The New Testament and the Unity of the Church
R. C. Foster
Volume XI -- Number 1"That they, all may be one." "Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth." (John 17:21, 17)
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The Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary
When Thomas and Alexander Campbell issued in 1809 their Declaration and Address, they urged Christians everywhere to unite in Christ by restoring the divine pattern of the church as revealed in the New Testament. They declared that "The New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament church, as the Old Testament was for the worship, discipline and government of the Old Testament church, and the particular duties of its members". Accepting the New Testament as miraculously inspired, infallible, and all-sufficient for the faith and practice of Christians, they held that the New Testament furnished the divine, authoritative basis for the unity of the church. As the church had become divided by departure from the divine pattern, it could become reunited in Christ only by a return to the pattern God had revealed in the beginning. The teaching of the apostles and their inspired associates, whether oral or written, had under the guidance of the Holy Spirit brought forth the church and directed its course during the early decades of its history.
The New Testament presents a perfect church for imperfect people. If it had required perfection on the part of the members, it would have been a misfit. If we had to be perfect in order to get into the church, none of us would ever enter. If we had to be perfect in order to remain in the church, none of us would be able to remain. The presence of Ananias and Sapphira in the Jerusalem church is not an imperfection in the divine pattern, but a failure of human weakness to maintain the divine pattern. The same thing is true of the seven churches of Asia Minor affficted with false teachers and teaching to whom John wrote such caustic words of rebuke and condemnation. The New Testament was given to instruct the congregations and all the world; to correct, rebuke, and restore erring church members. The church was not given authority to correct the New Testament; it needed no correction. The New Testament was given to reveal the divine pattern of the church and to correct any failure of Christians to live according to the divine pattern. The very rebukes and corrections of church members found in the New Testament are a vital part of the revelation of what the divine pattern is.
Jesus Himself had declared that He would build the church. He had declared that He would miraculously empower His apostles to complete the task. He would send the Holy Spirit upon them to bring to their remembrance all the things He had said to them and to lead them into all further truth necessary for the establishment of the kingdom of God. This was fulfilled at Pentecost and in the days that followed. The unity of the church was maintained so long as the Christians "continued stedfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers". This was precisely what Jesus had declared: "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed". This instantly implies the opposite: If we do not continue in the word of Christ, then we are not His disciples. In that prayer so full of poignant appeal offered on the way to Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: "Sanctify them in the truth: thy word it truth".
At the same time that the restoration movement has been calling all Christians to return to Christ, to the divinely inspired New Testament, and to the divine pattern of the church as it was originally revealed, there has been in operation a movement based on exactly opposite premises and traveling in the opposite direction. This movement has been in action for a long time. It assails the New Testament. It not only declares that the New Testament is no more inspired than the writing of Christians today, but it denounces the New Testament as unhistorical and full of myths. It declares that it is impossible and futile to try to get all Christians to believe and practice the same things. It declares that there is no divine pattern for the church in the New Testament. It even denies that there is any such thing as the truth. It holds that all there can be is the different approach of different people with different backgrounds. They repudiate any obligation to follow or proclaim the apostles doctrine. Having abandoned the goal set before Christians in the New Testament, they have set out to establish a political organization, a hierarchy such as the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, the various Ecumenical movements. They deny that this is a hierarchy, but actions speak louder than words. They speak in pious phrases and use New Testament terms, but these are weasel words that they use: they have sucked the blood out of the terms and given a foreign meaning to them.
They maintain that the books of the Bible were written too late in each period to have first-class historical value. They deny the Biblical authorship and attempt to dissect and discredit the books. Foremost in these efforts is the Two-source Theory now merged into Form Criticism with its effort to discredit the Gospel narratives as the work of late editors who patched together bits of material copied from one another or from two imaginary sources, Q and Ur-Mark. Some twenty years after Thomas and Alexander Campbell issued the Declaration and Address, the Two-source Theory was conceived. It has been developed into the fantastic proportions of Form Criticism with its contradictory arrangements of the Gospel narratives into myths, legends, miracle tales, paradigms, apothegms.
In the book, The Final Week, the chapter on Mythological Interpretation and Form Criticism is an attempt to set forth the axiomatic proposition that before the radicals can proceed to divide the Gospel narratives up into myths, legends, and similar divisions, they are obligated to prove that these sections thus labeled are myths and legends, not history. I attempted to analyze and expose the utter failure of some of the characteristic efforts to derive the Gospel accounts of miracles and events from Greek, Egyptian, and Buddhist sources. Time fails us for any exhaustive study this morning, but I desire to cite two contemporary writers: the extremely radical Rudolph Bultmann and the Neo-radicalism of Karl Barth.
In the book Myth and Christianity Bultmann declares he is convinced "that a corpse cannot come back to life or rise from the grave", hence he holds that the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus are a myth. This is not proof: it is mere expression of opinion. In his volume, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, on pages 6 and 7 Bultmann declares that parallels between the Gospel accounts and Greek myths and Buddhist fairy tales show that the New Testament accounts are full of myths, but he does not specify passages or a single Greek or Buddhist myth, much less offer any demonstration of any conceivable relationship between them.
Bultmann discusses this proposition in his book, Kerygma and Myth. He says that he can prove the presence of myths in the New Testament from the fact it declares heaven is up and hell is down. Bultmann declares: "The cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character. The world is viewed as a three-storied structure, with the earth in the center, the heaven above, and the underworld beneath. Heaven is the abode of God and of celestial beings--the angels. The underworld is hell, the place of torment" (p. 1). Bultmann absolutely falsifies the facts when he declares that the New Testament undertakes to locate heaven and hell. The New Testament does not state that heaven is one hundred thousand miles east of the sun and west of the moon. Jesus said: "I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am there ye may be also". He does not state where this place is. This is God's business, not ours. When Jesus ascended, He went up into the sky and a cloud received Him out of their sight. He declared He would return in like manner. In our own space age these are still the directions in which astronauts launch out into space and return. Jesus declared of the rich man: "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom" (Luke 16:22). But Jesus did not state where Hades and Paradise are located. He declared that "in all these regions, a great gulf is fixed. . . " but still no affirmation is made of their location. There is to be a new heaven and a new earth, so that it would seem this earth after it is renovated by fire is to have some part in the divine arrangements, but what these are God has not revealed to us.
At two points the Neo-radicalism of Karl Barth can be approached in a practical manner; so that the conclusions will not be obscured by his abstruse, confused, contradictory philsophical speculations. These points are baptism and the resurrection of Jesus. Many people were so elated that Barth had declared baptism is immersion and cannot be sprinkling or pouring, they failed to see that in his treatment of baptism Barth had denied the inspiration and the historical truth of the New Testament accounts and, by the test which Jesus Himself applies, had assailed the deity of Christ. Barth declares that baptism was a pagan ritual by which novitiates were initiated into the Greek mystery religions and that this pagan ritual was taken over by the Christians. The immediate question is, who perpetrated this fraud? Was it John the Baptist? Was it Jesus of Nazareth? or the apostles? Or are our New Testament accounts so far removed from history that we cannot tell anything about anything? You can read Barth's assertions on pages 192-193 of his commentary on Romans. See how he cites the pagan deities, Mithras, or Isis, or Cybele of the Greek mystery religions. I need only quote four sentences to prove this point: "What we have been saying throughout and wish to drive home here also, is supported by the fact that baptism as a rite of initiation, is no original creation of Christianity, but was taken over from 'Hellenism'. There is good reason for this. The Gospel of Christ was not concerned with inventing of new rites and dogmas and institutions. Everywhere it can be seen quite naively borrowing religious material already in existence."
That word "naively" is heavy with meaning. It is a compound of dishonesty and deceit amalgamated with stupid ignorance. Some one is supposed to have sneaked the ordinance of baptism from a pagan religion of Greece and then got up in public and solemnly affirmed that the baptism of John was not from men, but had been miraculously and directly revealed by God. He is supposed to have been of such low mentality that he did not realize this was lying. Furthermore the myriads of enemies of Christianity in Judaea, Greece, and Rome are also supposed to have been of such low intelligence that none of them detected and exposed the hoax. I repeat, the critical question is, Who perpetrated this fraud?
On the great day of questions in the temple Jesus, when challenged by His enemies to prove His authority to take over the temple and drive out the traders as He had done, staked His deity on the counter question which He asked them: "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or from men?" (Matthew 21:25). The angel Gabriel had declared that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. John had claimed to be directly commissioned by God to institute this ordinance. Jesus confirms the claim of John and challenges His enemies to refute it. But Barth says that baptism was quite naively borrowed from the pagan mystery religions of Greece. This radical attack upon Christianity has long since been abandoned by most skeptics as too fantastic to prove. They now have returned to their former efforts to prove that John's baptism was not from heaven, but from men by way of the Essenes of the Qumran settlement where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. They try to imagine that John was instructed by the Essenes and taught to baptize. But there is not a single item of evidence to connect John, Jesus, or the apostles with this apostate sect of the Jews. There is not in the Gospel of Christ a single distinctive doctrine of the Essenes. Their most distinctive doctrine and practice was their pagan worship of the sun- Zoroastrianism from Persia.
Josephus says "Before sun-rise they speak not a word about profane matters, but offer up certain prayers, which they have received from their forefathers, as if they made a supplication for its rising" (Wars II: VIII: 5).
Philo says that they "stand with their faces and their whole body towards the East, and when they see that the sun is risen, holding out their hands to heaven they pray for a happy day" (Vita. Cont. II, II p. 485).
The Encyclopedia Brittanica declares, "The most singular feature, perhaps, was their reverence for the sun". "Above all, they offered prayers to the sun, after the manner denounced in Ezekial 8:16." (Article "Essenes").
J. B. Lightfoot, in his famous essay on the Essenes in his Commentary on Colossians (pp. 349-419), declares that Josephus "says plainly that they addressed prayers to the sun, and it is difficult to suppose that he has wantonly introduced a dash of paganism into his picture; nor indeed was there any adequate motive for his doing so." Lightfoot also points out that Epiphanius calls them "Sunworshippers" (Haer. XIX. 2, XX. 3).
Added to this was their repudiation of the central religious proposition of the Old Testament: sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins; their repudiation of the central social proposition of the Old Testament: marriage and the home; their repudiation of the central economic proposition of the Old Testament: the right to private property: and their general ascetic communism.
There is no evidence that the Essenes ever practiced baptism. They had the ceremonial cleansings of the Old Testament. They had an exotic ceremony in which with a sacred implement they dug a shallow trench in the earth, crawled into it, and covered their body with dirt, after which they took a bath. This was evidently a part of their worship of the sun, for Josephus says "that they may not affront the divine rays of light" (Wars II: VIII: 9).
The National Geographic published pictures of Essenes baptizing one another in pools at Qumran. These imaginary photographs were a la the Theory of Evolution--Pithecanthropos Erectus pattern to make the uninformed think there was solid basis for the pictures. But what was offered as proof? The fact that archaeologists had unearthed and excavated pools at Qumran. They suppressed the information that every city and village in Palestine, not situated by a perennial stream or spring, had pools. The six months dry season compelled it.
This piece of imagination that John borrowed baptism from the Essenes supposes that the scholars in Jerusalem were so stupid that they did not think to answer the challenge of Jesus by saying: "The baptism of John was from men. He went to school to the Essenes at Qumran and learned it there." The Pharisees and Sadducees did not say this, because they could not. The people would have known instantly it was false. They feared the people.
The radicals are so far from furnishing any proof of this imaginary theory, that the archaeologists and the scholars who are working over the Dead Sea Scrolls cannot even agree among themselves as to whether the Qumran settlement was Essene or its complete opposite-Zealot. The discovery this last winter of documents, similar to the Qumran manual, at Masada the powerful fortress of the Zealots half-way down the western side of the Dead Sea is now being claimed by some of these scholars as confirmation that Qumran was a Zealot settlement.
Since the resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel, Barth's attack upon the historical verity of the resurrection is of the same critical importance as his attack upon the divine origin of baptism. Repeatedly in his commentary on Romans Barth denies that the resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact. On page 195 he says: "We have already seen that the raising of Jesus from the dead is not an event in history elongated so as still to remain an event in the midst of other events. The resurrection of Jesus is the unhistorical relating of the whole historical life of Jesus to its origin in God". Barth had already asserted on page 30 that "the resurrection is not an event in history at all". In this very paragraph he says that it is "an occurrence in history which took place outside the gates of Jerusalem in the year A.D 30, inasmuch as it there 'came to pass', was discovered and recognized." This is the same outworn Modernistic attack that the disciples had an experience which was just as satisfactory to them as if Jesus had been actually raised from the dead.
These quotations are from the earlier writings of Barth. He has since tried to claim that he has not reduced the resurrection of Jesus to a myth. But Cornelius Van Til has recently (1962) published a book entitled Christianity and Barthianism in which he surveys the entire range of Barth's voluminous writings. He shows conclusively that Barth has not changed his position that the resurrection is not a fact of history. "And the 'legend' of the empty tomb, as something that goes with the idea of the resurrection, cannot be historically verified any more than the facts pertaining to the resurrection. What we have in the Gospels on the resurrection is full of darkness and contradiction. The apostle Paul assumes a different version than the gospels do. In the Acts Paul's Damascus experience is placed on a level with the events of the forty days. Therewith he breaks the scheme of the forty days. Finally the resurrction appearances take place only in relation to those who were believers in him. It would be impossible to attempt to establish the fact that the resurrection has happened by means of an appeal to historical science" (p. 100). Observe that Barth calls the Scriptual account of the empty tomb a "legend". What is the difference between a myth and a legend? When he says it cannot be historically verified, he repudiates the testimony of the inspired writers of the New Testament. They not only are not inspired, they do not even tell the truth. When Barth declares that the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are full of contradiction, he offers this attack as proof that the resurrection is not a fact of history. What proof does he append that these contradictions he claims, actually do exist? He tries to claim that the account of the appearance of Christ to Saul on the road to Damascus contradicts Luke's declaration of the forty days of appearances. The Modernists like to talk about "Paul's Damascus experience" instead of the appearance of Jesus to Paul. Paul is supposed to have had an epileptic fit during which he imagined he saw and heard Jesus. But they have never been able to explain how it was that Paul was blind for three days until Ananias restored his sight by a miracle. To claim any contradiction between Luke's forty days and the appearance to Saul is utterly perverse. Luke counts off the days between the resurrection and the ascension forty days. During these forty days Jesus showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs. Luke is the very one who proceeds to show that Jesus showed Himself alive also by further appearances to Stephen and to Saul. The forty days is not a "scheme", but a fact of history. The appearance to Saul was indeed on a level with the other appearances and equally valid historically. Time and space did not limit the risen Christ. The appearances to Stephen and Saul after several years are not in any different category than the appearances after several days during the period just before the ascension. The translation from the heavenly to the earthly is seen every time an angel appears.
Barth introduces the outworn Modernistic attack on the resurrection that Jesus did not appear to any of His--enemies only to believers. This falsifies the facts. Jesus appeared after His resurrection to the most powerful enemy Christianity has ever had Saul of Tarsus. He also appeared to His unbelieving half-brother James. Both of these enemies became forthwith prodigious leaders in the church. Moreover, Barth's dictum, if it is valid, would invalidate most court trials which have ever been held in the civilized world. It assumes that even if you presented 500 intelligent, upright, courageous witnesses who testified as to what they themselves saw and heard as the murder was committed, you could not secure a verdict of guilty unless you had a confession from the accused and his comrades.
Barth holds that the resurrection is not a fact of history. Nor is it a myth. What then? The resurrection did happen, but in a different realm than history. What is this realm? It is the confused dream-world of Karl Barth--the wierd concoction of philosophic nonsense which Barth has brought forth. It is for this reason I have called his system Neo-radicalism. He transfers historical facts into ideas and then talks about the ideas as if they were true, while denying the facts. The extreme position in this direction is to deny the existence of such a Person as God, while insisting that "god" is a very valuable idea which must be kept.
These two recent writers are sufficient to demonstrate how deadly is the modern movement to destroy the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God and to leave the church without any definite revelation from God as to its nature. The infiltration of the restoration movement by this unbelief has rent this movement asunder this movement which has had as its heart-beat the restoration of the unity of the primitive church. But our sad experience is no different from that of Israel as the infiltration of paganism from the surrounding heathen repeatedly threatened Israel with extinction. There were alternate periods of revival and of desperate efforts to rescue a remnant from final apostasy. Christianity has had like experiences and faces today a world crisis.
The Ecumenical leaders claim that the unity of the church is to be achieved by "a movement by God through the Holy Spirit". They deny that the apostles and their associates who led in establishing the church and who gave us the New Testament were inspired by the Holy Spirit in any miraculous way. At the same time they affirm their own inspiration by the Holy Spirit in their attacks upon Christ and the Scripture. If we turn back to the Old Testament we see that this is precisely the manner in which the false prophets affirmed that they had the Spirit of God, while denying the inspiration of prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, Isaiah and Jeremiah. The scene in the court of Ahab just before he went forth to his death at the battle of Ramoth-Gilead is typical. Jehoshaphat was a relatively good king, but he was in very bad company when he went to Samaria to hob-nob with Ahab. He found himself cornered when Ahab challenged him to go with him to battle against the Syrians and recover the city of Ramoth-Gilead. Unwilling to lose face in such company, Jehoshaphat answered: "I am as thou art, my people as thy people, my horses as thy horses". But he demanded that Ahab first inquire of the Lord if the military campaign should be attempted. Ahab brought in his 400 hired sychphants who claimed to be prophets. He asked: "Shall I go against Ramoth-Gilead to battle, or shall I forbear? They answered in manufactured unison: "Go up; for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king". There is biting irony in the curt request of Jehoshaphat: "Is there not a prophet of the Lord besides, that we may inquire of him?" Ahab answered with petulant protest: "There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil". An officer of Ahab was sent quickly to summon Micaiah. The magnificent court scene of the two kings was arranged with two thrones "in an open place at the entrance of the gate of Samaria". One of the Lalse prophets named Zedekiah put on a massive head-gear of the horns of a bull and went around pushing all spectators before him and thus demonstrating how Ahab would overthrow and consume the Syrians in battle.
As they journeyed to the royal assembly, the officer attempted to pressure Micaiah into agreement with the prediction the 403 false prophets had made, but Micaiah answered curtly: "As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak". It is impossible to understand the scene that ensued as Ahab put the question to Micaiah, if we do not see that Micaiah was using transparent mimicry. His answer was the same as the prophets had given, but his manner, his identical gestures, his assumed voice all revealed he was giving the lie to the 400 hirelings. "Go up and prosper; and the Lord will deliver it into the hands of the king". Furious at this insulting attack upon his hired prophets, Ahab roared "How many times shall I abjure thee that thou speak unto me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?" Then Micaiah in his natural voice and with tremendous force described the vision God had given him of the outcome the army of Israel fleeing in the wild disorder because their king had been killed in the battle. In an ironic parable Micaiah described how a lying spirit had been put into the mouth of the 400 false prophets. Zedekiah strode up to Micaiah and struck him on the cheek demanding: "Which way went the Spirit of God from me to speak unto thee?" An Micaiah said, "Behold, thou shalt see on that day, when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself". In a fury Ahab commanded that Micaiah be thrown into a dungeon and fed on bread and water until he returned in peace. Micaiah took one parting shot: "If thou return at all in peace, the Lord hath not spoken by me."
Thus it is that false teachers today deny the deity of Christ and the miraculous inspiration and truth of the Scriptures and yet claim for themselves the inspired direction of the Holy Spirit. The Modernists continually set forth that what the Holy Spirit failed to accomplish in the first century with ignorant and unlearned men as spokesmen, the Holy Spirit can be expected to accomplish today with the more enlightened leadership of the modern church.
So much for the two opposing movements. Now for the collision and the outcome.
It is a heart breaking experience to have seen the restoration movement of sixty years ago and then to look upon this movement today. This movement for the unity of the church has now been rent asunder in division. Sixty years ago--what faith! what unity! what power! what evangelism! what zeal for the restoration of the New Testament Church! Today--what unbelief infiltrating the movement! What unbelief seeping from the foundations! What frustration and defeat! Apostate leaders seek to deliver over that which and those whom they control to a political combine by way of political compromise under the rule of a political hierarchy. Such a union represents the desire of man to control man rather than the willingness of man to submit to God. It rejects the spiritual unity for which Christ prayed the unity in Christ based on the doctrine and practice in His revealed word.
But all is not lost. What a new generation of vigorous Bible Colleges! What a regiment of valiant young soldiers of the cross preparing for Christian leadership! What a company of dedicated missionaries going forth to the far corners of the earth! What a host of faithful Christians with faith unshaken, with courage un-daunted, with zeal unabated!
The Ecumenical leaders insist that a movement calling all men back to the New Testament, to the same doctrine and practice set forth for the church in its pages, is bound to fail. Unity in the faith cannot be achieved; therefore a human basis of compromise must be worked out. This is a call to please men rather than God.
This is a call to erect a modern Tower of Babel to reach to heaven--a political organization without foundation in faith and with no Gospel of salvation from sin and death but only a social Gospel of human origin.
As a young college student I heard many of the distinguished leaders of the restoration movement preach on the unity of the church. They gave forth the categorical declaration that the time is approaching when the unity of all of Christ's followers is to be achieved in this world. They always offered as proof this prayer of John 17. They said it cannot be that the prayer of Jesus will go unanswered: Jesus prayed that His followers may become one in this world in order that the world may be led to believe in Christ. Therefore, it is going to happen. Even at that early age I did not find their pronouncements or their logic convincing. God is not willing that they should perish. He desires that all shall come to repentance. But does it therefore follow that God actually gains the great longing of His heart, that all men do repent and are saved? The stubborn will of rebellious men stands squarely in the way. The same obstruction prevents the unity of the Church. The predictions of Jesus are clear that most men will follow the broad way to their destruction. History confirms the prophecy. The predictions of Jesus and the apostles declare that the church will continually be rent asunder by wolves that devour and scatter the sheep. This was the history of God's people in the Old Testament. The history of the church has not been different.
The prayer of Jesus in John 17 presents to us the ideal--the goal for which we should long, pray, preach, and strive. The predictions of Jesus as to the actual history of the church present the hard reality we must face: bitter hostility, opposition, persecution, false teachers, apostasy, division, corruption of the church by unbelief and by compromise with the world. But over all there is the promise of Jesus: "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it". In spite of all opposition and all betrayals the church is to achieve prodigious growth. The final glorious triumph of the church is assured at the second coming.
The prayer of Jesus still calls us over the tumult of this life's wild restless contentions. We dare not forget or forsake the prayer of our Lord. We must continue to seek His will, regardless of how difficult the circumstances may be. To give up the search and to cease to strive for unity, to say that the case is hopeless, what is the use of trying, to be content with the status quo of a pathetically divided Christendom is the way to lose our own soul. We must pray as Jesus prayed, we must preach and labor as Jesus did, else after having preached unto others, we ourselves will become a castaway.
Through the years it has been repeatedly charged against the Cincinnati Bible Seminary that we are sectarian, that we seek division more than unity, that we seek to build a separate party of our own for our own glory rather than lose ourselves in the glory of Christ. Looking back across the years I recall a number of occasions that speakers standing here on this chapel platform have rebuked and exhorted us on this score. To attempt to deny this charge of sectarianism with too great vehemence would be like a person's boasting of how humble he is. It is comparatively easy to charge someone else with being sectarian. It is extremely difficult to discern and identify the sin of sectarianism in our own hearts and lives.
Our Lord has commanded us to preach the Gospel with fidelity and boldness, but also in love and humility. This is a very difficult and exceeding precious combination. Who will declare that he has attained? The essence of sectarianism is selfishness. Who is there who claims to be without sin? It has become the popular thing with many to hurl the charge of sectarianism at the preachers and churches of the restoration movement generally. Reflecting upon this trend I recall a very exciting scene in the Yale Divinity School in 1911.
It was a chapel session at the first of the year. Four members of the Senior class had been selected to speak. The faculty had assigned a different topic to each speaker and allowed each one to have ten minutes for his speech. Charles Reynolds Brown had just resigned from a ministry of many years in Berkley, California and had arrived in New Haven to become the new Dean of the Yale Divinity School. The faculty invited him to close this chapel session with a critique of the four speeches. One of these speakers was a "Disciple preacher", as they delighted to call themselves. He later became president of one of the Disciple colleges and after that was for many years head of the philosophy department of one of the leading universities in America. He had been given the topic: "Pride and Dogmatism". He delivered the most vitriolic attack upon the preachers and churches of the restoration movement which I have ever heard. He said: "I am a member of a denomination which from its very beginning a hundred years ago has been dedicated to an attack upon sectarianism. This denomination to which I belong is itself the most bitterly sectarian denomination which the history of the world has ever seen". And so he went on and on.
I was not surprised or shocked by this attack. I had read some of the writings of the three celebrated radicals of Chicago, Herbert L. Willett, Edward Scribner Ames, and C. C. Morrison. These three men more than any one else have been responsible for the rending asunder of the restoration movement. Their writings in the Christian Century and The Scroll, organ of the Campbell Institute, had as the first verse, the second verse, the third verse, and the chorus, this charge of sectarianism.
The chapel speaker ended his speech by saying: "If during this year in the Divinity School at any time any one of you sees in me the slightest evidence of pride or dogmatism, I want you to come to me and tell me about it". Having delivered himself of this bold invitation, he sat down. Dean Charles Reynolds Brown immediately arose and accepted the invitation. He said "Now as to this speech on 'Pride and Dogmatism', I do not feel I am qualified to judge whether or not the Disciples are sinners above all those on whom the Tower in Siloam fell. But I will say that in all my life I have never before heard such a sad demonstration of pride and dogmatism as we have heard this morning in this speech on the subject".
Here at The Cincinnati Bible Seminary we have preached division. We frankly admit it. We give as our authority for so doing, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has commanded it. We cite as our example--the prophets seeking to save a remnant of Israel in a dreadful hour of general apostasy. We cite as our example--the apostles seeking to shepherd together the remnants of a flock scattered amid a storm of false teachers and false teaching. Many people read the seventeenth chapter of John without ever seeing that it strictly commands division, as well as unity. "I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one" (vv. 14, 15). Since we are laboring for God in a world where the devil is at work, we must insist on division. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon". "Whosoever would become a friend of the world, maketh himself the enemy of God". In a wicked world, division for God and unity for God are reverse sides of the same proposition. The central proposition of John 17 is not the unity of man with man, but of man with God the unity of the Christian with Christ: "As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us".
The profound emphasis of the prayer of Jesus in John 17 is upon unity. The positive must have more emphasis than the negative. We are primarily Christians because of our devotion to Christ rather than because of our hostility to the devil. The balance between insistence upon division and heart-to-heart searching for unity is as difficult as the discrimination between matters of faith and matters of opnion. How far one may have fellowship with other followers of Christ must be determined by every Christian judging for himself in each case and in the light of all the facts and circumstances.
We must continue to offer this prayer for unity which Jesus prayed. We must preach and labor constantly for a greater unity among the followers of Christ. We must seek the divine pattern of the church as revealed in the New Testament Church. We must strive to regain the spirit of the New Testament Church the spirit both of loyalty to Christ and of love for all men. In this tragic period of world history on the threshold of another Conference on Evangelism dedicated to the study of the unity of the church let us pledge ourselves anew to stretch forth the hand of good fellowship as far as we can reach. But above all else let us pledge, whether with few or with many, to maintain a tight hold upon the hand of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master.
Scanned: Michael Riggs
Edited: Shelley Wozniak