A Sad Anniversary

By Lewis Willis

It was surprised to read in the current issue of The Christian Chronicle that the Herald of Truth radio and television program has just celebrated its 40th anniversary.

The first broadcast was over ABC radio on February 10, 1952. Two years later the first TV broadcast was aired. A letter recently arrived at the office doing the thing that this program does best  trying to raise money for another effort! This time, they are seeking to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for an April 24th broadcast on national Russian television when “the Russian people will be marking their first major Easter celebration” since the overthrow of Communism. I am almost afraid to even wonder what that program might say on “Easter.”

It occurs to me that most of you do not even know what Herald of Truth is. Let me explain. In 1952, the elders of the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas established themselves as a “sponsoring church” and “sponsoring eldership” for the purpose of raising funds for churches across the nation with which they would present a national broadcast “for the Churches of Christ.” The reasoning was, that no single congregation could afford such an effort, so they would, under the supervision of the Highland elders, pool the resources of many congregations to get the job done. The Highland elders would eventually find themselves supervising the spending of funds from over 2,000 congregations across America. This enterprise was to become a part of the “centerpiece” that would produce a major division in Churches of Christ.

The division was not caused by the preaching of the gospel over radio or television, as some charged. It was caused by the violation of the Scriptures involved in the development of a “sponsoring church/eldership.” When the Lord established the church, each congregation was independent or autonomous, with each congregation answerable to Christ, its head (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). Each congregation was under the oversight of its own elders. Note what the Scriptures say: “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed” (Acts 14:23); “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Tit. 1:5). These passages obviously teach that each church is to have its own elders, overseers, who lead it in the accomplishment of the mission that God has assigned to it: to evangelize the world, meet its benevolent obligation and edify itself (Eph. 4:11-12).

Furthermore, other passages specifically limit the oversight of those elders to that congregation, and to it alone. Note: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28); “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (1 Pet. 5:2).

No man, or group of men, can change this fundamental organizational character of the Lord’s church. To do so is sin! It is just as wrong to change its organization, as it is to change its worship or the plan of salvation. The elders of the Highland church committed this sin and they are responsible for all of the damage that was done to the cause of Christ by the division they produced. Today, they boast of 40 years of work. More accurately, they should note that 40 years ago they divided the blood-bought body of our Lord. Instead of being an occasion of rejoicing, their 40th anniversary is an anniversary to shame and disgrace. Just remember one thing: we cannot sin in an effort to do good. This is what they did, and they were wrong in doing it. Unless we understand this truth, we are bound to repeat their sin in the future.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 1, p. 25
January 7, 1993