Division Among Churches Of Christ Since The 1950's
It is tragic that changes have occurred among churches of Christ since the 1950's which have resulted in division. People who once worked and worshiped together as brethren in Christ and who shared similar backgrounds gradually followed different pathways in reference to the complex of issues identified variously as cooperation/anti-ism or institutionalism/liberalism.
The breach has widened over the years. I would like to briefly explain my background and how I ended up with my present convictions, and offer some materials for reading and study.
When I was a young man, my family and I attended a church which was gradually slipping into institutionalism/liberalism. I was born in 1946 and remember well the events of the 1950's-60's among God's people. I grew up in a home where we read such institutional/liberal papers as the Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation, and faithfully listened to the Herald of Truth (a radio program financed by the sponsoring church arrangement-many churches donating money to a large church in Abilene, TX). I was baptized at a "church camp" and made my first talk there. I have almost a complete set of the Gospel Advocate dating back to 1913 and copies of the Firm Foundation dating back to the 40's. I still subscribe to those papers and am conversant with a wide range of other publications all across the spectrum (Wineskins to Christian Chronicle to Spiritual Sword to Contending for the Faith, etc.).
Leading advocates and defenders of the institutional practices have influenced my life. My father was baptized by G.C. Brewer during a gospel meeting conducted by N.B. Hardeman, one of the founders of Freed-Hardman University. I knew such men as B.C. Goodpasture (attended his funeral) and Guy N. Woods (used to visit him in his Gospel Advocate editorial office, have autographed copies of his books).
Some years ago, I made a patient, tedious, long-term study of this complex of issues by reading everything I could find on both sides, by attending debates, and by going to hear competent speakers preach from both viewpoints. For instance, in my late teens I was in Arkansas and visited the head of the Bible department at Harding College in Searcy, which supports institutional practices. I took a Bible and a notepad and asked him to explain where and how the Bible authorizes the institutional practices, but he had very little to say. I also visited with one of their renown professors named James D. Bales who wrote over 100 books. He simply said he had not thought about the subject in many years and likewise had very little to say.
After thoroughly investigating the matter, my conclusion was that there is no Bible authority for the following practices commonly accepted among institutional/liberal churches:
1. churches donating money to human institutions for evangelism, edification, or benevolence (i.e., colleges and other schools, camps, clinics, childcare agencies, convalescent homes, retirement centers, etc.);
2. centralizing the work of many churches through the eldership of one church (sponsoring church arrangement);
3. donating money from the church treasury for benevolence to those who are not Christians (such work should be done on an individual basis);
4. churches planning and providing for social and recreational activities such as church-sponsored parties and picnics, "fellowship" halls and "family life" centers (euphemisms for recreational rooms and gyms), ball teams, bowling leagues, etc. (such wholesome activities are responsibilities of the individual and the family relationship).
No one has to explain to me the emotional barriers which must be overcome in order to study these issues in an objective way. I have been through the fires of family and friendship ties and pressures, the trials and tears, the alienation and stigma. I have been stigmatized as an "anti" (meaning I am opposed to any kind of progress), and "anti orphan" (meaning I did not believe in helping orphans because I do not believe church funds should be donated to human institutions such as orphanages), and "anti youth" (because I do not believe the church is authorized to conduct recreational activities), "anti education" (because I do not believe the church is authorized to donate funds to human institutions such as colleges), and even "anti Christ" by people who really do not understand the issues but who hope to erect emotional barriers which prevent people from studying these issues.
I decided none of those things compare to what Jesus endured in providing the way of salvation, and none of those things matter in the light of eternity. I simply want to know and do what is right in the sight of God as revealed in His Word. If I am wrong now, I still want to learn the difference and stand for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as revealed in God's Word.
Anyone wishing to study these matters further may request additional study materials and I will be glad to share them with you. If anyone wishes to question or counter anything I have said, or to ask for clarification, the door of my heart will be open to consider anything which merits further study.