Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 30, 1961
NUMBER 46, PAGE 1,12a

No Room For Concern?

Eldred Stevens, Fort Worth, Texas

(Firm Foundation, February 21, 1961)

Our generation is allowing a spirit of effervescent enthusiasm and boundless optimism to blind it to some cold facts and to make it very intolerant and even hateful, toward many of its own fellowship who do not bubble with the same effervescence. It is not the purpose of this paper to dampen enthusiasm. However, it is maintained here that churches of Christ should thank God for voices that ring with realistic, or even cynical, tones. We pray God to put far away from us the evil day when a preacher dare not express any fear or anxiety concerning the possible future of the church because he fears rejection and name-calling by his own brethren.

There is room for concern! A recent letter from Pittsburgh, Pa., appealing for contributions to the "mission work" in that area, started with this sentence: "This great Pittsburgh field, from which the pioneer efforts of the Campbells, Scott, and Stone emanated from that area, and yet now we are trying to solicit outside support for missionaries to go there to preach. What happened? We wonder how conservative brethren in Pittsburgh were treated one hundred years ago when they expressed alarm about the "trends"?

A Few Years Ago, The Writer Visited Some "Mission Points" In Vermont And Was Told Of The Great Work Done In That State By One Of The Earliest Workers In The Restoration Movement, Dr. Abner Jones. He Started Many Congregations In The Area And Had The "Restoration Plea" Ringing. At The Time Of My Visit, There Were Two Very Small Churches Of Christ In The State, Supported By Outside Money From The South. What Happened?

Recently I visited in the home of the parents of a missionary who is working in the very area where Alexander Campbell lived, wrote his "Christian Baptist and "Millennial Harbinger," preached regularly, and taught in Bethany College. Imagine Texas and Tennessee congregations sending missionaries into the area where Alexander Campbell lived and died! What happened to his work and influence in that section?

In a recent issue of the Firm Foundation there appeared an article describing some problems existing among the "Disciples of Christ" (the Christian Church) and some eruptions at their 'international convention at Louisville, Kentucky. The newspapers reported that Kentucky is the "leading state of the Disciples" and mentioned their having 901 churches there. But Kentucky was the site of the labors of 'Barton W. Stone and J. W. McGarvey! It was at Cane Ridge, Ky., that Stone conducted his famous camp meeting that was the real "kick-off" of the restoration movement. Lexington, Ky., was the "Jerusalem" of the 19th century church while J. W. McGarvey headed the "College of the Bible" there. Yet now Kentucky joins Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia as a part of our "mission field." What happened?

In each of these situations, powerful personalities slowly became more and more liberal in their interpretation of that which is scriptural and that which is lacking in scriptural authority. They became less and less tolerant of conservative brethren, branding them "non-progressive," "anti," "legalists," squeezing them out and pushing them southward and westward into Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. The "digressives" took over and the areas that once were strongholds of churches of Christ became their "mission fields."

During the last year we have sent a missionary into Israel (where Jesus lived and where the church was established!) and we sent a missionary into Turkey (where were the "seven churches of Asia" and the site of the labors of the great apostle Paul!). Think of what once was there. Now we have two preachers in the whole of the two countries and could put all of the Christians of both in one Texas Sunday School classroom!

The voice of history speaks loudly and one must be blinded indeed by the spirit of denominational competition, by the pride of life, or by human ambition, not to see alarming possibilities taking shape among us today.

Paul said, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." No man or movement is in greater jeopardy than when bordering on or engulfed by a sense of smug self-assurance. We hear and read daily that the price of freedom is preparedness and vigilance. That sounds like scripture! The price of truth and "soundness" is constant vigilance and never failing caution. The individual who never flings himself to the ground with groaning consciousness of his mistakes, his unworthiness, and his fear of where his human blunders may be leading him is the Pharisee who will end up abased rather than exalted. What is true of the individual is also true of the congregation and of the brotherhood generally. Perhaps we should be more impressed with the "dirges" of those who bemoan our unworthiness and who feel deep concern about our future than with the enthusiastic anthems of those who are bursting with pride over recent "progressive" trends that enable us to do just about everything that the denominations are doing.

One should tremble to think that he might fall away much more quickly than did Judas who lived with Jesus, or Demas who worked with Paul. As a consequence, he should "lean backward" in his caution. One should tremble to think that some of the great churches of our day could so easily follow in the steps of congregations at Ephesus, Rome, Bethany, Midway — debating, dividing, and dying over innovations and because of unsound and ambitious leadership. Hence, he must courageously plead for vigilance, even at the risk of being "branded" by brotherhood leaders. One should tremble at the possibility of such cities as Fort Worth, Dallas, Nashville (where scores of congregations of God's people in each are serving him) becoming like the cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Lexington — cities that once were the very heart of New Testament evangelism and that now could not muster enough faithful disciples in all of them for one self-supporting congregation. One should tremble to think of the church of the 20th century being torn by the same pressures that did her so much damage in the 2nd and 19th centuries.

Yes, there is room for concern. Brethren need to think cautiously before swallowing some of the delightful-looking delicacies offered enthusiastically by ambitious promoters. Conservative brethren who skeptically lift an eyebrow and speak a word of warning about some proposals and some trends are not always "antis" who are looking for churches to split but sometimes are men who remember some lessons from history and who remember that after all, we have only one excuse for existence, to "speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent." Yes, there is enough room for concern that we should be slow to spit in the face of one who cries, "Brethren, we're drifting!" or perhaps, in more sacred phraseology, "Take heed lest ye fall!"