Vol.XI No.II Pg.6
April 1974

Fatal "Rally Points"

Robert F. Turner

In 1966, when Dr. Edwin Harrell published his book, Quest For A Christian America, a footnote) page 9) was widely copied and discussed. In the minds of many conservative men it was a thrust at institutionalism, and a blue-print of what was taking place as liberals rallied about Herald of Truth and other institutional movements, to the dividing of brethren. The comparison is valid— but we must not fail to note that gospel papers were also mentioned as rally points. Maybe we should read Ed Harrell again —with a closer look at ourselves.

The ingredients necessary for actual division at the local level were the development of some basic issues which were clear enough and important enough for congregations and individuals to break fellowship— to cease to recognize one another as true churches of Christ— and the development of institutions to act as brotherhood-wide propagators of the divergent views and to serve as tangible power concentrations for the factions to unite around. In short, what constituted division among the Disciples of Christ was simply the rupturing of the tenuous union which existed a union which consisted of fellowship and common institutional loyalties.

In the Disciples-Church of Christ division the support of or opposition to the use of instrumental music in worship and organized missionary societies supplied the major issues. In the absence of extra-congregational organization, the factions developed a nebulous sort of group consciousness by identifying with the outstanding institutions supporting their position. The antis were Advocate men while the progressives were society men or Standard men. The process of division took place at the local level where congregations, parts of congregations, and individuals eventually drifted into the orbit of one of the power concentrations.

Actually the schism of the nineteenth century was not a clear-cut halving. There remained for several decades a strong middle-of-the-road: group which refused to disfellowship either of the two factions. Although these moderates eventually accepted: the liberal position on the issues, they remained a conservative complex within the Disciples which in the twentieth century generated a new division with new issues and new power concentrations. Within the Churches of Christ today the same complex theological and sociological partitioning is slowly becoming clear. Antis, liberals, and middle-of the-roaders are slowly dividing the local congregations into three distinct factions which are definable only in terms of issues and institutional loyalties.

Brethren may rally about well-known (and therefore influential) gospel preachers or congregations. We may rationalize that since they teach truth, to support them is to support truth. But even Paul was one step removed from the true center for loyalty, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). We must not allow school, paper, or even preacher loyalties to sever us from Christ, brethren, and heaven.