By Loren N. Raines
It seems that fallible man either cannot or will not profit by past experiences. It has long been said, and times seems to prove it to be true, that history repeats itself. Yet we fail to profit by the sad experience of generations past. Present conditions in both the world and the church seem to verify this observation.
It took God four thousand years to bring into the world a perfect man, His Son, and through Him to give to the world a perfect institution, the church. It seems that man cannot be satisfied even with perfection. With full knowledge of the deplorable condition of the church during the great apostasy, the ensuing strife and division of the Reformation, and the joy that was brought to the religious world as a result of the restoration of the ancient order, yet little time was allowed to pass until the digressive nature of some men in the church began to manifest itself again. One lesson man seems never to learn is that it is impossible to improve on perfection. To add to, subtract from, or substitute for perfection is only to mar it. Yet many attempts have been made to improve the worship, the work and the doctrine set forth in God’s perfect plan.
A careful study of the first great apostasy reveals that the chief causes of that departure from the truth were a desire for popularity and a love of power. Instead of being satisfied with God’s plan, first century Christians, seeing the growth of pagan religions, dared introduce into the Lord’s church various methods of the pagan religions, which seemed to interest people, and result in growth. The 64 mystery of iniquity” was already at work (2 Thess. 2:7). As time passed more and more emphasis was placed on the acquisition of power. This desire for power continued to grow until they had a pope as head of the apostate church. This thirst for power was not abated until the pope exercised power over both church and state.
Apostasy from the truth may, and often does, follow a different course, but it seems to stem from the same basic cause. This cause may be described as disregard for the authority of God’s word, or contempt for both the law and the Law-giver. In either case, it is sin.
During the early part of the nineteenth century the strife and division that characterized denominationalism came into full bloom. Thinking men could see that the Reformation had failed to achieve its goal. Rather, it had only piled more debris on the Jerusalem foundation. Consequently, they concluded that a restoration of the ancient order was the only solution. This movement gave great promise and was making great headway until Satan entered upon the scene, revived his wrecking crew, and renewed his effort to derail God’s plan.
Certain members of the restored church, whose zeal surpassed both their knowledge and sincerity, began a repetition of the mistakes of the first century. In their judgment, the church needed a more effective method of spreading the gospel. In order to expedite their plan they urged all congregations to unite in making regular contributions to a central organization, that all might cooperate in the work of evangelism. They failed to seek divine authority for this method. The result was the missionary society. It became the wedge that ultimately resulted in the first division in the restoration movement.
Just as some Christians of the first century, imbued with the desire for progress, borrowed some methods of pagan religions, so some of the less dedicated Christians of the nineteenth century saw that instrumental music, as used in most denominations, seemed to promote growth. They made a plea to introduce it into the worship. When challenged for divine authority for such an addition they sought to justify it by insisting that it is only an expedient. They failed to recognize the difference between an expedient and an addition. An expedient must first be lawful (1 Cor. 6:12;. 10:23). A hearing aid is a great help in hearing, but it can’t hear; it is just an expedient. A pitch pipe is an aid in getting the pitch; but it can’t sing. It cannot be substituted for or replace the singing. An instrument can make music, and often is substituted for the song. It is an addition and is condemned (Rev. 22:18-19). The instrument drove the wedge deeper.
The Bible makes it plain that the local church has the obligation to provide an adequate program of teaching so that its members may be edified. As a result of zeal without knowledge, the denominations introduced the Sunday school to implement its teaching. Sensing the potential of this method the New Testament church began adopting the same method. They overlooked the fact that the Sunday school was an organization separate and apart from the church. In using this method whatever growth resulted had to be attributed to the Sunday school, not to the church. But Paul had said, “Unto him be glory in the church (not the Sunday school) by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:21). Bible classes under the oversight of the elders is God’s plan for instruction. The adoption of the missionary society, the instrument, and the Sunday school completed the split in the church. Thus, a new denomination was born now called the Disciples of Christ.
Unfortunately this was not the end, but only the beginning, of division in the restoration movement. Years passed, cause of division (contempt for divine authority) was dormant only for a season. In recent years, instead of the missionary society we see the “‘sponsoring church.” Instead of the Sunday school we see the Bible College. Instead of individual Christians caring for homeless children, we see the orphanage supported by a group of congregations. This is not scriptural cooperation, but corruption of God’s plan ‘for benevolence.
Once you transgress God’s word (2 Jn. 9), there is no place to stop. Now we see homes for unwed mothers, homes for senior citizens, hospitals, gymnasiums, orphanages, colleges, all kinds of facilities for recreation and entertainment and church camps all supported by the church. All these things may be right in their place but God did not authorize the church to engage in this type of business. Ignoring God’s plan spelled serious trouble for Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10: 1-2), Uzzah (1 Chron. 13:9- 10), Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Num. 16:23-33), Moses (Num, 20:12, Josh. 34:46). Let us beware (Deut. 4:2; 12:32). Once again the Lord’s church has been divided. We now have conservatives, who insist on speaking only as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11), and on the other hand we have liberals, who insist that we have no pattern. Will man ever learn?
We still have God’s word as our guide, and the early church as the pattern for all that God has authorized in worship, work, evangelism, benevolence, and manner of fife. Let us avoid apostasy by holding God’s word inviolate.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 2, pp. 42-43
January 4, 1984