By William B. Wright
In January 1972 I attended the Florida College lecture program. On my way south, I stopped on Sunday evening to worship with a sound congregation in Ocala, Florida. A prominent evangelist of many years was just completing a weeks meeting that evening at that congregation. Since he is reasonably well acquainted in the upper Ohio Valley area, we naturally fell into a discussion of the condition of churches of Christ in that area. After a few minutes he said this: “Two men have done more damage to the cause of truth in the Ohio Valley than any others.” Before he could finish I named two men who have each preached about fifty years or more and have unquestionably had a greater influence and baptized more people than any two preachers of which I know. He affirmed this to be the two he had in mind.
Why Do You Say That?
But you might say, “If they have preached longer, baptized more, and had a greater influence, why do you say they have done much damage to the cause of truth or have done damage at all? Have they been teaching error?” Insofar as I know, they have not positively embraced some of the principal heretical doctrines taught in churches of Christ. My charge against them is simply that they have silently stood by and pretended nothing was being taught that would cause division, or that such heresy was the product of a lunatic fringe and would not last, or that it was only a change of custom, or something like that. But, as someone put it, “At times to be silent is to lie.”
In the spring of 1969, 1 beard one of these men speak during a funeral service in which be urged brethren not to divide over things “that are not really very important.” I wonder what that would be. Church support of human institutions? Church support of recreation? Fellowship halls? Preachers in the ministerial association? Exactly what he had in mind, he did not say. I heard the other in a fall meeting in 1969 in which more than once he cautioned brethren against dividing the church of Christ. It was quite obvious he was not talking about the width or length of the meeting house, or which way to turn the seats, but rather was speaking of those things we have commonly called “the issues.”
Is Unity Always Desirable At Any Price?
Now I agree that we ought not to divide over things that are not important and that it is a serious thing to divide the church of Christ. But there are reasons why separation is necessary. One is simply that when a congregation is teaching and practicing error, they that are approved may be made manifest. Another is that we are commanded to separate from the disorderly. The two brethren to which I referred are guilty of ignoring the real substantive issues in the matter and have, in fact, “aped” the broad spectrum of Protestantism in saying we ought not to divide over certain things but rather should unite on points of agreement.
Protestants tell us that we ought not to divide over the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship, sprinkling, the purpose of baptism, predestination, and other things. They urge us to unite on points of agreement and to compromise on other matters. The problem is the Bible does not read that way. These two brothers would urge us not to divide over church support of human institutions, concentration of funds from 2,000 churches of Christ in the hands of one church of Christ to do a work not its own, and other things. Now they may make occasional sounds that could be interpreted to mean they are against innovations into the work and worship of churches Of Christ, but why is it the churches they preach for do not seem to get the message? The reason, I think, may be seen in a quotation from each. The older of the two wrote: “If I was locating with some congregation and they were sending some support to an orphan home I would not leave the congregation. Nor either would I split the church over that. On the other hand if I were to go to a congregation that they were not supporting a home I certainly would not advocate that they do so. If that is not a safe course to pursue then I am wrong.” (Just for thought purposes, substitute sprinkling, mechanical instruments of music in worship, fellowship halls, and church support of colleges in the above quotation.)
The other brother wrote to the editor of bulletin who published some of his old articles, saying, “Please remove my name from your mailing list. I was hopeful of some constructive teaching, but the pattern is the same as other bulletins that have done so much damage.”
Each of these brethren proclaim to the high heaven that they preach the same gospel they always did, which, in the words quoted from the Sacred Volume they may, but they do not make the same application to error that they always -made. The error now is called by a different name and is practiced in churches of Christ and they, in effect at least, say it is not error at all.
But you may say, “I cant believe brother B and brother D would be as cowardly as to fail to contrast truth and error in churches of Christ!” What happened to Solomon when he was old? (I Kings 11: 1-8) What happened to Demas? (2 Tim. 4: 10) And, didnt Peter in his manhood as an apostle lose his nerve on occasion? (Gal. 2:11-14) Didnt Paul, that great apostle, recognize he could become a “cast away”? (I Cor. 9:27) From whence came the notion that any of us (no exceptions) are immune to digression?
Being With The Majority
I think the real problem with men of this type is that while they have made some rather “stiff” remarks in their preaching over the years, they have always had a large following that applauded their “hard preaching.” When they viciously and crudely attacked the doctrines of our religious neighbors who chanced to visit out assemblies, the members of the church of Christ applauded their “courage” for “telling it like it is.” But how much raw courage does it take to make crude remarks about the religion of our Methodists, Presbyterian, or Roman Catholic neighbors when only one or two or three may be there?- These guests do not have the “power of the purse!” The people who are laughing at crude jokes about the habit of a nun or the garments of a priest pay the preachers salary. And, they like what they hear!
Though these preachers were not in the majority as far as total population is concerned, and though they did not always escape censure in some congregations, nonetheless in the average church of Christ in this area they were accepted, respected, applauded, and paid. Members of the church read the Bible, measured what these men preached by it, and insisted that they speak as the oracles of God. But now it is different. No longer will the majority of groups wearing the name church of Christ in this area be content with what is written and permit a preacher to discuss most anything that is at variance with New Testament teaching. Its alright to have “hard preaching” as long as it hits the “legalistic antis.” But, one must make sure his “hard preaching” does not hint at anything at variance with scripture which relates to Herald of Truth, church support of human institutions and recreation, fellowship Halls, and many other things. The two aged brothers to whom I referred have made peace with some or all of the advocates of these various items and they have done it principally by remaining silent. They simply do not have the courage to face up to a hostile audience and “tell it like it is.”
I can reach no other conclusion than that when they with their great influence remained silent, they, in effect, lied. Ignorant and well-meaning brethren needed a word of counsel from them — a sure word of Biblical honesty — and it did not come. Indeed, “At times to be silent is to lie.”
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 48, pp. 10-11
October 12, 1972