Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 3, 1953
NUMBER 30, PAGE 11-12b

ACC Lecture, 1939, "Dangers Facing The Church"

Guy N. Woods, Memphis, Tennessee

We are unable to view the future with that unalloyed optimism which seems so characteristic of some. That God's people will ultimately triumph, we have not the slightest doubt; yet we think we see on the horizon signs which augur ill for the cause of primitive New Testament Christianity. He is a poor observer of men and of things who cannot see slowly developing trends utterly subversive of the principles which thus far have motivated us. There is being made a determined and persistent effort to prepare the mind of the brotherhood for changes, revolutionary changes, which will work ruin for churches of Christ if permitted to succeed. We propose herein to instance a few:

1.The Tendency Toward Institutionalism.

The ship of Zion has floundered more than once on the sandbar of institutionalism. The tendency to organize is a characteristic of the age. On the theory that the end justifies the means, brethren have not scrupled to form organizations in the church to do work the church itself was designed to do. All such organizations usurp the work of the church, and are unnecessary and sinful. The veteran John S. Sweeney well said, "Christians do not need to spend time and means organizing and fostering such societies. The church of God is spiritual house enough for us to live in, temple enough for us to worship in, vineyard enough for us to work in, husbandry enough for us to tend, building enough for us to work on, army enough for us to march, drill and fight in. People who are contending, as they say, for primitive Christianity, for New Testament Christianity, should stand for the church of the New Testament, and leave others to spend their time and money on human societies, if they cannot be persuaded to do better." This writer has ever been unable to appreciate the logic of those who affect to see grave danger in Missionary Societies, but scruple not to form a similar organization for the purpose of caring for orphans and teaching young men to be gospel preachers. Of course it is right for the church to care for the "fatherless and widows in their affliction," but this work should be done by and through the church, with the elders having the oversight thereof, and not through boards and conclaves unknown to the New Testament. In this connection it is a pleasure to commend to the brotherhood Tipton Orphans Home, Tipton, Oklahoma. The work there is entirely scriptural, being managed and conducted by the elders of the church in Tipton, Oklahoma, aided by funds sent to them by the elders of other congregations round about. We here and now declare our protest against any other method or arrangement for accomplishing this work.

2.The Pastor System.

It will not he seriously denied that there is an arrangement in operation in the church of Christ which bears a suspicious similarity to the pastor system of the denominations. It is idle to deny this. Elders have, in many instances employed an evangelist to feed the flock and take the oversight thereof, to the utter neglect of the work themselves. It is not surprising that, where this is done, the elders are, too often, regarded as but mere figure-heads, without authority and influence in the congregation. The elders are the pastors of the flock, and not the evangelist; and it is their duty to care for it and tend it. Evangelists are to carry the glad tidings of salvation to the lost, and preach the gospel in regions where it is not known. These facts are so obvious and so well known among us, we attempt no defense of them here. Yet, there is a disposition on the part of many congregations to ignore this and thus to create a new office in the church by transforming the evangelist into a pastor with-duties, powers, and responsibilities which belong to the elders alone, requiring him to spend his entire time engaged in this work, and in some instances absolutely forbidding him to extend his labors beyond the limits of the congregation he serves. We cannot but regard this situation as an evil and alarming tendency of the times. It is naturally to be expected that the preachers recognizing the situation, and the responsibility of carrying on the work, themselves, seize authority which the Lord has never given them. Not frequently do we hear men speak of "my elders," "taking charge of the church," etc., etc., expressions which indicate that the preachers have accepted the situation as it is. We believe that the preachers are becoming the masters of the churches, instead of their servants.

Able brethren throughout the brotherhood are becoming more and more alarmed and fearful of the arrangement now in operation among us. It is time that the elders assert their authority, no longer shirk the responsibility that is theirs, and begin to do the work the Lord expects them to do, thus releasing the preachers to carry the gospel to the lost. We know of nothing that will serve to create more respect for the elderships and restore to them the authority and prestige that is rightfully theirs, than this. We believe that the pernicious and church-destroying doctrine of majority-rule is an outgrowth of the incipient pastor-system now in operation among us. Other evils will surely result if a halt is not soon called. Moses E. Lard said, "The modern office of pastor is an office not known in the New Testament; hence the limit of power which may be claimed to belong to it is not therein laid down. Consequently it is extremely difficult to say when the person who fills the office is usurping power which does not belong to him. Indeed, this cannot be done. He is clearly a lawless one; and may, if he sees fit, go to great lengths, and do great mischief before he can be checked. To me, I am free to say, the points of resemblance between pastor, priest, and pope are more than the mere circumstance that each word begins with a p. From pastor to priest is only a short step, from priest to pope only a long one; still the step has been taken; and for one, I am afraid to run risks; at least I think it safest not to run them. Let us see to it that the ancient practice is our model, and the ancient scriptures our sole guide in this and all other matters. That our churches need the most constant care, I well know, and also that without it, even the best of them must decline; but let us create no imaginary office, no imaginary officer, in order to meet the case. Better is no church with the word of God unbroken than is the best of so-called churches reared on its ruins." (Lard's Quarterly, 1865, p. 259)

3.Tendencies Toward Compromise.

There has been an ever increasing tendency in the past few years to seek a change in the methods that have formerly motivated us in our attitude toward the denominational world. Brethren have contended for a different method of approach, have urged a modified view of the relation we sustain to the world. Particularly is this true with reference to the tactics that should characterize us in discussing the differences between the New Testament church and the denominations. As a result debates with Sectarians have become unpopular, strong preaching is frowned upon, and a generally soft attitude has become the order of the day. In the field of journalism, especially, has the battle waxed warm. It is urged that argumentation and controversy have no place in a religious journal; that is detrimental to the Cause to hand copies of our papers containing such to friends not Christians, and that the papers should be purged of all such. It is strange that proponents of this theory do not see that their argument is equally valid against the New Testament itself. Paul withstood Peter to the face because he was to be blamed; and later told the world about it in his epistle to the churches of Galatia. Paul and Barnabas dissented so sharply over John Mark that they parted company. Evidently, Luke did not feel the need of suppressing this interesting bit of information concerning those men. Many other similar accounts are recorded with great detail in the book of God. Indeed, we hesitate not to assert that this freedom to investigate and criticize, is the one safeguard against corruption of doctrine and innovation in worship. Only the realization that what we write is to be subjected to the most minute examination and the severest investigation will keep us from apostasy in matters of doctrine. It is indeed strange that anyone who has regard for the Lord and His word would seek to suppress criticism, or to lift his utterances above the level of investigation. The very attempt smacks suspiciously of the papacy.