"Sweet Success" Isn't Always

Jerry F. Bassett
Bend, Oregon

In the early years of the 19th Century a great religious tide began to sweep this nation and is referred to by brethren today as the "Restoration Movement." It was led by men who had become sickened by the corruption and strife they saw in the denominations. Some of them at first attempted to reform their respective denominations calling upon their fellow members to lay aside human creeds and devices, and simply accept the Bible. Their efforts were rewarded with chastisement and disfellowship. Unwilling to succumb to such pressure, and unafraid to preach the truth, these men, working individually in various parts of the country, began to declare the simple, powerful, and thrilling message of the Bible. They challenged their hearers to forsake the ways of men and to give way to the restoration of respect for divine truth. The seed they planted provided a great harvest in the saving of souls and the establishment of local churches everywhere. This success was sweet.

Campbell's Work

One of these men was Alexander Campbell. In those years probably no man was more zealous, or more influential. In the papers he published, and in his preaching, he fought the errors of denominationalism and urged men to stand upon the Bible alone. But Campbell made the mistake that plagues so many good men in that he let his zeal outgrow his perception of the truth. Anxious for something that would be more effective in preaching the gospel to the world, and convinced that the God-ordained independent local churches were inadequate to such a task, he began to campaign for the formation of a missionary society. It was the age-old idea that an organization larger and more powerful than the local church, but supported by its money and personnel, could more effectively coordinate the efforts of these churches to the accomplishment of more good. Trying to justify this combining of local churches on the shaky ground that the Bible says nothing about a universal church organization, Campbell wrote the following in the Millennial Harbinger in May, 1849: "In all things pertaining to public interest, not of Christian faith, piety, or morality, the church of Jesus Christ in its aggregate character, is left free and unshackled by any apostolic authority. This is the great point which I assert as of capital importance in any great conventional movement or cooperation in advancing the public interests of a common Christianity and a common salvation." It never seemed to occur to this otherwise astute man, even as it apparently does not to many now, that the lack of Bible authority for a thing is itself conclusive proof that the Lord does not will that it be done. (See Colossians 3:17, I Peter 4: 11.) Nonetheless, with Campbell's influence behind it, the society idea was accepted by most brethren and gave birth to the American Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1849. Thus, Alexander Campbell who began by fighting the errors of denominationalism was found in the end to be advocating one of the most prevalent of those errors, the corruption of church organization. Success was beginning to sour.

Division Results

The battle that raged over the missionary society, and later over the use of instrumental music in worship, and how the cleavage thus caused led to the formation of the Disciples, or Christian Church, is now a matter of history. But history does not stand still. Men who depart from the truth to practice anything for which they can find no Bible authority, and of which they will not repent, find no place to stop. Campbell thought that by his idea of locating a universal organization in the silence of the scriptures, he could build up the Lord's church. However, the men who followed him have also followed this false principle to its logical conclusion and have purposely used it to form their missionary society, and the local churches that support it, into a full-fledged denomination. In a Look Magazine article published in October, 1959 Dr. Gaines M. Cook of the Disciples of Christ was quoted as saying, "We would like to increase our effectiveness by organizing as a denomination to get things done...."Now, a few years later, this ambition has been realized. Under the title, "Christian Churches Unite," the Eugene, Oregon Register Guard of September 29, 1968 carried this article: "Representatives of the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), which have functioned since early-day America as a loose alliance of separate congregations, acted Saturday to become a full-fledged denomination. Alter a last-minute swirl of debate, they voted overwhelmingly to approve a provisional charter for a democratically organized church. The step climaxed 10 years of work. It brought the thousands of delegates in Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium to their feet in prolonged applause. Then they sang the doxology, 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow.'" This success was not sweet. It was the devil's.

How paradoxical it is that these men who have openly denied the need for God's Biblical approval should then have the gall to praise him for what they did as though it was His blessing to them!


Brethren, success in achieving human ambitions is not to be equated with success in pleasing God. They are not necessarily the same thing. Let those among us now who would combine the churches and pool their resources "to get things done" observe the fact that the path they are walking is well worn by the feet of apostates from the faith and descends sharply to the point of no return. As Solomon put it, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12).


September 17, 1970