Introducing A New Series: “Footnotes”

By Steve Wolfgang

Several years ago, while producing a church bulletin with a sizeable mailing list, I borrowed an idea from my good friend, Ed Harrell. He had written a series of “Footnotes” for the front page of a church bulletin in Birmingham in the 1970s. These “Footnotes” consisted of short articles quoting various published materials with appropriate comments on each quotation. With Ed’s permission, we are happy to reintroduce this series to our readers.

Although I will occasionally borrow some of brother Harrell’s material from a decade ago (or material from other pertinent sources), most of these “Footnotes” will be my own. Because of my interest in church history, especially the history of the Restoration, many of them will deal with that sort of material. I always appreciated the “history” page of Robert Turner’s Plain Talk, and since Mike Willis has been trying to get me to write on Restoration History for some time, perhaps these short articles will serve as a down payment. However, I have also prepared some dealing with other aspects of our culture, on topics ranging from the creation/evolution controversy to psychology, from biblical issues to denominational doctrines, from hymns to rock music, and assorted other miscellaneous issues.

Sometimes I may feel the need to comment on the quoted “Footnote, ” but frequently I will simply let the quotation stand on its own merits. Often, in reading for the “Book Reviews” column, I come across good material which is too long for inclusion there, but which can be excerpted in “Footnotes. “

I invite interested readers to send me whatever interesting quotations catch their attention. I will try to incorporate them as space will allow. Happy reading!

FOOTNOTE’ Alonzo Willard Fortune, The Disciples in Kentucky (Published by the Convention of the Christian Churches in Kentucky, 1932), pp. 350-351.

The first church in Kentucky to take action pledging support to the American Christian Missionary Society was the church at Danville. On March 24, 1850, the church adopted four resolutions [urging] co-operation through an organization that would enable the churches to do the work that should be done in Kentucky. . . [These] resolutions indicate that the church at Danville had a missionary vision . . . and indicate a wonderful attitude toward the missionary task.

Aside from the personal interest this quotation may hold for those of us living in Danville, this statement of historical circumstances raises additional questions which relate to more modern controversies in the church. One sees attitudes, perhaps only implicit in this quotation but quite explicitly stated elsewhere, which have become characteristic of the thinking which has produced missionary societies, other human institutions, and “sponsoring churches.” Presumption on the one hand, complacency with regard to divine authority on the other, and a generous dosage of smug superiority combine to produce just such unscriptural innovations.

First, one detects an attitude which says, in effect, “if it seems good, do it.” This is simply a subtle restatement of a supreme ethical error: that the end justifies the means. The plain truth is that the assertion (or even the fact) that someone has a “wonderful attitude” or good intentions provides no justification for circumventing the Divine order.

Second, there is an implicit rebuke, almost overbearingly self-righteous, against those who decline to subscribe to the current wisdom or the latest “brotherhood” scheme. Those who don’t jump on the bandwagon of somebody’s pet promotion are represented as lacking in “missionary vision” and, by implication, are unconcerned for lost souls.

Third, one almost smiles at the usage of the word “cooperation.” Most of those who prefix that word with the label “anti” insist that “co-operation” must be practiced their way (a joint effort involving pooled resources or some formal organization) and no other.

We hope to discuss just such practices at greater length in the future. For now, it is sufficient to notice that this strained and unduly limited concept of “co-operation,” coupled with an attitude of arrogant intolerance toward any who disagree, have produced major catastrophes in the Lord’s church in at least two different generations. Perhaps a calm study of history and a fervent desire to know and practice God’s will may help to prevent a recurrence. To this end we strive.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 24, p. 743
December 17, 1987