By Larry D. Siegle
It was a common practice during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry for those who were stricken with the loathsome disease of leprosy, to stand off at a distance crying, “unclean, unclean,” lest they contaminate someone else with their dreaded malady (Luke 17:11-14; Lev. 13:46ff). In the past several weeks, I have developed a greater understanding of what some of those people must have felt like. The difference in my case, is that many of my former brethren have come to the conclusion that I have some form of “spiritual leprosy,”which must be avoided at all costs!
As one who considers himself to be an honest student of God’s Word, I have never been afraid to investigate any biblical subject, even though it might mean that I have to change my viewpoint. Those Jews who were listening to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost came to a point in time when they realized that a change was in order (Acts 2:37ff). For quite some time, I had become free in using such terms as “liberal” and “anti,” without really considering how those terms actually apply. Thus, I began an honest quest to discover where such labels come from, and for what purpose they are used.
With the help of some conservative brethren living in and around the Kansas City area, I spent about six months looking at the “institutional question,” and why those who stood opposed to such things were branded as “antis.” I was given an opportunity to read material written by learned men on both sides of the “issues.” I read brother Thomas B. Warren’s book dealing with congregational cooperation and found many of his arguments to be weak at best. I was also afforded the opportunity to read portions of debates, such as the Cogdill-Woods discussion, which took place even before I was born. The only honest conclusion that I could come to was that those who support “institutionalism,” do so apart from the authority of God’s Word.
At the suggestion of several of the brethren who preach in conservative congregations, I began to teach some of members of the “liberal” congregation I preached for the truth concerning these things. However, the general attitude displayed by the majority of those I approached was that of “pooh-poohing” the whole thing, not even willing to consider the matter seriously. The point in time came when I could no longer, in good conscience, participate in their 46social gospel” philosophy. To eat at their fellowship meals seemed somewhat like partaking of meats which had been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8). 1 also found that I could no longer feel the freedom to contribute to the church treasury, because of their involvement in the so-called “sponsoring church” arrangement, a clear and blatant violation of the biblical autonomy of a local congregation.
It was on a Wednesday evening that I decided to call the men of the congregation together for a meeting to discuss the conclusions I had come to in my personal study. It was at this point in time that the dreaded disease of “spiritual leprosy” began to appear.
In the beginning of the meeting, the men seemed to listen attentively to the biblical evidence surrounding the subject of scriptural cooperation between congregations. Most of them followed along in their Bibles as we discussed the sufficiency of the church of Christ to fulfill its mission in a local sense, without the seeming benefit of human plans and devices. However, the biblical evidence was not destined to prevail. I soon found myself under a barrage, being flooded with a multitude of hypothetical situations and “what if’s.” This line of ,argumentation continued for over an hour, at which point it was decided by the men that I should not be allowed to preach on Sunday morning. A vote was taken, and I was being quarantined, lest someone else become a victim of this spiritual leprosy! It was also decided that we should meet again on Saturday evening to discuss the matter further.
Over the next few days, there were many phone calls, some encouraging me for the position I had taken regarding these issues, others were not quite as thrilled, wondering why I wanted to be an “anti.” One of the men in the congregation was quick to remind me that I have a wife and three children to support, and that such a stand could prove fatal to “my career.” If it had not been for the prayers of faithful Christians throughout the Kansas City area, I am not sure the pressure would not have overcome me.
Saturday evening soon came, and fourteen men were in attendance at this meeting. One of the “leading” men stood up to take charge of the gathering by informing all of those present, that the meeting was going to be conducted in a “scriptural fashion.” It was his contention that I should not be allowed any opportunity to speak, and that to do so would be as bad as allowing a person from the Christian Church to come and teach. The men, however, still wanted to know more about the subject before deciding my fate. We discussed the “issues” for over an hour, with very little progress being made. Once again, the men were filled to overflowing with “what if” questions.
I summed up the biblical contention that Bible authority is established in three ways: (1) by direct statement, (2) by approved example, and (3) by necessary inference, and that for something to be an “expedient” (the institutional catchall), it must first be “lawful.” I also affirmed that the local church is sufficient to fulfill its own mission, without the outside influence and interference of another congregation. It did not take very long for them to make a decision on my future work there. Within fifteen minutes the verdict was in, and I was guilty of being “anti.” The result was that I was released from my duties with that congregation.
Since that time, I have begun working with a “sound” congregation in the city of Topeka, Kansas. In fact, it is the only conservative congregation in the area. We do not yet have the amount of support we need. The congregation is small in number, and are unable to support us fully. Any help you can give us will be greatly appreciated. Most of all, we ask that you continue to pray for us as we seek to do God’s will.
Much has happened to us in the last month, and I am committed to the fact that if being faithful to God makes me a “spiritual leper,” then so let it be!
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 5, pp. 129, 151
March 3, 1988