By Barney Keith
History has a way of repeating itself, doesn’t it? In April 1865 Moses E. Lard, one of the “Pioneer” preachers, was disturbed as he saw various things happening among churches of Christ. Writing in Lard’s Quarterly (Vol. II, p. 257) he referred to certain developments as “ill-omened symptoms in our ranks.” Among other things he cited weak and effeminate preaching, the “pastor system” in many congregations, instrumental music, and other unauthorized practices as he deplored the changes that were coming over the brethren in many places. On page 262 Lard remarked: “He is a poor observer of men and things who does not see growing up among us a class of men no longer satisfied with the ancient gospel and the ancient order of things. These men must have changes; and silently they are preparing the minds of the brotherhood to receive changes. Be not deceived, brethren, the Devil is not sleeping. If you refuse to see the danger till ruin is upon you, then it will be too late.”
Lard was absolutely correct in his appraisal of his times. A new generation of seminary-trained, liberalminded, young preachers had come along. Dissatisfaction with the anicent gospel became more evident and digression spread rapidly as innovations were introduced into one congregation after another. The result was inevitable – the liberals continued their march and the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ denominations emerged. The brethren who were insistent upon following the Bible pattern opposed the innovations and strove for the purity of the church of the Lord. The majority of the brethren embraced the digressive move toward change as only a very small minority stood firm for the old paths. Those stalwart brethren of more than a hundred years ago were called various names as they took their stand – such as “anti’s.” That struggling minority, however, grew faster than any would have dared think. Simple churches of Christ began to appear across the country and, with the passing years, the digressives lost more and more of their identity. Today they acknowledge their denominational status proudly.
Sadly, that is exactly what has been happening all over again. Since World War II especially there has been growing up among us a class of men who are no longer satisfied with the ancient gospel. Many of the present day preachers have been trained in schools where outright modernism is found. Those who have been anxious to put the church “on the march,” or to create a “a better image” for the church of Christ, or to involve the churches in all sorts of projects are no part of the New Testament pattern – these men have slowly had their effect on the people of God. Human wisdom and modernistic theology are always inimical to faith in the New Testament as an all-sufficient pattern. Too many people in too many churches of Christ are being taught by too many men who do not respect the authority of the Scriptures. It is no surprise that we have “liberal” churches.
There are many indications of “change” in the churches of the Lord. such as “sponsoring elderships” or “sponsoring churches” to coordinate the work of two or more churches; building and maintaining other institutions to do the work of the church; church support of recreational camps; church parties, dinners, showers, etc. (in the church’s “fellowship hall” or “Family Life Center,” of course); “youth ministers” to handle all activities of the young people; other “ministers” galore; church choruses; church involvement in social welfare projects; facilities for the counsel and care of unwed mothers; the operation of daycare centers, kindergartens, secular education schools; all sorts of gimmicks to attract kids to the “bus ministry” fad; etc. Brethren, there is no end in sight. What happened in the late 1800s has happened in the mid and late 1900s. Wearing the designation “Church of Christ” by no means is proof that a congregation is respecting the authority of Christ.
There are still many, many congregations which have notfollowed the digressive pattern of the day. There are many faithful disciples who still believe that we must “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11) and that we dare not “go beyond the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9). A firm, Bible-based conviction is the only thing that will preserve a congregation from apostasy. It is faith in “what is written” that causes a church of Christ to avoid the many innovations. It will never be out of place for Christians to ask for Bible authority for the things churches may begin to undertake. And it will always be right to resist and oppose any changes which involve a surrender of the all-sufficiency of Divine revelation, God’s word.
What Moses Lard saw in 1865 is likely to be seen in any age. Let us take ample warning from the lessons of history. A Christian ought to have no fellowship with a congregation that digresses from the Bible pattern in organization, worship or work. Let none of us be deterred from standing firmly for the truth by the ridicule, sarcasm, name-calling, etc. from our brethren who are bent on following the course of liberalism. Fellowship with God isfar more important than fellowship with men.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 5, p. 140
March 2, 1989