A Long Range View of Apostasy

By Dan Walters

The January 17, 1978, issue of the Firm Foundation contains a remarkably frank interview with Brother Hugo McCord of Oklahoma Christian College. When asked his opinion of the future of the church, Brother McCord said that there is a likely possibility that the church will “give up Bible authority, become anti-nothing, and apostatize into a denomination among denominations.” His reason for believing this is that “thorough Bible knowledge is largely non-existent in today’s church, and the pulpit man sought by most elderships is not a teacher but a promoter.” When asked his opinion as to the future of the “antis,” Brother McCord said that “most of them will continue unswervingly in their doctrine and practice regardless of any consequences.”

Here is a brother who regards the “liberals” as right and the “antis” as wrong. As much as any man in the church, he is in a position to know what is going on in the brotherhood at present, and to be aware of trends. He does not desire that the church become a denomination, yet he is strangely apathetic toward that possibility. He does not appear to be alarmed or indignant over the fact that “Bible knowledge is largely non-existent” among his brethren. This deplorable situation does not exist among the “antis,” as Brother McCord would probably admit. Among the brethren who oppose institutionalism and modern trends, preachers are still chosen for their knowledge of the Bible and their ability to teach. As a result, he predicts that these brethren will “continue unswervingly in their doctrine and practice.”

Brother McCord and other honest and intelligent men among his associates can see an apostasy in the making and they do not have confidence in their ability to stop it. They view us as wrong because we will not allow churches to contribute to human institutions, but they admit that we will otherwise continue to teach the same doctrine that we always have, and that we are not in danger of a wholesale apostasy. But the “liberals” admittedly are in such danger. Doesn’t this tell us something about the nature of their teaching and practice? If these brethren were following God’s pattern in the work and worship of the church, why would “Bible knowledge” be “largely non-existent” among them? Why would there be such a danger of radical apostasy among them?

If I may be permitted to use a personal reference by way of illustration, I was in high school at the time of the great debate over institutionalism. My own family and nearly all the brethren I knew personally decided to go along with church support of institutions and the rest of the institutional package. But I was able to obtain copies of gospel papers and written debates which presented both sides of the issues. This left me in a state of confusion for some time. Brethren with whom I discussed the matter could not give me solid scriptural arguments in support of the innovations. Yet the arguments over the orphan homes and the Herald of Truth were presented in such a complex manner that I hesitated to take a stand immediately. Without defending the institutions (which I could not do), I did not wish to break fellowship with good brethren who believed exactly as I did in other matters, but failed to understand why the institutions were wrong. In the small town of DeQueen, Arkansas, where I lived at the time, there was no “liberal spirit” and no mad rush to discard scriptural authority. It was simply a matter of disagreement on two or three specific issues.

Then I had the good fortune to attend Harding College. Without that experience I might never have realized that there was any real apostasy in progress. Looking back on that period, I find it hard to understand why any young Christian with a solid background in the scriptures and in church history could fail to see that there was something wrong at Harding. I do not speak of the college alone, but of the cross section of the brotherhood represented by the student body, and of the two large churches in Searcy where most of the students and faculty members worshiped. I learned that the problem was of afar more serious and portentous nature than the quibble about Bole’s Orphan Home being a divine institution. I was faced with a totally different concept of the church, of the restoration movement, and of scriptural authority. This new concept did not measure up to the scriptures, and it bore the unmistakable odor of denominational philosophy.

What amazed me most was the general reaction of the students to false doctrine. They seemed to have “their feet firmly planted in the air,” and to be willing, almost eager, to be carried about with every wind of doctrine. When a Christmas sermon was preached in the College Church and the preacher’s text was something Pat Boone had written and a choir sang Christmas carols, I was the only one to object. When some brother from overseas preached one Sunday night, shouting for the Holy Spirit to come down into the hearts of his listeners and succeeded in turning the service into a Pentecostal revival, and about a quarter of the audience went forward, no one protested but me. I was asked by fellow students, “How do you know that we have all the truth?” But there was no diligent effort to study and find out just what the scriptures did have to say about these and other questions, and to find out who did have the truth. The idea seemed to be that no one had the truth, that no one ever would have it, and that truth was relative. Having been raised to be honest, if I had accepted that philosophy I would have had to have apologized to all my denominational friends for having judged them to be in error.

At Harding I was able to catch a glimpse of the “mainstream” church of the future; I did not like what I saw. I learned that the arguments used to justify church contributions to orphanages could and would be used to justify church-supported colleges, hospitals, etc. I began to realize that the abandonment of scriptural authority on a few specific issues was the missing nail – that loosened the shoe – that crippled the horse – that threw the rider. I saw that the apostasy had already progressed so far at that time (1960-62) that it was impossible to stop it or even slow it down. I saw that faithful Christians, who did not want to be sucked into the Maelstrom, must heed the warning to “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.”

I recently had the opportunity to visit the old meeting house at Cane Ridge in Kentucky where Barton W. Stone and others made the decision to drop human creeds and to preach only the word of God. The property is now in the hands of the Disciples of Christ denomination. I was moved to stand in the pulpit and sing a verse from the old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” I realized that the brethren who now own the property, and who claim to be the spiritual descendants of Stone and the restorationists, have departed from the firm foundation of Christ and the Apostles, and are now floundering in the quicksand of human opinion. The Disciples of Christ denomination is one of the most liberal and modernistic religious groups in America. The division which led to the founding of this denomination was due to disagreement over two specific issues: the missionary society and instrumental music in worship. Those who did not think that they needed Bible authority for these innovations have now rejected such authority completely, and have even rejected the verbal inspiration of the scriptures. The lesson of history must not be ignored.

Today a number of young preachers have been led astray by the “unity in diversity” movement. Sometimes we hear an argument made on consequences: that refusal to fellowship all baptized believers will only result in further fragmentation of the church and will prevent it from carrying out its great mission to save the lost. Those who make the argument do not consider how their practice would have affected the course of history if they had lived in the late 1800’s. Suppose no one had taken a firm stand against that apostasy. Suppose Daniel Sommer and those brethren at Sand Creek had not declared that they could “not tolerate” such things as church festivals, the choir system, the missionary society, and the pastor system. Suppose brethren had not stood firm against the introduction of the instrument. Would there be more or fewer faithful churches in existence today?

There were a few brethren such as J.W. McGarvey and Moses E. Lard who tried to take a middle course. They did not want to use the instrument, but they did not want to make it a test of fellowship. Some of them rejected the instrument, but not the missionary society. They wanted to maintain fellowship with all segments of the restoration movement. Their influence went with the digressives. McGarvey’s funeral was held in a digressive church, and the instrument was used. By maintaining fellowship with the digressives these men were not able to slow down or stop the apostasy. If Daniel Sommer, Jacob Creath, Jr., David Lipscomb and the other strong “antis” of their day had followd the same path, many faithful churches of today would be a part of the Disciples of Christ denomination.

We must conclude that doctrinal apostasy is a terminal disease. If it is not totally removed from the body, it will rapidly spread and contaminate all the parts, until the last breath of spiritual life is extinguished and the candlestick is removed from its place. The present apostasy is moving much faster than the apostasy of the last century. Those who live in small towns and rural areas are often unaware of its extent. In addition to the original innovations we see church recreation, including kitchens and fellowship halls in meeting houses, church parties, church ball teams, church bowling leagues, church Boy Scout teams, church “family life centers,” church hobby shops, church hayrides, even church mixed swimming parties. We see the puppet ministry, worldly entertainers used to attract young people, the bus ministry with reward motivation, and junior churches. We see church kindergartens, church elementary schools, church academies, church colleges, church hospitals, church psychiatric clinics, church counseling services, and church soup kitchens. We see churches participating in Easter, Good Friday, and Christmas services with sectarians, and gospel preachers taking part in denominational seminars, worshiping and preaching in denominations, and joining ministerial alliances. We see churches sponsoring area wide or national programs with denominational names such as workshops, clinics, and retreats; churches with unscriptural officers such as youth ministers, educational directors, and recreational directors. We see services with dim lights, hand holding, cross burning, mixed-sex chain prayers, etc. We see loosened moral standards including toleration of immodest clothing, mixed swimming, women dressing like men and men wearing their hair like women, and churches taking in adulterers and other impenitent sinners who have been withdrawn from. We see the teaching of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, modern miracles, etc. With all of this activity there is apparently little time for old-time Bible teaching and so “thorough Bible knowledge is largely non-existent.”

Because all of these things are not going on at the same time in the same church some may think that the picture is overdrawn. But the point is that if one “liberal” church is not engaged in all these things, it is still in full fellowship with many brethren and churches which are doing them. Warnings are heard on every hand, but none of these brethren, however much they may oppose church colleges or anything else, are taking a firm stand and refusing to fellowship error. That is what makes the difference between a “conservative liberal” and an “anti”. These brethren know that the left wing is in firm control of their papers, their colleges, and their larger congregations. To oppose such entrenched power will mean ostracism and isolation. That is why Brother McCord knows that his brethren are likely to “apostatize into a denomination.” Because we have taken a stand, at great cost and sacrifice, is why Brother McCord knows that we “will continue unswervingly in” our “doctrine and practice.” Thanks for the compliment, Brother McCord.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 49, pp. 790-791
December 11, 1980