Vol.XIX No.I Pg.2
March 1982

The Next "Issue"

Robert F. Turner

"Brother Turner, what will be the next 'issue' facing the church?" When I first heard that, many years ago, I thought brethren who knew I traveled a lot were simply asking my opinion on church conditions. But the question persists and is so related to matching symptoms it may indicate a "syndrome — a group of concurrent symptoms characterizing a disease." A big "issue" facing the church may be our insistence upon having some "issue, facing the church.

No doubt the virus was present in the early apostate church, for as an institutional concept developed, emphasis switched from guarding "souls" (Heb. 13:17; Titus 1:9-11) to protecting the institution. Reformation sectarianism fostered a "protect our institution" concept; so that soundness and purity of the individual saint became secondary to "church" image.

Then Restoration principles produced a "movement" that could have issues and divide. The Missionary Society cracked "the church," and instrumental music divided "it." Recent institutional issues caused us to review earlier problems, and maybe we have come to expect "issues" that "divide the church. Preoccupation with the idea may actually promote it, and is not a "healthful" sign. The local church is an organized entity, and this "team" may divide — become two teams, serving the Lord; oh, segments of the original team may cease to serve the Lord, in which case His "church" did not divide — "they went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 Jn. 2:19). If we truly believe in independent congregations, this is the extent of church division. Numbers, keeping the building, or traditional consistency have nothing to do with God-recognized identity. His word is the determining factor.

Erroneous teaching and practice will always be present. There will be times when large numbers of brethren will err — certain "issues" will demand special attention. But calling every difference a "church issue" and lining up sides on that basis promotes a church-hood institutional concept and is a sure way to spread the disease. Families and social groups will pull together; name-calling and flag-waving will segregate people who know precious little about the real problem. Editors and preachers who thrive on little more than "issues" become lopsided. When our thinking is chiefly "reaction," we tend to neglect well-rounded Bible studies. The best defense against divisive issues is a brotherhood well taught on the Bible as a whole, and hard at work.