Our Changing Church
WM. B. Wright
Weirton, West Virginia
Not long ago (November 1965), a fine Christian couple visited with us in our home. During the course of our visit they recounted some of the details of their life that led to their conversion. They told how they had compared the teachings of several religious organizations with the Bible and found them wanting. In the course of their religious pilgrimage they found the Church of Christ After examination they concluded they had found the true church, and that their religious wandering was over.
The lady then said something to this effect: "Eleven years ago when we found the Church of Christ we felt that our search was ended. Now, we are ready to start searching again." This comment was made partly in jest, but was also meant to convey a very serious truth. She did not mean that they were about to start comparing religious bodies again hoping to find one nearer the truth as set forth in the Bible than the Church of Christ. This couple knows and loves the truth and will not be fooled by human teaching. But the thing that disturbs them is the way the church is changing. When they became members of the church the rule for everything was a "Thus saith the Lord." If a thing were considered doubtful, it was also considered dirty and therefore to be kept strictly apart from the church. They are very much disturbed over programs of recreation, centralization, church support of institutions and the general slipshod approach to the clear teachings of the New Testament.
The signs of the times are quite ominous. A few years ago the only people charging others with being "antis" were Christian Church people attacking members of the Church of Christ for opposing the mechanical instrument of music in worship, the missionary society, church supported recreation, etc. Now it is liberal members of the Church of Christ attacking other members of the church for opposing things that in principle, at least, fall into the same category. In other years denominational people were the only ones who tried to place church ownership of the necessary equipment to conduct its work and worship on the same plane as unscriptural practices. Just recently I read an article in which a member of the Church of Christ used something of the same argument on other members of the Church of Christ. His article was entitled: "Things for Which There Is No Pattern."
To me a very disturbing thing is the vehemence with which men who teach against church sponsored recreation, centralization, and church support of institutions are attacked by members of the church who say they are against the very same thing. I suppose one would call these assailants neutral conservatives. If he represents himself correctly he is conservative because he wishes to preserve the church as the pure vehicle of New Testament Christianity and is opposed to the liberal tendencies in our brotherhood such as the use of church funds to support colleges, sponsorship of scout troops, etc. He must be called a neutral because he is opposed to hitting hard at such false doctrine and refuses to hold up the hands of those who teach against such doctrine. In so many words, though he may not say it this way, he falls back on the cry formerly condemned among us, "Just preach the gospel and leave others alone."
Lincoln faced a parallel situation in 1860 just a month or two before he was nominated for the presidency. In that day there were many people who said they hated slavery but refused to take their stand with antislavery men. Lincoln put the case this way:
"You say that you think slavery is wrong, but you denounce all attempts to restrain it. Is there anything else that you think wrong, that you are not willing to deal with as a wrong? Why are you so careful, so tender of this one wrong and no other? You will not let us do a single thing as if it were wrong; there is no place where you will allow it to be even called wrong! We must not call it wrong in the Free States, because it is not there, and we must not call it wrong in the Slave States because it is there; we must not call it wrong in politics because that is bringing morality into politics, and we must not call it wrong in the pulpit because that is bringing politics into religion; we must not bring it into the Tract Society or the other societies, because those are such unsuitable places, and there is no single place, according to you, where this wrong thing can properly be called wrong!" (Roy P. Basler, Editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, p. 21. Vol. 4. New Brunswick, N. J., Rutgers University Press, 1953).
Of course brethren who believe the things mentioned before are wrong but refuse to take vigorous steps to oppose them and teach against them are in a very miserable position. They believe one way and give their influence another. This fact was ably set forth more than a half century ago in the case of J. W. McGarvey by Jesse P. Sewell in the Gospel Advocate. Brother Sewell wrote:
"Professor McGarvey may speak out against the use of instrumental music in the worship, as he does, and say things against it that those who refuse to use it would hardly say; but what do the people who want the instrumental music care about this thing so long as he gives his influence almost entirely (except in his home congregation) to those who use it? Brother McGarvey believes that instrumental music is wrong, and so teaches; still, he gives his name and influence to a paper that advocates its use and associates with churches that use it (except at home and possibly on a few occasions). So, while he believes and teaches that the thing is wrong, there is not a church in the land that uses it that will not today point to Brother McCarvey as "one of the strong men on our side." His influence goes with his fellowship, not with his faith and teaching." (Earl I. West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. II, p. 442).
But what has brought the church to the brink of disaster over education, benevolence, recreation, et al? Fifteen to twenty years ago the most of the things now troubling us were considered by most to be ideas held only by the lunatic fringe. What has happened?
It is my sincere belief that these ideas are the products of the education our brethren have received in religion under sectarian teachers. Not long ago I counted some thirty graduate degrees held by teachers of Bible in one of the "brotherhood" schools that were obtained under sectarian auspices. Is it possible for even our learned brethren to be uninfluenced by sectarian notions when they receive the Bachelor of Divinity, Master of Theology, Doctor of Theology, and Doctor of Religious Education degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Harvard University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern Methodist University? I think not. Yet "one dare not call it treason" to the great cause for which we stand to say that these things ought not to be. In my honest judgment, our brethren who started out with the very good purpose of availing themselves of educational facilities not available in schools operated by our brethren are in the position of starting out to ride the back of the tiger and have ended up inside.
This fine Christian couple that I mentioned in the beginning are conscious of the religious bondage from which they escaped. Yet many learned men who "were raised in the church" are not.
TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 6, pp. 13-15 March 1966