A Noble New Year's Resolution
James B. Roberts
In the first issue of the Firm Foundation for 1967, the eighty-fourth year of publication of that paper, Brother Reuel Lemmons in his editorial committed himself to a noble New Year's resolution. The following quotations from his editorial will be of interest to those of you who did not read the January 3, 1967 issue of the Firm Foundation.
"One of the battles to which we must commit ourselves is the insistence that the church be allowed to remain the church. It must continue to be the pillar and ground of the truth. It must be maintained as God's only glorifying institution."
So many brethren over the years and yet today have sounded this humble plea that the church as God established it is sufficient to perform its own work and is the ultimate in glorification of God. Brother Lemmons is reminding us of this long struggle with institutionalism:
"Institutionalism seems to be especially popular, and brethren seem to have the idea that the church by itself, and in itself, is helpless or weak, and that we must organize some special, hard-core group, with a name and title befitting its special function, to do the work of the church."
More true words could not be spoken; recent years have seen a mushroom of institutionalism within the Lord's church that is appalling when one considers the valiant struggle made by pioneer preachers less than a century ago. Hordes of elders and preachers are actually promoting practices which are identical in concept to the innovations which split the church at the beginning of this century and resulted in the formation of the Christian Church denomination. How can brethren be so naive as to think it is not a cancer within the ranks of God's people today.
Notice further that brother Lemmons concurs with those of us who believe we have an obligation to publicly oppose these promotional schemes which are running rampant among churches of Christ:
"Brethren who are calling attention to the germ of apostasy before it grows its head and horns are doing the church a service."
Brother Lemmons also realizes that those who sound this warning will become unpopular with the institutional promoters:
"They bring down upon themselves the wrath of the promoters of projects, but brethren, they have a valid point."
To make sure no one misunderstands which projects he means, brother Lemmons gives some examples:
"why can't brethren, and young people especially - work in the church, as the church, and let the church and not a 'corps,' an 'exodus' or a 'operation' get the credit."
In a generation which revolves around "corps," "exodus movements," and "operations this or that," these words must be unappreciated, but not by me. I appreciate any and every honest warning of digression.
As brother Lemmons' editorial continues, I am somewhat surprised to see his thinking concerning the plague of the "sponsoring church system" which has swept the brotherhood in recent years. This is the first time I personally had read anything by brother Lemmons which indicated his opposition to these centralized organizations. Read his statement:
"Many special projects have developed simply because congregations in general are lacking in the aggressive, constructive leadership that challenges the energy and talent of today's intelligent youth. A few years ago 'sponsoring' churches developed as budding leadership saw the need and the opportunity but lacked the finances to carry through. It is becoming evident that the most effective and satisfying way for a congregation to work is to do all it possibly can by itself, and then - and only then - ask help. Dollar swapping, in which one church sends to another, and in return receives equal dollars from still another congregation for a work it is doing is really senseless and childish when we stop to think about it."
I am glad to see this statement from one so influential as brother Lemmons. It is apparent that institutionalism and sponsoring church arrangements have reached the present digressive point largely because of a lack of opposition by men such as brother Lemmons and I am sure he realizes this. Those who did openly oppose these innovations when they first began to be introduced a few years ago have been ostracized to the point that they have little or no influence with the brotherhood as a whole. If we had all stood firm with one concentrated front in the beginning, we would not now be in this predicament. Nevertheless it is never too late to take a firm stand and the more influence a man has the more good he will do by taking that stand. The time is here when we must no longer wink and look the other way. We must reprove, rebuke and exhort - certainly with the spirit of love which must exemplify all Christian action - but certainly also with a forthright honesty and determination to restore the ancient order and defend the simplicity of God's perfect institution, the church.
May all who have read brother Lemmons' editorial give the most earnest heed to these dangers and study them out for themselves from God's Word; then stand firm in the truth. May brother Lemmons stand firm in this, "one of the battles to which we must commit ourselves . . ."
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 7, pp. 17-18