This week I’ve decided to give voice to articles from the Restoration Movement’s (Church of Christ, Independent Christian Church, Disciples of Christ) past. It is always vital to know history, for so often it is repeated, too often blindly. Perhaps as we look to the present and pray for the future, God may enlighten us with a bit of wisdom from these men who’ve already been where we now stand, at the fork in the roads of unity and division.
THE CURRENT REFORMATION NOT THE CHURCH.
Some weeks ago the Christian Standard said those who are engaged in the current reformation and commonly known as “disciples of Christ,” or “Christians,” do not, in the aggregate, make up, or constitute, the church of Christ. It is marvelous what a great commotion such an innocent-looking little statement has produced. The usually clear-headed editor of the “Texas Department” of the Apostolic Guide repudiates the Standard, and seriously asks what are we, anyhow, if not the church of Christ. The Christian Leader rants over about all the ground between Campbell’s baptism and Gabriel’s trumpet, pounding everything that will make a fuss by way of opposing the Standard on this question. True, the Leader does not, in so many words, say we are the church of Christ; but it says enough to show it has a small opinion of any man who says we are not. Everybody seems to be either hurling theological missiles of an argumentative character at random, or shying around logical corners, to dodge those thrown by somebody else. Would it not relieve the situation considerably if somebody would clearly explain: (1) Who are we? (2) What is the church of Christ? I have been thinking about the first of these questions, off and on, for years. I believe it was R. C. Cave who asked me, about six years ago, by what rules of measurement I located the lines and limitations around that we. I explained it to Brother Cave then—to my own satisfaction; but that is not so clear now. To get the exact “metes and bounds” of that we is a difficult problem. Suppose it is admitted that “we as a people constitute the church of Christ.” What then? Am I one of the “we as a people?” Who is to decide that question? The Leader and the Standard could not settle it. They have never settled anything since I can remember. As to the second, the Standard holds substantially that all who have been scripturally baptized and are living godly lives are members of the church of Christ. There are many who have been scripturally baptized and are living godly lives who are not counted with us. There are such persons in the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, and in many other churches. Therefore, the Standard concludes we are not the church of Christ. The reasoning is good, the definitions seem correct, and the Standard, I think, is right. The question of apostasy enters into this problem. Men and churches apostatize. We do not know exactly the point at which God ceases to recognize a man as a Christian because of apostasy. We know Christians can apostatize, and we know God does not recognize apostates as Christians. The same is true of churches. What was the church of Christ while Paul lived ceased to be the church of Christ because of apostasy in the centuries after. But to determine the exact time when the Lord ceased to recognize it as the church of Christ because of apostasy would be impossible. God only knows that time. No church is any time wholly free from apostasy. The mystery of iniquity is continually working in all churches. That God does bear with evil doers and continue to recognize a church as a church of Christ after it has committed some very grave errors, the Bible clearly teaches. That such errors, if persisted in and increased, will carry the church beyond the limits of God’s forbearance and cause him to cease to recognize it as a church of Christ, is also clearly taught. But the exact point it ceases to be a church of Christ because of apostasy no man can tell. From this point of view, therefore, it would be impossible to say, “we as a people” compose the church of Christ. Many who yet remain among us as a people may have long since passed the limit of God’s forbearance by apostasy. The safer plan, therefore, is for every man to “fear God and keep his commandments.”
– FD Srygley, Gospel Advocate, 1889