EDITORIAL - No New Thing Under the Sun (1)

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

The wise man Solomon said, "That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun " (Ecc. 1:9). Recently a preacher it, a foreign land wrote me regarding some of the persecutions he was enduring. He seemed relieved when I recited to him 2 Tim. 3: 12 "Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution"), and told him that I, and nearly every other faithful preacher I knew, had been through the same sort of persecutions at one time or another in life. Peter said, "knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world" (1 Pet. 5:9).

During a recent gospel meeting, I read the book The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in West Virginia by Wilbur H. Cramblet. Of course, in their early history nearly all these churches referred to by Mr. Cramblet were called Churches of Christ. This book was occasioned by the Centennial Celebration of West Virginia Missionary Society in 1969. The State Missionary Society began in 1870.

Dr. Cramblet must have been a brilliant scholar. He taught mathematics at the University of Rochester, Phillips University, and at Bethany College. He was not yet eighteen years old when he received the A. B. degree front Bethany College, not yet nineteen when he collected the masters degree at Yale University, and not quite twenty-one when he earned his from Yale. He served a tenure as Presidents of Bethany College, and retired from the Presidency of the ("Christian Board of Publication (of the Disciples of Christ) at St. Louis in January, 1964.

Using this book as a background, I want to show that the same kinds of attacks that are being made upon faithful brethren today by liberal brethren were made upon faithful brethren by digressive a century ago. In years gone by I have collected a file of tile arguments made in defense of human institutions to be supported by churches by digressive a century or so ago. I think I can prove by documentation that not one single argument has been made by any liberal preacher or debater in defense of current digressions among us that was not also made by liberals a century ago. I do not believe that all the digressive among us today have come up with one single new argument!

But not only is this true, but the liberals in the last century used every mean trick, filed every false charge, hurled every unsavory epithet, smeared with every opprobrious appellation, used every misrepresenting label, and indulged every form of skullduggery used by their digressive spiritual descendants. Let me use this one book just mentioned in order to verify the charge I am making in this paragraph. Notice some of the disreputable things said about faithful brethren who opposed digression in years gone by.


The brethren were charged with being spiritual isolationists. A.E. Myers, a State Board Corresponding Secretary, bemoaned in 1874, "These small churches seldom if ever send up delegates to our Conventions. They seem to wish to live like hermits  they believe in church independency!" (p. 142) The Year Book published from information gathered in 1887 complained that of 131 churches in the state, 70 were non-reporting, and that these non-reporting churches had an estimated 4,130 members (p. 181). These brethren who refused to report to the man-made convention were said to "hold aloof from cooperative work", and ways and means were discussed "to discover some practical way of "bringing into line" the thirty churches in this and adjoining countries" who refused to go along with organizational cooperative work (p.222).


Those who did not believe in doing congregational evangelism through a State missionary society again and again were charged with being "un-missionary." Rather than fairly state that such brethren were opposed to human institutions, the State Corresponding Secretary said, "You are, doubtlessly, aware that there are some among us, who do not favor missionary work. We availed ourselves of every opportunity to talk privately with these." (p. 159) At the 1884 State Convention, the minutes stated, "much prejudice against missionary work was removed." (p. 165). If one opposed a State missionary society, he was said to be prejudiced against missionary work. Some today act surprised when they are told that we today do not oppose foreign evangelism, but simply oppose the sponsoring church system through which the brotherhood proposes to act in doing much of this foreign evangelism.

The 1896 State Convention reported that "wrong education ... has a tendency to make over one-half of the churches un-missionary." (p. 219) Andrew Linkletter, another State Secretary, reported in the Christian Standard in 1899 that "Some years ago the unmissionary preachers were hindering the brethren by felling them that it was the Society that the unmissionary brethren were opposed to . . ." (p. 233). Linkletter also reported, "We have for months past been out of all controversy with our unmissionary brethren." (p. 232) Linkletter even criticized some brethren because "they employed un-missionary evangelists." (p. 257) Wonder what an unmissionary evangelist would be? Speaking of the area around Arnolds Creek, Linkletter in 1904 reported, "For years, this district has been dominated by unmissionary sentiment." (p. 258). In 18(3 a digressive preacher said of four churches in Raleigh County, West Virginia: ... these churches were largely under the influences of those opposed to our Mission Work." (p. 20:1) In 1899 State Evangelist A. Linkletter said of the Big Run Church, three miles west of Cameron, "This church had been considered so unmissionary that the State Co-operation did not think there was much chance to bring it in line." (p. 241) A later State Secretary, B. H. Melton, said of 31 churches, they "seem to be 0-missionary - (the 0 means zero)." (p. 364)


Brethren who opposed institutionalized church work years ago were said to be narrow minded. In 1892 R. G. White, another State Secretary, reported: "Our work in this state has suffered from the narrow spirit of intolerance and church independency gone to seed. I am happy to report that a radical change is taking place in our churches." (p. 197)

This quotation reminds me of a letter I received last week from one of my liberal brethren. He told me that my mind was as narrow as the pen with which he was writing. Furthermore, he said he thought the Herald of Truth brethren were right in not "wasting" any time with a "dumb-dumb" like me! And that reminds me of a young preacher who wrote a few weeks ago to tell me of his opposition to schools like Florida College, and along with quite a few other misspelled words, he said they were as bad as the "Herald of Truth." I thought it a little paradoxical that a young man whose spelling left so much to be desired had so early in life decided he was opposed to colleges like Florida College.


Probably the most frequently used opprobrious label today to describe us who oppose centralization of church work is the term "Anti." Our digressive brethren of today also borrowed that term from their digressive forefathers. G. M. Weimer reported on the church at Charleston, W. Va. in 1898, "The anti-sentiment in the church was very largely what had hindered the work in past years. They are free now of that element and we hope for their success" (p. 225.) It was said of the New Bethel church, "In the last twenty years, it had had a lot of antimissionary preaching." (p. 242) Andrew Linkletter reported that the Union congregation got "side-tracked by anti-preaching." (p. 242) Later Linkletter reported of the Mannington church, "The planting of this church at this time meant a great deal for the cause. People were leaving the antichurches, and coming to this one, as it was understood that it was to be aggressive on all church lines." (p. 257) It was reported in the Christian Standard of the work in Raleigh County, "The effects of the anti persuasion are fast dying out, and we can see, in the near future, better things. The man whose cry is ... down with the societies, thank God, has had his day; not only in this country, but throughout our land." (Pp. 258,259) The 1934 Year Book reported that there were only -12 anti-churches" in the state (p. 364) And the First Church in South Charleston was reported in 1946 to have "acquired a chapel built by the Presbyterians and used for some years by a Church of Christ (anti-organ)." (p. 398) One discouraged missionary society advocate earlier said that of the 160 churches in the state, "Fifty of these have some part in the missionary program of the brotherhood, about twenty were born in church fusses and out of holy wedlock, about thirty are anti-every thing, another forty are unmissionary . . ." (p. 361) You can see from these quotations that our contemporary liberal brethren have not even been able to think up any new bad names to call us.

December 14, 1972