Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 12, 1957
NUMBER 32, PAGE 4-5b

"Fifty Years Of Attack And Controversy"

F. Y. T.

Fifty Years Of Attack and Controversy is the name of a book edited by Stephen J. Corey, and published in 1953 by the Christian Board of Publication in St. Louis, Missouri. It makes fascinating reading, for it deals with the tragic (but inevitable) split within the ranks of the Disciples of Christ.

Casual students of church history may have missed the significance of the fact that the Restoration Movement, inaugurated by Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, and other stalwarts had a two-fold objective or mission: (1) to bring unity to the torn and discordant sects which make up the broad stream of what is referred to as Protestant "Christendom", and (2) to base this unity on a restored New Testament order of things., The two objectives are by no means the same, and depending on which one or the other becomes dominant are possibly so incompatible as to make a break within the ranks of their promoters inevitable.

Through the years, historically, the Churches of Christ have emphasized the second objective as primary, while the Disciples of Christ have emphasized the first objective. This schizophrenia was not apparent in the early years of the movement, although its seeds are in the light of later developments clearly visible in the writings of Campbell. The first open evidence of a cleavage of objectives came with the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society at Cincinnati, Ohio, in the year 1849. It was hardly realized at the time what was happening; many even of those who later clearly saw the implications were at first swept off their feet by the enthusiasm and worthy aims of the society movement. But this was the opening wedge, the beginning of the certain split between that group which was set to "restore New Testament Christianity" and that group which was dedicated to the task of "uniting the denominations." The final break did not come for fifty years.

Almost simultaneous with the ultimate and accepted cleavage between the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, the latter group began to develop internal dissension and bitter controversy. This controversy grew out of the unwillingness of the conservative element in the Disciples of Christ group to accept the application of the principles they had so boldly espoused and advanced. Chief organ and publication of the Disciples of Christ was the Christian Standard, a weekly journal begun in 1866 by Isaac Errett, taken over at his death in 1888 by his son, Russell. This journal was passionately dedicated to the Missionary Society and to instrumental music. More than any other single influence in the Restoration Movement it can be credited with the promotion of the split between the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. It frankly and openly advocated the Missionary Society and instrumental music on the ground that "there is no pattern" for either organized cooperation or Christian worship, and that these things were only "expedients."

Finally, the tragic break came. Churches all over the nation were torn asunder, bitterness and strife took control; buildings were locked by brethren against brethren; lawsuits and seizures, either legal or illegal, gave the Disciples of Christ control of the vast majority of the buildings which had been erected. Their movement was riding high, wide, and handsome.

Then came the aftermath!

While the Churches of Christ, robbed of their meeting-houses, and forced into obscurity and defeatism by the debacle, were licking their wounds and gathering strength to start all over again, the Disciples of Christ, for the first time, began to have an inkling of the meaning and significance of the "principles which they had accepted. Some of the ablest of them began to understand and realize that by their ruthless build-up of the Missionary Society and promotion of it to the destruction of the peace and unity of God's people, they had accepted principles and espoused doctrines which, when brought to fruition, would inescapably turn the Disciples of Christ into liberalism, modernism, and make of their movement nothing other than an ultra-liberal denomination.

Fifty Years Of Attack and Controversy is a history of the fight within the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) between the conservative group and the liberal group, with the final irrevocable separation and division of the denomination. Dr. Corey, long-time leader of the liberals, declares in his book, "The launching of direct opposition and the campaign of propaganda against our organized life began shortly after 1900 and by 1910 was in full swing." (Introduction page 11.) Little by little the liberal group gained control of the denominational machinery — the Missionary Societies, the Benevolent Associations, the Board of Church Extension, the Publication Societies, the Pension Fund, the Board of Higher Education, etc. etc. (There are a score or more of national agencies and associations, constantly changing, combining, dividing, re-forming, and scores, if not hundreds of state and local organizations.)

For fifty years the Christian Standard waged a bitter battle against this insidious and growing control — apparently never realizing (and even to this good date, 1957, still unaware) that their own Isaac Errett was the father of this Frankenstein monster. It was Errett's promotion of the Societies, and his abandonment of an appeal to "Bible authority" that made inevitable the liberalism which has finally come to control the Disciples of Christ in their "organized life." Once Errett had agreed to the idea that "we don't have to cite scriptural authority" for what we do, there was no stopping place. The only governing principle then was the "sanctified common sense" of the leaders of the movement. Total departure from New Testament ground was certain.

To a member of the Church of Christ there is a certain irony in the situation. For the Disciples of Christ have come to the very end which they were warned against. All through the 1870's, 1880's, 1890's, and early 1900's faithful gospel preachers were pleading with the Christian Church NOT to force division by their opinions, NOT to accept and promote that for which they could not give a "thus saith the Lord," NOT to divide the body of Christ by the addition of outside organizations and items of worship for which they could cite no Bible authority.

Their pleas were brushed aside with the brusque and unbrotherly comment that "there is no pattern" for church organization — therefore the Churches of Christ were trying to legislate where God had not legislated! Warnings were unheeded, tearful pleas were ignored, tolerance and patience were forgotten.

And now has come the harvest! The Christian Standard, chief promoter of the Missionary Societies in the early years, has become the bitterest critic and most implacable foe the Societies ever had! And has turned right around and made the same fatal error again by forming ANOTHER Missionary Society. They have not yet realized that the error is in the existence of such a society, rather than in the theology of the men who control it!

It is hardly charitable to say, "We told you so," but we wonder what Isaac Errett would say now if he could see his handiwork.

Once that first step is taken away from a "thus saith the Lord," there is no stopping place.