Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 5, 1953
NUMBER 26, PAGE 10,12b

The Earl West Articles

E. A. Warren, Lyford, Texas

In a recent issue of the Gospel Guardian, the editor asked that brethren give their comments on the series of articles by Brother Earl West regarding congregational cooperation. I would like to do so, but first I want to present some quotations from the Journal for Youth, a publication by the Methodist Church:

"Protestant Divisions"

"The Protestants of the reformation period exercised their new freedom in interpreting the scriptures. They developed divergent views on matters of doctrine, church organization, and worship. These divergent views were accentuated by the insistent advocacy of able leaders such as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, and Menno Simon. (Wonder why they omitted John Wesley, founder of Methodism? — EAW.) Outstanding Protestant reformers organized their followers into distinctive types of churches. Nationalism and other political factors encouraged the rise of State churches in many Protestant countries. Then dissenters withdrew from the State churches in order to establish a wide variety of independent churches.

"Bitter theological controversies and the so-called 'war of religion' intensified denominational rivalry and gave rise to new churches and sects. In the 17th century, an Englishman, Thomas Edwards, noted the existence of 199 current variation of sects. After four centuries of rivalry and interdenominational strife, our Protestant churches are now becoming more conscious of their common religious heritage and the imperative need for discovery of effective means for cooperation, federation, and unity. In America all our major denominations have made notable contributions to the sum total of our religious life. This becomes increasingly clear if we look more closely at the complex pattern of our church life." (Journal for Youth, June, 1947)

This "new freedom" of the above quotation was because the Catholic Church was being greatly weakened in her political powers. People could no longer be beheaded because of their opposition to the Pope. The "able leaders and reformers" merely labored to reform the Catholic creed of faith, and to tear down the economic and political prestige of the hierarchy. Today we have those "Federated Churches of Christ" concocted by men of the same attitude as were the "leaders and reformers" of four hundred years ago. Time keeps going around in circles. I heartily agree with the above quotation that they are all headed for the same Union Depot. Neither the Federated Churches of our day, nor yet the "church universal" as now being discussed by the brethren will produce the kind of church life our Savior desires.

"The Problem Today"

With the above as a background, I now want to give a quotation from the articles by Brother West:

"Out of consideration of these facts, the question may be asked: Has God ever intended that the church universal as such should act? The local congregations, each in its own area, acting independently of every other and, working under the oversight of its elders, are to work to save souls. One of the problems that faces us today, even at this late date, is to decide whether it was ever God's intention that all of the local congregations should bind themselves together in any form, by any plan, to do the work of the Lord. If it be God's intention, then what is the form or plan, or is there one? In short, does it make any difference?"

Over a period of more than sixty years, I have been listening to debates, both oral and written. The Firm Foundation was my "Blue-back Speller" in early school days. David Lipscomb was as familiar as was my own name. I still believe him to have been the staunch support which held the church in line with the true faith. I thought him right in those days of heated controversy; therefore, I rely today upon his stern advice.

I make no pretentions to being either a preacher or a scholar, but in answer to the question, "Has God ever intended that the church universal, as such, should act?", I am convinced that the Bible teaches that the only authority which resides in "earthen vessels" in this day is that which is vested in a true eldership. The elders, as a group, do have authority. It was God's plan that every congregation should be governed by this group of men. Now, if it was God's desire that all the congregations should organize under one authority to do a given work, whom did God designate as that authority?

It occurs to me that in the articles by Brother West this question is answered, at least in part. Jesus Christ is head of the "church universal." If it was his desire that the congregations on earth all act together, under one eldership, why did not He instruct John to call an assembly of the seven churches of Asia, rather than sending separate messages and instructions to each congregation? Why did he not call a general assembly of all the congregations, through their representatives, and deliver laws and regulations?

I spent 42 years of my active days in the railroad organization. Most of that time was in some supervisory or official position. Many times in reading Brother West's articles my mind went back to the strong similarity in the organization of God's church and in the operation of a railroad: They each have one head, who is the final and ultimate authority; each has one Book of Rules; each demands that the individual be conversant with and understand alike the rule-book. Absolute obedience to the rules is required. But there is a difference. The railroad requires that each employee, top to bottom, present himself periodically and be examined as to his knowledge of the rules pertaining to his department. Any error in his knowledge is rated as a hazard, and immediate correction must be made. Yet, like any human organization, there are political and economic situations that sometimes call for a departure from the written rules — a revision here, a modification there, a slight adjustment somewhere else; and always a plea for more, MORE, MORE, whether it be money, work, or personnel. Sounds almost like the perpetual pleas we hear from Germany, Italy, Japan, etc.

In recent months my wife and I have been over much of East and North Texas, where once we walked through pine forests, or drove in a buggy to Sunday schools, 'big meetings,' foot-washings, all day singings, etc. In those far off days there were few churches of Christ; Baptists and Methodists prevailed. That was 60 years ago. Today, we can go into nearly any small town, and many country communities, in these sections and find faithful congregations worshipping the Lord.

These congregations, and the buildings in which they meet, were not a result of some "sponsoring group of elders" somewhere. They came as a result of the hard-hitting, fearless men, laboring on little or no pay, who were determined to plant the cause of Christ in this state. They rode horseback, and often walked. They were not tied to any "church universal" mandate to soft pedal the gospel, or to "remember that we have to live with our wring neighbors." We yet recall some of those noble defenders of the truth — Oliver, Stroud, Tant, Lawrence, Owens, White, and many others just as faithful. They walked the long dusty trail of adversity and hardship, which was their common battle-ground. They had no nationwide fund sufficient to provide them with $6,000.00 each Sunday for a twenty minute sermonette (and fairly well modernized at that). Those lamented saints found plenty of unconverted souls right in Texas to demand their lives and their talents.

No, I don't go for this "church universal" idea. I do not believe we can improve on the kind of arrangement the Lord made when he set his plan into operation on that first Pentecost after the resurrection. I'm content with that.