Vol.IV No.II Pg.6
April 1967

History Of Fence-Riding

Robert F. Turner

From SEARCH FOR ANCIENT ORDER, V.2, pp. 246-f. (Earl West) we see the dilemma of fence-straddling editors. In 1880 John F. Rowe, editor of American Christian Review, had a journalistic exchange with the more liberal Isaac Errett, of Christian Standard. Rowe opposed the liberalism developing among brethren at the time, but he was a typical forerunner of today's compromising, inconsistent, hot-then-cold editors. He wanted to preserve peace and unity among brethren, and his motives (and current motives) are not questioned. But he, and his counter-parts, fail to see that this juggling of faith and practice will not work. It is a false conception of "unity" -- however noble -- that allows fellowship with stubborn error.

When Errett wrote that by opposing the use of the organ Rowe was responsible for division, Rowe wrote:

Why does not our critic discriminate between the fact of opposing an injurious practice and compulsory toleration and endurance of such a practice? We have never said that we would declare "non-fellowship" with any church because of the presence of the organ ... The organ is not the only thing we oppose, while we are compelled to tolerate and endure it.--"

The historian, West, comments on the above: "Rowe was placed in a dilemma. On the one hand, he held that the use of the instrument was sinful; yet, on the other hand, he would fellowship preachers and congregations introducing the organ. This is precisely the position that Errett wanted Rowe to take. Despite the fact that Rowe could never see he was inconsistent, he lost considerable prestige in the brotherhood generally."

The historian continues: "When, in 1883 Rowe pressed home the declaration that division was coming, Errett managed once more to boil the issue down to a charge that Rowe was the cause of division, and Rowe once more backed into his corner, still declaring he would fellowship a church using the instrument, although he believed its use to be a sin. In 1867 Rowe had declared that an organ was permissible provided it was under the elders. Now, in 1884, he admitted that an organ was permissible provided it was a "little organ." The effect, of course was disastrous."


Common sense, as well as the "hind-sights" of our own history, should tell the fence-straddlers of our day that theirs is a disastrous course. My heart aches for the brother who is following a liberal course, accepting a "church-hood" concept that denies the basic principles of congregational independence; accepting the social gospel; denying the all-sufficiency of the Lord's church by accepting church support of human institutions; and now -- perhaps -- accepting a Calvinistic concept of the Holy Spirit. But I will not help my brother by giving him financial or moral support, even while I write an occasional article in a conservative vein.

I deplore division; but I know it must be avoided by teaching truth to those who will receive it, and be united in it, whatever the cost.