By Oscar Ellison
Some years have now passed since I obtained a copy of the article written by brother Ed Harrell titled, “The Emergence of the Church of Christ Denomination.” I was deeply moved by what I was reading, and when I came to the end of his study and the conclusion he reached, I was astounded.
I had for years sought a solution to stop the steady movement among brethren that was leading us farther and farther away from the simplicity that is in Jesus Christ. I began to preach the gospel in the midst of the Great Depression, about 1930. I had just graduated from college with a major in Latin. In 1934, I married Pauline Ross, my wife of 64 years, and a year later we moved to Marietta, Oklahoma where I began to be supported by the small congregation there.
As brother C.R. Nichol told me, I was green. But he said, “Stay green, because green things grow.” I have never forgotten his timely counsel and at 85 still recognize that it is true. I sat at his feet and listened to his great wisdom. Throughout my years as a full-time preacher at various congregations, he was the visiting preacher for at least one meeting.
I could spend a lot of time remembering, but one thing sticks in my heart. We traveled by train whenever possible in those years. I always took him to the depot, and he never told me goodbye without crying. I puzzled over that for many years. Why would he cry? Finally, I reached the age he was when we worked together, and I knew. He did not know that he would ever see me again on this Earth. “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.”
But I tell you this for just one reason. C.R. Nichol, R.L. Whiteside, Joe Blue, J.D. Tant, and many others were in that time bringing their work to an end here upon the Earth. They, like Paul, had fought the good fight. I was just learning, and to me it was a gift far greater than I then knew. Let me tell you about it.
In those days, there was not a meeting house of the brethren in every town. Even in the larger population centers, there was likely to be only one or two meeting houses. Many of them knew nothing of a local preacher. And, if a preacher lived there, he did not do all the preaching he did in the congregation there. They supported him but did not require his constant presence. He was truly an evangelist.
In those days, we had what were called preachers’ meetings. One congregation invited the preachers in the area to spend a good part of a week as their guests and study with them. Planned subjects were discussed by those present. They ate together and slept in the homes of brethren who lived there. Much good was accomplished in the matter of learning more about the truth. And there was much time for visiting and relating to each other their preaching experiences.
These meetings I loved, when I could sit and listen to these old soldiers of the cross tell of their sometimes thrilling experiences. One thing always stood out, to which all agreed: They never left home without money enough to buy a ticket home. But they went in spite of that fact.
I am sure they had read and absorbed the experiences of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. In this manner, one person, even one family, could become the means for the beginning of a strong and faithful church. Many never saw a gospel preacher, except perhaps once a year at meeting time.
Many of us who were younger sought to follow their example. If preachers of today wish to know why they have it so good, I would direct them to this bit of history. Brother R. Brannan of Marietta, Oklahoma was kind enough to pay my expenses to Freed-Hardeman College for a two-week study period. We were all young and with little experience. I’ll not forget his opening remarks to us.
He said, “Boys, when you go out to look for a place to work, don’t look for a place where you can sit down in a tub of butter. Look for an opportunity to save souls.” I went home with that ringing in my ears. As a result, I spent my last years as a minister preaching the gospel mostly to brethren, and at home with a strong congregation.
Others may not feel that way, but I had a different upbringing. I wanted to be an evangelist in the true sense, taking the gospel to the lost. So, the last years of my active work were spent as an elder of a small congregation, trying to ground them in the faith once delivered to the saints.
Now I am saying to you, “I remember.” After open heart surgery and a stroke that has left me mostly a cripple, I await my Lord’s will.
I have told you my own story, not because it is anything remarkable. I am sure there are many who have and are now doing a great deal more. But, as some would express it, “I wanted you to know where I come from.”
All this prepares me for commenting on brother Ed’s wise words that the only remedy is just to start over with a “thus saith the Lord” for everything. I have spent much time study- ing the history of the periods we call the reformation and the restoration, the latter of which took place here in America, and the other in Europe and the British Isles.
I think it is clear that: (1) Reformation never gets us back to the original position. It may improve, but it never gets us where we must be; (2) Restoration is the only way we can return to true position — book, chapter, and verse.
This takes us just where we want to be. What has the Lord said about our faith and practice? Having learned this, let us be content.
I feel sure this is what was intended in the article. But how to accomplish this is the task before us.
Are we, having learned this, willing to undertake it? Wisdom that is from above, with Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:13), is our answer: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”
But, you are ready to ask, “Is it possible in our time to do what they did in the days of David Lipscomb and of C.R. Nichol?”
All this takes a great deal of commitment, courage and above all, trust in the Lord. And, brother preacher, I am not suggesting that you do it. I am just saying this: “It can be done in our time.”
We are now faced with a world filled with every kind of evil man can devise. Riches and pleasure seem to be the only goals of life. The home, the basis of all stable society, is virtually destroyed. Paul’s description of what existed in the world in his day is being repeated in ours. And, to complicate it beyond measure, we are faced with those in the church who have joined the cavalcade.
How much difference do you see in the daily lifestyle of some in the church and those in the world? The marriage commitment is despised, and all that it represents is disregarded. Reform the church. You try it.
But I have said enough. However, I can still remember.
“The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace.” This I earnestly pray.