It is August 1, 2001 when this issue of Watchman Magazine is published. Most who will read this article, but hopefully not all, are residents and citizens of the most affluent country in the history of the world, The United States of America. In the United States, we are protected by what I believe to be the greatest legal document produced by man in the history of the world, The Constitution of the United States, including its first ten Amendments, commonly called the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment says, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. No law is therefore allowed to prohibit the free exercise of religion. We have the freedom of religion. We are protected by law to follow our faith in whatever course that faith may direct us. That freedom we enjoy so much and for which so many have sacrificed even to the point of death to maintain allows us to make our own decisions in matters of faith. This is altogether good, as God will judge us on how we make those decisions. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). Lest we forget, in our freedom, we owe our lives to God.
It was in the port city of Miletus. Paul was headed for Jerusalem. He knew that bad things were going to happen to him, but that they were things that would eventually further the cause for which he had dedicated the latter part of his life. He wanted to see his dear friends and colleagues in the gospel who were the elders in the church at Ephesus. He called for them, and of course they came. I urge you to read Acts 20:17 38. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32). Paul had these, among others, words to say to help his brethren to be strong in the face of certain opposition. He had warned them that apostasy was eminent. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves (Acts 20:26-30). Disciples were indeed drawn away by false teachers. It seems that such is always the case that the weak and sinful are able to draw away those who should be doing the drawing. Alas, it is true that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6). Leaders had to have the strength to overcome the influence of the sinful false teacher. Leaders had to protect the flock. The masses are too often ignorant of the danger that lies ahead. The shepherd must know, and the shepherd must care. Lest we forget, we owe our lives to the Good Shepherd.
American citizens know very little, shamefully, about the Constitution that protects our freedoms. I wonder at times if anyone in Washington, D.C. has read it lately, especially those who sit on the Supreme Court. In a perfect world, every citizen of the U.S. would not only have read the Constitution, but would understand it, so that the liberal media from which the masses get their so-called information could not control them as they do. We have risen a generation of citizens who want everything in sound bytes, from their education to their politics to their religion. The popular teachers are those who can entertain and hold the attention of disinterested students for a majority of the 40-minute class periods that comprise the school year. The electable politicians are those who can look good for the TV camera and communicate in trite sayings that may or may not have a message but at least appear that they do. In the realm of religion, the popular preacher must be able to make people feel good in 30 minutes or less whether there is anything for them to feel good about or not. Feel good sermons do not turn the world upside down as the preachers in Jerusalem did in the first century. They were warned, saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" (Acts 5:28). Where did the blood of Christ belong if not on the hands of those who just weeks before were shouting to Pilate, Crucify Him, Crucify Him! Lest we forget, our heritage was not preserved in sound bytes, but in preaching the whole counsel of God.
But, what of this history of division and apostasy in the Lord's Church? Have we not learned the lessons of history? The first lesson to learn about division is that it is sinful, except when we are dividing ourselves away from error. We must not risk and succumb to the leaven of compromise, thus, we must, at times, divide. The history of the Lords church in the past 150 years in this country has been about division, and most of that division has been over the parameters of the authority of Christ as it relates to the work and worship of His church. As Paul predicted apostasy emanating from the eldership, which prediction certainly came to pass, so too is it obvious that groups presently calling themselves churches of Christ are divided. Why? It takes little boldness to proclaim that the division extant today is sustained by ignorance of the facts of such division. Leaders are unfamiliar with the constitution which protects the masses from the evils of the false teacher. The false teacher is now coddled rather than scourged, defended rather than being castigated, and accepted as weak rather than shunned for being false. We have failed to learn the lessons of history. Lest we forget, apostasy is the result of ignorance.
After World War II, when the cry of the American victor was to rebuild the land of our former enemies, the rush of religious reform through social reconstruction was the norm of the day. Not to be outdone, so called progressive minded brethren sought not the authority of Christ, but only the approval of man, and joined right in with the denominational approach to making Christians out of former heathens by feeding them and institutionalizing them religiously and in most every other way as well. All that was the result of such misguided efforts was to split the Lords church asunder, a division from which we have yet to recover. If we could unscripturally cooperate in overseas relief efforts, then why do we need Bible authority for any such effort anywhere in the world, even in our own counties and states and regions of the country? Why not build more and better institutions for the relief of the fatherless and the widow? Why not build bigger and better programs for the preaching of the gospel? Is it the gospel of Christ or of man, when it is funded and executed by sinful means? Lest we forget, Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
The truth is that we remain in a state of division that is, sadly, getting much worse rather than improving. Lest we forget, the issues are still the same. "By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?" (Matthew 21:23). "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:17). "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:11). "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other" (1 Corinthians 4:6). These are the issues to which we address ourselves in this issue of Watchman. The institutional digression is still with us. Too many are ignorant of it. Too few can defend the truth against its evils. We pray that you may be reminded or enlightened as to the issues and the evils of this apostasy. Lest we forget, ...let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12).