Issues that Divide Us (V): Understanding the Work of a Local Church
Thus far in our study, we have noticed that departure has been caused as a lack of respect for the authority of Jesus Christ, failing to abide by the doctrine of Christ; a misunderstanding of the difference between the church and a church-the church in the universal sense which is composed of all of God's people, and a local church under the local arrangement that God authorized in His word. Then we studied how the men of God had warned about departure that would come into their midst because some men would set themselves up to be as God, taking the place of God by giving commandments and people bowing down to them and that they would draw away disciples after them. We noticed as a result of this that we hail one man that eventually claimed to be the universal bishop, taking the oversight of all the churches, violating the very principle which God laid down in His word that elders are to oversee the flock of God which is among diem in 1 Peter 5:1-3. As a result of this, we had Catholicism to have its origin and then out of that came protests, trying to reform the Catholic view-Martin Luther and others-and as a result of that, Protestant Denominationalism.
We have found the results of division that started a long time ago by ~brethrenfdeparting;from the faith resulted in Catholicism and Denominationalism, but then we find men of God went across the country begging and pleading with men and women to go back to the Bible and speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent, establishing churches of Christ across this country. But, to and behold, after we got churches planted again, we find that brethren started making their departure again from the plan of God.
In order that we might understand this, let us get before us now the primary work of the local church, the things that God has authorized the local church to engage in and to use its money for. First of all, I find in the teaching of God's word that the church is authorized to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, the business of preaching the gospel of Christ has the preeminence over all other things because only by the gospel of Christ, the power of God, will souls be able to be saved. In Romans 1:16, Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation." And so then the local church has the God-given right and the responsibility of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, supporting the sending out of the word of God. This one cannot question.
Then secondly, the church has the right to gather together to worship-to teach, to edify and build up the members of the body of Christ. We find that since God's people are come together for worship there must be a place for them to come together. Whether they rent a place, build a place, or meet out under the tree, they must come together to worship God. The church has the right to teach its own members, as the Bible says in Acts 20:28, to "feed the flock of God which is among you." So then we find that the church has the God-given right to preach the gospel, and secondly to teach its own members and to engage in worshipping God Almighty.
Then thirdly, we need to understand that the church has the responsibility of providing for its own when they are in need. This we find in the teaching of the word of God in Acts 6 and many other places. As we will bring out in our studies, certainly the local church is all-sufficient to take care of its own needs, and therefore they are able to help relieve the needs of others, as we will also point out in our studies.
But then after these churches of Christ started doing the work that God intended for them to do, to and behold, some men decided that they had come up with a very brilliant idea. They had decided in their own minds that some of the local churches out here were very small and therefore, they really could not get the work done like they should. So they decided that what we need is some kind of organization that could bring churches of Christ together in supporting the preaching of the word of God and in taking care of the benevolent cases. So all these would then be able to join together and pool their resources in some manner so they could be able to do more. They talked about "what a good work" this would be, and how much "good" could be done. Thus, in 1849, in Cincinnatti, Ohio, there was born and established the United Christian Missionary Society.
Now the United Christian Missionary Society was an organization, a human organization. The reason I say "human" is because it is not divine. You can not read in the pages of God's word how to build, establish, maintain, support or give contributions to a society, a missionary society. It is just not in the divine revelation, so a missionary society like the United Christian Missionary Society is strictly a human institution, a human organization-or brought up and designed and planned and schemed by the wisdom of men.
So, in 1849, in Cincinnatti, Ohio, they established the United Christian Missionary Society. It was established by a board of directors. The Missionary Society then said, "You send us a delegate, along with about a 9610.00 contribution, and then the missionary society will send out preachers, preaching the word of God." But keep this in mind (which a lot of people fail to understand): the United Christian Missionary Society was not only set up to preach the gospel of Christ, but also to build benevolent societies to take care of the poor, and to build colleges, etc. So then, here is a great big organization without any divine authority, built and established by human wisdom and tacked on to the churches of Christ. Churches of Christ could send their money to this institution, and this institution would send out preachers. As a result of it, the United Christian Missionary Society controlled the churches. You have got the churches of Christ operating under a Board of Directors, under a missionary society, which gives it the universal concept of the church.
Soon some of the men started saying that this thing is just not right. Men like Bro. David Lipscomb, Bro.Srygley, and others stood up and said, "No. The churches of Christ do not have the right to ~ support the missionary society-there is no Bible authority for it!" Men like Bro. Lipscomb and Bro. Srygley challenged these men who were supporting the missionary society to give book, chapter and verse for such an institution. Of course they could not find it. It is not in the word of God. And if they could have found it, all they would have had to do was simply say, "Here it is"-but they could not find it. So when they could not answer men like Lipscomb and others, what alternative did they have? Either to close the thing down or to keep it going and determine to answer their questions with some kind of human philosophy. And here is what they came up with. They said, "Well, look at the good that it does!" "After all, the end justifies the means!" "If it does a lot of good, and the Lord said to do good, and the missionary society does a lot of good, so it has a right to exist." Men like Bro. Lipscomb and others said, "No, the end does not justify the means, there must be Bible authority for it." My friend, there was no Bible authority for it, and these men kept pressing the same issue. Finally the people who endorsed the missionary society said men like Bro. Lipscomb, Bro. Srygley, etc. are "anti-missionary-they do not believe in sending out preachers," and they started calling them "antis."
Of course that was wrong. Men like Bro. Lipscomb and others believed in preaching the gospel of Christ. They believed in local churches having preachers. They believed in local churches sending out men of God to preach the word of God. They believed in congregations supporting a man away from the field. But these people, in order to get away from them, said, "They are antis," and that sounded bad! You know what happened? Division started coming again, and it came as a result of a lack of respect for the authority of Christ. It came as a result of men determining to tack on their human inventions upon the church; and therefore this split and divided the body of Christ.
But now stop for just a moment and think with me. Do you think it stopped the missionary society? Here is a lesson that we need to learn and ought never to forget: once you open the gate for something without Bible authority, you cannot close that gate. Something else surely is going to follow. Some of the people who were in favor of the missionary society went right along with the idea that we ought not to have instruments of music in the worship, but now watch what happened. They said, "Well, we have got the society without any Bible authority and after all the Bible does not say 'Thou shall not have instrumental music.' The Bible does not say, 'Thou shall not use it."' So then some of the people began to say, "My, it sounds good," and "I just like it and I think we ought to have it."
Do you know that after 1849 when the Missionary Society was established, do you know the next thing that came in was instrumental music. And then do you understand, my friend, that that brought division within the ranks of the body of Christ? Do you not see that they divided the church first over the organization, and then after they had perverted the organization, we find that the worship of God was perverted? Men of God stood up and opposed this, and said that we ought not to use instruments of music in the worship. What did they say? Did they give Bible authority for instrumental music? Did they say here is the book, chapter and verse? Did they say, "We speak where the Bible speaks and we are silent where the Bible is silent-and we will give you the authority for the use of instruments?" No, they just said, "You folks are anti-music, you don't believe in having music." That was not the issue. We believe in having music, but not instrumental music. We believe in having the kind of music that God authorized: singing, making melody in the heart (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16).
But what had happened to brethren? They had already caused division over the organization of the missionary society and then perverted the worship. Then what happened? Well, you read a lot about "Christian Churches," and you see a lot about "Disciples of Christ" buildings. I will tell you how they got here. They got here as a result of a departure of brethren leaving the faith of God. And I will tell you what you can do, my friend. You can drive by some of the buildings where they have got signs "Christian Church," look down on the cornerstone, and it will say "Church of Christ." Do you know why the name was changed? The same reason they changed the organization! The same reason they changed the worship! They perverted the name! The church does not belong to Christians, the church belongs to the Lord.
But then again we have another departure, a complete departure in the body of Christ, and thus we have division within our ranks again. Why? Over a lack of respect for Bible authority, over perverting the organization of the church, over perverting the work of the church and therefore perverting the worship of the church. Brethren, these are the things that have divided us, and that is the reason we are in the divided condition that we are today. There is a difference between the Christian Church and the body of Jesus Christ.
Truth Magazine XXI: 17, pp. 262-263