An Open Letter to Furman Kearley, Gospel Advocate Editor

By Dick Blackford

Dear Brother Kearley,

I was perplexed at your November, 1991 editorial in which you praised and thanked the 4000 congregations which participated in the “One Nation Under God” Campaign.

First, you said it was a success because it has stirred our minds to remember the Great Commission. I suppose one should say the same about the Boston and Crossroads movements, the missionary society, and the Billy Graham Campaigns. But we don’t need these or the “O.N.U.G.” Campaign to remind us of our duty.

Second, you said the campaign did more to unite the “fiercely independent” churches of Christ throughout the nation. “I believe the Bible teaches congregational autonomy and that each is to be independent from the other.” The Sycamore church and the contributing congregations are practicing the opposite of what you say you believe. When the contributing congregations joined the campaign, they delegated a portion of the oversight of their work and resources to the Sycamore elders. God has limited the oversight of elders to “the flock which is among you” (1 Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:28). Whatever pertains to the local flock (its work resources, worship, edification, discipline), is what they oversee.

What would have been readily recognized as a society had the overseers of the campaign identified themselves separate from the church, was obscured by the fact that they assumed the title of “elders” in both roles. To call themselves elders in both the role of overseeing a local church and overseeing a multi-church or churchhood project is deceptive, whether intentional or not. They were already overseeing the local work at Sycamore. But when they took control of a National Campaign through which all other churches function, they assumed a dual role and became more than local elders. To refer to themselves as “elders” in a role God never gave elders (overseeing a churchhood function) is a misnomer. When the scope of their oversight became larger than a local church they overstepped God’s boundaries for oversight. They corrupted the organization of the church and have developed a “brotherhood” (churchhood) oversight. This is the point at which they sinned, and so did the contributing churches. Regardless of anyone’s sincerity, we can only know them by their fruit.

Third, you said the benefit of the campaign was related to unity and brotherhood. “Tragically, a sense of fragmentation has been running throughout our brotherhood for a number of years.” Yet you said the 4000 contributing churches comprised only 33 percent of all congregations. So which is the fragment? Your 33 percent, or the 67 percent that did not participate in this corruption of the organization of the church?

Continuing your quote: “Some have been moving toward liberalism, while others have moved toward . . . Legalism. ” The focus of too many has been upon agitation, argumentation, and hostility.” Brother Kearley, were you agitating, argumentative, hostile, and being legalistic when you opposed the Boston/Crossroads Movement in the pages of the Gospel Advocate? What is legalism except insisting that we do all things according to the pattern?

Fourth, you called the campaign a “positive effort. ” Is it positive to violate the limitations God has placed on the scope of elders? No, a person is being positive when he is moving along the lines of scriptural authority, not when he disregards God’s will and involves a sizable segment of God’s people in error.

The Herald of Truth has split the brotherhood twice. The “O.N.U.G. ” Campaign not only maintains a division over the sponsoring church but has divided institutional brethren, some of whom have spoken and written against it. Is this positive? Is this expedient?

Fifth, you said “visible results demonstrate success. ” But they don’t demonstrate that the “Sponsoring Church” concept is scriptural. Again, one could say the same about the Boston/Crossroads Movement, the Missionary Society, and the Billy Graham Campaigns. You told us that more than 250 baptisms have been reported. Since $10,000,000 was the amount needed, that figures to approximately $40,000 per baptism. We can do better than that in gospel meetings for a lot less than $40,000! Many of the responses may have obeyed anyway as a result of some of the local churches conducting their gospel meetings in conjunction with the campaign. I suspect 4000 congregations could each conduct a gospel meeting and have as many baptisms without having to corrupt the organization of the church. Further, $10,000,000 will support 357 American preachers for a whole year (at an average of $28,000 annually). Surely, each of them could convert one person in a year’s time! That’s more than 250 even if they convert a minimum of one per year. The “O.N.U.G.” Campaign was not expedient even from a financial point of view.

Brother F.B. Shepherd said, “There is absolutely no precept or example in the Holy Scripture for the existence of any organization, federation, or society which embraces more or less than one local congregation through which to perform the work of the Lord in the furtherance of the gospel” (Gospel Advocate, 2/25/32).

Foy E. Wallace, Jr. said, “For one church to help another church bear its own burdens, therefore, has scriptural precedent. But for one church to solicit funds from other churches for general distribution in other fields or places, thus becoming the treasury for other churches, is quite a different question. Such procedure makes a sort of society out of the elders of a local church, and for such there is no scriptural precedent or example” (Gospel Advocate, 5/14/31).

F.B. Syrgley said, “The agency system of collecting funds from many churches, even if it is done under some eldership, is without authority, ties churches together and has a tendency to destroy the initiative and independence of the local church. . . . The greatest objection to the whole scheme is that it is not in the New Testament” (Gospel Advocate, 11/1/34).

Numerous and similar quotes can be produced from H. Leo Boles and several others, all from the pages of the Advocate. It was known as “The Old Reliable.” But what must be said of the Advocate, brother Kearley, now that you are teaching that all congregations may do evangelistic work under the oversight of one centralized eldership? Does this not make them a “churchhood” eldership? You say churches of Christ are “fiercely independent” and you believe that they should be. But there is a vast different between what you preach and in what you praise and practice. It is similar to the Southern Baptists who claim to be fiercely independent while promoting the Southern Baptist Convention. You bemoan that some have been moving toward liberalism. Brother Kearley, “thou art the man.”

For the sake of truth above all else, Dick Blackford.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 6, pp. 166-167
March 19, 1992