By George Harris
(Editor’s Note: a similar statement from Conrad D. Steyn was included. Because of their similarity, I am only publishing one of them.)
At the outset let me say that I recognize that we all make mistakes, none of us is perfect, and that we all have sin in our lives. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Further I acknowledge that many of us find ourselves not practicing what we preach.
I was “born” into the liberal church, and yet have never been a preacher of a social gospel, but have always spoken where the Bible speaks, and been silent where the Bible is silent; I have called Bible things Bible names. I have studied myself out of some error; in the past (particularly whilst working in England), I have had to make decisions on my own and dared to be different against all odds.
Let me share with you some experiences. I “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine that was delivered me” on 19 April 1974. In 1977 I went to Memphis School of Preaching for training; there was something about the system that perturbed me and I was only there for 5 weeks and left. Albeit institutionalism, per say, was not the word on my lips, not being familiar with the terminology at that time. I subsequently became a product of 2 Timothy 2:2, a faithful evangelist, committed unto me, a faithful man, the things which he had heard and I have taught others also.
I have taught autonomy of the local church and the restrictions of the authority placed upon the eldership of the local church, and yet I have been caught up in the “sponsoring church” concept which I acknowledge violates the New Testament teaching on the local church autonomy. Having said that, it has concerned me for a few years that there must be a better way than the “sponsoring church” system. I found out this year that there is a better way – “God’s Way.” I am so delighted that I have found brethren who want to preach the truth and observe it. God forgive me for my ignorance but I didn’t even know who “anti-brethren” were until a recent incident (I will explain a little later). It has always been my desire to preach and do things God’s way and honor him in submitting to the authority of Christ, which is vested in the written Word, and slowly over the years God has revealed though circumstances, His plan (Rom. 8:28).
On occasions it has appalled me that the liberal church has been wasting so much money which could be better used in preaching the gospel. I think of such things as family life centers and gimmicks to get people “involved” in church activities. The Southern African Bible School has been a pet bug of mine; apart from the institutional aspect, the graduates with few exceptions remain in the Benoni church instead of being taught to pioneer the gospel in new territory, as did the Apostle Paul (see Rom. 15:14-22, esp. v. 19).
There is no doubt that in spite of the fact that I have not promoted institutionalism, I have been in fellowship with those who are, and stood guilty before God, for which I asked his pardon. Further I was caught up in the “sponsoring church” arrangement which I realize also violates God’s pattern for the church.
An elder from the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, came to Cape Town and presented the men of the River View congregation with a new constitution drawn up by the elders at Memorial. This constitution listed five trustees, three of them resident in America (two being elders of the Memorial church) and the remaining two residents in South Africa. Conrad Steyn was listed as one of the new trustees. The River View church had a constitution of their own. The first I knew about this new constitution was when the elder presented it to the men of the congregation, 11th February 1987. The elder who brought this document to Cape Town, explained that the Memorial church wanted to help us, and protect the congregation and the property against infiltration and possible take over by the Boston Crossroads Church of Christ (even though there was not a Crossroader in the city). The new constitution was so designed that all the assets of the church whether immovable, movable or personal, be vested in the five trustees, and that these trustees were to be self perpetuating, as it was stated in the constitution. “The trustees for the time being, voting at any duly convened meeting of the trustees or until the trustees by majority vote, elect any other or additional trustees, in place of, or in the addition to the above mentioned or trustees for the time being.” Note that our congregation had no say in the above matter, nor were they consulted about all of this. We were also told by the elder, that this is what Memorial elders did in Scotland and the South African Bible School. Someday when we had faithful and strong elders, Memorial may deed the property back to us. We had a lot of money invested in the property and the property belonged to River View. At a meeting with the men the elder was asked how they envisioned the church at River View should take care of their own affairs (building, etc.). We were told that he had brought signed proxies giving the church permission to take care of our affairs. We were also told that a congregation becomes autonomous when elders are appointed and until then, the sponsoring church had oversight over the work.
The men of the church met twice with the elder and to my delight rejected the constitution by 9 to 1, as a violation of our congregational autonomy. It demonstrated to me that they had been taught about the limit of eldership authority, that it was confined to “the flock which is among them.” The one in favor was Philip Liebbrandt, the other preacher working with the River View congregation, supported by Memorial.
After these meetings the elder handed me a letter telling me to take my family and get out of the River View, and told us that the Memorial church was making arrangements for another preacher to work with Liebbrandt at River View. The elder left and what followed the last 3V2 months has been like a horrible nightmare. The faithful men were set at nought, (see Rom. 14:10), all of their decisions and letters to the Memorial elders and Leibbrandt (who had been asked by the men of the church to leave River View) were ignored. Memorial flew a lawyer from Cape Town, South Africa, to Houston and gave him an open mandate to get my father-in-law, Conrad Steyn, and myself out of River View and secure the property. They also flew down to my sponsoring congregation in Selmer, TN and told them that I was causing division in the church and that I was unworthy of support. This was absolute disinformation. Leibbrandt with the blessing of Memorial massed (he claimed) 51 percent of the members to have a general meeting to get rid of us and reversed the decision of the men. Among the ones assembled for the two meetings which were held in a school building, were delinquents he rounded up, some had not been at a worship service in 3 or 4 years. One man whose proxy Leibbrandt presented had never been a member of the River View congregation. I could not believe my eyes. The group met to vote against the decision of the faithful men. Women making up two-thirds of their group totally usurped the authority over these men of God (see 1 Tim. 2:11-15). Memorial was prepared to go to litigation against us (see 1 Cor. 6:1-9).
Finally, about 30 of the faithful brethren not wanting to shame our Lord or destroy the influence of the church, and also caring more for their souls than to be part of this travesty, moved out and relinquished the property and made the break. I am fully aware that what we have done is not the popular thing to do, but there was no room for compromise. I also know that I will be accused of dividing the church but all of the events have been clearly documented, and the decision of the men and group to withdraw and break away was entirely their own.
Brother Ray Votaw flew down from the Traansvaal and met with Conrad Steyn and me and he was such an encouragement to me. I thank God for sending Ray, for in my stand for Christ and the truth against the Memorial Church of Christ, he helped me to see that my allegiance to God lay in preaching the truth and associating with the faithful brethren of the “conservative” church. That following Sunday Ray preached for our group and we were all delighted at the things that he had to share with us.
Since then the church at Bellville, where Ray’s son-in-law, Eric Reed, preaches, has worshiped with us. Ray is coming down next week again, and we will have another combined worship, Ray will preach for us and Eric will teach our Bible class. We are looking forward to this event with great enthusiasm.
I am so excited about the way things are developing. Please pray for us in our stand for Christ and the truth, and that our God will provide for me and my family in His service, that I might use the remainder of my life on this earth in proclaiming the simple gospel of Jesus Christ to the saving of souls and bringing glory to God.
Your loving brother in Christ,
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 15, pp. 465-466
August 6, 1987