When a Church Divides
Hardly a week passes now but that we see in some religious paper an account of division in some church over the matter of church support of benevolent institutions and the brotherhood cooperative programs. To those who love the Lord and his people, this is always an occasion of sorrow. Sorrow, because, when a church divides there is always the breaking of ties and the alienation of friends and relatives. This often leaves scars that will never heal. Then there is the blighting effect that division has on the church in the community. Such a crisis as this nearly always causes some of the weaker members to become discouraged and drop out. The world will mock and deride us and the devil will gloat. Then last but not least, where there is division such as this there is always sin. Paul said to the Corinthians, "For ye are yet carnal: For whereas there is among you envying and strife and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men" (I Cor. 3 : 3) . In some cases both sides may be guilty, but one thing is sure, where there is division somebody is guilty of sin. Woe unto the ones who cause division in the Lord's church.
As sinful as division is, it is not always true that all those involved are guilty of sin. Sometimes the situation becomes such that it is sinful for some not to separate themselves from the others. There comes a time when those who respect the truth and want to live by it, have no choice but to walk out and start a church where the work can be carried on in harmony with New Testament teaching. Where would the church be today if some brethren had not walked out when the missionary societies and instrumental music were forced upon them? When prejudice has not yet crystallized the sentiment of a church against honest investigation of the issues involved, I would certainly encourage brethren to stay on and study the manner with mutual forbearance as long as there is hope of saving a church from the curse of innovation. But when a Christian continues on in a congregation that is engaged in unscriptural practices, knowing that he can do nothing to change the conditions, he becomes guilty with the others, because he is lending his influence and giving his money to aid those who are corrupting the Lord's church. John said, "If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed, for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds."
The Lord knew that a positive stand for the truth would cause division. He said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me is not worthy of me." Jesus did not mean that he takes delight in causing strife. But that he demands unqualified obedience to what he says, and that kind of obedience will divide families. We have seen it happen many times. It will also divide churches when there are those in the churches who put the truth ahead of everything else, and some others, including the elders who are determined that the church shall engage in practices for which they can give no scriptural authority. In such cases brethren who respect the truth will separate themselves. When they do they will be maligned, ridiculed and ostracized. Every effort will be made to break down their resistance and bring them back. This is just a part of the price you pay for being loyal to the truth above everything else. Paul said, ". . . all that will live Godly in Christ shall suffer persecution " (II Tim. 3:12). I surely do not envy these fainthearted brethren who are more afraid of brotherhood sentiment than they are the wrath of God.
Nearly every time a church divides there are some who, knowing the truth, still refuse to go with the few who go out and establish a faithful New Testament church. There are many reasons for this. Of course, there are always some who just don't care. They know what the Bible teaches but have no conviction. There is not much lost to the effort here, because these wouldn't be worth much if they went along. They won't be worth much where they stay. They are going with the biggest crowd. They can get lost in the crowd and what they don't do will not be noticed. When you are in a small group your laziness and good-for-nothingness shows more. It is embarrassing.
Then there are some who say, "My children have their friends here and I just hate to take them away." Are these more interested in their children's social status or their souls? Do they think their children can grow up in a church that disregards New Testament authority and come out simon pure?
Others say, "The elders are opposed to this move, and I don't want to be guilty of rebellion against the elders." I wonder if they are that conscientious about attending all the classes and meetings arranged by the elders. Anyway, where did we get the idea that the elders have the right to forbid a group of Christians to leave the church where they serve and start another congregation. Suppose some members of a church live in a town twenty (20) miles away and one day they decide to start a church in a town where they live. If the elders refused permission they would have to continue driving twenty miles to worship. And, if some outsider came in and started a church in that town, these members who were driving twenty miles couldn't place membership in their own home town. Do you believe that? If the elders can forbid forty members to go out and start another work, they can forbid one to change his membership to another church. I recognize that brethren should consider the elders and counsel with them concerning the starting of another church, and in normal conditions abide by their decisions in the matter. But when elders are spending the money of the church in supporting things for which they can offer no scriptural proof, and in many instances will not even try, I would not feel bound by their decisions. I have a higher obligation than that which I sustain to the elders. The Bible says that wives should submit to their husbands. But we all understand that this is a relative submission. Her first duty is to God, and her husband comes second. The same is true with regard to the children and the parent relationship; the citizen and the government. And it is also true that the Christian is taught to be in submission to the elders, but when the elders command one to do something that God has not authorized, he "must obey God rather than man." I would ask these brethren who have such reverence for the elders, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE IF YOU HAD LIVED A CENTURY AGO AND HAD BEEN MEMBERS OF A CHURCH IN WHICH THE ELDERS DECIDED TO SUPPORT THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY? Would you have obeyed the elders? If you say that was different, you assume the very thing to be proven,, that the missionary society was unscriptural, but that the things that are now dividing the church are scriptural. If you believe they are scriptural, then you should take a stand and fight for them, after you have found the scripture that authorizes them. If you think they are unscriptural, then you should help oppose them. You cannot please God and do otherwise, no matter what the elders say.
Elders have the awesome responsibility of feeding, overseeing, ruling and being examples to the flock. Certainly faithful elders deserve our respect and cooperation. They are set to "watch for our souls as they who must give account . . ." (Heb. 13 :17) . But they are not set over the church as official interpreters of the word. And they have no arbitrary authority. Christ has all authority, (_.Mt. 28:18), and that doesn't leave any for the elders. Elders have the charge to rule the church under Christ and in harmony with his word, just as the wife is told to submit to her husband "as it is fit in the Lord" (Col. 3:18). And when elders demand that the flock submit to their decision and refuse to even allow the matter to be discussed in the light of scripture, they are "lord(ing) it over God's heritage," and the Christians have no more obligation to obey them in that matter than the wife would be obligated to obey her husband's command that she prostitute her body to support him.
If this sentiment gains general acceptance, the decision of the elders regarding the work of the church must be accepted without question or even study, then it is only a matter of time until the church has a human creed. After all, a denominational creed is nothing more than the decisions of the leaders of that body, drawn up into a code of formal rules and bound upon the body. If we should grant for the sake of argument that the things the churches are doing now are right, this iron curtain policy of elders is wrong. Elders are not infallible. They make mistakes. And when their decisions can no longer be questioned, their mistakes will become a part of the practice of the churches, their word will become law and the "Church of Christ" will have a human creed. Our freedom to study the Bible and decide for ourselves has been our great strength. It has kept us from the shackles of human creed. And when we relinquish this freedom, even to the elders, we might as well have a priest or a bishop to tell us what we may believe and do. If anyone is interested in checking my past life, he can discover that I have always had the greatest respect and profoundest sympathy for faithful elders, but I claim my God-given right to study the word of the Lord and decide for myself what I must do. And I reserve the right to respectfully differ with any man on earth in things that concern my eternal soul.
Truth Magazine, V:8, pp. 18-20