By Steve Wolfgang
Footnote Bill Humble, The Story of the Restoration (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation, 1969), p. 74.
The most serious issue that churches of Christ have faced in this century is church cooperation and “institutionalism” . . . . a substantial number of churches, have come to oppose such cooperative programs of evangelism as the Herald of Truth and the homes for orphans and aged, as they are presently organized. During the past fifteen years, many debates have been held, churches have divided, and fellowship has been broken. This is the most serious division, numbers-wise, that churches of Christ have suffered. Whether the division is final, or whether it can yet be healed, is yet to be determined.
This assessment of current conditions among Churches of Christ, written by a professor at a “Christian college,” is interesting for a number of reasons.
First, unlike many of his fellow observers, this author seems to take seriously the division among the churches, and seeks to state accurately the cause for it. There is no ridicule, or slander, no attempt to dismiss the division as unworthy of serious attention (as in “anti churches dying on the vine,” “drying up and withering away,” “only a few isolated pockets of anti-ism meeting in run-down buildings,” etc.), so often characteristic of attempts to describe the dreaded “antis.” Of course, thoughtful students recognize that the relative numerical strength or social prominence of a group has little or nothing to do with the validity of positions it may espouse or propound.
Again, the writer is fairer than most in pointing out that the objections of those who oppose the projects described are objections not to the work itself (that is, preaching the gospel or assisting legitimate needy cases) but rather to the organization of such projects currently active among the churches. Though there may be other questions involved (including who is responsible for certain works, who are the proper recipients, poor attitudes, high-handed coercion, blacklisting, ostracism of those who object, etc.), the main objections in this controversy have always been to the manner of organization – centralization of control among the churches, and human institutions encroaching upon the Divine body, the church.
Finally, the author seems to wish almost wistfully for some sort of future resolution to the controversy. It does not require astute perception of the past decades to realize that this is a futile hope, so long as those who promote such projects persist not only in pursuing everything labeled “good works” without any attempt at scriptural justification, but do so in a manner wholly inconsistent with a proper attitude toward those of us who may decline to participate. So long as such conditions exist, unity will be something, unfortunately, only to be written about, rather than actually obtained.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 18, p. 563
September 15, 1988