Ephraim’s Idols Column: “A Split In The Institutional Camp”

By Ron Halbrook

Just as emphatically as unity is pleasant, sin and division among people professing to serve God are unpleasant (Psa. 133:1). Yet, heresy and schism serve the providential purpose of keeping distinct the line God has drawn between righteousness and unrighteousness. “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). When we continue to speak the truth in love, those who love not the truth will manifest themselves by causing “divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned” – until finally we must mark and avoid them (Eph. 4:15; 2 Thess. 2:10-12; Rom. 16:17-18). Or, they will manifest themselves by initiating a separation so that they can pursue their apostate course without the restraint of truth. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 Jn. 2:19). These principles resulted in a major division over institutionalism during the last 30-40 years.

When men transgress the doctrine of Christ, we cannot aid or abet them in their error (2 Jn. 9-11), but we can and should seek ways to turn them or those deluded by them back to the truth. The end does not justify the means (Rom. 3:8). The evil of compromise as a means to “reach” them makes us guilty of not walking “uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). We may have legitimate opportunities to teach and reach them when, in the passing of time, their departure from truth produces more and more ungodliness (2 Tim. 3:13). As the apostasy of the last 3040 years has proceeded from bad to worse, some in the liberal camp have cried out against the progression of decay and some have come out of error (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Others will persist in both promoting and protesting liberalism without leaving it.

Christians In All the Sects?

Thinking about these matters which are discussed in the Ephraim’s Idols column, Frank Walton (Rt. 1, Box 233A, Charlotte, TN 37036) sent us some clippings and comments. The Christian Chronicle of March 1984 reported, “A Center for Restoration Studies will be established at Abilene Christian University.” One of the purposes will be to project “Restoration heritage into the mainstream of American scholarly discussion.” Brother Walton observes that increasing consciousness of the “mainstream” of American scholarship and religion was characteristic of the ultra-liberal Disciples of Christ in their historical development. He also noted the March 1984 Action article by Reuel Lemmons on “Keepers of Orthodoxy” which protests “the ultimate in sectarian foolishness – the self assumed claim that we are the only Christians (sic).” Lemmons in his latter years at the helm of the Firm Foundation and more recently in Action has promoted the sectarian foolishness that there are Christians in all the sects. His new paper, Image, will reflect the same image of error.

Brother Walton explains,

I was shocked to read bro. Lemmons’ comments. He has gone so far as to say that we really can’t know right from wrong. Being a Christian is at best a fuzzy concept. Soon there will be a split in the institutional camp as groups drift further apart. I believe that we can reach and teach the truth to some of the more conservative element in the institutional camp as they honestly see the fruit of their digression.

It will take great patience, love, kindness and meekness, but with great, fervent faith it can be done. Many in the institutional camp object to what is going on, but we’re not available and making contact with these alienated brethren beginning to see the light. Let’s pray and work hard to do all we can. Time is short.

As to who is a Christian, it is the man who accepts God’s ace for the pardon of alien sins, and accepts it in God’s ordained way, and no one else! Not just the one who hears the gospel, or believes it, or repents of sinful living, or confesses Christ as God’s Son – but the one who proceeds upon those steps to be immersed in water. That immersion must be upon the authority of Christ, not on denominational authority, and for the remission of sins, not for any other reason. Mark 16:16 shows that scriptural baptism is as essential to salvation from alien sins as faith is. Acts 2:38 shows that scriptural baptism is as necessary as repentance – both looking to the object of the remission of sins. One must be baptized with the understanding of baptism that then, and only then, will his sins be washed away by Christ’s blood – then, and not before then, he will be alive in Christ – then he will be added by God to the undenominational body of Christ, and added to nothing else (Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:34, 17-18; 1 Cor. 12:13).

If a man is baptized “to obey God” or for some similar generic reason, or if he is doing it to “join the church of his choice” or some similar sectarian purpose, he is not a Christian. Here, on the purpose of baptism, is where Rubel Shelly in I Just Want to be a Christian and Lemmons in the journals are compromising the conditions of pardon in an effort to broaden the horizons of grace and unity. They have no more right to sacrifice immersion as the procedure of Bible baptism than to sacrifice its purpose. Thomas and Alexander Campbell tried to make some room for the “pious unimmersed” as being Christians among the sects. Do Lemmons and Shelly embrace “the ultimate in sectarian foolishness – the self assumed claim that the immersed are the only Christians???” Another way these men broaden the lines of unity is by claiming God’s grace asper 1 John 1:7 covers “Christians among the sects” who sin by involvement with sectarian names, worship, and organization. Such “sectarian foolishness” makes John contradict himself in 2 John 9-11.

Brother Walton is right about “a split in the institutional camp.” There is a large number of well known preachers in the institutional camp who will not go with Lemmons and Shelly. We should do all we can in the good spirit suggested by brother Walton to persuade such brethren to see that their present woes are the result of their institutional theories which undermine the Bible as a perfect and final pattern of true Christianity.

Moderate vs. Mainstream Movement

Occasionally, someone wonders if the pains of the progressive cancer of liberalism will result in a general movement among those moderately infected toward repentance and reapproachment with faithful brethren. History says, “no. ” The moderates today are not a bit more upset than were the moderates 100 years ago. The December 1869 Prospectus of The Apostolic Times promised “the propagation and defense of the Gospel as it came pure from the lips of Christ and of the Apostles” without “even the semblance of a compromise. ” No more powerful and popular men could have been grouped together as Editors: Moses E. Lard, Robert Graham, Winthrop H. Hopson Lanceford B. Wilkes, and John W. McGarvey. Within two years there were about 5,000 subscribers.

But by 1885 the momentum was lost and another effort was made under the name The Gospel Guide. With sadness, David Lipscomb observed in 1889,

Bro. McGarvey retires from the Guide, as exegetical editor. This takes the last of the conservative element from the Guide. The Times was started specifically by Hopson, Lard, McGarvey, Wilkes and Graham, to steer a middle course, between the latitudinarianism course of the [Christian] Standard and the course of the [Gospel Advocate in adhering firmly to the scripture precedents in work as well as worship. They supported the societies, but opposed the organ. They would depart from apostolic precept and example in the work and order of the church so far as the pastor distinct from the eldership is concerned, but would in the worship so far as the organ is concerned adhere to the scriptures. The position is an illogical one, and cannot be maintained. When we take the liberty to set aside the Divine order as developed in the precepts and examples of the inspired men, in one point, we license and invite others to do it in any and all other points they wish.

This end shows the impossibility of compromising principles. No paper ever started among us with such an array of popular talent as did the Times. . . . Their labor, the paper they built up has been turned to destroy that which they brought to their work, they have acted simply as a rear-guard to protect the army they aimed to oppose (“Resignation,” Gospel Advocate, 17 July 1889, p. 459).

Today papers such as The Spiritual Sword published by the Getwell Church of Christ in Memphis, TN, Ira Rice’s Contending for the Faith, and The Restorer edited by Gary Workman are filling a role much like that of The Apostolic Times. Some fine principles are stated and needed protests uttered, but these brethren are tangled up in hopeless contradictions of their own teaching. They approve some church sponsored social activities and disapprove others, accept some institutional schemes and attack others. They are the rear-guard of the institutional camp. They help to keep people in that camp who otherwise might be shocked enough to leave.

The ultra-liberalism which became pronounced in the 1880s-90s resulted in the formation of the North American Christian Convention during 1926-27 as a forum for the moderates, and formal division occurred with the liberals’ Restructure movement in 1968. Our moderates today speak more and more of “a growing chasm in our beloved brotherhood” (Contending for the Faith, Feb. 1985, p. 13) and “the threat of yet another division” (Gospel Advocate, 16 May 1985, p. 299). When and how remain to be seen. Meanwhile, let us labor to save as many as we can.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 22, pp. 685-686
November 21, 1985