Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 16, 1967
NUMBER 40, PAGE 4-5a

Brother Harrell's Articles


We begin in this issue a series of articles by Brother David Edwin Harrell, Jr., which we believe should be carefully read and thoughtfully pondered by every one of us. This first article is merely the introduction; the two lengthy articles which will appear in succeeding weeks set forth the heart of "A Professional Historian's View of the Church Today." Brother Harrell is a teacher of history in Oklahoma University. He is a recognized authority in the field, and is in widespread demand as a speaker at various historical association meetings and gatherings. He is qualified to write, and to write with considerable prestige, in his field of competence.

Let us re-emphasize Brother Harrell's explanation that this series of articles is written from the view-point of a "professional" historian --- not from the point of view of a dedicated and committed Christian (one of which he is), nor yet from the point of view of a broad-minded and tolerant denominationalist. He has sought to be objective rather than subjective; he does not argue the facts, but seeks to let them speak for themselves --- as a detached, analytical scientific historian might view them.

Technical use of "sect"

One thing that may prove a bit disconcerting to the reader at first is the use of the word "sect." This introductory article should be carefully digested on this point, else one will be uncomfortable all the way through the study. Ordinarily we have been conditioned to think of a "sectarian" as a rather narrow-minded, extremely zealous person who is intolerant of any opposing, or even differing, view from that he entertains. And that is PRECISELY how the analytical, secular historian evaluates the Christian. Not only is this true in the twentieth century, but even from the very beginning the word "sect" was applied to the Christians by those who were not Christians. When Tertullus accused Paul before Felix he said, "For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of insurrections among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." (Acts 24:5.) In response to which Paul declared, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the Way which they call a sect, so serve I the God of our fathers, believing all things which are according to the law, and which are written in the prophets." (verse 14. )

The reader should pay close and thoughtful attention to the distinction between "sect" and "denomination" as those words are used throughout the series. The "sect" is made up of people who are absolutely convinced beyond all peradventure of doubt that they have the TRUTH, and that any kind of teaching contrary to theirs is false and destructive; they are fiercely loyal to their doctrine, totally committed to its propagation, and totally opposed to any other doctrine. Can anything more accurately describe the first century Christian attitude than this? They believed that Jesus Christ had arisen bodily from the grave, and were perfectly willing to lay down their lives on that premise. They were adamantly INTOLERANT of any kind of teaching which would deny or question this. Fervent, dedicated, looking to heaven rather than to this earth for acceptance and approval, they were regarded by the sophisticated and cultured Greek and Roman philosophers as superstitious and fanatical bigots. The Romans, for example, were entirely willing to recognize Jesus as a god; they would even accord him a place of high honor in their Pantheon, the temple dedicated to all the gods. But the "fanatical" Christians rudely rejected this tolerant and broad-minded spirit of the cultured Romans. They insisted that Jesus was not a god, nor even the supreme god, but that he was the only God, and that all their thousands of gods were absolutely nothing. "We know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no God but one," said Paul. (I Cor. 8:4)

This same fierce intolerance characterized the Church of Christ generally fifty years ago. Gospel preachers everywhere were "spoiling for a fight" with the denominationalists. They would debate at the drop of a hat. They attended denominational meetings and revivals with propositions already written out, and felt the evening wasted unless they got a chance to hit the floor with a public challenge to the denominational preacher to defend his false doctrine in open discussion. Any report that a gospel preacher belonged to a "Ministerial Alliance" (even if the rumors were false) was just about equal to his having leprosy so far as his acceptance among faithful churches was concerned.

The "Denomination"

The "denomination" as used in Brother Harrell's articles represents the opposite pole of religion. The denominationalist is "broad-minded", easy going, convinced that one church is as good as any other, and is sincerely puzzled by (and probably contemptuous of) anybody's effort to prove his position right and another's wrong by an appeal to "what the Bible says." He thinks the Bible is a fine book, but is subject to a wide variety of interpretations, any one of which may be as valid as another. The "denominationalist" will generally tend to be more affluent economically, more cultured socially, and perhaps a bit better educated scholastically than will the member of the "sect." Beyond all question he is more wedded to this world, and less interested in heaven, than is the member of the sect. He tends to be complacent, smug, more likely satisfied with what he is and what he has; he prides himself on "belonging" --- that is being accepted by the society in which he lives.

Let the reader keep these distinctions in mind as he reads the Harrell series, and sees the inexorable movement from "sect to denomination" as demonstrated among the Churches of Christ. The movement is in progress at this very hour. Those who are, caught up in it can have a far better insight into current events and happenings if they are perceptive of historical backgrounds and developments. We shall have more comments on these matters as future articles from Brother Harrell's study are published.

-F. Y. T.