I Labor with a "Digressive Church"

Bobby Witherington
Owensboro, Kentucky

Recently, in Western Kentucky, I was introduced to a certain preacher who evidently assumed that he and I shared similar views o n "current issues" now facing the Lord's body. Upon learning that I labor in Owensboro, he recalled that several years ago he also had preached a couple of times before one of the congregations in this fair city. He further stated that according to his present information, "this church has gone digressive."

His statement interested me. I wondered which congregation in Owensboro was being identified as "digressive." He did not recall "the name of the congregation", but he did remember and related the general location of its meetinghouse. I then told him, "That's where I preach".

The charge he had made was serious - not one that could pass off with a mere shrug of the shoulder, even if our place of meeting was in a funeral home. I bid "God speed" to the work that is being done by the congregation where I labor. Consequently, if the congregation is "digressive", then I am also digressive and a partaker of its "evil deeds" (2 Jno. 9-11). Digression and transgression pave the road to hell - not heaven! (Gal. 1:6-9; Matt. 15:13; Rev. 21; 27; Rev. 18:9)

Thus, I earnestly inquired as to why said congregation is "digressive". He replied, ``oh, they don't believe in taking care of orphans." This was news to me. I did not know that the brethren with whom I labor were opposed to "taking care of orphans". In fact, I knew they were not as unkind, hard-hearted, and uncharitable as described. He further stated that "they don't believe in cooperation", and again, I knew he was mistaken. I have yet to meet a brother in Christ who does not believe in caring for orphans and in cooperation! The thing that amazed me was how a preacher, old enough to be my father and so far removed both in time and distance, could so stoop as to make such a condemnatory statement without more evidence.

Of course, we both understood to what he was referring. His remarks were but typical of the many prejudicial statements so frequently made by those who are bowing before the God of institutionalism, and whose position will not stand the light of open and 1lonest investigation. The brethren, with whom I labor, believe the church which existed in the "eternal purpose of God" (Eph. 3:11), which is "the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:23), which was purchased with his own warm blood (Acts 20:28), which has an infallible head (Col. 1:18), and a perfect guide (2 Tim. 3:16,17), is sufficient to do the work which God assigned it to do without becoming a subsidizing organization in the building and maintenance of man-made benevolent, missionary, and edification societies.

My good friend seemed to think that brethren could not practice "pure and undefiled religion" unless it was through "our homes" and that a church under the oversight of her elders should be allowed to engage in all kinds of "good works" (?) without interruption or protest.

In the first place, a work is not a "good work" unless God has "ordained" it (Eph. 2:10). Secondly, elders in the Lord's church have no legislative authority whatever and must function within the realm of faith. "There is one lawgiver" (Jas. 4:12), and truth is determined by the word of God (Psa. 119:89; Jno. 17:17). Elders, who love the "flock of God", will not become "lords over God's heritage" ( 1 Pet. 5 :3 ) and assume power and authority which God has not given them. Thirdly, if "our homes" must be maintained in order to practice "pure and undefiled religion", then every brother in Christ, who lived and died before Sept. .14, 1909, was a "digressive"! The Tennessee Orphan Home (the first orphanage "among us") was established as a body politic on that date. Thus, we are branded as "digressive" because we refuse to be coerced and pressured to violate our conscience by making the church of my Lord subservient to a human institution whose purpose in existence is to do the work of the church, rob it of its glory, and sectarianize it before the eyes of the world.

In all fairness, my friend did admit that the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-6) was sufficient to care for its own. I suggest that if the church then was sufficient to do its work, the church now is, inasmuch as we are to be governed by the same pattern, and we have it in its completed form.

What of his statement that we do not believe in cooperation? It is utterly false! This congregation is cooperating with every other faithful church in the world in the great work of proclaiming the gospel of Christ! The New Testament teaches concurrent, independent action in the cooperation of local churches. One hundred years ago brethren, who believed the church of our Lord to be the only institution ordained by God for the preaching of the gospel and who were fearful of the centralization of power and resources, bitterly opposed the "American Christian Missionary Society". The "no pattern" advocates of that day branded them as "anti-cooperation". In this day, faithful brethren, who oppose the same unscriptural I principles inherent in brotherhood elderships, benevolent societies, church supported schools, church-supported youth rallies, etc., are again branded by the "no-pattern" advocates of today as being "anti-cooperation". It is not that we are opposed to cooperation. We simply oppose unscriptural cooperation.

I verily believe that the term "digressive" is most applicable in this age, but I also believe that my good friend is confused regarding who is "digressive".

Truth Magazine VIII: 2, pp. 11, 12 November 1963