By Raymond E. Harris
History In The Making?
April 1975, Lauderdale County, Alabama may well be remembered in years to come as a significant starting point of “The Church Of Christ denomination.” At that time an event transpired that may be unparalleled in the history of the Church in this century. I personally do not know of any previous effort to join so many congregations together into one body to accomplish a work! There was no sponsoring church smoke screen. There was no effort to “Put it under an eldership.” Rather forty five institutional churches in Lauderdale County banded together and formed an organization officially known as “Lauderdale County Churches of Christ.” The organization had a publicly designated secretary treasurer and an associate treasurer. They received monies from local church treasuries and from individuals. They purchased newspaper space and TV time. They did business with an office supply and printing company and they made a substantial contribution ($3,629.15) to a non-religious political-civic organization. The organization secured the services of individuals to write and place “Paid political advertisements,” and to speak on television. Yes, all of the fore said activities were openly and publicly declared to be the work of “Lauderdale County Churches of Christ!”
By What Authority?
All God fearing, Bible respecting members of the Church of Christ must ask some questions. By what authority was this done? Was it scriptural? Obviously it was not scriptural! The only religious organization known to the New Testament is the local church. In Acts 14:23 we learn how Paul revisited the cities where he had converted people and helped them set their congregations in order by ordaining “Elders in every church.” Later when he wrote his letter to Philippi he addressed the letter to “All the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). Each scripturally organized church is autonomous, independent, equal and sufficient. Each congregation is to be independent in its work and worship. God does not expect anything of any congregation that it cannot accomplish independent of all other churches. God has not commanded any work or activity by the universal church. Further, the “Lauderdale County Churches of Christ” could have no scriptural leadership, as elder’s authority is limited to the local church. Paul made such very clear as in Acts 20:28 he said, “Take heed therefore … to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.” Later Peter concurred when he wrote, “Feed the flock of God which is among you.” Hence, the responsibility, work and authority of the elders begins and ends with the local congregation over which they serve as shepherds. Hence, the churches of the county, the state, the nation or the world are not authorized to band together and organize to do anything. It is obvious that in this matter these 45 individual churches relinquished part of their work, part of their money and their influence to the county organization, “Lauderdale County Churches of Christ.”
Also it is obvious that some individuals were quite presumptuous and brazen in this latest apostasy. What man or group of men has the right to form such an organization. Who has the authority to appoint a treasurer and call for church money to be put at his disposal? By what authority would one serve in such a capacity? Who has the authority to select advertisements, writers and TV speakers?
In the meantime where were the elders of these 45 churches? Don’t they know better than this? In this they relinquished their leadership, their authority and revealed the fact that they are either cowards or ignorant. Yes, they stand condemned one way or the other. If they are so ignorant of the scriptures that they did not know it is wrong to join their congregation to a county-wide organization, they are too unlearned to be elders. And if they knew better, but were afraid to stand up to gung-ho promotional preachers, they are too fearful and cowardly to be elders. Either way they prove themselves unqualified and unfit to elder. Truly with no more leadership than this in the local congregations of this county, it is easy to see why the institutional churches are well on their way to denominational status.
Nowhere in all the New Testament is there a command, example or inference that would authorize the tying or binding of local churches together. In fact when various things are bound together it changes their nature and status completely. To illustrate: (1) When iron links are hooked together they are no longer links, they are a chain. (2) When posts are hooked together they are no longer just posts, they become a fence. (3) When boxcars are hooked together they are no longer just boxcars, they are a train. And (4) when local churches are hooked together to form a larger organization, they are no longer local churches, they become a denomination!
Parallel Actions of the 1830’s
Since the early days of the restoration some have not been content with God’s simple way (the local congregation). Hence, they have longed to help God out by establishing larger and more far reaching organizations. Walter Scott as early as 1827 wrote in the Christian Messenger favoring conferences and cooperation meetings.
It was argued by those in favor of district, area and state organizations that most local congregations were too limited, especially financially, to do sustained and efficient work in carrying out the Lord’s work. They insisted that congregations through their messengers to the cooperation could pledge certain specified amounts to finance the preaching of the Gospel. The cooperations then could select evangelists and assure them their pay and authorize them to preach within a certain area. Organized efforts like this sprang up in Virginia in early 1831. A similar association was started in Illinois in 1834. Indiana had its first state meeting in 1839 and southern Kentucky churches organized in 1842. All this and more was done over the earnest protest of many brethren and without the first shred of New Testament authority. All such organization was defended soley on the basis of expediency and “the end justifies the means.” It was based on the false premise that the universal church has a responsibility and a work to do.
Final Fruits of Such Cooperation
Earl I. West in The Search For The Ancient Order, Vol. 1, pg. 155, observes: “Thus cooperation meetings were logical forerunners of the organizations and societies, both state and national, later to be found in the brotherhood. Any defense that could be made for them was the same that could be made for later Missionary and Bible Societies.” Brother West in the satue volume, pg. 159, shows that the fallacy of such action (and that of “Lauderdale County Churches of Christ”-REH) is the same that spawned the Roman Catholic Church and the many protestant synods and conferences. This was the idea that the church universal, as such, has specific work to do. I urge you to consider well the following statement from brother West’s book. “The church universal, as such, was not left with any specific work to do, but all work to be (lone was left up to the local congregations. Hence, in New Testament times, the only organization of Christians to exist was a local church. It is obvious, then, that the plan of the New Testament, by which the world was to be converted was the establishing of local churches in everv communitv of the world, and these local churches, in turn, under Christ, convert those within its reach. From Jerusalem to Judea, thence to Samaria and finally to the uttermost parts of the earth, churches were planted in New Testament times without the aid of any other organization than the local church, and souls were thus converted to Christ.
Ecclessiasticisms unknown to the church owe their origin directly or indirectly to beginning with the church universal. This has been carried to the farthest extreme in Roman Catholicism. Beginning with the consideration of the church uniNersal, they reasoned that an earthly pope must reign in the place of Christ. The apostles must have their successors, and so the bishops became this. On these two major assumptions, both starting with the concept of the church universal, Roman Catholicism has built its structure. The Synods, Conferences of Protestantism all have started from the same premise, but have not gone to the extreme of Romanism. For the brethren of a century ago to begin at this point and work toward general organizations was likewise to start on a false premise and in these concepts the differences arose.
However despite the warnings and pleadings of faithful brethren, in 1849 the American Christian Missionary Society was formed. This was followed rapidly by the use of instrumental music in worship in the 1850’s and the forming of the Christian Church by 1906. And now in our time a great part of the Christian Church has become identified as the Disciples of Christ., They have undergone what they called “restructure” and are now numbered with the denominations of the land. This very day they have their societies, (missionary, educational and benevolent) they have their instrumental music and they have their progressive streamlined, man made ways-but they have not God! Who wants to follow in such a way?
Where Do You Stand – Or Do You?
We call upon every member, every elder and every preacher in the church to think seriously about this matter! Where is the local church where you attend headed? Where are you headed? Each one is responsible for his own actions. Do we dare tag along with the majority where ever it goes and regardless what it does? Surely we have some that will still read and study God’s word and think for themselves. Is this generation void of the spirit of Lipscomb, Franklin and Lard?
Truth Magazine XX: 46, pp. 727-728
November 18, 1976