One of the purposes of this issue of abundant life is to point out where the attitudes that divided the Lord's church so many years ago must inevitably lead. In the late 1950's and early 1960's churches of Christ across this country were torn apart by "the issues." Those issues centered on matters of Bible authority, and whether the church could hand over its God-given responsibilities to human institutions. Regrettably, many did not see the long term damage loose positions on Bible authority would do. Yet now, some thirty years later, congregations are accepting all kinds of human innovations, teaming up with denominations, and teaching every kind of false doctrine possible. The seed sown in the terrible division of '60's has brought forth its devastating crop.
I know of no better illustration of this than the following transcript of a conversation with the elders of the Granbury church of Christ in Granbury, Texas. For our readers not familiar with Granbury, let me tell you a bit about this lovely little town. Granbury is small town America. Situated about a thirty minute's drive south of Fort Worth it is Main Street, U.S.A. in every sense of the term. I say this because I do not want anyone to think the elders or the church there reflect "big city thinking" or are a "big city church." In truth, several Dallas-Fort Worth churches have taken the lead in tearing down Bible authority and the pattern for Lord's church, but now we see how such thinking has crept into even a small town like Granbury.
The setting for the remarks of these elders is a conversation they had with a young family that had begun to study Bible authority. This couple was concerned about the direction of the church and sought an audience with the elders to clarify what was believed by the leaders of the congregation. Their remarks are shocking.
For example, when asked if the elders believe the Bible is the verbally inspired Word of God one elder responded "Which part?" Another elder pointed to Paul's statement in Corinthians about "not the Lord but I say" as an example of human opinion in the Bible and then said, "So what is inspired and what is opinion?"
The question "Do you believe that all true and faithful Christians are in the church of Christ, and that none are to be found in denominations?" was answered decisively "No." A story was told of a Methodist couple that desired baptism, were baptized at the Granbury church of Christ, and then returned to the Methodists as if there was nothing wrong with that. A follow up question about the Kingdom and the church being the same and the borders of the Kingdom not extending beyond the church of Christ rated this gem of answer: "No. What about John the Baptist _ is he in the Kingdom? What is the kingdom?" A question about participating in denominational activities received this response: "Yes, I've gone to different denominational functions."
Further questioning revealed weak stands on every issue imaginable. "Do you believe that the Lord's Supper has to be observed on the first day of the week and not any other day?" Reply: "'Yes' to the first day of the week, but 'No' to not any other day. Early Christians broke bread daily . . . Some observe it on Thursdays because that is when Jesus took it." "Do you believe that God created everything in six days as per the Genesis account?" "Yes, but a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day."
The most enlightening questions pertained to Bible authority. "Do you believe that Bible authority is needed for everything that is done?" "No. There are only a few direct commandments for us to follow. As for inference - yours may be different than mine."
Obviously, a number of observations about these incredible answers should be made. As we do that, it is fitting to point out (again) that we are not dealing with a left-leaning big city liberal church. This is Granbury, Texas, not Los Angeles, California. Further, make note that these are not the responses of a seminary-trained preacher who puts "Dr." in front of his name and who lost his faith to some liberal theologians at the university. These were elders, men of some age who are expected to lead the flock and watch for its souls. Yet they not only do not care about Bible authority, they do not believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. Not surprisingly, they therefore do not believe the Lord's church to be the One Body of Christ, nor do they see denominational activities to be sinful and wrong. How can such be?
First, we should realize these men are merely the product of their times. For forty years brethren in mainstream churches of Christ have avoided the subject of Bible authority because such conversations were and are embarrassing. As the battles of the fifties and sixties wore on it became painfully obvious that the innovations brethren were proposing could not possibly be supported from scripture. For certain, there were attempts to find biblical authority for the sponsoring church arrangement and the fellowship hall. But it did not take much effort to see that the sponsoring church arrangement looked suspiciously like a mini-version of Roman Catholicism and was really little more than an attempt to make the church of Christ into a denomination. The fellowship hall fared little better. Though "fellowship" sounded so biblical (who could deny we should do that in the church's meeting house?) study quickly found that New Testament fellowship was spiritual, and had absolutely nothing to do with coffee, donuts, or potlucks. The fellowship hall was exposed as the recreational-social bamboozle that it is. Faced with the fact that these favorite projects could not possibly be defended from scripture many brethren simply withdrew from the battlefield, refused to discuss the matter further, and worst of all, quit talking about Bible authority even among themselves. An attitude began to prevail that Bible authority was something that "anti" crowd was interested in, and we certainly are not going to stoop to their level! Worst of all, there was the ever present fear that to teaching on establishing Bible authority and the importance of following the New Testament pattern for the church might lead to someone jumping up and asking about the open and evident violations of that pattern currently going on right here. Thus, Bible authority became a taboo subject, out of sight and out of mind for many brethren. If you don't believe such really happened just ask a member of a mainstream church of Christ what "Bible authority" means or how to establish it. Chances are extremely good you will be met with a blank stare. These folks don't know about it because they haven't been told about it, or taught how essential it is. The elders of the church in Granbury simply reflect what has been a common situation across the country.
Second, mark carefully that these men also demonstrate the prevailing feeling that the church needs to be more open to denominations. This was part of the debacle in the '60's as well. In fact, some have shrewdly observed that this attitude was the reason for the innovations of that time. Some brethren were tired of being the little church across the tracks. They were ready to join up with the big boys and be just as important and impressive (in man's eyes) as the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians. The war was over, the world was open for evangelism, every denomination had a TV program, and so it was past time that the church of Christ made its mark on the map too! If unscriptural means had to be used to become a "somebody" on the American religious scene that could be overlooked. What mattered was making sure the church took its place among the "real" churches in the country. Such thinking pushed the innovations of the sixties and continue to push the changes we see in churches today. Brethren are tired of being the outcasts of America's religious circle. They long to be part of the ministerial alliance, the Easter interdenominational service, and every "good work" all the local churches are pitching in together to do. Condemning denominational division as wrong and a travesty against the Body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:10ff) is something that cannot go on in such a climate. Instead, baptizing folks and sending them back to the Methodists works well. Further, participating and attending denominational functions will reinforce to the community that the local church of Christ is just another denomination like everyone else _ no worse, and certainly no better. After all, we're all headed to heaven, just by different roads, right? Such an unscriptural concept makes Jesus' plea for unity (John 17:21ff) and promise that He is the one and only way to the Father (John 14:6ff) a farce. Yet it is these kinds of ideas that have led churches to the extremes that Granbury represents.
Few readers of abundant life will not be genuinely upset by what the Granbury elders said and believe. Unfortunately, some of our readers are part of congregations where the toxic seeds that led to the Granbury disaster are even now present. A lack of respect for biblical authority, as seen in the support of human institutions and in the maintaining of a fellowship hall, exists. This may not be the full-blown apostasy that so many congregations are demonstrating. And yes, I know that many will emphatically deny they will ever reach the disastrous ends that other churches have. "Our fellowship hall will never lead to a million-dollar family life center" some say. "Our contributions to big brotherhood projects will not cause us to denominationalize the church" others protest. But in principle these congregations have already adopted the basic approaches to scripture and the church that can only lead to more and more apostasy. When members of "conservative" mainstream churches claim that their unscriptural innovations will not lead to more of the same I can only wonder if folks in Granbury said the very same thing _ years ago.
I know some folks at an "institutional" church in east Texas. In the sixties these brethren adopted the innovations of the times. Recently, the elders held a congregational input meeting to solicit ideas about how to help the church grow. Several very liberal ideas were bandied about by younger members, and the elders were trying hard to hold the line against these outrageously unscriptural ideas. Alas, their failure was evident when a young man snapped, "The only thing that is going to help this church is a few funerals." His (and many others) clear intention is to change the church into an outright denomination. Only a few old die-hards who won't quite go that far stop him. Yet when a generation is gone the changes they want will come to pass (and quickly). With great shame this older generation is only now realizing that they introduced the spirit of liberalism and lack of respect for authority that today is bringing forth bitter fruit.
Brethren, when we will learn from our history? A little apostasy always goes a long, long way! We call on Christians everywhere to return to the old paths once again, to respect Bible authority once again, and to be ready to give book, chapter and verse for every practice once again. When such is done there will be changes in some congregations, and some exoduses from others. But those who will quit paying lip-service to Bible authority and get serious about it will be well-rewarded by our Lord and Savior. "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:17).