"It's Different Over Here"
How often over the years I have heard both institutional and conservative brethren make the above statement concerning the issues which divided brethren in the 1950's and since. As a result of this belief some brethren in military or government service have been influenced to cast in their lot with institutional churches during their tour of duty in Germany. Some conservative preachers have moved freely between conservative and liberal churches, even having institutional preachers in for gospel meetings because it's "different" in Europe than in the U.S. Non-institutional churches in the U.S. have financially supported so-called "conservative" preachers who labor in Europe who practice such blurring of lines as we have described in the preceding sentence because it is not the same over there; they have not divided over these issues.
Is it true that these errors are somehow not the same here in Europe as they are in the U.S.? Are brethren who either come or receive financial support from institutional churches in the U.S. to be counted as faithful here in Europe? For example, I remember visiting the church in Bern, Switzerland, a number of years ago and they were preparing for a meeting with institutional preacher Jack McKinney from Searcy, Arkansas. Is having an institutional preacher in for a meeting somehow right for a church in Europe but wrong for a church in the U.S. (2 John 9-11; Romans 16:17-18)? Can sound brethren take part in lectureships and studies organized by institutional brethren here in Europe? The question is not, "Can we go there and preach what they need to hear on these subjects?" Rather, the question is, "Can we repeatedly participate in such programs without ever preaching on the subjects they need to hear?" Further, are churches founded by institutional preachers that have preachers working with them who are supported by institutional churches in some cases sponsoring churches sound in their practices here in Europe? Why do plainly liberal churches in Europe have no problem commending churches here that are claimed, at least by some brethren in the U.S., to be conservative?1 Let us explore the facts as they can be known.
The Beginnings of Modern Efforts
Let us go back in time to some meetings that took place immediately after the end of the Second World War which bear heavily on the matter before us. In 1946, the Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas, held what was in many ways a landmark lectureship. The theme of the first of The Lubbock Lectures was "On Mission Work." After some discussion of the situation in various nations, B. Sherrod, an elder at Broadway, said, "I am not opposed to pooling our resources. If the other 5 or 6 churches here in Lubbock want to help us, we will not be dogmatic about leaders....If you will help in this work it will be done through the elders of this church in a scriptural way."2 By 1948, pooling resources had become an accepted policy at Broadway. In the Foreword to The Second Lubbock Lectures, brother Paul Sherrod wrote,
The theme of the 1948 lectures was "Germany For Christ" and Otis Gatewood, easily the most recognizable name among the institutional preachers who have preached in Germany, was the speaker for this series. We see from his words above that, from the very beginning, pooling of church funds has been accepted by those involved in the work of establishing most of the churches that now exist in Germany. As we will see, these early beliefs have a direct bearing on current practices among German churches. Let us now move on to look at something else that figured prominently in founding many churches here.
As the above words from Paul Sherrod show, the social gospel is another bedrock of the work of liberal preachers in Germany. This was stated rather baldly in several instances by brother Gatewood in the 1948 lectures at Broadway. The following are a couple examples:
One early convert even confessed that his reason for coming to a study the first time was "because you were serving chocolate and because I wanted to learn the English language."6 One does not want to seem unsympathetic to the suffering of the German people after the war. However, it is not the work of the church to involve itself in the social betterment of the lost of this world. (see Matt Miller's article on the Social Gospel, in the August 2001 Issue of Watchman Magazine).
Sons of Their Spiritual Fathers
Based solely on my experiences in Germany, it is obvious that German Christians in churches established by institutional preachers hold to the same errors as do those early institutional preachers. I have had discussions with German brethren where institutionalism and the sponsoring church arrangement were defended. A German institutional preacher once helped a church made up of Americans get rid of me when I opposed the common liberal practices of institutionalism and church social meals. In spite of the reality of what I have seen, many might dismiss such evidence as merely anecdotal. Therefore, let us be more careful in our examination of this matter.
The Frankfurt Church of Christ exists in the very city where brother Gatewood started his labors after the war. Their web site includes the following picture which shows a "Bible buffet."
They also picture a "ladies breakfast."7 The web site of the church in Munich has the following advertisement: "On the first Sunday of the month a lunch buffet takes place after services."8 The nearby church at Kaiserslautern has "a kitchen and fellowship area" in its building.9 Stuttgart-Möhringen advertises a "Prayer Breakfast."10 I would be interested in knowing if there are any meeting places among German-speaking brethren that do not have a kitchen which brethren use for "fellowship meals."
Beyond involvement in the social gospel, we also noticed another error advocated and practiced by the Broadway Church of Christ: These brethren responsible for doing some of the groundbreaking work here in Germany also had no problems with churches pooling their resources. Churches here in Germany also practice pooling or centralizing their funds. They do so in their support of a camp in Gemünden, north of Frankfurt.11 The camp, pictured below, receives money from both individuals and churches for its support.12 The Berlin, Kaiserslautern, and Munich churches of Christ all list the support of the Gemünden camp as being a part of their work.13 The camp lists among the things it offers a small swimming pool (8x8 meter), a play ground, a table tennis surface, places for soccer, volleyball and basketball.14
In case anyone has any doubts about what takes place at these meetings Kyle Bratcher, a missionary from among our institutional brethren, described a "Family Camp" in his August 7, 2000 report:
In light of what we have seen in our article thus far, it should not surprise us to learn of the existence of a camp nor that it is supported by the funds of churches here in Germany. Both the social gospel and centralizing of church funds have been a part of the work in Germany among institutional brethren since its inception. We see it is not "different over here" in this respect. These errors are as clear here as they are in the U.S. (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Peter 5:2).
Furthermore, one sees other instances of the kind of "church cooperation" common among institutional brethren in the U.S. There are annual "Pan European Lectureships" sponsored by the College Church of Christ in Searcy, Arkansas.17 Doyle Kee, a preacher from the church in Geneva, Switzerland, was among the speakers at this lecture. Montie Renner, preacher at the church in Ölsnitz in eastern Germany, reported in March, 2001 that the churches at Chemnitz, Oelsnitz and Zwickau were planning to open a one year Bible school.18 Whether or not these plans ever came to fruition one can see the kind of thinking common among brethren in churches here. This should not surprise us in light of the history of the work here and inasmuch as most, if not all, of the preachers (except Glenn Jones) are supported by institutional churches in the U.S.19 With regards to inter-church tie ups, an institutional church in America could not have explained itself any better than did the church in Munich where Reiner Kallus labors: "Although we cultivate friendly relations with other churches and work together with them in projects, we are independent and belong to no higher organization."20 Churches in Germany are the descendants of the liberal brethren who established them.
The Bible's Teaching Regarding Church Supported Camps
Germany is not the only country in which our institutional brethren have supported camps. When brother Sewell Hall was in London in the late `70's he also encountered them there. With regards to the Bible's teaching about such things, I cannot say it any clearer than did brother Hall in an article he wrote in the bulletin he published while living in England. Please read the following questions he posed:
Brother Hall went on to write that he was not asking these questions with regard to camps operated privately. I believe I know brother Hall well enough to say that he has not changed his convictions on these things. The teaching of the Bible on the subject of church supported camps is not different in England, America, Germany or any place else in this world. In truth, it is not "different over here."
Fellowship Among Brethren in Germany
As in most countries where there are a good number of churches there are various ways in which German-speaking brethren interact with one another. Such men as Jerry Rushford of Pepperdine University and Everett Ferguson, the well-known historian, have spoken at Gemünden camp meetings.22 These men are institutional preachers. Pepperdine is one of the most liberal schools among institutional brethren. One can clearly see that the camp is connected with ultra-liberals. While German speaking churches in Germany have had problems with ultra-liberalism (role of women, who is a Christian, instrumental music in worship, etc.) there has been no clear division among them.
There also has certainly been no division with regards to the institutional issues. One can see this by noting that the church in Bern, where brother Jerry Earnhart once labored, is linked on the Gemünden camp's web site. The church in Kiel, where brother Glenn Jones labors, is listed on web sites dedicated to churches established by institutional brethren.23 Further, the brethren of that church were listed on the Gemünden camp's web site as being the planners for a youth meeting this year:
Brother Jones and Arno Schock, one of the members at Kiel, are listed as the contact points for this meeting which took place April 9-12, 2004. Brother Schock is also listed as one of the speakers.25 Brother Jones explains that there is no congregational involvement by the Kiel church in the Gemünden camp, but the above ad clearly reflects "the right hands of fellowship" being extended by brother Jones and the institutional brethren (Gal. 2:9). Those who run the camp have no problem commending the brethren of the church at Kiel. They advertise the Easter Meeting so that all involved can fellowship, i.e., share or participate, with each other at that meeting.26 The efforts of the brethren at Kiel in organizing the meeting are the same - fellowship among brethren from these different churches.
In what did they have fellowship? Please read the following quote from a report by brother Reiner Kallus, preacher at the church in Munich, Germany, who attended the above mentioned Easter Meeting:
While brother Jones did not attend the above-mentioned meeting, members of the church at Kiel did and were responsible for organizing it. Brother Kallus, who wrote the above lines, is supported by liberal institutional churches in the U.S.28 Furthermore, we note that plays were a part of this get together. Should brethren be using plays to teach the Bible?29 Apparently, the brethren at Kiel have no problems with fellowshipping such things. Glenn has argued for having institutional brethren (his term) in for meetings at the church in Keil and has held meetings at churches where preachers supported by institutional churches labor.30 He admits to keeping the issues concerning the centralization of church funds out of the pulpit at such times, confining them to private discussion. Glenn is accepted by a broad spectrum of German liberal brethren and has no problems fellowshipping them. As proof, please read this quote from a report of the "Männer Frei Zeit 2000" (Men's Time Off, 2000) an annual meeting of male Christians among German speaking churches. This one took place in the town of Schmitten-Dorfweil.
Jack McKinney, mentioned earlier in this article, is a retired professor from Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas. Dieter Alten is a man Glenn himself has said is "institutional." I would be surprised if any brother listed as having spoken at this meeting is not institutional, except for brother Jones. This report appeared on the web site of Abilene Christian University! While Glenn will not be a part of the meetings held at Gemünden camp at least one brother at the "Männer Frei Zeit 2000" (Reiner Kallus) preaches at a church which supports the camp. In light of this and the current difference among German brethren it would be safe to say that there were brethren of many different stripes of institutionalism at this meeting. The theme of it was "Worship of God." If this is not an example of brethren giving one another the "right hand of fellowship" in a common work I am at a loss to describe it (Gal. 2:9). With regards to the church in Augsburg mentioned above, it advertises the Gemünden camp on its website.32 While the church there does not send money from its treasury to the camp, it does support and participate in its functions.33 From all this one must conclude that, since brother Jones says he holds those practicing the social gospel and centralization of church funds to be in error, he fellowships (jointly participating with them in various spiritual activities) them in spite of these errors. One would conclude from Glenn's actions that 2 John 9-11 does not apply to institutionalism.
We have seen from their practices that brethren in liberal churches here in Germany are clearly the spiritual descendants of the institutional brethren who originally established churches in this country after the war. However, the practices of "conservative" brethren like brother Jones show that they are not the spiritual descendants of those who objected so strongly to the departures of a generation ago. The main thing we see as being "different over here" in all this is that brethren can claim to be non-institutional and yet be in full fellowship with institutional brethren. (also see my article in December, 1998, Watchman Magazine, "Compromise with Error in the Mission Field").
How Long Will it be "Different Over Here"?
In asking the above question I do not anticipate a change in the practices of brother Jones. He has been accepted by the institutional brethren as one of them for about 20 years now.34 He is commended by their publications even in the U.S. He is older than this writer and, barring some change, the influence of his life can be seen. My question has a quite different intent. It has to do with the fellowship practices of brethren in the U.S. In light of the increasingly loose views in this area that we have seen in the last 10 years, how long will it be before so-called "conservative" brethren in America are fellowshipping institutional brethren there? Remember, brother Jones gets his support from churches in the U.S. How can they justify supporting him without accepting his practices as being justifiable? His stand against the ultra-liberalism found among some of our institutional brethren in Germany changes none of the things we have written in this article. We have shown that he fellowships institutional brethren.
In closing a number of observations are in order. Brethren in churches in Italy and Spain have opposed institutional errors to the point that they have actually converted a good number of churches and brethren out of institutionalism. They obviously see nothing "different over here" in regard to these errors. The same can be said for brethren in the Philippines. At the church here in Ramstein we have converted numerous brethren from institutional backgrounds over the years. Non-institutional brethren in American who have bought the line that "it is different over here" should reconsider their stand on these things. As Paul said in Galatians 2:18, "For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor." Further, I feel compelled to note that the spiritual state of many conservative brethren has long since deteriorated to an unhealthy state. I write this because of the common practice of those who, upon reading an article like this, proceed to impugn the motives of the writer. Please remember, "He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to Jehovah" (Prov. 17:15, ASV). This article shows for all to see the degree to which well intentioned brethren have been misled with regards to the work in Germany. The main thing "different over here" is clearly that no strong stand has been taken against relevant error by some preaching brethren supported by non-institutional churches.