When changes occur, it is common for those who bring in new ideas to reinterpret past events to prove that their ideas are really what people thought and wanted all along. Even when the changes are recent and people still remember what life was like before the changes, they just put a spin on the old ideas.
There is a whole generation who has now lived in a United States where abortion has always been legal, where most married couples get divorced, and where homosexuality is prominently discussed. Is it a wonder that young people just assume it was always like this; or if it wasn’t like this, life must have been worse? For example, I frequently read that the era before no-fault divorces was a time when many women were trapped in abusive relationships. Human nature doesn’t change (Ecclesiastes 1:10). I doubt there were more abusive husbands in the past than there are today. Yet, history is redefined. What occurs today is assumed to be better than the past. Rightly did Solomon sorrowfully say, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after” (Ecclesiastes 1:11).
It is a fact that most of the churches who wear the name “Church of Christ” hold a liberal view of the Scriptures. Liberalism is a philosophical approach to law, whether we talk about constitutional law or the law of Christ. A liberal advocates a free approach to law. Anything is allowed that the law doesn’t specifically restrict, and even then, the law is interpreted so as to give the least restraint possible. The majority of churches of Christ refer to themselves as “mainstream” churches. They will attack those who hold more conservative beliefs as being too restrictive; using terms such as “Pharisaical” or “anti” to address conservative-minded Christians. At the same time, they will attack those who take liberalities further than they desire to go. The Max Lucado’s and Rubel Shelly's of the world are too liberal in their view.
Interestingly, the last few decades have brought a reinterpretation of the views of past brethren. Brethren among the mainstream churches assume that their beliefs are the ones brethren have always held. Thomas B. Warren, in his book “Lectures on Church Cooperation and Orphan Homes” argued “If you can find anyone who taught this before 1955, you will be doing me a favor.” Yes, teachings have changed in the church, but it might surprise you who have changed.
Consider the idea of churches establishing and maintaining homes for the needy. Paul taught, “If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (I Timothy 5:16). The primary care of the elderly fell upon their family. The church only cared for a limited set of widows who had no family and who had met strict guidelines (I Timothy 5:3-16).
In 1930, brother A. B. Barret, founder of Abilene Christian College wrote, “Individual Christians, any number, may scripturally engage in any worthwhile work, such as running colleges, papers and orphanages, and other individual Christians may properly assist them in every proper way; but no local congregation should be called upon, as such, to contribute a thing to any such enterprises. Such a call would be out of harmony with the word of the living God. And if any congregation so contributes, it transcends its scriptural prerogatives” (Gospel Advocate, March 13, 1930). Yet, today Abilene Christian College regularly solicits and accepts funding from mainstream congregations across the country.
The following year, brother F. B. Srygley wrote, “These churches were independent of each other and of all other congregations. They were not bound together by any organization under the control of the eldership of any of these churches, neither were they banded together under one board created by any state or national law … there was no discussion among them about how to build and control institutions such as orphanages, homes for the aged, or hospitals for the sick. There is no more authority in the New Testament for the control of such things than there is for control of a farm or health resort. Sometime after the apostles died … men became dissatisfied with this simple organization, which eventually led to the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The Catholic church then undertook to organize in a way to control schools, hospitals … we now have brethren that should know better trying to find authority for owning and operating such things under the overworked rule of expediency” (Gospel Advocate, May 14, 1931). Hence, the debate over church supported institutions did exist prior to 1955, unlike what brother Warren asserted. Since the Gospel Advocate was and remains the popular paper of the mainstream churches, brother Srygley’s comments show that the churches in the 1930s held a conservative view against the use of institutions.
In 1946, Guy N. Woods argued “There is no place for charitable organizations in the work of the New Testament church” (1946 Annual Lesson Commentary, page 338). In 1954, B. C. Goodpasture stated, “The church is all sufficient for the work God intended it to do. It needs no aids or auxiliaries.” Brothers Woods and Goodpasture later changed their position. Today the mainstream churches support a wide variety of organizations, such as orphanages, nursing homes, and schools. A change did occur, but it was away from a conservative view of the authority of the Scriptures.
There has also been a change in how churches supported the work of spreading the gospel. Paul stated, “You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs” (Philippians 4:15-16). Other churches joined with the Philippians to support Paul so that Paul later wrote to the Corinthians, “I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so” (II Corinthians 11:8-9).
Regarding this simple method of each congregation sending support directly to preachers of the gospel, David Lipscomb wrote in 1874, “The simple congregation can cooperate, help, assist, by each of them doing just what the master commands them … what are usually termed cooperation are really not cooperation of the churches, they are an organization, combinations that do the work of the church … two churches, both working by the same law for accomplishment of the end are cooperation.” The view 125 years ago among the churches was similar to the pattern laid out in the New Testament. Each congregation independently supported preachers of the gospel. That two or more congregations happened to decided to support the same man meant they were cooperating in the spread of the gospel in that area. No further organization was needed.
In 1921, M. C. Kurfees wrote, “Hence, the fact that one church is contributing to sustain a missionary is no reason another church or churches may not do so if one is too poor financially to sustain the work; in such a case, each church maintains its own independence, and sends directly to the support of the missionary in the field” (ACC Lectures, 1920-1921, page 55).
Foy E. Wallace, Jr. also commented on this topic in 1931, “For one church to solicit funds from other churches for general distribution in other fields or places, thus becoming a treasury of other churches … makes a sort of society out of the elders of a local church, and for such there is no scriptural precedent or example” (Gospel Advocate, May 14, 1931). That same year, F. B. Srygley wrote, “These elders had no authority to take charge of the missionary money or any other money or means of any church except the one over which they were overseers” (Gospel Advocate, December 3, 1931). The following year H. Leo Boles wrote, “There is no example of two or more churches joining together their funds for the support of the gospel” (Gospel Advocate, November 3, 1932).
We see, then, that the common view in the past agreed with the scriptural pattern. Congregations did not pool their funds, but solely cooperated through common but independent action. Today, the mainstream churches accomplish almost all their support of preachers through sponsoring churches. A preacher finds a congregation to sponsor his work and that congregation then solicits and collects funds for that preacher, which it then sends to that preacher in the form of a salary. Yet, most brethren among the mainstream churches refuse to believe that this was not the way it used to be done.
Changes are also evident in the way preachers were trained to preach the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote the young preacher Timothy exhorting him, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2). One of the duties of a preacher is to train preachers for the next generation.
In 1915 J. D. Tant wrote, “He and I agreed that this society was unscriptural. Then I told him the church of Christ has its Bible college society with its president, secretary, treasurer, board of directors, etc. to collect money from churches to teach the gospel and do other good works. Then I asked by what process of reasoning could the digressive missionary society be unscriptural, and our college society be scriptural” (Firm Foundation, June 8, 1915). While it has long been the practice of colleges to accept funding from congregations, it was frequently argued against the practice, even within these same colleges. In 1939 Guy N. Woods argued, “The ship of Zion has floundered more than once on the sand-bar of institutionalism. The tendency to organize is characteristic of the age. This writer has ever been unable to appreciate the logic of those who effect to see grave danger in the missionary society but scruple not to form organizations for the purpose of caring for orphans, and teaching young men to be gospel preachers” (ACC Lectures, 1939, page 54).
Later, George DeHoff clearly stated, “What is God’s institution to educate and train men in the gospel? Answer: The local church” (Christian Magazine, January 1951). Brother DeHoff’s answer reflects the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16. Christ organized the church to train its members to be mature Christians. Yet today the majority of churches will only accept a preacher who has been trained at a college or preacher-training school run by brethren. Rarely does a local congregation train up preachers. Instead, promising young men are sent somewhere else to be trained.
Finally, let us consider the matter of churches sponsoring recreation for its members. The apostle Paul scolded the Corinthians, “What, do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God?” (I Corinthians 11:22).
In 1948 B.C. Goodpasture wrote, “For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission. It degrades its mission. Amusement and recreation should stem from the home rather than the church. The church, like Nehemiah, has a great work to do; and it should not come down to the plain of Ono to amuse and entertain. As the church turns its attention to amusement and entertainment, it will be shorn of its power as Samson was when his hair was cut. Only as the church becomes worldly, as it pillows it head in the lap of Delilah, will it turn from its wanted course to relatively unimportant matters. Imagine Paul selecting and training a group of brethren to compete in the Isthmian games!” (Gospel Advocate, May 20, 1948). Yet today, the mainstream churches frequently fund social meals for its members. They furnish gymnasiums for use by their members. Many congregations sponsor youth sports leagues. Who appears to have changed their view regarding the work of the church?
The brethren quoted in this article are not authorities in the matter of determining what is right or wrong regarding a particular issue. However, their writings prove that these issues were considered and for the most part rejected many years ago. Mainstream churches of Christ have followed a new path. They have walked there for so long that they have forgotten that it wasn’t always this way. They find comfort in the position of the majority instead of searching for the ancient landmarks (Proverbs 22:28).
By Jeffrey W. Hamilton