Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 21, 1959
NUMBER 3, PAGE 9-11b

Commending "The Search For The Ancient Order"; Or, History Repeats Itself (No. I)

George T. Jones, Kilgore, Texas

In the Gospel Advocate of March 5, 1959 there was a short article from the pen of brother E. Claude Gardner commending "The Search For The Ancient Order" by Earl West as a history of the Restoration Movement. Bro. Gardner is dean of Freed-Hardeman College, Henderson, Tennessee. Here is the gist of his commendation: "The two volumes of The Search For The Ancient Order are strongly recommended for your library. This monumental, definitive set of books devoted to the history of the Restoration Movement was written by the scholarly Earl I. West. To say that he wrote them assures one that the facts in our heritage have been related accurately and in a most interesting style. It is not a dry history but rather a vivid and clear portrayal of the church — its problems and accomplishments from 1849-1906. Christians can receive instruction and inspiration from the events of yesteryears. . . . A careful reading will cause us to comprehend more fully the glorious church of our Lord and the folly of denominationalism....

Let this scribe hasten to add that his own commendation of this work is just as enthusiastic as brother Gardner's. We first read both volumes four years ago. Just recently we have read again the second volume. In this interval we have had repeated occasions to refer to this work. We have recommended it publicly and privately. We have purchased it for gifts. In fact, next to the New Testament, we know of no book which has given us a clearer insight to the sufficiency of the church to do the work God ordained for it to do; or, of the absolute independence of congregations in their relation to one another. In fact, we would that every member of the Lord's church should study these two volumes. Too, the fact that this writer was a fellow-student of Earl West's at Freed-Hardeman College enhances rather than detracts from our appreciation of this "monumental" work.

But it is amazing to us how some men fail to see some of the things in a history book. Bro. Gardner, for instance, is one of the most "forward" of the brethren who advocate church support of benevolent organizations like those among the brethren and of the "sponsoring church" concept which finds expression in the national radio and television program, Herald of Truth. We can recall an article from his pen fairly recently pointing out the "antis" (those who oppose the foregoing) had gone down in miserable defeat. His position regarding these matters is not unknown to readers of the Advocate.

The second volume of The Search For The Ancient Order covers the period from 1849-1906. This was the period when the issues of the missionary society and instrumental music were "disturbing the church. In our recent re-reading of this volume, we marked some passages which brother Gardner and the Advocate editor must have overlooked, in view of their generous commendation of it as a history. It is our conviction that the fair student of this work will be impressed with the fact that the issues troubling the church today are the same in principle as were those in the period brother West has so faithfully chronicled. We believe it will be crystal clear to the unbiased student of the Restoration that the arguments now being made in favor of church support for institutions and such co-operative schemes as Herald of Truth are the same as those made in favor of instrumental music in the worship and the missionary society for preaching the gospel.

It is our plan to offer for consideration of our readers a number of passages from the second volume of this work. These quotations will be from both those who favored the society and instrument and those who opposed the innovations. In this way the reader will be able to parallel the arguments then and now. Since all of the quotations are from Volume II, we shall give only the page number.

I. The Ability Of A Church

Considerable has been said relative to the ability of a church to evangelize, in the present controversy. On page 58, Bro. West has quoted from Jacob Creath, the "Iron Duke of the Restoration". Creath opposed the missionary society. He wrote: "If a church or person is not able to do anything to spread the gospel, nothing is required of that person. Christ never gathered where he did not strew. It is required of us, according to what we have, and not according to what we have not . . ." Commenting on this, Bro. West said: "Creath was striking at something fundamental just here which many congregations have found it convenient to overlook. God never requires of an individual Christian, or a congregation of Christians, any more than it is possible to do. The need for a Society arose from the fact that local churches felt themselves incapable of sending out the gospel, so they established societies to do the work which God ordained for the church." (Ibid.) Also, back on pages 56 and 57 brother West wrote: "That Christ intended for the world to be converted through individual congregations being established in every local community and thence, exercising a saving influence over that community seems too obvious for dispute. The plan the author of Acts lays down is that the gospel is to spread from Jerusalem, thence to Judea, to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. The gospel radiated out, local congregations were planted, and exercised a saving influence upon the community. In one generation the gospel was sounded out to the whole earth, and that without a missionary society. It is an indictment, not against our organization, but against our individual religious fervor that the same is not done today. The only organization known to the New Testament is that of a local church, not the church universal. The individual congregation of Christ's disciples is the only missionary society then known to the Scriptures". (Emphasis mine, GTJ.) Let the reader note that West, the scholar and historian, declares that it is the "individual" congregation of Christ's disciples that is to act in evangelizing, not a collection or combination of congregations acting through one eldership as in the case of Herald of Truth or in the other "sponsoring church" setups.

In another equally scholarly work, his tract "Congregational Cooperation, A Historical Study", brother West deposes in this way. "Has God ever intended that the church universal as such, should act? . . . Let no one be deceived, for this is the problem the brotherhood faces today . . . The answer being given today is that God did intend for the church universal to act through the elders of a local congregation. So, a local congregation obligates itself to spend a half-million dollars in one year for a national radio broadcast, or a benevolent institution. Is anyone so naive to suppose that this is the work of a local church? A local congregation has obligated itself to become the agency through which the church universal can act . . . This is a major problem the brotherhood faces, and no one can underestimate the importance of answering it correctly. Does God intend for the church universal to act in any, kind of combination? Yes or no? ... Do the elders of one local church scripturally have more power and authority than the elders of other local churches?" (Pp. 14,15.) Let the reader note that brother West was discussing the cooperation controversy and the missionary society. He said: "Let no one be deceived, for this is the problem the brotherhood faces today." Now we are quite willing to accept Dean Gardner's and Editor Goodpasture's commendation of West as a historian. But where is their consistency in attempting to write off the present controversy as trouble being raised by an insignificant group of antis? According to their historian, it is the same problem as that of the missionary society. The latter was of sufficient gravity to divide the churches fifty years ago. The historian so enthusiastically commended by Dean Gardner and Editor Goodpasture declares it is the same "problem the brotherhood faces today".

II. The Insufficiency Of The Church

Presently it is being urged by those of us who oppose the churches' contributing to benevolent organizations and congregations pooling their resources to do a work under the oversight of the elders of one church that all such arrangements and organizations are an impeachment of God's wisdom in ordaining His organization, the local congregation. The Advocate and its writers dispute this. The latter declare that our position is new and unheard-of until recently. On page 61 of Volume II of Search For The Ancient Order, brother West has quoted a statement of Ben Franklin penned in 1867. "The circumstance that they had no missionary societies in the first age of the church, of itself, does not prove that we may not have them. But the fact that the Lord ordained the congregations, with their officers, and made it their work to convert the world with the additional fact that we have their example in sending out preachers, with the circumstance, that they had no missionary societies, but the churches, proves that it is wrong for individuals to create missionary societies, separate from the churches, as substitutes to do the work which the Lord appointed for the churches. The congregations of the Lord, divinely appointed and constituted societies or bodies, for the worship of God, fitted for every good work — specially for the propagation of the gospel. The simple question is, whether we shall honor the churches in working in them and making them effective as the Lord's appointed societies, in converting the world, or declare them insufficient to do the work which the Lord committed to them, and substitute a creation of our own hands, to do the work of the churches ordained by the Lord. Others may do this latter, but we cannot." (Emphasis Franklin's.)

That person is devoid of discernment who cannot see in this the same argument over human organizations today. Bro. West could see it, for he so applied it in his history.

III. Expediency

This has been the theme song of such men as brother Gardner. He and the other supporters of orphan homes supported by churches and such centralized cooperative plans as Herald of Truth have persistently affirmed that these are "expedients" for doing the work God wants done, We have the right to choose whatever expedient seems best to us, they argue. But is there any parallel between this and the discussion over innovations in the Restoration Movement in the 19th century? We have only to read Earl West, the historian. He wrote: "But the advocates of the Society never tire of putting the Society on the plane of expediency, and then insisting that the whole controversy over missionary societies, was one of which plan to adopt. As a means of justifying themselves, charges of inconsistency were laid at the door of the Society's enemies who, it was said, were guilty themselves of working through human organizations. More shall be said of these charges." (P. 62) The advocates of human institutions today for doing the work of the church lump them into one bundle, label it "expediency" and force them on the churches, just as West declared the society advocates did.

Again, on page 63 the author declares: "In so far as the principle involved here is concerned, it is basically Romanism. To assert that the church universal, to do the work God gave it, must, by human wisdom, devise an earthly, central controlling station to direct the operations of the churches is to work on the same principle that led Romanism to the papacy."

On page 89, West quotes a warning from Moses E. Lard, written in 1869: "The subject of expediency, as interpreted by some of us, may yet prove that rock on which the reformation for which we are pleading goes to pieces. This is not said in the spirit of alarm; it is the utterance of calm conviction. I do not deny that expediency is sometimes right, nor that the New Testament, in very special cases, sanctions it. Certainly not . . . When we plead expediency to justify practices unknown to the apostolic age, we are not within the limits of the expedient. We are then violating the word of God. Expediency is no law for innovations, either in faith or practice; and he who pleads it to this extent has abandoned the only rule which can save us from ruin."

The brethren today who are doing the very thing Lard warned against in the preceding paragraph should also ponder this paragraph from the pen of Robert Richardson, quoted by West on page 91: "My position was simply that, as expediency had to do with the manner, time, means and circumstances connected with the doing of things, no question of expediency can rightfully arise until it is first proved that the things themselves are lawful and proper to be done. I feared, and my fears have been fully confirmed by some who have since written on the subject, that expediency was supposed to occupy a wide sphere beyond the boundaries of law, and, in its jurisdiction, to be quite independent of law. My view is, that with us, it can have no place at all until law has first authorized something to be done, and that, therefore, its exercise must be restricted within the limits of some law, or rule of life and action." (Emphasis Richardson's.) Richardson was simply pointing out, as we have been doing, that for a practice to be expedient it must first be lawful. There being no scriptural authority for any organization larger than the local church, these combines of congregational efforts under one eldership and these human organizations cannot be expedient.

It does seem that brother Gardner and the editor of the Gospel Advocate should have profited more from their history lesson than they did; especially, seeing they commend so highly "The Search For The Ancient Order".

(More to follow.)