Practice and Profession
James W. Adams
In a small city where I used to live and work, there was a stately old church building on the outskirts of the downtown area which had been for many years the meeting house of the "First Christian Church." On a marble plaque imbedded in its cornerstone was, among other things, the following statement: "Dedicated to the Restoration of New Testament Christianity." It so happens that this particular Christian Church was of the most liberal variety of that communion, hence endorsed every human innovation that characterizes such churches. Every time I passed the building, I would laugh while holding back tears and wisely stifle the impulse to get hammer and chisel and forever erase the callous joke!
Humans, being what they are, weak and fallible, have ever been at odds with themselves over profession and practice in religion. It is so much easier to profess than to practice. Jesus noted this in the Jews of his time. He said, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not after their works: for they say and do not" (Matt. 23:2).
The ludicrous contradiction between the statement on the cornerstone of the First Christian Church (previously noted) and the practice of the people who met in the building constituted a living monument to the victory of practice over profession and the tragic death of a worthy ideal. However, let us not to be too quick to point the finger of accusation at others. Our "liberal," or if they prefer, our "institutional" brethren, profess yet to be in faith and practice identical as churches with the congregations of the apostolic period. They profess to possess, without addition, subtraction, or substitution, all the God-approved characteristics of the churches one reads about in the New Testament. In the light of their profession, they are obligated to answer some pertinent questions concerning their practices. The following was suggested by and is a take-off on an article which appeared in the Millennial Harbinger, Alexander Campbell's publication, September 1844, by J.B.F., and entitled "The Baptists. " In answer to these questions which follow, we respectfully request that said brethren cite instances from the New Testament which verify their replies.
Did apostolic churches admit into their fellowships and recognize as true disciples unimmersed persons or persons who had not been "baptized for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38)? Did they acknowledge them as "brethren in prospect"? Did they recognize as "brethren" and eat the Lord's supper with the unimmersed? (I recently heard of a church in a large Texas city, not only doing this, but using such to help administer the Lord's supper by passing the bread and fruit of the vine to the congregation. jwa) Did they employ mechanical instruments of music in their worship, or employ them in their classrooms and "fellowship halls" to enhance the teaching or "fellowship" (social entertainment) activities? Did apostolic churches acquiesce and participate in a "cooperation" of many churches in which a single congregation became the overseeing, activating, and controlling agency, through its elders, of general works of evangelism, edification, and/or benevolence? Did they in such "cooperations" release to the "sponsoring church" their funds to be controlled and applied by said sponsoring church in the accomplishment of the works undertaken? Did apostolic churches "build and maintain" with "church funds" institutions, independent of the churches, and governed by boards of directors, not of necessity amenable to the supporting congregations, to implement the cooperation of said churches in general evangelism, edification, and/or benevolence? Did apostolic churches, in their corporate capacity, assume responsibility for and alleviate the physical needs of indigent persons in the world community from the corporate funds of the local churches gathered by collections from their members in their assemblies? Did apostolic churches address themselves in their corporate capacity to the social entertainment of their members and others as an edificational or evangelistic device?
A tyro in Bible knowledge knows that the New Testament affords not one shred of evidence, either in the form of precept, command, approved example, or necessary inference, of such in the faith and practice of apostolic churches. Therefore, from whence and how did they come? "They came in like the frogs and mice of Egypt - by creeping. This is how every other human invention has been introduced into the great Babel, now claiming to be the church of Jesus Christ. Let the honest-hearted answer, reflect, and reform." I could not have said it better than this brother of almost one hundred fifty years ago expressed it. He practically, though speaking of "the Baptists" of his time, donned the robe of a prophet with reference to future developments among the churches professing to be dedicated to the restoration of primitive, New Testament Christianity.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 11, pp. 321, 343