APOSTASY AND PROTESTS
JOHN WILLIAM WADE
For several years now Disciple leaders have been threatening to attempt an answer to the indictments which have been piling up against them. Stephen J. Corey's Fifty Years of Attack and Controversy has been quickly accepted by the Disciples as this attempt. Mr. Corey's attempt is an elaborate one, involving considerable expenditure of time and effort. He quotes frequently and copiously from books, periodicals, and documents touching on the controversy. He does all of this with an air of fairness and charity which is likely to convince any who are not well informed. In spite of all this effort and the wide acclaim Mr. Corey's work has received from Disciple circles, it unfortunately fails to deal with the fundamental issue of the controversy.
The real issue is not "organized" versus "independent" missionary enterprises. It is not the efficiency of any particular missionary method. It is not a quarrel between two publishing houses. The fundamental issue is theological. This issue deals with the very heart of the gospel message: the ultimate authority in Christianity, the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the resurrection, the revealed plan for the church. Mr. Corey labors for 306 pages dealing with peripheral issues and never once meets head-on the theological issue which is the real cause of the controversy. It is impossible to believe that Mr. Corey is totally unaware of the real cause of the controversy. It becomes painfully obvious that Mr. Corey could not meet the real issue, and so his efforts were spent throwing up a series of smoke screens.
The ranks of the Restoration Movement have been far from tranquil these past fifty years and Mr. Corey is thoroughly convinced that the Christian Standard, along with its journalistic companions — the Spotlight, The Touchstone, and the Restoration Herald, is the chief troubler in Israel.
In the "Introduction" Mr. Corey attempts to camouflage the real issue by contrasting the attitude of Isaac Errett, first editor of the Christian Standard, with the attitudes of the editors who have followed him. All of Mr. Errett's controversies, so says Mr. Corey, were "dignified and were sweetened by a splendid courtesy". One quickly gathers from Mr. Corey's remarks that Errett's successors have been more than a little lacking in these saccharine qualities.
Had Mr. Corey read some of Isaac Errett's editorials more closely, he would have detected that Errett, too, on occasion could dip his pen in something more pungent than ink. When matters of principle were involved, Isaac Errett could call names and denounce in no mincing words. We find it exceedingly difficult to believe that Isaac Errett would have treated with detached gentleness some of the modern denials of the fundamentals of the gospel. But Mr. Corey's contrast of the Standard's editorial policy then and now would have faded had all this been admitted. Thus in the "Introduction" Mr. Corey provides us with a good example of the smoke screening technique he employs throughout his work.
In the "Introduction" Mr. Corey attempts to delineate the two elements which comprise the Disciples of Christ. It would be well to notice the distinctions he draws:
Thus there are two streams of thought and development among the Disciples of Christ. The one, advocating the unity of all Christians, has been creative, inclusive, and experimental. It has endeavored to keep itself open to changing conditions and the adaptation to circumstances which would not contradict the genius and spirit of early Christianity, but enable it to recognize change and the possibility of new approaches.
The other stream of thought and development has been backward looking, static in its demand that all come to its point of view before there can be any possible unity . . . The emphasis has been largely one of conformity, rather than cooperation and unity, and it has been essentially legalistic.
Fortunately, the main body of the movement designated as Disciples of Christ has followed the first stream of thought. Simultaneously, the Christian Standard of more recent times, together with those who have continuously supported it, has followed the second stream.1
Mr. Corey maintains that the first "stream of thought" has been "creative." Chief among its creations has been a new source of authority. Rejecting the Bible as the infallible Word of God, it has made human reason the ultimate judge in religion. The first stream has been "inclusive" — so inclusive, in fact, that it includes within its ranks not only those who deny the deity of Christ but even humanists who hold that God exists only as an ideal. The first stream has been experimental. Among its experiments have been open membership and comity agreements.
The "other stream" has been backward looking. Praise God that it still looks back to Pentecost. It has been "static (we prefer steadfast) in its demand that all come to its (the proper word is Biblical) point of view." Finally, there is serious question as to whether the "main body" has followed the first stream of thought. Whatever the statistics may show, and there are no really reliable statistics available, we can be certain that the rising tide of young preachers going forth from our loyal Bible colleges are making penetrating inroads into this "main body."
THE STANDARD OIL AFFAIR
The next smoke screen raised by Mr. Corey is the Rockefeller gifts. During the years 1905, 1906, and 1907 John D. Rockefeller sent checks totaling $25,000 to the Foreign Christian Missionary Society. Because of some of Mr. Rockefeller's business tactics which were not wholly above suspicion, the Standard questioned the expediency of accepting his checks. J. A. Lord, the editor of the Standard at the time, featured a series of articles by Thomas W. Phillips, a strong advocate of the Restoration Plea and a wealthy oil man. In this series Mr. Phillips criticized the F. C. M. S. for accepting money from Mr. Rockefeller. Before long this controversy descended to the level of personalities and a bitter exchange followed between Mr. Lord and Archibald McLean, then president of the F. C. M. S.
Mr. Corey feels that this incident was a crucial one in the whole fifty years of controversy. It proved, he says, to be a great breaking point in the Standard's influence.2 Mr. Corey evidently feels its value as a smoke screen since he devotes nearly a dozen pages to it. We shall not take time to enter a discussion of the merits of the incident except to point out these facts: (1) the Rockefeller controversy was in the realm of expediency; (2) loyal and pious men would probably be aligned on both sides of the argument were a similar situation to arise today; (3) the Rockefeller controversy had nothing to do with the real issues. Mr. Corey is certainly aware of these facts, and yet he chooses to inflate this tempest in a teapot to significant proportions.
LIBERALISM AT TRANSYLVANIA
AND THE COLLEGE OF THE BIBLE
Aside from the attack on the U. C. M. S., Mr. Corey believes that the most significant attack by the Standard was against Transylvania College and The College of the Bible. This attack began in 1912 when Dr. A. W. Fortune was called to the faculty of The College of the Bible. John T. Brown published criticisms of Dr. Fortune in the Standard. The Board of Trustees of The College of the Bible answered these charges in the Standard by stating that they were based on "impressions received at various times from hearing utterances of Mr. Fortune. The uncertainty and unsatisfactory nature of such evidence is easily apparent."3 History has revealed the sad story of how accurate these impressions were.
The controversy finally came to a head in 1917 when the Standard published a number of charges against The College of the Bible. The Standard asked that a committee investigate the charges. Following this, the Standard published a number of editorials and letters of protest with "sensational and accusing headlines" against The College of the Bible.4 Mr. Corey's chief objection to the Standard's criticisms was not that they were untrue, but that they were "sensational", "accusing," "startling," "greatly publicized… with much propaganda." As a matter of fact, Mr. Corey frankly admits that the charges were true: "The professors had accepted a Christian view of evolutionary principles."5
Mr. Corey affirms that in the whole discussion, there seem to have been three points at issue: (1) Academic freedom in teaching. (2) Should any teaching be allowed on historical criticism and should any theory of evolution whatever be given a place in the teaching? (3) Can you trust competent trustees to supervise an educational institution?6
In passing, we note (1) academic responsibility, not academic freedom, was the issue. In recent years we have heard a lot about academic freedom, especially from subversives and fellow travelers. But the academic freedom they desire is shorn of responsibility, thus becoming dangerous academic license. No one can deny that several of the professors involved in the controversy lacked a sense of academic responsibility to the office to which they had been called. (2) Teaching had been allowed on historical criticism and the theory of evolution during the time that J. W. McGarvey had headed The College of the Bible. Both historical criticism and evolution had been carefully examined and found wanting. It is difficult to see how this is any less scholarly than the practice in vogue today in many schools of a liberal bent. There, without the benefit of examination, careful or otherwise, one side has been most often received by students without consideration of the other. (3) One need only to look at the course The College of the Bible has taken since the controversy to answer Mr. Corey's question "competent" trustees either did not understand the issues or lacked a sense of responsibility to their obligations to maintain an institution, created and endowed by men of faith, true to its purpose. The investigation which followed the Standard's charges was conducted by the trustees of The College of the Bible and ended in a complete whitewash of the professors involved.
In this, as in other issues, Mr. Corey resorts to the smoke screen technique. He tries to reduce the whole controversy to a question of teaching methods. He damns with faint praise the teaching methods of J. W. McGarvey and would have us believe that much of the trouble arose when newer methods were introduced. Mr. Corey knows full well that the things taught, not the teaching methods, caused the trouble. The liberal teachings introduced at The College of the Bible Mr. Corey euphemistically styles "modern scholarship." But such innocuous terminology does not answer the well documented by charges which were published in the Standard during most of 1917.
THE U. C. M. S. IS BORN
For a number of years prior to 1919 many Disciple leaders had felt the need to unify the various benevolent and missionary organizations. The American Christian Missionary Society, the Christian Women's Board of Missions, the Foreign Christian Missionary Society, the Board of Church Extension, the National Benevolent Association, and the Board of Ministerial Relief were eventually united in 1919 to become the United Christian Mission Society. Early in 1919 the Standard began a vigorous and heroic effort to prevent this move.
The Standard rallied opposition to the United Society by calling a Restoration Congress which met in Cincinnati in October 1919 two days prior to the International Convention. In this meeting, which was well attended, the important issues troubling the brotherhood, including the proposed United Society, were discussed. Mr. Corey accuses the Standard of resorting "to the undemocratic principle of building up the biggest tide of opposition possible instead of appealing to reasoning and careful judgment."7 We find it difficult to see how an open discussion of the issues through editorial columns and a public meeting can accurately be termed "undemocratic." It is even more surprising to see Mr. Corey use such an uncouth word to describe his Christian brothers—especially since he is piously aghast that the Standard should use such terms as "fascistic" and "infidel" to describe those who have perverted the Restoration Plea.8
Mr. Corey states:
Writers came to the defense of the proposed United Christian Missionary Society on the grounds that it would (1) be more economical, (2) eliminate rivalry, (3) eliminate too many appeals, and (4) further our unity.9
He then proceeds to scold the Standard for paying no attention to the logic of these statements. With prophetic foresight the Standard did see the logic of the situation. The Standard saw that the United Society would become an ever enlarging ecclesiasticism working to denominationalize the Restoration Movement. The Standard editorials were quick to point out that the U. C. M. S., because of open membership such as in China and comity agreements such as in Mexico, would be a divisive rather than a unifying force. What has happened to Mr. Corey's "logical" argument for unity after more than three decades of ever deepening division?
Here, as in earlier controversies, Mr. Corey failed to come to grips with the real cause of the trouble — liberalism and disloyalty to the Scriptures and the tenets of the Restoration Movement. The thorough documentation which the Standard had given throughout this whole controversy over the U.C.M.S. Mr. Corey prefers to keep carefully concealed behind a convenient smoke screen.
THE HECTIC 1920s
The 1920 International Convention passed the "Medbury Resolution" which has played a part in some of the recent court cases. The 1922 Convention at Winona Lake was a crucial one because of John T. Brown's report of open membership being practiced in the Philippines and China. The Standard carried this full report in the October 28, 1922 issue. In 1925 the Standard Publishing Company began to publish a new monthly, The Spotlight (the name was changed to The Touchstone after the first issue). This new monthly, edited by R. E. Elmore, called attention to the "departures from the faith and polity of the New Testament Church."
The 1925 Convention at Oklahoma City was a tense one. Here the Peace Commission presented a resolution that stated:
1. That no person be employed by the United Christian Missionary Society as its representative who has committed himself or herself to belief in, or practice of, the reception of unimmersed persons into the membership of Churches of Christ.
2. That if any person is now in the employment of the United Christian Missionary Society as representative who has committed himself or herself to belief in, or practice of, the reception of unimmersed persons into the membership of Churches of Christ the relationship of that person to the United Christian Missionary Society be severed as employee.10
Immediately the liberals began to cry that this was a credal statement, "an enactment concerning belief by an International Convention," a proposition "to interfere with the freedom of men's thought.”11 After much debate the resolution was passed. Following its passage Mr. Corey prepared to resign as a secretary of the U. C. M. S. He felt that this was "a matter of prying into the sacred privacy of people's thoughts and beliefs."12 Calling this a creed or an attempt to invade privacy is to obscure the real issue. The real question was whether an employer (in this case the churches and individuals who gave financial support to the U. C. M. S.) had a right to state the conditions of employment for the employees, the missionaries. Mr. Corey displayed the common failing of entrenched bureaucrats to disregard and even grow contemptuous of those who pay the bills. If those who were supporting the U. C. M. S. had a right to make of employment, and certainly they did, then the missionaries had an obligation to respect these conditions or resign.
This resolution might have gone a long way toward healing the breach within the Restoration Movement, but it was "interpreted" so as to be completely ineffective in accomplishing its intended purpose. Mr. Corey writes:
The Board of Managers (of the U. C. M. S.) finally interpreted "committed ... to belief in" at its St. Louis meeting "as not intended to invade the right of private judgment, but only to apply to such an open agitation as would prove divisive."13
The 1926 Convention at Memphis saw the comity agreement and the recall of Leslie Wolfe in the Spotlight. Once more Mr. Corey tried to camouflage the real issue. He charges Mr. Wolfe with favoring comity agreements.14 Mr. Wolfe, it is charged, "had not been able to get along amicably with fellow missionaries, "15 and the characters of the two Filipino colleagues who accompanied Mr. Wolfe were attacked. But Mr. Corey did not get around to repudiating the open membership or comity agreements in which the U. C. M. S. was involved in the Philippines.
THE WIDENING BREACH
During the 1930's the Standard, then under the editorship of Edwin Errett, followed a more moderate policy toward the U. C. M. S. according to Mr. Corey. But beginning late in 1943 this policy was changed. He states:
Following the death of Edwin Errett, the Christian Standard seemed to return to the attitudes expressed in The Touchstone under R. E. Elmore. This meant a revival of the attacks upon the brotherhood's organized work which were manifest during the mid-twenties.16
Mr. Corey feels that this policy could have but one logical outcome — division. Thus he attempts to place the onus of the division upon the Standard. He states:
The Christian Standard has presumed to draw a dividing line in our brotherhood. It has staked itself and its "loyal" followers oil while deliberately and finally placing all who disagree with its policies outside the corral! 17
He adds (after mentioning the earlier division in the Restoration Movement over instrumental music) :
Now, the modern separatists of the brotherhood find the International Convention, the United Society, the state missionary societies, the Board of Higher Education and its of Hated institutions and agencies, the Association for the Promotion Christian Unity, along with the National and World Council of Churches just as "unscriptural" and so all have been repudiated.18
The Christian Standard has never presumed to draw a dividing line in our brotherhood. It has frequently and clearly drawn attention to the division which has been caused by those who have departed from the plain teachings of the Scriptures in regard to the deity of Christ, the nature and policy of the Church, the form of baptism, and so on. One who has read the Standard as attentively as Mr. Corey obviously has should know very well that the Standard does not and has never made the U. C. M. S. itself a test of fellowship. He should realize that the Standard has rejected the organizations he names not because they are unscriptural but because they are unfaithful.
Mr. Corey laments: "The magazine the Christian Standard has left no room, as pioneer Disciples did, for fellowship of liberal, medial, and conservative."19 Pray tell us, Mr. Corey, what Christian fellowship can a believer have with one who denies the deity of Christ, as certainly some Disciple leaders do? He feels that the Standard's present policy is a "tragic departure from the day of Thomas Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and the progressive founding editor of the Christian Standard, Isaac Errett."20
Here, Mr. Corey evidently betrays his lack of information concerning the early period of the Restoration Movement. Alexander Campbell said of one who denied the Biblical doctrine of resurrection:
"We are not of one faith; and no man, nor set of men under the broad heavens, can either cajole, hoax, or denounce me into acquiescence with such gross assumptions under the name of liberality or illiberality, liberty or no liberty of discussion."21
Alexander Campbell compelled no man nor church to excommunicate this one, but as for himself, he stated, "I have no fellowship with Doctor Thomas in his present course, nor with his views."22
Let us pursue this matter of breaking fellowship a bit further. To our knowledge every one of the recent court cases involving Disciple supporters and the loyal forces has been filed by the Disciple supporters. In every case the charge has been made that the loyalists have departed the faith. Wherein lies this departure of faith? The departure from the faith consists of a refusal to support financially the U. C. M. S. and other Disciple agencies. These Disciple agencies have become tests of fellowship, but the Disciple followers themselves, not the Christian Standard, have drawn a dividing line, have issued a decree of excommunication. This is a strange, discordant note in Mr. Corey's theme song that this "stream of thought" among the Disciples has been "creative, inclusive, and experimental." This stream has been "inclusive" enough to make room for those who deny the deity of Christ, but those who have refused to forward the revenue to headquarters have found themselves dumped rather unceremoniously outside the corral. And so the smoke screen, made even more dense by the unusual twist Mr. Corey has given the word inclusive, hides even more completely the real issue.
In the "Epilogue" to his work, Mr. Corey, quoting from the Eureka College Bulletin, summarizes the differing viewpoints of those who support the organized work and those who do not. These differences are in the area of Christian unity, interchurch cooperation, church organization and work, church membership, and ministerial education. Mr. Corey concludes by observing that:
Not even these rather radical differences of view and policy necessitate a real division among the Disciples of Christ so long as they are not made tests of fellowship and if honest disagreements are not heralded by certain periodicals as "disloyalty," "apostasy," and "infidelity."23
Among the things mentioned in the summary which do not "necessitate a real division" are comity agreements, and open membership. But even more significant are the things not mentioned (the old smoke screen again): denial of Scriptural inspiration, the virgin birth, the resurrection, the deity of Christ. It is unfortunate that Mr. Corey did not see fit to discuss these things. Of course, these may not seem important to Mr. Corey, but to thousands of loyal, Bible believing Christians, they lie at the very heart of the gospel.
Mr. Corey's closing words, perhaps more clearly than any others, reflect his real attitude toward the Restoration Movement. He would change the slogan from "In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, love" to "In the things on which we agree unity; In the things on which we do not agree, liberty; In all things, the will to be one."24
With this as a platform one might readily have unity with a Hindu or a Hottentot, but unfortunately it would not be Christian unity. And Christian unity is, after all, what Mr. Corey should have been writing about if he hopes to save the brotherhood from another serious split.
1.Stephen J. Corey, Fifty Years of Attack and Controversy (St. Louis: The Committee on Publication of the Corey Manuscript, 1953), pp. 8, 9.2.Ibid., p. 203.Ibid., p. 474.Ibid., p. 515.Ibid., p. 506.Ibid., p. 517.Ibid., p. 67.8.See Ibid., p. 185, 189, 1909.Ibid., p. 6310.Ibid., p. 10211.Ibid., p 10312.Ibid., pp. 04, 10513.Ibid., p. 10514.Ibid., pp. 109-11115.Ibid., p. 11516.Ibid., p. 19317.Ibid., p. 24118.Ibid., p. 24219.Loc. cit.20.Ibid., p. 24221.Alexander Campbell, The Millennial Harbinger, New Series Vol. H (Bethany, Va., published by A. Campbell, 1838) p. 18622.Ibid., p. 18723.Corey, op. cit., p. 280.24.Ibid., p. 280