"Liberals" and "Modernists"
I have waited a decent interval after writing those two inflammatory words to be sure they did not char this bulletin to cinders. Since they did not, I shall proceed. A dear friend has just mailed me a little paper put out by those who are often called "Antis," one of several factions in our divided religious movement. The writer of one of the articles is a neighbor of ours in Wichita and said to be, by those whose judgment I respect, a fine Christian person. His convictions have led him to believe that the whole church is falling apart at the seams and his article is entitled, "We Will Not Walk Therein."
This brave and ringing assertion is noble, but I cannot get excited over the dangers my friend sees all about him. Nor can I accept his implied premise: that he and his particular splinter group know what is true and that all others are in various ways ignorant. Above all, however, I am struck by his fascinating definition of what it means to be "liberal" or modernistic." One is "liberal" if he has:
1 Youth meetings, with recreation, at the church buildings.
2 Skating parties, volleyball, horseshoe pitching, ping pony planned by the churches and advertised in their bulletins.
3 Men's luncheons.
4 Area advertising, as in Wichita, where (he laments) a man who is called the "Coordinator" has power to choose ads and to dismiss congregations from the listing.
5 Willingness to let the Rest Home at Winfield accept aged folk who are not members of the Church of Christ. Though the Home was once properly restricted to those who were Christians (i. e., members of the Church of Christ), it is now open to "close relatives of members of the church."
6 Churches that hold "Save Bottle Caps" campaigns to benefit human institutions. It reminds the writer of Green Stamp book nonsense.
7 Church support of Christian colleges.
Now I must confess that I was rather pleased to find that we at Riverside are not guilty of all these atrocities, only a few. We have not digressed to holding men's luncheons, or degrading any Rest Homes, or saving bottle caps (although we do now have a soft drink machine inconspicuously located in the building somewhere). We must plead guilty to skating and volleyball, but we hold the line against the poison of horseshoe pitching and ping pony. These last are clearly of the devil.
I am intrigued to learn that the church in Winfield has grown so lax that it is now possible for somebody's Christian Church auntie to rent a room and live out her last days in the Rest Home. All right-thinking people should immediately send notes to the Winfield brethren and beg them to desist from this "liberalism" before they get their nice Home filled up with "sectarians."
My joys were short-lived, however, for just below this catalogue of vices was a boldface sub-title which read: ".MORE IN KANSAS." You can doubtless guess who the Kansas culprits were. The writer says that the "liberal church at Riverside" has committed certain specific sins. No man to shirk his duty, he lists these five:
1. A December Christmas program with songs of the Season.
2. Their Children's Choir will sing two songs before evening Bible classes.
3. They recognize "Christians" in the denominations.
4. It is permissible to sing songs of praise unto God with the use of instruments of I music. A "Church of Christ" tradition is to use vocal music.
5. Weekly observance of the Lord's Supper is not taught in the scriptures. They say this is but a "church of Christ tradition."
6. They had denominational preachers teach the adult class in Vacation Bible School.
7. Sprinkling will make one a Christian.
This is lurid stuff and we are guilty of some of it. I recall a mild Christmas program in which we sang (horrors!) "Songs of the Season." It was wonderful. And I have faint memories of seeing the children sitting on the front seats and singing a couple of songs before evening services two or three times. It died out, so I guess it must not have been very wicked; real evil is harder to shake off than that.
I can't answer for all Riverside folk, but I certainly recognize Christians in denominations, including the church denominated Church of Christ (mainline) and the one popularly known as the "Anti Party" of this church. Like Alexander Campbell, I recognize as Christians men and women who have believed in Christ, repented of their sins, and obeyed to the limits of their knowledge.
I plead guilty to the startling charges in 4 and 5, too. I think I have brothers who worship God where an instrument aids them, just as I have brothers who worship with no instrument ever present. Since the Scriptures are silent on this matter, I think it belongs in the realm of opinion. Our tradition is one of vocal music only and we have been conditioned to prefer that. I still do prefer it. I have no wish to change, nor is there any sign that Riverside will do so. Weekly observance of the Lord's Supper is not enjoined in scripture and there is no man alive who can prove that it is. It did begin very early, however, and there are good enough reasons for us to continue tradition in which we grew up. Riverside plans to do so.
And we had those "denominational" preachers speak to adults at the VBS. We did not fear them, or they us, and I have seen no evidence that anyone was harmed irreparably by greeting these gentlemen and hearing them in the spirit of Christian charity.
Sprinkling no more makes a man a Christian than immersion does. It is faith in Christ and a resolve to shape His image in the heart that does that. We think here that immersion was the primitive practice; therefore we accept no one into membership who is not immersed. I have in the past year immersed several adults from Methodist and Presbyterian churches who wanted to be a part of this Christian family. I believe that baptism puts a visible seal on inward faith and symbolizes both the burial of an old life and the moment of commitment to a new one.
As for labels like "liberal" and "modernist," I refuse to panic at sight or sound of them. Jesus obviously was both. He said the new wine he brought could not be kept in old wineskins. The Spirit, in other words, is eternally the same but the forms that express it may change. There were, for example, no rest homes in Jesus' day, but they now serve admirably as forms through which the Spirit of Jesus may speak. The real disaster, to me, is the belief that the Spirit no longer works among us and transforms narrow men into loving disciples.
Truth Magazine IX: 9, pp. 18-19