Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 7, 1971

The Name Of The Game



Some seventy-five years ago (near the turn of the century) the great John S. Sweeney held a meeting in Nashville. With tremendous force and eloquence he preached "the old Jerusalem gospel," bearing down with the strongest emphasis on the fundamentals of the faith. David Lipscomb did not attend the meetings. Some of his friends were most urgent in their insistence that he go, telling him that, in spite of his being aligned "with the digressives," Sweeney was hewing right to the line in his presentation of the truth. Lipscomb replied that he had never for one moment questioned Sweeney's ability (or desire) to preach the truth; but that it was his application of those principles that created the problem.

How tenaciously the problem has remained with us! Until fairly recent years there had been a wonderful uniformity in the preaching (that is, in the thing preached) from practically all pulpits among the non-instrumental churches. We all believed (and preached) the "all-sufficiency" of the church; the "all-sufficiency" of the word; the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit "through the word;" the ceasing of miraculous gifts, tongue-speaking, and other such manifestations with the close of the apostolic age. That was the preaching done all over the land for the first generation following the final split with the digressives.

But the application? Here we ran into trouble. For many of those who preached most earnestly, for example, the "all-sufficiency of the church" were at the same time condoning, even supporting and encouraging things which a later generation of preachers saw clearly as a violation of such preaching. Questions were asked; specific parallels were drawn between the things being done and certain other things that all agreed were wrong. Gradually, a number of brethren ( this editor among them) came to see that their preaching and their practice had not been in harmony with each other. When this insight was gained, some of us changed our practice to bring it in line with our preaching: others changed their preaching to bring it into line with their practice. It was not the "preaching" that got us into trouble: it was the application of the thing preached.

A few years ago, some brethren reported on one of the great lectures they had heard at Abilene Christian College during the winter Lectureship there. With force and eloquence the preacher set out clearly and uncompromisingly the teaching of God's Word on the "all-sufficiency of the church." It was, he declared, God's only organization for doing "church work." God had ordained that Christian work "either as individuals, or as congregations" and had made no provision at all for any kind of association, agency, arrangement, society, organization, operation, or procedure through which churches might "pool" their resources and act in concert under any kind of centralized trust or combine "for the doing of church work."

At the conclusion of his magnificent and stirring sermon the brother said (we quote from memory, as it was reported to us by those that heard him): "I am well acquainted with practically all of the great works being done by the church of Christ at the present time — our fine orphanages, schools and colleges, our homes for unwed mothers, our great Herald of Truth radio and television program, our splendid 'sponsoring churches' which so effectively oversee the mission work in foreign fields — and I solemnly and confidently declare to you that there is not one single thing being done to my knowledge which violates in any degree whatsoever the truths which I have here set forth tonight!"

Some rhetoric and such blindness almost leave this editor in gibbering incoherence as he tries to formulate words to describe his feelings of impotent frustration before this kind of monumental myopia. Could it be that the heart of such a person is "waxed gross, and his ears are dull of hearing his eyes he has closed?" One would tremble to think so — but how else account for such fatuous nonsense? Denominational people with even the most casual and limited knowledge of the churches of Christ have no trouble at all in identifying the collective combines for what they are — missionary and benevolent societies with all of the weakness and very few of the safeguards of their denominationally organized societies.

Preaching is fine. But that is not enough. There must be the willingness to apply the principles as well as to preach them!

— F. Y. T.