By Robert C. Welch
Some premillennial preachers met with some other preachers and brethren in Louisville, Kentucky in 1952 far the-purpose of discussing some solution to the lack of fellowship. The premillennialists proposed that it could be had if they not be opposed as they taught the doctrine, according to what they were wont to call “teaching all the Bible.” They had the modern Christian Church misrepresentation of the slogan used by early restorationists: This perversion of the slogan, “where the Bible speaks we speak, where the Bible is silent we are silent,” is the interpretation that we not oppose anything said by them even though the Bible does not authorize the doctrine, We proposed to them that since the Scriptures declare that there is one faith then the two of us should study the issue to see what the Bible teaches on the matter and that an agreement upon what it teaches would be the only way there could be unity or fellowship. We proposed a formal debate. They totally rejected the idea of a debate or even any kind of discussion of the doctrine. In this meeting they demonstrated the reason for our not being in fellowship with them. They persist in their false doctrine and require our silence or acquiescence as they teach it.
The doctrine raised its ugly head as a divisive factor through R.H. Boll and some other men who lived in Louisville. There is little doubt that the theory existed in the minds of many of the preachers of the restoration right on down to the time of Boll. But it had not been made an essential in faith and preaching. Russell (forerunner of Jehovah’s Witnesses) and other denominational men were making wild, emotional speculations about the world-wide troubles which led into World War I. They perceived such troubles as the immediate precursor of the second coming of Christ to reign on the earth for a thousand years. Boll and these men around him took up the cry. Boll was an editorial writer for the Gospel Advocate and began teaching it in the journal. The others on the Advocate staff had a meeting with Boll and got an agreement from him that he would not present his speculative doctrine on its pages. They argued that his private adherence to the theory would not affect them. He began, however, in just a little while, to teach it again and was put off the staff. It was then that he began his own paper with this doctrine as the main theme and reason for its publication. He, of course, was teaching it from the pulpit and in his school classroom all the while. Another very influential preacher and writer lived in Louisville who was also on the Advocate staff, M.C. Kurfees. The relations grew very cold and bitter between them. The actual break in fellowship, began in Louisville, but not with the congregations, where;these twolabored. E.L. Jorgenson was preaching the doctrine at the Highland church in the city. Several of the members were opposed to the doctrine and were opposed to his preaching it. These brethren were withdrawn from in ,the mid-teens. They formed another congregation. Much was said about it in brotherhood papers, especially the Gosepl Advocate. Boll’s own paper, however, Word and Work, had little to say bout this break. The.reason is, evident, they were the ones who made it a test of fellowship. They did say,. in the July, 1918 issue:
In reference to a report which recently appeared inthe Gospel Advocates: Those who are interested to know the truth concerning the good work of the Highland Church of Christ and the situation so far as concerns any division existing there, can obtain the facts from any of the “acting elders, “from E.L. Jorgenson, or from any other member of the congregation. Already, inquiries are being received.
From this there was a gradual growth of estrangement between the churches in Louisville and over the nation. This process of severence of relationships reached a climax in the debates between Foy E. Wallace, Jr. and Charles M. Neal in Winchester, Kentucky and Chatanooga, Tennessee. The differences were so wide and the consequences of the doctrine were so destructive to faith that there was little ground left for joint participation. Neal himself left the church.
By the mid-fifties when one of them engaged in debate with me, both recognized the fact that unless there could be a reconciling of teaching there could not be fellowship in body. As this debate was in progress other preachers discussed with the premillennial preachers the matter of fellowship. Perhaps a debate was proposed on that specific topic, but fellowship was not a debatable question then, and is not now. First must be settled the differences in teaching and faith.
Fellowship Between Churches
The scriptural usage of the term fellowship has been abused to apply to relationships between congregations. The idea persists in the minds of some that the congregations are members of the universal body and that there is scriptural fellowship among them. The term as used in the Scriptures applies to relationship of saints one with another, or of a saints relationship to a church. But there is a recognition of one congregation by another to be found in the New Testament. Sometimes this recognition has to do with soundness of faith, as in Jerusalem sending Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11) and Antioch sending men with Paul to Jerusalem /Acts 15/. It involves the recommendation of another church as being worthy of membership of some Christian. It involves recommendation of the preaching and teaching as in special occasions such as gospel meetings. Could a church encourage its members to participate with another congregation in the preaching and practice of error? This is precisely what is involved in the common phraseology, “why we cannot fellowship premillennial churches.” We do not announce the meetings of these premillennial churches because we do not wish to endorse their false
teaching. We do not recommend them to our members who may be moving into that area because we do not want to encourage any saint to participate in the teaching, endorsement and support of false doctrine.
This is not to be compared with the such questions as the bearing. of arms or of the covering. These are questions involving the individual and not the church. The women who believes that she must wear an artificial covering in worship does not make it a test of fellowship with the woman ‘who does not believe it, at least, not to the point of making it ,a church fellowship question. The person who thinks it permissible to bear arms does not make it a church fellowship question. And the person who believes that it is wrong to bear arms does not make it a church fellowship question. If they should go so far as to do so, it would create the same kind of situation which exists with premillennial churches. They do insist that their doctrine must and shall be preached.
The Individual Level
That a person could hold premillennial mews and still be in fellowship with churches where such doctrine is opposed has been the fact in many instances. This was possible because those people did not make it an issue or a test of fellowship. They did not attempt to lead the members into their doctrine, nor impose it upon the church. The very church, which came into being because a group of people were withdrawn from for opposing the doctrine, had within its membership a few who were premillennial in thinking. Some of them actually came from the original premillennial congregation. Then some of these same people, personally known to me, went on to the forming of another church with no question about fellowship. Why could this be possible? They did not make it a necessity that the doctrine be espoused and preached. They held it as a private personal thing. This has been true of a number of other errors. There have been members who could see nothing wrong with the use of an instrument of music in worship, but they did not try to make it a church practice nor to persuade other members into their opinion. There have been many members who have seen nothing wrong with accepting people into the church on their Baptist baptism, but they did not try to make it a churchwide teaching. All three have needed to grow in knowledge of the word and rid themselves of the errors, but because they held their views as private opinions, they retained fellowship with the churches.
Premillennial Churches Cause The Break
This has not been an attempt to show the evils of the, doctrine, because other writers, in these special issues of the paper, have dealt with these subjects. What they have shown is sufficient for us to know that we cannot endorse the churches who promulgate the doctrine and we cannot endorse or support those who teach it. The theory minimizes the importance which the church has in New Testament teaching. It denies the purposes of God and the ability of God and Christ to carry out their purposes. It vitiates the gospel of Christ and substitutes for the hope set before us in the gospel. And they insist that they must preach it.
What the doctrine will do for the faith of people is seen in their compromise with denominations. Not to discuss differences, but in all good will, they exchange pulpits and worship occasions with the denominations in their neighborhoods. For most of their years of separate existence, the churches in Louisville have had Christian Church preachers for meetings and other special occasions. In recent years they have liberalized their view of fellowship so that such men as Carl Ketcherside have been frequent speakers. Two churches known to me have so far departed from their, original moorings that they have gone into fellowship and identity with the Christian Church (one in Louisville and another in Horse Cave, Kentucky).
They, as with Ketcherside, can seek fellowship with the Christian Church and other denominations, but show no inclination toward us. Instead they have antipathy for us. Our stand is too rigid upon the Scriptures for them. They will embrace everybody but us. And we cannot bid them Godspeed in their false teachings and ways, for by so doing we would become partakers of thier evil deeds (2 John 9-11).
- What is the basic meaning and the basic doc trine of premillennialism?
- From whom and where is the origin of troubles in the church over this doctrine?
- Is it possible to have the scriptural “one body” without unity of faith?
- Is scriptural fellowship between individuals or is it sometimes between churches?
- Should a church endorse or recommend another who teaches and practices error?
- How is it possible to have fellowship with a person who believes error?
- What does premillennialism do for the faith of those who hold the doctrine?
Guardian of Truth XXVI: 3, pp. 40-42
January 21, 1982