Disease Or Symptom?
Today there is much controversy among my brethren over centralization of work. Is it right to support Herald of Truth? Is it right to establish institutional homes to care for orphans, and aged? Is it right for one church to try to supervise the work of other churches? These questions are being discussed with vigor, and in some cases with bitterness. Warnings are out that there may be division among churches of Christ over these issues in the near future. It is high time that all concerned should study these issues with care. We need also to realize that the issues mentioned may not be the real disease, but rather the outward manifestations of the true disease. In this respect we can, if we will, learn much from history. Students of church history are all familiar with two great apostasies — that which resulted in the Roman Catholic Church, and that which produced the Disciples of Christ denomination. In each case there were issues of controversy, and there were innovations introduced; but those issues, and those innovations, were the symptoms rather than the true disease.
Historians have traced the change in the organization of the church from its original simplicity to the complex absurdity of Catholicism. The first step in that change was the making one elder a supervisor of the other elders. We ask, Why was the first step taken? In Mosheim's History there is a comment that is worthy of careful study because of its warning. Writing of the church as it first existed, Mr. Mosheim said, "Three or four presbyters, men of remarkable piety and wisdom, ruled these small congregations in perfect harmony; nor did they stand in need of any president or superior to maintain concord and order where no dissentions were known. But the number of the presbyters and deacons increasing with that of the churches and the sacred work of the ministry growing more painful and weighty, by a number of additional duties, these new circumstances required new regulations." Mr. Mosheim then tells us what developed, but the thing that interests me is the reason given for the new regulations: A NUMBER OF ADDITIONAL DUTIES. Where did the additional duties come from? When the gospel was fully revealed the church of Christ was equipped with a perfect guide. Within the gospel, all things pertaining to life and godliness were revealed. That included every duty. But not many years later, we find that men had added a number of additional duties. Why did they do it? I submit that they did it because of love of the world, and that this is the fundamental disease that always expresses itself in the introduction of innovations into the church.
It is written, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." (I John 2:15.) The world is the realm of Satan as opposed to the church. The things in the world are those things that attract the child of God to the power of darkness. One of the main attractions is pride, and against that the scriptures warn us on every hand. It is written, "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think." (Rom. 12:3.) When one thinks that he can improve on God's arrangements for the church of Christ, his fundamental trouble is pride. He thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think. He loves the world, for pride is a characteristic of the world.
When the restoration movement was disrupted by the introduction of instrumental music, and the missionary society, brethren were again suffering from love of the world. They thought that God's provisions for preaching the gospel were inadequate, and that they could improve the worship by the addition of instrumental music. They thought more highly of themselves than they should have thought. They did not like the reproach of the world. They wanted to be like their neighbors. They loved the world, and the things of the world. Instrumental music was not the disease, nor was the missionary society. These things were but the symptoms.
I submit that the real disease today is the same thing that caused our ancient brethren to find additional duties for the deacons and elders; and that caused more recent apostates to organize missionary societies, and introduce mechanical music into the worship of God. The disease is the same. The symptoms are just changed a little bit. Today's church has been thoroughly indoctrinated on such issues as "missionary societies," and "instrumental music." We all recognize as unsound any man who would tolerate such. No gospel preacher would think of proposing that we engage in such devises of the devil; but many among us have surrendered the principles upon which the pioneers opposed societies and innovations.
The church that is revealed upon the pages of the New Testament is the fruition of God's eternal purpose. Its worship is designed to properly, and adequately express man's adoration to God. Its organization is designed to enable it to do the work that God wants it to do. The church in its primitive purity reveals God's wisdom as a magnificent building reveals the wisdom of the architect who designed it. He who seeks to improve the organization of the church our Lord built is suffering from an acute case of worldliness.
The church of the New Testament had no central organization on earth. In apostolic days, Christians served God as individuals, and as members of local churches. A group of Christians who assemble in one place and worship God under the supervision of their own elders is the only religious organization ordained by God. All other religious organizations are of the world. He who turns aside from the New Testament order to promote "brotherhood projects" turns from God's way to the way of the world.
Not long ago I was talking to a gospel preacher who once worked with the "conservative branch" of the Christian Church. This man is greatly disturbed by the attitude manifested by many in the church. He recently proposed that the church where he preaches study the principles upon which such projects as Herald of Truth and Gospel Press operate. He did not say whether he thought such were right or wrong, but merely that he thought study should be given to the same. He was told, "We know some of the preachers involved, and we just do not think they would do anything wrong." I submit that when brethren offer the practice of some brother as authority for any practice; they are not in danger of apostatizing. They have already done so.
I am in sympathy with Brother Miller's recent plea for unity. However I believe that true unity can only be attained by testing our practices by the inspired word of God. If our "project brethren" know of an instance where a group of elders ever supervised anything other than a church of Christ, with apostolic approval, let them cite book, chapter, and verse. If they cannot produce the example, let them leave off trying to lead the churches today to think more of men than of that which is written.
I am constrained to say that the old motto of "Doing Bible things in Bible ways, and calling Bible things by Bible names," is still workable. In talking to sectarians, I sometimes tell them that I can teach a man how to become a member of the church of Christ just by reading the Bible, and without making any comment on the things read. I ask sectarians if their preacher can teach people how to become members of the particular church of which they are members in the same way. This shows the difference between speaking as the oracles of God, and as the doctrines of men. I can show any honest man where he can read in the Bible how to become a Christian. When a group of Christians want to form themselves into a church in order to offer up the praise that God requires, I can show them where the Bible tells them of what their organization should consist. But if I were going to try to justify some of our brotherhood projects, I just wouldn't know how to start.