By Guthrie Dean
Surely, “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. . . . a time of war, a time of peace” (Eccl. 3:1,8b). I was just wondering if there will ever be a time of peace again among the brethren. Back in the late 40s and during the 1950s, the gospel was going into the highways and hedges. Churches were growing, new congregations were springing up. Unity prevailed, and we seemed to have the devil and the denominations on the run. We were often spoken of “as the fastest growing religious communion in the United States..” Many did not agree with us, but there was a respect for the church of Christ in those days. And in some places there was even envy and fear at the phenomenal growth of the “Campbellites,” as our enemies used to call us.
Dr. Ben M. Bogard, the leader of the American Baptist Association, wrote a letter of warning to his fellow Baptists entitled, “The Campbellites Are Coming.” Churches of Christ in almost every hamlet were growing. In 1950 through 1954 the church at Judsonia, Arkansas, where I was preaching, moved up from 60 members to 215. The denominations were trembling at the thought of 32 such churches of Christ in White County Arkansas alone. We moved to Bald Knob, Arkansas, still in White County. The church grew in attendance from 65 to above 200. And even in the 1970s, the work in Fort Smith (at the Park Hill church) grew, as we worked together, from 135 to 200 in regular attendance, with the contribution growing about $200 per Sunday the last six months I worked there.
This was happening to many other churches everywhere. Brother Cecil Douthitt began preaching for the Southside church in Fort Smith (having retired from full-time preaching), and they grew to such an extent that on occasions chairs had to brought in to accommodate the audience. While Olin Kern was working with the South 46th Street church, also in Fort Smith, the work and attendance were flourishing. Brother Lloyd Nash was the preacher at No. 9th in Fort Smith. And the building was full every Sunday.
But today you can go into almost any congregation and see about as many empty pews as full ones. You see the saintly, gray-haired, old timers and some others of the faithful few at gospel meetings, or at any night service. The young people have left the church in droves. War, contention, fussing, fighting, taking sides, dividing, splitting-the-split, are the rule over the past decade among us. Shame, brethren. Shame on us. Oh, but the hard-nosed Pharisee will respond, “You know the Bible says we are not to say ‘Peace, peace; where there is no peace.’ See Jeremiah 6:14; 8: 11. And you know the Bible says, ‘many are called and few chosen . . . . and strait is the gate and narrow the way.'” Fiddle-sticks! What has that got to do with the jealous, hateful attitudes that we have acquired over the past few years? First we stopped fighting the denominations, and then started fighting among ourselves; then we started fighting among the “conservatives”; and finally some have to fight it out within local churches. I have never seen so many splits over matters of so little substance, as some congregations have experienced of late.
We need peace with God and peace from God (1 Cor. 7:15; Eph. 6:21; Phil. 4:9). We need peace among ourselves (1 Thess. 5:13; Jas. 3:18). And inasmuch as in us lieth, let us live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). No, not peace at any price, but “peace that passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:5). And let us discuss differences without anger, misrepresentation, or seeking to reap personal revenge upon those with whom we disagree. May we all seriously endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace Eph. 4:3). It’s high time that we started using all of these unity verses in the Bible on ourselves, and quit misapplying them to the denominations. God couldn’t care less that the denominations are divided.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 6, pp. 161, 184
March 21, 1985