By Roy E. Cogdill
Men bear fruit by their lives, in their teaching, and even from their attitudes comes forth fruit that is often discernible and distinct. The liberal movement among brethren about which we frequently have something to say is the result of an attitude toward the Word of God. This is the real essence of the institutional movement. As long as men have respect for the Word of God and reverence for the authority of Christ they will not make every excuse in the entire catalog of human imagination for departures from the simplicity of the Gospel.
“Shortly before the turn of the present century, a movement originated in the church of Christ that resulted in what is commonly known as the Christian Church. The idea is quite generally wide-spread that the cause of this schism and resultant division was Instrumental music in the worship and societies in the work of the church. Technically speaking, this is incorrect. True, these were major differences between those who adhered to the original pattern of things and those who went out from us: yet Instrumental music and the societies were effects rather than causes.
“Dr. A. W. Fortune, some time professor of the College of the Bible, and ‘Pastor’ of the ‘Central Christian Church,’ of Lexington, Kentucky, in his book, ‘The Disciples in Kentucky,’ sets forth as grounds for the division, the following: ‘The controversies through which the Disciples have passed from the beginning to the present time have been the result of two different interpretations of their mission. There have been those who believed it is the spirit of the New Testament church that should be restored and in our method of working the church must adapt itself to changing conditions. There have been those who regarded the New Testament church as a fixed pattern for all time, and our business is to hold rigidly to that pattern regardless of consequences. Because of these two attitudes, conflicts were inevitable (Page 383).
“This, we believe, is a fair and impartial statement of the divergence of views that obtained then, and are now characteristic of the two groups. Because of these differences in attitude, it was, as Dr. Fortune suggests, inevitable that division should come; and it came shortly before the turn of the present century. Those who had worked and worshiped together in the effort to plant again the Cause of Primitive Christianity in a land torn by division and cursed by denominationalism, divided themselves, and the result was that another denomination came into existence! Ironically enough, those whose avowed mission in life was the utter destruction of all denominationalism, became but another denomination, and thus built again the things they had once destroyed! Today the Christian Church admits its denominational status, and glories in the fact!
“Instrumental music and the societies were simply symptoms of the disease that lurked unseen; outward manifestations of an inward attitude wholly foreign to that which had characterized the Restoration movement in its inception. Nor did this difference in attitude originate with this movement. It is the same as that which occasioned the famous controversy between Luther and Zwingli-whether we are at liberty to do anything not expressly forbidden, as Luther contended, or are bound by what is written and must therefore do no(hing for which there is not a ‘thus saith the Lord,’ or ail approved apostolic precedent, as Zwingli contended. This, too, is the point of issue between those who insist that the Bible and the Bible alone is a sufficient rule of faith and practice, and those who consider it a book of principles only, and therefore to be made adaptable to changing times and conditions. The former have always repudiated creeds, confessions of faith and church manuals, while the latter have not hesitated to advocate them, indeed, to urge them as legitimate instruments to adapt the truth to present day conditions. This is the door through which instrumental music, missionary societies, creeds, infant baptism, sprinkling and pouring as substitutes for baptism, and many other things adinittedly not taught in the New Testament, were brought in. While all have not been so frank as Mr. Beecher, the eminent denominational preacher of an earlier generation, who said that he practiced infant baptism for the same reason that he used an ox yoke-he had tried them and both worked-it is yet a fact that this is the real reason why so many things unauthorized by the Scriptures are practiced without question, today.
“Such an attitude is, of course, wholly foreign to that which characterized those who launched the restoration movement. The pioneers of the faith were determined to do nothing for which there is no expressed command, or approved precedent; and they were willing to speak only when the Scriptures speak and be silent when the Scriptures are silent. So long as these principles were adhered to, unity prevailed, and the Cause of Primitive Christianity spread with a rapidity equaled only by that of the apostolic age. The Christian Church of today is, therefore, a total apostasy from the teaching of Campbell, Stone, Scott and others. This, we believe, will not be seriously questioned by those who belong to that institution. Certainly, they who boast of their denominational status will not insist on maintaining harmonious views with a man who made a daily paper in New Orleans publish a correction of a former s(atenient in which he was declared to be the ‘head and founder of a great denomination,’ as Mr. Campbell did. Said Mr. Campbell: ‘You do me too much honor, I have always repudiated all human names and heads for the people of the Lord.’ Contrast this with the following statement front ‘Dr. Harwood Miller,’ recently installed as ‘permanent pastor’ of the National City Christian Church: ‘Deno in inat ions and sects are not wholly or even largely the product of human pride and prejudice and unbrotherliness-a thing entirely wrong could not long endure by the devotion of men-it is unthinkable to condemn all sectarianism as sinful.
“The real cause of division in the body of Christ was therefore, an abandonment of the principles that had hitherto motivated us. Those who no longer looked upon the New Testament as an all-sufficient guide and rule of faith and practice did not scruple to demand things unauthorized therein; while those who clung tenaciously to the allsufficiency of the Scriptures, as stoutly resisted them; and division was, therefore, inevitable. This, indeed, has been the cause of all departures since the apostolic age. Those who regard the Bible as a complete revelation for all time cannot, in conscience add to, or take from, its teaching, in the smallest particular; while those who view it only as a mass of raw principles to be worked into shape to fit changing conditions, are not restrained by the injunctions it contains against adding to or taking from the Word.”
The above quoted paragraphs are taken from a tract entitled “Causes of Digression” published by the Gospel Broadcast of Dallas, Texas. This tract was written by-of all things-Guy N. Woods, now chief hatchet man for the “Gospel Advocate”-the chief medium for the promotion of human institutions among the brethren of this generation. The case against the position Woods now occupies and the Advocate now advocates could not be made out better. Another denomination is emerging or has already emerged and division has “inevitably” come again. The causes are the same as they were in the division that gave rise to the denomination “The Christian Church” at the “turn of the century.” Once again it is true that “benevolent societies,” “Christian Educational Societies,” human federations like the “Herald of Truth” and “Campaigns for Christ,” and a multitude of other departures from New Testament pattern and authority are only symptoms of the disease and not the real cause. The real cause lies this time also in a difference in attitude toward the Word of God and divine authority.
Those who reject all of these human institutional arrangements in the work of the Lord’s Church stand now where Guy N. Woods and others allied with him in this digression stood before-clinging “Tenaciously to the all sufficiency of the Scriptures”-and still willing to “speak only when the Scriptures speak and be silent when the Scriptures are silent.” Brother Woods and multitudes of brethren who once stood where we stand have accepted the doctrine of the Christian Church and are now among those “who consider it a book of principles only, and therefore to be made adaptable to changing times and conditions.” To put it in Brother Woods’ words again, “The real cause of division in the body of Christ was (is) therefore, an abandonment of the principles that had hitherto motivated us.”
Truth Magazine XX: 45, pp. 714-715
November 11, 1976