Scarcely A Ripple
W. P. Reedy has "changed fellowships" and Carl Etter has "left the Church of Christ." Both went to the Congregationalists. Jimmie Lovell let them use up a couple of pages of the West Coast Christian in explanation of the whys and wherefores of their change. From the manner in which he wrings his hands and carries on Jimmie evidently thinks he is standing before stark and unprecedented tragedy. But it has not shocked him into speechlessness. He says:
"The whole matter has been as a sore spot in my heart, and God is certain to be displeased with all of us. I feel, as I reported, that much fault is ours, and the fact that fewer than two dozen of you brethren who read the notice bothered to spend a three cent stamp on them proves what I mean. Let any one of us begin to weaken, and the greatest sport of our group seems to be in driving him down."
His idea seems to be that because a couple of preachers, who have confessedly done a lot of wobbling for some years, have decided that the spiritual grazing is greener in denominational pastures, that much of the blame is to be placed on the church. Of course Brother Reedy and Brother Etter give the church credit for all the blame. They have suffered untold agony for years trying to put up with our narrowness and lack of appreciation of their advanced attainments in spiritual discernment. They kept on growing or swelling until they busted right out of the straitjacket of our intolerance and landed smack in the middle of the Congregationalists. They profess to have found the peace they long have sought, even if it has broken Jimmie's heart and thrown him into a fit of semi-hysterics. His effort to saddle the blame on the rest of us suggests that if the church were a circus, Jimmie could get the place of head-clown by acclamation. When these two prize horses walked off and vamoosed the ranch the brethren did not trouble to lock the door of the empty stable with a three-cent stamp! It caused scarcely a ripple. As important as I am in kingdom affairs, I did not even know about this frisky escapade of our run-away celebrities until right recently, and until the Congregationalists had time to get over the first shock of the arrival of visitors from another planet. However, I may say this in my own defense. I am somewhat old-fashioned and locally minded. My diocese is not as wide as Jimmie's seems to be. I have too much to look after close to home to try to act as shepherd for the whole flock.
Jimmie thinks these wandering stars "are standing in the presence of the sin against the Holy Spirit--lost." It does look a little like it from this distance and it is not likely that a shower of three-cents stamps will snatch them from the burning. Since he is anxious to assume some of the blame, it occurs to me that possibly some of it is his. As I glance over the long list of complaints and charges of the self-righteous delinquents, I recognize several that Jimmie has made and repeated over and over again in the West Coast Christian over a long period. It may be that these men came to the conclusion that the church is as bad as Jimmie has been saying that it is, and "left" it. What do you mean--"much fault is ours"? Two preachers got smarter than God and left the church. You needn't look at me! I've done some fairly mean things in my time but I didn't have anything to do with this. And after reading what they have to say in the way of childish and lame excuses, I am not going to join Jimmie in calling mourners because "fewer than two dozenbothered to spend a three-cent stamp on them." In view of the circumstances it would look like a prodigal waste of the Lord's money. In a way Jimmie derives some comfort from our failure in the use of stamps. He claims that it "proves what I mean." Evidently it doesn't take much to prove what Jimmie means.
As lamentable as it is, there is nothing new in men becoming wise above what is written and leaving the church. It happened in the days of the apostles and has been going on all the way from trickles to floods and back ever since. I need not take up space to cite the particulars. The departed customarily sing a swan-song of self-justification. Their change did not come suddenly. They endured much pain in arriving at a decision. They needed more room in which to exercise their advanced conceptions of truth. They were victims of intolerance on the part of ignorant and creed-bound minds. And finally they enjoy a peace they never knew before they left home. And frankly I doubt it.
Brother Reedy and Brother Etter have followed the usual pattern. All do not land with the Congregationalists. Some go digressive and some just go nuts. One brilliant young preacher climbed to the top round of the educational ladder, became somewhat of a national figure in scholarship and politics. He was and is interviewed and written up, and modestly confessed that when he "discovered science he lost his faith." A sorry swap I call it. His own brother quotes him as saying that when he looks down from the top of the ladder he has "an empty feeling." I should think as much.
As I look over the loquacious and self-written obituaries of the departed, their wailing complaints are neither new enough nor true enough to even be irritating. They are for the most part echoes of charges that sectarian debaters and partisan bigots have been making for many years. Reedy and Etter will have no more success in proving these charges than others have had. "Twenty unwritten creeds;" "interested in heresy hunting;" "refusing to hear those who have persisted in their quest for truth;" "the Church of Christ is based upon a superficial interpretation of the Bible and is fundamentally in error;" "forbids the voicing of any newly discovered truths or the expression of honest convictions;" "the church has devised a formal pattern, to which one must conform even to stereotyped phraseology;" "parley over matters of second-rate importance"; "pre-conceived and inherited theories of Biblical inspiration"; "rejecting large portions of the Bible on the grounds that it was written to another people or a different age;" "some of the most cherished doctrines of the Church of Christ burst as iridescent bubbles when exposed to the searchlight of the scientific approach in religion;" "is the most denominational of all denominations;" and on and on in the same vein, they wander. One thing is discernible. Brother Reedy is more reasonable and has a better spirit than Brother Etter. The latter displays too much venom and bitterness to suggest that he has landed in the bosom of peace and happiness in his great change-over. And further, there is more than a suggestion that self-pity and self-delusions as to their own attainments in spiritual discernment and advancement in knowledge and wisdom, get some men into such a state of mind that they can't tell the truth about other people. It is obvious that the worse they can make the church look, the better excuse they will appear to have for the step they have taken. It is a sorry trick, but that's it.
Sure, there is some ignorance, intolerance, factionalism and downright cussedness of several varieties in the church. They had it in Corinth and other churches in Paul's day but it was still "the church of God which is in Corinth." A Christian is just being childish and silly when he contends that he is not free to speak out against sin anywhere at any time. The talking-fest constantly going on in churches of Christ by both the wise and the foolish is a loud answer to the charge that we have no freedom of expression. How could we so abuse what we do not have?
If things are as bad as Brother Reedy says they are, he seems to be acting with poor grace. For some years he was associated with one of the most intolerant "groups" in the church. He helped create the sorry mess. It looks like he ought to stay and help clean it up instead of holding his nose and running off to a denomination which he confesses is not the church of Christ and is only in part, a part of it and he is not sure which part that is. The confusion of the brother ought to be embarrassing.
There really isn't much difficulty involved in properly appraising this little situation which has scarcely caused a ripple in the church. If these two black sheep know what they are bleating about, they have been wrong all the time. They confess that they have belonged to a denomination "so labeled" "the Church of Christ" which does not include all true Christians.
Such a denomination regardless of what it is called is both unscriptural and anti-scriptural. These brethren should never have joined it, much less stayed in it as long as they did. The church of Christ is the family of God, including all the children of God. So at best, whichever way you want to look at it, these brethren have got out of one denomination and landed in another one. The one they now belong to is smaller than the body of Christ and bigger than a local congregation of Christians and is not the church of Christ in any sense as it is defined by New Testament teaching. At best they have just jumped out of the fire into the frying pan. At worst it is the other way round.
I cannot help but feel a little "smug" even though it seems to irritate the departed brethren. I believe that Baptists used to call it "the Campbellite grin." Brother Etter seems to be trying to be as ugly as the Baptists, but I don't think he will ever make it. His intentions may be pointed in that direction but he has neither the ability nor the practice to be an artist in that line. Nobody can really do it like a Baptist can. Now, I have been a Christian and a member of the church of Christ, lo, these many years. I have never joined a denomination by that or any other name. I have never been handicapped in expressing myself on any matter I thought needed talking about. Anybody in the church, or out for that matter, is free to try to set me right wherein he thinks I am wrong. I have been choused around a good deal in my time, but there is not enough meanness in circulation either in or out of the church to drive me into a denomination which is, by common consent, not the church of Christ, including all true Christians.
These befuddled brethren appear to be greatly worried because some of us are slow in recognizing the Christians whom they feel they know are among the denominations. They are a bit inconsistent at this point for they appear to admit that there are some members of the denomination they have joined who are not Christians and that nobody but God knows who are and who are not. Then why be too exacting of us, especially when sheep away from home are not always easy to locate? There were no Christians in the denominations in New Testament days because there were no denominations for them to get into. However, they did get into a lot of things they should have stayed out of and it kept the shepherds quite busy looking after them. Christians are still getting into things they ought to stay out of, possibly including some respectable denominations. If there are any in the denominations they are undoubtedly where they ought not to be. If Brother Reedy and Brother Etter are still Christians in the "true" sense, then there are at least two Christians in a denomination. A couple of babes lost in the woods, so to speak. Jimmie is sure they stand face to face with the sin against the Holy Ghost and are lost. Not being as dogmatic and intolerant of human waywardness as Jimmie is, I think I'll for the present at least refer their case to the Lord. However, I do know that the Lord sometimes if not oftener blots some names out of his church book, scratches them off. Nor can I assure them a clear signal on the detour they are making for glory. From my observation post, it looks like it couldn't possibly be any better than a hard climb and a tight squeeze. I'm terribly afraid they can't make it, considering the opportunities they have had for knowing better.
Now, what is really the matter with these brethren? We do not have to guess for they have told us. They have told us some of the faults of the church and have exaggerated to the point of prevarication, but that isn't near all they have done. At the same time they have told us what is the matter with them. The church which has in it some rather weak specimens of humanity struggling along trying to get to heaven by the grace of God, has plenty the matter with it, humanly speaking; but after that subject has been exhausted, that is still not the trouble with Reedy and Etter.
They have been "denied in the Church of Christ a whole hearted fellowship in which we could raise our family" and been hounded and abused by "heresy-hunters" and their intellectual freedom has been restricted by intolerance, etc. Well, I wonder! I have done a little thinking and talking in my time, have run into some intolerance and hobbyistic foolishness, including the kind that Brother Reedy used to sponsor, but I have not felt any strictures on my freedom. I have also raised a family in some, "whole-hearted fellowship" and been kicked around some to boot, but then I did not expect perfection from the brethren when I started out and I haven't been disappointed. When some heresy-hunter decides to run me off into some denomination for shelter, I think I can promise him a show that would justify an admission fee and give the West Coast Christian, a case of chills.
A real heresy-hunter is all right and has divine credentials. But he must trail and tree heretics and not become a nuisance by unduly heckling the Lord's people. A bird dog is good when he finds birds, but he can become exasperating if he chases rabbits. Judging from what Brother Reedy and Brother Etter reveal regarding themselves, the heresy-hunters did not have to smell around much. They hit a hot trail that led them right into the Congregational Church. Take Brother Etter, for instance. He says that "in order to preserve preconceived and inherited theories of Biblical inspiration and interpretation we vilify God before our youth by identifying him with the wars of the Jews and the slaughter of ancient races." God then did not authorize Saul to destroy the Amalekites and Samuel did wrong when he hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord! God did not authorize Israel to make war on the nations of Canaan or take their land! Those who so hold "vilify God before our youth." If Brother Etter should favor us with his un-inherited views of inspiration it would undoubtedly throw more light on "Why We Left The Church of Christ." He thinks that "instrumental music is an incidental" along with "the modern hymnal and many other things" of a purely incidental character. He didn't tell us what he thinks of the action or necessity of baptism. Brother Reedy who was once so intolerant will never again he says make instrumental music an issue. Since he is now with the Congregationalists we can think of a lot of things he will no longer make an issue of, if he stays with them. How could these brethren feel that churches of Christ should extend them "whole-hearted fellowship" when they entertained such views?
Speaking of liberty, I enjoy one priceless liberty that neither Brother Reedy nor Brother Etter can ever have again if they remain where they are. I can preach the gospel. They cannot. If they are minded to test the matter, let them try to lead out on the New Testament church, its establishment, its terms of membership, the covenants, baptism, its action, subjects and design. There are some other things but this will do to begin with. Let them stick to the book and "preach the word" and "be of "whole-hearted fellowship"! They will enjoy of "whole-hearted fellowship!" They will enjoy freedom in Congregationalism because they feel no longer bound to preach the whole truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Farewell, brethren. While you are trying to enjoy a new-found freedom in an unscriptural liberalism, we propose to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints."
A footnote for Brother Lovell. If you think that three-cent stamps can either prevent or cure this sort of thing among fidgety malcontents among the brethren, it might be a good idea to start a campaign and stick a few dozen on Brother Earnest Beam. Some of his late symptoms are alarming. It appears to be too late to do a man any good after he lands among the Congregationalists. It would not surprise me at all if Carl Etter should start to calling us Campbellites.