Vol.V No.II Pg.4
April 1968

Pattern And Apostasy?

Robert F. Turner

When a fellow is particularly interested in a subject (and current circumstances have given me a special interest in this) he may overemphasize the importance of his "pet"; so read this with caution -- but read it!

Few students of church history deny the devastating effect of changes in church government. All know that the acceptance of diocesan elders -- oversight on a scale larger than that of a single local church -- marked the beginning of ecclesiastical hierarchy and its attendant curses. But our own brethren, who support multi-church projects, deny that such super-elders are being made by their arrangements. They still call the overseers of current church-hood projects "elders", and these men still serve as overseers of a single church, so they can not see a violation of principle.

But a team of horses can not be worked with a single harness. The size or scope of oversight, the scope of the organizational structure, must equal the size of scope of the overseen. When two or more churches are linked together in any project (act collectively) the elders who direct the project must act as double or multiple harness with respect to that project. Calling them "local elders", as indeed they may be in one capacity, does not alter what they are doing in their role as overseers of the larger working unit. Nor have we changed what they are doing by giving them this position "voluntarily."

So we have changed God's plan for government or polity. We have made diocesan elders -- rudimentary, it is true, but still diocesan elders. And when we assert our right to alter God's plan of oversight -- from strictly local (the flock among you, 1 Pet. 5:2) to something larger (some collective project of two or more churches, no scripture) we establish the clime for asserting our right to make other doctrinal changes as well.

And those changes will be made, if not in this generation, in the next. Our own history, and that of many others, clearly testify to this.

The outward "form" of the new idea may not be accepted for some time -- and the unashamed acknowledgement and new name for the change will come last of all (A look at any handbook of denominations will show that much full-fledged denominational machinery still wears the name of former practices.) But our children's children will have lost our reluctance to call a missionary society a "missionary society." They won't even know why their parents objected to the terms.

All of which suggests to me that apostasy starts with the well-intentioned doing of something for which we have no authority. When our action is recognized for what it is, and is called to our attention, then pride and sectarian attitudes prevent our reversing the action; and precedent is established for more changes.

Brethren do not "go to do" wrongly; they simply do not see proper applications of principle to actual cases. But WHAT THEY DO is there, to be denied or warned against; and to divide.