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The lesson tonight will be on the problem that arose among brethren in 1849 with the establishment of the American Christian Missionary Society, with Alexander Campbell as the first president. It was a departure from “speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent.”
In 1965, William Banowsky wrote a book, by the above title, tracing events in churches basically from speakers at the Abilene Christian College lectures. He was in agreement with the movement toward church supported institutions, and sponsoring churches, but gave an accurate discussion of the basic problem that arose over those things.
Referring to the division that brought into existence the Christian Church, he said: “The two items of controversy traditionally assigned to the disciples’ division as its dissension producing causes were the introduction of instruments of music in worship and the performance of missionary work by means of extra-congregational societies...They were unquestionably, the tangible, emotion-packed issues of specific contention…These were the issues of division, to be sure. But there is a difference between issues and causes. It may be categorically stated that neither the missionary society, nor L.L. Pinkerton’s melodeon was the primary cause. Both were secondary. Both were issues. Both were results. And the results were occasioned by the real root cause: a loss of respect among restorationists for the ‘New Testament as a perfect constitution for the worship, discipline and government of the New Testament Church, and as a perfect rule for the particular duties of its members.’ That premise from Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address was no longer acceptable to liberal disciples” (pg. 51,52).
He said: “L.L. Brigance analyzed the real cause: ‘The little end of the tap–root of the division in the ranks of the Restoration movement is not instruments of music and human societies, but a lack of respect for the authority of God’s word. The bedrock question is, and has been throughout, one of religious authority. Once trusted and infallible authority has been undermined, as it was with the great segment of the disciples, the gateway to unlimited apostasy has been opened...the Christian Church is now a denomination which no longer subscribes to the notion that the New Testament contains the pattern authority for the organization, work and worship of the church” (pg. 55,56).
Farmers know that when you let one pig, or cow, go through a hole in the fence, others will go through the same hole and the hole will grow larger! That is spiritually what happened in the church in the 1800’s and is happening again. Many brethren have no concept of how to establish Bible authority. One preacher said “precept, example and necessary inference, and generic and specific authority is Greek to me.” Those who do not know how to establish authority will certainly lose all respect for Bible authority.
When brethren do not respect Bible authority, they, like Israel, look to the nations about them to see how things should be done. Brother Banowsky, who agreed with the sponsoring church arrangement said: “They could not resist the temptation to shop about and contrast their plight with the obvious strong points in denominational machinery. Thus, they sought for some practical, scriptural means of brotherhood-wide co-ordination without creating an agency for brotherhood-wide control” (p. 313). This is where brethren found the sponsoring church arrangement.
In 1919, F.B. Shepherd said: “Shall the church in the aggregate send out missionaries? If so, it needs some official board and the Bible makes no provision for such. Is it not the God-ordained appointment of the local institution?” (p. 314).
In 1920, M.C. Kurfees said: “two or more churches, if need be, may co-operate in the work...and in such a case, each church maintains its own independence and sends directly to the support of the missionary in the field” (p. 314).
We should remember that if there is no pattern (no divinely revealed way) to do a thing, there is no wrong way. When brethren decide that the New Testament is not a pattern, or do not know how to apply it, there is no limit to their apostasy—except their own wisdom.
Copyright Midway Church of Christ 2014 This page last modified July 03, 2014