Who Divided the Lord’s Church?

By Lindsay A. Allen

What better way to hinder the gospel of Christ than to divide the church? Thus, in 1849 and 1859 respectively he (Satan) introduced, through his emissaries, the missionary society and instrumental music.

 Those who take a firm stand on a “thus saith the Lord” for all they believe and practice in their service to God are accused of splitting the Lord’s church, and are labeled with such unworthy epithets as “antis” and “orphan home haters.” This is a serious charge of the greatest magnitude, for it is much more serious to divide the spiritual body of Christ than his physical body. Such a false charge demands a forthright and honest reply, and above all it must be scriptural. The purpose of this article is to do that. Let it be understood in the beginning that the author of these lines has no ill will toward any person, much less his own brethren. Contrariwise, since he and his brethren are cut from the same gospel pattern, he has nothing but love and goodwill toward them. The only purpose of this article is to search out the truth concerning this charge, for Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”; “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 8:32; 17:17). Paul reminded the Thessalonians that God would send a “strong delusion” to those who did not love the truth, that they could believe a lie and be damned (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

In order to have a firm background for the study of division in the Lord’s church, it would be helpful to make a brief survey of division in the church in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Such a survey will show the true nature and cause of such divisions.

The restoration movement began on American soil in the early years of the nineteenth century. Its purpose was to restore the Lord’s church in doctrine, in work, and in worship as it was in the beginning. The “battle-cry” of this movement was in perfect harmony with its purpose — “Where the Bible speaks, we will speak, and where the Bible is silent, we will be silent.” What a noble undertaking, and far superior to previous efforts to reform Roman Catholicism and to reconcile the animosities and differences among Protestant denominationalists.

It should be emphasized at this point that the battle-cry of the restoration movement was nothing new — it is simply a re-statement of the truths taught in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 4:6 (RV) the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians not to go beyond the things that were written; in 1 Peter 4:11 the Apostle Peter said, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God”; and John reminds us (2 John 9-11) that “whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.” Brethren, what the Holy Spirit is saying here is that the Bible, the word of God, is complete and needs no additions or subtractions; it must not be tampered with in any manner, for it meets man’s needs. As someone has well said, “The gospel God gave is adaptable to the man that he made”; it equips the man of God for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is man’s responsibility to study it, to believe it, and to obey its precepts.

The restoration preachers preached the gospel without fear or favor to over-flowing crowds who were hungry for something that would satisfy their spiritual needs. The time was ripe for religious reform for denominationalism was torn asunder, corrupted, and hopelessly divided by the doctrines of men. Thousands, even whole congregations, responded to the gospel call, were baptized into Christ and became New Testament Christians. These Christians met on the first day of the week to eat the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7), to sing songs of praises to God (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), to lay by in store (1 Cor. 16:1, 2), to engage in prayer to God (Acts 2:42) and to preach the gospel as was done in New Testament days. These meetings continued in peace and harmony, but not for many seasons for Satan, the arch-enemy of mankind, was ready to strike at the success of the gospel. It is well to remember that Satan, who works through carnal men, does not work haphazardly but has definite plans and schemes to perfect his work. What better way to hinder the gospel of Christ than to divide the church? Thus, in 1849 and 1859 respectively he introduced, through his emissaries, the missionary society and instrumental music.

These two innovations not only divided the church, thus creating ill will and bitterness among brethren, but corrupted the worship and dethroned God. The feelings created by animosity and ill will grew so intense that brethren who opposed these innovations found themselves locked out of their places of worship. Appeals to the courts were futile and only added fuel to the fires of division. Numerous efforts were made to settle these divisions on Bible grounds, but to no avail. These conditions existed for the next fifty years with brethren leaving their home congregations and finding separate places of worship. The larger group of brethren who had initiated and defended these innovations are today known as “Disciples of Christ” and are among the most liberal denominations in the nation; they have added numerous unscriptural activities besides instrumental music and the missionary society, even to open membership of the believers in Christ. Brethren, this is an object lesson teaching us the danger of going beyond that which is written. We cannot afford to be a part of that history that will repeat itself!

A Brief Survey of Some of the Divisions in the Restoration Movement in the Twentieth Century

The twentieth century has proven to be turbulent with changes. The industrial revolution has brought many major changes that have lifted the face of the nation. The building of business enterprises to do the work that God gave the church, and the introduction of numerous innovations have corrupted the church and will lead to apostasy. The last two decades have seen a decided change in the substance of preaching. Sermon topics today consist principally of moral and ethical lessons that deal with the issues that beset our nation. Many of these sermons are scriptural, timely, and need to be preached, but brethren, that is not the full gospel. Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Regardless of what else preachers may preach, the fundamentals of the gospel must not be put on the “back burner.” There is no substitute for the gospel, for it is God’s power to save the sinner (Rom. 1:16, 17). In the division of the nineteenth century those who opposed innovations were the smaller of the two groups; after separation they soon grew to be the larger, for the preachers preached the gospel without fear or favor — it brought results! Brethren, what I am saying here is this: the church will die without the gospel!

In 1906 the U.S. Bureau of Census listed the non-instrumental churches of Christ as a separate and distinct group. This separate listing of churches of Christ was both timely and encouraging, for it gave the brethren a solid place in society. In 1910 the church at Columbia, Tennessee established the Tennessee Orphan Home that was moved to Springhill, Tennessee in 1935. The advent of the orphan homes brought a new era to the disciples for they and their children’s children would experience strife, alienation, and division throughout the remaining part of the century. It is safe to say that the orphan’s home has divided more churches of Christ than any other one innovation. The late Luther Blackmon sums up the influence of the orphan’s home in this short statement: “The Orphan’s Home is the key that opened the treasuries of the churches of Christ to human institutions.” The key that opened the treasuries of the churches was its emotional appeal, for there is nothing that touches the human heart more than the cry of a hungry orphan child. Satan knew that this device would get the job done (2 Cor. 2:11)! Many brethren followed their emotions, not the Scripture!

What Then, Is the Issue That Divides Brethren?

Let us look first of all to the negative: it is not orphan care, all orphans need care; it is not orphan homes, for all orphans need a home. The issue is simply this: do churches of Christ have divine authority to build and maintain, from their treasuries, social institutions? This question begs for a scriptural answer. How far can the church go in the social field? Some churches of Christ are now building and maintaining schools, orphan homes, old folks homes, homes for un- wed mothers, and medical clinics (or hospitals). Brethren, if churches are to build and maintain orphan homes from their treasuries, why engage a human institution to do this work? Do you not believe that the church is sufficient to do all the work that God gave it? The inspired Scripture tells us that the word of God is able to furnish the man of God completely unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Finally, does God not have a plan to care for orphans? Yes! In every age God has cared for orphans. In the Old Testament he exhorted the people time after time to look after widows and orphans. In the New Testament the only passage that deals with the care of orphans is James 1:27; here the responsibility is given, not to churches, but to individual Christians — “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Brethren, this is God’s answer!

The Social Gospel

The purpose of the social gospel is to improve the quality of human life. To this end many churches are engaged in some kind of social work such as orphan and elderly care, education, recreation, entertainment, and as one preacher put it recently, “just plain fun.” This so-called “gospel” (or pseudo-gospel) is in sharp contrast to the gospel of Christ; one is carnal and thus creates carnality, while the gospel of Christ deals solely and entirely with the salvation of the soul. The social gospel followed the orphan home in influence in the states for several years, but has been more widely accepted than any other innovation and thus, has led more churches away from spirituality to carnality and secularism than any other one innovation.

The social gospel, instead of making the world a better place to live, is laying the foundation for widespread apostasy in the next few years. When churches capitalize on fun and frolic and give little or no attention to Bible study and to spiritual worship, they are preparing the minds of the people to accept any kind of false doctrine or dogma. Friend, the social gospel is subtle and acts as a decoy for it gives to the people a sense of false security — they think they are busy doing the will of the Lord with all their social activity.

This statement may surprise the reader, but the roots of the social gospel reach back to near the close of the middle ages. When the Roman church built schools for priests and went into the education business, began to look after the poor, the down-trodden and the sick, they laid the foundation for the social gospel. During the Protestant reformation the Protestant churches (some time later) took over the role of the social gospel.

In England and in the states, the industrial revolution played a major role in crystallizing the idea of the social gospel. Factories brought multitudes of people from the country into the city to small congested areas which created slums and many other unhealthy situations. Industrialists saw the need of giving some assistance to these poor people, and then later turned the work over to churches.

In the 1950s and 1960s in the states, the social gospel grew rapidly and was accepted by most of the churches of Christ who had already accepted the orphan homes and the schools. The social gospel continues to grow rapidly among some churches of Christ. Even as this article is being written there are churches in this county who are either building separate buildings for fellowship halls or are adding such to their present buildings. These halls will be used for congregational meals, for banquets, for special events during graduation, and there will be basketball goals, volleyball nets, and other athletic equipment.

Brethren, have you forgotten, or have you ever known, that the word “fellowship” as used in the Scripture always refers to spiritual fellowship, never to secular affairs? The auditorium is the only “fellowship hall” you need. Recently I asked a young lady how the church was doing in her community; she said, “Fine, we have just given the grandest program and supper for the volunteer fire department.” Brethren, that bothers me; have you forgotten that the Lord’s church is spiritual, that its work is spiritual, and that the church does not engage in carnal activities?

These things as stated above only lay the foundation for widespread apostasy in the near future. Since preachers do not preach the gospel as they once did, and many churches have given themselves over to fun and frolic, what can you expect of the church in the future?

Brethren, now is the time to get busy; lay aside these carnal works and activities and concentrate on things spiritual. Brother Preacher, preach the gospel; preach the power of God unto salvation to those who receive it (Rom. 1:16, 17). Nothing can take the place of the gospel of Christ. Let us keep the church pure as the Lord gave it to us in the beginning. This is serious business; let us get busy!