By Raymond E. Harris
The article, “An Expression of Concern” found elsewhere in this journal is signed by over 200 preachers. They are all numbered among that segment of the church which endorses church financial support of human institutions and the sponsoring church arrangement.
They say they have a fervent desire to avert division and prevent further harm to the spiritual body of Christ. That statement seems rather hollow, meaningless and hypocritical coming from men who have personally fostered or supported activities that have caused division in the church for over thirty years.
Where was their concern back through the years when faithful preachers and churches were being called “anti” and being quarantined and cut off because they would not endorse church support for the Herald of Truth and human institutions operating in the field of benevolence.
It is rather remarkable that at this late date the 200 plus preachers are so upset about the “liberalism that is so evident in the brotherhood today.”
Well, just what is it that they label as “liberalism” that they so oppose?
1. They lament the fact that preachers across the country are preaching weak, diluted and polluted sermons. They say it is so bad that in many congregations, preachers, elders and church members can not even identify or recognize true Christianity.
I marvel that they are so surprised at what has happened. Where were they in 1957 when Athens Clay Pullias, President of Lipscomb college was going about the country preaching “Where There Is No Pattern”? Where were they back through the years when big name preachers preached and wrote, “We Do Many Things For Which There Is No Authority”? Didn’t they think young preachers and elders were listening. For more than thirty years Bible and Speech departments in “our” schools have de-emphasized “Book, Chapter and Verse” preaching. Young preachers were taught to have a quiet, conversational delivery. They were taught that evangelism can best be accomplished through benevolence. They lost their respect for the authority of God’s word as college presidents, editors of papers and noted preachers promoted countless unauthorized and unscriptural schemes, organizations and programs.
2. These preachers further bemoan the fact that some brethren want to “restructure the organization, worship and work of the church. ” Again we ask where have you Image of the Church.” Again we ask where have you been? Where were you in 1967 when Jimmy Allen, Pat Boone and Bill Carpenter were featured in the “Greater Indiana Campaign For Christ” when the expressed purpose of the campaign was to “Change and Improve the Image of the Church.”
Where were you on February 16, 1967, when the Gospel Advocate, printed a review of a speech by Athens Clay Putlias, wherein he lamented that in Nashville, TN, a city with more Christians than any other in the world, there was not one hospital operated by Christians. From the context it is obvious that the Advocate endorsed Pullias and that Pullias was advocating a Church of Christ supported hospital.
Where were you October 15, 1981, when the Gospel Advocate ran a classified advertisement for the Garrett, Indiana, church of Christ, wherein they were soliciting an eldership to “oversee the work” there?
For years prominent preachers, college presidents and editors of our “old reliable” papers have discounted plain passages such as 1 Peter 5:14 and Acts 20:28 which limits elders to overseeing a local congregation. For years they have urged that elders can and should “assume” brotherhood projects and programs that reach far beyond the resources and borders of their own congregations. And just now they are concerned about those who would restructure the church.
3. Also we are told of their concern about doctrinal compromise and brethren fellowshipping those in blatant religious error. Where were these troubled brethren back in January of 1967 when the Harding College Bulletin was obviously used to try to encourage young people to attend their school by showing what a wonderful town Searcy, Arkansas was. Among other enticements, on the back page of the bulletin they printed pictures of the church buildings of the First Methodist Church, the First Baptist Church and the St. James Catholic Church right along with that of the Downtown Church of Christ. Does this not suggest that the students at Searcy will have no trouble attending the church of their choice?
Where were they July 12, 1978, when the Nashville Tennessean reported that Dr. Ira North, was co-chairman of Nashville’s Century III steering committee? Is it any wonder some preachers, elders and church members can no longer distinguish true Christianity, when the preacher from Madison, the former Editor of the Advocate, joined with Jews, Catholics, Episcopals, Baptists, Methodists and Nazarenes to study the establishment of an inter-faith institute for Nashville?
4. Our concerned brethren further tell us that they are alarmed by the inroads that worldliness and immorality have made into the churches. We suggest their alarm is terribly belated. With three decades of soft preaching it was inevitable that the church would lose respect for the authority of God’s word. With three decades of practically no church discipline it was inevitable that church members would soon come to understand that they could live any way they pleased and still continue to be in full fellowship in the institutional churches. It is obvious that great masses of these people in churches across the country will continue to get unscriptural divorces, enter into unscriptural marriages, drink, dance, gamble, dress immodestly and live generally as the people of the world live.
5. And then these alarmed brethren make the most unbelievable cry of all. They just can’t understand the typical emphasis on recreation and entertainment. They can’t understand the emphasis on solving the social ills of society. They can’t understand why elders, preachers and churches have allowed recreation, entertainment and social programs to supplant the God-given work of meeting the spiritual needs of those both within and without the body of Christ.
Hogwash! That is surely as hypocritical a charge as you will ever see in print. I would judge that 99 percent of those who signed their names to the article, presently preach for congregations that are engaged in recreational activities and promote or finance social programs. There is not a man among them that will raise his voice against church support of man-made institutions to care for unwed mothers, dependent children or old folks. Few if any have ever opposed the pitch-ins, the luncheons and dinner on the grounds. I dare say most of them preach in buildings that have facilities in which to cook and eat. A large per cent preach presently for churches where they employ a youth minister to cater to the young people’s recreational and social wants. Who do they think they are fooling?
Where were these brethren back in 1963, when the Smithlawn church of Lubbock, along “with several other area churches” began to turn to the social gospel so prevalent in denominational churches? Look at these statements from the December 15th, edition of the Avalanche-Journal. “The Smithlawn Church of Christ . . . is providing the principal support for the service center.” “Our aim is to get the church more directly involved in the purpose of helping and working with people.” “Family counseling services, aid to the downtrodden and help for juvenile delinquents and teenagers with problems, a home for unwed mothers and other social services will be directed through the Main St. Service Center. ” “A soup kitchen will be operated when needed.” The head of their welfare committee said, “It is our feeling that by being of direct service to people who need help, the church is fulfilling its true mission.”
Over the last twenty-five years I have collected (and still have in my possession) countless church bulletins and other accounts of churches of Christ all across America engaged in fish fries, chili suppers, teachers banquets, pitch-in suppers, homecoming dinners, Halloween parties, fellowship dinners, men’s luncheons, church festivals, church open golf tournaments, Hawaiian parties, newcomers parties, Hootenannies, salad suppers, fellowship breakfasts, weekly skating parties, pot-luck business meetings and spaghetti suppers, just to name a few. And now commercial ventures such as Opry Land in Nashville, Tennessee, realize they can profit from this church of Christ entertainment craze by providing a special “Church of Christ Day” at their amusement park. Isn’t it interesting that even people in the business world have known what was going on in churches, but these poor distressed brethren have just now decided they have a problem?
The truth of the matter is this. These wailing brethren would like to be just a little liberal. But now they can see that the whole institutional church is about to be lost in worldliness, the social gospel, and denominationalism.
The truth of the matter is this. Elders, preachers and all Christians will either respect the authority of the Scriptures and remain true and faithful to God or they will be self-willed, turn to their own pleasure and after a few generations drift into complete apostasy.
These Johnny come lately, pseudo defenders of the faith nail their own hides to the wall in their closing statement. Listen as they piously declare, “Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.”
Over the past 25 years many of these men have violated the truth by both falsehood and silence, and now they wonder why their brotherhood does not take them seriously when they warn of apostasy.
Woe be to the Shepherds of Israel!
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 4, pp. 103-104
February 19, 1987