By Roy E. Cogdill
We have sought to separate unity from the “Ecumenical Movement” which some have confused as a “movement” in the direction of unity and God. Of course, Christianity is not connected with any “movement” of any kind. A “movement” toward union without unity-compromise without conviction-policy without principle-is subversive to truth, contrary to the will of Christ and displeasing to God. The “unity of the Spirit” is essential to truth and righteousness and is the only unity that pleases God and is worth the time and effort that it requires to talk and write about it.
Unity among the people of God upon the basis of divine truth is primarily a congregational matter and not a universal problem. When a local church is a “church of Christ” it measures up to the divine standard closely enough to enjoy that identity and is therefore built by the same pattern as every other such local church on earth.
There is, however, no connecting tie of federation between these churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16) as they exist in their various localities. They are rather completely independent bodies subject to the same authority, with the same faith and message engaging in the same pattern of worship and identical in organization and mission. They each have their own members, elders or bishops and deacons, place of assembly, program of work, resources or treasury, and exercise their own discipline and control their own fellowship. They are subject only to the authority of Christ.
In the New Testament there is nothing that teaches that these “churches of Christ” should or did pool their resources into a combined or “brotherhood treasury.” They did not jointly undertake any work. They concurrently labored independently of one another to preach the gospel in the same place and even support the same preacher. (2 Cor. 11:7-9), but they did not combine their work under a single eldership or some humanly devised organization nor did they combine their resources. You can search the scriptures in vain for such combinations as are common today among professed churches of Christ, viz., Herald of Truth, sponsored church co-operation, etc. We have seen and heard brethren try to establish the scripturalness of such joint enterprises in vain but we have never heard any scripture produced teaching it either in precept, example, or by necessary inference. They have no scripture for such combinations. They can only appeal to “the liberty to act in God’s silence” and plain sophistry. There is no divine authority for any organization in the work of the church but the local church (Phil. 1:1). Neither is there any divine authority for a local church functioning as a brotherhood agency. This is a perversion of the function of God’s organization.
History teaches that when these independent congregations of God’s people began to merge, federate, form inter-congregational ties apostasy was already under way. This led to the crowning of a universal bishop over all the churches and that is Roman Catholicism. Inter-congregational federation either in organization, function, or of resources will lead in, the same direction again. The flagrant violations of this fundamental principle of truth and church identity today among the churches has lead and is leading to the disruption of the peace of many congregations and the creation of dissension and strife. Not only have the people of God been divided but families have been separated and bitterness has been created and all because the false assumption that “we do not have to have divine authority” for all we do in the church of the Lord. The New Testament teaches that when anyone brings into any church of Christ anything as a matter of expediency or personal liberty that causes others in that congregation to offend their consciences or separate themselves therefrom, they have condemned themselves by “destroying the temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Such an attitude is plain carnality (1 Cor. 3:1-3).
Unity is enjoined upon the congregation by Paul and he invoked the authority of Christ to impress the obligation it carries. “Now I beseech you, brethren, the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. 1:10).
More than a. hundred years ago when brethren introduced the missionary society organization into evangelism of the church and instrumental music into the worship, they did not plead scriptural authority for these innovations at the beginning. They brought them in as matters of expedience and human judgment and preference. They took the attitude that those who could not conscientiously worship and work with them in use of these “expediencies” were “anti,” narrow minded, non-progressive, making laws where God had riot rude them, etc. Today liberal brethren who are bringing into the congregations their human expediencies and disrupting the peace and harmony of God’s people are once again taking the same attitude and hurling the same epithets against those of their brethren who oppose theist. They are saying now even as they did then, “We have the liberty of practicing such things and you do not have the right to oppose them, therefore, you can either go along in violation of your conscience or get out.” This is the reason many brethren are leaving the place of worship where they have been for years, helped to pay for the property and facilities for carrying on their work, and seeking some other place of worship where they will not have to sacrifice their convictions for the sake of peace. Even though they do it with a grieved heart, this is all that they can do and still please God. Those who force them to do it, however, are marching toward complete apostasy and eternal condemnation as sure as the Bible is the Word of God.
Truth Magazine, XX:24, p. 9-10
June 10, 1976