The Crucial Hour
The hopes and fears of Christians all over the world, their prayers and their earnest longings are met in Abilene this week. The significance of the discussion taking place there can hardly be over-estimated. It is a crucial hour for the disciples of Christ. The importance of the event is out of all proportion to the importance of the two men leading the study. For bound up in these four days may well be the answer as to whether the church of our Lord will once again face the world as a united, forward-marching phalanx of devoted and consecrated Christians building on a "thus saith the Lord," or will a second time face the agony of a division between the "conservatives" and the "liberals." Christians everywhere this week are praying that it will be the former, not the latter; the two men leading in the discussion are praying to that end; the hundreds of gospel preachers in attendance, some of them gray-haired veterans of the cross who have seen more than half a century's service in the army of the Lord, are fervently praying that unity and not division may stem from this study.
We've been asked by several if we could hazard any kind of guess as to the probable course of events after Abilene. We have devoted no little thought to this matter, trying to evaluate conditions, weighing the strength of present trends, and talking with well-informed brethren in all parts of the nation. For what it is worth, here is the way we see it:
First of all the trend right now is toward conservatism. This has only recently become the case — perhaps within the last year. There was a time when we would have guessed that at least 75 percent of the churches and preachers (never the 95 percent which some suggested) would have gone along with the liberal and modernistic "institutionally-minded" element among us if division had come. Within the last year, however, a very noticeable change has taken place. It is obvious in some clear-cut and undeniable figures (such as the fact that contributions to Herald of Truth are down nearly 40% this year from last year), but is also to be seen in a number of more subtle and less obvious developments.
For instance, it is now pretty generally realized that the "centralized control" and "brotherhood institutions" question is a one-way street for those who give serious study to the matter. We personally know scores of brethren who have changed their convictions on the current issues, and have heard of literally hundreds of others. So far as we can learn NOT ONE GOSPEL PREACHER WHO WAS AGAINST "INSTITUTIONALISM" HAS BEEN FORCED BY HIS STUDY TO CHANGE AND BECOME FOR IT. While those who were for it and have been forced by a study of the Bible to change to an opposing position are simply too numerous to count!
Another highly significant development is the increasing willingness of brethren everywhere to study the question. Almost invariably now in gospel meetings we hold we are being requested by the elders to preach on "congregational cooperation". We usually comply with the request, and invite questions and discussions at the close of the lesson. These sessions are friendly, in dead earnestness, and without exception thus far have ended with a warm and brotherly spirit prevailing all around. And, of course, we can anticipate that such a service will be the best attended of any in the meeting.
All over the nation we find an increasing number of congregations which have withdrawn from the "brotherhood projects", and are planning to spend their own money, promote their own work, and undertake their own evangelism and benevolence. We told a few weeks ago of the change of attitude in the San Francisco Bay area of California: four years ago only one or two of the approximately thirty-five churches in the area were not supporting some of the centralized projects among us. Today there are seventeen who have planned their own work, and have served notice that they will no longer participate in the "brotherhood" projects. This has been accomplished without a single division within those congregations. What has happened there has happened, and is happening, in scores of other localities over the nation.
As of right now, we'd guess that not more than 60 percent of the preachers and brethren generally would go along with the "institutional" brethren if a church-wide split should materialize. This percentage is shrinking every day. If the trend continues as it is now, THERE WILL BE NO SPLIT!
Certainly there are a few congregations among us (big, city churches for the most part) which have already so heavily committed themselves, and have gone so far in their "social gospel" emphasis on gymnasiums, recreation halls, huge benevolent institutions, etc., that they cannot be expected to openly and forth-rightly reverse their positions. They will continue their promotions, pleading for brotherhood support for their projects. But when that support is not forth-coming, and when smaller churches begin increasingly to spend their own monies, thus compelling the big "sponsoring churches" to dig down into their own pockets to finance their projects, we will see the institutional juggernaut grind to a slow halt. Their promotions will progressively tend to become smaller and smaller instead of bigger and bigger.
If this happens, we may well look for a renewed emphasis on independent work on the part of thousands of congregations. "Mission" work (and we find the very word distasteful) will take a real spurt forward. Instead of sending a few dollars each month to some "sponsoring church", thousands of elderships will begin to plan their own work, undertake their own projects, support men of their own choosing in fields of their own selection. This is certain to stimulate greater interest and more sacrificial giving on the part of the congregations; new congregations will be started; an increasing number of preachers will go into areas where there are no congregations and start such, being supported by two, three, or perhaps half a dozen of the small congregations among us. There will be a return to the spirit as well as the practice of those periods in religious history when the cause of Christ spread most rapidly over the earth.
This, briefly, is what we expect to come in the months ahead. Frankly, we just can not believe that the rank and file of brethren generally are willing to take the other course — the trend toward an ever-increasing "centralization" of power, authority, influence in the hands of half-a-dozen "sponsoring" elderships, with the inevitable accompanying emphasis on the "social gospel" of modernism with its church gymnasiums, "youth centers", brotherhood benevolent institutions, parochial school system, and church support of Christian colleges.
The Abilene discussion may well prove to be the hour of decision. Let the prayer of every Christian everywhere be to the end that God will bless this study, using it to his glory, to the furtherance of the gospel of Christ. "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord." (1 Cor. 15:58.)
— F. Y. T.