I say again, there is no joy in division. I had rather, and I pray that all of us may, be one; for I believe that is exactly what the Bible teaches. We all ought to be members of the same body, the same family, the same kingdom; and there ought not to be any division within our ranks whatsoever. Whenever there is division, it is a sign that somebody, somewhere has violated the will of God, for the will of God is certainly that we all be one. We want everybody to be one in Christ Jesus. We have no desire for division. But yet, when we find people who have no respect for the authority of Christ, and therefore they depart from the order of God, then certainly there must be division though we find no joy in it. It must be identified, it must be marked, and people must be educated and schooled as to why division came in our number.
First of all in our study, we have emphasized a lack of respect for the authority of Christ-failing to speak where the Bible speaks, and remaining silent where the Bible is silent. This has been the plea of the churches of Christ throughout the years, based on 1 Pet. 4:11, where the apostle said, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." But within the last few years, we have heard in the churches of Christ men say that you can do things without Bible authority. Any time they say you can do something without Bible authority, there is going to be division. People will be separated from God. People will be separated from brethren who love the truth, because brethren who love the truth are going to stand for the truth and they are not going to go away from the authority of Christ.
Then secondly: a wrong understanding of the church. People need to keep in mind that the church is the universal church. The church of Christ includes all of God's people who have obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one is in the body of Christ who has not obeyed, but everyone who has obeyed is added to the family of God.
Then we discussed a local church. A local church is where Christians come together in a specific locality, where they are organized by divine authority, with elders to oversee and deacons to serve and then the money is raised upon the first day of the week to support the work of the local church.
Then in our last study we emphasized that the men of God warned that a departure would come. He said, "Even of your own ranks will men arise speaking perverse things to draw disciples away after them." Paul said this had already started working in his day, and we found out that division did come. First, it came in the organization. We find where men wanted to have the authority. They wanted more authority than God gave them. They wanted to make themselves God. They wanted to play the role of God. They put themselves up as God. They acted as God, and as a result of it, they divided the body of Christ. We found out that they had five patriarchs in five different cities, overseeing a number of churches, which violated what the Bible teaches. Then finally, when it all boiled down, they had one universal bishop that set himself up to be the head of all the churches, and then they claimed to be the Roman Catholic Church-the beginning of the origin of Catholicism.
But now then, let us continue our line of thought. When this great big body was established with one universal bishop to oversee all the churches, they became a big universal organization. Now this organization had to have money to operate and the first thing you know, they got into trouble. They did not have enough money to keep it going, so they had to raise money. One of them wanted to finish building St. Peter's Cathedral and they didn't have the money, so what were they going to do? They had to raise some money!
Well, now what does the Bible say if you need money and it is a true church? The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 16, "Let each one of you give upon the first day of the week as you have been prospered." Now this is the Bible way of doing it, but notice now the people who had departed from the faith decided to do it. They decided they needed money, so they said, "We will sell indulgences in sin." Now what can you do? You come along and you buy so many indulgences in sin and you can go out and commit sin and this will take care of it. They began to do this to raise money. This started all over the country, money started flowing in, and people started buying their indulgences in sin. Let me pause for just a moment to say this: Did you know, my friend, that this same practice is being done today in Catholicism-that they still sell the indulgences in sin? Not long ago, I read a card that a man had in his own pocket where he had purchased so many indulgences in sin. So, do not let anyone say it is not being done. It is still being done and this is one way in which she raises her money, that is, by the selling of indulgences in sin.
But as this thing got started, there was a man by the name of Martin Luther, a great Bible scholar at this time, who was a member of that particular organization. He said this thing just ought not be. He just could not go along with the idea of selling indulgences in sin. He just could not conceive of a church claiming to be a church of Christ, claiming to be a people of God, selling indulgences in sin, and therefore he objected to this thing. He nailed his theses against the building and protested against this thing. Now keep in mind that Martin Luther did not have in mind starting any kind of a church. What he had in mind was reforming the church of which he was a member. He just, said this thing is not right, we ought not to be selling indulgences in sin. But do you know what happened, my beloved friend? When Martin Luther made his protest and tried to reform the Catholic Church, it just could not be done. The gate had already been opened, they were already doing everything that was contrary to the word of God. They had no Bible authority for a universal bishop, they had no Bible authority for the selling of indulgences in sin; and once you open the gate, it is hard to stop it. Martin Luther could not stop it. Even though he tried to reform it, he could not stop it. And, as a result of that, Protestant denominationalism got its start. Martin Luther had no intention of a church being established to wear his name, but he got into trouble. They ex-communicated him, they put him out. They had their battles within their own rank, and as a result of it, Protestant denominationalism got started.
Now, stop for just a moment and think. Protestant denominationalism! Where did he get the name "Protestant"? From protesting against Catholicism. That, my friend, is the truth. Any historian will bear that out. That is how they got started. After Martin Luther was started, then there were others started, and today we have over 300 different denominational churchesdifferent in name, different in doctrine, different in practice. They have brought division and we are divided from them, we are separated from them, and it is a shame and a disgrace that such is so, but nevertheless it is true. And so then, we have found that Protestant denominational churches started all over the country.
But again, we found some men who just got tired of division. They got tired of all the churches being started with different names and different doctrines and different practices. Dilision was causing ill feelings and ill will among the people, and they even had wars in those days about the matter. They just did not like this, and so some of the men tried to make a plea: "Let's get away from all of this." There was a man by the name of James O'Kelly. Mr. O'Kelly said, "Let's get away from denominationalism, and let's get away from Catholicism, and let's go back to the Bible and do like they did in Bible days; let's speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent, and just simply start churches of Christ-a local church of Christ in each vicinity and not have all of these great big super structural organizations we have got."
There were other men coming along, men like Alexander Campbell, men like Barton W. Stone and others preaching across the country. Let's get away from all of this and let us go back to the New Testament and let's do things like they did in Bible days. Now you know some people have in their minds that because Alexander Campbell wanted to go back to the Bible and do like they did in Bible days, that Alexander Campbell was the founder of the church of Christ. That is not so, my friend. The church of Christ was built before Alexander Campbell was ever born-the church of Christ the Lord talked about in Matthew 16:18. He said, "I will build it," not Alexander Campbell, not anyone else. I had a man one time to say to me, "Preacher, you couldn't find where there was a church of Christ, a local church of Christ like you're talking about, before Alexander Campbell was ever born." T said, "My friend, I can show you where there were churches of Christ before Alexander Campbell was ever born in Romans 16:16-`the churches of Christ salute you.' " Alexander Campbell had not even been, born. The only thing that Alexander Campbell tried was to get away from denominationalism. He tried to get away from Catholicism. He wanted to go back to the Bible, and establish things like the Bible talked about. Alexander Campbell is not the founder of the church. If he built the church, I do not want to be a member of it and I would notbelong to it. I am riot a Campbellite because I do not follow his doctrine-he would only bring division. But his peal was to go back to the Bible, and that is exactly what he wanted to be done.
As a result of men like James O'Kelly, Barton W. Stone, etc. going across the country preaching, "Let's go back to the Bible," you will find that churches of Christ were established all over this country. They got away from the concept of denominationalism. They got away from the universal concept of the bishop being the head of all the churches. They wanted to simply go back and establish churches of Christ where they had elders to oversee in a local congregation, where each local congregation tended to its own business, did its own work in God's arrangement and in God's way, and be identified as a local church of Christ. This is exactly what took place. My brethren, we need to remember this and keep this in mind, for this was their plea.
So now what do we have? We had division that came, but we had people that wanted to go back. They got tired of it, and churches of Christ started being established all over this country. Well, then what took place? Lo and behold, after churches of Christ were established all over the country, we find that division came again! You would think that brethren would learn that division ought not to be so, that they should respect Bible authority. Even after men like James O'Kelly, Barton W. Stone, etc. went across this country establishing churches of Christ, to and behold, we find that division comes within our ranks again. In our next article we are going to talk about how that division came. Then we are going to bring it right on down to our day and time, and talk about the things that divide us.
Thus far we have laid the principle before you how there came to be division-which ought not to be. It is our plea that people be one in Jesus Christ and be identified in a local church that stands for the truth of God.
Truth Magazine XXI: 16, pp. 245-246