Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 8, 1954

The Bond Of Unity

Wm. E. Wallace, Akron, Ohio

Among the very foremost religious events of all times was the establishment of the church on the first day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ. The Holy Spirit being the motivating power, the kingdom of God came into the world and its growth and expansion was great indeed. The courageous stalwart apostles and their stout-hearted fellow laborers carried the gospel message to all parts of the then known world and the kingdom waxed strong. This kingdom was made up of congregations of subjects independent of one another. There was no general universal organization. In the absence of the Book, the Word came to them through the inspired man, and to him they listened, to him they gave heed. As the apostles began to depart from the scene and their protges began to fade away also, the sacred writings were being collected and the authority, the Word, experienced a transformation from man to a book. This new spiritual nation, a peculiar and royal people of God were held together in unity by a common purpose — converting the world to Christ; a common language — the words of life; a common boundary — the authority of Christ; a common law — the gospel of Christ; a common love — love for Christ, the brotherhood and the souls of mankind. These were the uniting factors of the church universal. Congregations cooperated in contributing to the support of evangelists and in helping other congregations in trial, and in their respective upholding of truth and love. But there was not external organization outside the local congregation. There were no regional or brotherhood elderships.

But Christianity had its start under a mighty, pompous, vain and unholy nation which formed an environment and example to which the early church in main would succumb. As small congregations struggled the churches of the metropolitan areas felt it their lot to exercise some authority over them or for them and the character of the spiritual organization of the church began to change to an outward dependence of the small on the larger. The church began to degenerate into diocesan rule as local congregations surrendered oversight, in more ways than one, to such great centers as Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome.

A passion for extreme visible unity through ecclesiastical organization and the abandonment of congregational independence, amounted to encroachment upon God's plan of the separate rule of elders or bishops in their separate or respective congregations.

Rome was the seat of authority of a great empire — into and out of Rome came the affairs of government, decisions and instructions governing the world. Citizens of Rome felt a superiority and advantage over inhabitants elsewhere. The spirit of the city was that of glory, power, prestige and authority. That spirit grasped hold of the church and the Roman bishops came to expect a right of superiority over the churches throughout the empire. Rome being the headquarters of secular affairs, why should it not be the centralized location of church authority? In time the churches throughout the world experienced pleasure in abandoning their individual responsibilities and oversight to the central authority in Rome. The queen city of a great nation became Satan's agent for the captivity of the church — end congregations once faithful ceased to be churches of Christ. In an unauthorized universal organization they became churches of Rome.

But this encroachment did not result in total capture, for frequently congregations proclaimed their independence and raised their voices against the Roman monster. They slipped into oblivion as far as historical records are concerned — history books deal only in the sensational and the significant in reference to the secular progress of civilization. The stubborn Christians who refused to give up conformity to the Word were all but non-existent in the eyes of the world. However, down through the ages their cause echoed in the voices of Huss, Wycliffe, Zwingli and others and their influence was seen in the accomplishments of Luther, Calvin and Knox. But it was not until the new world with freedom of speech, assembly, worship and press came into being, that true Christianity began to again flourish in such a way as to make its mark manifest in current and contemporary events.

Flourish it did for decades, passing through periods of trial, innovation and error. Controversy waxed strong within the ranks of the church and it split. It was bad, but truth survived and succeeding generations have the example of what innovation in worship can do to the cause of Christ. It would seem that the example set 1900 years ago in regard to innovation and departure in church worship and organization would be sufficient, or the example of 75 years ago with regards to the society. But no, some brethren still walk (trot?) toward the centralization of work, authority and organization. What shall the end result be? Time will tell, but I am confident that the true church will emerge and exist as it always has, with the bond of unity being conformity to the word in worship, work and Christian living. Surely the Lord has great things in store for those who hold fast to the faith.