More Than Understanding Is Needed

By Mike Willis

In the 3 October 1985 issue of Guardian of Truth, the following paragraph appeared in the “Viewpoint” section of the paper:

The latest issue of Christian Standard (15 September 1985) contains a report of the North American Christian Convention which was held July 9-12 in Anaheim, CA. The North American Christian Convention is an organization of the independent Christian Churches with Knofel Staton as its president. We wonder how our grace-unity brethren are going to react to this intercongregational organization. Brethren have generally taught that there is no intercongregational organization which binds churches together. At the same time, some have been courting the conservative Christian Church, pointing out how much doctrinal agreement there is between the conservative Christian Churches and the churches of Christ. Will those who advocate fellowship with the conservative Christian Church simply ignore the NACC? Will they opt to hold membership in it? Will they oppose it? When the move to compromise begins, it is difficult to stop it!

Shortly after this was printed, the Christian Standard published a reply entitled “Understanding Needed” (2 February 1986). They quoted from a personal letter to me from Rod Huron, director-elect of the NACC. Huron said,

I was interested in your October 3 issue and mention of the convention. And I heartily agree with your statement, “Brethren have generally taught that there is no intercongregational organization which binds churches together.” Brethren should teach this, because it accords with scripture.

You’ve accurately described the convention as an organization of independent Christian Churches. Knofel was president last year, Ken Meade this year, someone else next year, if the Lord tarries.

In fact, I don’t see anything in the paragraph I disagree with. You mentioned that some of the churches of Christ will ignore the NACC. Some of the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches will, too. Some oppose it. This is as it should be. Our freedom in Christ gives us this latitude.

You asked, “Will they hold membership in it?” They couldn’t if they wanted to. Neither can you; neither can I. That would be like holding membership in The Guardian of Truth.

We’re not a “membership” body. The convention is a free gathering, open to anyone who wants to attend. The closest thing we have that might be thought of as “membership” would be the planning committee, and their only purpose is to plan the next convention.

The editor, Sam E. Stone, made a few more comments pleading for better understanding and comparing the NACC to college lectureship programs among the churches of Christ.

I wanted to be sure that my information was accurate. Consequently, I have postponed making any reply regarding this matter until the present.

What Is The North American Christian Convention?

The NACC began because conservative members of the Christian Church became discontent with the liberalism which was in control of the General Conventions of the Christian Church. “One notable problem was ‘open membership,’ the practice of receiving the ‘pious unimmersed’ into membership in Christian Churches” (NACC History and Purpose, p. 8). The modernism in segments of the Christian Church was also intolerable to these brethren.

Furthermore, the Conventions of the Christian Church were becoming annual reporting sessions for the various agencies within the denomination. The more conservative members wanted a preaching convention.

Consequently, the first NACC was held in October 1927. From the beginning the NACC steered clear of being a convention that had official delegates from the churches who voted on resolutions binding upon the various congregations of the denomination. Consequently, Ron Huron calls my attention to the fact that the NACC is not a membership organization. Instead, the convention assemblies generally have been preaching conventions. As the convention grew in size, the need for organization and financing also grew.

Today the NACC is run by a Convention Committee whose members rotate in time of service. The members of the Convention Committee are selected at the Convention. These members in turn elect an Executive Committee which has authority to carry on the business of the Organization. The NACC has a full-time, paid employee who is Convention Director.

How is the NACC financed? The NACC is financed by contributions from individuals and churches as shown by this quotation: “We recommend that congregations consider giving financial support to the NACC as a work benefitting them through the inspiration and information it gives to their members” (Ibid., p. 33).

What is the NACC? (1) “You’ve accurately described the convention as an organization of independent Christian Churches” (Christian Standard (2 February 1986), p. 3). I ask, “Where is the book, chapter, and verse which authorizes any organization of churches funded by churches for any work God assigned to the local churches themselves?”

(2) The NACC is a human institution supported by contributions from churches. Like the colleges and orphan homes supported by our liberal brethren, the NACC receives contributions from churches but makes no effort to exercise ecclesiastical control over the churches. “We recommend that congregations consider giving financial support to the NACC as a work benefitting them through the inspiration and information it gives to their members” (NA CC History and Purpose, p. 33). The N.A.C.C. Update (Feb./March 1986) listed 73 churches which contributed a letter (19 March 1986), Rod Huron stated that 465 churches made contributions last year to the convention. I have the same question for the NACC as I have for my liberal brethren, “What Scripture would authorize a church to make a donation to the NACC (whether or not it claims to exercise control over churches)?”

(3) The NACC is an ecclesiastical organization of churches and is an agency of churches as is evident from its funding by churches, in spite of various disclaimers. As the independent Christian churches move into more liberal stances (evidenced by discussions on open membership, inerrancy, etc.), the NACC is also changing from a “preaching convention” to become an agency of the church, although the churches have not clearly identified what its service will be. Already they describe the NACC as follows:

The convention’s potential for helpfulness to church life is influenced by growing complexity of facilities and programs in local churches, and by a growing number of multiple ministries. . . .

. . . We do not feel that the Convention has a right to make any demands on a church, and we note that its services are available to any church without regard to financial support. The giving of funds to the NACC does not constitute affiliation or identification with it. Support or nonsupport of the Convention must never become a test of fellowship. With this understanding we encourage the churches to support the NACC.

The members of the Christian Church themselves do not seem to know what the NACC is. For exinple, Ron Huron wrote, “. . . I heartily agree with your statement, ‘Brethren have generally taught that there is no intercongregational organization which binds churches together.’ Brethren should teach this, because it accords with scripture.” In the next sentence, he wrote, “You’ve accurately described the convention as an organization of independent Christian Churches.” Huron is opposed to an “intercongregational organization which binds churches together” but admits that the NACC is “an organization of independent Christian Churches” partially funded by the churches. Hence, these brethren must accept an ecclesiastical organization so long as it does not attempt to bind churches together. We look in vain for the Scripture which authorizes churches to fund human institutions or which authorizes an ecclesiastical organization of churches but limits its organizational structure so that it does not formally bind them together.

Historians of the Independent Christian Churches will view the NACC as one of the incipient forms of ecclesiastical organization in the same sense as the creation of other church supported institutions among our brethren (hospitals, orphan homes, colleges, etc.) are evidence of the move to denominationalism. For more information on these historic marks of transition from a sect to a denomination, read historian David E. Harrell, Jr. on The Emergence of the Church of Christ Denomination (available from the Guardian of Truth Bookstore). As to the insistence that churches urged to contribute are not coerced or bound by this particular organization, the same argument was made in the early days of the missionary society and again during the institutional apostasy among churches of Christ during the past 30 years. The simple fact is that all ecclesiastical organizations are unauthorized by Scripture and, therefore, carry within themselves the seeds of more and more corruption, digression, liberalism, and apostasy. The donation of church funds to any and all such human institutions is equally unauthorized and dangerous. It should be noted that there are other agencies like the NACC, such as the National Missionary Convention – holding out their hands to church treasuries – adding to the leaven of apostasy.

During the NACC, church supported agencies display their wares hoping to increase their influx of church contributions. During the 1984 NACC, the following were a few of the exhibitors:

African Christian Mission

Ambassadors for Christ – Philippine Evangelism, Inc.

Benevolent Social Services of India

Bluefield College of Evangelism

Chicago District Evangelistic Association

Children’s Church, Inc.

Christian Children’s Home of Ohio

Christian Mission for Mexican Evangelism

Christian Mission to the Orient

Christian Woman’s Benevolent Association

During the 1986 NACC, those assembled will observe the Lord’s supper and a 3,000 voice choir will perform. A collection will be taken in hopes of raising $300,000 to offset the cost of the convention.

Hence, the NACC is a church-supported, human organization. Like every other church-supported, human institution, it stands unauthorized by God. It works to help other church-supported organizations to raise funds to carry on their respective works. Though those associated with the NACC have very definite ideas about how their ecclesiastical organization should be run and organized, there is no scriptural way to organize an unscriptural organization. Their judgments about the advantages of a non-delegate convention are no better than those judgments of the more liberal Disciples of Christ who chose another form of ecclesiastical organization. Both organizations stand on an equality both are organizations not found in the Bible and for which no Bible authority can be provided.

Just Like The College Lectureships

In defending the NACC, editor Sam E. Stone wrote,

We recall talking with another non-instrument preacher who wanted to know about the convention. When we finished explaining it, he said, “Oh, you mean it’s like a ‘lectureship!'” Church of Christ brethren use that term freely to describe annual meetings sponsored by many of their colleges and churches (Christian Standard [2 February 1986], p. 3).

Is the NACC like the college lectureships? That depends upon which colleges are considered! It is not like the Florida College lectureship inasmuch as Florida College is not a church-supported school and cannot be “accurately described . . . as an organization” of churches. It is simply a private business enterprise, a college run by Christians on an individual basis, like a host of other human institutions which offer goods and services without encroaching upon church funds or church activities. If Editor Stone understands the churches of Christ, he will understand that there are a sizable portion of us who stand opposed to church-supported schools who would be equally opposed to the NACC or to church funds being donated to human institutions of any kind for any purpose.

However, I seriously doubt that the institutional practices of the NACC will pose a problem to the churches of Christ which have embraced church support of colleges, camps, orphanages, hospitals, and the like. Such churches may pose a problem for the NACC inasmuch as some of the non-instrument brethren who are discussing unity with the Christian Churches are equally ready to accept the pious unimmersed and take looser positions on inerrancy.

More Understanding Does Not Solve The Problem

Better understanding is insufficient to solve our differences. I have not found many new facts about the Independent Christian Churches which I did not already know. I already knew enough about their worship, work, and organization to know that I could not extend the right hand of fellowship to them (Gal. 2:9). As I refine some of my knowledge about their organizations, I simply find more departures from the word of God, indicating that the difference between the Independent Christian Churches and the Lord’s church is a wide chasm. Understanding our differences does not solve our differences.

Our differences can only be resolved in these ways: (1) The Christian Churches must give up those things which are unauthorized in the Scripture. (2) The members of the Lord’s church must cease preaching that the controversial practices of the Christian Churches are sinful. (3) The members of the churches of Christ can continue to preach that these matters are sinful but teach that they do not make any difference.

From all the evidences which I see, the Christian Church is unwilling to quit doing the things which are unauthorized in the Scriptures (1). I cannot quit preaching that they are sinful without compromising my convictions (2). No one has convinced me that one can continue to practice that which is sinful and maintain the fellowship for God (3); hence, I cannot treat these matters as matters of indifference. Consequently, I see no way for progress to be made in the realm of fellowship.

Brethren, we are divided over sinful innovation, over apostasy from the New Testament order of things, and over digression from the teaching of Christ. When we are guilty of departing from the faith once delivered to the saints, we need repentance, not merely understanding!

When Campbell called for the restoration of the ancient order, he correctly described the functioning of the New Testament church.

They knew nothing of the hobbies of modern times. In their church capacity alone they moved. They neither transformed themselves into any other kind of association, nor did they fracture and sever themselves into divers societies. They viewed the church of Jesus Christ as the scheme of Heaven to ameliorate the world; as members of it, they considered themselves bound to do all they could for the glory of God and the good of men. They dare not transfer to a missionary society, or bible society, or education society, a cent or a prayer, lest in so doing they should rob the church of its glory, and exalt the inventions of men above the wisdom of God. In their church capacity alone they moved (Christian Baptist, abridged edition, D.S. Burnet, editor, pp. 6-7).

When each of us is determined to go back to the Bible to do Bible things in Bible ways, we can attain the unity for which Christ prayed. Though understanding is needed, it is useless unless it is joined with a commitment to return to the “old paths.” “. . . it belongs to every individual and to every congregation of individuals to discard from their faith and their practice every thing that is not found written in the New Testament of the Lord and Savior, and to believe and practice whatever is there enjoined. This done, and every thing is done which ought to be done” (Ibid., p. 133).

Guardian of Truth XXX: 14, pp. 418, 437-439
July 17, 1986