Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 17, 1955
NUMBER 44, PAGE 6,11b

"We" Have Arrived

Luther Blackmon, Houston, Texas

"In the last few years the church of Christ has come from across the tracks," is the way a prominent preacher expressed himself on the growth of the church a few years ago in a speech I heard in Palestine, Texas. I am not trying to find fault with the statement. In fact it pretty well expresses the truth with regard to what we might call the physical aspects of the church. That the church has grown numerically, financially and in influence with the "nations around us," no observing person denies. In the last few years we have built more large, imposing and expensive church buildings, and baptized more people, I would suppose, than at any time of comparable length since the apostolic era. We have indeed become "respectable" in the eyes of the world (including denominationalism) and enjoy a place in the sun of public sentiment hitherto unknown. I am tempted to pause here and confess that I, too, enjoy this almost unprecedented growth, but if there is anyone who thinks I do not (and there is I suppose) I doubt that any explanation I could make would change his mind. So if you are interested in what I have to say on this subject, let's get on with it.

With this growth that we are experiencing has come, as is always the case, corresponding difficulties and dangers. Heading this list of dangers is the "denominational concept" of the church that occupies the thinking of too many of us. Some scholarly and influential brethren deny that such is the case. One such brother, I am told, says that there can be no such thing as "church universal" action in the churches of Christ because there is no such thing as the church universal. We all know that. The church universal is simply a relationship — not an organization. But I would like to ask the brother if he thinks the churches of Christ could not be made into something universal! What does he think the Catholic Church is but an universal organization that grew out of something that had no universal organization. That is the point at issue. It would be interesting to hear some of these brethren tell us what is wrong with the Baptist Convention (I am not asking what is wrong with the Baptist Church) since the Baptist Church claims congregational autonomy.

As We Think

All movements, religious and otherwise, start and continue as the result of thinking. "As a man thinketh in his heart so is he." The Lutheran Church started as the result of Luther's thinking and attitude. This hardly needs to be argued. It follows also without argument that "Herald of Truth" radio program, elders in some churches setting themselves up as agencies to receive and spend money from other churches in works where all the churches are equally related and responsible, and all such, came about as a result of a certain type of thinking on the part of some brethren. It is not my purpose to judge their motives. The Lord will do that. My interest and concern is expressed in this question: "What were these brethren thinking when they started these programs and institutions?" When we face up to this question fairly and honestly, we will recognize the greatest danger that has faced the church of the Lord in the last fifty years.

With the dawn of this present prosperous era, good brethren began to realize the potential strength of the Lord's people. With this realization came also an awakening to the great opportunities that challenged on every hand. So far this is good. But then out of this zeal was born ,(or I should say revived) the brand of thinking that has always borne the bitter fruit of apostasy. (Let him scoff who will, but mark it down.) Men began to visualize what a great work the church could do, if only there were some way to concentrate the great strength that lies hidden in these independent congregations. This is exactly the thinking that led the brilliant and scholarly Campbell to endorse and promote the missionary society. He thought the church could better accomplish her mission if the strength of the churches could be centralized or concentrated. He knew that brotherhood action would require a brotherhood agency through which to act. His answer to the problem was the missionary society. These brethren of recent years are thinking as Campbell thought, up to a point. But they seem unwilling to follow Campbell's logic to its conclusion. They, too, believe that the church could more effectively accomplish her mission if the strength of the congregations could, in some way be concentrated. But, believing the missionary society to be wrong, they have set about to do, through the eldership of a local church, what the missionary society was set up to do. They seem to think that the whole brotherhood can operate through a single agency without that agency becoming a "brotherhood" agency. What Brother Campbell and all the others seem to have overlooked, is the fact that God evidently didn't think the church could best function in evangelizing the world by centralizing the strength of local churches. If this were the best way, certainly the wisdom of God would have provided the plan for an agency through which it might be done.

Such programs as "Herald of Truth" are the byproducts of the real danger that lies ahead of us. Just like instrumental music and the missionary societies were by-products of the real trouble in the last digression. The real trouble then was the attitude of the people toward the truth. The real trouble today is not so much what we are doing as what we are thinking. Whether we recognize it or not, this "church universal" concept is a denominational concept. Already that sentiment is giving evidence of crystallizing into a "movement." Veiled, and some not so veiled threats are being made by some of the leaders of that school of thought, to apply the ax to all who don't line up. And as for some of us, the ax will be no new experience. We have been under the ax for a long time. Last year an elder in a big central Texas church heard that I was coming to that town to hold a meeting for another congregation and he tried to persuade the preacher of that congregation to keep me away. But the preacher and the congregation where he preached didn't pay any attention to him, and I held the meeting. It was a pretty good one too, and didn't cause any trouble that I ever heard of. I had a letter this week from a preacher who is a victim of such pressure. I quote: ". . . . I met with the three elders and they laid the law down . . . . no preaching from the pulpit that calls in question any of the works in which they are even having a part." "I had not preached against any special work or institution, but my preaching was getting close." "I had started a series on the organization of the church, its work and mission . . . . I happen to know that there has been a pipeline from . . . . to .. . . for some time and the powers that be in . . . . are calling some of the plays in ...."

If I revealed the name of this preacher there would be some lifted eyebrows, I am sure, because he is quite well known, preaches for a big church and has never been known as one of the "Guardian Boys." There are lot more like him, too, thank the Lord, who will not be intimidated by any "movement." More, I am thinking, than some of the brethren in the "movement" realize.

But imagine a group of elders telling a preacher that he cannot preach on the organization and mission of the church emphasizing local autonomy because the principle preached condemns or calls in question some of their projects. I have heard this preacher preach, and hundreds of others have heard him preach on this very subject, who can testify that he preaches the truth, and that in a dignified and courteous way. Move over denominations, here we come — truly we have arrived. Surely in spirit, if not in reality.