Lessons From the Disciples of Christ
Connie W. Adams
In the fall of 1963 the International Convention of the Disciples of Christ convened at Miami Beach. The opening speech was m a d e by Robert Burns of Atlanta, Georgia, then President of the International Convention. Having pointed out several features which he said encouraged him, he then proceeded to upbraid his brethren because of their failure to grow. He pointed out that in the ten years prior to his speech they had gained 24,519 members, a gain of about 1% for a whole decade, while Protestants in general gained 1570 over the same period. He said their evangelism had not lagged for lack of adequate plans. They have a massive machine for evangelism, the United Christian Missionary Society, conceived and advertised as the most effective means of evangelizing the world. Yet with all that machinery he reported to what must have been a startled convention that "during the last 13 years we have lost an average of 35 congregations every year."
Robert M. Bell of Kimberlin Heights, Tenn., President of Johnson Bible (:ollge, an outspoken conservative Christian Church preacher and writer, commented on Burns' speech in the November-December issue of Blue and White, publication of Johnson Bible College. In commenting on the causes of this condition Bell suggested some things worthy of passing on. (1) "The persistent pressure to centralize authority" he said was one of the reasons for their decline. He denounced the ecclesiastical tyranny brought on by the UCMS and implied that for the conservatives to go along with the UCMS would be for them to "turn back toward that hierarchical bondage out of which they came." (2) "Opposition to the UCMS" he said was responsible for some of the trouble. He said "The thirty years war that was raged between the defenders of the Society and its critics almost extinguished the fires of evangelism. The chief interest of one group has been to kill the Society. The chief interest of another group has been to protect it. To one group the chief of sinners was the person who supported the UCMS. To the other group the chief of sinners was the person who refused to support it. The test of fellowship was no longer a matter of faith in Christ and obedience to his commands, but support or non-support of the UCMS. Instead of holding up Christ to a dying world, both groups held up the UCMS to a confused brotherhood. One group held it up as an object of praise; the other as an object of scorn. Meanwhile' the death rate among churches exceeded the birth rate." All of this took place, Bell pointed out, even though the UCMS has managed to accumulate eleven million dollars in forty-two years. (3) "Failure to preach the gospel with conviction and enthusiasm" Bell suggested as another reason for their failures. He said many of the Disciples of Christ preachers had lost faith in the gospel and the old restoration plea and sought to pay a compliment to "that segment which does not use instrumental music in the church" by showing the great growth which has taken place "in spite of their musical handicap." He said, "Nobody can convince them that the plea is no longer effective." He proceeded to discuss the growth that has been realized among the Conservative Christian Churches that have nothing to do with the UCMS.
All of this should put us to thinking. Our liberal brethren have conceived great church combines to centralize the funds of many churches through a single agency, and this is presented as the most effective means of reaching the lost. It has proved to be a most expedient means of dividing the brethren into warring camps and parties. The war will continue as long as error is preached and practiced. In the meantime an ecclesiasticism has developed which places undue power in the hands of a few elders. We now have Campaigns for Christ, Gospel Press, Herald of Truth, church related youth camps, church supported colleges, orphan homes, hospitals and homes for unwed mothers. Here we have all the modern machinery for divine work characteristic of denominationalism.
For a long time the advocates of the UCMS made pretentious claims for all the many they converting. Now, they have had to admit that they have closed an average of 35 congregations a year from 1950 to 1963.
Likewise, the advocates of our present church combines are telling us how much they are accomplishing. Time will prove them to be no more effective than other human schemes that disregard the divine pattern for the church. Indeed, they contain the seed that can destroy every vestige of the distinctive character of the church. The Lord's way was effective in the first century when the gospel was carried throughout the Roman Empire without a missionary society, sponsoring church, church supported school, hospital or orphanage, youth camp, or such like. The New Testament plan will work now.
Truth Magazine IX: 12, pp. 11-12