Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 13, 1969

Heartache From A Headache Ball

Samuel D. Heaton

The sight of a swinging headache ball crashing into an old and dilapidated building is fascinating, and has made "sidewalk superintendents" of young and old alike for any who can spare a few minutes at a demolition site.

However, a wrecking project in northern Indiana has brought heartache to a small denominational band. I refer to the demise of a rural church where Methodist worshippers had been-meeting for more than 30 years. The congregation was not in debt, and had paid all its apportionments. The building was considered to be structurally sound, even if the teaching inside its doors could not be considered scripturally sound. There have been growing indications of late that the Methodist hierarchy will be closing the doors forever of a number of these small meeting houses in days to come.

Some of the 40-odd members of the Cloverleaf Methodist church in Indiana contacted the district superintendent after learning that their church building might be closed, and torn down. The superintendent explained that there were three groups who had to vote on a church closing before it could be abandoned. Some of the members felt reassured that the congregation could go on meeting at the building as they had in the past.

Just a few days later, the congregation was notified the building would be closed at the end of the session of the Northwest Indiana Conference, meeting at that time.

Quoting one of the members who wrote a factual report on the closing of the church:

"Services that morning were like a funeral. At the close, one of the members stood up and made a statement. The gist of it was that he felt strongly that this church did not need to be closed if it really wanted to stay open, and if the people would voice their opposition, and make it known the church was not ready to die. The decision was made to ask the district superintendent if he would come and meet with the congregation to talk over the situation. He agreed to come providing the meeting did not get out of control."

About 40 persons assembled when the district superintendent came for the meeting. He brought a tape recorder so what he had to say would not be "misinterpreted."

Continuing the factual report, the member writes:

"Several in the church spoke as to why they thought the church should not be abandoned, and then asked the district superintendent if there was any possible way to keep the church open. The answer was 'no.' We asked if there was any way that the Annual Conference could be made to see that the church should stay open. The superintendent said he could be forced to keep the church open, and compelled to supply it with a minister, but said he would do everything in his power to see that this did not happen.

"Someone then asked, 'What are we to do, and where are we to go?' The district superintendent's reply was, 'I don't care if you remain Methodists or become Baptists, or what you do.' Our last glimmer of hope was gone."

When the name of the Cloverleaf church came before the annual conference of the Methodist church, it was voted on the recommendation of the district superintendent to turn the church building into a district retreat center. Members later were at a loss to explain why the building was torn down and burned at the site rather than converting it into a retreat center as voted by the conference.

There have been growing reports that Methodist leaders are ready to bar the doors on a number of these small, rural churches, and stay only in the urban areas. Some of the "good Methodists" who have grown up in a rural church as one happy family may soon find themselves driving a few extra miles on Sunday mornings to worship with their "city cousins."

When God decreed that congregations should be autonomous, he was able to see the wisdom of it. If the Cloverleaf church 30 years ago when first formed had separated itself from Methodism, and appointed elders to rule over the church it need not have died.

I do not expect to see the day — at least, I hope and pray I do not see the day — when Churches of Christ will be voted out of existence. But congregations of the body of Christ are heading down a dangerous road when they are willing to surrender part of their autonomy, and place some of their work under the oversight of another church. Congregational autonomy is not only the scriptural way, but it is the wisest way to carry out the Lord's work.

— 7931 East 33rd St.., Indianapolis, Indiana 46226