Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 22, 1970
NUMBER 24, PAGE 4,5b

The "Re-Structured" Disciples


During 1968 and 1969 the Disciples of Christ completed a restructuring of their fundamental church organization, moving from a loosely federated group of congregations into a denominational body with clearly defined congregational, regional, and national units. There is a national governing board composed of 222 members which determines policies of the denomination between biennial meetings. Several thousand congregations refused to accept the "restructuring," and withdrew from any participation in denominational activities. Those who opposed the "new look" in the Christian Church claim that about 450,000 members have left their former affiliation with the Disciples, and are now worshipping in independent congregations. Those remaining with the parent denominational claim that only about 300,000 members were lost to them by the restructuring process.

The General Board was told during a meeting in St. Louis a few weeks ago that total contributions to the church's denominational funds had declined by about $1,000,000.00 during the last fiscal year. Dr. Spencer P. Austin, executive secretary of United Promotion reported, "There is no doubt, however, that declining membership, inflation, and the widespread rebellion in American life against every form of leadership has been measurably responsible for some of the decrease in giving."

Thus we see the sad aftermath of a once beautiful dream on its steady decline into the quagmire of human religions and denominational concepts. Alexander Campbell and his co-workers hoped to unite all believers into one great family of God's children, breaking down and destroying denominational walls of division and separation, moving away from human creeds and dogmas, building anew the kingdom of God on earth on the simple statement, "We will speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent." This is the principle set forth by Peter, "if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God." It is a noble concept; it will destroy denominationalism, and will unite the people of God. For a time it seemed, indeed, that men might be willing to follow this course. Godly people from all the denominational bodies began to catch a glimpse of what it might mean just to be simple Christians — nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

Sad to relate, it was Campbell himself who began to lead the way back into the denominational morass from which he had apparently escaped. By his plea for some sort of organizational body to activate the "church in general," as he called it, he sowed the seeds of eventual disaster. It has taken more than a full century for the final and humiliating denouement to become evident. But the "re-structured" Disciples of Christ denomination is a logical, and perhaps inevitable, fruit of those very first innocent-looking "consultation meetings" which took place in the 1830's and 1840's in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The "consultations" grew into "cooperatives:" the cooperatives grew into "societies;" the societies into conventions; and the conventions have now moved to an authentic, genuine, recognized and accepted denominational structure — with name, government, worship, authority, and activity all determined by the General Board. Not the scriptures.

Can the simple churches of the Lord learn anything from this funereal march to oblivion? Perhaps. Perhaps not. There is not lacking evidence that the mistakes of our fore-fathers may be repeated over and over again; maybe as long as time shall last. We remember reading many years ago an editorial from David Lipscomb (he wrote it in the 1890's somewhat before our day) in which he traced the history of apostasies clear back into the dawning days of human society. And showed that there is an endless repetition of a classic pattern: apostasy of God's people with the vast majority going into sin and error; preservation of a small remnant who seek to remain faithful; open division between the apostates and the remnant, with the main body gradually going further and further into sin and idolatry. The remnant remains faithful, and begins to grow. It eventually becomes strong and influential; many are in it who are not fully committed to the Lord. Gradually tensions build up; the majority drift further and further from the original moorings. An open division comes; a remnant remains faithful to the Lord. And the sad, weary program runs its cycle again — and again — and again — and again!

Anyhow, we thought you might be interested in noting another milestone in the downward progress of our "progressive" brethren. They will eventually be absorbed into the "nations around them" just as the ten tribes of Israel were absorbed into the idolatrous nations who were their neighbors. That the same melancholy fate awaits a great number of "liberal" Churches of Christ we have not a doubt in the world. The important thing is for each individual who reads this page, be he a member of some metropolitan "on the march" church or of a little country congregation at the forks of the road, to take a long, searching look into his own heart, into the word of God, and into the future. Will he stand in the final day? That is all that really matters.

— F. Y. T.