By Donald P. Ames
Throughout northwest Indiana we still have many Christian Churches that continue to refer to themselves as “Churches of Christ.” This has led to some confusion in teaching the lost as they see what appears to be contradictions between what “we” teach and practice from their reading the papers, and also forces us to constantly draw some clear distinctions to help teach others the differences. Sometimes, though, these Christian Churches pull some moves that even surprise me, and emphasize that indeed they are not only no longer “of Christ,” but that differences far greater than “just instrumental music” exist between us, as many still think.
On Monday, Feb. 14th, the Merrillville Church of Christ (7071 Broadway in Merrillville) opened their doors to a very surprising set-up. The Zondervan Publishing Company (which also operates a Family Bookstore in the Southlake Mall there) announced in the Gary, Indiana Post-Tribune (2-9-77) that Zondervan would be sponsoring a “Summer Ministries Workshop” on Feb. 14th at the Merrillville Church of Christ. All inquiries, etc., were to be directed to the Zondervan Family Bookstore.
The program was to consist of V.B.S. material and “ways to increase the effectiveness of your church’s V.B.S. program.” To be present and to present their material were to be representatives of the Standard Publishing Co., Gospel Light Publishing Co., Scripture Press, Concordia and the Augsburg Publishing Co. This immediately raised some questions for me, so Royce DeBerry (of DeMotte, Indiana) and I decided to attend and see what we could learn.
One of the first things we learned was that the Gospel Light Publishing Co. was not the same one operated by our liberal brethren who publish a paper by that name from Delight, Arkansas, but rather was located in California and affiliated with the Christian Church. Thus there were two organizations affiliated with the Christian Church (Gospel Light and Standard), two affiliated with the Lutheran Church (Concordia and Augsburg) and one with the Bible Church (Scripture Press)-all sponsored by the Zondervan Publishing Co. (which is Presbyterian, Calvinistic and strongly Premillennial), and all meeting under the approval of this Christian Church to sell their material to the general public from their building.
The local minister conveniently failed to show up (I assume this expressed his complete confidence in all the activities), so we had no opportunity to discuss with him the fact the church there had opened the doors of their building to a secular business enterprise (cf. John 2), and had extended the open hand of endorsement and fellowship to these false religious organizations and their teachings (see Eph. 5:11; 2 John 10-11). When we mentioned the unusual arrangement of the Zondervan Publishing Co. sponsoring such a meeting in the Merrillville church building with all the different beliefs present to the Gospel Light representative, he admitted he was also “very surprised” at it, but offered no defense for it and quickly left us when we pursued it. Finances apparently meant more at the moment. I would love to have heard someone present attempt to justify such an arrangement, but it was apparent no such effort was going to be made.
In addition to the abundant supply of Zondervan Publishing Co. catalogs present and all the V.B.S. material and presentations, refreshments were also served to all who desired (real “fellowship” no less-coffee and rolls!). Promotionalism was self-evident.
One other point of interest also occurred while there. While the Gospel Light representative freely acknowledged they endorsed instrumental music (“though we haven’t always stressed it in the past”), he added that it was all a matter of “opinion” with him and entirely dependent upon “local option”-with no offer to defend the practice, which was also present in their V.B.S. material. He then went on to add that the Sweet Publishing Co. was their outlet among the “non-instrumental brethren” and carried their literature for them to those churches. He also felt that while a “difference of views” existed among a “few churches” on the instrument, it was “not really that important.” Perhaps this accounts for some of the liberalism that is becoming more and more apparent in much of the material coming from the Sweet Publishing Co. today, and raises some questions as to which direction they are striving to lead their customers.
But some of our own liberal brethren are also moving rapidly in the same direction. Ira Rice, who has been editing Contending For The Faith, “published monthly by the Shades Mountain Church of Christ” in Birmingham, Alabama, has also gotten pretty heavily involved in secular profit making through that “church paper.” Not only does he charge a subscription fee (962.00 per year), but recent issues have had several pages of the journal devoted to advertising lists of books and records to be ordered from them at retail prices. Where is the authority for the church to become involved in such secular practices as a book dealership? Spiritual Sword, published quarterly by the Getwell Church of Christ in Memphis, Tennessee (sent free, but 75″ for all back issues), has also been busy pushing books published by their writers and sold by the National Christian Press in Jonesboro, Ark., with regular ads appearing in their quarterly just as the Religious Supply Center places its ads in Searching The Scriptures. Maybe we would do well to begin dwelling on such passages as John 2, and the church becoming an advertising and distribution center for secular book businesses. We need to get the church out of such business ventures and back into the business of saving souls and spreading the gospel-without charge for such.
When in this area, or others as well for that matter, remember that there is more to being “of Christ” than just hanging a sign over the door of the meeting place. It is sad to see those who used to be “of Christ” continuing their movement of open fellowship with secular business ventures and their endorsement of false doctrine published by denominational organizations. It is equally sad to see others today moving in the same direction. To be “of Christ,” let us be sure that He is serving as our Head and Lord in all that we do (Eph. 1:21-23; Luke 6:46).
Truth Magazine XXII: 3, pp. 58-59
January 19, 1978