Vol.II No.IV Pg.6
May 1965

The "Issue" 100 Years Ago

Robert F. Turner

The struggle of the independent local congregation against organized brotherhood activities is ever present. This month we quote from "Search For The Ancient Order," a two-volume history of the church by Earl West. (Vol. 2, P.386-f) (Available in Burnet County Library) 100 years ago the "issue" was exactly what it is today: centralization, or local independence.


"Alexander Campbell and a corps of younger preachers consisting of Isaac Errett, W. K. Pendleton, C. L. Loos, W. T. Moore, and D. S. Burnet satisfied their minds that human institutions, whatever their nature, were acceptable to the Lord.

The church universal, not the church local, was divinely commissioned to evangelize the world, teach the Bible, and exercise benevolence in works of charity. Since God had not told the church what methods to use to do its work, any method the best wisdom of the church devised was permissible on the grounds of expediency. And so, largely through the influence of Campbell and his younger corps of lieutenants, the missionary society was inaugurated. So also were Bible Societies, Publication Societies, Educational Societies, and Bible Colleges. The church could establish, maintain, own and operate these human institutions. In doing so it was using a method which God had left the church at liberty to use. This was one school of thought.

These, however, of this school of thought recognized prominent dangers. Chief of these was that the child of their creation might become strong enough to become their master. The human institutions must be subservient to the church, not masters over it. The church must control the institutions, not the institutions the church. Some, fully cognizant of this danger, launched into the promotion of these institutions with the same disquietness of an individual nursing a baby tiger. There was always the question, when the monster would grow up, would it devour the person that fed it?

In the process of time their worst fears were realized. J. H. Garrison and the Christian-Evangelist cried more and more for centralization. The General Convention should become the voice of the brotherhood and the C-E, the agent of that voice. The Christian Standard viewed this trend with alarm, and the result was-- and is-everything but an open division in these ranks.

Meanwhile others could not accept the viewpoint of Campbell and his lieutenants. They could find no scriptural warrant for the church universal acting as the church universal in an organic sense to do anything.

The formation of human institutions to do the work of the church was a human addition do a divine plan; an assumption of the prerogative of God in making laws for His people, besides being a threat to the local independence and autonomy of the individual congregation. On this basis Jacob Creath, Jr. and Tolbert Fanning waged a relentless war against the Society."