Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 11, 1970

When Homer Nodded


The Roman poet, Horace, who died three or four years before Christ was born, once wrote: "In long works sleep will sometimes surprise. Even the worthy Homer hath been observed to nod." This classical phrase for two thousand years has been used to emphasize that every human being is subject to the frailties and weakness of mortal flesh. No man is immune. The truth of Horace's statement was vividly brought home to us a few weeks ago in a friendly visit with Cecil Willis, editor of Truth Magazine. He showed us a rare book he had recently come across which gave a great number of quotations and excerpts from the writings of the restoration pioneers. Among which we found this gem from the pen of the great Benjamin Franklin:

"We by no means object to a well trained choir, made up of the faithful members of the church, and especially of the young. We do not even object to a good instrument, when it is simply used as a support to the singing. But those little wheezing, grunting instruments we do most heartily oppose. . . . If an instrument must be used, place it in the choir... And let the choir and the instrument be kept under the control of the Elders of the Church!" — American Christian Review, 3/12/1867

No man in the whole Restoration coterie more vigorously and effectively battled against instrumental music than did Benjamin Franklin. But the above paragraph was written in the very beginning of the controversy, and before careful study and discussion had brought the light of Scripture truth to bear on the controversy. Fifteen years later Franklin's understanding on the subject was as clear as the noon day sun. He was far in advance of John F. Rowe who, as late as 1884 could write that he believed an organ in the worship was sinful, but he could tolerate its use provided it was a "little organ" and was "under the elders."

Both Franklin and Rowe believed instrumental music was an unauthorized intrusion into God's order for Christian worship. They both opposed it with great vigor and determination. But both of them weakened their fight (Rowe far more than Franklin) by trying to find some way to accommodate their stubborn and adamant brethren who were absolutely unyielding in their resolve to introduce the organ into all the churches where they could.

Echoes from that hundred-year-old battle keep coming back to us today when we hear brethren saying, "Put it under the elders! Let the elders control and direct it. That will make it scriptural!" Sound familiar? Of course it does. We have heard it all the way from Orphan Homes to Herald of Truth to Campus Evangelism to Gospel Press, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. It is the same forlorn and tattered gambit these two stalwarts of old used a century ago to try to keep peace in a dividing brotherhood. It failed miserably in that long gone day. It failed, obviously, because it was built on an impossible foundation of sand. "Putting it under the elders," is an incredible and naive way of trying to "make it scriptural!" This was the device used by Texas brethren a hundred years ago when their "state meetings" gradually were evolving into the Texas State Christian Missionary Society. This organization came into actual being in 1886. But for a full twenty years before that the foundations for such were being laid in the "receiving, managing, and disbursing evangelistic committee" (Carrol Kendrick's designation) arrangement by which scores of churches were putting their funds for gospel preaching "under the elders" of some particular church for general use and management.

This plan (finally repudiated by the Texas churches under the sledgehammer blows of David Lipscomb and the Gospel Advocate) was re-activated some twenty-five years ago and gained wide acceptance as "the Sponsoring Church" plan. It all boils down to a simple formula: Churches can rightfully participate in almost any plan, program, or project they desire IF THEY KEEP IT UNDER THE ELDERS.

While most churches of Christ would today reject the idea that instrumental music can be "made scriptural" by being "kept under the elders," it is obvious to competent observers generally that many thousands of Churches of Christ have accepted the basic position of the missionary societies and are seeking to "make them scriptural" by keeping them "under the elders." This statement is so manifest that it is not even debatable except by the most partisan and obtuse. A Board of Directors, for instance, made up of five elders from five different churches in Dallas, Texas could NOT scripturally direct the affairs of orphan homes, hospitals, evangelistic programs, etc., which were supported by voluntary contributions from the churches; but if those same five elders happened to be elders in one congregation rather than in five, then presto! the unscriptural becomes scriptural, the impossible becomes possible, the unthinkable becomes thinkable, and the wicked becomes meritorious!

Now, if anybody thinks the Gospel Guardian is a trouble-making publication, always "anti" and "opposing all our good works," and ought to be put out of business, all that needs be done is for somebody to persuade Bill Wallace to "put it under the elders," solicit a few hundred thousand dollars in church contributions, and everything will be lovely and everybody happy.

— F. Y. T.