Vol.XII No.XI Pg.5
January 1976

Gravy On The Table

Robert F. Turner

An elder of a church once told me he was so tired of hearing about gravy on the Lords table. He spoke of the oft-repeated statement that adding instrumental music was like putting gravy on the bread of the Lords Supper. He thought the illustration was inept, inappropriate.

But oft-repeated illustrations and statements (other than sound exegesis of scriptures) may have far more disastrous effects than the offending of aesthetic tastes. Such phrases, well-put, catchy, and perhaps accurately descriptive of a given situation, may be repeated from pulpit to pulpit until they are standardized as the way to state a particular case. This becomes orthodoxy, and further objective analysis or study is stifled.

I suspect dominates the churches (as applied to the Missionary Society) is such a phrase. The colorful history of this charge goes back to Catholic hierarchy and councils, and the Protestant Reformation. It is easy to see how reformers (especially those who advocated a free or non-historical approach to church identity) would be wary of any hint of domination. Then, when Englands parliament passed Acts of Uniformity binding the State Church upon protestants, the Independents rebelled, and felt the burden of domination.

Restoration preachers (Stone, the Campbells, etc.) contended with creed-bound Synods and Associations that dominated the churches; and this was one of Campbells chief objections to Baptist Associations. Later, when Campbell advocated cooperation for the general organization of churches he should not have been surprised to hear it charged that his Missionary Society dominated the churches. The Gospel Advocate and the conservative south fought the Missionary Society for many years on this basis, and indeed there are some preachers today who can think of little more to say about these church-hood organizations. We are not saying this charge is untrue. But it satisfies and pleases the ears of people who do not understand the basic issue of all multi-church collectives, and the governmental machinery necessary to operate them.

We usually think of dominate as an abuse of power. If folk come to think of the Societies only as abuses they are vulnerable to those who advocate the same basic error, but offer various safeguards against abuses. In his early writings Alexander Campbell made many strong attacks upon domination and coercing councils; but by 1849 he wrote, I have before intimated my approval of the Baptist associational formulas, pruned of certain redundancies and encroachments upon faith, piety, and humanity. He had been opposing the abuses, not the basic error of multi-church combines. He became the first president of the American Christian Missionary Society.

We should not reject old ways of saying things because they are old; but we should welcome re-phrasing and explanation that makes us think, that makes our knowledge something more than chalk circles and empty (to us) clichs. Otherwise, a grandchild may ask, Whats wrong with gravy?