Editorial - No New Thing Under the Sun (II)

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

In last weeks article on this editorial page, we were noting that the digressives a century ago were making the same false charges against faithful brethren back then as our liberal brethren now are making against us. We showed in last weeks article how faithful brethren were said to be isolationists, narrow-minded, unmissionary, and anti-everything. Now let us continue to show how that the charges now being hurled against us are the same as those withstood by faithful brethren a century ago.

Advocate Division

Those who contended for the purity of the church and that contended against innovations were charged as being advocates of division. One of the papers published by conservative brethren in 1899 was said to have "become a back number" "since its advocacy of division." (Cramblet, The Christian Church in West Virginia, p. 248).

There always has been a controversy as to who causes the division-the innovators or the ones who oppose innovations. But the prophet Elijah settled that question many centuries ago. The wicked King Ahab said to Elijah, "Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel? And he (i.e. Elijah-CW) answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy fathers house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and thou hast followed the Baalim" (1 Kings 18: 17, 18). It is the innovator who drives the wedge that splits the log.


Since we oppose thousands of churches working through the eldership of one church or through a humanly improvised board of directors, we are misrepresented as believing in doing nothing. Some say, "We like the way we are doing it better than the way you are not doing it." This is just a thread-worn Christian Church argument. Andrew Linkletter, the State Evangelistic Secretary, was said by the State Board to have preached "the much needed gospel of co-operation . . ." Furthermore, this State Board said, "None save those who have been in this field can realize how much conservatism and do-nothingism we have to contend with in this beautiful mountain state." (p. 253).


Those who have contended for a "Thus saith the Lord" have forever been called legalists by the digressives, even as we are often so labeled today, or should I have said libeled today? One exuberant society advocate said in 1 (00, "The revival of the foreign and home missionary spirit has brought our congregations out of legalism and indifference ... (p. 264). The digressives have never been reluctant to brag off themselves. Even among us today are those who arrogantly profess to have a higher degree of spirituality than their legalistic brethren." So was it back then. In 1906 A. Linkletter wrote, "When The Christian Standard came into West Virginia forty years ago, with higher spiritual ideals and a firm protest against legalism, some thought its great editor had made a mistake  (p. 268). About 1907, J.W. Yoho who was then Corresponding Secretary wrote, "From the best information available, I think we number about 15,500 in somewhere near 190 congregations. Upon the large majority of these the paralysis of indifference and the chill of legalism had laid fast hold." (p. 274) When a later State Secretary retired (0.G. White), it was said, "He saved W. Va. from legalism and full credit may only be accorded him in the grand day of credits. (p. 294)

Unworthy Preachers

As is being charged against many of the faithful preachers in foreign lands just flow, the liberals in the years past were not above making character assassinations upon faithful preachers. Speaking of those who opposed work done through the missionary society, the State Secretary said in 1906, "But there were fifty other counties in West Virginia that were overrun by unworthy preachers, and they opposed the Standard and introduced papers that misrepresented our great spiritual plea." (p. 265) Others who objected to society work were described like this: "The interior sections (of our state) bad been filled with ministers, so called; born in the objective case, unlearned and unclean." (P. 274) All one had to do to be declared "unlearned and unclean" was to oppose the idol of the Society. So is it yet today. Character assaults have been made upon nearly every man who has stood in the path of innovative "progress." If he cannot be removed, then lie must be destroyed.

Dying on the Vine

One of the most popular propaganda tactics, then and now, is the effort to make people think the faithful churches are dying out. This "argument" (?) might make some impact upon those people who can be driven or stampeded like a herd of animals. But it will not weigh as much as a feather upon one who is not afraid even to stand alone so long as lie stands upon Gods Word. Many of our liberal brethren today try to make it appear that nearly everyone in this country goes along with their projects. As always, God still has his seven thousand who have not yet bowed to Baal. While the liberals of the last century sought to ridicule those who stood opposed to their creations, the fact is that those whom they then called "Antis" now outnumber considerably the restructured liberal Disciples of Christ. But for a while, they tried to make it appear as though nearly everybody was 11 going along with" their societies. even as our own liberal brethren are trying today to make it appear . . . especially to brethren in foreign lands. It was not true back then, nor is it true now.

Remember that the anti-society churches were called "unmissionary churches" by the society men. A. Linkletter said in 1899, "The unmissionary churches had become so dead that they were like the valley of dry bones in Ezek. 37. The fourteenth verse reads that God put his Spirit in them and they would live. This is the only hope for an unmissionary church in West Virginia." (p.160) Shortly before the same writer had said, "The effects of the anti persuasian are fast dying out, and we can see, in the near future, better things." (p. 258) Around 1900 the State Evangelist said, "The fact is that the unmissionary evangelists and their adherents have kicked themselves out; and, today, they are getting out into Ohio and Pennsylvania as fast as they can, and if they can." (p. 258) In 1908 Linkletter wrote of the "antis", as he called them: "I am glad that those congregations are growing beautifully less in our state." (p. 278) In 1899 the State Secretary reported that the society battle was all over. "Cooperation in missionary matters is being settled. We hope that the brethren in other states, that have been looking to West Virginia for better results, will not be disappointed." (p. 240).

So it is today. The liberal would like to believe that the battle over human institutions and unscriptural cooperative arrangements is all over, and that they have won the fight. But I think they know that they are merely whistling past the cemetery. They wish the controversy were all complete and total victory were won, but wishing does not make it so.

Time Moves On

What has the passing of years shown? The digressives of the past century stated that they would use whatever pressure necessary to bring recalcitrant churches "into line." They would oppose the hiring of any men who opposed their society work. They would quit debating the anti-society men. The controversy had been and they had concluded that they were not bound by the silence of the Scripture (p. 280). Since they were not bound by Gods silence, they could soon boost of expensive pipe organs, elaborate buildings, and even a "swimming pool" (p. 315). Everything looked rosy.

But take a look at them now. One "Independent" Christian Church man wrote recently, " . . . not a single new mission station was opened by the so-called official agencies from 1918-1942, not a single new college was founded, and few new churches were planted." (Murch, The Free Church, p. 107, 108). Very recently 2700 churches and 650,000 members have broken off from the Disciples of Christ when they sought to restructure their annual conventions into delegate conventions (Murch, p. 112).

To show the pathetic end to which denominational institutionalism leads, consider this fact: In 1969 all the Society-related churches in the State of West Virginia combined reported only 275 baptisms! An article in the January -February, 1966 issue of Blue & White reported the same negative results throughout the entire Disciples of Christ denomination. The article was entitled, "A Hundred Million Dollars-And No Gain! " During 1964-1965 Disciples of Christ congregations had collected for the first time over one hundred million dollars, but showed a "practically unchanged" membership. They are on an institutional treadmill that leads to nowhere. They have charged head-long down a dead-end street, and are now gasping their last breaths before they are swallowed up once and for all by some monstrous ecumenical Protestant church.

And yet ... our own liberal brethren are just cranking up so they can try the same road. The eventual outcome is already foretold by the deplorable state in which the institutional brethren of a century ago now find themselves. Yet . . . have you ever heard of a digressive church that comes to its senses and turns back to the truth? If this is the road you want to go down, brother, no one can keep you from it. But please be understanding of the rest of us while we choose to continue standing on the promises of God!

December 21, 1972